December 16, 2012

This is a holiday card.  Yes, it is.

This is a holiday card.  Yes, it is.

November 26, 2012

Pressing the Pause Button, or Go To Our G+ Page

We are putting this site on hiatus for a while.  Feel free to peruse the archives to gain useful insight into your world...okay, you won't gain much insight, but maybe you will find a few bad puns and/or fart jokes.  If you are looking for the latest check out our G+ pages:

Distasteful Inelegance's page

TD's page

October 30, 2012

A Match Made in Hollywood Heaven, or Star Whores

One big happy family
In what can only be described as years overdue, Lucasfilm has been purchased by the Disney dorks.  They are perfect for each other, because both are willing to mine actual culture, bastardize it then sell it back to the masses at an obscene profit.  Plus, merchandising.  (Spaceballs reference!)

As for the venerable Star Wars franchise, it has already been adulterated beyond recognition.  (And, they weren't great films to begin with.)  So, only my seven-year-old-self will even notice, and he has been enervated to the point of irrelevance thanks to years of cynicism, drinking, and maturing tastes in the arts.  I weep, however for my son, who will only know a world where The Phantom Menace (not to mention the inevitable Episodes VII - XX) exists.

October 29, 2012

The Enthusiasm Gap, or Institutionalized Voter Indifference

Most any poll you see these days makes a distinction between registered voter results and likely voter results.  One has to wonder whether this is the worst part of our nation's democracy: the fact that one party's only chance at winning is to make sure that discrepancy is a large as possible.  We have seen many different explanations as to why voter turnout tends to be weaker among certain groups, but we have to ask whether the fact that the people reporting on elections and public affairs are hardly representative of the constituency has anything to do with disaffection among minorities.  See also: Univision staging their own debates, lack of women debate moderators, the near uniformity of newsroom demographics.

Anyway, we'll be traveling overseas again over the next few weeks, so posting will be light and sporadic.  As a result of our travel plans we have already cast a ballot.  Let's just hope the right guys win on Nov. 6th so they let us back in the country.  What?  You didn't know that the passport office checks your voting record and submits it to CBP?

October 25, 2012

We Are Making a Slight Pivot; or Don't Worry, No One Is Reading This Anyway

We've focused quite a bit on politics on this little blog for the past several months.  That was because we got a little riled up about what was going on in the presidential campaign starting with that farce that was the Republican primary contest.  We have always meant for this to be a place to talk about the Really Big Stuff - everything from cosmology to cosmetology - and that largely will not change.  You may notice, however, less of an emphasis on horse races, Coke vs. Pepsi, or however you want to derisively refer to our democracy.

We plan to take more time to look at the real and substantive issues that have meaning to most of us and are discussed rarely by Our-Great-And-Powerful-Leadership-In-Washington.  For example, what has happened to discussions of climate change (Go watch Frontline from last week.  Right now.), where economic growth comes from and why we aren't doing it right, why you can't change Washington and why that's not such a bad thing, and other deep thoughts.

We will also keep bringin' the Science! down on your head, among other topics we find interesting from the fields of technology, the arts, popular culture (but not too popular), and sport.

Of course, we are never too stuffy to avoid the occasional foray into whimsy...just like the last few days.

What is more whimsical than a picture of a flying pony
with "Whimsical" as a headline?  (Thank you Google Image Search)

Fun ways to amuse oneself, or finding meaning in chaos

Search for strange, obscure, and/or obscene things on sites like Home Depot or Amazon.  The results will both amuse and intrigue you.  This is probably a good starting place for a new religion.

October 23, 2012

Back From Hiatus, or A Joke to Forget

We've been away for a bit doing other stuff.  If you missed us, then our plan to make your heart grow fonder worked.  If you didn't miss us, then assume we never left and you weren't informed where the super-secret posts are hidden.

In observance of the coalescence of this year's Fall Classic, here is an appropriately high-brow joke:

Upon the conclusion of the harvest season of 1317 B.C., Bacchus (bah-cuss') - the Roman god of the grape harvest, and of winemaking, and of ritual madness and ecstasy (read: orgies)  -  decided to throw a party for his favorite pair of deities - Ceres (seer'-ees),  the goddess of the grain harvest, and of fertility, and of motherly relationships (wink, wink), and Janus (Jan'-uhss), the two-faced god of beginnings, and transitions, and doors, and gates, and thresholds, and bottlecaps, and jelly jar lids, and anything else that separates two things that can be opened.  Bacchus, being an experienced party promoter hired the best DJ, and served the best hors d'oeuvres, and poured the best cocktails.  Everyone overdid it, more or less. Ceres, at one point, was staggering and turning in circles; Janus, equally shit-faced, was trying to dance with her. Bacchus feared that the pair might fall over, so he went to steady them.... This marked the first time that a whirled Ceres was held with a double-header.

You're welcome.

October 1, 2012

Missouri Loves Company, or Akin for a Win

Supporters -- all male -- of Todd Akin line up behind the podium in advance of yet another press conference in which Akin announced he's staying in the race for Missouri Senate.
These are Republicans: white, badly coiffed, men

Today's post is brought to you by the Bad Puns Division of Distasteful Inelegance.  We mostly keep them locked away in a soundproof chamber, but every once in a while one of the Pad Puns Specialists sneaks out and whispers several particularly odious puns over the PA system here at DI World Headquarters.  We are particularly susceptible to the harmful effects of earworms after the Autumnal Equinox, so unfortunately we couldn't keep them out of this post today.  We apologize, and assure you we will be more vigilant against the evils of bad pun-ditry in the future.
On to today's topic...

Since we have stopped wondering who will be the next President of the United States, we have started thinking about what will happen in the second Obama Administration.  [A series of post on this topic are in the works.  Oh, and sorry for not editing out all the bad puns today.  We are tired after a long weekend of bacchanalia. -ed.] A lot of the way the next four years will play out has to do with which party controls the Senate.  As recently as August, the smart money was on a switch in Senate majority.  Now, however, it is looking far more likely as not that the Fightin' Donkeys will retain their slight majority in that body.

