31 July 2002

Here's a great quote from a Bruce Springsteen article:

What probably is on my mind is something pretty harsh, for I am now 13 years old, have discovered the willy-nilly world of punk, post-punk and the accompanying disdain for all that has gone before. Karen Akers and I are in the stands at JFK Stadium on a late-September night, tiptoeing on the bleachers so that we can see U2, nearly 100 yards away as the crow flies. Karen is goth before goth is goth -- Siouxsie hair, blue-black lipstick and nails, and so on -- and this is also that strange moment when U2 are playing stadiums and can still be considered alternative.
Here's an article which agrees with Nat's complaint that "under God" screws up the rhythm of the pledge.

"No argument by me would be complete without an off-the-wall point that has nothing to do with anything, so here it is: If you danced to the Pledge, "under God" would make you miss a step."
--Florence King
Ben news watch: BBC.

30 July 2002

This article recaps the education funding reform in Michigan over Engler's term. This seems to have been a remarkable success, and I hope that more states find ways to increase funding to their poorest schools.

(Unfortunately, from what I gather has happened in Oregon, when other states repeat this the person running it doesn't always actually care about education and the result is just lowering the average instead of bringing the bottom end up. However, the numbers in this article make it look like Michigan did a pretty good job.)
Top 50 cartoons to satisfy alec and my top n list craving for the day.
According to this article british men are innept when it comes to romance. I guess that means all the british women will be after dave...
Never mind. I need to stop thinking about math.

29 July 2002

Here's a brief summary of a study on the economics of happiness. They isolated the following factors as those which had the largest positive correlation with happiness:

Highly Educated, Married, Female, Retired, High Income, Looking after the home, Young or Old (not middle-aged), Self-employed.

I was rather amused by how contradictory this list is. I guess the optimum situation is to be a highly educated, young, married, female, who is self-employed and making a lot of money working out of the home. Still that doesn't work in retired... I wonder how many people fit that profile? For example highly educated and young is not well correlated with married.
This article (link via Fark?!!?) discussing a catholic archbishop's comment that abortion is a bigger scandal than priests abusing children, "Because it's (abortion) always a destruction of human life," plays into the comment i made the other day about the pro-life argument for better sex ed and contraception... If cutting down abortions is more important than stopping sexual abuse of children, how can it possibly be less important than cutting down the amount of consensual sex among unmarried teens and young adults?

One could simply conclude that the religious right is evil, but that really misses the point. People have their views for reasons and in any group there are smart leaders and they tend to be roughly consistent. I think this inconsistancy can only last so long...

28 July 2002

I ran accross "blogs4god" on this Instapundit post. Although my first impulse was to think of this as an amusing example of christian subculture (like the christian counter), looking at a few it suddenly hit me that weblogging is going to revolutionize the way missionaries communicate with their supporters. For those of you who don't have much interaction with missionaries, every missionary semiregularly mails out a "prayer letter" to their supporters (both financial supporters and prayer supporters) explaining what is going on in their lives and asking for prayer concerning particular things. In the days before email I remember helping my parents address and seal all these letters. I oddly enough recall this as kind of fun, although i suspect I must have hated it at the time. At any rate, within a few years I bet for missionaries with internet access this is going to be replaced by prayerblogs. It makes so much more sense. You can be brief and post whenever you get the chance and immdediately everyone will have something they can pray for.

I'd tell my parents to do this, except my mother is too intimidated by computers.
Several times in the past year I've made the argument that some time in the next decade the pro-life argument for better birth control and sex education will take off. As a former member of the religious right, I can tell you most of them care more about abortion than about abstinence (I mean, murder is a lot worse than fornication). Furthermore, the evidence exists now that despite having fewer abortions per pregnancy in the US we have a lot more abortions per person because of bad sex ed and bad avalibility of birth control (see this article). Finally, there are leaders in the religious right who have at least a little bit of pragmatism to their morals--even concerning sex. For example Dr. Dobson of Focus on the Family says that parents shouldn't discourage masterbation because its much less dangerous and harmful than teenage sex and you need to choose your battles. I really think that one of these days someone important enough will pick up this argument and it will catch on because it makes so much sense.

However, once and a while I run accross an article like this one by David Broder in the Washington Post (link via Matthew Yglesias) which discusses how the Bush administration has just made a decision which will result in hundreds of thousands of additional abortions and tens of thousands of additional deaths, all so to play to the conservative base by not supporting abortions in China. How can you possibly sell this as "pro-life"? I really don't get it. I know a lot of people in the religious right and I can't see any of them continuing to support this policy for more than 5 minutes once they've gotten some real information on it. Isn't the reason you have leaders, like say a president, to explain to their constituency why they should be supporting something which initially looks like its against their beliefs?

I don't think there's hypocrasy in being "pro-life" and for the death penalty, however I do think there's something hypocritical about being "pro-life" and supporting a policy which kills babies and toddlers. Even if life begins at conception it doesn't end at birth.
Thomas Friedman has a fascinating pro-bureaucracy article in the NYtimes.

27 July 2002

I ran accross this article (via this post) on Scientology and Bush's faith-based initiative. (Read the article, Scientologists are scary and evil and we shouldn't be helping them do anything...) But something in the article struck me as a little odd:

Reportedly Scientology was founded in the 1950s by Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, a George Washington University student from 1930 to 1932 who died in 1986.

According to several published accounts, L. Ron Hubbard believed a galactic ruler named Xenu banished alien evil spirits called body thetans to Earth more than 75 million years ago, and that said thetans were implanted in volcanoes.

Hubbard, it has been reported, wrote that the volcanoes exploded and the thetans invaded mankind, accounting for our present ills. Although the human mind and body are infected with beaucoup body thetans, there are, the stories go, specific instructions advanced by Hubbard for undoing the damage done by the galactic cataclysm -- a process called auditing. If faithfully followed, and carefully monitored by an E-meter (two wired metal cans capable of detecting truth), a person can overcome negative experiences, undergo a regeneration of native abilities, and find a natural spiritual awareness of self, reaching the highest level in Scientology teachings called Operating Thetan or OT.

Or something like that.

Now, aside from the complete lunacy of all that, the claim that "L. Ron Hubbard believed..." is probably very inaccurate. From all that I've heard Scientology is mostly a scam which makes a lot of money for the people on top. Aside from any rumors about Scientology being started as a bet, I think the author should stick with saying what L. Ron Hubbard wrote and not claim that he actually believed any of it.
Hey Alec, is your post account working? I sent an e-mail warning of an impending visit to New York, but haven't heard from you. I'll be up there around Labor Day, probably something like September 1-4. I found a place to stay, so you can ignore that part of the message. I'll let you know more when it gets closer.

26 July 2002

Almea sends this post for a serious journal article on unintended pregnancy rates and abortion rates in response to my Salon abortion post. The summary of the results is:

Excluding miscarriages, 49% of the pregnancies concluding in 1994 were unintended; 54% of these ended in abortion. Forty-eight percent of women aged 15­-44 in 1994 had had at least one unplanned pregnancy sometime in their lives; 28% had had one or more unplanned births, 30% had had one or more abortions and 11% had had both. At 1994 rates, women can expect to have 1.42 unintended pregnancies by the time they are 45, and at 1992 rates, 43% of women will have had an abortion. Between 1987 and 1994, the unintended pregnancy rate declined by 16%, from 54 to 45 per 1,000 women of reproductive age. The proportion of unplanned pregnancies that ended in abortion increased among women aged 20 and older, but decreased among teenagers, who are now more likely than older women to continue their unplanned pregnancies. The unintended pregnancy rate was highest among women who were aged 18­-24, unmarried, low-income, black or Hispanic.

This raises some interesting questions. One of which is, how much of this is due to needing better birth control and how much is due to people just not having brith control. My Evolutionary Biology TF said that "in principle the problem of contraception is solved" you just take some sperm freeze it and sterilize. He speculated whether sex and procreation may some day be completely seperated.

But on the question at hand, whether Salon's claim that "roughly half the women in the U.S. will undergo an abortion in their lifetime" is accurate, I must say that this article points to the answer "No." In the words of the article, "at 1992 rates, 43% of women will have had an abortion" which not only is substantially less than half, but according to the summary the rate of unintended pregnancies is decreasing, and one would expect this trend to likely continue. Thus even 43% is too high a number.

The long and short of this is, I wish people would give conservative estimates when they're trying to make points. By citing "roughly half" I was completely distracted from the author's point and instead started thinking that the author was lying. On the other hand, a number like 35%, which is more plausible and more accurate, would still have made the point that this is not a fringe procedure and is remarkably common despite the stigma.

