28 February 2009

Sheriff Lott, Take Note

A commenter saw fit to suggest that I might have something in common with Michael Phelps. I actually get that a lot. In this case, though, he did not mean enormous personal wealth or prodigious athletic ability. In the interest of full disclosure, here is the photo. It was taken not in South Carolina, where it might draw the attention of a grandstanding sheriff, but rather in Moscow and the hookah provided (for a fee) by restaurant Uzbekistan is legal. In fact, I believe the contents burned in the water pipe would be legal, even in South Carolina.

I'm returning to Moscow tomorrow. The exchange rate in October was 1:25 (Rouble ~= $.04); it is now about 1:36 (~=.028). Lest we feel too smug about having a stable currency, I think the predominant use of the dollar for foreign reserves (which is one of main things propping up the dollar at the moment) is likely to fade over time (i.e., during my lifetime).

25 February 2009


Real Madrid had the better of possession, and Arjen Robben looked the most dangerous threat for either side. Torres was taken off with a half hour to play, presumably the result of a first half knock. Riera was booked somewhat harshly for intentionally handling the ball and will miss the return leg. Liverpool looked better in defense than attack but managed to convert a pointless foul by Heinze. Aurelio delivered a beautiful ball that Benayoun headed past Casillas. Liverpool's work is far from done, but there are worse positions to be in than defending one goal lead at Anfield.

Two fashion notes: Casillas was wearing a keepers jersey with the sleeves cut off, and was that a turtleneck? And who was the Real Madrid player sporting a mustache straight out of the 70's?


The Economist espouses a free market approach that is far from left-wing ideology. Here's a brief argument showing that the Republicans are being just plain silly right now. Some of the Republican claims are simple partisan positioning, but some of them are intentionally misleading.

By the way, Bobby Jindal, for whom I had high hopes when he was an unknown running for office to replace the previous incompetent Louisiana governor, is proving an embarrassment at every opportunity. Paul Krugman (with whom I frequently disagree) wrote about it here and Phil Plait (who I've only recently started reading) wrote here.

Used Books

Our household does more than its share of supporting the publishing industry. Like the music industry, a disproportionate share goes to the logistical part of the process, something that internet publishing is changing. I don't mind publishers (or producers) being paid for their time, but at no point should we forget that it is the author who did the most important work.

A lot of the books I buy are used (mostly on Amazon but sometimes in the past from eBay). That is legal, but the author receives little benefit (because we don't usually re-sell the book, it reduces the inventory of used books, making it slightly more likely that someone else will buy a book new). That the publisher receives no benefit is not a concern - they produced one physical item and were compensated once for it. They might argue over marketing costs, but let's leave marketing out of it for today.

The author's portion of the price of a new book is surprisingly small. Typical numbers are 15% for hardback books and 7.5% of paperback. Accountants, lawyers, manufacturing, distribution, marketing, agents, managers, lumberjacks, etc. get most of the money. If you buy an undiscounted book at a retail outlet, the retailer's profit margin is probably twice that of the author.

The author's contribution is not the physical item but the reading: the edification or entertainment or provocation or inspiration. Every reading is a new value proposition. This is not a concern for the most successful authors; they are well compensated (arguably overly so, but let's solve all of the other problems in the world before we get around to overpaid writers). For every J. K. Rowling there are tens of thousands of authors whose royalties buy groceries rather than castles.

Christopher Nolan died last week. His books are available from Amazon for approximately the cost of shipping ($4). I am considering buying the book new (about $10 more) so that his estate benefits from my purchase.

A better (but obviously unworkable) solution would allow me to choose to pay the author a couple of bucks directly when I bought a used book. I suspect that, Danielle Steel and John Grisham notwithstanding, more than half of the people made affluent by book publishing are not authors. That's too bad.

24 February 2009

Project Euler: Level 1

Yesterday I reached the first milestone at Project Euler by successfully solving my 25th problem. I don't apologize for my geekdom: I have been enjoying the challenge. I'm using Ruby, though C/C++, Python, Java, C#, and Haskell are all more popular choices. I still think Ruby is a sweet language; it has been a long time since I had this much fun programming. Yes, fun. I said it.

