Jens 'n' Frens
Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

"A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures."
  -- Daniel Webster

Saturday, May 29, 2004 :::

Charles Krauthammer isn't a fan of the new WWII memorial.

::: posted by Steven at 12:57 PM

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Thursday, May 27, 2004 :::
Today's physics paper on "anti-bubbles", i.e. as a soap bubble is a film of soap surrounding and surrounded by air, these are this layers of air surrounding and surrounded by liquid. It's just a bit novel, fairly prosaic, and allows for some interesting diagrams.

::: posted by dWj at 10:54 PM

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The Chicago Tribune (reg req) reports that the city council approved zoning for one of two new Wal-Marts for the city of Chicago. Each had the strong support of the ward in which it was to be located, as well as that ward's alderman.
South Side aldermen who split their votes said they sided with Mitts because she aggressively sought their backing, pointedly noting that Brookins ignored them and took their support for granted--until his proposal became the subject of wide debate.
Lest anyone think the city council has the best interests of the community in mind. No, one runs for city council in order to acquire power for power's sake, or perhaps for the sake of consorting with gang members.
Alderman Arenda Troutman was questioned by the FBI about her relationship with an alleged gang member after a letter from the Chicago Police Dept. to Troutman was found during a raid. Now, Troutman's brother tells ABC 7 that the 20th Ward alderman had a romantic relationship with fugitive Donnell Jehan.
Said brother has since been arrested on unrelated issues, but Troutman is not doing a good job of justifying herself; her story keeps changing, for one thing. She was my alderman for about two years; I attended a community meeting once, and a number of my neighbors asked good questions of her. Her response was always to — apparently — deliberately misconstrue the question, insult the questioner, and enthusiastically (think Howard Dean) repeat whatever she had said before on the topic. She seems no less creditable in her recent press events.

::: posted by dWj at 10:45 PM

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Here are pics and bios of the seven suspected al-Qa'ida members Ashcroft and Mueller want us to keep an eye out for.

The woman studied at MIT. Eep.

::: posted by Steven at 2:38 PM

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Wednesday, May 26, 2004 :::
A reporter from the by-no-means-conservative Observer got a brief interview with Michael Moore. His resulting article is brutally truthful.

::: posted by Steven at 10:54 PM

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In the "if you have time" department, Jacob Levy has a good post on Amnesty International.

Also, Professor Volokh once again points out that Slate's "Bushism of the Day" is more embarrassing to Slate than to the President.

::: posted by Steven at 7:42 PM

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Apparently, Kerry will accept the nomination at the convention. Do you care? I know I don't.

::: posted by Steven at 7:41 PM

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Tuesday, May 25, 2004 :::
At the Corner, Stanley Kurtz writes about his pieces on gay marriage [emphasis added by me, for reasons I'll explain after the quote]:
Critics of my Scandinavia work have said that Scandinavian registered partnerships "don't count," because they're not full and formal gay marriage. They claim I haven't sufficiently isolated the causal effects of gay marriage from other causes of marital decline. And my critics say gay marriage, having followed so much marital decline, is only an effect of that decline, not a cause. I've answered all that, but the case of the Netherlands finally puts these criticisms to rest. Holland has full and formal gay marriage. The causal effect of gay marriage in the Netherlands can be disentangled from other factors. And in the Netherlands, parental cohabitation didn't begin in earnest until the campaign for gay marriage gave it the green light.
Now, I don't spend a lot of time reading or thinking about gay marriage because I don't believe it's all that important (or, in general, interesting). But I skimmed some of his Scandinavia stuff, and did, in fact, think his main failing was in demonstrating causation from correlation. So I thought I'd take a look at his Dutch piece.

He leads with a graph of the illegitimacy rate in the Netherlands from 1970 through 2003, with significant milestones on the road to gay marriage noted on the graph. The increase in illegitimate parenting is quite remarkable -- and, I'll agree, disturbing -- but the rise is also pretty smooth, and it starts before his first gay-marriage milestone. Finally, imagine the chart without the milestones marked on it. Suppose you were asked to guess the timing of one or more events that caused the change. Would you place markers in '89, '90, '91, '97, and/or 2000? I can't see why you would -- I'd pick a random year in the late '70s.

I've only read the beginning of the article -- maybe if I get to the end, I'll see something more persuasive. But I hope he doesn't think that the graph makes his point.

::: posted by Steven at 5:06 PM

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Since I blogged job-search related stuff a few days ago, I thought I'd mention this as well.