The thought of the Democrats holding the Senate seemed like a fantasy earlier this year, but as President Obama has built momentum this summer he has carried along the prospects of his fellow Dems in Congressional races.  This has put ever increasing pressure on the Republicans to claw back any competitive Senate race possible in order to regain control of both houses of Congress and ratchet up their game of keep-away with the President's policy agenda.

Now, with precious little time left to reverse the trend, we are seeing signs that that Akin fellow in Missouri isn't quite so radioactive to Conservative backers anymore.  It's a telling moment for the Republican brand when they can reverse themselves thusly on Akin and come to his aid with little apology.   We might ask ourselves, as a nation, whether we can countenance a party that would even want to win a Senate seat, regardless of its importance, by these means let alone be represented by such a person.  Unless this is just a public acknowledgment by Conservatives that they are just going to punt the female vote from now on, which is even worse than impugning 47% of you since women are more than half the population.

Just as we noted earlier, Republicans are shuffling along to their own irrelevance.

September 28, 2012

On Pageviews and Stats, or Inside Baseball That is Sure to Bore You

Long time readers of our little blog may recall some early posts where we patted ourselves on the back for achieving milestone numbers of pageviews since the inception DI.  You might wonder why it's been a while since we've crowed triumphantly about the amount of views we've gotten here.  It's not because Blogger's dashboard isn't listing an even bigger number of pageviews for us.  Currently, it's at nearly 6000 views.  Here's a snapshot of DI's dashboard:

A lot of pageviews for a little blog...right?

The stats in Blogger's dashboard give us a count of views for each post, plus total views, traffic sources, etc.  Turns out Blogger's stats are bogus.  We've recently switched over to using Google Analytics to track visits and views (plus AdSense reports) and have discovered the shocking truth that you can't trust Blogger's stats.  At all.  Based on what AdSense and Analytics show, we estimate that the real number of actual people actually reading posts is about 1/5 that number.  Sigh.

Why is that?  Well it turns out there is a lot of spam going on on the interwebs.  The vast majority of the "traffic" on our blog comes from search crawlers, spam bots, scrapers, and worst of all, refferal spam.  Lame.  So, we recall what we said in point number two of this post, and realize that there really aren't that many of you clammoring to know what we have to say.  If you are clammoring, please leave a comment letting us know we are liked.  We are vain like that.  If you aren't clammoring, please leave a comment telling us why.  We are pragmatic and open to constructive criticism like that, also.

Disirregardless, of what the stats say, we will be back next week with a series of posts on what we think the second term of the Obama administration will look like.  (In case you hadn't read it here, the Presidential race is over.)  Enjoy the weekend.

September 26, 2012

Why We Are Ignoring [REDACTED], or Elections Have Consequences

On Monday we announced that we will no longer post anything about a certain Republican Presidential candidate.  This promise was made somewhat satirically to point out the highly repetitious cycle of bad press and bad poll numbers, and bad campaign strategy coming out of that camp since July, but it was actually a real promise that we intent to keep.  Then, one of our more regular readers (regular, not in the gastro-intestinal sense, but in the routinely visiting our blog sense) asked us if and why we weren't going to use a certain Republican sad sack as a punching bag anymore.  This reader wondered if there would be anything else for us to blog about.

So, dear reader, here is why we have retired our finely tuned criticism machinery, at least the parts of it aimed at a certain fella from the Bay State.  Elections, as pointed out by many others, have consequences.  And the consequences of this election on the lame duck session of Congress and how it avoids the "fiscal cliff" are extremely important to all of us, as we have pointed out before.  NPR's Cokie Roberts points out that the way this election is preceived will have an affect on how Congress addresses this important issue.  If the House Republicans feel that their party's policy proposals were to blame for their defeat in the Presidential, Senate, and possibly even the House races, then they may stop their strategy of obstruction and adopt a more moderate, balanced approach to revenues and budgets.  But, if they feel like the only issue with their defeat was a weak Presidential nominee, not policy, then we will likely see a rerun of the silliness and inaction that was endemic of the 112th Congress.

Time history of win probability for each candidate.
Blue: President Obama, Red: Some doofus
(source: Nate Silver)
We know you already know that we are avid readers of Nate Silver's blog, FiveThirtyEight and the excellent poll data analysis that he does over there.  In case you haven't been over to check out the statistical models recently, Mr. Obama's probablility of winning re-election is back up to 79.7%.  This is just off of the peak of 80.8% at the height of his post convention bump.  What is more important to notice than the raw probability is the trend: it is steadily increasing for Mr. Obama.  In other words, the more people are tuning into the campaign, the more likely it is that the President will win re-election.  Barring some major calamity, it is a virtual certainty - especially in light of the Electoral College math - that Mr. Obama gets what Mitch McConnell set out to prevent: a second term.  (Don't, for a minute, think that this trend will be reversed in the debates, either.  There is a reason one side has been avoiding getting specific.)  Yes, Virginia, the race is over, and has been for some time.  We'd better start thinking about how to best shape the aftermath.

So with the outcome all but assured, therefore, we are refraining from pilining on the Republican candidate lest it look like he is of consequence or a threat to re-election for the President.  Continuing to point out his numerous flaws, evasions, and vagueness indicates that people are taking him seriously.  As it relates to how this election is interpreted after the fact we recommend that everyone ignore Team Elephant's guy, because he is a distraction from what needs to be done to avoid a ruinous direction for our contry.

September 25, 2012

Link Hive #11, or More Awesome Science!

And for something completely different...
Yesterday, we promised to stop piling on a certain hapless Republican Presidential candidate (you know, the guy that dismissed half of you as moochers).  So, in that spirit we bring you another spine tingling installment of Link Hive!  [We aren't doctors, but if your spine is actually tingling while you read this, something is terribly wrong.  See a physician. -ed.]

Here's a roundup of some of the latest awesomeness from the science! world.  (Or, we might just say, "the world" since it's the same thing.)

