Links o’ Interest

Is God a Taoist?

Learn a little about how experimental design and statistics work. As Darell Huff said, “it is easy to lie with statistics,” but as Frederick Mosteller said, “it is easier to lie without them.”

Insensitivity Training

If fire was made of water

A incisive essay on liberalism. I disagree with a lot of it, but I’m not sure why, which usually means I need to re-examine my beliefs. That’s a good essay.

The best baseball pitch I’ve ever seen.

Incredibly funny intro to the new AquaTeenHungerForce movie. Be sure to watch it all.

I Like People

I rushed out of work today because there was a sudden downpour and I thought I had left my sunroof open. (I hadn’t). The elevator stopped on the way down, and a woman got on with a basket. I mumbled heyhowsitgoin at her. She brightly replied, “It’s going great, would you like some candy?” and offered me the basket. I selected an orange Starburst. The whole incident kept me happy for a good twenty minutes.

In Which the MSM Needs a Mirror

The New York Times has a priceless editorial today. Using Michael Bloomberg as a springboard, they let loose with ripsotes like these:

For a couple of days, at least, he changed the subject from who has raised the most money and focused attention on some of the nonwedge but really important issues that he and a few other mayors and governors have been trying to push to the front of the national agenda…
Mr. Bloomberg was right when he said Americans care “about who’s going to pay their Social Security; they care about who’s going to pay their medical care; they care about immigration, about our reputation overseas.” And, unlike politicians in both parties, he talked about America’s out-of-control gun problem.

I have news for you. The “subject” is not some vague force of nature that just happens. It’s an artifact of how the mass media spends time and inches. And guess what New York Times, that’s you. You’re writing the articles, they don’t just magically appear. You’re the one publishing stupid articles about every triviality there is instead of writing about positions and policy. You’re the reason why our electorate is so incredibly uninformed about anything important. The candidates do talk about medical care, they do talk about Social Security, they do talk about our reputation overseas. You just don’t report it. Look in the mirror.

Book Recommendations

In no particular order, here’s some books I’ve read recently that I recommend.

  • Sweet and Low (Rich Cohen): Rich Cohen’s grandfather started the Sweet & Low company. He lifted the family from relative poverty to generating hundreds of millions of dollars of income every year. Along the way, Rich’s branch of the family was cut out. This is the story of his family history, the company, sugar, New York, the Jews, the FBI, the FDA, World War II… it has something for everyone.
  • Now I Can Die in Peace: How ESPN’s Sports Guy Found Salvation, with a Little Help from Nomar, Pedro, Shawshank, and the 2004 Red Sox (Bill Simmons aka Sports Guy): I have been reading Sports Guy religiously since 1999 or so, back when he was the Boston Sports Guy. I am a bit too proud to have two of my letters to him published. If you want to get a taste of one of the best and funniest sportswriters around, check out some of his columns here.
  • Special Topics in Calamity Physics (Marisha Pessl): This was one of the New York Times books of the year. I read it based on that recommendation, and I’m glad I did. Incredible use of language that wraps you up in every sentence. The plot is interesting, then a little less interesting, then when you least expect it, it gets fantastic. This is a long dense book, but it’s worth the payout.
  • My Name is Red (Orhan Pamuk): Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Obstensibly a murder mystery set in historical Istanbul, this book is more a meditation on the meaning of art. The language is beautiful. Full of stories within stories, and layers of meaning that are present without being overt. Everything about this book feels like ti comes from another time and place, in a good way.
  • A Solider of the Great War (Mark Helperin): A long recounting of the events in and around World War I that made the narrator into the character he is. Just a good read.
  • The Blind Side (Michael Lewis): It’s either a great football book, or a great upbringing book, or a book about racism, or a book about a idiot savant… whatever it is, it’s a great book. Michael Oher was a huge kid barely living in the deep South, without a home, without a family, hardly ever speaking a word. First, he randomly gets adopted by one of the wealthiest, whitest families in town. Then, it turns out he is an incredible football player. He was born to play left tackle (the second highest paying position in pro football). A prodigy, he is enormous and fast and athletic and wide in all the right ways. If this story was fiction, you wouldn’t believe a word of it. (Michael Lewis is also the author of Moneyball and Liars Poker.)
  • Pound for Pound (F.X. Toole):(FX Toole also wrote the story that would become Million Dollar Baby.) Boxing fiction is it’s own little subgenre, filled with violence and betrayal and heartache. This is easily the best book I’ve ever read around boxing. The author had been around boxing his whole life, and it shows. It’s a story about people and loss and forgiveness and drugs and children and I don’t know what else. Wonderful writing, like Ed McBain, only with something to say.
  • Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi):A wonderful graphic novel about growing up in Iran during the 70s and 80s. Very simple artwork, very powerful story. If you loved Maus, you’ll like this.

Nationalizing Local Elections – Part Two

Apart from the democratic morality and constitutationality of nationalizing local elections, another more pragmatic question remains: Is it smart? Does it work? Look at this email I got today from Moveon.org:

It’s absurd—Joe Lieberman is throwing a fundraiser this week to protect Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, one of the key pro-war votes and one of the most vulnerable Republican senators.

Lieberman is still sort of a Democrat, and Collins has always been sort of a Republican, so it makes sense that one would work for the other.

