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Randall Munroe, historian of mathematics

Posted by Ben
on 09.13.08

The cartoon.

I'm hardly an expert here, but the description of the project of Principia Mathematica doesn't really seem apt: Russell and Whitehead weren't just compiling a list of theorems. And given the back-and-forth in the speech bubbles, Munroe seems to be attempting to describe something a lot closer to Russell's paradox, which is so named because Russell devised it, not because it foiled him. (Is not the first question similar to "Hey, Gödel—we're compiling a comprehensive list of sets. Any suggestions?", and is not the response similar to "The set of all sets not members of themselves."? The answers are "yes" and "yes", respectively.)

Furthermore, what's described in the cartoon isn't even paradoxical. As a description, "anything not on the Great List of Fetishes" continues to make perfect sense even once it's been entered into the list. Are plants on the list? No? Then you can be turned on by plants. Are feet? Yes? Then not by feet. "Things not on the List" doesn't name a list of other fetishes, it's just one weird listcentric fetish. People who have it will find that what turns them on changes as the list gets revised. (And if you don't take this view, the result is simply that everything's on the list one way or another, and nothing turns the person with the not-on-the-list fetish on. Which is also acceptable.) I am suffering from extreme stupidity today but I think this is right.

(Part of a series.)


 

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NOTHELPFUL is the new CHANGEBAD

Posted by Becks
on 09.13.08

I'm on a number of email lists for people who want to volunteer for Obama and the majority of the other people on them make me want to bang my head against the counter. I can't tell you how many times someone has written something to the effect of "People aren't listening to the issues! I'm going to fix that by starting my own blog! Surely millions of undecided voters will find it and read it and be convinced by my unique and special ideas."

I don't operate under the illusion that the writings on this blog has convinced the minds of even one person to vote for Obama who wouldn't have otherwise. Get off the internet and go register voters or something if you want to help. Or, if you want to use your writing to actually possibly maybe reach someone who might be persuadable, write letters to the editor for swing-state newspapers. I've been reading my hometown ones lately and they're almost all pro-McCain and smearing Obama. But when I suggest that, I get shouted down. There's a chance a letter to the editor might not get published! How can that possibly be more effective than the millions of undecided voters that are going to find the blog I started last Tuesday that's going to change the world?


 

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Tom Stoppard has a new play out

Posted by Ben
on 09.13.08

It's rather annoying. One of the actresses has a laughably bad "English" accent, and another has a Czech accent that wavers decidedly (I won't pretend to be able to assess it, but it certainly was inconstant). It's occasionally hard to tell if it's meant to be didactic, pious, or an honest depiction of caricatures who argue poorly. The curtains come down to the tune of "Start Me Up", which evidently no one involved in the play's writing or production associates, as I do, indelibly with Windows 95. A stray balloon lurked high above the stage on the left-hand side for a few minutes before someone noticed and yanked it back.

But I suppose it might turn people on to the Plastic People of the Universe.


 

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Friday Puzzler!

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 09.12.08

You are walking along and you come to an envelope. You pick it up and look inside. Cash-money-money-rock-rock-on! There is n dollars, to be precise. Then a booming voice from above says you may either keep the envelope, or swap it for a second envelope. The second envelope either contains 2n or n/2 dollars. What should you do?

So you ponder. Now you're holding a new envelope, whose contents are either twice or half as great as the first envelope. Should you switch? Then should you switch back? Should you giggle pathologically to mask your creeping fear? Should you shit your pants? Yes, yes, yes, and too late. Explain why.

I have no dog in this fight, so I will not be desperately trying to grade each of your answers for accuracy and I will not be awarding a sno-cone to the winner. Whoever posts the very last comment in the thread wins.

This puzzler is due to the esteemed JP Stormcrow.


 

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Maybe they don't want my vomit.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 09.12.08

So I had my students write memoirs. And predictably, some of them are intensely personal. Kids have lost parents and friends and suffered from depression. One in particular, a student described cutting through high school to cope with depression. The depressed student chased it back to their parent's divorce and a home with perpetual fighting.

Throughout it, she repeats this mantra of how she has not yet learned to trust people, and how she hopes one day she'll be able to trust people again.

I had the thought that if I were her peer, and she did happen to trust me, out might come this torrent of distress that I couldn't possibly deal with at age 19.

Then I thought, "Maybe people who can't trust other people are being rational." In other words, maybe their dams are shoring up such a tidal wave of baggage that they are correctly assessing that most people might cut and run if they let them peek beyond the dam.

So maybe "learning to trust" isn't the complete solution without simultaneously working through some of the depths of stuff piled up behind the wall.

