Friday, November 30, 2007

Dominance + vengeance

What if the Pats left Chris Hanson inactive for the Jets game and played without a punter? Wouldn't that be the ultimate slap in the face? Know this going in, Mangini ... we're not punting. Can you think of a better psychological ploy?
--Bill Simmons,, on the confluence of vengeance and utter dominance that is the New England Patriots playing the Jets

Glenn and Julia

There is a kind of artistic branding. Sometimes I think I like the Glenn Gould approach. He obsessively played Bach’s ‘‘Goldberg’’ Variations over and over until he achieved a kind of perfection. Julia Roberts has a Glenn Gould-like career.
--Natalie Portman, NYT Style Magazine, making an unlikely connection

Thursday, November 29, 2007

To run or walk?

Yet another wonder of Japanese television: When the world record holder for race walk is under life-threatening danger from a fake gang of murderous samurai, will he run or walk?

Considerate Bo

"I wasn't scared. I wasn't scared because I knew I could outrun my white buddy. You've got to think about these things, man."
--Bo Jackson,, on the time he shot a 300-pound bear at point-blank range with a .45-caliber pistol

A turn in the spam war

The volume of junk e-mail transmitted worldwide is still enormous. But a remarkable trend is underfoot, according to Brad Taylor, a staff software engineer at Google: The number of spam attempts -- that is, the number of junk messages sent out by spammers -- is flat, and may even be declining for the first time in years.

Google won't disclose numbers, but the company says that spam attempts, as a percentage of e-mail that's transmitted through its Gmail system, have waned over the last year. That could indicate that some spammers have gotten discouraged and have stopped trying to get through Google’s spam filters. ...

E-mail providers like Google, Yahoo, AOL and Microsoft's Hotmail use sophisticated filtering algorithms that are constantly updated based on spam reports from individual users. Google says it can delete all instances of a single spam message across the Gmail network in seconds.
--Betsy Schiffman, Wired, on a turn in the war against spam

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Is it torture?

So I said something to the Nightline guy about waterboarding, and if the Bush administration didn't think it was torture, they ought to do some personal investigation. Someone in the Bush family should actually be waterboarded so they could report on it to George. I said, I didn't think he would do it, but I suggested Jenna be waterboarded and then she could talk about whether or not she thought it was torture.
--Stephen King, Time, on waterboarding as not-torture

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A real-life Oldboy scene

Astonishing. I had thought that real-life fights never look like fight scenes from movies.

These guys likewise commit the double error of messing with the wrong opponent and being unready for a fast start. As a general rule, if you pick a fight with someone who immediately assumes a relaxed but erect shuffle-stepping stance with his hands up and his chin tucked and a blandly businesslike expression on his face, you have probably just answered the question of the day wrong, even if you have him outnumbered.
--Carlo Rotella, Slate, on universal patterns in street fight videos

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Why I'm glad I don't own a house

Forward-looking indicators suggest that the housing sector may be in free-fall from what felt like the basement levels of a few months ago. Single family home construction may be down over the next year by as much as half from previous peak levels. There are forecasts implied by at least one property derivatives market indicating that nationwide house prices could fall from their previous peaks by as much as 25 per cent over the next several years.
--Larry Summers, Financial Times, on bad times ahead for housing prices

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Gangsta Santa

All the way from Australia, comes the first “War on Christmas” dust-up with word that some Santas there have been asked to say “Ha! Ha! Ha!” rather than “Ho! Ho! Ho!” since the latter — post gangsta rap and post Imus — now is seen as demeaning to women. I am not making this up.
--Peter Applebome, NYT, on the co-option of a familiar syllable


Hillary Clinton: "We can't afford on-the-job training for our next president."

Barack Obama: "My understanding is that she wasn't treasury secretary in the Clinton administration. I don't know exactly what experience she's claiming."

Michael Kinsley on the above exchange: "As wit, that round goes to Obama. Clinton was elected to the Senate in 2000, and that was her first experience in public office. Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004 and was an Illinois state senator for seven years before that. In terms of experience in elected office, this seems to be about a wash."

Science as a form of faith

All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way. ...

Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are. The answers vary from “that’s not a scientific question” to “nobody knows.” The favorite reply is, “There is no reason they are what they are — they just are.” ... If one traces these reasons all the way down to the bedrock of reality — the laws of physics — only to find that reason then deserts us, it makes a mockery of science. ...