23 February 2009

Vaccinate Your Babies

We have friends with autistic children; I have seen how it can be a real burden. I have deep sympathy with parents who struggle with the challenges of autism. It is not surprising that some such parents desperately want someone to blame.

The ridiculous (and scientifically unsupported) idea that vaccines cause autism received a lot of attention last year, thanks in part to Jenny McCarthy. Since she has used her celebrity as a bully pulpit, I think it fair to question her qualifications. I am no prude, but I doubt that her career as a Playboy model prepared her to lecture on autism. She has had a first-hand experience with an ill child, which puts her in the company of millions (most of whom have not appeared on Larry King). She is free to believe whatever harebrained ideas she wants. But the plural of anecdote is not data.

The clinical evidence is overwhelming. Vaccines do not cause autism. Ignorance is dangerous, especially when it discourages immunization against deadly disease.

This article is long, but if you're on the fence (or if you know someone who is), it should be read in entirety.

White Trash Update

I had mentioned the unfortunately named (and coiffed) JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell in an earlier post. Since then, Family Services have gotten involved. I'm suspicious as most reasonable people might be of the nanny-state, but surely these parents have demonstrated that they are simply unfit. I don't know the details; a spokesman said that the Family Services division doesn't comment on specific families. I find it unlikely that merely making bizarre decisions over naming the children was adequate justification for removing them.

While searching for the recent article, I found a web forum called Original Dissent, in which the members express their outrage over this government intervention. I don't want to link to it (and raise their Google rating, however insignificantly) because frankly, their ignorance and vitriol are frightening.
www dot originaldissent dot com/forums/showthread.php?p=51877

Pearls Before Swine

I love Pearls Before Swine, one of my favorite irreverent comics.

Here is one from last week:

Sadly, the strip could have been shortened to this:

22 February 2009


Neither side can complain about the result. In the first half, Liverpool failed to turn dominance of possession into real scoring threats. The second half was much more even (and entertaining, to be honest). As I expected, Rafa fielded a 4-4-2 with Torres and Kuyt in front and Riera, Mascherano, Lucas, and Benayoun across the midfield. Liverpool suffered the lack of Gerrard's determination and Alonso's precision.

Sadly, Liverpool has shown that they are again only pretenders to the throne. Manchester United will surely win the league, pulling even with Liverpool's record of top flight titles. Their season could unravel quickly without a better performance at the Bernabeu on Wednesday.


Well, it was only a matter of time. They actually met in the pools, with the younger a surprising 5-4 winner. They were drawn together in the first elimination round, and there was no surprise in the outcome there. A five point bout allows the weaker fencer to win occasionally, but the fifteen point elimination bouts are much harder to win without being the better fencer. Fortunately, there were no hard feelings.

Here they are waiting for their weapons to be tested before the bout:

In action. That's Trevor's friend on the right filming the action.

Signing the scoresheet:

20 February 2009

Anfield Gaffer Speculation

Goal.com has a decent review of potential candidates for Liverpool should Rafa move on.

I agree that Lee and Moyes are least likely among those listed. I suspect that the actual candidate list would include more foreign managers. Given the Barry fiasco last summer, Villans will be unhappy with the writer's conclusion (though it's far from resolute). Also, unlike Bruce, O'Neill has achieved a degree of success that seems fairly sustainable; I suspect he'd be reluctant to leave Villa Park (never mind the recent history).

Man City on Sunday

Gerrard has been ruled out, and Alonso is suspended. This will likely result in an unusual formation, maybe a 4-4-2 with Torres and Kuyt paired at the top, Riera and Benayoun on the wings, and Mascherano and Lucas in the center. Rafa has only used the preferred 4-2-3-1 with Gerrard available. He could also go with the three central defender formation (last seen in Portsmouth); the real problem is that after Gerrard, Mascherano, and Alonso, Liverpool's remaining central midfielders are a step down in quality. Worse, Mascherano (like Sissoko before him) while savage in defense is a fairly poor player in attack and Lucas has shown me little to justify Benitez's confidence in him. The bottom line is that somebody has to be able to distribute the ball, and I don't know who that will be. Gareth Barry would be perfect. Sigh.