Of course, plenty of people do unleash the torrent of distress, and sometimes it's well-recieved and sometimes it's not. I'm just saying that one's fear of opening up could be a rational appraisal of the size of one's tidal wave.


 

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Take Two

Posted by Becks
on 09.12.08

Earlier today, I put up a post that was received harshly. I can see why - I was still working through my thoughts so what I had wanted to express didn't come through as I'd wanted. I pulled it down because I didn't have time to defend what I was saying or write up a further explanation. So here is a bit more what I was thinking. I'm still trying to gel my ideas about this so my thoughts are still a work in progress. It's based on my experiences after September 11th and knowing a number of people who have had the misfortune of bad things happen to them this year and watching them react. I've restored the original post and its comments (closed) for reference below. Anyway:

I think when something tragic happens to a person (be it a disaster, a diagnosis, the loss of a loved one, etc.), it's common to have two opposite feelings at the same time: wanting the support of others and feeling a need for a community while also feeling an isolation, like you are the only person to ever experience that tragedy. The community a person reaches out to at first might be large but as people in that community say unintentionally hurtful things or can't understand why the person won't move past it, they start to limit the number of people they reach out to and look for people most likely to understand. People you know get divided into two camps: those who have gone through something similar and "get it" and those who haven't and don't. Eventually, even people that you thought "got it" say painful things, too, because their experiences aren't exactly like yours so you start making the criteria for that group even more selective. The "I (and only this small group of people) are the only people who understand" side of the equation starts to dominate the community side of the equation. And the penalties for the people who don't "get it" get harsher.

What I intended in my original post was that it's good to be reminded that other people do this, too. For the same event, where you feel other people don't "get it", someone else is thinking that you don't. The person who lived on high ground during Katrina and thinks that people who aren't from New Orleans can't understand is seen as not "getting it" by someone whose house was flooded. The person who thinks someone who has never had cancer can't understand is seen as not "getting it" by someone with a more advanced case. And at the same time I've judged people as not "getting it" who weren't downtown on September 11th, I've always known that I surely don't "get it" in the same way as someone who lost a loved one on that day. What hadn't sunk in for me until today, though, was how different of an experience people had who were affected by it here in Washington than the people I knew affected by it in NYC. I haven't talked to anyone with a similar situation at the Pentagon as I had at the WTC but I recognize that their experience was different enough that they probably would put me in the "not getting it" category and I understand why and, because of the respect for that that comes from my own experiences, I don't feel the right to remember the day in the same way here as I would in New York.

I think it's good to have a reminder that not everyone you put in the "not getting it" category doesn't understand and that not everybody who has gone through the same thing as you sees you as "getting it" because it's easy to build the fence so small that you're the only person inside it. At the same time, I think some form of categorization, while irrational, can be very important to the person who went through the experience. The lines might not make sense to someone from the outside, or even fully to the person doing the categorizing, but they're drawn out of self-preservation.


 

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Money Quote

Posted by Stanley
on 09.11.08

I admit it. Sometimes I blink, a sign of my young age and inexperience.

GIBSON: And you didn't say to yourself, "Am I experienced enough? Am I ready? Do I know enough about international affairs? Do I -- will I feel comfortable enough on the national stage to do this?"

PALIN: I didn't hesitate, no.

GIBSON: Didn't that take some hubris?

PALIN: I -- I answered him yes because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can't blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we're on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can't blink.

So I didn't blink then even when asked to run as his running mate.

Interview excerpts here.


 

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Walk this way

Posted by Ben
on 09.11.08

A step forward for science!

A new study found that trained sexologists could infer a woman's history of vaginal orgasm by observing the way she walks. The study is published in the September 2008 issue of The Journal of Sexual Medicine, the official journal of the International Society for Sexual Medicine and the International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health.

Observations:

1. I keep reading the word "gait" in the title as "guilt", and think the article corresponding to the revised title would be better than the article as written.

2. "This could reflect the free, unblocked energetic flow from the legs through the pelvis to the spine" sounds like a medically dubious explanation. Your energy flow: let me free it.

3. I hate myself for having written that last sentence.

4. two professors of sexology and two research assistants trained in the functional-sexological approach to sexology.

5. "no one knows what war's like other than my family": just amazing.

6. According to the paper, "[w]omen with orgasmic dysfunction should be treated in a multi-disciplinary manner", including restraints, whips, &c., as the situation warrants.


 

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Remembrance

Posted by Becks
on 09.11.08

[NOTE: This post is more fully explained above]

This is the first September 11 that I've spent in a part of the U.S. that wasn't New York City. I was out of the country for one of the anniversaries but I've never seen it remembered from another U.S. city.

