September 30, 2004

Instant Debate Comments

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:32 PM

I watched the debate on C-SPAN's internet feed. Bush is not very impressive in this format—he kept repeating the same phrases, frequently hesitated, and often came off as whiny when making a rebuttal. Kerry seemed uncertain at first but gradually became more confident. I particularly liked Kerry's answer on nuclear proliferation, although I worry that his position on "bunker buster" nukes is the sort of thing that plays into a "soft on national security" line.

Anyone else watch? What were your impressions?

September 29, 2004

Strategic Slacking in Congress

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:32 PM

Here's a big surprise: Congress didn't pass its appropriations bills on time.

Congress Passes Bill to Keep Government Running

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Congress on Wednesday passed a stop-gap bill to keep the government running into November avoiding some tough election-year votes as Republican admitted they could not finish their budget work.

So what were they doing instead?
U.S. House rooting for oak as national tree

WASHINGTON — The national bird, the bald eagle, will have a national tree, the oak, to alight on if legislation passed yesterday by the House makes its way through Congress and is signed by the president.

The oak tree, said the measure's sponsor, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, is present in all 50 states and "represents the fundamental characteristics of this great nation: strength, endurance and beauty."

I notice the oak tree does not embody the fundamental characteristic of doing your fucking job.

It's not like this is an accident, though—"Oops, we missed the deadline." There's a strategy to this, as the first article points out.

Republican leaders must also decide how to deal with the third increase in the nation's debt limit in three years. Republicans want to put off the embarrassing vote on adding to the debt until after the election. Democrats blame Bush's tax cuts for turning the surplus he inherited into a huge deficit and will seize the chance to question Bush's policies.

I'm so glad we have responsible adults running the country.

I've been watching too much Angel.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:41 PM

Top four Google News US headlines at the moment:

Debate could be Kerry's last best hope of catching Bush

Aftershocks rattle Parkfield day after strong quake

Scientists Find Mount St. Helens Movement

Jeanne Soaks South, Moves North

Earthquakes, volcanoes, Bush polling well... this is apocalypse stuff. I'll be watching for the plague of locusts and the dead rising from the grave.

...on the other hand, the Rapture Index is at a relatively low point, so maybe we're safe.

September 28, 2004

I'm not dead... I'm getting better! [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:37 PM

I was really tired yesterday for non-obvious reasons, so I didn't get the new quote up. Today I am completely rejuvenated! Well, I could use some coffee actually. And maybe a nap. Not in that order.

If you didn't recognize last week's quote (That's the most foul, cruel, and bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on!), then I cast you out of this blog! Go forth and wander the Internet like the wretch you are! Or, just go watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

New quote is almost as easy. 1 point.

September 25, 2004

Time to buy new dice.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:31 PM

Alaroc, my ranger in the semi-weekly D&D game, has reached level 11 (and has started taking fighter levels). I need another d20 so I can roll five dice at once on a full attack action...

September 24, 2004

Friday Catblogging: Ivy League

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:12 PM

I haven't seen much of this blog's photogenic stray this week, partly because I've been in lab a bit more. This photo's from almost two weeks ago.

There's another stray that I see fairly regularly, but she sprints away whenever I approach. So no pictures yet.

September 23, 2004

I like the coffee mug.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:42 PM

Had enough of Christian George Bush kitsch? (Here's a particularly nauseating example.) Now the Democrats have an answer: Saint Clinton.

Blogging is thirsty work.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:04 PM

I just wanted to point out that I am not the only blog discussing the UC Berkeley soda market: Brad DeLong finds an opportunity for arbitrage.

Given the frequency with which the Evans Hall machine sells out, another route to profit might be to buy up the supply and sell it back to parched students at inflated prices on a hot day*...

*For example, today, at 81 degrees Fahrenheit, is a "hot day" by Berkeley standards.

September 22, 2004

"Refuting the pessimists"

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:01 PM

Insufficiently depressed by Iraq? Juan Cole translates the situation into American terms.

The word "Wookie" has been changed to "hair challenged animal".

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:13 PM

This is the Star Wars on DVD thread. I am paralyzed with indecision on whether to buy it.

Pro: It's Star Wars! On DVD!

Con: But Lucas fucked with it again!

Pro: But the changes are small!

Con: But what if there's another release later with the original versions?

Pro: Not gonna happen. Meanwhile, you deprive yourself of all those great Star Wars moments that remain untouched. "Chewie, take the Professor in the back and plug him into the hyperdrive."

