So You Want To Win A Nobel Prize…

Posted April 7, 2015 by Tom
Categories: geek humor, Science

Tags: ,

Excellent advice from one who has.

Rule number two in this list of ten commandments goes beyond the needed snark (and the first principle, which might be called the Tao of science: the only way to achieve Nobelity is not to strive for it).

Los_borrachos_o_el_triunfo_de_Baco_1629_Velázquez

This second principle actually says something dead on point on where discovery happens, in an argument that I think bears on much beyond science itself.  It requires that the prize-aspirant should “hope that your experiments fail occasionally.”  Why?

Because:

There are usually two main reasons why experiments fail. Very often, it is because you screwed up in the design by not thinking hard enough about it ahead of time. Perhaps more often, it is because you were not careful enough in mixing the reagents (I always ask students if they spat in the tube or, more recently, were texting when they were labeling their tubes). Sometimes, you are not careful enough in performing the analytics (did you put the thermometer in upside down, as I once witnessed from a medical student whose name now appears on my list of doctors who I won’t allow to teat me even if I’m dying?). These problems are the easiest to deal with by always taking great care in designing and executing experiments. If they still fail, then do them over again! But the more interesting reason that experiments fail is because nature is trying to tell you that the axioms on which you based the experiment are wrong. This means the dogma in the field is wrong (often the case with dogma). If you are lucky, as I was, then the dogma will be seriously wrong, and you can design more experiments to find out why. If you are really lucky, then you will stumble onto something big enough to be prizeworthy.

And with that, a chance to think about non-stupid things for a while.  Open thread, y’all

Image:  Diego Velasquez, The Drunkards, or the Triumph of Bacchus1629.

As The WarCons Reunite, Let Us Trip Down Memory Lane

Posted April 7, 2015 by Tom
Categories: bad ideas, Iraq, Republican follies, War, Who thought that was a good idea?

Tags: , ,

Twelve years ago today, Donald Rumsfeld composed this:

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 10.37.26 AM

(h/t Rob Golan-Vilella)

As the entire Republican party brays for war in Syria, Iran, Ukraine, wherever next…remember:  their reunion tour will make us long for Nickleback.

That bad.

Posted April 5, 2015 by Tom
Categories: seriously

Tags: , , ,

The good news:

Anthony Ray Hinton walked out of the Jefferson County Jail at 9:30 a.m. today a free man for the first time in 30 years. “The sun does shine,” he said as he was embraced by family and friends.

The bad:

One of the longest serving death row prisoners in Alabama history and among the longest serving condemned prisoners to be freed after presenting evidence of innocence, Mr. Hinton is the 152nd person exonerated from death row since 1983.

Our justice system is neither just nor, really, a system.  It is instead capricious and often malicious all the way down the line, from cop to court to cell.  It does contain a certain strain of systemized function, of course:  an institutional inability to grasp the meaning of “innocent until proven guilty:

For more than fifteen years, EJI attorneys repeatedly have asked state officials to re-examine the evidence in this case, but former Jefferson County District Attorney David Barber, and Attorneys General from Troy King to Luther Strange, all failed to do so.

Andachtsbild_Gefesselter_Christus_c1720_MfK_Wgt

Only when the Supreme Court forced Alabama officials’  hands did the tests that failed to show a match between the gun Hinton was alleged to have used in two murders and the weapon actually involved did such testing take place.  This man lost 30 years of his life because the engine of justice was rigged that way.  Hinton’s attorney, Bryan Stevenson makes the obvious explicit:

“He was convicted because he’s poor. We have a system that treats you better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent, and his case proves it. We have a system that is compromised by racial bias, and his case proves it.”

Malice has a face — several faces.  Stevenson again:

We gave the prosecutors every opportunity to do the right thing. They just would not do it.”

And one last note:  Hinton could be dead.  The state of Alabama wanted him dead.  The miscarriage of justice, huge as it is, could have been worse — to a certainty, has been worse over and over again. In that context, Hinton’s reaction to this latest turn in his life is almost unbelievably mild:

Outside the jail this morning, Mr. Hinton said he will continue to pray for the families of the murder victims, who together with him have suffered a miscarriage of justice. “I shouldn’t have (sat) on death row for 30 years,” Mr. Hinton told reporters.“All they had to do was to test the gun.” He expressed the wish that prosecutors and judges who were indifferent to his innocence be held accountable.

Punish first; ask questions later.  That’s no way to run a country.

You may consider this an Easter commentary.  Has Passover resonance too.

Image:  Devotional image from Blaindt Abbey, Christ in Chains, c. 1720

Great Satan And Islamofascist Central Agree!

Posted April 2, 2015 by Tom
Categories: The Good Fight, War

Tags: , ,

Nuclear talks with Iran produce a preliminary agreement.

Joannes_Fijt_-_Mushrooms_-_WGA08352

Statement glossed here.

Obama to speak on the accord at 2:15

In the meantime, here’s the debate prompt:

Worst deal since Munich or worst deal ever?

Image: Jan Fyt, Mushrooms, first half of the 17th century.

Always Be Innovating

Posted April 1, 2015 by Tom
Categories: geek humor

Tags:

Via Boing Boing, this, from Google Japan:

Most scary:  the seeming universal nature of hipster affect.

And, with that….top of the day to you all.

Today’s Republicans: Traitors Or Psychopaths?