I had a phone interview Monday with a company which I respect quite a bit (and like even more after talking to them). I'd have to relocate. I think I'd accept a job from them immediately if they were around here. As it is, I'd have to think about it.

I think the interview went relatively well -- not perfectly (when does it ever?), but well. There was one point at which one of the guys (their voices were too similar for me to distinguish) announced that he was going to ask me some accounting questions, and my heart stopped for a moment. Then he asked why a company might report growing earnings and shrinking cash flows from operations. "Oh," I thought, "so not hard accounting questions." I had feared the sort of thing I've been studying for my CFA test, such as consolidation of foreign subsidiaries that use different currencies.

::: posted by Steven at 3:02 AM

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Monday, May 24, 2004 :::
Eugene Wigner was in the Princeton physics department for, I don't know, hundreds of years before he died around 1994. He was brilliant; the Wigner-Ekhart theorem, put out in the thirties, is one of my all-time favorite theorems, and while it's a bit hard to explain to a non-technical audience, it's assumed implicitly by physicists today — they'll use it without even realizing it. Princeton's graduate program doesn't require that the students take any classes, replacing them all with the generals exams, which are therefore the most difficult in the country; while most departments will give a cursory exam to make sure the students haven't forgotten everything, the Princeton exam is the only way they know you ever looked at, say, General Relativity, so they're going to ask you to do a real problem. And the story goes that these problems for which the grad students were given an hour each were first run by Wigner, and if he couldn't do one in five minutes it was deemed too difficult to put on the test.

(I related this once to an associate professor at Princeton who had also been a graduate student there, and asked whether it was true. The only response I ever got from her was, "Well, it's a good story, isn't it?" This sounds like an ambiguous "no", but she's right — it is a good story. So I choose to believe it.)

Anyway, in the forties and fifties John von Neumann was working in the Princeton math department, developing the fundament of pretty much all modern computer science — where "modern" comprises anything after Turing — and largely inventing game theory to boot. Another brilliant man. What's been floating through my head recently is a comment Wigner made; he said, "There are two kinds of people in the world: Johnny von Neumann and everybody else."

I had a professor of Real Analysis — the phrase "bat out of hell" was applied to him, but that's not particularly relevant — who commented once that one can't go into math merely because one is good at it, because there will always be someone better. Cauchy could have been quite intimidated by Riemann, had he cared to be, "and Riemann is looking at Gauss". So you have to do what you love, because you love it. Though you'd better be good enough at it to feed your family, too.

This is cross-posted, and I think would make a decent 3 minute graduation speech.

::: posted by dWj at 8:58 PM

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The Chicago River originally flowed into Lake Michigan; canoeing up from the lake, going pretty much straight west, one would have come to a T intersection only half a mile or so from the lake, where the north branch flowing south and the south branch flowing north come together.
Late in the 1800's the river was famously reversed; the north branch was left out of this, though. Most of the time these days, you pretty much have a river running parallel to the lake front, with some lake water running half a mile west to join it as it flows south.

The reversal was really only possible because it was always pretty flat to begin with. It didn't really "run" to the east; it kind of moseyed. And now it moseys to the west, and then the south, until it hooks up with the canal to the Mississippi watershed. If a lot of rain comes down at once, the river level goes up; the lake will be less affected, and often the river finds itself higher than the lake, and recidivates.

I now work overlooking the north branch of the river, but I used to work in the Loop proper, which is south of the east branch and east of the south branch, and commuted into Union Station, which is on the west bank of the south branch. (I'll give you a moment to figure that all out.) It used to be that I could come into the city after a big storm and see the river flowing backward, or forward, or whatever it usually doesn't do anymore. Anymore, I don't really pass by the parts that are variable.

This is cross-posted.

::: posted by dWj at 8:13 PM

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"Once again, unanticipated consequences of new rules are largely subverting their intended purposes," [David Broder] wrote. "It is virtually impossible to control the flow of money from the private sector into the political world."

::: posted by dWj at 6:52 PM

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Observations on Major League Baseball standings, as of this morning:

  • The Dodgers have lost nine of their last ten games, and are still tied for their division lead.

  • The Cubs and the Reds (!) are in a two-way tie for best record in the NL. The NL Central in general, in fact, hasn't looked nearly as bad as it was expected to be.

  • A hoorepa, hoorepa! (Gabba gabba hey? Goo goo g'joob!)

  • After the Mighty Angels and the Red Sox, the next five teams in the AL are all 25-18. Those are the only seven teams above .500, and constitute your short list for playoff contenders, though it is of course still early in the season, and, as they say, it ain't over 'till Yogi Berra sings. cf. the L.A. Dodgers.