There you are.  Now enjoy your day.

September 24, 2012

Can You Believe What Was Said...Yawn, or Last Ever Post About Mitt Romney

Bye Mitt, we will miss the daily bounty that you
brought this little blog.
We were looking for interesting topics to post about the election last night, when 60 Minutes came up in conversation.  So, we watched the interviews with the Presidential candidates and were about to fire off a post about another Romney flip-flop...but we just couldn't bring ourselves to do it.  [Here is the story in The Atlantic about this specific flip-flop on healthcare, if you are still interested. -ed.]  It just feels mean to pile on at this point.  It's unseemly.  Like mocking the handicapped.

So, dear reader, this will be the last time we mention old Mitt on this little blog.  We will no longer point out how he only knows how to fundraise but not campaign...or govern, is amazingly clueless about how the rest of us live, may actually be a mean-spirited person, and is hopelessly outclassed in this election.

But, before we retire the metaphoric Romney dartboard, we will remind all of you to go read this post, this post, and this post to recall why it is a very bad idea to vote for the guy.

September 21, 2012

High Frequency Trading, or Not a Double Rainbow

Meet the new trading floor.

While we have been focusing a lot on the Presidential race around here recently - we too get caught up in the sheer volume of reportage of the campaign and equate that with importance - this is a story that is actually relevant to all of us on a daily basis.  All of us that interact with the financial system, that is.  So, unless you are living off-the-grind in a barter based commune in the woods, you might want to pay attention to something called high-frequency trading (hft), or algorithmic trading.

The animated gif below is a daily history of algorithmic trading activity from the past five years provided the analysis firm Nanex.  Take note of how crazy this plot gets starting in about 2010.  We first noticed that something was amiss when we saw articles in the NYT and Reuters back in August [The chart below originally came from this article, but it was taken down.  This article in Technology Review about high frequency trading (HFT) has it archived. -ed.] reporting that Knight Capital Group experienced nearly fatal losses when their high-frequency algorithms went wonky for 30 minutes.

We were reminded of the issues with high-frequency trading this morning when we heard this story on NPR's Morning Edition.  There is apparently some hand-wringing in the halls of Congress over the Knight Capital incident and the glitches that caused a delay in the Facebook IPO.  Like it's a double rainbow we have to ask ourselves about the data and the above chart, "what can it mean?"  If algorithmic trading is an innovation that gives the inventor an creative advantage, then that's what the whole capitalism game is all about.  That's true even if incompetent or unprepared firms make a hash of their algorithms and suffer self-harm, as in the case of Knight, or as presciently imagined by Kurt Vonnegut in his novel Hocus Pocus.  But, if this is little more than a way to game the system and sidestep the letter or intent of SEC regulations, then Congress should absolutely be doing its job to find out and prevent it.

We all know painfully well how the fallout from cavalier regard for risk and volatility on a systematic scale always comes around to bite "normal people".

September 20, 2012

Further Parsing Romney, or This Is What We Thought All Along

The shame of getting caught

The routinely high quality blog, Fare and Fowl has some more insight on Romney's execrable comments to his fundraiser in Boca Raton last May.  It highlights a larger truth uncovered by his words, and confirms what many have long suspected.
"What I haven’t heard mentioned, and can’t understand, is why a major party presidential nominee wouldn’t know better than to publicly shoot from the lip, even to an audience of true believers. George Allen’s “macaca” moment should have been adequate warning that there might be someone with a recording device lurking in the vicinity. 
Of greater concern is the way these people talk to each other in what they presume, in this case mistakenly, to be privacy. They don’t mess with this right/wrong or fair/unfair business as we on the left do, perhaps naively. A musician I know working a party at Bohemian Grove, a northern California retreat for upscale men, quoted one of the group speaking of a hostile takeover by one member of a fellow member's corporation. “You don’t (expletive) a friend, you (expletive) John Q. Public.” At least there’s loyalty, even among thieves."
Many among the 99% have long suspected that this is what happens at these type of closed door meetings among the 1%. There have always been hints, rumors, and hearsay to back up those suspicions, but this time we have proof on the biggest stages by the highest of high profiles that indeed it is as bad as we feared. Now we can all be sure that in the steam rooms at the country club, at the black-tie garden party, and of course at the $50,000 a plate fundraiser, that these guys are slagging all of us to make them feel good about giving all of us a good financial rogering.  "F@#k 'em.  They're all a bunch of freeloaders," is the motto of these guys.  Now, you can go back to watching those scenes in Mad Men with the assurance that it is a documentary series, not a drama.

Also of interest is this story on Business Insider tracing back the origin of the video in question and the original aim of the documenter.  It seems relaying the poor conditions in a Chinese factory isn't news anymore.

September 19, 2012

Inskeep Pwns Erickson; or Flailing and Struggling Just Makes You Sink Faster, Mitt

If you, dear reader, flipped on your local NPR affiliate this morning for Morning Edition you would have heard's Erick Erickson's operating his mouth hole to make the words come out.  The purpose of the having Erickson on seemed to be an attempt to find someone to defend Mitt Romney's now infamous dismissal of half the country as victimized welfare queens who are in the pocket of the Democratic Party.  If you know anything about Erickson's blog, his politics, or his wherewithal, you know exactly why he was the only one stepping in to pinch-hit for Team Romney.

Incidentally, if Team Romney takes Erickson's advice and "owns" his comments - it appears that this is their new strategy, by the way - then we have just witnessed the point where the election was won for the President.  This type of straw-man argument will surely energize readers of RedState, but there simply aren't enough folks on the far right to counteract the ever growing share of votes the President will win from the remaining 80% of the country.

Anyway, back to the point.  There are areas of common ground that we all can agreed on.  Despite the fact that Erickson was badly outmatched intellectually by Steve Inskeep - he masterfully led Erickson to back away from the crux of the argument - and despite the fact that Erickson has no factual basis to back up his position - simply mentioning "Barack Obama" next to the word "unemployment" doesn't mean anything of substance, Erick - there actually is something we all can agree on in what he said: the number of people on food stamps and unemployment has grown.  It's a consequence of the recession.  Maybe you heard about it.  It was in all the papers.