Interestingly, Collins is also one of the Senators that Kerry targeted. It is because she is a moderate Republican that she is vunerable. The GOP does not support, does not even like her. And New England is getting bluer and bluer. So let’s say that Collins does feel pressure from a Kerry-funded opponent, how will she react?

a) Move further left. This is the point of the campaign, to get her to vote with the Democrats on key issues like Iraq.
b) Move further right. Differentiate herself from her opponent, appeal to the GOP base, and use the advantages of incumbency to retain her seat.

So here you have someone who already votes with the Democrats frequently. By working against her, there’s a good chance that you may force her further right. You also further diminish the centrist part of the Senate, already whittled down beyond belief.

(Sid: In Kerry’s letter, he calls out how he is going after four vunerable Senators, and Mitch McConnell. As he says, “McConnell is the top ranking Republican in the Senate. Where our other targets are weak links at the fringes of their party, going after McConnell is getting to the heart of the matter. McConnell has been a bulwark of the GOP leadership and if we can distract, or even defeat him, with a tough electoral challenge in 2008, we’ll send a clear message that no Senator is safe if they insist on trying to stop the Democratic Senate from enacting the will of the American people. Polls in his own state show him to be vulnerable to a strong challenge; let’s make sure we give him one.” I’m not sure I agree with Kerry, but he is not deluding himself that is an easy task.)

Question to my suddenly voluble commenters: Are Kerry’s tactics good ones? Is it an effective to spend money? Will it help or hurt the Democrats?

Useless Sports Introductions

It’s the off-season for football and basketball, so what more relevant time to bring up one of my pet peeves about them? Muttroxia, it’s always topical!

It’s not about the sports themselves, it’s about the sports broadcasting. Players are introduced with their name, position, and their college. Their college? Who cares!? If they are a rookie I suppose it’s relevant. But there ought to be a statute of limitations after five years or so. It just doesn’t flippin’ matter. C’mon, maybe once it mattered that Shaq went to LSU, but that was 15 years ago! Does that somehow mark him for life so that he always needs to be identified that way? It’s worse when they add in the majors. I appreciate that the NCAA still vainly tries to pretend it’s actually promoting academics, but the networks shouldn’t play along with this obvious lie. I don’t need to know that the linebacker majored in criminal justice. Unless he can somehow apply this on the field, shut up about it.

Can you imagine the equivalent in the business world? Imagine business cards like:

Edward Rothman
Chemical Engineer
University of Virgina
a respectable 3.2 GPA

Sounds pretty stupid, right? What’s the difference!?

Nationalizing Local Elections

John Kerry is raising money to target four GOP Senators. The added pressure may get them out of office in 2008, but the short term goal is that the threat of not being re-elected will convince them to break with Bush, and support the Democratic position on Iraq and war funding.

As the email says, “This is an extraordinary campaign; to my knowledge, nothing quite like this has ever been done.”

To me, the interesting thing about it is that it continue a trend of nationalizing Congressional races. There is a growing perception that the job of your representatives is not so much to look after your local interests, as to represent your views on national issues. More and more, citizens and politicians are stepping in to other states, to influence the outcomes of their elections. This is because my senator can’t represent my interests if some other senator blocks them. For example, Ted Kennedy frustrates the right to no end, and Jesse Helms drove me crazy for decades. They weild(ed) disproptionate power, and their opponents logically enough wanted to get rid of them.

Now maybe it’s just because I’ve become more active since Bush came around, but it seems like more and more, both sides are doing something about it. Not just talking on the radio, not just setting them up as scapegoats for their own failures to enact legislation, but taking action. For example:
* Talking Point Memo integrates local coverage and polls congressman individually, exposing them to national scrutiny. They’ve taken the lead on exposing Social Security bamboozlement and secret holds on bills.
* Increased focus funding for DSSC and RNC, both of which take national money and apply it to local races.
* Getting rid of Tom Daschle, a giant pile on by enormous amounts of national Republican resources.
* I was part of a moveon.org event, where fellow Georgia residents called a particular Pennsylvania district to try and get Lois Murphy elected. (We failed.)
* An Alaskan representative inserting earmarks targeted for Florida. Why? Because he got generous donations to do so. (This shows the market at work – if your own rep won’t sling some pork for you, go to another rep who will!)

If you accept this is happening, is it good? Is there something vaguely unconstitutional about interfering in another state’s elections? Or is it fine because we’re all fellow citizens of the USA? I’m honestly conflicted. What do you think?

Links o’ Interest

Meet Irena Sendler, who saved 2,500 Jews during the Holocaust. Tortured by the Nazis, she never said word one, and turned 97 this week.

An object lesson in “we will never ask for your username or password”. The last line is priceless.

A great cartoon
– Bush’s Justice Department, based on their testimony.

Approval ratings of Presidents since 1945. Very interesting graph, though it’s odd they cut the top one off before Bush’s plummet.

How Racist are you? Find out here. (I am low to moderate.)

Not the greatest work of my favorite online comic, but it’s just so relevant to me. Xkcd is great.

Those wacky southerners! Hilarious.

Someone finally wins Simon Cowell over. Update: He won!

What’s being poor like? “Being poor is crying when you drop the mac and cheese on the floor.” This list has stuck with me for days. Things like this is what makes me liberal.

An interesting essay on how we experience politics, from a psychological viewpoint. I took his Psych 101 course long ago. He was a great lecturer, single-handedly convincing many of my classmates to become psych majors, where we stats majors had to help them graduate. Good times.

If only they could show this on TV.