Con: I never thought about how dirty that quote sounds out of context before.

Pro: Eww.

Con: Also, Ewoks!

September 20, 2004

I'm not the only one who does this.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:59 PM

Tracy points me to the musings of Sour Bob. As I perused the archive, I discovered that, much like this blog, Bob sometimes finds it helpful to consider life from a mathematical perspective; here he calculates the odds of getting a date by asking for phone numbers in bars.

Of course, the values of some of the variables will depend on location, but his choice of K=.85 strikes me as ridiculously optimistic. On the other hand, my research in this field is predominantly theoretical.

UPDATE: I've considered this a little further. First of all, Bob's formula isn't a probability but an expectation of the mean number of successes. Just divide by x and you have a Bernoulli-trial probability p for individual attempts.

Also, since in the academic sphere I am an experimentalist (in the dating sphere I am apparently a theorist) I found it interesting to consider which of the variables are experimentally observable on their own. K, y, and z clearly are, although it may be difficult to get high accuracy (if I want to know K to 1%, I need to talk to 10,000 women). As for b, this seems to be a more complicated issue— it is something of a simplification, as it averages two quantities: the decay of my interest in a woman whose number I requested (this is what in physics is called a "relaxation time", huh huh) and the decay of the woman's interest in me, and these two quantities are asymmetric. I'd be inclined to split them up if I were to empirically investigate this formula.

Maybe I'll write a grant proposal.

September 19, 2004

Yo ho ho and a bottle of quotes [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:31 PM

I'll spare you all the pirate talk in this quote update. Last week's quote (You just love the demon with the poison dart.) was from the first verse of "Funeral Song" by Sleater-Kinney (on the One Beat album, which I'm putting on the sidebar this week):

Stay away from the haunted heart
Stay away from the haunted heart
You swore to yourself that you'd make a new start
But you just love the demon with the poison dart

The new quote is what happened to be in my head... I think pretty much everybody will know it. Difficulty: Trivial; 0.5 points.

A note on open threads: this blog doesn't have enough comment traffic to need them to contain off-topic discussions, but it was suggested last week that I create open threads to encourage random discussion, which sounds like a good idea. So I'm marking the quote/sidebar updates as open threads; comments on any topic* are welcome!

*Unless you are a spammer, in which case I will still delete your comment and ban your IP.

Arrr, mateys!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:33 AM

It be Talk Like A Pirate Day. Now where be me eyepatch, and more important, me rum?

September 17, 2004

That's a new one.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:08 PM

I think I missed a memo from the liberal conspiracy.

GOP mailing warns liberals will ban bibles
WASHINGTON (AP) — Campaign mail with a return address of the Republican National Committee warns West Virginia voters that the Bible will be prohibited and men will marry men if liberals win in November.

The literature shows a Bible with the word "BANNED" across it and a photo of a man, on his knees, placing a ring on the hand of another man with the word "ALLOWED." The mailing tells West Virginians to "vote Republican to protect our families" and defeat the "liberal agenda."

Yeah, I checked and it's on the agenda right after universal health care. The plan is, we're going to get the Bible classified as an assault weapon, and then reinstate the assault weapons ban. Those big, thick books can be very dangerous! Do you know how many police officers were killed in the line of duty by criminals wielding Bibles? It's not a pretty sight—rectangular dents in the skull, and the papercuts...

(Via Oliver Willis.)

Friday catblogging: Confidence Gains

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:15 AM

Since last week this cat is no longer the slightest bit intimidated. Last night he came over to watch me rearrange furniture.

September 16, 2004

Lessons of Experimental Physics

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:47 PM

This morning I came in to lab and looked at the previous night's data. And the data were pretty bad—certainly not usable for their intended purpose, and also bad in a way that pointed to a larger problem that had mysteriously developed over the past few weeks.

So I started changing things in the measurement, making it progressively simpler to reduce the space of potential sources for this problem. No matter what I took out, the oscillations in the data persisted, even after I was down just to the connections between the instruments, even after I was down to an electrical system isolated from the sample, even after I was down to a particular group of cables that were completely disconnected from the experiment.

In other words, I kept isolating the problem until I had it in the most improbable source I could think of. But all the other sources were now impossible. I simplified the wiring, and it worked. (Actually, it first caused a different problem, which I understood and fixed, and then it worked.)

So I don't understand what the problem was, and I don't know why my solution worked. But I fixed it!