Scoring Romney Total Debt
Republicans love debt.
Where Erickson and the rest of the Very Conservative White Men go wrong is in their proscription to fix those realities.  Cutting taxes and spending won't do it.  Actually, according to this analysis that plan will grow the national debt even faster, which is exactly what Erickson is railing against the most.  As we discussed in Monday's post, Robert Reich has a good idea to stimulate demand.  Demand for goods and services is depressed right now, and austerity measures will only exacerbate it.  When demand goes up, jobs will be created.

Look, there are Really Big Problems that need serious attention to find effective solutions.  In fact, most D's and R's will agree exactly what they are.  Straw-man arguments, bad fiscal policy, and demagoguery won't cut it.  Stop by tomorrow or Friday to catch a post we are cooking up on an approach to change that should make sense to anyone...anyone with common sense, that is.

September 18, 2012

Cue Mr. Kanye West, or Even MORE Reason to Reject Romney

Romney: "Ok, America bend over and grit your teeth."

As you, dear reader, have now heard widely reported Mitt Romney said some truly ignorant, insensitive, and downright ghastly things about half (ok, just 47%) of the people in this country.  In case you missed the coverage here is a link to the original story in Mother Jones.  (MJ definitely has a slant, but we consider them to have Good Journalistic Integrity.  We can also infer from the non-denial denials - he actually used the phrase "not elegantly stated", how would you state that elegantly? - coming out of Team Romney, that you can be sure he actually said every word of it.)

We here at Distasteful Inelegance have been making the case that Mitt is a less than ideal choice for President of the United States.  We've been saying that while Mitt probably isn't a bad guy, and his administration probably wouldn't ruin the country, he really doesn't have the country's best interests in mind, and there are better choices for President.

We'd like to amend our position on Mitt.  We now think our worst fears about the real Mitt Romney may have been confirmed by this report.  Some of you out there have claimed that Mitt is a privileged whiner, that has open enmity for the 99%.  We are beginning to think that may be true, and now cannot give him the benefit of the doubt.  That combined with the dangerous encroachment on your democratic rights represented by his campaign's use of the twin strategies of voter suppression and unlimited super-PAC money have made us call for no one to cast a vote for him.

In light of this most recent revelation, we once again call for anyone and everyone to either abstain, or vote for anyone other than Mitt Romney.

September 17, 2012

More Clear Thinking on the Economy, or Austerity is a Ruinous Plan Right Now

Robert Reich has it correct.  He reiterates much of what we said in this post.  Jobs will be created at a faster rate when consumers buy more stuff.  It's a virtuous cycle.  Moreover, austerity and the "fiscal cliff" will sink us into recession, leading to less spending and fewer jobs.  That's an un-virtuous cycle.

In a related story, are you wondering why the R's keep coming back to the fiscal policy of their demigod, Ronald Reagan?  Business Insider also has a great post by Joe Wiesenthal explaining why Romney has no answers for unemployment, because his retread of trickle-down policy won't help in the current market conditions.  The Reagan years are over. These are not the same economic conditions that we faced in the 80's faced, and a tired retread of that policy won't help us.

Think about that before you head into the voting booth this Fall.

September 13, 2012

Why No One Should Want Romney to Win, or an Appeal to Reason

We touched on this in Monday's post, but perhaps we buried the lede a bit.  So, we will revisit this topic today and layout the reasoning why any freedom-loving, red-blooded American should not vote for Mitt Romney.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but a Romney win means the U. S. of A. is no longer a democracy.

Xingzhou Zhu | Daily Trojan
This is not an argument for or against anyone's particular policies.  We may make a lot of hay on this blog with criticism of Mitt Romney's and Paul Ryan's beliefs and policies.  We have our reasons for doing so, but we can also accept that other people perceive the world differently that we do, and may come to different conclusions about what is the best way to address some of the Really Big Problems that we face together as Americans.  We think we have weighed the available evidence and drawn the best reasoned conclusions, but we also know in the backs of our minds that the Really Big Problems are incredibly complex and may not be solvable with only one particular type of policy proscription.  That isn't why you shouldn't vote for Mitt Romney, though.

This is not an argument about which candidate is more likable, more in touch with the Middle Class, or any of the myriad qualities cited in of your favorite Presidential horse-race stories in the news these days.  We think we know which party's rhetoric matches up best with the true historic values of this country.  We think we know which guy says things that resonate with most people.  We also think there are legitimate reasons to like and dislike both candidates and it is up to each voter to decide that on his or her own.  But, that isn't why you shouldn't vote for Mitt Romney, either.

This is not even an argument about which guy will do better creating jobs, saving the global economy, leading the Free World, or any of the other things that people say they want their President to do.  We know full well that the President of the United States gets credit and blame for things that are outside of his control.  We also know that for the most part the power that the President wields is symbolic, and is often at the mercy of a dysfunctional Congress.  Though we are greatly concerned about the consequences of a Romney Administration combined with a Tea-Bagger-infested House of Representatives, we know there is always the Senate to put the breaks on most any radical agenda.  So, we don't believe the predictions of impending doom shouted by paranoid partisans on both sides, and can accept that a Romney presidency wouldn't really be that different than the last few years.  But, that also isn't why you shouldn't vote for Mitt Romney.

This is a simple appeal to your sense of citizenship, responsibility, and patriotism.  Anyone who believes in the core values of freedom and democracy should be worried about the current shape of the campaign.

Now anyone with any sense knows that there is very little difference between the two campaigns on a strategic level, but the major distinction is the extent of the support and fundraising being done by super-PACs.  Yes, the Democrats have their own attack dogs that produce misleading ads that impugn the Republicans.  The difference, though, is one of scale.  Outside groups backing Romney are making a concerted effort to usurp this election.  Go see this article from Reuters if you are unconvinced and need further evidence.  Republicans will be forever linked to the entire genesis of the super-PAC, and they have cast their lot with the scorched earth politics that have resulted.  We seriously doubt anyone would seriously argue that point, and we question your grasp on reality if you do.

