Endless Curiosity

January 31, 2009

Nice guys finish 4th, or is it 2nd, or ?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 7:05 pm

It’s actually difficult to know where Shawn Crawford finished in the Beijing Olympics 200m sprint. Was it 4th? or 2nd? or 3rd? Does giving away your medal change your position in the record books? And what will happen in the Court of Arbitration for Sport? Inquiring minds want to know.

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More on Jan 28 Inauguration Photo post

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 7:01 pm

You probably didn’t even bother looking at the amazing 1.474 gigapixel photo I mentioned on January 28, in which case you probably don’t care how it was made. But just in case you did and you do, here’s how.

Watching the Growth of Walmart Across America

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 6:55 pm

I came across this web page that has an animated visualization of the growth of Walmart. The number of stores is shown in the upper left and the year in the lower right. Walmart just explodes in the South East. You can compare this with the growth of Target.

January 30, 2009

How lucky we are that we changed course

Filed under: Republicans — Alec @ 8:18 pm

On January 25, 2001, five days into the Bush Adminstration, Alan Greenspan testified in the Senate and had some great words to say about the wonderful financial state of the U.S. left by the Clinton Administration. We can thank God that the Bush Administration decided to change direction and follow the course laid out in Greenspan’s ending cautionary note. Think how terrible things would be if we had actually paid of the federal debt before the end of the decade.

But let me end on a cautionary note. With today’s euphoria surrounding the surpluses, it is not difficult to imagine the hard-earned fiscal restraint developed in recent years rapidly dissipating. We need to resist those policies that could readily resurrect the deficits of the past and the fiscal imbalances that followed in their wake.

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Government is NOT the problem

Filed under: Republicans — Alec @ 5:02 am

Ronnie Reagan was wrong when he said that government is not the solution, government is the problem, although it was a great sound bite. Not only was he wrong, but if you look at more of his speech, it was just plain crazy talk. Here’s the paragraph from from his 1981 Inaugural Speech.

In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?

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January 29, 2009

Republicans are the new Communists

Filed under: Republicans — Alec @ 12:33 pm

I always wondered why America has such as visceral hatred of Communism. Now I understand. Republicans are the new Communists. In theory, according to Wikipedia, “Pure communism in the Marxian sense refers to a classless, stateless and oppression-free society where decisions on what to produce and what policies to pursue are made democratically, allowing every member of society to participate in the decision-making process in both the political and economic spheres of life.”

In reality, Communist states all tend to consist of a large number of poor people ruled by an elite that has total control over power, and thus over resources and wealth. Which is precisely what has happened in this country when Republicans have managed to implement their policies – witness the devastating movement of wealth and power upwards from the poor and middle classes to the wealthy elite.

Yes, Republicans are the new Communists.

January 28, 2009

Great Inauguration Photo

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 2:25 pm

Here’s an amazing photo of Obama’s inauguration you can zoom into, with lots of pre-defined zooms. Fun to play with.

F***ing Republicans

Filed under: Republicans — Alec @ 7:58 am

What is there to say? Bob Herbert says it so much more eloquently than I ever could. Jim Hightower also has comments.

Children and Marital Satisfaction

Filed under: Psychology — Alec @ 7:30 am

I saw this great play, Rabbit Hole, at the Curious Theater in Denver. It’s about a couple who lost their 4-year-old son, and how they deal with his death. It’s moving, funny, and wonderfully acted, and is on until February 14th. See it.

As the program says, “While death is common to all life on Earth, experts on grieving agree the death of a child is the most wrenching and devastating event, and produces the most intense grief.” One fascinating thing about human psychology is how localized that feeling is. We feel intense grief if it’s our child who has died, but nothing close to that if it’s someone else’s child. So despite the fact that we are all very much alike and all parents feel the same over the loss of their children, we have no problem with children being killed in Iraq or Gaza or pretty much anywhere.

But all that is really just an introduction to what I really wanted to write about, which is all the research that shows the the happiness level of couples drops when they have their first child, and only returns to pre-child levels when all the children have left home.

