Dazzling Knowledge

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Reason on Milton Friedman

Brian Doherty on Milton Friedman:

If you or your children have not been forced into the armed services in the past three decades—which you haven’t—thank Friedman. He was the intellectual sparkplug for the Nixon-era Gates Commission that convinced Nixon a volunteer army is both workable and the right thing to do.

Who should decide where our kids go to school, and who should control the money used to pay for it? We should. Thus, Friedman’s advocacy for decades on behalf of school choice and education vouchers, which became his main policy focus during his later years through the efforts of the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation.

Who should decide what we can eat and how we enjoy ourselves? We should. Thus Friedman’s controversial arguments for ending the war on drugs.

Who should decide how we get to spend our money? We should. Thus, Friedman’s writing and speaking on behalf of tax and spending cuts anywhere and everywhere. The day he won the Nobel in 1976, he was schlepping himself around to a talk in Detroit on behalf of a Michigan state level amendment to limit state government spending. He did this sort of thing tirelessly for over 50 years, agitating for liberty and choice in venues both exalted and everyday, never thinking that any audience was too small or unimportant. His belief in the propriety and effectiveness of personal control over our own resources always energized his plumping for Social Security reform to give us more personal control over our retirement savings.

Election results good news for sensible immigration reform

Sikha Dalmia has a column at Reason explaining that immigration was a losing issue for the GOP. Hopefully they'll learn something from this.

The GOP's anti-immigration agenda was a big political loser in the midterm election. But by appointing Florida Senator Mel Martinez – a Cuban American who staunchly supports more liberal immigration policies – as the chair of the Republican National Committee, President Bush might have grasped that beating up on illegals may never again be a political winner for the GOP.

A Democratic Congress offers Bush an opportunity to make amends with the Latino community – not to mention escape his lame-duck status -- by a reviving his original, more enlightened approach to immigration reform.

Instead of alienating this community [Latinos], President Bush needs to court it. And he can do that first and foremost by quietly killing the 700-mile fence that he signed into law to appease the nativists in his party before the elections. Then he can go to bat on behalf of a comprehensive immigration reform that includes opening legal avenues for unskilled Mexicans to live and work in this country. This will in one stroke cure the problem of illegal immigrants and make it a non-issue both for Latinos and non-Latinos.

Whole thing here.

Wal Mart press release

You have to actually read the press release:

Press Release Source: Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Former Senator John Edwards Turns to Wal-Mart for PlayStation3
Thursday November 16, 4:11 pm ET
Even Presidential Candidates Agree: Wal-Mart is the Best Place to Shop
for Hot Electronics Items this Christmas Season

BENTONVILLE, Ark., Nov. 16 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Just like the
millions of Americans who turn to their neighborhood Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT - News)
for their holiday shopping needs, Wal-Mart announced today that former Sen.
John Edwards is seeking to be one of the first to get a Sony PlayStation3,
one of the most coveted holiday gift items this Christmas season.

Yesterday, a staff person for former Sen. Edwards contacted a Wal-Mart
electronics manager in Raleigh, North Carolina to obtain a Sony
PlayStation3 on behalf of the Senator's family. Later that night, Sen. Edwards
reportedly re-told a homespun story to participants of a United Food and
Commercial Workers (UFCW) union-sponsored call about how his son had chided a
fellow student for purchasing shoes at Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart welcomes Sen. Edwards to visit his local Wal-Mart store and
explore the extensive line of home electronics as well as the Metro7 line shoes
for men and boys.

The Company noted the PlayStation3 is an extremely popular item this
Christmas season, and while the rest of America's working families are
waiting patiently in line, Senator Edwards wants to cut to the front.
While we cannot guarantee that Sen. Edwards will be among one of the first to
obtain a PlayStation3, we are certain Sen. Edwards will be able to find
great gifts for everyone on his Christmas list - many at Wal-Mart's
"roll-back prices."

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Hooray for class warfare snobs!