Why is Science Important

I would hope that no one reading this would need to have it explained to them. On the other hand, the one video I watched would be pretty good to show a bunch of reluctant school kids. Given the fact that creationists are inexplicably taken seriously by anyone (much less that the media constantly give them an opportunity to spread their gospel of ignorance), defending science seems like a good idea to me. This site, dedicated to explaining why science matters, is hosted in the UK. Science is not constrained by national borders. Sadly, neither is ignorance.

18 February 2009

My (ex) State

While driving to New Orleans last weekend, we heard a feature that described a preposterous new law in Louisiana.

Here's the NPR story.

Here's an opinionated scientist's take.

Here's my take. Creationism is the kind of backwards thinking that kills what little hope I have for humanity surviving another millennium. Five hundred years ago, people were persecuted because they believed the earth orbited the sun, in violation of a strict reading of the bible. The Taliban burns down schools that teach girls. And the Louisiana legislature thinks that science is the subject that is not skeptical enough of accepting blindly the teachings of others. I am embarrassed to be associated in any way with those imbeciles.

17 February 2009

Crazy Talk

This one's for you, Joe.

Athletes and the Law

Michael Vick - I loved watching him play in college. In the NFL, I thought he was overrated (and that he was over-hyped cannot be a question of opinion). If he had been some back-woods, dog-fighting red neck, he'd have been fined and nobody would have heard of it. But because he was rich and famous (and very possibly because he was black), he went to prison. I have no sympathy for dog fighters, but I don't think he was treated fairly (i.e., the same as others who committed the same crime). Most people have done foolish things in their youth, things that they'd like to forget. Vick will never have that luxury. He will play somewhere in the NFL, but he won't be very successful, because a two year layoff is unlikely to have made him an accurate passer.

Alex Rodriguez - What!? A baseball player used steroids?! I am shocked! Oh, and he plays for the Yankees. If baseball weren't already completely irrelevant, I might care.

Adam "Pacman" Jones - I actually feel bad for this guy. He grew up without a father and in poverty. That he has no idea how to behave in a civilized society can't be entirely his fault. He might not play again, and if he doesn't, there's a fair chance that his story will end poorly.

Michael Phelps - He must have been relieved to hear that Barney Fife Leon Lott won't press charges. Sheriff, you are officially an ass clown.

Definition lifted from Urban Dictionary:
1. One whose stupidity and/or ineptitude exceeds the descriptive potential of both the terms ass and clown in isolation, and in so doing demands to be referred to as the conjugate of the two.

Jerramy Stevens - Excrement.

11 February 2009


The inscription on our rings is "RMG to EKH 2-11-89". Unfortunately, I now need glasses to read it.

We went to Bacchanalia for dinner to celebrate. I had mentioned that this was our anniversary while making the reservations . They supplemented the dessert course with this. It's a crappy cell phone picture, but it's actually a gorgeous little cake.

10 February 2009

Not to Scale

(Click the image)


Portsmouth fans cheered on their lads throughout Saturday's match, even though they twice lost the lead (and the game in the end). Pompey has been on a poor run of form (which has since cost manager Tony Adams his job). Most American football fans are not so generous. In a situation similar to Portsmouth's, the American fans would have booed their own team, even attending the games with paper bags over their head, as if to hide the shame of their loyalty.

On the one hand, I understand the impulse. Tickets are expensive and players are paid handsomely. If you are disgusted, stop following them. There's a strange self-loathing implicit in booing your own team.

Speaking of boos...
I read that the fans at Stamford Bridge booed the team after the goalless draw with Hull. I liked Scolari; now the rumor is that Grant might be back. Or maybe Zola. Or... well, it's Chelsea. There's no telling. If you discount the penalty kicks from last year's Champion's League final, the last three Chelsea managers have been sacked after draws.

08 February 2009

Strange Days

About a week ago our younger son decided, unprompted, to clean his room. He filled about two trash cans. This is remarkable because, to the best of my recollection, this is the first time he has voluntarily tidied his room in his fifteen years. We suspect the influence of a girl. Whatever caused it, it is a welcome development.

What to Think?

