Saturday, April 30, 2005

I'm lying or I'm ignorant

Just so you know. Continue reading at your peril.

Apropos, here's a dumb sentence from a good usage note on "disingenuous": "The meaning of disingenuous has been shifting about lately, as if people are unsure of its proper meaning." Judging from the views of the cited panel, this is another ruined word, and one on its way to being worse than useless.

David Brooks, at his best still a hack

Brooks's latest describes the compromise Reid offered Frist to head off the nuclear confrontation in the Senate over Bush's far-right judiciary nominees. Brooks goes on about how Frist should have taken the deal - how the deal, and dealing, would be good for the Senate. And he manages to write the entire column without a single word of praise for Reid. Why? Because Brooks is a partisan hack.

Big physics blogging news

Director shuts lab for 7 months, hounded out of job by blog.

I bet it made some reporter's day to be able to write the third sentence below:
The security alarm turned out to be a clerical error - the disks, in fact, never existed. Still, Dr. Nanos kept many lab areas closed for seven months, until late January. During that time, laboratory personnel worked on improving safety and security.

I would have appended "when not busy blogging" to make sure my editor was awake.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Damned lies and A-Rod

Cliff Corcoran at the excellent Bronx Banter says (in comments),
Jim Baker has a telling stat in today's Prospectus Matchups column on Baseball Prospectus [see here if you have a subscription, unlike me - Rilkefan]:
"If you take away the two masterful Mondays past of Alex Rodriguez, you find a player with a line of .233/.283/.372."

Note that this means tossing out the top 1/11th of A-Rod's games. Let's try this with a gaussian distribution...

(click image for readable size.)

Amazingly, if you ignore his best days, A-Rod is a much worse player - about 20%.

Note I got to use 100k games. That's better statistics than 22 games...

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Thursday, April 28, 2005

Ed Witten rocks

in case you didn't know. Ditto (his spouse) Chiara Nappi, a fact I didn't know.

Thou paw-paw-paw

If you do a google search on the above phrase, presumably because you want to cite or quote the wonderful poem "Adam's Task" by John Hollander, say in one of hilzoy's recent poem threads at Obsidian Wings, you're directed to a comment of mine at Obsidian Wings. Something's wrong with the way the world is organized, but something's also right.

Anyway, go read the poem and go read some John Hollander, e.g. "An Old-Fashioned Song".


Monday, April 25, 2005

Art misunderestimating life

Art fails to imitate life.

Rumsfeld's Chain

[The] bell begin to swing. It swung so softly in the outset that it scarcely made a sound; but soon it rang out loudly, and so did every bell in the house. This might have lasted half a minute, or a minute, but it seemed an hour. The bells ceased as they had begun, together. They were succeeded by a clanking noise, deep down below; as if some person were dragging a heavy chain over the casks in the wine-merchant's cellar.


Wednesday, April 20, 2005

I'd say Ha Ha again

but a lot of people will suffer in the short term because of this, as noted by Mark Kleiman. But evolution in action and all that.

Just trying to imagine a Clinton presidency starting off with a successful health insurance bill. We'd be living in such a better world today.

Think maybe this will convince the Bush admin to give up on their politicized quest to end Social Security and instead confront the real crisis in America? Somehow I doubt it.

Actually, I think I will say Ha Ha. You'll have to imagine the bitter edge in my voice.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Why Vapor Trails sounds like noise

The most recent Rush album, Vapor Trails, is a return to the intensity of Exit Stage Left and from a songwriting standpoint is in some ways an advance. The lyrics reflect Peart's harrowing losses of his wife and daughter since Counterparts and are probably his best. And Lifeson's guitars are front and center.

But it's hard for me to listen to more than a few songs in a row, and I used to think the arrangements were not transparent. Now I've learned the truth from Rip Rowan:

Rush album db(t) Posted by Hello

The article is excellent - you don't have to be a Rush fan to appreciate it. In it, Rowan says that the album's sound was likely a money-driven decision made by the record label. However, I was recently told by someone who spoke to someone from the house that mastered the album that the band sent the recording out to a bunch of places and picked the sound they liked best. Something like that, anyway.

Supposedly there's talk of a more conventional mastering of Vapor Trails being released. In the meantime I'll have to go listen to the album again, as soon as the friend who borrowed it gives it back. Perhaps there's an artistic reason for the muddy sound and clipped drum transients. Probably I'll still think it's a great album that happens to sound awful, leaving it only near-great.