This reminds me of the "1/4 women have been victims of rape or attempted rape before graduation" statistic, which is a huge overestimate from a somewhat problematic study which is 25 years old! This screems to me "we went out and found the most inflammatory fact avaliable, not the most accurate" and is annoying and distracts from the important point that far too many women have been victims of rape or attempted rape.
I'm editing my thesis... Its way too long... I ran accross the following sentence 40 pages in:
"We should pause for a moment to make sure this makes any sense."

Which is oddly similar to my favorite sentence in the thesis which is about 30 pages earlier:
"We should pause for a moment to recall that none of this actually makes sense."

Funny the things you only notice if you have time to actually read the thing. One of the problems with a 120 page thesis is that no one, my self included, has ever read the whole thing. I'm thinking of making the edited one 11 point font, since I'm printing it double sided anyway... That'd be less than 70 pages when printed on both sides...
Ben is now in:


Both are the AP's new story, but both are also accesible from the main tech page without searching. This new article refers to Ben as a "computer scientist" who is a "researcher at Harvard" which doesn't bode well for the whole "make him sympathetic, he's a student, I just want to go to law school" PR scheme that's in the ACLU's press release...
By the way, my favorite recent trailer was for Cherish, although it didn't succeed in making me see the movie.

Of course, I haven't seen any movie in weeks (unless you count watching My Cousin Vinny in Brooklyn Bridge Park with Tamara, which I guess you could). Haiwen and I are probably going to see Goldmember tonight, if only because we've seen the first two Austin Powers films a total of about five times on television over the past few days. After all, when it comes down to watching an Austin Powers movie for the third time, or watching the Food Network while listening to Haiwen rant drunkenly about how much he hates Emeril...well, suddenly watching the bathroom scene in International Man of Mystery yet again doesn't seem like such a bad idea. ("Who does Number Two work for? Who does Number Two work for?")
"Did I run for elective office because I was miserable, or was I miserable because I ran for elective office?" Check out John Cusack For President for one possible answer.

(Does being the President of the United States involve buying, selling, or processing anything? Just curious.)

25 July 2002

Salon has an article on abortion training for doctors, which includes this quote:

"roughly half the women in the U.S. will undergo an abortion in their lifetime."

I find that remarkably difficult to believe (considering my recollection is that something like a third of women are against abortion except in the case of rape or threat to the mother's life, unfortunately I can't find any data on this looking on google), and, of course, since it is a news article it doesn't site its sources... Wondered if any of you had any thoughts on whether this number was plausible and whether you had seen any studies which came up with numbers like this.
Google referal of the day: James Traficant video crazy speeches. We're the second hit.
As promised, reviews of trailers. I'll be quickly commenting on the trailers on apple's site and giving them two grades, one for how good the trailer is on its own, and another for how well it sells the film. (Rated on a scale of 0 to 5, where 5 is the Vanilla Sky trailer or Swimming and 0 is Spirit.) You will quickly find out why Alec is the one who has worked as a film critic and why I do math...

This is the film by the director of the Truman Show about a movie producer who makes a digital actress so real that the world doesn't know she's a similuation. It stars Al Pacino. This trailer consists largely of comments being typed intercut with shots from the movie. I find this effective, although I could also see this coming accross as cheesy ("oh, i get it, she's a computer so its typed instead of spoken"). The music is very well chosen. Since I liked the Truman Show and this seems a very similar setup, and Al Pacino is great, I found this trailer both enjoyable and it did a decent job convincing me to see the movie. However, I think this might just be me, so:
Ratings: 3, 3.

Sex and Lucia:
This is the sexiest trailer I have ever seen. When making the case for why suggestive is more erotic than explicit I can think of few better pieces of evidence than this trailer. (That having been said, one imagines that when the trailer cuts away the film probably does not, thus decreasing its appeal.) Its quite remarkable from a technical point of view how one gets all of those moments into the trailer with no actual nudity. Furthermore, although it is a foreign film, the trailer actually contains dialogue, which is a remarkably rare, and remarkably good. All that having been said, I think I would much rather watch the trailer than go see the film.
Ratings: 4.5, 2.

The Matrix Reloaded
Yeah, I could say its overwraught, I could say that it would be completely uninteresting if you hadn't seen the first movie, but to say those things would be to miss the point. Like a Star Wars movie here you're trying to sell the movie to fans who already love just about everything about the movie, and I have to say that seeing that black screen with green symbols scrolling down it gives me much the same visceral pleasure as the opening sequence of a Star Wars movie. Yes I'm a fan, yes that's the only reason why I like this trailer, but this is one of the few movies which has enough fans that they're the only people you're selling it to.
Ratings: 2.5, 4.

Harry Potter II
After reading the last review and turning to this one you will call me a hypocrite, you will say "Isn't this also just aimed at fans? Doesn't it hit all the important notes?" and I will respond, but I'm not a fan of the Harry Potter movies, I'm a fan of the books, and this trailer does a very good job of reminding me why. I still don't like the Harry Potter actor at all, I still think the humor of the books doesn't make it on the screen, and I still think "where on earth is book 5 and why is she wasting her time screwing up the movies instead of writing another book?"
Ratings: 1.5, 1.5.

This is a lighthearted sadomasochism romantic comedy. Yes you heard that right, and yes it is a funny idea. Its a funny idea that's worth thinking about for no more than two minutes, which fortunately is the length of a trailer, but unfortunately is not the length of the movie. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe this could be the next Being John Malkovich (see the trailer here, definite 5 star), but the trailer hasn't convinced me this setup merits more than two minutes of chuckling.
Ratings: 3.5, 1.5

Okay, I only got through half of this weeks trailers, but more tommorow I guess.
US News has a good article on evolution as applied science, note the quotes of Palumbi towards the bottom who I took a class from.
Ben has an interview here.
Our friend Ben Edelman is in the news everywhere:

The New York Times
How Appealling

Why? Well he and the ACLU have challenged the evil (and I believe rediculously unconstitutional) Digital Millenium Copyright Act which forbids people to break any protection system for copyrighted works regardless of whether it would be fair use, or even whether the copyright has run out. The particular issue at hand is asking the court "to rule that a computer researcher has First Amendment and 'fair use' rights to examine the full list of sites contained in an Internet blocking program and to share his research tools and results with others."

The ACLU's press release is here and there complaint is here (links via How Appealling and Slashdot). The case is actually called "Edelman v. N2H2, Inc." If he wins this one he'll not only be a cult hero, he'll also be immortalized in the law.

Quote of the day:
"I don't want to go to jail. I want to go to law school."
--Ben Edelman

Unfortunately he didn't mention any of this when we had lunch last week, he's news of the week then was his research into people stealing domain names by claiming to have names like "city, circuit" in order to get circuitcity.name, etc.

Ben's website still is here.

24 July 2002

Moving up in the "cool judges" list today (not that anyone keeps such lists) is Alex Kozinski of the 9th circuit. He was recently in the news for writing the decision in Planned Parenthood v. ACLA which was later overturned by the court sitting en banc. He has a reputation for being brilliant and conservative. His coolness, however, has nothing to do with his political leanings, today he has appeared several times in the blogosphere for much more humorous reasons.

The first is his delightful majority opinion in the case Mattel, Inc. v. MCA Records, Inc. If you haven't been following this case (cf. this post on How Appealing), the long in short is i'm sure you all remember the song "Barbie Girl" by aqua (Flora toyed with singing it at karaoke last night). Mattel makers of Barbie also remember this song and for obvious reasons do not like it. Fortunately for funny people everywhere the 9th circuit ruled that this was legitimate parody. However, the subject material allowed for many great remarks. The Volokh Conspiracy singles out the last paragraph (quoted here) which ends "The parties are advised to chill." However, the whole opnion is laced with witty remarks. Some are intentional, while some are just by the nature of addressing so silly a topic in so serious a setting. My favorites of each type are:

"Aqua is a Danish band that has, as yet, only dreamed of attaining Barbie-like status."

"The song pokes fun at Barbie and the values that Aqua contends she represents. See Cliffs Notes, Inc. v. Bantam Doubleday Dell Publ'g Group, 886 F.2d 490, 495-96 (2d Cir. 1989). The female singer explains, 'I'm a blond bimbo girl, in a fantasy world/Dress me up, make it tight, I'm your dolly."

However the thing that really moved judge Kozinski onto the cool judges list is, he not only reads the Volokh Conspiracy, he not only writes them emails about their posts, but he emailed not concerning his decision, but rather said the following about movies from the middle ages(see this post):

Alex Kozinski suggests A Man for All Seasons (1966)... Also, he suggests Army of Darkness (1993) (the sequel to Evil Dead II (1987)), where "Ash finds himself stranded in the 13th Century with his car, his shotgun, and his chainsaw," if you're "in a more camp mood."

Who'd have thunk it, judges watch movies like that... I guess they're real people too...

("what if I told you that I hadn't seen Evil Dead II yet, do you think I would"
"yeah, I guess"
"cause its such a brilliant movie, its so funny, and violent, and the soundtrack kicks fucking ass!")

