Archive for April 2009

A Nice Milestone

April 6, 2009

This blog passed 200,000 site visits this weekend — a number that does not include the readership of my hardy RSS subscribers.

That’s a modest number compared to some — but the quality is unsurpassed, and our numbers have been growing.  Soon it might be said that we surround them…;)

Thanks to all — and from your humble proprietor, a promise:

I know it’s been slow around here for a couple of months (and you should see my other blog). A combination of various day job demands and that thing we call …wait for it…what was it?…oh yeah….family, the wife and child…I’ll get their names in a minute…have put a bit of crimp on blogging time.   But there are lights at the end of various tunnels that may not all be oncoming trains, so I’ll be getting a bit more frisky soon.

You have been warned.

But all excuses and show-me promises aside, again, my thanks to all who have stopped by. Stick around.  More to come.

And in the meantime…enjoy the classic anthem of pomo science rock and roll:

Any Day The Yankees Lose…

April 6, 2009

…is a good day.  Red Sox 1/2 a game in front of the Evil Empire, 1/2 behind the Orioles.

I’m very happy (rain delayed) baseball is here.

Image: Cy Young baseball card 1911.  (between Boston stints).

Cockroaches Fear Light

April 6, 2009

See Scott Horton on the GOP attempt to blackmail the Obama adminstration into burying the Bush torture memos by threatening to filibuster unrelated appointments. (H/t Calchala over at Daily Kos.)

There is, of course, only one reason why GOP senators would be so eager to make sure that the Bush era descent into the realms inhabited by the Roman legionaries at work at Golgotha.  Gulag territory never sees the light of public knowledge.  It would both create a permanent stain on the party (and the nation) and it would constrain the ability of the next generation of evil to make use of the same justifications.

Which is, of course, the reason that publishing these memos is so important.  Cockroaches scurry from the light.

This is, of course, about as far as the theme of the blog I intended and still aim to write.  But I was long ago told that there is a tradition in some synagogues that if there were a matter of surpassing importance to the community it was acceptable to  stand up in the middle of Sabbath services and demand that the Torah not be read until the issue was discussed.  I offer this pos in that vein.

So consider this just a short encouragement to action.  I’m calling my Senators and leaving a note at Whitehouse.gov to urge them all to push back, hard, on this moral bankruptcy.  Feel free to do the same, or write a note below with better ideas.

Image:  William Blake “A Negro Hung Alive by the Ribs to a Gallows” illustration for Captain John Stedman, 1796.

A Couple of Days Late, But…

April 3, 2009

It’s always good to acknowledge fine April Fool’s snark.

In the science division, let me nominate this dispatch from the cutting edge of optical astronomy.

Let me just add from personal experience (very lucky me…see chapter 6 for the scene in this film shot at the Keck Observatory) that the one statement contained therein that is truly true is that one’s brain does indeed slow atop Mauna Kea.  13,600 ft is no joke.  In the wee hours one does have trouble working out sequences like this:  left foot; right foot; left foot; right foot; le…ri…? But it is truly gorgeous up there, night and day.

Update: Should have added the h/t:  one of my favorite blogs/bloggers, A Darker View.

Image:  Antoine Caron,  “Astronomers Studying an Eclipse,” 1571.

Friday Isaac Newton Blogging: Nick Montfort Cell Phone Fiction Edition

April 2, 2009

Nick Montfort, my prolific colleague in the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies at MIT, is presenting a reading as I write this (actually, as I wrote this, as it took me a shockingly long time to finish this modest post).  Nick is in some ways the apotheosis of an MIT humanist:  his academic pedigree includes the Media Lab, a B.U. MFA, and a Ph.D. in computer and information science from Penn.  He gave a reading at MIT recently that was, or was supposed to have been (many technical glitches), a technologically enhanced tour through the still not-that-well-known but (to-me) astonishingly beautiful world of machine-mediated poetry (and a little prose).

Given my current passion, it’s easy to see why the following exercise in the art of concision appealed to me.

This one comes from one of Nick’s collections, called Ten Mobile Texts:

A MINIMAL LIFE: Newton was a young man. Then, he devoted his life to wondrous discoveries, such as the calculus. As a result, he was an elderly virgin.

Go here for more — and mouse into the spaces in between for invaluable commentary.

Image:  Kunisada Utagawa, The Ghost, 1852.  From the series An Imaginary 36 Poets (Mitate Sanjurokkasen no Uchi).

The Worst Job in the World

April 2, 2009

Check out the videos posted at this Daily Kos diary and tell me that there is a anything more stressful these days than serving on Michelle Obama’s Secret Service detail.