September 15, 2004

The New Romance

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:36 PM

I have only one question: Why?

Romancing the phone

HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- For men seeking true romance there is now a new mating game with an unusual twist -- it is virtual and mobile.

A fantasy world in which lovesick men can wine and dine a virtual girlfriend on their 3G phones is about to be rolled out in Asia and Europe.

You will soon be able to download an artificial girlfriend, then track her movements via images on a 3G mobile handset. All the likely suitor needs to do is push the right buttons -- literally.

Aimed at males between the ages of 15 and 35, the virtual girlfriend uses up a lot of bandwidth -- shopping, dining, going to bars and the gym.

I'm a chronically single male technophile, smack in the middle of the target age range, and even I think this is pathetic. What's the appeal here? At least Warren's robot girlfriend was "fully functional".

(I just referenced Buffy and Star Trek in a single sentence—they'll probably offer to let me beta test this service.)

September 14, 2004

Firefox 1.0PR

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:21 PM

I installed the preview release of Firefox 1.0. But TabBrowser Extensions isn't (yet) compatible with the new version! I keep clicking in the empty space on the tab where my "close tab" button should be. There is a smaller extension that does single-window mode, at least, and the new version of Sage is nice.


Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:35 PM

Via Memepool, a global map showing sources of spam. If only they could tell me where my comment spammers live.

September 13, 2004

A Pair of Discoveries

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:46 PM

1. Warren Ellis (writer of Transmetropolitan, among others) has a blog (with the excellent title Die Puny Humans).

2. Warren Ellis has used his blog to post a Spider Jerusalem column about John Kerry. (Needless to say, it's not very kind, but it's not like I'm going to skip an opportunity to link a Spider Jerusalem column.)

Note that his blog is not, at the moment, safe for work.

The Lord works in mysterious ways, including election fraud.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:52 PM

This shit never fails to make me physically ill.

But while Bush's public comments about faith have been mostly within the mainstream tradition of presidential rhetoric, his supporters lately have gone in a less-familiar direction: conveying the idea that God is responsible for Bush being in the White House.

There's no "lately" here; plenty of religious conservatives have been saying this from day one. I find the suggestion that a US president is selected by God to be unbelievably offensive. It's undemocratic and un-American, especially when the complications of the 2000 election are cited as evidence—spinning a very weak mandate as the strongest possible one. This kind of rhetoric is no different from the "divine right of kings" concept that we as a civilization gave up a while back.

Also, if God is happy with the outcome in 2000, why is he smiting Florida with all these hurricanes?

On a related note, Wonkette offers a pictorial comparison of the candidates.

What about fear?

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:47 PM

I'm sure many of you recognized last week's quote (Our chief weapon is surprise. That's all, just surprise.) as being from Monty Python's Flying Circus, even if you didn't expect it.

New one is Hard; 3 points.

September 10, 2004

A Counterexample for David Brooks

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:48 PM

So much blogging on a Friday night! I'm in lab performing a series of long measurements so we can take data over the weekend, so while I wait on the experiment there's nothing to do but blog, blog, blog.

Now the Saturday edition of the NYT Op-Ed page is up, and we have another sort of duality, being advocated by David Brooks. Yes, it's another Red State/Blue State column, only from my perspective it's even more insipid than usual. Brooks' thesis today: People who work with numbers are Republicans, people who work with words are Democrats.

Right, because I can't think of any professions that are heavily Democratic yet work with numbers. Oh, except maybe for scientists. I have a feeling that when he says "numbers" he's referring to the numbers in the bank accounts of those who benefitted from Bush's tax shifts.

On the other hand, some numerate people are concerned by numbers like: record budget deficits, unemployment, over 1,000 American soldiers dead in Iraq... and plenty more.

This is one of those David Brooks columns that starts out completely serious and gradually becomes more and more obviously a joke, so it's hard to tell which parts I should be laughing at and which I should be laughing with. However serious he is, I think Brooks needs to find a new theme.

Souls and Ethics

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:10 PM

An Op-Ed piece in the New York Times addresses mind-body duality:

People see bodies and souls as separate; we are common-sense dualists. The President's Council on Bioethics expressed this belief system with considerable eloquence in its December 2003 report "Being Human'': "We have both corporeal and noncorporeal aspects. We are embodied spirits and inspirited bodies (or, if you will, embodied minds and minded bodies)."