(You didn't really think I that phrase could come up without me quoting Hi-Fi, did you?)

Finally, when googling him I ran accross this article on the Yiddishization of the law, which is quite a gem.

BTW, for those of you who are sick of my long posts being about math, economics, or the law, tommorow's long post will be a review of some of the recent trailers, because if we're all too poor to see movies, at least we can watch the trailers for free...
According to this post at How Appealing, the Appellate Court of Connecticut ruled that the Connecticut state courts did not have the jurisdiction to dissolve a Vermont Civil Union. Following the links in that post I read the AP article on this subject and the Connecticut Appellate Court's opinion.

For more information on the case I looked up the Vermont State Supreme Court opinion which forced the Vermont legislature to pass the civil union law, this law itself, and an article explaining the difficulty of dissolving civil unions if you live out of state.

The crux of the problem is that one can only dissolve a civil union or marriage in Vermont if one is a Vermont resident. For marriage this is not a problem because one can get the marriage annulled in annother state and Vermont will recognize it. However, for a civil union, other states like Connecticut claim they do not have to recognize the civil unions and do not have to treat them like marriage when interpreting their own laws.

Howard Bashman, the blogosphere's resident appellate expert, mentions, "Of course, the parties still can seek further appellate review from the Supreme Court of Connecticut," but I was wondering whether they'd have any of the following options:

1. Sue in Vermont state courts claiming that the civil union law doesn't give them the same rights as married couples since it is substantially harder to dissolve.
(I would guess that the answer would be that since they are residents of Vermont and thus not subject to Vermont law, the protections guaranteed by the Vermont constitution no longer apply to them.)

2. Sue in federal court claiming that the Vermont court misinterpreted the "full faith and credit" clause of the US constitution.
(I would guess that although they could make this appeal, that the federal court would be unlikely to overrule the State court's interpretation of what Connecticut's governmental interest in not recognizing civil unions as the equivalent of marriage.)

Furthermore, it seems to me that the plaintiff in this case has not demonstrated injury. If the plaintiff and his partner are not residents of Vermont, and the state where the plaintiff resides and the state where his partner resides do not recognize any of the responsibilities of a civil union, then what injury in fact has the plaintiff sustained by the continued existence of the civil union? How would dissolving this civil union relieve any harm done to the plaintiff?

I suppose if the court does not have jurisdiction then it is perhaps a moot point whether the plaintiff has standing, but it seems to me that he doesn't.

Finally, aside from the legal aspects, what do I think of Civil Unions? My general thoughts on policy concerning sexual orientation has been that I support anything which forces secular bodies and the state to treat people equally regardless of sexual orientation, but that such laws cannot (constitutionally) and should not be applied to religious organizations. Since marriage is both a religions and a civil act, I've previously thought that the government has no buisness in deciding who can or cannot be married, but that they should instead have a purely secular notion of civil unions which would legally replace marriage. However, in rethinking the issue today after reading this article and this article, thinking over the issues raised by the Connecticut court opinion, and thinking about how my opinions have changed since I last thought about this issue, I have come to the conclusion that I support same-sex "marriages" given not just equal treatment by the law but the same name by the law, because otherwise they would not have the same weight attached to them by society, and such a law would not have the same immediate impact on all aspects of the laws of all states.
Right... Dave pointed out my silly mistake. I was thinking of ordering in the order you read, that is things to the top come first and then you worry about left to right, whereas the way i've defined lexigraphic ordering it goes the other way. Dave's fix is just replacing x everywhere with y.

He's also asked: why do the left and right limits exist at dicontinuous points? Well the left limit is increasing and bounded above, and the right limit is decreasing and bounded below. That bounded monotonic sequences have limits is one of the many equivalent axioms of the reals...

Ok, nerdiness over... But Alec did say how much he was going to miss hearing us babble about math...
Noah's proof from Tuesday is bogus. In the lexicographic ordering, if x_0 < x_1, then (x_1, y_0) > (x_0, y_n) for any y_n. What you want to do is restrict to some horizontal line, and take some decreasing sequence of points {x_n} converging to {x_0}. Pick some y_1 > y_0, and pick some epsilon less than f(x_0,y_1) - f(x_0,y_0). Since f is continuous, there must be some N for which f(x_N,y_0) - f(x_0,y_0) < epsilon < f(x_0,y_1) - f(x_0,y_0). We conclude that f(x_N,y_0) < f(x_0,y_0), which is a contradiction, since x_N > x_0.

See, i can still do math. :)
Apparently the Euro has passed $1 again. This is wonderful, because when it is near $1 there's a very strong pressure for it to stay exactly that, and one could imagine having a very simple exchange rate for a while...

Why do I really post this info? Well if the dollar is this week, then Dave you might just want to take your money out of that Swiss bank account soon. According to this website, over the past year the Swiss Franc has gone from $.576 to $.68. (I'm still ammused at the picture of you trying to explain to the security clearance guy why you have a Swiss bank account.) On the other hand, you might not be in such a hurry to switch your dollars over into pounds...

I ran accross this fact on Matthew Yglesias's weblog who is not only a rather interesting liberal blogger (yes they exist), but also our dear friend Bessie's prefectee.

Update: link fixed.

23 July 2002

By the way, I was thinking about Noah's challenge to find another English declined noun that takes the place of an entire phrase, like "modulo." The only one I could come up with was "pace," the ablative of the Latin pax ("peace"), which essentially means "with all due respect to" when one is politely disagreeing with someone. Example: "Pace the New York Review of Books, I think that Susan Sontag is a bore."

One more thing. Anyone who tells you that it's pronounced "PAH-chay" is an ignoramus. Any true Latinist will tell you that "PAH-kay" is the way to go.
Because imdb.com had the last line from The Winslow Boy as its Quote of the Day today, I thought I'd post my list of the five greatest curtain lines in movie history. (Possible spoilers if you haven't seen the following movies.) I was going to say that they were listed in no particular order, but I just noticed that if you put them all in a row, they seem to tell a story! Let me know what you think:

The Silence of the Lambs: "I'm having an old friend for dinner."
Casablanca: "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
The Winslow Boy: "Oh, do you really think so, Miss Winslow? How little you know about men."
Some Like It Hot: "Nobody's perfect."
The Usual Suspects: "And like that...he's gone."
Eyes Wide Shut: "Fuck."
This post about the new Archbishop of Canterbury is priceless.
Sasha Volokh has pointed out to me in an email both that the analysis which I went through is done in the beginning of Ec grad school and that

In fact, there's been a whole effort (which we covered) to rederive all of microeconomics without using utility functions and only using the Weak
Axion of Revealed Preference. (You can derive *almost* everything that way.) Also, social choice theory (Arrow etc.) generally uses preferences,
not utility functions.

His email and my thinking about this makes me almost wish that I'd taken an economics class at some point... I say almost cause I did try at least once and didn't make it through one class... The way the math was dealt with just annoyed me too much. However, if there were an Ec class specifically for math majors (you know, like math for ec majors, except the other way around) I think I really would have loved it.

Thanks to Sasha for the quick and insightful reply.

Speaking of thanks, thanks to Cooped Up for linking to our site, and welcome to anyone who is following that link. Anyone else should follow our link to them, he currently has a fascinating post about the 9th ammendment which is definitely worth reading.
A couple weeks ago Sasha Volokh of the wonderful Volokh Conspiracy posted about comparing apples and oranges, orderings, and utility functions. I responded nitpicking about something in his definitions and he posted a responce. His post and responce can be found here, while my post can be found here.

For those of you who don't want to follow the links here's a brief summary: Sasha explains that the reason you can't compare apples and oranges is that there is no obvious ordering on them. Similarly ordered pairs of real numbers (a,b) aren't ordered in the way you would hope they would be because which is bigger (1,2) or (2,1)? Sasha further points out that if you have a function from this set to the reals then this does give you a way to compare them. In my post, aside from pointing out some technicalities, I gave an example of a nice ordering on pairs of real numbers, namely lexicographically. As Sasha nicely explains it: "i.e., the way you would alphabetize them. First compare the first elements, then if they're the same, compare the second elements. So (1,1) < (1,2) < (1,100000) < (2,0), etc." Furthermore in his response he makes the claim that:

When I said above that you just needed a real-valued function, that wasn't quite right -- the "norm" ordering can be represented by a function, while the lexicographic ordering can't be.

This comment made me ask two questions:

1. In what sense is it true that the lexicographic ordering can't be represented by a function to the reals?
2. Why did Sasha in his original post tacitly assume that all orderings did come from some functions?

Turns out these questions both have very fascinating answers. The first question is very interesting mathematically, but I'll put all the math at the end so that those who want to can easily skip it. The answers to both questions have interesting applications to economics and in particular make an interesting point about the value of a "statistical life" vs. the value of an "identified life."