I have observed that there is a certain looseness in the English press, at least around transfer rumo(u)rs. Unattributed comments seem often to be no more than speculation on the part of the reporter. I find it difficult to believe that Gillett actually gave Rafa an ultimatum. Such conditions exist in sport, but it is hard to imagine that there is any value in publicizing them. A top club manager will not be any more motivated to win with his job on the line than he already was. What's more, especially among(st) Liverpool fans, the animosity toward the American owners is so vitriolic that nearly any claim will be accepted as likely true. I suspect this is a rehash of this article.

Rafa must win title or go

Posted by Dom Raynor

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has been told he needs to win the Premier League title to save his job by club co-owner George Gillett, according to the Sunday Express.

On a rare visit to Merseyside Gillett let it be known that he blamed Rafa's rant against Sir Alex Ferguson for Liverpool's slump in form and has demanded that the Spaniard rectify the situation.

Gillett, who refuses to bow to Benitez’s demands for complete control over transfer policy before agreeing to a new four-year contract, also believes that the Liverpool boss likes to be constantly linked with other big jobs.

(Hat tip: ESPN)

07 February 2009

Writing is Hard

At least I assume it is. I don't so much write as type (thank you Mr. Capote). Even then, I tend to spend a fair amount of time editing my words. I have just finished reading Geraldine Brooks's People of the Book, and while I found it slow to get started, I enjoyed it more as it went along. I found the flashbacks a lot more interesting than the current parts.

As I was reading, I tripped over a particular sentence: "Serif, the most learned person she had ever met, was also the only person who never let her feel the least bit stupid." What struck me about this sentence is how unlikely it is that every other person poor Lola had ever met had let her feel the least bit stupid. Every single one. It is certainly a nit. This is once sentence out of thousands. I doubt I would improve any other sentence, but this one should have been worded differently. The book seems well researched and is well written (the author has won a Pulitzer for another book). You could leave out "was also the only person who", and the meaning is there. And maybe she really had been made to feel stupid by everyone around her. Serif is certainly one of many brave heroes in the book, but that "only" bothers me.

I wrote many papers in college thanks to an enlightened curriculum imposed upon me by the university. And I have written a couple of articles for a technical magazine. Writing Libatio has sharpened my awareness of the craft of writing, and I doubt I would have noticed the awkward wording otherwise. It is much easier, of course, to spot that sort of thing in someone else's work. I have every confidence that my own writing is riddled with crimes against the craft.

This brief entry has taken twenty minutes (so far). I really can't imagine writing a book. Even a badly written book is a considerable accomplishment. Life is too short to drink bad beer. Or bad wine. Or to read bad books. Erp, or bad blogs.

UPDATE: Apparently, writing titles is hard, too. Or hard for me. It should have been "Writing Well is Hard". Unless you take Mr. Capote's side.


For the first half, a goal by either side seemed likely to carry the day. Five goals in the final thirty minutes made for an exciting end. Compared to Wednesday's excruciating match, this was a welcome change. There was not an overwhelming amount of quality, but at least there were goals. Pompey showed real tenacity, but Liverpool had the better chances. Babel inexplicably missed Kuyt's cross before boyhood Everton supporter Nugent put in the first goal. Kuyt looked to have equalised but was judged offside.

A strange turn of play led to the next goal. Deep in the Portsmouth half center back Skrtel pressed striker Crouch into a backpass that James had no choice but to handle with Kuyt bearing down on him. Aurelio hit a rocket just inside the near post on the set piece. A 1-1 draw then seemed likely until Hreidarsson's header beat Reina (who should have done better) on a free kick. With five minutes left, Portsmouth held a 2-1 lead, but Liverpool was not quite done. Torres threatened on the right, and Kuyt hammered the loose ball through a tight angle and past James. In added time, Torres headed the winner home.

As I've mentioned before, English football commentary is usually superior to that of American football. However, the announcers were determined to question Benitez's decisions, regardless of circumstances. First, they wondered whether Benitez was showing disrespect by fielding a "second team". But Torres was completely spent on Wednesday night, and resting him seemed likely. Gerrard is injured. Other than David Ngog, the rest of the players on the pitch have featured regularly this season.