Monday, April 18, 2005

I'd say Ha Ha

but the timing was too tragic: Bush's "popularity" via Pollkatz.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

When I read her this, my fiancee had to take a Tums

From commenter Incertus of at Brad DeLong's blog:
Hamdog--hot dog wrapped with a hamburger patty, deep-fried, served on a hoagie roll with chili, cheese, onions and a fried egg.

The Luther Burger--a double bacon cheeseburger served on two Krispy Kreme donuts as the bun.

The Bat-Poet

The Bat-Poet by Randall Jarrell, with illustrations by Maurice Sendak, is a book poets and lovers of poetry and lovers of poets should have in their libraries.

It's a children's book, especially children interested in creative writing, but it's also about being different, and about nature, and as such speaks to adults too. Plus there's a lot of good stuff about craft in the book, and a lot about the joys and (sometimes) burdens of being a poet.

I'm not that familiar with Jarrell's work. This book may have some relationship to the Rilke of the thing-poems, and indeed Jarrell translated Rilke. I mean to investigate this link as a way of trying to get to know RJ a bit better.

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If you use a cell phone, consider the DoNotCall registry

If you use a cell phone, read Kevin Drum's post noting that telemarketers will be getting access to the cell phone number database. They won't be able to use autodialers, but ...

The link to have your number blocked is to the right.

UPDATE: As (cryptically) noted in comments, you should ignore the above.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Speaking of unintentional sin

Notes on some rock songs on The Bone

You can tell that "For Those About To Rock, We Salute You" isn't a very good song just from the unfortunate title. But the intro to the song, a tense, staccato motif, is one of the great moments in rock music. Maybe someday a genius will come along and make something enduring from that beginning.

"Don't Fear the Reaper" actually has a cowbell in it - muted or rather mummified with tape and added in the mix, but a cowbell nevertheless. I listened to the SNL sketch based on the song the other day, and when the actual version came on the radio as I drove the lab today I for the first time noticed the somewhat intrusive cowbell. There's probably a theorem about the best comedy being founded on truth.

The song itself is lovely, of course. I especially like the "ahh" sigh (similar I think to the cadence of another great BOC song, "Burning For You") before the instrumental section, which briefly achieves a suitably satanic passion. So what if it's about teenage suicide or vampirism or somesuch.

I find The Who's "Join Together" to be one of their most satisfactory songs. It doesn't get that much airplay, perhaps because it's rather repetitive. But the slightly nervous instrumental intro leads to a muscular verse/chorus - driven by a rising figure in the bass and by Roger Daltry's throaty, impassioned vocals - which never grows old to me. In the car today I got a sense of what was going on rhythmically - the bass figure is like a cresting wavefront pushing the melody forward. I'll have to listen to it again to be sure. In the meantime I wanted to mention one couplet: "It's the singer not the song/That makes the music move along". Reportedly, Townsend and Daltry had a difficult relationship, and it's odd for the former to have written the above to be sung by the latter. But I don't know how much the power of the song derives from the group's musicianship and the unusual arrangements (flute and mouth harp?). Something that irks me about rock is the lack of old standards. In a better world there would be more old wine in new bottles - I'd like to hear what a lot of other talented groups could do with Rush's "Lakeside Park" or Metallica's "Fade to Black" or , well, "Join Together".

Thursday, April 14, 2005

What "hackery" means

Want to know what "hackery" means? You could look up the etymology of "hack", complicatedly derived from Hackney.

Or you could read this article on Sy Hersh by Chris Suellentrop, which I came across via John Cole.

My comment on Cole's post:
[This article uses] a remarkably broad definition of "lie" - if Hersh says has a photograph of an event, who knows if it happened? Surely he's lying. When he lies to trick a lawyer into telling the truth - why, that shows he's a liar generally. When he changes irrelevant details to protect people - he's a liar. When he makes a mistake and admits it publicly - he's a liar. When he says something he knows to an every-day standard of certainty but can't put the last bell-and-whistle on it to reach his written standard, and when he gets that bell-and-whistle and prints essentially the story described, or when he doesn't get the last detail and can't write the story, he's a liar.
Certainly Suellentrop mentions Hersh's remarkable record of scoops - but that's a matter of public record, a bow to "balance" while the hand loosens the dagger in its sheath. And it's true that there's a discussion to be had about reporters saying things on camera that they can't get into print (David Okrent[!] paging Judith Miller) - but that's not the point of this piece.