The logical assumption is that by "can't be represented by a function to the reals" Sasha meant one of the following:
a) It doesn't come from any obvious functions to the reals.
b) It doesn't come from any nice functions to the reals. (Where nice could mean continuous, or differentiable, or infinitely differentiable, etc.)
c) It doesn't come from any function whatsoever to the reals.

Now a) is certainly true, Sasha thought about it briefly and didn't think of one, therefore there aren't any obvious ones. It is relatively easy to show that if we take nice to mean continuous then b) is true (the proof is at the end of this post). At first glance one would assume that c) is false, a little experience with functions tells you all sorts of pathalogical ones exist (e.g. everywhere continuous nowhere differentiable, continuous maps from R to R^2 which hit every point, etc.). However, shockingly enough, it turns out that c) is also true (again proof at the end of the post).

Two answer the second question we need to think for a moment about economics. By economics I don't mean here the study of money and the economy, I mean a certain way of answering questions in any discipline based on a simple, almost trivial, observation that people or corporations or anything makes decisions among a bunch of possible outcomes based on which is larger in a partial ordering of the options. Furthermore economists notice that all such decisions can be modeled by (nice) utility functions which measure how much you like each of the options.

(In a similar situation, evolutionary biology is in one sense the study of populations of living organisms changing over time, but in another sense is a simple, almost trivial, observation that any population of anything which has inheritance from generation to generation, variation, and selection will change according to which portions best reproduce.)

Thus when Sasha, an Ec grad student, thinks about partial orderings he's naturally thinking of a utility function, and all the evidence is that the behavior of large groups of people can be roughly modeled by these utility functions. This means that if you believe this assumption then you CANNOT have a person order things lexicographically. That is to say if i have any two axes (say pounds of apples and pounds of oranges) a person CANNOT actually behave by choosing based on comparing pounds of apples and only if they're equal comparing pounds of oranges. This makes sense because no person in their right mind ("a rational actor" in ec-speak) would choose 1 millionth of a pound of apples over a million pounds of oranges, its just rediculous.

However, you should notice that if one of the variables is discrete, say we are looking at ordered pairs (a,y) where a is an integer but y is a real number, then we can lexicographically order them with a utility function (say f(a,y) = 2 \pi a + arctan y). Thus if one variable is discrete then humans CAN choose lexicographically.

This has an interesting application to a point which I was trying to make about the value of a statistical life several months ago. Slate had an article on driving while talking on cell phones and a study which said it was not worth banning even though it would save lives. (This article can be found here.) This article in turn refers to this study which cites the generally recognized value of a statistical life in the USA to be $5 million in 1993 adjusted for inflation to become $6.6 million. (Whether or not the values of lives inflate at the same speed as the general inflation index is something I'm not sure if I believe, but will have to be another post.)

When I first ran accross this study I found this a fascinating example of how economists think and really a good way to look at a lot of problems involving saving lives, certainly much better than a naive spend as much as you can to save lives perspective. As Slate explains it in the end of their article,

Then what would the Tappets' cherished ban accomplish? Drivers would give up $10 billion in benefits to prevent 300 deaths (plus some injuries and property damage). That's a lousy deal. The same $10 billion invested in, say, firefighting equipment would save substantially more than 300 lives—conceivably (using Viscusi's numbers) about five times as many.

But I also immediately wondered how one can explain the difference between how much we're willing to spend to save a statistical life and how much we're willing to spend to save a particular identifiable life. We'll definitely spend more money than $6.6 million to save one particular person if we know they'll die otherwise. (A very nice description of the difference between statistical lives and identified lives appears in the beginning of this article.) One explanation for that is that you're paying for whether you get good or bad news coverage. However, another explanation can be given using the facts we've found above.

An identifiable life is discrete. Say you're asked how much you'd be willing to spend to save the life of one of your very close loved ones. Many people would be willing to spend an arbitrary amount. This means they lexicographically order lives and then money. However, a continuous variable, such as statistical lives, or length of your loved ones life, etc., does NOT allow for such a lexicographic ordering and thus a statistical life must have some monetary value.

(Stop here if you are scared of math)
Now I want to prove that the lexicographic ordering does not come from any continuous utility function, nor even from any utility function at all.

Assume that f: R^2 --> R is a utility function which turns the ordering of R into the lexicographic ordering on R^2. Thus if I restrict f to any vertical line or to any horizontal line it must be increasing. Suppose that f restricted to some vertical line is continuous at any point (say the line is x = x_0 and the point is (x_0, y_0)). Take any x_1 > x_0. Take a sequence of points numbers y_1, y_2, y_3, etc. decreasing and converging to y_0. Notice that f(x_0,y_0) < f(x_1, y_0) < f(x_0, y_n) for any n. But since f is continuous at (x_0, y_0) if we take the limit as n goes to infinity we get, f(x_0,y_0) < f(x_1, y_0) < f(x_0, y_0). This is a contradiction.

Clearly if f is continuous then any restriction to any vertical line is continuous everywhere so this proof works. However I claim for any f, because f restricted to any vertical line is increasing, we still get some point where it is continuous. So we need to prove the lemma, any increasing function from R-->R is continuous at one point. In fact it is continuous almost everywhere (cf. Rudin, Principles of Mathematical Analysis, Theorem 4.30). Since it is increasing, at each point of discontinuity the left limit and the right limit exist. Thus to each point of discontinuity we can assign an open interval between the left limit and the right limit. Furthermore since f is increasing these intervals do not overlap. So for each point of discontinuity we can pick a rational in its corresponding open interval and get a one-to-one function from the set of discontinuities to the rationals. Thus the set of discontinuities is countable, since the reals aren't countable there must be uncountably many continuous points. Since there are infinitely many there must be at least one.

It is worth pointing out that an increasing function from the reals to the reals is actually differentiable almost everywhere. This proof is a bit more difficult, but seems to be used a lot by economists although not by mathematicians so much. However, before you go concluding that functions from the reals to the reals actually behave nicely, there is a function which is strictly increasing yet has derivative zero almost everywhere called Minkowski's Question Mark Function.

22 July 2002

So I said I'd let you know when I found out where I'd be working. Turns out there wasn't much selection. I could have chosen between Washington State, Iowa, South Dakota, North Carolina, and Florida. I picked Florida. Specifically, I'll be helping out Rep. Karen Thurman of Florida's 5th district. Her district encompasses Gainesville, which is of course the home of the Gators.

I'm trying to find out about the congresswoman and the district right now. The neatest thing I've learned is that she went to a Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville. I'm trying to figure out how they came up with that name.

Lastly, I won't need to pack any winter clothes...speaking of which, I went to an Army surplus store with my little brother last week. This store sells stuff to military buffs, but it also sells gear to police, firemen, and the like. I noticed one rack of Spiewak jackets that, according to the salesman, are popular among the state's EMTs.

21 July 2002

I just ran accross a weblog called In Passing which consists of quotes overheard in Berkeley. Not only is it highly amusing but it gives me some idea what sort of a world I'm moving into...

A few great examples:

"It's really hard not to go up to an intern in the middle of surgery and say, 'Don't freak out, but you're doing that all wrong.' I try not to do it if the patient's only under local."
--A man talking to a group of men on the patio at Raleigh's.

"I've got a girlfriend in San Luis Obispo, and another one in Bakersfield... I'm trying to move out of the central valley though, San Diego would be cool, if I could meet a girl there."
--One guy talking to another outside The Beanery

And here's one that makes me think of Nat for some reason:

"Ok, so we know they're not communists, and we know they're not gerbils... any more clues?"
--A girl talking on a cell phone in the back of 306 Soda Hall
Quote of the day:

"Are there 12 people in the state of Pennsylvania who will convict Allen Iverson of anything?"
--David Aldridge of espn, in this article

The answer, of course, is yes. For one thing, one can probably find 12 people who will convinct a tatooed cornrowed 27 year old black man of anything... But if you restrict to the city of Philly then it might become a better question. Philly is one of the toughest places in the world to play, but, man. they love Iverson there...

20 July 2002

I was discussing with Chris Luhrs the linguistic oddity that in the phrase "consider the integers mod two" the word mod is an abbreviation for modulo, while in the phrase "take the integers and mod out by two" the word mod cannot be replaced by modulo. In describing this I attempted to come up with the name for the part of speach which "modulo" is in the first example. After miserably failing (which is not that unusual considering that I have never taken grammer in English), Chris pointed out that it was not because I was being dumb but because, "modulo is the only surviving example I can find of the ablative in English." That is to say "modulo two" means "in the modulus two" thus making "modulo" a declined noun and a whole prepositional phrase in one word.

So I was curious whether any of you knew of any other examples of declined nouns in English similar to this situation.