The announcers were bemused by the formation. The 4-2-3-1 formation Liverpool has used for the past year relies on Torres as the lone striker and Gerrard as the attacking central midfielder. Without those two on the pitch, a different formation was likely. Benitez went to an unusual formation, with three center backs, two wing backs, two holding midfielders, and three players forward. With Aurelio Lopez taking the role of a central midfielder, it meant Liverpool fielded six defenders. But with three center backs, the wing backs were free to feature more in attacks, and Liverpool looked more dangerous today than they had against Everton.

When Liverpool went down a goal, one announcer found it bizarre that Benitez didn't immediately bring Torres onto the pitch, but the truth was that even without El Nino, Liverpool were getting chances and plenty of possession; there was no need to panic. Eventually, Kuyt, Alonso, and Torres were brought on for Ngog, Dossena, and Babel.

A fully fit Torres is one of the most dangerous players in the league, and Kuyt showed some real quality in his appearance as a substitute. When Gerrard returns I'm sure the 4-2-3-1 will be back with him. In the meantime, the 5-2-3 (or 3-2-2-3 if you prefer) seemed reasonably effective, though a rested Riera, Torres, and Kuyt will be preferred to Babel, Ngog, and Benayoun.

Top of the table, at least until the Mancs play their games in hand.

05 February 2009

Michael Phelps

It has been over 25 years since I was tempted by that sort of thing, but I am amazed by the sanctimonious response to the disclosure that Michael Phelps has acted his age.

Smoking pot is illegal, mostly because of the puritan impulse to outlaw things that somebody else might enjoy. In terms of damage to society, it's pretty far down the list. Way below domestic violence (when was the last time a celebrity arrested for domestic violence lost a sponsorship or a movie deal or a lucrative playing contract?).

And far below DUI (for which Phelps was arrested in 2004). Annual deaths attributed to DUI: around 15,000. Deaths attributed to smoking pot: zero. Tylenol kills more people than pot (to be fair, that's not an apples to oranges comparison).

So to be clear: DUI, kills thousands but OK for sponsorships. Firing up a bong, kills no one but offends prudish sensibilities, not OK.

I loathe hypocrisy.

04 February 2009


A dreadful match. The first half was excruciating (even leaving aside Gerrard's early exit with a hamstring problem). The second half started a little better, but Lucas made a foolish challenge after already being booked and was sent off. After that, Liverpool was playing for penalties. The remainder of the second half and most of extra time was just ugly football. Well done to Everton and the youngster Gosling who saved the blushes that might have followed should Liverpool have gone through on penalties.

Lucas earned the first booking on a trivial challenge, it was the accumulation of fouls (and his repeated falls to the ground calling for Everton bookings) rather than the specific offense that prompted Wiley to go to his pocket. Once booked, he should have known better than to try the challenge that had him sent off. With Alonso and Mascherano available, Benitez should leave the Brazilian on the bench.

Hopefully, Gerrard's injury is minor or Liverpool's title chances are done for.


A friend recently asked for my Sazerac recipe. Purists will decry some of my choices; they are welcome to adhere to the more authentic recipes.

Chill a cocktail glass by filling it with crushed ice and water. Authentic recipes call for an old fashioned glass (a Sazerac is, in the end, an improved Old Fashioned), but I prefer the elegance of the stem.

Drain ice water and rinse with Absinthe. It is pricey and there are substitutes like Herbsaint, but I like the real thing (legal again in the US since 2007). A bottle will last a lifetime. Well maybe not, but you'll go through more than a case of Rye before you're done with one bottle. I use my thumb as a stopper on the bottle and squirt a little less than a teaspoon in. Swirl the glass to coat the sides. Most recipes call for you to dump the excess Absinthe, but I never do (it's good stuff, don't waste it).

In a mixing glass combine 1/4 oz simple syrup (one and a half teaspoons), 4 dashes Peychaud's and 1 dash Angostura, 2 oz Rye whiskey.

[Rye notes: I've used most of the commonly available brands and all are fine; there's no reason to spend much more than $20 on some snooty brand. I favor Wild Turkey; its higher proof is closer to how Rye was made when the drink started. The original drink was made with Cognac, but the Phylloxera Plague triggered a shift to Rye]

Add ice and stir well (shaking is more fun, but the finished drink looks better if you don't).