Then read this "more in sadness than in anger" attack on Kos and Armstrong by Chris Suellentrop. His case against Armstrong, who quit blogging when working for Dean, is just laughable yes buttery; his case against Kos is woefully credulous of or disingenuous about Teachout's assertions and willfully ignorant of or maliciously insinuating about Kos's separation of his private consultancy and public fundraising.

Then read this attack on Wesley Clark by Chris Suellentrop. Don't miss the amusing fine print linkage at the bottom of the article.

I haven't read the book in question, but the anti-Dean excerpting by Chris Suellentrop noted here seems to be another example.


Notice of Non-Responsibility

I recently saw a Notice of Non-Responsibility on the (sadly now-closed) cafe where I first met my fiancée. The note said the owner of the property just learned about, and was not responsible for, work of improvement going on there. This apparently has something to do with mechanic's liens, something having to do with avoiding being forced to pay twice for the same work and, no doubt, with other little quirks of the law.

The following poem by W.C. Williams is widely anthologizd:

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

It is also widely parodied, deservedly so in my view. Kenneth Koch's Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams will probably be paired with the original till the end of time.

Here's an excellent parody
by st of short hope unfiltered from a crocodile-theme d-poem thread at ObWi.


Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Outblogged by the retired Andrew Sullivan

Taxes + taking care of under-the-weather fiancée + now under-the-weather self = no posts.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Every liberal blogger tears out her or his hair

The NYTimes logs a correction:
"An article on Thursday about economic assumptions by the Bush administration on personal retirement accounts misstated the amount of payroll taxes people would be allowed to divert to them. It is up to 4 percentage points - not 4 percent - of the 6.2 percent of wages that workers now pay in payroll taxes. (Go to Article)."

Anticipated correction for next week:
"An article on Monday about the President's approval rating misstated his popularity. It is 45%, not 450%."

Anticipated correction for the week after that:
"An article on Wednesday about the size of the surplus in the proposed budget misstated the sign of the excess of receipts over expenditures."

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Friday, April 08, 2005

The Fermat's Last Theorem of Neurology Solved?

Jonathan Weiner, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Beak of the Finch, has a fascinating roller coaster article in this week's (sadly, only physical again) New Yorker about the famous disease lytico-bodig, which used to be prevalent among the Chamorros on Guam. It sometimes presents like Parkinson's or Alzheimer's or Lou Gehrig's disease - the tangle diseases of great and growing interest. Gajdusek of kuru fame was interested in lytico-bodig, as were various other smart people, but so far an explanation hasn't been forthcoming.

Readers of Oliver Sacks's The Island of the Colorblind will already know a bit about l-b and the possible connection of cycads to this syndrome. The Chamorros use cycad seeds to make flour, first soaking them in changes of water for a week or two, because the seeds contain poison - "If dogs or chickens drink the water from the first soaking, they die." A botanist named Brian Cox thinks that the Chamorros consumed a cycad seed protein in concentrated form through their diet of fruit bats, which they hunt with guns, introduced to the island rather roughly around the time the disease started. The bats are now endanged due to hunting and the predation of a non-native snake; and l-b is now rare and confined to the old.

Cox is not a patient scientist and now jets around the world to hot-spots of tangle diseases, which he hopes to explain in one fell swoop. Many scientists are skeptical. Maybe this is nothing, maybe it's extremely important. Read the article.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

"Filibuster" comes from "free booty"

So blogger's back.

sidereal at Obsidian Wings prompted me to spend two seconds learning about "filibuster". It comes from the Spanish "filibustero", a pirate who holds ships or passengers for ransom.

The related word for pirate, "freebooter", turns out to come from the Dutch for "free booty"; "filibustero" comes from the same Dutch word via the French "flibustier".

Wikipedia says another meaning of "filibuster" is someone who engages in "the act of colonial settlement with the intent of changing the existing government." Also that "[t]he term is almost always applied to Anglo-American settlers in Latin America." - I guess that's why I can't recall seeing it in the context of the I/P conflict.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


The great and definitely shrill enough Billmon is also willing to give Cornyn the benefit of the doubt.

Top of the 7th of a baseball-like game

Bill James and explaining vs explaining away

Via Dan Drezner and Mark Kleiman, Bill James takes a less-than-absolutist tack on sabermetrics. Kleiman notes that, since New York and Boston were evenly matched, the Yankees' 4-in-a-row collapse against the Red Sox was 1/16 likely from statistics - he thinks that James's "veteran leadership" claim for why this happened is an example of the fundamental human tendency to latch on to explanations to random events. However, my guess is that James's point is that the RS didn't suffer a failure of nerve, which would have lowered their chances significantly below statistics - presumably "evenly matched" includes a tacit "in games played in balanced emotional states". In fact, I conjecture that an analysis of playoff series made under the "evenly matched' assumption will find a correlation between the late results and the early, and that even adjusting for expected team strength, winning the first few games gives a team a psychological edge, esp. against some class of teams. That would be "teams without veteran leadership" or "teams not made up of youngsters too naive to be rattled by being down" or - well, now I'm in bump-hunting territory.