Our dualist perspective also frames how we think about the issues that are most central to our lives. It is no accident that a bioethics committee is talking about spirits. When people wonder about the moral status of animals or fetuses or stem cells, for instance, they often ask: Does it have a soul? If the answer is yes, then it is a precious individual, deserving of compassion and care.


Admittedly, not everyone explicitly endorses dualism; some people wouldn't be caught dead talking about souls or spirits. But common-sense dualism still frames how we think about such issues. That's why people often appeal to science to answer the question "When does life begin?" in the hopes that an objective answer will settle the abortion debate once and for all. But the question is not really about life in any biological sense. It is instead asking about the magical moment at which a cluster of cells becomes more than a mere physical thing. It is a question about the soul.

And it is not a question that scientists could ever answer. The qualities of mental life that we associate with souls are purely corporeal; they emerge from biochemical processes in the brain. This is starkly demonstrated in cases in which damage to the brain wipes out capacities as central to our humanity as memory, self-control and decision-making.

One implication of this scientific view of mental life is that it takes the important moral questions away from the scientists. As the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker points out, the qualities that we are most interested in from a moral standpoint - consciousness and the capacity to experience pain - result from brain processes that emerge gradually in both development and evolution. There is no moment at which a soulless body becomes an ensouled one, and so scientific research cannot provide objective answers to the questions that matter the most to us.

The author goes on to argue that the debate over mind-body duality in the 21st century will be comparable to the evolution debate in the 20th. (Is the evolution debate really over?) I actually think the fact that mental functions being tied to physical processes is a much bigger problem for Western religions than evolution was, but will there be a fight over it or will the science just be ignored/glossed over entirely?

I also wanted to comment on the final sentence quoted above: the problem isn't some limitation of science, but that science has shown that these questions are ill-formed as long as they ask about some non-corporeal soul. Maybe science can shed some insight onto ethical questions related to abortion, stem-cell research, etc., but first we need the ethicists (or the President's Council on Bioethics?) to reframe the questions in a way that makes sense given the science.

Once you take souls out of the picture, discussion of abortion ethics seem to have a sorites paradox quality: a fertilized egg clearly isn't a person, and if you add just one cell to an embryo it doesn't suddenly acquire person-hood, but somehow after repeating the "add one cell" process many times, one ends up with a person anyway. So any line one draws between conception and birth is going to be arbitrary.

Now at some point in the pregnancy abortions start to become dangerous to the health of the mother, and maybe this should be the more important consideration in formulating laws. Of course this is a health risk that increases gradually with time (and varies with circumstance), so again any line that gets drawn is arbitrary. But the time window for drawing the line is narrower, so it's at least somewhat helpful. This would give an abortion policy much like the one we currently have in the US (as I understand it) wherein only late term abortions are banned. (I'm obviously not much of an expert on the legal origins of current abortion law, so maybe these sorts of considerations are how it actually came about. I'm more interested in being an armchair ethicist than an armchair lawyer.)

Notes on Parenting

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:10 PM

This is obnoxious, and occasionally graphic, but also hilarious: Childfree Etiquette for the Parent. Sample advice:

Baby Showers
For some reason, expecting parents often fear that those without children will be offended if they are not invited to a baby shower. This is not the case. We prefer not to be invited. If you wish to send us an invitation, please make sure it is some atrocious color and is plastered with stickers. This makes it easier to identify while still in the mailbox, so that we can remove it with tongs and deposit it into the nearest trash receptacle. If we really, really like you, and you are lucky, we will open it with a strained smile and wonder how soon would be too soon to call up with an excuse. Also make sure it arrives well in advance. This is not because we need time to shop. No, we have no children, we have plenty of time to shop. It is so we can arrange to contract explosive diarrhea on the day of the party, so that we can avoid it.

It's a guilty pleasure reading something like this—part of me says I should be tolerant of children, but another part wants to stand up and applaud...

Friday catblogging!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:05 PM

Catblogging, which I believe originated with Kevin Drum in his Calpundit days, is a Friday tradition on certain blogs. I have never participated for the obvious reason that I own no cat to stalk with a blowgun digital camera.

However, my new apartment seems to lie on a sort of highway for neighborhood strays; I've seen at least three different cats pass by and occasionally gaze at me plaintively through the glass. Sorry, little dudes! All I have is beer! But I can offer everlasting Internet fame...

This one was standing right up at the screen door, but when I approached with the camera, he* must have decided I looked more intimidating up close, and retreated to the partial concealment bonus of one of my plants. I snapped this photo when he peeked out from behind the leaf.