I couldn’t be happier in our first lady, but I do feel for the two guys behind her.

Image:  Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Proclaiming Claudius Emperor, 1867.

As Dumb As It Gets (What the GOP thinks of the rest of us).

April 1, 2009

Well, the long awaited (by whom?–ed.) GOP budget alternative is in, and its a crock, as you might expect, and a depression-creator, if you actually believe the data (and John Maynard Keynes), given its desire to freeze government spending to fixed proportions of GDP for ever, boom years, bust years, whatever.

But what’s truly special about this begins with the budget’s promise that we’ll all say hallelujah to the GOP idea of tax heaven — a tax increase for middle income people, (those single filers in the 50-100K bracket), massive tax decreases for the richest — while promising deficits less than the Obama budget, which posits tax increases on the richest and tax breaks for the rest of us.

I’ll leave aside the populist appeal of easing the tax burdens on this guy and his friends.  What’s particularly revealing (and I know this is a dog-bites-man moment), is that the GOP promises and the GOP numbers do not add up.  They aren’t even bothering with Laffer curve nonsense this time.  Instead, they just say that their budget will reduce the deficit despite the enormous drop in tax revenue required under their plan.  How do they achieve this miracle of finance?

With magic sauce, of course.  The budget document states that

“This reform [sic] proposal attempts to solve these [sic] problem [that the tax code incentivizes certain economic choices — think home buying, charitable giving etc.] in a fundamentally American way:  by offering individuals  a choice.  Individuals can choose to pay their Federal taxes under the existing tax code with all the familiar deductions and schedules, or they could move to a highly simplified tax code.”

That is, folks could choose to pay lower taxes or higher ones.  Guess which the GOP assumes will happen as it projects its deficit numbers against the Obama plan?  No prizes to those who said the higher number.

All of which makes two things clear.  The “detailed” budget plan is even more of a finger painting exercise than the much panned original Republican “budget.” It doesn’t add up to anything but an economy busting fantasy:  crashing government revenues, no permitted flexibility in times of trouble, and yet more a transfer of wealth from the middle to the top.  And even that can’t be achieved without cooking the books, claiming that the budget will actually raise money on the desire of rich Americans to pay more in tax rather than less.*  There is no there here.  It doesn’t add up; it doesn’t make sense.

Which, of course, is what underpins the second revelation:  the only way the GOP budget delivers even on its claimed (but false) lower deficit number is by scorched earth treatment to the discretionary budget, and especially to Medicare, which would in essence be privatized, at great cost, to the benefit of the same insurance companies whose interests, shall we say, are not perfectly aligned with those who would impose costs on the insurer.

Given the certain deeper shortfalls the “choose your tax rate” approach would create, the federal government would be essentially out of the civilian governance business. Which, of course, is what this is really about.  The GOP in Congress, far more loony-tunes doctrinaire than even their own rank-and-file, is still the “drown the Federal government in a bathtub” school.  There is no concern here about making policy or economic sense.  The act of governing is anathema to them; they can’t stand the notion that a nation of 300 million people might need some organization to get along with daily life, someone taking care of the roads and keeping Mr. Peabody’s coal train from hauling it away** and so on.

Which is fine, as private opinion.  It’s a disaster in power.  The sooner these guys (and at least one gal — I’m looking at you Michelle B.) go Galt, the better for all of us.

But they won’t — and this gets me to the last of my screed.  I hate the fact that they so transparently trade on the presumed dumbness of those whom they would govern if they could.  The trick above:  play with one set of numbers on the charts, and hide the real ones in the fine print is, not to put too fine a point on it, literally criminal in other settings, and disgraceful in this one.  The House and Senate GOP has neither the moral capacity nor the intellectual ability to lead.  The sooner a real opposition party emerges, the better. I say rich, though all of us would make that choice, just about, because it is the choices of the rich that make or break the budget outcome here

  • *I say rich, because though most of us (all?) would choose the lower tax option, it is the choices of the rich, especially given the tilt in wealth distribution since the Gipper, that would make the fiscal difference here.
  • **:

Update:  Marc Ambinder IDs at least part of the reason the GOP numbers don’t mesh.  They criticize Obama on the basis of Bush budget figures.

Update two:  The scariest part of all this is that the principal author of this travesty, Rep. Paul Ryan, is generally conceded to be one of the smart ones on that side of the aisle.  Why does that old tune, “the soft bigotry of low expectations” keep running around my brain?

Image:  Albrecht Dürer, “Old Woman with Gold” 1507.