Not a standings note so much, but the Cubs have a lot of injured players right now, including Wood, Prior, and Sosa. Dusty seems to be doing a good job of keeping up spirits (and performance) while the stars convalesce.

::: posted by dWj at 6:50 PM

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My friend David recently wrote -- in his every-other week column -- about humor and politics:

Perhaps it was just one-too-many "cracks" about his drinking that drove Marc Antony to have the weak and elderly Cicero hunted down and killed. History records that after chopping off Cicero's head, Antony's henchmen cut off the hand that wrote the Philippics against Antony. Antony's wife drove a pen through the orator's eloquently piercing tongue. And to think, Michael Moore is upset just because Miramax doesn't want to distribute his latest lame film for him.

He also mentions the Democratic convention, which has been in the news around here lately. The convention will be held at the FleetCenter, which is right next to I-93 and North Station, both of which are key to commuters in and around Boston, and both of which will be shut down for significant periods during the convention for security reasons. From the reactions I've been hearing lately, I'm starting to wonder if Massachusetts isn't going to become a swing state. I'm only mostly kidding.

::: posted by Steven at 5:21 PM

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The Canadians will elect a new parliament on June 28. The National Post has coverage.

::: posted by Steven at 3:08 PM

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My mom liked both of Dan Brown's books -- "The DaVinci Code" and "Angels and Demons" -- but preferred A&D, so she encouraged me to read that one first. But when I visited her over Christmas and borrowed her copy, I thought it too over-the-top. I should point out at this point that I'm a fan of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", and, to a lesser extent, "Alias", so when I say "too over-the-top", I don't have the strictest of standards.

At any rate, I thought "Angels and Demons" was unusually ludicrous, at leas through page ten or so. Maybe I should try "DaVinci" some time.

::: posted by Steven at 3:23 AM

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I've been job-searching, and was recently turned down by a big mutual fund company for a position as an equity analyst. I saw my buddy on the inside over the weekend. He told me that the Director of Equity Research, with whom I had spoken, thought I was too analytical and not enough of a salesman.

If that quote were on the record, I think I'd add it to my resume.

::: posted by Steven at 1:46 AM

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Mark Steyn:
Here's a story no American news organization thought worth covering last week, so you'll just have to take it from me. In the southern Iraqi town of Amara, 20 men from Scotland's Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders came under attack from 100 or so of Muqtada al-Sadr's ''insurgents.'' So they fixed bayonets and charged.

It was the first British bayonet charge since the Falklands War 20 years ago. And at the end of it some 35 of the enemy were dead in return for three minor wounds on the Argylls' side.

If you're used to smart bombs, unmanned drones and doing it all by computer back at HQ, you're probably wondering why a modern Western army is still running around with bayonets at the end of their rifles. The answer is that it's a very basic form of psychological warfare.

Really, read the whole thing.

::: posted by Steven at 1:46 AM

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Sunday, May 23, 2004 :::
It's been raining a lot here in Chicago recently — the big hailstorm an hour ago missed me to the south — and there's a lot flooding, particularly in the aptly named Lake County. More rain is predicted for later in the week, and it will be interesting to see whether the flooding gets bad in other spots around the area. (Des Plaines is already preparing for water 4 feet higher than they have now, which already exceeds flood stage.)

::: posted by dWj at 10:21 PM

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The 15th season finale of the Simpsons ended with a celebration of the blogosphere, sort of.

The story [spoiler alert] is that Burns, upon discovering (as he did in at least one previous ep, but never mind that) that he's unpopular, decides to buy out all of the town's media. Lisa is publishing her own paper, though, and continues through a certain amount of harassment. At the end she gives up, but everyone else in town starts their own newspapers.

The mainstream media aren't all run by the same person, but until a few years ago, they were all run by the same New York City/Washington DC mindset. As I've said before, the liberal media haven't been getting any less liberal, but more conservative alternatives have grown around them -- most notably Fox News, but also a multitude of independent bloggers. You don't need a license to be a blogger, and you don't need heavy financing. All you need is an internet connection and a little too much free time on your hands. Information worth spreading tends to spread.

Speaking of free time, I have about 700 pages to study in the next twelve days.

::: posted by Steven at 9:11 PM

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Steve, when I try your link to get "Hubba Hubba, Zoot Zoot", the mp3 link there gives me one of these spyware ads. I did find a link that works for me from a blog archive, and I think I have a new favorite song.

::: posted by dWj at 8:49 PM

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Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

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