Clearly, then, both religion and science are founded on faith — namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained God or an unexplained set of physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of unseen universes, too. For that reason, both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence.

This shared failing is no surprise, because the very notion of physical law is a theological one in the first place, a fact that makes many scientists squirm. Isaac Newton first got the idea of absolute, universal, perfect, immutable laws from the Christian doctrine that God created the world and ordered it in a rational way. Christians envisage God as upholding the natural order from beyond the universe, while physicists think of their laws as inhabiting an abstract transcendent realm of perfect mathematical relationships. ...

But until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus.
--Paul Davies, NYT, on how all the ways we know how to know are faith-based

Mandating it don't make it so

A year after Massachusetts became the only state to require that individuals have health coverage, residents face deadlines to either sign up or lose their personal tax exemption, worth $219 on next year’s state income tax returns. More than 200,000 previously uninsured residents have enrolled, but state officials estimate that at least that number, and perhaps twice as many, have not.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and John Edwards, the former North Carolina senator, support a mandate. It is, they say, the only way to guarantee that everyone is covered and to thereby bring down costs by spreading the country’s insurance risk as broadly as possible. ...

“At 27, it’s not like I’m thinking, ‘Oh, man, what if I need an operation down the line?’ ” said Samuel B. Hagan of Lenox, a courier who remains uninsured. “Furthest thing from my head.” ...

John E. McDonough, executive director of Health Care for All, an advocacy group based here, said he found it breathtaking that political leaders were calling for an individual mandate well before there was any way to measure the success of the Massachusetts experiment.
--Kevin Sack, NYT, on data-free wishful thinking

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Communist Thanksgiving

Because of sharing, the first Thanksgiving in 1623 almost didn't happen.

The failure of Soviet communism is only the latest demonstration that freedom and property rights, not sharing, are essential to prosperity. ...

When the Pilgrims first settled the Plymouth Colony, they organized their farm economy along communal lines. The goal was to share everything equally, work and produce.

They nearly all starved.

Why? When people can get the same return with a small amount of effort as with a large amount, most people will make little effort. Plymouth settlers faked illness rather than working the common property. Some even stole, despite their Puritan convictions. Total production was too meager to support the population, and famine resulted. Some ate rats, dogs, horses and cats. This went on for two years.

"So as it well appeared that famine must still ensue the next year also, if not some way prevented," wrote Gov. William Bradford in his diary. The colonists, he said, "began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length after much debate of things, [I] (with the advice of the chiefest among them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves. ... And so assigned to every family a parcel of land."

The people of Plymouth moved from socialism to private farming. The results were dramatic.

"This had very good success," Bradford wrote, "for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been. ... By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many. ... "
--John Stossel, BusinessWeek, on the importance of private property incentives

Monday, November 19, 2007

What sleep used to be like

More surprising still, [historian A. Roger] Ekirch reports that for many centuries, and perhaps back to Homer, Western society slept in two shifts. People went to sleep, got up in the middle of the night for an hour or so, and then went to sleep again. Thus night — divided into a “first sleep” and “second sleep” — also included a curious intermission. “There was an extraordinary level of activity,” Ekirch told me. People got up and tended to their animals or did housekeeping. Others had sex or just lay in bed thinking, smoking a pipe, or gossiping with bedfellows. Benjamin Franklin took “cold-air baths,” reading naked in a chair.

Our conception of sleep as an unbroken block is so innate that it can seem inconceivable that people only two centuries ago should have experienced it so differently. Yet in an experiment at the National Institutes of Health a decade ago, men kept on a schedule of 10 hours of light and 14 hours of darkness — mimicking the duration of day and night during winter — fell into the same, segmented pattern... Some sleep disorders, namely waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to fall asleep again, “may simply be this traditional pattern, this normal pattern, reasserting itself,” Ekirch told me. “It’s the seamless sleep that we aspire to that’s the anomaly, the creation of the modern world.”
--Jon Mooallem, NYT Magazine, on innovations in sleep

Monday, November 5, 2007

Acting Asian

Economist Roland Fryer has done research on “acting white,” i.e. the phenomenon by which black children who excel academically are stigmatized by their peers.

Recently, he was in a New York City school and asked some of the seventh graders he was talking to whether they had ever heard the phrase “acting white.”

The kids laughed at him and said, “Of course, but that’s old school. Now it’s called ‘acting Asian.’”
--Steve Levitt, Freakonomics blog, on the new whites