In the coming weeks the super-PACs that support Republican causes are going to open their massive war chests and bombard every poor voter in a swing state with messaging in an attempt to turn the tide of this election in Romney's favor.  A win for Romney will legitimize this type of vote purchasing strategy.  No matter whom you support, you should be concerned if the super-PACs buy the election.  If it can happen this time, there is no stopping it from happening another time.  Then we will forever be at the mercy of whichever cabal of moneyed gentlemen decide to spend enough to buy the government.

We will assume that you, dear reader, are intelligent enough to understand the implications of polling trends and prediction models.  (Go here for some knowledge for your head, in case you haven't seen the latest poll data and predictive models.)  The fact is the preponderance of evidence shows that a win for Obama is nearly inevitable.  The will of the people is to give the President - flawed though he may be - four more years in office.

This is why you should not vote for Mitt Romney.  A vote for Mitt Romney is a vote for disenfranchisement. A vote for Mitt Romney is a vote for the wholesale purchase of an election.  A vote for Mitt Romney is a vote for plutocracy.  A vote for Mitt Romney ignores the Will of the People.

Conservatives are fond of crying for us to take-back democracy.  Here's a chance to take action.  Send a message to all super-PACs, to all anonymous donors, to all unlimited campaign spending.  Reject the super-PAC strategy.

Don't vote for Romney.

September 12, 2012

Link Hive #10; or Levitating Slinkies, Y'all!

With all this talk about facts and misinformation floating around the political sphere these days, we thought we'd put together a Link Hive about information theory.  How knowledge and information is sent and received in the real world.  Enjoy:

The always excellent Radiolab podcast looks at the Mystery of the Levitating Slinky.  This is a great demonstration of both dynamic equilibrium, and how information is transferred through space-time.  Yes, Virginia, a Slinky is a great way to demonstrate really heavy stuff about the nature of the universe.  By the way, if you are at all curious about the world around you, Radiolab is strictly essential listening.  It is routinely brilliant and sometimes mind blowing.

Speaking of the way that information is sent and received, scientists have discovered examples of affine symmetry when looking at the brain's control of motor functions.  What is Affine Symmetry;*Warning* math intensive Wikipedia link. - ed.]  It's the origin independent symmetry that describes parallelism and distance of paths along a smooth 3D surface, and it's also the way your brain organizes and plans motor movements in an incredibly efficient way.  This finding may indicate a more fundamental law that underlies how information is transferred.  Roboticists everywhere are keen to know the answer.

And, speaking of using information to predict outcomes, Technology Review has interesting article about scientists using computational modeling to study the anticancer properties of Gadolinium.

September 10, 2012

More About Money in Politics; or Evidence That NPR Producers Are Reading This, Too

Other than the lede of the story sounding just like the punchline from our post on campaign spending, we can't take credit for the excellent reporting on super-PAC spending in this election cycle by NPR.  Though, we can't help noticing the similarity and being flattered that maybe, just maybe, big time news editors are reading our little blog.

Image credit: Dave Granlund
This story from NPR talks about the fundraising gap between pro-Republican groups and pro-Democratic groups.  We mentioned in this post the existential crisis that the Dems were having in starting up their own super-PAC to fight back against all the money flowing into the Republican camp, but this story sheds light on how the personal ethics of President Obama differ from President Clinton's handling (coddling?) of large donors in the past.

Most interesting will be to see if and how the mountains of money backing Romney's campaign affect the race.  According to the prediction models that Nate Silver is running over at Five Thirty Eight the President now has over an 80% chance (80.7% to be exact, as of Sept. 10th) of winning re-election.  We all know The Mitt is a relatively weak candidate (There must be something about Massachusetts-based candidates.  After the Kennedys, can you think of another strong leader to come from the Bay State?) who has routinely failed to drum up enthusiasm among the Republican base.  So, if the Republican super-PACs can carpet bomb the swing states with enough money and advertising to sway the election in Romney's favor, then we will have truly seen how an election is bought.

One hopes that this strategy will be proven unsuccessful in such a way as to discourage its emulation in future contests.  No matter who wins, we would not want to live in a plutocracy, and we suspect you wouldn't either.  (More so than it already is now, anyway.)  So, we look on with trepidation with the hope that democracy wins the day.  We suspect it will prevail this time, but let's all be vigilant against further gains of influence and power by unelected groups.

[What's the ultimate answer to our money and politics conundrum?  We think it has to do with a combination of greater participation by more of us, and the passage of better disclosure laws for campaign donors...more on that in a future post. -ed.]

September 7, 2012

Link Hive #9, or Sifting Through the Remains

This edition of the Link Hive is brought to you by the letter "D" and the number "1" 

The 2012 editions of the Democratic and Republican National Conventions are over.  Here are some links to sift through as we make sense of it all:

And for those who have reached their limit of convention related news, here are some links with a distinctly science! theme:


September 6, 2012

Shocker: A Convention Speech of Reasonable Ideas, or Sound Familiar?