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Honey, where's the dramamine?

A crackerjack illusion which I'm unable to look at for more than a few seconds.

My tentative explanation to a friend:

"I'd hazard that there are slight differences in each image and when your eye
saccades from one spot to another it finds a rotated version of what it had just observed,
producing the illusion of turning." On reflection I thought that this would imply an integrated rotation rate of 0, while from memory I thought all the rotation was in one direction, but on careful brief inspections I think 0 is correct.

The authoritative gobbledygook for those too mesmerized or migraine-apt to notice the link.

Out on a limb

I've recently made some comments at Crooked Timber and at Obsidian Wings which set me on the side of board-certified VRW Death Beast Charles Bird and not on the side of, well, practically everybody I read, including people I respect a lot and normally 98% agree with like hilzoy and Mark Kleiman, plus via linkage Instapundit and Jonah Goldberg.

The issue is that Cornyn, on the Senate floor, a) noted that he was a former judge, b) asserted that there's a lot of anger in the land against activist judges, c) noted that anger has consequences, and d) hypothesized that some of the recent violence against judges is due to that anger.

Point a) wasn't much noticed at first, but doesn't really seem to matter. Point b) is unquestionable if you add qualify "activist " with "supposedly". Point d) is loony wrong and either results from deep ignorance of the cases or from evil. Point c) seems to me to be the crux of the matter.

All liberals except me interpret this (esp. in conjunction with d)) as a threat - judges should toe the line or else. This interpretation is a question of tone and context and experience - Katherine of Obsidian Wings calls me "touchingly naive" for not hearing it. I hear Cornyn being dumb and partisan and believing d) and believing c) which, as a sentence, is inarguable. Consider for example David Neiwert of Orcinus making that statement, or making the statement, "If the right keeps attacking govt., another Tim McVeigh will come forward." (There's a good reference to John M. Ford's wonderful The Last Hot Time to be made, but it's a bit of a spoiler, so ask me if you have read the book and don't get it - if you haven't read the book, do so as soon as possible.) Whether it's excusable for a former judge to be so ignorant of the recent cases is arguable - but I believe strongly in the power of stupidity.

Sebastian Holsclaw of Obsidian Wings, a right-libertarian I guess, takes the position that to explain is to explain away. Well, I'm sure that this is not a fair reading of his position, but he doesn't present any criteria. He does posit an example that some on the left will probably find uncongenial. At OW I posited another example that ditto - here it is better expressed.

Adding some support to my opinion, Cornyn now (in my reading) clearly expresses the non-loony view and sheds d).


Google continues to take over the world

Monday, April 04, 2005

Comments on comments by Albee

The current New Yorker has an interesting profile of Edward Albee by Larissa MacFarquhar. But it's the the current physical issue so I can't link to it.

A couple of random replies: regarding Albee's control-freakishness, MacFarquhar quotes him saying, "No one goes around messing with composers' work the way they do with plays. That's probably where I learned not to put up with that junk. Nobody takes three or four measures out of one of Bach's fugues."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't operas come with "standard cuts"? Don't people toss measures out of Bach all the time by ignoring repeats? I can't find the reference at the moment, but I recently read that a Bruckner symphony has been performed modulo every other measure. Here Albee is demanding better treatment than Shakespeare gets.

(The profile later notes that Albee, after seeing a performance of "Seascape", cut out the entire second act.)

"'Dangerous' is one of his highest terms of praise [...]" - guess he'd like this poem below.

On stopping drinking: "He didn't go to A.A. - he did it on his own, with the help of Antabuse, a drug that, if taken in combination with alcohol, makes you sick. 'I have will,' he says."

Will and Antabuse. Also note that Antabuse would be useful at one's next frat party.

I'll pass over the discussion of the neologism "ass-waxing". And the interesting bit at the end about the unconscious as biology, because there's too much to type, but as a reductionist I was pleased to see it.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Requiescat in pace

[pretend there's a fold here]

Frank Perdue.

Note that "pace" is the correct form - ablative with "in" - though "pacem" seems to be becoming widespread.

