Thursday, April 30, 2009

100 Days

100-dollar heroI am surprised compared to where I started, when we first announced for this race, by the number of critical issues that appear to be coming to a head all at the same time.

-- President Barack Obama, at a press conference on his first 100 days in office, 29 April 2009

Here, Have Some Flu

3D model of an influenza virus, courtesy National Institute of HealthFor the first couple of days this week, the national & local TV news reports did their best to beat the drum of panic regarding "swine flu".

Yesterday, that changed. They started discussing simple, rather than draconian, measures to avoid contracting flu. On both the national news (NBC) and the local news (NBC affiliate) the reporters ate pork on-air, and explained that pork is not a vector for transmission of what they now call "H1N1 influenza". Gotta protect those pork producers. They pointed out that only a fraction of people get the flu, and only a tiny fraction among those get a serious case, with a fraction of those dying.

And they (finally) pointed out that, in an average year, 36,000 Americans die of the flu, with 13,000 fatalities so far in 2009 (>100 per day) from "seasonal flu". That's something on the order of a 12% infection rate and a 0.1% kill rate (among the infected) for seasonal flu.

The big unanswered question for H1N1 is, what's the kill rate? Apparently it's higher ... but they're unsure how high, because so many cases are so mild that they go unreported. We're also entering into summer, which allegedly helps reduce the severity of a flu outbreak. If it kills only a few thousand Americans, its impact may be lost in the noise of average flu fatalities. But because they/we are paying attention to it, it'll come off as a really big deal. Imagine the headlines if we have a month of H1N1 flu with an average of >100 fatalities per day!

I'm not convinced.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Fake EULAIf your advertising giveth and your EULA [license agreement] taketh away don't be surprised if the FTC comes calling.

-- Mary K. Engle, Acting Deputy Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, quoted in The Wall Street Journal, 28 April 2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Arlen Specter

Arlen SpecterSince my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.

I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary. I deeply regret that I will be disappointing many friends and supporters. I can understand their disappointment. ...

The American people do not care which Party solves the problems confronting our nation. And no Senator, no matter how loyal he is to his Party, should or would put party loyalty above his duty to the state and nation. ...

Whatever my party affiliation, I will continue to be guided by President Kennedy's statement that sometimes Party asks too much. When it does, I will continue my independent voting and follow my conscience on what I think is best for Pennsylvania and America.

-- Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA), in an announcement on his campaign web site, 28 April 2009

Monday, April 27, 2009

Game Plan

CIA map of PakistanI don't know what the Taliban's game plan is, but what seems apparent is the state has no game plan.

-- Christina Fair, of the RAND Corporation, on the Pakistan government's paralysis in the face of Taliban advances, New York Times, 24 April 2009

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Not Afraid

Illustration of Alfred Smedberg's The boy who never was afraid, in the children's anthology Among pixies and trolls, 1912We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is afraid of its people.

-- John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963), 35th President of the United States

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Living Planet

David BrinA living planet is a much more complex metaphor for deity than just a bigger father with a bigger fist. If an omniscient, all-powerful Dad ignores your prayers, it's taken personally. Hear only silence long enough, and you start wondering about his power. His fairness. His very existence. But if a world mother doesn't reply, Her excuse is simple. She never claimed conceited omnipotence. She has countless others clinging to her apron strings, including myriad species unable to speak for themselves. To Her elder offspring She says - go raid the fridge. Go play outside. Go get a job. Or, better yet, lend me a hand. I have no time for idle whining.

-- David Brin, Ph.D. (born 6 October 1950), American scientist and Hugo, Locus, Campbell and Nebula award-winning author of science fiction

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Shakespeare portrait, from Helmolt, H.F., ed. History of the World. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1902Action is eloquence.

-- William Shakespeare (baptised 26 April 1564 - 23 April 1616), "Coriolanus", Act III, scene ii

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ebert v. Columbine

Aquilegia alpina (columbine)Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. "Wouldn't you say," she asked, "that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?" No, I said, I wouldn't say that. "But what about Basketball Diaries?" she asked. "Doesn't that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?" The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it's unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.

The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. "Events like this," I said, "if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn't have messed with me. I'll go out in a blaze of glory."

In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of "explaining" them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.

-- Roger Ebert, in his review of the movie "Elephant", November 7, 2003

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Pains And Heartbreaks

Cover, Six-Word Memoirs of Love & HeartbreakYou think your pains and heartbreaks are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who have ever been alive.

-- James Baldwin (1924-1987), African-American novelist, short story writer, playwright and essayist, The New York Times, 1 June 1964

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Not Having To

Thomas Dewar, from the flyleaf of 'A Ramble Round the Globe'The only thing that hurts more than paying an income tax is not having to pay an income tax.

-- Lord Thomas R. Dewar (1864-1930), Scottish peer, whiskey distiller, and aphorist.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Arts Of Power

Henry ClayThe arts of power and its minions are the same in all countries and in all ages. It marks its victim; denounces it; and excites the public odium and the public hatred, to conceal its own abuses and encroachments.

-- Henry Clay (1777-1852), American statesman and orator who served as both Representative and Senator, Senate speech, 14 March 1834

Thursday, April 09, 2009

By Speech First

Julian HuxleyBy speech first, but far more by writing, man has been able to put something of himself beyond death. In tradition and in books an integral part of the individual persists, for it can influence the minds and actions of other people in different places and at different times: a row of black marks on a page can move a man to tears, though the bones of him that wrote it are long ago crumbled to dust. In truth, the whole progress of civilization is based upon this power.

-- Sir Julian Sorell Huxley FRS (22 June 1887 - 14 February 1975), English evolutionary biologist, author, humanist and internationalist

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

False Situations

Satire on Life is an unbroken succession of false situations.

-- Thornton Wilder (17 April 1897 - 7 December 1975), three-time Pulitzer Award-winning American playwright and novelist

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Mere Instrument

James Madison presidential $1 coin, obverseWherever the real power in a Government lies, there is the danger of oppression. In our Governments, the real power lies in the majority of the Community, and the invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended, not from the acts of Government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of the Constituents.

-- James Madison (16 March 1751 - 28 June 1836), 4th US President, co-author, with John Jay and Alexander Hamilton, of the Federalist Papers, Father of the US Constitution, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson (17 October 1788)

Monday, April 06, 2009

Strange Turn

Hook turn sign in MelbourneIn a strange turn of history, the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up.

-- President Barack Obama, New York Times, 6 April 2009

Thursday, April 02, 2009


San Diego City College Learning Resources CenterI guess I'm not really used to people with tears in their eyes.

-- Rosalie Bork, Arlington Heights, IL reference librarian, on newly unemployed or homeless patrons, New York Times, 2 April 2009

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Two Classes

Failure de-motivational poster from slapfish.comFailures are divided into two classes -- those who thought and never did, and those who did and never thought.

-- John Charles Salak