“Indeed, one of the more uncomfortable findings of the scientific study of marriage is the negative effect children can have on previously happy relationships. Despite the popular notion that children bring couples closer, several studies have shown that marital satisfaction and happiness typically plummet with the arrival of the first baby.”

Of course, most couples don’t want to believe this, and often cite examples of transcendental moments with their children. What these memories of the great moments ignore is the times between those moments, when the couples were stressed, resentful, or angry with each other or the children. Here’s the article.

January 27, 2009

Good Enough is the new Perfect

Filed under: Psychology — Alec @ 6:39 am

As the saying goes, there are three types of people, those who can count, and those who can’t. Okay, that was a joke, because according to Barry Schwartz there are two types of people, satisficers and maximizers (although I prefer the term used by some people, sufficers, rather than the awkward satisficers). Schwartz is well known for his book, The Paradox of Choice, and here’s a video of him talking on this subject at TED (you can also download the video there). In an interview about his book, he responded to the question, “What can customers do to avoid the paradox of choice?” with the following answer:

Most importantly, learn that “good enough is good enough.” It’s what I call “satisficing” in the book. You don’t need the best; probably never do. On rare occasions it’s worth struggling to find the best. But generally it makes life simpler if you settle with “good enough.” You don’t have to make an exhaustive search – just until you find something that meets your standards, which could be high. But the only way to find the absolute best is to look at ALL the possibilities. And in that case you’ll either give up, or if you choose one, you’ll be nagged by the possibility that you may have found something better. We have evidence about this, by the way. People who are out to find the very best job (“maximizers”) feel worse than people who settle for good enough. We’ve tracked them through and after college. Maximizers did better financially – they found starting salaries that paid $7,000 more than satisficers’ starting salary. But by every other measure – depression, stress, anxiety, satisfaction with their job – maximizers felt worse.

January 26, 2009

How I deal with mental breakdowns

Filed under: Psychology — Alec @ 8:15 am

You’re concerned? Oh, I get it, you think this post is about me. Well, thank you for your concern, but while I share the human condition and have had my share of suffering, boredom, sadness, feeling overwhelmed, loneliness, depression, elation, happiness, joy, and everything in between, I’ve not yet had a mental breakdown.

No, this is a posting I came across purely by chance. Here are a couple of sentences from the introduction: “This blog entry from Rayne’s World, I think, is indisputably my favorite blog post of all times from any blog anywhere. It is certainly the most profoundly meaningful and memorable to me.”

When I read that I decided to link to the article – although I do wonder about that juxtaposition of “I think” and “is indisputably” 🙂

Update: after reading my last sentence, the author has slightly modified her article – see the comment!

Sell 10 books and go to Jail

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 7:14 am

Sounds like something from Monopoly. Go straight to jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Although in this case it’s an Australian author living in Thailand who self-published a novel that sold fewer than 10 copies. Now he’s in jail for 3 years. All because of a weird Thai law that makes it a crime to criticize the Thai Royal Family.

Thank God we have a First Amendment here in this country that allows us to criticize those in power. Remember Lord Acton’s quote? “Power Corrupts, Abolute Power Corrupts Absolutely.” That’s why it’s so important to have a free press and serious investigative journalism to keep the powerful in line by monitoring and reporting on their actions. Oh, whoops.

Moving to Canada

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 7:05 am

Damn, I live in the wrong place. Up in Canada Winston Blackmore has had 26 wives and 108 children…. um, on second thoughts, perhaps not such a great idea after all. I’ll stay where I am.

January 25, 2009

What Do Women Want?

Filed under: Psychology — Alec @ 11:48 am

There’s a fascinating article in the NY Times called What Do Women Want?

It has no easy answers because there aren’t any, but one of the fascinating points (to me at least) was the idea that women’s sexual desire is driven by a sense of narcissism, by needing to be desired and to be the object of sexual craving. Here are some excerpts about this need.

The problem was how to augment desire, and despite prevailing wisdom, the answer, she told me, had “little to do with building better relationships,” with fostering communication between patients and their partners. She rolled her eyes at such niceties. She recalled a patient whose lover was thoroughly empathetic and asked frequently during lovemaking, “ ‘Is this O.K.?’ Which was very unarousing to her. It was loving, but there was no oomph” — no urgency emanating from the man, no sign that his craving of the patient was beyond control.