If any of you caught Tuesday keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention by San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro certain sections of his message might have sounded familiar to regular readers of this little blog (both of you).  For those that missed the talk - and those that just like everything neatly served to them - here are the exact sections in question from the full transcript:

My family’s story isn’t special. What’s special is the America that makes our story possible. Ours is a nation like no other, a place where great journeys can be made in a single generation. No matter who you are or where you come from, the path is always forward.
Julian Castro delivering his keynote Tuesday
America didn’t become the land of opportunity by accident. My grandmother’s generation and generations before always saw beyond the horizons of their own lives and their own circumstances. They believed that opportunity created today would lead to prosperity tomorrow. That’s the country they envisioned, and that’s the country they helped build. The roads and bridges they built, the schools and universities they created, the rights they fought for and won—these opened the doors to a decent job, a secure retirement, the chance for your children to do better than you did.
And that’s the middle class—the engine of our economic growth. With hard work, everybody ought to be able to get there. And with hard work, everybody ought to be able to stay there—and go beyond. The dream of raising a family in a place where hard work is rewarded is not unique to Americans. It’s a human dream, one that calls across oceans and borders. The dream is universal, but America makes it possible. And our investment in opportunity makes it a reality.
Now, in Texas, we believe in the rugged individual. Texas may be the one place where people actually still have bootstraps, and we expect folks to pull themselves up by them. But we also recognize there are some things we can’t do alone. We have to come together and invest in opportunity today for prosperity tomorrow.
And it starts with education.
We know that in our free market economy some will prosper more than others. What we don’t accept is the idea that some folks won’t even get a chance.  Of all the fictions we heard last week in Tampa, the one I find most troubling is this: If we all just go our own way, our nation will be stronger for it. Because if we sever the threads that connect us, the only people who will go far are those who are already ahead.
To us, that sounds an awful lot like the ideas that we were trying to get across in this post about the underlying mesh that binds a society.  We came up with an esoteric - and overwrought - way to describe what Mr. Castro describe far more eloquently.  It was more than a little comforting to hear one of the political parties at least paying lip-service to the notion that we are all in this together for better and for worse.  Perhaps it's our perceptions and biases coloring the memory, but we can't recall that sentiment being explicitly or implicitly broadcast at the RNC last week.  Can you?

We will always admit to being a sucker for this type of hopeful, positive message.  And, we are sure these and any other speeches delivered in Charlotte this week should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism.  We can't, however, refrain from getting more than a little hopeful when someone of prominence in the public policy sphere says things that are eminently reasonable.  Can we change politics if we all start looking at how we can grow closer together in this country, and be always mindful of how we can help each other out?  Yes, we can.

September 4, 2012

Imitation and Flattery; or Stop Ripping Me Off, Stewart

Whether it's the old saw that great minds think alike or the writers for Jon Stewart's magnum opus have been reading this blog for ideas, the final show that the Daily Show did from Tampa "stole" several of the ideas we've been putting forth on this little blog.  Specifically:

1. Running the country as a for profit business

2.Why there is no party for most of us

3. Why the Republicans are so afraid of Obama, their stawman arguments, and especially the inscrutable Clint Eastwood performance.   [See also: A comment that your intrepid blogger made on this NPR story.  We'll save you the tedium of wading through the pages of comments and reprint it here: "The Clint Eastwood speech was symbolic of the entire RNC: a bunch of old white men making up "facts" about a guy that doesn't exist. The irony is assuredly lost on them, but I thought it was perfect." -ed.]

We make the accusation of intellectual thievery mostly in jest.  It's not like our lazy skepticism is all that novel.  We mostly suspect that it's all just part of the current zeitgeist among the critical thinking set.  So, hats off to you Daily Show writers for bringing us 21 minutes of joy four nights a week.  You may be aware of our ambivalence toward the President, so we can't wait for Jon Stewart, and Co. to take aim at the Dems next week.

Posting will be light this week, so enjoy the DNC coverage.  We'll be back later in the week with a wrap up.

August 31, 2012

Link Hive #8, or A Roundup of Lies and Untruths

In honor of the RNC coming to a close yesterday with the official nomination of The Mitt (thankfully we can drop that horrible "putative" descriptor) here is a list of examples of the Republicans playing fast and loose with the truth.  The other day we laid out the problems with the Elephant-based Party, and this is probably their worst trait that has evolved over the past decade.

Perhaps the most convincing way to make this point is satire, so we leave you with two clips from the guys who actually had the most informative coverage of the RNC: The Daily Show.  The first clip illustrates the hypocrisy, the second the mendacity of your modern conservative.

August 29, 2012

Why There Isn't a Party for Most of Us, Part 2; or The Dance of the Elephants

As you know from this post we have no particular love for the Democratic Party, despite the fact that the Pew Center for Research considers us "Solid Liberals".  Some may conclude, by process of elimination, that we would naturally have to be Republican voters in that case.  Well, they'd be wrong, because the only American political party that we dislike more than the Dems is the Republicans.

Why, you might ask?

It's not because they have become a bunch of liars who don't care a lick about facts, as Charles Pierce of Esquire so clearly points out.  It's not that they have decided to turn their back on the legacy of Abraham Lincoln and shun and/or disenfranchise every minority group possible to carry out this year's version of the "Southern Strategy".  It's not that they have decided to eschew intelligence and knowledge to pander to their uneducated base.  (No wonder they hate teachers.)  It's not that they continue to cough up retreads of the most disastrous economic policies in history.  It's not that they have jacked up the National Debt more than Dems, then hypocritically crying about the size of the National Debt.  It's not their obvious and blatant hypocrisy, in general.  It's not their insistence on telling women what is best for their bodies.  [By the way this tweet from Stephen Colbert explains why Michael Steele chose Tampa for the RNC: it's the strip clubs. -ed.]  It's not that they have concentrated into a cabal of Cruel Old White Men.

It's that they don't even try to pretend to be ashamed of that long list of indictments.

As a result they have become a bunch of mean-spirited ideologues wedded to some out-dated sense of what-A'merca-stands-for.  As a result they are now the party of non-educated white men, according to all the polls.  As a result, they are petrified by the realization that their will many more people born who aren't them in the coming decades.  As a result they have started to believe the great big lies they have been telling us.  [e.g. Chris Christie claiming that his father "Built It", despite the fact that he parlayed an armed forces stint to a GI Bill financed state college degree.  All of those are provided by the government. Or, just the fact that they have the temerity to plaster that silly slogan all over the publicly finance sports arena that they currently occupy. -ed.]

As a result, they are making a foolish run to the extreme right, in a short term effort to win votes, that will ultimately isolate them in obscurity.  From where we sit, we think that the Republicans deserve the Tea-Baggers.  After-all they are just the folks that actually believe the rhetoric that the old Republican Party would shout, then ignore.