Incidentally "modulo such and such" means "up to differing by such and such." In math terms the integers modulo two are where you consider two things equal if they differ by a multiple of two. However, I am fond of using the word in non-math situations. This is something that most math people do, because it's such a useful word. For example, one could say "modulo injuries the Lakers will win the NBA finals next year" (one could say that, but one would be wrong because of the Kings). Similarly one could say "modulo that bad haircut she's pretty cute," etc.
Its great having a hit counter... It turns out we are the only listing on a google search for "james traficant fansite."

19 July 2002

Just got back from seeing Robert Levin perform with the Baltimore Symphony. He both talked before he played and played an encore, much to the delight of Sarah and me, who were hoping to see his ego in full bloom. Afterwards we went to Inner Harbor and partook in the Nerdiest Activity Ever, which I will describe in excruciating detail some time when I am less about to go to bed.

Just got back from seeing some excellent live jazz with Tamara. We had a nice long talk in a Chinese restaurant afterwards about plans for the future, possible jobs, etc. Tamara's big problem is finding a job that will allow her to audition for shows at the same time, which is why I was so amused to see this line in the weblog of that porn store clerk, where she talks about her job's advantages:

"It's helped me plow through some difficult financial times, they're terrific about letting me take off for an audition, and they have twice let me take a full month off to go do a show."

I immediately pictured Tamara as the porn store clerk in question for the rest of the weblog, which certainly made for a more amusing read. Haven't brought it up as a possible job with her yet, but I'll probably see her again soon....
If any of you are tempted to get annoyed at being unemployed, this weblog should quickly remind you that it could be worse you could be a porn store clerk.
Hey Nat, if you ever get a job in Washington I expect you to perfect this trick.

17 July 2002

This weblog is frighteningly similar to the wonderful book "how to heal the hurt by hating" (speaking of that book, this page was always my favorite).
I tried to make this post before from a Unix machine in the math dept., but the web browser screwed up and deleted the post. I finally have internet access in my room though, so I won't have to worry about that any more.

Bessie recommended that I post a site called longbets, which she had heard about from her sister. On this site people "bet" thousands of dolars (the proceeds go to charity) on the course of the future. For example the founder of Lotus and a major artificial intellegence researcher have a $10,000 bet over whether a machine will pass the turing test in the next 25 years. Not only are the subjects of the bets themselves interesting, but each of the people involved writes a page arguing their position, and these position papers are often fascinating.

One of the bets is of particular interest to bloggers: "In a Google search of five keywords or phrases representing the top five news stories of 2007, weblogs will rank higher than the New York Times' Web site." In this case I think that both of the people are making their bets for the wrong reasons. The pro-nytimes person basically argues that the nytimes website will be more important and more often used than any weblogs. I certainly agree with this position. People who read weblogs are for the most part well informed news junkies who read the times as well as a dozen blogs. On the other hand lots of Times readers do not read any weblogs. I firmly believe that the nytimes will be getting more hits than any weblog in 2007. Despite the fact that both peoples argument concerns which will be more important and more widely read, the actual bet is not about hits or importance, but instead based on the results of google searches. As we all know google loves blogs. The question is not which site will be read more often, but which site will be linked to more often. Furthermore the nytimes requires registration and thus is even less likely to be linked (relative to say cnn as is demonstrated by the blogdex results for a given day). Thus, although I completely agree that in 5 years the nytimes webpage will be more widely read than any weblogs or even all weblogs taken together, I would not at all be surprised if a google search put weblog stories ahead of the Times.

One last bet of interest: The US men's soccer team will win the World Cup before the Red Sox win the World Series. The great quote concerning this bet is:

[i]n the World Cup, you have the whole WORLD against you, but, in baseball, the Red Sox only really have to beat the Yankees.

This bet reminds me of a bet I made with my brother Jesse a couple months ago. I claimed that the US would reach the finals in one of the next 10 world cups. He was willing to even give me odds. Whoever wins can go to the next world cup and the loser has to pay for either the game tickets (me) or the plane tickets (him). I'm pretty confident that was a good bet.

Of course we don't have enough money to make any real long bets of our own, but we do have pride, so if anyone has any suggestions I'd be willing to go on the record with my opinion one way or the other. I'd also be interested to know of all the open bets which one would you most want to bet against. (I think I'd go with No on this bet.
All right now guys, no flame wars... Don't make me go and delete any posts refering to macs vs. pcs...
It's worth at least twice that amount to not have to deal with MS Windows headaches. Plus, the mac now runs unix.
You could buy a Dell and then you'd have both.

16 July 2002

I just got denied from fas for the first time. This is sad.

In other news, I ordered a fricking expensive computer* today. I decided that It would be worse to sit in front of my computer every day and say, "Gee, I wish I had a better computer" that it would be to sit at home some weekend and say "Gee, I wish I had that $500 so I could go visit somewhere interesting." Sarah Moss pointed out that this is a somewhat pessimistic way of looking at things.

*Unfortunately, not the 800-mhz version (> $3000), but the 667-mhz one (> my budget).

15 July 2002

Tonight I went to see Mieka Pauley at The Bitter End, a legendary rock bar in Greenwich Village. (For those readers who aren't tapped into the Cambridge music scene, Mieka Pauley is a very talented, very sexy singer/guitarist/songwriter from our class at Harvard.) She was quite excellent, as always, and I definitely had a little High Fidelity moment there: "I want to date a musician...."
Yes my neighbor's have chickens. I originally wrote "I was taking care of my neighbors' animals" or something and then I changed some sentence's and forgot to take out the apostrophe.
The neighbors' came home and they just wanted to know if it was the rooster that got killed. Luckily, it was not.

Heres the dolphin story from the onion.
Noah, you have way too much free time on your hands. You should get a job or something. I bet someone would pay you upwards of $6 an hour for your skills.

Oh wait. Someone's already paying you something like $17,000/hour. Rats.

Speaking of which, "Rats" is now officially my new favourite phrase, which you could hear twice an hour if you worked with me...first when the program I'm writing crashes, and second when I fix it and then it spits out the wrong data. Sarah Moss (also working here, in case you didn't know) calls it "cute." I blame Noah.

If I had edit privileges, I would have inserted "housesitting for your neighbors' what?" after Nat's first sentence. Also, the sign in the cafeteria headed "To our bagel customer's" annoys me daily. You'd think the government would know some basic grammar.

Your neighbors have chickens?
This past weekend I was housesitting for my neighbors'. Griffy somehow managed to kill one of their chickens, making me look real good. This dog has become quite a killer in recent weeks -- but this weekend I learned about an animal that's as trainable as a dog and potentially more deadly as well. I am talking, of course, about the dolphin.

It started when I read this article in Smithsonian magazine. It's about a controversy over stranded dolphins in the Florida Keys, not terribly interesting, but one of the players in the controversy is a man who used to work for the Navy to train dolphins.

Yes, that's right, the Navy trains and researches dolphins. They admit as much on this website for the Navy Marine Mammal Program. The Navy claims, however, that it has never used or trained dolphins as offensive military weapons.

But, the guy in the Smithsonian article disputes that, and so I decided to do a bit more digging. I found this terrifyingly comprehensive website about dolphins. In addition to having every known fact about every known dolphin on the face of the earth, this website covers the military use of dolphins in exhaustive detail (scroll down the menu bar to find the military stuff). The problem is that the only people willing to talk about these projects (which are classified) are people who have quit, so there is some incentive for them to exaggerate or lie. Nonetheless, the allegations are troubling.

Some highlights:

Basically, the Navy got into the dolphin business in the 1950s when they saw that dolphins have great hydrodynamics and better sonar than the man-made variety. They decided to look at them as a way to inform human technology. It wasn't long, though, before they realized that dolphins can be trained to perform complex tasks and do successive deep dives much faster than human divers, who have to worry about the bends. This led to the development of dolphins as tracking animals for finding sunken things, submerged mines, and, eventually, submarines.

According to some people, they were trained for other tasks as well. They could be trained to deliver explosives or to kill enemy divers who might be mining a ship. There is some discussion about how exactly they killed divers; the most likely method seems to be pulling out their mouthpieces and then pushing them up to the surface, which would give them the bends. It is alleged that these killer dolphins were actually used to protect American ships in Vietnam, where it was assumed that anyone in the water at night was probably an enemy. (The CIA was supposedly a part of this. Leave it to them to train dolphins to kill, eh? Reminds me of the onion article where dolphins develop opposable thumbs.)

Where it gets really scary, though, is when the Russians come in. One Navy dolphin in the 1960s named "Tuffy" became somewhat famous for his ability to perform difficult tasks. The Russians saw this and began their own dolphin program in the Black Sea. That's right; to use Jon's phrase, there was a "dolphin arms race." One thing the Russians supposedly studied was what sort of background noise disrupted dolphin sonar. Americans took this to mean that they were studying dolphin countermeasures, and some smart people saw where this was heading. If you know dolphins are being used by the enemy, you should kill the dolphins! The logical strategy in a naval battle would be to poison the sea so that the other side can't use dolphins. This, the smart people realized, was a bad thing. So, I think the military use of dolphins has been scaled back a bit. It still goes on, though.