Posted March 22, 2015 by Tom
Categories: Conservatives, Republican knavery, words mattter

Tags: , ,

On the treason side, I give you Steven King, who is, of course, of interest to any GOP presidential aspirant as a major figure (FSM save the Republic!) in first-in-the-nation-caucus-state Iowa:

“…here is what [one] thing that I don’t understand, I don’t understand how Jews in America can be Democrats first and Jewish second and support Israel along the line of just following their president…”

Speaking as a Jewish-American who thinks Netanyahu is a corrupt, power-for-power’s sake bigoted hack whose policies are a clear and present danger to Israel, let me first say to Representative King:

Fuck you.

With that reasoned and considered reply out of the way, let’s parse this.

“I don’t understand”

Considering the speaker, that clause doesn’t narrow it down very much.

“how Jews in America”

Not, notice, “American Jews.”  This line is the tell, the crack that lets you see into what smells to me like a very familiar trope of anti-Semitism.  I don’t want to be paranoid, but King’s plain text tells you he sees within America a group defined by an affiliation, an bond of connection to a country or a cause that is not native to their home.  We are Jews sojourning in America, and it may come to pass (how appropriate for the season!) that there will arise in Washington a King who knows not Moses.  Or so this false prophet suggests.

“Democrats first and Jewish second.”

First,carnally know you again, King.  I for one, am a Democrat at least in part because of my Jewish education.  Specifically, Isaiah 58 v. 1-12.  I may have lost any belief in a sky god — but tikkun olam* and that strand of the Jewish tradition remains a touchstone.

But more seriously, look at what King does here: he assumes a reflexive Jewish duty of allegiance to a political movement in Israel he conflates with Israel as a whole (not as bad an error I as I would wish right now, alas), which cannot be met as a member of the Democratic party.

“along the line of just following their president…”

Well, intercourse you some more, Congressman, sideways, with an oxidized farm implement.  Barack Hussein Obama is America’s president.  Yours too.  Suck on it.

Diving a little deeper, what strikes me is the combination of hostility to Jews — American Jews — and the smell of treachery.  We U.S. born and bound remnants of the Kingdom of Judea are failing Rep. King.  We are unsatisfactory to him in the failure of our allegiance to a foreign power.  He here explicitly advocates Jews in America form a fifth column for Israel.  Failing to do so, we are to him twice the “other” — Democrats and the wrong kind of Jewish.

Budapest_kunst_0043

To which I say:  beware of the demagogue who starts to define you out of commonwealth.  The next steps…we’ve seen them before.

But even more, what do I see in King himself?

Treason is a nasty word.  But there are clear US interests at stake in controlling any Iranian ambition for a bomb. Conspiring with a  foreign leader to undermine US government efforts to that end?….

Next up: psychopathy, in the form of erstwhile blog favorite Paul Ryan.  Here is his view on the appropriate state response if the Supreme Court were to gut subsidies on Healthcare.gov:

“If people blink and if people say this political pressure is too great, I’m just going to sign up for a state-based exchange and put my constituents in Obamacare, then this opportunity will slip through your fingers,” Ryan said, per the Journal.

That would be the opportunity to wait for Congress to enact a “reform” that would (on the evidence of the latest GOP budget fraud) gut Medicaid, erode Medicare, and leave millions of Americans (twenty million or more, as of this writing) without the health insurance they so recently gained.

In other words, the opportunity Ryan wants state governments to seize is to allow their citizens in great numbers to face the inevitable reality of illness and accident without a net.

Pure psychopathy.  I’d use the word “evil” but I wouldn’t want to be accused of being shrill.

Beyond labels (see what I did there?) this is the message I take from the juxtaposition of Messrs. King and Ryan.  This is the Republican party. These aren’t fringe players. They’re leaders, major shapers of policy, rhetoric and belief for just about half of the country, and much more than half of those with money enough to move power.  And they are freaking crazy.

We have nothing but work to do between now and 2016.  Not just the United States but the world can’t take the punishment of these guys holding all three branches of the government in Washington.

One last thing:  to the question at the head of this post.  To channel the wisdom of Reb Chevy Chase, they’re both.

*F**k you WordPress autocorrects olam to loam, just so you know.

Image:  Rembrandt van Rijn, The Old Rabbi1642.

Smart Linebacker Wants To Stay Smart

Posted March 17, 2015 by Tom
Categories: Sports

Tags: ,

Via ESPN:

BERKELEY, Calif. — San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland, one of the NFL’s top rookies this past season, told “Outside the Lines” on Monday that he is retiring because of concerns about the long-term effects of repetitive head trauma.

Borland, 24, said he notified the 49ers on Friday. He said he made his decision after consulting with family members, concussion researchers, friends and current and former teammates, as well as studying what is known about the relationship between football and neurodegenerative disease.

“I just honestly want to do what’s best for my health,” Borland told “Outside the Lines.” “From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s worth the risk.”

Gustave_Courbet_-_Wrestlers

 

Borland’s rookie year in 2014 was pretty damn good.  He gained time when star ‘backer Patrick Willis went down with an injury six games into the season.  Thrown into the fray in a much-depleted defense, his stats were impressive:

107 tackles and a sack in 14 games, eight of them starts. He was the NFC’s defensive player of the week for his performance against the New York Giantsin Week 11. He led the 49ers with 13 tackles in that game and became the team’s first rookie linebacker with two interceptions in one game. He received one vote for NFL defensive rookie of the year.

He’s on a rookie contract, so the money he’s giving up right now isn’t stratospheric:  “only” $540,000 this year.  That’s saying goodbye to 10.5 times the US median income to keep his head on straight — and, of course, he’s forgoing however much might have come down the road.

This isn’t the beginning of the end for football.  To channel my inner Winnie, it isn’t even the end of the beginning.  But it is telling.

Beyond or before that, tip the hat to a young man with a strong sense of priorities and the intestinal fortitude to act on them.

Gustave Courbet, Wrestlers1853


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