“Female desire,” Meana said, … “is not governed by the relational factors that, we like to think, rule women’s sexuality as opposed to men’s.” … Although bad relationships often kill desire, she argued, good ones don’t guarantee it.

The generally accepted therapeutic notion that, for women, incubating intimacy leads to better sex is, Meana told me, often misguided. “Really,” she said, “women’s desire is not relational, it’s narcissistic” — it is dominated by the yearnings of “self-love,” by the wish to be the object of erotic admiration and sexual need.

For evolutionary and cultural reasons, she said, women might set a high value on the closeness and longevity of relationships: “But it’s wrong to think that because relationships are what women choose they’re the primary source of women’s desire.”

And within a committed relationship, the crucial stimulus of being desired decreases considerably, not only because the woman’s partner loses a degree of interest but also, more important, because the woman feels that her partner is trapped, that a choice — the choosing of her — is no longer being carried out.

How would I know if I were wrong?

Filed under: God — Alec @ 11:23 am

irony-meter

Okay, now that the comic has got your attention, I will tell you that Jerry Coyne has written a long but very interesting article in the New Republic about “The never-ending attempt to reconcile science and religion, and why it is doomed to fail.” As he says in the article, “In the end, then, there is a fundamental distinction between scientific truths and religious truths, however you construe them. The difference rests on how you answer one question: how would I know if I were wrong?”

January 23, 2009

Perfect Exercises

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 1:54 pm

Everyone (okay, maybe not everyone, but lots of people) want to be stronger and fitter. People join health clubs and gyms, work out with weights and machines, do lots of different exercises. But some of us hate the idea of doing lots of exercises, and don’t particularly like going to the gym. For people like this there are only two exercises that you really need to do. One for the upper body and one for the lower body.

Push-ups are the perfect upper-body exercise. Hindu squats are the perfect lower-body exercise. With these two, you really don’t need more. And if you are like me and prefer activities that focus on the lower body (cycling, hiking and skiing in my case), you can even dispense with the push-ups 🙂

Here’s are some simple instructions for Hindu squats, some still photos, a video, and this is the authoritative site.

And if you want to do push-ups, I can’t think of a better place to start than 100 Pushups

January 21, 2009

Pogo and the Enemy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 9:27 pm

“We have met the enemy and he is us” – Pogo

Mark Slouka has written a fascinating article in the latest issue of Harper’s Magazine where he acknowledges that we have a new and far better administration. But he then points out that he’s much less certain about us. He gives the following examples.

My neighbor, a high school teacher living about an hour outside New York City, wants to torture a terrorist. He’s worried because he believes that Osama—excuse me, Obama—cares more about terrorists than he does about us. He’s never heard of the Spanish Inquisition. Another neighbor—an actual plumber, actually named Joe—wants Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time tossed out of the high school library. Joe came by recently. Did I want my kids learning how to curse and kill dogs and commit adultery? he asked. I said that my kids already knew how to curse, and that I hadn’t realized that killing dogs and committing adultery were things you had to learn. He showed me the book. He and his wife had gone through it with a blue highlighter and highlighted the words “crap,” “shit,” and “damn” every time they appeared, on every page. They’d written to Laura Bush about it, and received a supportive letter in return, signed by the first lady. “You’re a teacher,” he said. “Don’t tell me you support this kind of filth.” I asked him if he’d read it. Well, no, he said, but he knew what it was about. He didn’t really go in for reading, himself, he said.

Read Full Article

January 20, 2009

This Land is Your Land

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 6:14 pm

Here’s a video of Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen singing Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land at the Obama Inaugural Celebration concert at the Lincoln Memorial, complete with the two “subversive” verses that are usually cut out. Here are the two verses.

As I was walkin' - I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tress passin'
But on the other side .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!

Chorus

In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office - I see my people
And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me.

Update: YouTube has removed the video below – apparently it violates some HBO copyright. However, you can still see it here, with quite a bit more information about the song. You even get to see Barack Obama in the audience. It’s a really moving video, especially if you read the article and the comments.