Sorry for such a long post; there's tons more information at that site if you're interested in this like I am.

14 July 2002

I'm gonna respond to Noah's religion question...

When this question came up, a Catholic family friend had just returned from the first trip she'd taken east of Chicago -- she had gone with a church group on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, Bosnia. As you can read on this site, Medjugorje is a small town where some teenagers started "seeing" the Virgin Mary in 1981. (If this sounds a lot like Fatima, Spain, it's the same idea.) Three of the "visionaries" still see the Virgin, and the town receives thousands of pilgrims a day from around the world. While Rome hasn't yet officially recognized the visions as authentic, it apparently hasn't condemned them as fake. This was an amazing experience for our friend, who is a middle-aged mother of two. She cried as she retold how she watched one of the visionaries talk with the Virgin (this visionary conveniently sees her every day at 6:45 pm). Some of the lockets and gift-shop items that she came home with had the phrase, "If you knew how much I loved you, you would cry with joy." I'm not saying that it's a major reason for the popularity of Catholicism, but the emphasis on holy women, namely Mary but also female saints, gives the religion some appeal to women, I think.

Oh, and the Bills have Bledsoe. They're gonna roll.
Here's a slightly old (but very good) analysis of the difference in competetive balance between the NFL and MLB.

It reminded me of my theory which I came up with at Foxwoods that one could make money betting on the 10 worst teams in the NFL to make it to the next years superbowl, since it happens so often. (Credit where credit is due: I was inspired by this article written by the Tuesday Morning Quarterback.) So I decided to check this out. If you look at the betting lines for AFC and NFC championships at, say, this site you will see that the 5 worst teams in each division have odds pretty close to 25-1 against (for some bizarre unknown reason the bills are 16-1, but the others are about this or higher). So let's say we bet on the 5 worst in each division to make the next year's superbowl. Let's take the past 6 years as the recent era of parity (beginning with the end of the late cowboys/49ers dynasties). $1 on each of the 10 worst teams for 6 years costs $60. Now in that time there have been three teams whose records were in the worst five to make it to the superbowl: the 2001 Patriots, the 1999 Rams, and the 1996 Patriots (all 6-10 or worse). (Two other teams made at after being 7-9: the 2000 Giants, and the 1999 Falcons. Two teams made it after being 8-8: the 2000 Ravens and the 1999 Titans. The remaining five teams were coming off winning records.) Thus one would have made at least $75 on those bets. Therefore one would have made over a 25% profit, which is darn good. In reality several of those teams were particularly bad (for example st. louis) and one would have made a lot more.

In summary, bet next year on the Chargers, Chiefs, Jaguars, Bengals, and Texans to win the AFC and on the Panthers, Lions, Cowboys, Vikings, and Cardinals to win the NFC.

(See this site for the records of every team each year. See this site for superbowl teams and scores. Note that the superbowl takes place in the year after the season, so the 2001 Patriots won the superbowl in 2002.)

(This author does not encourage betting, and does not take responsibility for anyone's losses following this scheme, nor for the legality of anyone actually making these bets.)
Welcome to everyone who came from the very kind link on How Appealing. I must say we're not nearly so interesting as that wonderful site, and much of what we ramble about hear is more to keep in touch with each other than to be interesting to a random audience. However, hopefully you can find something you find interesting. I'd provide a few links to some archived entries of interest to How Appealing's readers, but blogger archives are being screwy. So instead I'll just copy one of them:

Also, what do you folks think of the Pledge of Allegiance decision? This reminds me of the Confederate Flag controversy (albeit not as ugly or offensive) in the sense that this is a symbol that wasn't a part of the original pledge but which people are now clinging to as some vital part of their being. I agree with the reasoning that religious symbolism in official government oaths and whatnot are a problem if we really want a separation of church and state, and furthermore I think that "under god" screws up the rhythm of the pledge anyway.
--Nat Chakeres, 7/4/2002 (link which works now)
File this under Things Noah Tells Everyone But No One Cares:

The great thing about games of chance is that once in a while they make one look amazingly brilliant. My most recent silly game obsession is windows' hearts. This morning I won a game in the following way:


That's shooting the moon three times in seven games, and getting no points on three of the remaining four. I've been playing most of the week trying to shoot the moon on every hand, and so now when I play normally I know I can shoot the moon a lot even with not obvious moon shooting hands. (I remember an article once upon a time saying hearts was Bill Clinton's favorite game because he loved to shoot the moon. I can see where that came from.)
I don't know why there are so few female conductors, but its definitely something I've heard about before. On the other hand, my girlfriend just spent a week and a half at a Bach festival attending a conducting master's class and from her stories there seem to have been at least a few females there...

Here's a long article on female conductors. Its not a terribly great article, but it does raise some interesting points. Firstly, only recently and only in certain countries have female musicians become common. In the top orchestras in Europe there are still very few female musicians. If male musicians are only just accepting women as their peers, then they're very unlikely to accept them as their leaders. Secondly, this problem is excacerbated by the fact that we tend to import most of our top conductors. Since European orchestras are much more sexist, taking European conductors means you're very unlikely to have female conductors. Finally, until recently there was a lot of overt sexism, for example it was not until the 60's that Juilliard started accepting women into its graduate conducting program. (This article also makes some general arguments which apply to any leadership position based on cultural stereotypes etc, which you have already heard in reference to other subjects and either believe or don't.)

Here's a better written article. It begins:

If you are not a despot, sexually voracious, power-obsessed, long-lived and as fit as a marathon runner, don't bother to apply. The job? Conductor of a symphony orchestra.

The central point of this article is found in this quote:

According to Janna Hymes-Bianchi, the newly appointed associate conductor of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, the problem is not with the audiences or even the orchestras themselves but with the boards and committees who appoint the musical directors. 'In my experience,' she says, 'it is the upper administrations and board members who feel it is risky and possibly dangerous to hire women music directors.'

Anyway I wonder what you all think... I'll also be sure to ask Laura who is bound to have some strong opinions on the matter.

Speaking of gender imbalances... None of you responded to my gender and religion question.
Grrr... I'm getting annoyed at this "Harvard cuts off your email July 15th" thing... I got a math account because of the class I'm teaching, and so I should be able to get my post account to forward there and then get my fas account to forward to the post account. However, on weds when I changed my post forwarding to the math account, i misspelled it as "nsynder" instead of "nsnyder." Now that I've realized this I changed it, but it takes 24 hours for the change to be effective. For me to keep getting my fas mail I have to change the forwarding today, for it to last long enough I need to forward to the post address, however that means no email for 24 hours because of my typo...

Anyway if you need to reach me nsnyder at math (.harvard.edu) will be working if nothing else is...
I think I'm cursed...It's now rained on every single outdoor event I've attempted to attend since June 1. You all know about commencement. There was a 45-minute rain delay at the Orioles game I went to in June. And last night we went to an outdoor concert of the BSO (not , not the Boston Symphony, but the Baltimore version), and as soon as the first downbeat was struck, it began to rain. We had one umbrella for the four of us, and I think my right shoulder remained dry. It did stop raining by intermission, but they decided to cut the concert short and play only the last movement of the symphony in the second half, which greatly offended the musical purist (i.e. snob) in me.

Next weekend Robert Levin is coming to play, on the same night that everyone in the program is going to an orioles game...I'd much rather go to the concert, but I don't want to be that kid who didn't want to hang out with the rest of the group...

Incidentally, the conductor last night was a woman, which I think is a first in my concert-attending history. Why should that be?
Since my slow internet connection currently prevents me from reading much of interest online, I thought I'd update you all on the books I'm reading. (These days my pleasures are low-tech indeed.)

The first one is called How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, by Toby Young, and it falls neatly into a genre that I've been expecting for years: the personal memoir written as though one were actually a protagonist in a Nick Hornsby/Helen Fielding novel. The jacket blurb actually describes the author as "a male Bridget Jones," which presumably means that he's a desperate singleton with a job in publishing. (In that case, this means that I'll be a male Bridget Jones before too long. Oh hell...)

More specifically, Toby Young was a British reporter who came to work as a staff writer for Vanity Fair in the mid-90s, and so the book is rife with gossip about his fellow writers, editors, and the magazine trade in general. It's a fun read, and perfectly tailored for a movie adaptation. (Young even mentions, repeatedly, that he's a Philip Seymour Hoffmann lookalike.) It's supposedly a chronicle of Young's rapid rise and disastrous fall, as he was fired from his job, sued by Tina Brown, etc. But it's hard to feel too sorry for a man who not only graduated from Oxford, Cambridge, and Harvard and wrote for Vanity Fair, but who also mentions offhand that he once dated Natascha McElhone, who happens to be one of the most beautiful women in the entire world. (You might recognize her as the love interest in The Truman Show.)

