Saturday, December 31, 2005

We live in a Twisty World

This video has been around the net a couple of times but it's still worth checking out (broadband recommended). Russian teens running Le Parkour.

These guys verge on the unbelievable.

Thai Surprise

The fortune cookie reads: "The smart thing to do is not be yourself."

Is this Engrish? A bad fortune? Or maybe good advice?

Are the people at the Thai restaurant trying to tell me something?

Friday, December 30, 2005

Last words of the year on the War on Christmas

Using my advanced knowledge of molecular biology and grammar I have converted ifs and buts to candy and nuts.

So now every day is Christmas.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas with the Wilsons

Cintra Wilson preaches the gospel on Christmas:

We are, to put it mildly, an ecumenical group. My mother, a jazz pianist who calls herself "The Duchess," was raised by Christian Scientists but now subscribes to a self-invented theology she calls "Ishta Devata," an unformed, New Age, quasi-Buddhist mysticism involving psychic visions from an inner network she calls "Channel 12." My father was raised by members of the Anthroposophical Society and is believed to be telekinetic. My aunt on my mother's side is a hardcore Scientologist, who until recently was exiled from Christmas for her tendency to hard-sell the guests on the divinity of L. Ron Hubbard. My sister, whose husband is Moroccan, recently converted to Islam. My mother complains bitterly that she's no longer allowed to call my sister during the five times a day she is praying toward
Mecca, which, considering how often Mom likes to phone, has inspired me to the revelation that Allah is most kind. I am a Santeria initiate, which means I endure jokes every year about sacrificing chickens. If I happen to be at the buffet table, I usually smile, grab the electric carving knife and walk toward the cat. But most of our extended family is Jewish, apart from my best friend Mark and his boyfriend, the Episcopal priest.

We all come together for Christmas under our one unifying conviction that Christmas is less a religious holiday than the one day a year we all start drinking before noon.


For the second time while visiting a particular set of friends I have fallen prey to the strange microbes of the foreign country of "Cleve-land".

As a result I spent every half hour between midnight and 6AM involved in a version of bulemia without the guilt.

The term "technicolor yawn" has taken on increased significance because for some reason all of the emissions from my body have taken on a full spectrum of vivid colors--and never the ones you'd quite expect. (I'm only waiting for, say, blue earwax or bioluminescent spittle to appear so that I can complete the set. It's feeling very Harry Potter.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

More scenes from the "War on Christmas"


Last December, a group called Public Advocate for the United States (which claims to defend America's traditional family values) sent some Christmas carolers over to sing in front of the ACLU offices in Washington.

Carrying signs reading "Merry Christmas" and "Please Don't Sue Us!" - they also seem to have carried with them some rather strange imaginings about an assault on Christmas. I don't know what the carolers thought might happen.

To tell the truth, the ACLU is not often serenaded by Christmas carolers. So it was with some excitement that the staff went outside and joined in the singing. They brought with them cookies and warm drinks to share. One staff member, who is an ordained Baptist minister, did a little witnessing about his faith to some astonished proponents of family values.

Fox News did broadcast the event (as a part of its "war against Christmas" campaign). Although the visiting singers were shown, the cameras failed to include any footage showing that everyone had participated in the caroling. Rather than reporting the facts, the anchor preferred the propaganda: "We believe the ACLU heard the message loud and clear, but they don't care."
(By T. Jeremy Gunn USAToday)


The other day Giblets was shopping for presents for his closest friends and vassals when an elderly mall greeter said "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" forcing Giblets to beat him insensate with a vanilla-scented gift candle. Why must our relentlessly secular society attempt to obscure The Reason For The Season! Yes there are non-Christmas holidays but those are the sissy holidays. Christmas can beat up Hanukkah, Eid and Kwanzaa without breaking a sweat.

(Brad deLong Fafblog)

Science & Creation

Great speculative article on why children have rich fantasy lives.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Chicago Business Forecast 2005 Notes

Two weeks ago, the University of Chicago GSB presented its annual series of Business Forecast Luncheons in major cities across the country. The BFLs offer a chance to hear leading economists predict the major economic figures and political risks for the coming year.

The Chicago session prognosticators were Michael Mussa and Randall Kroszner for the macro side.

  • The basic message: next year will look exactly like this year.
  • Short term indicators are mildly positive, with little long term effect on the economy due to energy price shocks, hurricane Katrina, and the continued war in Iraq.
  • Consumer confidence is down, which is not in line with other indicators, but which may be due to the fact that real median income has been flat to declining over the next few years.

On the major indicators (GDP growth, inflation, unemployment, etc.) both were in close agreement with real growth in the 3-3.5% range, inflation at 2.5-3% and unemplyment at 5.1%. All of these are close to both our standard national levels and also close to our current situation.

In general, Mussa's predictions are more believable wherever the two had a disagreement, where, for example Kroszner forecast that the trade deficit would essentially remain flat or shrink in real terms, Mussa predicts a move from ($624.1B) to ($640.0B) or about 5% growth, which seems plausible in light of current trends and continued growth. Mussa also sees the US economy coolling down slightly from this year--and no other economies worldwide heating up more to pick up the slack.