I couldn't have been too scary, though—he came back last night to pace in front of the screen door.

*I'm using the male pronoun in a generic sense; I didn't actually check. ("I respect its privacy.")

September 9, 2004

Texas looks to run up the score in the teen pregnancy game.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:50 PM

Tracy directs our attention to the latest front in the sex education battles: proposed new textbooks for the state of Texas that make no mention of contraception.

Critics of the books, which will replace 11-year-old texts, said that they lack a discussion of condoms and contraception in violation of the curriculum requirement that health books "analyze the effectiveness and ineffectiveness of barrier protection and other contraceptive methods."

With no discussion of condoms, will students be unprotected against STDs? Not at all! The new books apparently have many helpful suggestions:
For example, Holt, Rinehart and Winston's Lifetime Health lists 10 steps for students to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases. The use of latex condoms is not one of them. Students are advised, however, to get plenty of rest.

Plenty of rest? I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Later in the article, following the statistic that Texas has the highest number (not rate?) of teen pregnancies in the nation, we are told that "[s]upporters of abstinence-only programs said they need to be given time to work." Well, maybe—there's certainly no evidence currently that abstinence-only programs in any state has been effective in reducing teen pregnancy or STD infection. But maybe this isn't what the supporters mean when they talk about the programs working. Sure, we liberals may think of sex education as a public health measure, but the religious conservatives who back abstinence-only may think of it differently. Perhaps in their eyes, the true purpose of sex-ed is to instruct students on the sinfulness of sex, and teens who get pregnant or contract an STD are being punished for their sin—no need for the state to interfere with God's punishment! This would certainly explain why they don't seem to care very much about the evidence, or (in the case of the Bush administration) relax the standards for effectiveness for these programs.

Whatever their motives, thanks to the abstinence-only crowd we need never worry that ignorance, poverty, and disease have no advocates in politics.

September 7, 2004

Keyes finds a supporter

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:03 PM

The Jesus endorsement: We all know politicians who seem to think they've got it. But only one is crazy enough to say it out loud. Ladies and gentlemen, Alan Keyes:

"Christ would not stand idly by while an infant child in that situation died," Keyes said. "And I'm not the only person, obviously, who thinks if you are a representative of me, I cannot vote for you if you would ignore the dignity and claims of that child's life. So, yes, I did respond quite logically -- you'll see it's quite logical, right -- with the conclusion that Christ would not vote for Barack Obama, because Barack Obama has voted to behave in a way that it is inconceivable for Christ to have behaved."

Maybe Sun Myung Moon has started a trend with endorsements from historical figures. On the other hand, I understand voting behavior by the dead has a long tradition in Illinois (but aren't they usually Democrats?)

September 6, 2004

An eye for quotes

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:11 PM

Last week's quote (Blast those orcs and their fondness for onion dip.) was from The Very Secret Diary of Sauron. If you've never seen these before, be sure to start at the beginning.

Another easy one this week: 1 point.

September 5, 2004

You maniacs! You blew it up!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:52 PM

It seems a particularly high volume spam attack brought the database down yesterday, causing all the comments to be broken. (Take note, spammers: Inverse is a fairly ancient machine, and not up to the task of massively advertising diet pills and viagra. Asshats.) Anyway, since I still don't have DSL, I didn't notice this for a while. Everything should be running now, with the spam deleted.

September 3, 2004

Gmail invites

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:04 PM

I have a few Gmail invites if anyone wants one. Post a comment or e-mail me.

The president grants authority to cast magic missile.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:15 PM

Here's something President Bush could do to raise my opinion of him.

Best comment from the thread: "No Donald, you cannot torture the kobold for information."

Damn you, Tri-Ace!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:50 AM

You may have noticed a decrease in blogging output recently. It would be easy for me to blame this on the move, or on the fact that my DSL still hasn't been connected, or on having to catch up at work after moving...

...but really it's because of the new Star Ocean game.

(No, I am not playing as "Thrillho Leingod".)

September 1, 2004

Paranoia is fun. Other games are not fun. Buy Paranoia.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:25 PM

I was walking around looking for food last night, and stopped in Games of Berkeley on a whim. They had a new book in that day: Paranoia XP. Now portions of this book may not be in my clearance, but I believe the store clerks were using a traitorous mutant power on me to compel me to purchase it. Also, I have a fondness for little red books, although an October release date would be better... what?