It's especially strange being in D.C. for the anniversary of the attack. Because of the impact it had on my life as someone who lived in Lower Manhattan (and, honestly, the New York-centric mentality that comes from living there), September 11th has always been all about the World Trade Center to me. I feel guilty for not having paid enough attention to the people affected by Flight 93 and the Pentagon for all of these years and a also a sense of disorientation.

Fair or not, at this time of year I always separate people into those who were there and those who weren't. Those who were there "get it" and those who weren't don't and I don't want to hear a goddamned thing about it from them. I know well enough to know that this year here in D.C. I fall into the second category, which is not a position I'm used to being in.


 

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This'll tickle your clit.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 09.11.08

My carpool just e-mailed to see if we want to leave early this afternoon, on account of classes being cancelled tomorrow for Hurricane Ike. I e-mailed back, "Sounds good! Let's blow this popsicle stand!"

And then I thought, "That phrase doesn't mean 'Let's blow this popsicle stand,' does it? DOES IT?"

Fortunately, just the other day my carpoolmate shared the story of the day he started class by saying, "Not to shoot my wad at the beginning of class, but I have some news..." before it dawned on him what the expression meant.


 

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The Only Place Where Data Entry Is The Most Coveted Job

Posted by Becks
on 09.10.08

Well, I did it. I finally went and did some volunteering for Obama. I've done two phone bank sessions so far.

It feels a bit like a pyramid scheme -- both times we were calling people to try to recruit them into volunteering. I find this less satisfying than other phone banking I've done to identify people who need help getting to the polls on election day or target people for GOTV. The first time was the day after Sarah Palin's speech at the convention so the people I spoke with were really fired up and ready to volunteer. Tonight, people were also eager to help but it was because they are starting to freak out that he is going to lose.

Both times I had a shocking number of yeses -- almost 50% of the people I reached agreed to phone bank or canvass. (I felt really crappy when, two hours into my first shift, I remembered that tropical storm Hanna was headed our way that weekend. Yes, I volunteered to convince people to canvass during a tropical storm. Sigh.) Our calls must be working, though -- there were three times as many people there tonight as there were last week. I just have to wonder when they're going to let us actually do something, instead of just recruiting more volunteers.

The big caveat is that 50% of the people I reached agreed to volunteer. They had us phone banking by dialing voters off of lists by hand. Now, the lists were all barcoded and had very detailed information about the people we were calling and it seemed like they were making sure the results all got entered into some Super Duper Database so that people we identified as wrong numbers would be purged from the system, etc. so that was good. (It wasn't like when I phone banked in Ohio and they handed us something that looked like pages from a phone book.) But, from my own tally, 90% of the numbers I called were either out of service or nobody answered. A lot of time that could have been spent talking to contacts was being wasted.

When I volunteered for Kerry, they had us load up a web page where we typed in a code and then call a toll-free number and type that same code into the phone. The system would autodial people until it found someone home and the webpage would refresh with the information for the person we were talking to as soon as they clicked on the line. There was only about 5 seconds of downtime between each live person you talked to. At the Obama phone bank, I'd only talk to a person once every 15 minutes or so. When somebody would actually answer, it would be such a surprise that I'd be a little flustered and have to find where I'd put the script since I almost never got to use it. The Kerry phone bank was a lot more rewarding because I got to talk to over 100 voters in one shift and was able to repeat the script often enough that I was confident and had everything down after just a few minutes. And we entered the results of the call directly on the screen, so no post-banking data entry was required.

What I don't get: this was in 2004! WTF, Obama? Shouldn't you have some even awesomer AJAX/Web 2.0/bloggywikified version of this by now? With cover flow? And a Google Earth satellite picture of the person I'm talking to sitting in their living room? Why are you getting pwned by a campaign from FOUR YEARS AGO?

So did any of you rise to the challenge? What did you do to get Obama elected this week?


 

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Let a hundred lube jokes, um, squirt forth

Posted by Stanley
on 09.10.08

However, puns relating to "drilling" and "pumping" are probably deprecated:

U.S. government employees received improper gifts from energy industry representatives, and engaged with them in illegal drug use and inappropriate sexual relations, according to a report issued Wednesday.

The report was issued by the Interior Department's inspector general after a $5.3 million investigation "uncovered recreational marijuana and cocaine use" by "a handful" of Interior Department staff, and found two federal employees "engaged in brief sexual relationships with representatives from companies doing business" with the department.

Honestly, I care far less about the alleged sex or the drugs than I care about the alleged gifts and the undue influence that might have come of it all. And it's no doubt a sign of these benighted times that my first reaction is to chuckle, rather than be outraged, at what sounds like a quite serious betrayal of the public trust.

(That said, I'll still take a good lube joke, if you got it.)