Beautiful story. Senator John Edwards got caught trying to have Wal-Mart get him a PS3 for his son (presumably). This sort of elitism is expected from our "representatives," but it's just hilariuous when he was spending all his time with unions talking about how evil Wal-Mart is. He's also the schmuck who reuns around talking about "The Two Americas." You know, one for rich people and another for us and, uh, Senator Edwards. One of the best takes on the story was posted by Radley Balko at the Agitator. Here's an excerpt:

We re-embrace an old meme as mole-lipped Adonis John Edwards returns to the national stage, preparing for the '08 race with lots of class-warfare talking and handsome-being.

This time, though, he seems to have stepped in a big steaming-pile of class warfare, and gotten it all over his shoe. On the same day Edwards was bashing Wal-Mart on a conference call with a bunch of labor leaders, an "aide" was asking one local Wal-Mart if they wouldn't mind bumping the former senator to the front of the line to get a Playstation 3 for his son.

As Reason's Jeff Taylor explains, the first lesson in all of this is that the very fact that so many people are lining up for a $600 game console -- and that they're getting them from Wal-Mart -- cuts a hole in Edwards' sorry "Two Americas" theme. The second of course is Edwards' ass-naked hypocrisy, and the obvious lie that he "didn't know" the aid would try to purchase the console from loathed Wal-Mart.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

In reality, we're ruled by the supervillains

Now that the election is over, and the rite of replacing one group of money-grubbing narcisists with another has come and gone, I'm comfortable inviting you to check out this great blog post on the possible political leanings of our favorite superheros. I like Captain America, and I sympathize with his assessment of modern American politics.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Mmmmm... bacon.

Good news for you low-carb people. Here's the abstract from a NEJM article that studied the long-term health effects of low-carbohydrate diets in women. The skinny: no problemo. Of course, I can't eat carbs, because I'm Catholic.

Low-Carbohydrate-Diet Score and the Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in Women
Thomas L. Halton, Sc.D., Walter C. Willett, M.D., Dr.P.H., Simin Liu, M.D., Sc.D., JoAnn E. Manson, M.D., Dr.P.H., Christine M. Albert, M.D., M.P.H., Kathryn Rexrode, M.D., and Frank B. Hu, M.D., Ph.D.
Background Low-carbohydrate diets have been advocated for weight loss and to prevent obesity, but the long-term safety of these diets has not been determined.
Methods We evaluated data on 82,802 women in the Nurses' Health Study who had completed a validated food-frequency questionnaire. Data from the questionnaire were used to calculate a low-carbohydrate-diet score, which was based on the percentage of energy as carbohydrate, fat, and protein (a higher score reflects a higher intake of fat and protein and a lower intake of carbohydrate). The association between the low-carbohydrate-diet score and the risk of coronary heart disease was examined.
Results During 20 years of follow-up, we documented 1994 new cases of coronary heart disease. After multivariate adjustment, the relative risk of coronary heart disease comparing highest and lowest deciles of the low-carbohydrate-diet score was 0.94 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.76 to 1.18; P for trend=0.19). The relative risk comparing highest and lowest deciles of a low-carbohydrate-diet score on the basis of the percentage of energy from carbohydrate, animal protein, and animal fat was 0.94 (95% CI, 0.74 to 1.19; P for trend=0.52), whereas the relative risk on the basis of the percentage of energy from intake of carbohydrates, vegetable protein, and vegetable fat was 0.70 (95% CI, 0.56 to 0.88; P for trend=0.002). A higher glycemic load was strongly associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease (relative risk comparing highest and lowest deciles, 1.90; 95% CI, 1.15 to 3.15; P for trend=0.003).
Conclusions Our findings suggest that diets lower in carbohydrate and higher in protein and fat are not associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease in women. When vegetable sources of fat and protein are chosen, these diets may moderately reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Why play oppossum?

Interesting article on the weirdness of the phenomenon of animals "playing dead."


The list of animals that play possum includes not only the Virginia opossum, of course, but also some 21 snake species and plenty of other creatures as different as bison on the prairies and brittle stars in the oceans.