And while we are at it, here are some reactions to the inauguration from other parts of the world, and an analysis of the speech from the U.K.

What a speech

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 10:47 am

What in incredible speech Obama gave. Almost every word was a repudiation of the Bush Administration policies. I felt almost sorry for Bush when the cameras cut over to him, looking very uncomfortable as he attempted to smile.

What is equally incredible is that Obama’s speechwriter, Jon Favreau, is 27 years old. Here’s a good article about Favreau from the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper (not that you care, but my cousin’s husband – cousin-in-law? – is the Editor of the Guardian).

The article finishes with this paragraph: “Favreau then went away and spent weeks on research. His team interviewed historians and speech writers, studied periods of crisis, and listened to past inaugural orations. When ready, he took up residence in Starbucks in Washington and wrote the first draft. The end result will be uttered on the steps of the Capitol.” I didn’t realize it took so long and so much work to write a good speech – must be why I’m not a speechwriter.

Here’s a transcript of the speech. I’m sure there will be plenty of analysis of the speech, and I suspect some of the foreign analyses will be more interesting. Here’s a real-time analysis of the speech and the inauguration events.

Let the partying begin! And if you are one of the few people who didn’t watch the inauguration and speech, here it is.

Endless fun

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 6:17 am

There’s this web site where you can endless fun looking through their slightly off-kilter e-cards. They do the usual thing of wanting you to enter the recipients email address and your address but I hate giving addresses out. So I just copy the larger image using right-mouse, Copy Image, then paste this into an email (depending on the email system you may need to save then attach the image).

Here’s a sample.

get-back-together

January 17, 2009

Going to hell?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 4:44 pm

Personally I believe that now is a better time to be alive than the past, but since I love this writer and her wonderful outrage, I have to provide a link to her article, Top 10 Signs the World is Going to Hell. Her introduction: “Seriously, every time I get an idea for a good post topic lately, I hear about something even more fucked up before I get a chance to write it. I can’t keep up with all the fucked up shit going on in the world right now … if I did, I’d be spending so damn much time writing for this site, I wouldn’t have time to go to work. So, I figure I’ll just do a quick roundup of all the bullshit, instead of trying to write a fucking novel about each and every one…”

Patrick McGoohan, RIP

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 4:34 pm

For those of you who never saw the great BBC series, The Prisoner, just skip this post. For those of you who loved the show, its star, Patrick McGoohan, died a few days ago on January 13th. Here’s a short but interesting obituary, “Patrick McGoohan RIP: The Prisoner Finally Escapes“. And if anyone wants to see The Prisoner, the entire series is available to watch here.

January 4, 2009

The insights of novelists

Filed under: Psychology — Alec @ 8:55 am

I sometimes think that novelists have a better grasp of politics and power than do politicians themselves. Here are a few paragraphs from Infinity Beach by Jack McDevitt. Just thought you might like to know. Note that the book was published in February 2001 and so these paragraphs are not a criticism of the Bush Administration, even though it might feel that way.

“Never look for complexity in diplomatic decisions. With very few exceptions, actions always devolve – and that’s the exact term – from someone’s self interest. Not the national self-interest, by the way. We are talking here about individual careers.”

“There is an inverse correlation between the amount of power a person has and the level at which his or her mind functions. A person of ordinary intelligence who acquires power, of whatever kind, tends to develop an exaggerated view of his own capabilities. Sycophants gather. There is little of no criticism of decisions. As his ability to disrupt the lives of others advances, these tendencies become stronger. Eventually you end with Louis the Fourteenth, who thinks he’s done a good job for France, although the country he left behind was ruined.”

“Shleyel had always maintained that few actions are driven by reason. People act out of emotion, perception, prejudice. They will believe what they’ve always believed, filtering out all evidence to the contrary. Until they go too far and run into the rocks of reality.”

January 1, 2009

New lease of life for this blog

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 12:00 am

Well, I did kill this blog, but decided to resurrect it, with a new name, as a web site for the two books I’m working on. Oh, and with the occasional blog entry.

Blog at WordPress.com.