Marvin Zonis provided political risk insight. Key points:

  • India represents a great foreign investment opportunity, with blockbuster growth, relative political stability, an English speaking population, heavy investment in education, and a rapidly growing middle class.
  • China has pinned a lot on the 2008 Olympics. The government views this as their announcement of superpower status on par with the US. So, at least in the near term, they will continue to put a premium on political stability. Due to the large component of the Chinese economy that relies on exports to the US, it is unlikely that they will try to restrict debt financing the US deficit. The two countries are in an economic embrace.
  • Iran is a country which is undergoing titanic internal stresses. The current hard-line president is viewed as a nutcase even by his fellow clerics. Dissent is widespread, and Persian is the second most common language for blogs (tied with French) worldwide.
  • Russia's vast oil wealth is being used to finance the country's transformation, and can be used to buy off internal dissent through social programs and other methods.
  • Brazil has so far failed to gain traction on its internal economic problems but has immense potential for growth--just not in the near term.
  • Positive signs in the Middle East: Sharon has shifted Israeli policy from "maximizing territory held" to "defensible position". Prediction: he will abandon all but the largest West Bank settlements, consolidate his hold on all of Jerusalem, and throw a fence around all of Israeli territory. The Palestinians are unhappy because this is going on unilaterally.
  • Postive sign #2: Muslim revulsion at violence carried out in the name of Jihad against other Muslims. Jordan being the latest example.
  • US presence in Iraq is generating terrorists faster than we can kill them. Bush will find a way to declare victory and 40K-60K troops will be pulled from Iraq "before the 2006 elections".

In the roundtable discussion that followed, rising healthcare costs alarmed the panel the most. With Social Security and Medicare rising from 5-6% of GDP now to ~20% over the next 15-20 years, this will put enormous pressure on the economy as a whole. No near-term solutions exist, at least none that anyone is prepared to accept.

So to sum up:

  • Near term: fairly rosy. Maybe a little slower.
  • Long term: uncertain as always.

Elsewhere: US Economy's slow growth still getting 'no respect'. Contains full transcripts of remarks by all three presenters.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Most Played

Am I the only one who feels guilty over the Most Played selections in iTunes, as though I should love all my music equally?

Friday, December 16, 2005

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Incompetent Design

I'm beginning to feel sorry for the Intelligent Design folks. It hasn't been a very good year for them. First, their pet school board gets voted out en masse. Then, they get pooh-pooed by their fellow evangelical academics. I won't even go into the whole Flying Spaghetti Monster thing. Now, geophysicist Don Wise comes out with his theory of "incompetent design". He sites the bend at the base of the spine, the excessive number of teeth in the jaw, and the structure of the sinus drainage system. To which I'd add the shock system and the design of the knee.

You must have received some serious criticism of your somewhat jestful theory? Well, I got one, which I showed at the Geological Society of America (GSA) meetings. An envelope postmarked Minneapolis, with monkeys all over it and inside it, with a great big blue ribbon, a note saying I had been awarded the "Moron of the Month" award, that I was a dork, an idiot, that only someone who thought their ancestors were monkeys would be dumb enough to say what I had, asking me if I wanted to debate it. It left an email address at

These are the kind of things you NEVER really answer, but I couldn't resist. So I used the H.L. Menken approach:

Dear Sir, You should be aware that some idiot is writing absolute nonsense and signing your e-mail address to it. You should take action on this before your reputation is further sullied!

But most of the things I've gotten have been positive.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Power of Cheese

I may have misplaced several personal items in classic absent-minded fashion, but this is something truly special--a nearly deadly cheese caper. Even for queso fresco, this seems to be going overboard.(via Neil)

Woman Allegedly Hires Hit Man for Cheese

The Associated PressTuesday, December 6, 2005; 7:01 PM
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- In an unusual case of mistaken identity, a woman who thought a block of white cheese was cocaine is charged with trying to hire a hit man to rob and kill four men. The woman also was mistaken about the hit man. He turned out to be an undercover police officer.

Jessica Sandy Booth, 18, was arrested over the weekend and remains in jail with bond set at $1 million on four charges of attempted murder and four counts of soliciting a murder.

According to police, Booth was in the Memphis home of the four intended victims last week when she mistook a block of queso fresco cheese for cocaine _ inspiring the idea to hire someone to break into the home, take the drugs, and kill the men.

News Flash: Mr. Pointy Recovered

Mr. Pointy has been safely recovered, after a couple of days of hiding beneath Mr. Can Opener.

In other news, Mr. and Mrs. Boots were found in the trunk of my car beneath the emergency blanket.

I am therefore almost certainly senile. Or Mr. Senile to you.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Mr. Pointy

After a week long vacation, I'm back in Chicago.

A couple of items are missing from my apartment: my best paring knife and a pair of boots. Either some psychotic is out on the streets stalking people after having broken into my apartment, or I'm going to wake up one morning having "found" the knife hiding somewhere in my bedclothes.