Strain into the prepared glass. Twist a lemon peel over the drink (I usually just drop the twist in when I'm done, but purists don't).

This is the recipe I started with: Sazerac.


Just in case you had any question whether this is a ripoff, it is.

Worse, when this guy published the findings, they offered to bribe him to take the article down.

Jon Stewart

I like The Daily Show, but Stewart seems to have lost the plot with the Republicans out of power. On Monday's show, his ridiculous oversimplification of the banking bailout would might have been funny had it been the premise for a joke. Sadly, I think he seriously believes that the bank bailout money was to benefit the banks. This only adds to the broad misunderstanding about what's going on with the economy (not that there is unanimity among Economists).

A couple of points:
- These were not, as he claimed, no-strings-attached gifts to banks.
- The banks were bailed out because our economy can't work without functioning banks. If the banks fail, well, that would be a lot worse than what we've seen so far. The point wasn't to reward banks. It was trying to keep the economy from collapse. Which hasn't happened. Yet.

03 February 2009

Michael Phelps

Some South Carolina sheriff is going to investigate whether Michael Phelps committed a crime.

I will sleep well tonight knowing Barney Fife is on the job.


The Visitor

Character actor Richard Jenkins has been in dozens of movies; his is a familiar face. He has been deservedly nominated for a Best Actor award playing Walter Vale, a disconnected Economics professor jarred out of his comfort zone. The trailer gives away too much; I won't compound the error by giving away plot spoilers. The story and characters are compelling, it is an outstanding movie.

Personal trivia: Most of the movie takes place in New York City, but Vale teaches at Connecticut College in New London. About 20 years ago, I worked at an office a mile from the campus.

Joe the Economist

If you believe the Republicans are serious about fixing the economy (or anything, really), read this.

As one with some degree of expertise in a reasonably challenging field, I find offensive the idea that this ass clown is taken seriously by anyone.

Competence matters.

When an ideology convinces you otherwise, you should wonder whether that is its only fatuous belief.

02 February 2009

Robbie Keane

I am sad to see him go. In his career he has shown that he is a quality player, and he was enthusiastic for the opportunity pull on a red shirt. He struggled to find his form, but always gave it his all. In his last appearance he desperately tried to spur (no pun intended) the lads on to victory over Wigan after Gerrard had bizarrely been taken off with seven minutes remaining.

Benitez either appeared either to not know or to not care to find how to employ him effectively (some have suggested that Rafa was petulant over the club signing Keane after finding Villa's asking price for Barry too dear). I was indifferent to Keane before he came to Liverpool, but now I hold him in high regard. Benitez treated him shamefully but Keane remained professional.

Among Liverpool fans, I am not alone.

I would not be surprised should the league finish with the top six unchanged from today (Man Utd, Liverpool, Chelsea, Villa, Arsenal, Everton).

01 February 2009


In the first half, Chelsea had the majority of possession, but looked the less dangerous side. For the first fifteen minutes of the second half, Chelsea looked positively toothless. Then in the sixtieth minute, Riley sent Lampard off unfairly. Riley had been doing quite well at managing the game. His angle on the challenge was not the best; from the sideline view, the call was inexplicable. Like Style's awful penalty in last season's fixture, a single split-second decision by the referee changed game.

For most of the match, Gerrard was everywhere, though he earned a booking for falling, ahem, rather easily near the edge of the box. For Chelsea, Alex was superb covering a shaky Cech. Finally, in the 89th minute, the goal finally came, Torres heading Aurelio's cross.

How Boswinga wasn't sent off for kicking is beyond me. Shocking.

In stoppage time with Chelsea desperately pushing forward, Kuyt and Benayoun built up the play for Torres to deliver the coup de grace

Keane in the stands was a bizarre decision. I feel awful for Keane. He has not played well for most of hist time in a red shirt but it is incomprehensible that David Ngog is preferred against Chelsea. We will learn in the next 24 hours whether he has played his last match for Liverpool.

Liverpool has stayed alive in the title race, but Manchester United is two points ahead with a game in hand.