[via a bunch of places, including helpy-chalk in comments]


 

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Friends With Benefits

Posted by Becks
on 09.09.08

To the New York Unfoggedariat: this Thursday, swears-he's-a-lurker-but-is-totally-a-commenter (even-if-he-doesn't-want-to-admit-it) Mike D will be helping emcee a benefit for The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies. The money raised will help Iraqis who have risked their lives to help the United States resettle in less dangerous places and you can support/mock one of the Mineshaft.

Also: Mike D says Nellie McKay is not to be missed.


 

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Ask The Mineshaft - If you build it edition

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 09.09.08

From the comments, Neil The Ethical Werewolf writes:

Hey guys, I just bought the domain name Bridge2Nowhere.com for two years. If any of you can do something usefully Palin-bashing with this, you can have it. (The version with 'to' was already taken. But 2 may even be better.)

So what should be done?

Update: Now with picturey goodness to get your imagination revving:

bridge%20to%20nowhere%20t-shirt.jpg


 

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Like A Virgin

Posted by Becks
on 09.09.08

I voted today! For the first time ever!

Well, not really. But it was the first time I'd voted non-absentee, so it felt like the first time. I was all prepared with my voter registration card and photo ID but they didn't ask for anything at all. They offered me the option of using an electronic voting machine (which they seemed to push and prefer) or a paper Scantron-style ballot and, despite the lady's dirty look, I took the paper ballot on principle.


 

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Immortalized

Posted by Apostropher
on 09.09.08

The incredibly appropriate word for the day is apophallation.


 

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Unlike this blog's readers, these snakes aren't going to handle themselves

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 09.09.08

Steve Benen has a post up about Palin's old church.

Palin's former pastor, Tim McGraw, says that like many Pentecostal churches, some members speak in tongues, although he says he's never seen Palin do so. Church member Caroline Spangler told CNN, "When the spirit comes on you, you utter things that nobody else can understand ... only God can understand what is coming out of our mouths."

Obviously the campaign can't make such a big deal of this, since-- and this is just a hunch--I think Tim McGraw is white, but just to play armchair sociologist, are there significant numbers of people who (a) would be weirded out by the Pentecostal stuff and (b) would otherwise vote for McCain? It's hard for me to imagine the voter who says, yeah, I guess I'm ok with the no-abortion-ever thing and the teach-the-controversy thing, but the Pentecostal affiliation is just too weird. Maybe someone should ask Palin about the private language argument.


 

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This rings weird

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 09.09.08

Bitch PhD finds this interesting story about Wasilla, where, apparently, the police chief charges victims for rape-kit exams.

While the Alaska State Troopers and most municipal police agencies have covered the cost of exams, which cost between $300 to $1,200 apiece, the Wasilla police department does charge the victims of sexual assault for the tests.

Yeah, she was mayor then. Can you imagine? "I was raped, but I didn't think I could afford to call the police."


 

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I knew it!

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 09.08.08

I fact-check all right. I fact-check with Jesus. And members of the voting republic: this rings true.


 

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A car could be wooden.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 09.08.08

Let's all revisit an old joy.

I used to love The State. I interviewed Kerry Kinney for a class my first year in college. (I made a fool of myself. I had sent an e-mail to MTV trying to track her down, and she phoned my dorm room. And I had been drinking and acted like a total idiot.)

via


 

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Dance, my little puppet.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 09.07.08

If you've got the money in Japan, you can completely rig the game for you and your sweetie. Cases 1 and 2 are sad, but Cases 3 and 4 are more interestingly eerie.

Bringing separated people back together is altogether more complicated - and more expensive. It also takes longer. ACYours charges £7,500 for three months for breaking up, but £12,500 for bringing together. In some ways the procedure is the same, explains Mishima.

In the movies, it usually works well to nab a date under an elaborate series of lies. When they find out, the other person is generally touched that you went to so much effort manipulate them and deprive them of their free will.

via


 

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That's right, I said despicable.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 09.07.08

An anonymous reader, (I'll call them Snarkou T.), writes in with the following, (no, that's too obvious. Let's call them S. Narkout):

Heebie, why don't you put something up about the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac bailout and let people talk about how they want to buy bunkers in Idaho, a bunch of canned goods, and rifles?
-Snarkout

My understanding of the whole credit crisis comes largely from this episode of This American Life. I get that we have to bail out Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Bear Stearns because if they go under, it will devastate the entire economy, (really? Even Bear Stearns?) but if we don't implement any meaningful regulations then we're just handing them the monkey wrench and duct tape and offering to hop back in the trunk of the car.

Can I just vent how infuriating it is that Wall Street types are paid according to commission? As though the size of the transaction which you are facilitating has ANY FUCKING CORRELATION with the amount of good you are providing to society? I really do find unchecked greed despicable.


 

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