Toby Young dated this woman, and he expects us to feel amused pity at his repeated gaffes on the romantic scene? I'm sorry, but (Penelope Cruz voice here) somehow I can't play the violin for this guy.

13 July 2002

First off, my apologies to Noah about the mess-up at my house: we both should have made arrangements with my family a lot earlier. Needless to say, they'd be happy to have you over for dinner or similar anytime at all, as long as you make a reservation.

(Kidding about the reservation part.)

I've decided against posting about my first-ever job interview just yet. Why? Because there's a tiny, tiny chance that someone at the publication in question will Google my name at some point before they make their decision. I should hear back from them in a few days anyway, so after that I'm presumably safe. (In any case, the interview went quite well, I think.)

Saw Tamara yesterday for a bit; it was good fun. Apparently shopping for headshots is a much more complicated process than I'd ever expected. Also, my brother's coming into town tomorrow for a visit to NYU, which should be interesting.

Otherwise, not much to report from New York. My internet connection is still too slow for me to do any interesting web-surfing, hence no interesting links. In fact, I'm actually watching television these days. Haiwen's tastes run toward the Food Network, "Ripley's Believe it or Not," and ST:TNG reruns, so I'm being forcibly reintroduced to pop culture on a massive scale.
Wow: Which Springer-Verlag Graduate Text in Mathematics are you?
This article about a man suing MLB over breach of contract at the All-Star game makes me wish I were actually a lawyer and knew whether there was any merit to the case instead of just on a couple month legal obsession and not really knowing anything...
Sigh... As someone who grew up homeschooled I have a lot of experience with creationist circles, and it makes me easily frustrated with scientists responses. For example, this article in Scientific American. The headline of the article is "15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense." Now refering to it as "nonsense" in the beginning of the article before any argument has been made is exactly what makes creationists think that scientists are dogmatically anti-religious and not interested in the actual truth but only in advancing their athiest agenda. Furthermore the article proceeds to spend about two pargaraphs on 15 different points. None of these paragraphs would give anyone enough information to be able to answer a creationist. I could rattle off the creationist response to each of those paragraphs and win the argument even though I was wrong. I've done it before back when I actually believed creationism. Its not difficult. Creationists know their stuff, they're wrong, but they know their stuff. Quick out of hand dismissals like this argument only convinces more people that evolutionists are afraid of challenge and don't care about the truth. Its frustrating because creationists are wrong but scientists won't take them seriously enough to show that.
One of my favorite moments in any movie is in The Truman Show when Truman walks into the travel agency to try to fly away and there is a poster on the wall which has a picture of a plane being struck by lighting and a caption saying "It Could Happen To You." I've always always wanted a copy of that poster, but I've never seen one... Anyway according to Scientific American, it can happen to you, but it isn't too bad because of airplane design.
Wow, Greece arrested someone in N17. See this article. This is the same terrorist group that robbed weapons from a police station in broad daylight without disguises and without anyone IDing any of them. So this is somewhat shocking news. The fact that he was unconcious in a hospital probably made it a little difficult for him to sneak away without a scene, so maybe this isn't such a huge breakthrough...
Last night on the redeye back from berkeley (apartment bought, in little more than 24 hours...) the man sitting next to me graduated from harvard 9 years ago and lived in Adams "back when it meant something." Crazy what a small world it is. He's a lawyer and was attempting to write this brief on his laptop, but since there is very little room on ATA flights and the person in front of him was leaning the whole way back to sleep, he didn't really have room for the laptop and the papers he was trying to read, and the affect was slightly comical if unfortunate. Before he could turn his computer on we chatted briefly about the pledge case (he'd clerked in the 9th circuit) and some other legal news as well as random Harvard things. It does remind one what sort of connections this silly name can bring... Anyway I then fell asleep.
I would also be hesitant to draw huge conclusions from just two cases. They didn't even concern the same amendment. There's nothing surprising about the "conservative" faction upholding the first amendment -- they've done it plenty of times. More important would be a ruling where they uphold voters' equal protection rights when those voters are democrats. Not to say that I'm convinced that the court is biased by politics, but this one case doesn't assuage my fears after the election 2000 decision.

12 July 2002

I read the Volokh Conspiracy daily and with the possible exception of How Appealing its my favorite weblog.

Yesterday some math came up and so and I wanted to chip in on the orderings posting.

Technically speaking, it is not well-defined to speak of whether a "set" is ordered. You need to be looking at a set S together with some relation, denote it <. Thus your example of pairs of real numbers not being ordered is not strictly correct. What you mean is that pairs of real numbers with < defined to mean (a,b) < (c,d) exactly when a < c and b < d is not strict ordering. However, one can perfectly well choose an ordering of the set of pairs of real numbers by say (a,b) < (c,d) if a < c or if a=c and b < d. This is called "lexicographic ordering" and is often very convenient.

An example where this is more interesting is say the positive integers where one can give a partial ordering by < and another one by a << b when b is a multiple of a. Both of these are very important partial orderings on the positive integers, but only one is a strict ordering.

Anyway, they're all rather trivial points, but the blogosphere functions by having people nitpick where they happen to be knowledgable.

Incidentally Sasha is a law/ec student at Harvard (like ben) and I walk by his appartment almost daily.
Hi everyone, I'm in berkeley and have been since thursday morning. Alas due to circumstances beyond my knowledge staying with Alec's family and sleeping in his room didn't work out, and so its been fun to stay at the YMCA.

I think we've found an appartment, a few details to work out, but it looks good. 3 Bedrooms $2,100/month, hardwood floors, not terribly large but nice (the outside is pretty ugly, but the inside is really nice) at this location. (The shaded blob to the right of the screen is the campus.)

I also found the place where I want to live as an assistant prof. 3 bedrooms a living room and a kitchen, up in the hills above berkeley, bay view, park accross the street, relatively short walk to campus (but a long walk back cause of really steep hills) in this really nice house with tile floors all for just $1800 a month. The problem being its just so far from everything but the corner of the school with a math dept. it just wouldn't be a good place to be first year grad students with at most one car. If i were married and an assistant prof though, I'd have bought it in a second. Its really cute.

Anyway Alec, where's the report on your job interview.

11 July 2002

You wonder why the Palestinians are such a disaster these days:

Mr. Barghouti has risen from obscurity a year ago to become the second most popular Palestinian leader with a 19 percent approval rating, compared with Mr. Arafat's 36 percent.

--nytimes article

With popularity like that, who are the unpopular leaders?

10 July 2002

Concerning the All-Star Game... Notice that the last pitcher on the mound for the AL played for one of the Yankees big opponents, and so Torre really couldn't keep pitching him... Obvious solution, the last pitcher put into the game for each team must be from the managers team. The managers are already stacking with their own players... Make them take the consequences. I'd have loved to see clemens or rivera up there for innings 9-15 with Torre sweating it out... It'd be his own fault for using his other pitchers...

For Curt Schilling's take on the subject (he's currently headed for 26 wins and 346 SO's on only 24 walks, so i'd listen to the guy) read this article.
Have any of you been following the great Arafat baby wipe mystery?
What do you guys think of this article which compares the opinions in Bush vs. Gore with those in Republican Party of Minnesota v. White (the "do judges running for office have free speech" case) and concludes that the votes in Bush vs. Gore were principled and not political... I'm not sure I buy the argument on only one caseworth of evidence, but if we see another 5-4 decision like these two then perhaps there's something to it. (Of course the true cynic would say they decided this second case in order to justify to history that their first decision was principled... but i doubt enough people thought of the comparison for all 9 judges to do that...)
A tie? In baseball??? That's a travesty. They should have let them play until those guys' arms fell off. Or, if Torre and Brenly were that concerned for the welfare of their players, they should have gotten out there on the mound and pitched themselves. That would have allowed some runs. But ties in baseball are not allowed!

Seriously, to combat this problem (and it is a serious problem), they should have one extra pitcher who's job is to pitch if the game goes into extra innings.

09 July 2002

So i was reading this article and it got me wondering about one of the questions it raised: "why is Islam so wildly succesful among males, while all other religions are predominantly succesful among females?" In other words, it seems to be very hard to make men religous on a large scale, how did Islam do it so well? If you were to design religions to attract women and men respectively how would they differ?

08 July 2002

Sigh... why is George Lucas so stupid...
I spent much of the afternoon shopping for appartments in Berkeley... When I'm actually there I'll try to get to a computer and post where exactly i've looked... I may end up posting from alec's house...
Wow, Dave posted... In other news...