Many of these animals freeze when a predator appears, and standard wisdom maintains that predators lose interest in prey that doesn't move. Yet some biologists now question that truism and are looking for a fuller explanation for the roles that feigned death might play in animal interactions.

Time for Dan Brown to write another crappy novel

Designer Decimals

Ivars Peterson

Calculate 100/89. You get the decimal expansion 1.1235955056 . . .

Look closely, and you'll see that this fraction generates the first five Fibonacci numbers (1, 1, 2, 3, and 5) before blurring into other digits. Recall that, starting with 1 and 1, each successive Fibonacci number is the sum of the two previous Fibonacci numbers: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, and so on.

Calculate 10000/9899. This time, you get 1.0102030508132134559046368 . . .

This fraction generates the first 10 Fibonacci numbers (using two digits per number). Going further, the fraction 1000000/998999 generates the first 15 Fibonacci numbers (using three digits per number).

Note that, in successive fractions, two 0s are appended to the numerator and a 9 to the beginning and end of the denominator.

Will the next fraction, 100000000/99989999, generate the first 20 Fibonacci numbers? Does the pattern continue forever? The answer appears to be yes.

James Smoak discovered this curious phenomenon, and he and Thomas J. Osler went on to prove that this class of fractions always produces decimal expansions containing terms of the Fibonacci sequence. They described it as "a magic trick from Fibonacci."

A little later, Marjorie Bicknell-Johnson found a formula, or "generalized mathematical magician," that identifies fractions whose decimal representations include successive values belonging to a variety of other sequences. She called them designer decimals.

In the November College Mathematics Journal, Smoak (with O-Yeat Chan) continues his adventures in the realm of designer decimals.

Consider, for example, the fraction 10000/9801. It has the decimal expansion 1.0203040506 . . . , suggesting the existence of a new class of fractions with curious properties.

Smoak and Chan ask: Do all the integers from 1 to 99 occur in the sequence? Given that the decimal expansion must repeat, what is the length and nature of the repeating part?

The key, Smoak and Chan say, is to note that 9801 = 992. So 10000/9801 = (100/99)2 = (1.0101010101 . . . )2.

Then, it's possible to show that the repeating part is 0203 . . . 97990001.

In general, fractions of the form [10n/(10n – 1)]k yield the sequence of integers in their decimal expansions.

It's amazing what can lie hidden in simple fractions!

Your balls are so slippery

Seems the Big Aristotle was right, the new balls used by the NBA suck, and we have science to prove it:

A dispute in professional basketball about a new ball has bounced its way into a physics lab. A study launched last month at the University of Texas at Arlington compares a controversial plastic ball introduced in preseason games this summer by the National Basketball Association (NBA) with the previous standard—a leather-covered ball. The official basketball season, the first in which the new ball will be used, began this week.

So far, the Texas experiments indicate that the new ball bounces less elastically, veers more when it bounces, and becomes more slippery when damp than does the official leather ball of the past 35 years.

Whole thing here.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Weird science stuff

Here's a story about bacteria that derive their energy from the earth's radiation, rather than the sun. Cool, in that way that's like... the opposite of cool.


The first known organisms that live totally independently of the sun have been discovered deep in a South African gold mine.

The bacteria exist without the benefit of photosynthesis by harvesting the energy of natural radioactivity to create food for themselves. Similar life forms may exist on other planets, experts speculate.

The bacteria live in ancient water trapped in a crack in basalt rock, 3 to 4 kilometres down. Scientists from Princeton University in New Jersey, US, and colleagues analysed water from the fissure after it was penetrated by a narrow exploratory shaft in the Mponeng gold mine near Johannesburg, South Africa. The shaft was then closed.

This can't be good

I'm usually one to point out that much of the recent media hype over the "meth epidemic" is just hysterical BS, but this story even worries me:

Los Alamos computer disk was 'traded for meth'
Classified data shows up in drug dealer's den.