My friend Le Chien Salé writes:

It takes a tough man to sell a tender chicken
-Frank Perdue in his ads

It takes a smart man to sell an empty box.
- a friend of mine's father (he owned a cardboard box factory)

(the above psuedonym is not "sale chien" [this time?], and "salty" is intended, not "salted")

One down, one hundred sixty one...

One of the great baseball poems (actually the only one I know) and a fine poem about poetry, by Robert Francis.


His art is eccentricity, his aim
How not to hit the mark he seems to aim at,

His passion how to avoid the obvious,
His technique how to vary the avoidance.

The others throw to be comprehended. He
Throws to be a moment misunderstood

Yet not too much. Not errant, arrant, wild,
But every seeming aberration willed.

Not to, yet still, still to communicate
Making the batter understand too late.

Here is a poem that shows some of the possibilities of poetry. The line breaks at the end of lines 1 (aim/) and 6 (misunderstood/), the off-rhyme in the penultimate stanza then the smack of the full closing rhyme, the couplets and avoid/avoidance and errant/arrant - these are exquisitely expressive. It's a 95-mph fastball or an 89-mph slider on, or just off, the outside corner.


Two old poems, one sexy, one scary

Here's an anonymous poem as Auden published it in his Book of Light Verse:

The Lily and the Rose

The maidens came
When I was in my mother’s bower,
I had all that I would.
      The bailey beareth the bell away;
      The lily, the rose, the rose I lay.
The silver is white, red is the gold;
The robes they lay in fold.
      The bailey beareth the bell away;
      The lily, the rose, the rose I lay.
And through the glass windows shines the sun.
How should I love, and I so young?
      The bailey beareth the bell away;
      The lily, the rose, the rose I lay.

Of this poem Hugh Kenner writes (in the out-of-print The Art of Poetry, worth picking up used), "The only aspect of this poem that has been satisfactorily explained is the fact that line 4 means "The bailiff carries off the prize."

This is nearly the same except for the title: "The Bridal Morning" (everything gets back to marriage here). This title is somewhat helpful. The surface meaning of the poem would seem to be: A pretty girl on her wedding morning receives her mother's attendants who pamper and prink her as she thinks about being given away as a prize to a man she doesn't love. The meaning I hear below that is a man imagining sleeping with a procession of girls pretty and fresh as flowers - the rose, then the lily, and then the rose again for good measure - and he's too young to be committed to any particular girl. Partly I'm reading the first line-break as significant - in some versions one sees "The maidens came while I was in my mother's bower" as the first line. This would make it the longest line of the poem, while the line as it stands is emphatically the shortest. Maybe the original had another foot or two in the first line, maybe I'm letting modern English talk too much. Anyway, it's a lovely poem, especially the -'-'--'-'/-'--'||-'-' rhythm of the verse.
The "glass windows" bit seems metrically poor to me, but probably glass was available only to the wealthy and adds to the luxe et volupté fantasy with the discarded robes.

Apparently Peter Warlock set the poem as "The Bayly Berith The Bell Away" - I'll have to try to find a recording.

Another version, without the critical first line, perhaps because it was on posters in the London Underground.

Auden ascribes the following to Anon:

There was a maid came out of Kent,
      Dainty love, dainty love;
There was a maid came out of Kent,
      Dangerous be.
There was a maid came out of Kent,
Fair, proper, small and gent,
As ever upon the ground went,
      For so should it be.

but google says it's from William Wager's The Longer Thou Livest The More Fool Thou Art, whatever that is. I love the startling 4th line.


Saturday, April 02, 2005

The word "wiser"

Mark Kleiman, in correspondence, suggested I write an occasional poem on Terri Schiavo's death (though in the meantime I see he's calling for a moratorium). I replied that elegies are long and difficult and bad at an even higher than normal rate. I've written one, for Sergio Vieira de Mello, but for someone who I think is lucky to have finally died, or has been dead for years, it's the wrong form. But...

Nine Lines On Terri Schiavo's Death

At 18, you weighed 250 pounds.
When you died, you weighed 110.
The last fire will leave much less.
And no scale is subtle enough
To weigh your soul.

How better to measure love
Than by the suffering of the living?
And no scale is capacious enough
To weigh a nation's pain.

Some comments on Terri Schiavo at Obsidian Wings starting here. In my private version of English "wiser" and "smarter" are synonyms, but writing in public I distinguish them, or pretend to. As hilzoy says in the thread, it would generally be wise to not talk about Mrs. Schiavo for a while, but I did learn something about what I think in the process of commenting.

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