I have to say that Nat's post comparing the pledge controversy to the confederate flag controversy is quite insightful. If we were that brilliant all the time we'd be popular in the blogosphere.

I for one agree with the pledge decision (making me just about the only person in the world who is anti-pledge and pro-voucher this week). The insertion of that phrase into the pledge had the sole purpose of the government's imposing an (albeit vague) religious viewpoint. Had the words "under God" been in the pledge since the beginning, then I would understand how the "ceremonial deism" argument (when we want solemn things we say vaguely deistic things whose point is not at all to endorse religion but just to provide some sort of solemnizing) or the "de minimis" argument (latin for "your missing the point") might apply... However, as things stand I see no other way of looking at the law other than to find this addition unconstitutional.

The best comment other than Nat's which I've heard on the pledge controversy is this post to the fray. It was written by someone called the "history guy." The important part of the quote is:

Now is the perfect historical moment to get out from "under God" in our daily affirmation of nationhood. During the Cold War, when the enemy was godless atheistic communism, claiming allegiance under God differentiated us from our eneomies [sic]... The Bin Ladenites unquestionably would pledge to God, but they do not accept "liberty and justice for all." Removing "under God" from our pledge will emphasize that our nation is different from, and better than, the one they seek to create.

Dave, I'll try to get your email address on their soon. I need to refind the clever way of doing it so that one does not get spammed... Unfortunately its in our old archives that have disappeared, I think. I need to change them all to post addresses anyway.
Hello all. I guess I'm now convinced that this is a good way to keep in touch. I won't be able to post much until I get my new computer, but I'll be able to pop on from time to time. It'd be nice if I could get my name in the little e-mail list on the sidebar, but I guess admin privileges might be asking a little much for one so new at this sport. (Of course its asking too much! If you had adminstrative priviledges you could do things like this -NJS)

Speaking of sports, we're watching the All-Star homerun derby now. What a silly affair.

Time to go play the piano, or something. Later.
Why Nat Hopes That Heaven (or Hell) Isn't Controlled By Geese

The geese of the Boston area probably don't like me very much. They're pretty slow birds, being so big, and so sometimes they have difficulty getting out of the way of crew boats. On several occasions I distinctly remember smacking a goose with my oar, though I don't believe any of the blows were fatal. So, I sort of believed that geese were rather annoyed at me for participating in a sport that inconvenienced them greatly and caused them bodily injury from time to time.

Then came yesterday.

While camping at Heron Lake, a man-made recreational park and reservoir in northern New Mexico, Almea and I went running with my goofy-looking dog, Griffy. The official park rules are to keep dogs on a leash at all times, but on runs we took him off the leash so he could dart about as he pleased -- we believed this made things more interesting to him. Yesterday morning, on one strech of shore, he spotted a flock of Canada geese. He ran after them, but they saw him from a good distance and had plenty of time to get away. They needed a lot of time because their general strategy was to glide down towards the water, which I guess they thought would get them away from land-borne predators but which wasn't as speedy as, say, flying away in the opposite direction from the predator. Well, once Griffy got to the spot where the geese were, they were all in the lake; but right around a bend there was another flock of geese chilling out on the shore, and this time Griffy was between them and the lake. They started flapping and gliding down to the water, and he just plucked one out of midair as Almea and I looked on helplessly (we were maybe 50 feet away at this point). The goose, which was well over half Griffy's size, immediately went limp as it hung from his jaws. We started calling to him but of course he didn't want us to take his prize away, so he didn't come. So, we did the next best thing: run away from him. And, I'm proud to say that his domesticated instincts forced him to drop the goose and run towards us. We don't know if he killed the bird; we didn't go back to check. But all I know is that those geese can't be too pleased about me introducing a foreign predator into their lives. Sorry, geese -- I'll keep him on a leash next time. And I'll pass on the pate de foie gras the next time I'm in France.

06 July 2002

"Who are you guys? How do you live with yourselves? Pass me the whiskey."
--h. chu in reference to alec and i having a weblog.
We're now on google, try searching for us, or go through the counter stats and see what people have searched for (its somewhat surprising)...

04 July 2002

Sorry I've been inactive for a while. One phone line cuts down on available internet time. I won last year's strat World Series (we had to play it this summer instead of last fall on account of me being away at school) in six games thanks to some great pitching by Pedro Martinez and three Carlos Delgado homeruns.

What I'm spending most of my time doing, however, is working on our storage shed, which is coming along quite well despite the fact that I'm as useful with a hammer as my dog. Well, ok, I'm not that useless, but Jon is like Bob Vila on steroids and it makes me look bad by comparison. I've learned all the ins and outs of Home Depot (you have to aggressive and get the straight pieces of wood -- otherwise you'll get stuck with the warped ones) and all the neighbors are coming by inspecting the site (they seem surprised when it appears as though we're not doing things horribly wrong).

I'm going camping this weekend with Almea -- camping isn't as easy a proposition this year because most national forests and state parks are closed due to extreme fire danger. I'm expecting the ones that are open to be jam packed. They're even taking reservations at campsites, something I couldn't have imagined a couple of years ago. At least I have my reservations.

Noah, you're forgetting a vital function of the DC public school system: to provide administrative patronage jobs. If the district has to trim down, how are those poor politicians going to reward their friends and relatives?

Also, what do you folks think of the Pledge of Allegiance decision? This reminds me of the Confederate Flag controversy (albeit not as ugly or offensive) in the sense that this is a symbol that wasn't a part of the original pledge but which people are now clinging to as some vital part of their being. I agree with the reasoning that religious symbolism in official government oaths and whatnot are a problem if we really want a separation of church and state, and furthermore I think that "under god" screws up the rhythm of the pledge anyway.

03 July 2002

Again, reality sounding like an onion article... Plagirizing silence...
Everything you wanted to know about stealing home.

I once did that back when i was about 13 or so. We weren't allowed to lead until after the pitch was thrown, but you could still do the get a big lead right after the pitch and then go when the catcher throws to the pitcher. It was one of the most fun moments of my sports carear.
Sasha Volokh is on a roll today, this is very funny post.
Life imitating Douglas Adams...

02 July 2002

Hey everyone...

There's a rather interesting, but extremely long, article on Europe by Joe Klein in Slate. (Ack, I fortunately corrected 5 minutes later, my misnaming him "Joel Klein" who if i remember correctly worked doing antitrust for the Clinton Justice Dept.) Here's the link. Its about as long as something can be and still be called an article, its almost closer to a book...

Speaking of books, I'm reading about one a day, and I just finished Nabokov's "Speak, Memory" which is amazing and I highly recommend. He's not only a brilliant writer, he lived a fascinating life, and this is about as good an autobiography as I've ever read (can't really think what would come close). Furthermore it fulfills the niche of "Book by Nabokov Which I Can Recommend To Anyone (e.g. my mother)" which Lolita obviously dosen't fulfill despite its brilliance, and I just didn't like Pale Fire so much (sorry Alec, speaking of sorry Alec, I didn't terribly like "Foucault's Pendulum" despite absolutely loving "The Name of the Rose").

The one bad thing about reading "Speak, Memory" is that when compared to Nabokov, I seem rather boring. I currently don't have any obsessions on par with his butterfly catching, or even chess problem composing, and I don't know 4 languages, etc. Ah well...

Back to the internet... The Volokh Conspiracy has finally released the results of their survey on homonyms. Here's what they found.

Lastly, as you all know I've become a supreme court junkie, and I'm rather strongly in support of school choice, thus last weeks supreme court decision was a rather joyful day... Read the opinion here. I would be particularly interested to have your take on the Thomas concurring opinion, as well as the whole issue in general.

I definitely think that voucher programs in general are not unconstitutional, and I tend to agree with the majority opinion on this one. However, I do think the "$2,500 isn't enought to educate kids unless your teachers take a vow of poverty"-argument has merit, and I could definitely agree with an opinion that said the money would have to be more for it to be constitutional. However, the desenting opinions do not seem to rely on this argument.

Speaking of school choice, I looked up today the funding per student state-by-state. Here's a link. (Sorry, its USAtoday, but CNN didn't have the nice table.) Now, this info is a couple years out of date, and funding has changed in a lot of cases (Laura tells me Oregon's has decreased steeply in the past two years), but on the whole nationally it probably still gives a decent picture... We need to keep in mind that this is averaged over the state and so poor districts get a lot less. Nonetheless, look at DC, they spend nearly $10,000/student, and have a miserably failing school system. For $10,000/student, you can have classes of 10, pay a teacher $70,000 and still have leftover $30,000 for overhead. Now I guess building expenses are part of that, but still... I just do not understand it. It seems in DC at least that private schools would almost have to be able to do a better job with those funds...

I definitely think that school choice is not an excuse for actually making better public schools, however I also think that the ability to give your children a good education is something which poor people should have, and giving them more flexibility is nonetheless a good thing.