Classified data from Los Alamos National Laboratory, the first US nuclear-weapons lab, turned up last week at the home of a drug dealer in New Mexico.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating the breach, the latest in a string of security-related embarrassments for the lab. In 2000, two hard drives containing classified data disappeared briefly. And in 2004, the lab was shut down for months after two disks were reported missing; it later turned out that the disks never existed (see Nature 433, 447; 2005).

Local police have now found three flash drives containing classified material during a search of a trailer home occupied by a known methamphetamine dealer. A former subcontractor at the lab was also living there. At least one of the drives was traded for methamphetamine, the dealer told the local newspaper from his jail cell.

Los Alamos director Michael Anastasio said the lab is trying to find out what went wrong. "This is a serious matter, and we are taking immediate steps to address it," he says.

Be on the lookout for ... ME!

Hat tip to budpalmer.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

One Baby... One Dog... One Beerrrr....

Now onto non-gay news items...

From the People's Republic of China, where the state knows what's best for you and social planning never comes with unintended consequences (ahem), this article from state news agency Xinhua reveals a directive that all Chinese households are restricted to one dog. Since parents are only allowed to have one child, the prevailing state wisdom must have determined that it would be decadent for them to frolic with more than one pet.

The Chinese government showed its usual restraint in dealing with the situation:

In one county in the southwestern province of Yunnan, where three people had died of rabies, authorities killed 50,000 dogs, many of them beaten to death in front of their owners.


Following the communist seizure of power in 1949, dog ownership was condemned as a bourgeois affectation and canines were hunted as pests. Attitudes have softened in recent years, although urban Chinese are still subject to strict rules on the size of their pets and must pay steep registration fees.

318 people died of rabies in China last September, tragic in itself but hardly the number one killer in a nation of over 1 billion... at least 10 times that amount were executed by the state last year. Pick your poison, I guess.

China issues 'one dog' policy in Beijing [Yahoo! News]

The Biggest Story Of The Day

Election upsets? Sudden resignations? Blah. They happen with unstartling regularity. But how often does Britney Spears divorce Kevin Federline? The answer, hopes Western civilization, is exactly once. (Incidentally I refuse to call him "K-Fed", and if you do, you're probably an "A-Hole.")

Speculation on the future of "Fed-Ex" (alright, I'm an a-hole) runs rampant among those who actually give a shit about things like this. In a rare act of wise, far-sighted judgment, Spears (or a quick-thinking rep) had her soon-to-be ex sign a pre-nuptial agreement, which he probably mistook for a recording contract. Next on the docket: full custody for Britney, with visitation rights for baby daddy... so long as he remembers which children to visit on the proper days. (He's got some swimmers, I'll give the big doofus that much.)

He sure was, baby.

Watching Federline descend into post-kept obscurity may be as entertaining to watch as the descent of Tom Cruise into utter insanity. Another reality show is definitely in his future; perhaps a team-up with Tom Arnold, Ryan O'Neal and whomever Jennifer Lopez divorced last week.

Spears Upbeat After Filing for Divorce [Chicago Tribune]
'Fed-Ex' Federline has dubious future [Yahoo! News]

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Dog Whisperer on South Park

Fans of Cesar Milan: Watch Cesar use his techniques on Cartman. clip 1 clip 2

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

"Joe Blow - he's at it again."

Ever wonder who provides the ominous voices behind all of those ubiquitous campaign attack ads appearing on TV right now? The Philadelphia Inquirer has an interesting article about the people whose job it is to scare you into voting for the other guy... you know, the one who doesn't support terrorism.

Compared to voice-over legend Don LaFontaine, however, the rest of these guys are mere amateurs. No kidding, I want him to record my eulogy some day. "They SAID he COULDN'T be STOPPED..."

Giving voice - and venom - to political ads [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Don LaFontaine [Wikipedia]

(Side note: In his Wikipedia entry, one of LaFontaine's nicknames is "The Voice of God." To a Philadelphian like myself, this is blasphemous. There was only one Voice of God, and anyone with half a brain knows it belonged to John Facenda.)