To put a nice bow on it, think of the Dems as your mother: telling you to eat your broccoli because it's good for you, begging you to eat your broccoli, then bribing you to do so.  Now think of the R's as your alcoholic, swearing, Bible-thumping, adulterous, abusive father who won't let you have the keys to the car Saturday night because you didn't earn it.

At least mom has your personal well-being in mind.

August 28, 2012

Why Blog?, or Paying Homage to the Greats

Now that we have built a tiny and undedicated audience for this blog we have been asked this question at least twice, "Why on earth do you write that miserable little blog of yours?"

Here are the top three reasons that we maintain a blog.

  1. Self-importance: We have things to say, and it is eminently aggrandizing to spray them across the internet instead of ineffectually shouting at the TV/radio/computer/random strangers
  2. Self-delusion: people want to hear what we have to say, and are clamoring for more of our trite, lazy analysis of current events, public policy, and/or science!
  3. The real reason that we do this is we grew up in the age of newspaper consolidation and widespread syndication, which meant that we could read some really great writing and journalism even in our dinky hometown daily.  We particularly remember thinking for a time that syndicated columnist, Dave Barry had just about the best job we could imagine.  How fun it would be to goof around all week then write about it in a few column inches each week.  But at the time we also thought that it was nearly impossible for an average person like ourselves to become so widely read, and influential.  We imagined the years spent slogging it out in the newsroom to make it to the ranks of syndication, and we concluded that other pursuits were more attractive to us on a professional level.  Besides, we liked math and science better than literature and composition by the time we had to decide on a college major.  That was when we let our original dream of editorial fame dwindle.  Fast forward a few years, and thanks to disintermediation afforded by the internet anyone can be an amateur columnist.  So now that the barriers to entry are quite low, we daily feel the call to pick up the torch laid down by some of the past greats and tap out some thoughts that can be read by the wider public.  It's not to say that we count ourselves peers to the great and dedicated professional writers that we still enjoy reading, but we also value the ability for any citizen to put pen to paper bytes to text editor and scrawl out a some insight about the world we live in.  Professional journalists don't have a monopoly on great writing or good sense and you can find examples of insightful writing by amateurs all over this great and varied internet.
As we mentioned yesterday, go check out Dave Barry's columns on the RNC over at National Journal.  While you do so think about penning your own blog about what you see around you.  Our society will be stronger for it.

August 27, 2012

A Brief Outage, or Why It's a Good Idea to Take a Break

For those of you that were wondering where we were last Friday, it was a family day for you intrepid blogger.  No need to ratchet up the outrage level when we were enjoying such great fun with the fam.  For those of you that missed us, we say thanks.  While we were paused for a moment we also passed another milestone: 3000 page views.  Once again, thanks for stopping by and having a look-see.  Don't be shy to post a comment or two.
The rest of the week will be back to the normal posting schedule.  Here's what we have planned:

Have a great week.

August 23, 2012

End of the Road, or Paging Mr. Brady

With a seemingly endless supply of headlines of mass shootings this summer, one thing has become more and more evident: the control debate is over.  Every tragedy has seen a reiteration from both Democrats and Republicans that there will be no further action on limiting firearm ownership.  Writing in Esquire Magazine's  The Politics Blog Tom Junod points out that the consensus of policy makers, at the urging of the National Rifle Association, is not that we have too many guns, but too few.  This has largely come about by the Republican Party "ideological doubling down" on its all guns for all people mantra.

So, headlines like the ones we saw in response to the Aurora, CO movie theater shooting are just the beginning.  In fact, we have had the horrifying realization that we no longer feel anything other than resigned apathy with each successive mass shooting story we have read this summer.

What ever happened to Republican claims of being the party that values life?  Apparently, their protection of life ends once you are born.  What ever happened to the spine of the Democratic Party...oh, wait... never mind.  What, then, ever happened to James Brady?

Where have you gone James Brady?

August 22, 2012

Big Business Is Here to Save the Day, or The New Mythology

I'm desperately wracking my brain right now to remember whom to attribute this quote:
Americans mistrust government more than Europeans even though we [Americans] have arguably had better governments than they have. And we trust companies more than Europeans even though we have arguably had worse companies.
I'm going to attribute it to Jeff Jarvis of the CUNY School of Journalism, but it looks like the original idea might have come from someone else.
In this corner...
And, in this corner...

Anyhoo, on to the real point of this post:

Does anyone else find it more than a little ironic that this notion is unquestioningly accepted today: business experience is an asset for a candidate for public office?  Or, we could flip that and say that candidates without business experience are particularly singled out for ridicule.  Stop me if you have heard this campaign mantra before. "As a small-business owner, I know how to run [insert level of government office] and create jobs in this economy."  Or this one.  "My opponent has no experience running a business, and has no idea what it means to create jobs."


It's as though we have all agreed to forget these names: Enron, WorldCom, Tyco International, Standard Oil, AT&T (the original incarnation, as well as its current), Lehman Brothers, the list is virtually endless.  They all had leadership that did damn-fine-work destroying shareholder equity while eliminating jobs by the gross.  I'm sure, positive in fact, that each of them had an exec or two with ambitions to run for public office, not to mention how much weight these guys threw around on KSt.

There is a fundamental difference between running a for-profit enterprise and a (likely) heavily in debt State.  I'm reminded of the Washington Post op-ed by Mann and Ornstein that I linked to in this post.  The government is not a enterprise that must be profitable and be sure to balance its budget annually, which is the knee-jerk reaction of most businessman-cum-candidate.  ("I could never run my business spending like Washington does.")  In times of private sector contraction, it is frequently suicidal for governments to pull back on spending in response to shrinking revenue.  Just ask every cash-strapped state Governor with a constitutionally mandated balanced budget.  I would agree with anyone who says that a government should try to stay within a rational spending plan over a span of many years, but treating the public trust as an accounting exercise is foolish.

Moreover, the same analysis needed to asses the business case for an new enterprise would surely veto any number of essential government services and agencies that are required to make a stable state.  Cost vs. benefit analysis is inadequate to decide the merits of many critical infrastructure and publicly beneficial investments.  The strictly Objectivist view that seems to be spewing out of any of the new wave of Conservatives and Tea-Baggers is no way to ensure that people have a wealth of societally beneficial assets like National Parks, breathable air, potable water, investment in basic science and R&D, transit infrastructure...the list is endless.  Not to mention the host of private enterprise that is heavily (or solely...looking at you military-industrial complex) reliant on government contracts to stay in business.

Over the years I've personally worked with some pretty smart executives that would likely make very effective public servants (it's likely to their personal credit, and not a little ironic, that these are likely the last people who would profess to run for office), but I've also worked for some really s#!*ty a$&-holes who would make incredibly disastrous political leaders.

Just think about the terminology for a minute, "public servant" and "business leader."  Which one describes someone who is looking out for the common good?  Which one describes the self-interested individual who makes decisions based on profit?

As should not surprise you, dear reader, the business world is made up of jerks, and smart people, and nice people, and hard workers, and lazy f^&kers, and...all of which are pretty evenly dispersed.  Just like everywhere else.  So, the next time someone say some like the above quotes, stop and consider your coworkers over the years.  Who among them would be worthy of your vote for Senator, let alone dog catcher?

August 21, 2012

Link Hive #7, or The Internet Is AllKindsOfScaryToo

After Link Hive #5 where we marveled at how awesome the internet is, there have been a spate of stories to remind us that the internet can be a rough and tumble kind of place, too.  This may surprise some, but we here at DI prefer an unregulated internet.  We directly benefit from the free and open internet, and we think any public or private limitations on the net imperil free speech and access to information,.  And as the Arab Spring has shown, those are two critical checks on governmental power.

Though that does mean a kind of Wild West notion of property rights as a result.  To wit:

Scared yet?

(Please keep using the internet, though.  It'd be lonely our here in cyberspace without you.  Just be careful whom you give your data to.)

August 20, 2012

Paul Ryan, or Ayn Rand?

What to make of the inclusion of Paul Ryan on the Republican Presidential ticket?  We already discussed that this was a Hail Mary play for the Romney camp that should please the Democrats to no end.  Other smart people have pointed that out, as well.  (Obama has increased his lead in most polls since Ryan was added to the Romney ticket.)  Let's go into a little more depth:

First, and most inexplicable, he somehow likes Rage Against the Machine, which clearly means he is one of those people that doesn't listen to lyrics.  What's next, a secret confession by Joe Biden that he is really into Kid Rock and The Motor City Madman, Ted Nugent?  Actually, Biden is just nutty enough for that to be true, so let's change that to Dennis Kucinich.

And, since the recently concluded Summer Olympics are still on our minds...Best Intellectual Gymnastics Routine goes to the Romney camp who are simultaneously running away from and taking credit for liking/adopting Ryan's budget proposal.  Translation: "Don't freak moderates, we're not using Ryan's budget.  Don't freak out teabaggers, we're totally using Ryan's budget."  Maybe that award should be for coherently speaking out of both sides of the mouth.

Why all the tortuous posturing?  This the very same budget that has been called so radical, silly, and even cartoonishly evil that pollsters working for Priorities Action USA couldn't get regular folks to believe that it was a serious piece of legislation.  (Here is the original NYT story.)  In fact, even everyone's favorite Newt (Gingrich) found the Ryan budget to be too much to stomach (get it?) when he called the Ryan budget "right-wing social engineering" during his campaign to be in Republican driver's seat that Mitt Romney now occupies.

Some have called Ryan "courageous" for being willing to grab the third rail of politics, entitlement reform.  It might be more accurate to say Ryan pushes way past courage into foolhardiness with the structure of his budget proposal.  As Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities pointed out on PBS Newshour on Monday, proposing huge tax cuts for the wealthy doesn't exactly take a ton of bravery for Republicans.  The scale of the cutbacks, eliminations, burden shifting, and broken promises in the Ryan budget puts it in the category of fantastical rather than courageous.  The full clip from Newshour is below, so you can watch the arguments for yourself.

Then, there is Paul Ryan's nettlesome voting record.  Apparently, Mr. Budget Hawk himself voted for TARP and bank bailouts, and even jumped on the stimulus bandwagon that is so antithetical to conservatives these days.  Jon Stewart does this joke better than we could hope to:

It also turns out Ryan is rather well off.  Now the whole tax-cuts-for-wealthy-people angle in his budget is starting to make sense.  It never ceases to amaze us how people that have enjoyed every advantage of means to achieve any level of success want to then pull the ladder up behind them.  Either Ryan assumes future generations will be far more talented and resourceful that they can handle more obstacles to success, or he has such a disdain for middle and lower-class people that he prefer that they just go away.  Or, is this some kind of "let them eat cake" idea of social mobility?

By the way, we have long wondered why doesn't Grover Norquist get his undies in bunch about raising taxes on middle and low income Americans?  No matter how they try to spin it, the Ryan plan will raise taxes.  (That is the very definition of "lower rates and broaden the base".)  Just not on the people writing checks to conservative Super-PACs.

We do not pretend that the fiscal problems that we face aren't serious business and will take a significant overhaul of how programs are funded to get it under control.  A massive tear-down of the social saftety net in the name of austerity (but is little more than some Ayn Rand-inspired dream of how Ryan thinks the world ought to work), however, would be a major drag on an economy that needs all the help it can get right now.  (Just ask a European how well austerity works in a fiscal crunch.)  The wise approach would be to find ways to bring productivity gains to the public sector in order to reap greater spending efficiency, and find the proper balance of spending and investments to create a level playing field and a future-proof economy.

On top of that, we are seeing Ryan being more energetic and present on the campaign trail, which makes us and many others wonder who is the real head of the Republican ticket.  All-in-all this looks like a move that will ultimately backfire for Romney.