Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Good news:

The number of people falling ill with tuberculosis has declined for the first time, according to the World Health Organization.

New figures show the global death toll has also fallen, to its lowest level in a decade, with major headway made in China, Brazil, Kenya and Tanzania.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Let's check in with the local news in Louisiana for the week, shall we?

On October 5, Plaquemines Parish Sheriff Jiff Hingle was arrested for bribery. He is accused of taking $30,000 in bribes from developer Aaron Bennett for steering construction contracts his way.

On October 6, Michael Karl Davis of the Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Office was arrested for identity theft and fraud.

On October 7, Turkey Creek Police Chief Robert Moreau was arrested for theft. The details of this one are fun:

An investigation revealed the police chief stole items from a store and then returned the items without a receipt in order to get a gift card, which he then used to purchase guns and ammunition, Hammons said.

“All of this was done while he was wearing his uniform,” Hammons said.

Also on October 7, the former city prosecutor for my own fair city of Baton Rouge, Flitcher Bell, was permanently disbarred by the Louisiana Supreme Court. Bell received at least $30,000 in bribes for "fixing" traffic tickets.

One lesson, I guess, is that you shouldn't trust somebody who has an "i" in their name where you expect an "e" (Jiff Hingle and Flitcher Bell are both spelled correctly above). But there's another lesson:

“When the question is raised, with an African-American congregation or a constituency, whether they trust the Police Department, no one raises their hand,” White said. “That, in itself, is indicative of a problem, and we have got to win the trust. We have got to win the trust of that community.”
That is from an article from the Baton Rouge paper which carries the headline "Police lack city’s trust." Really? Shocking. I wonder why no one trusts the police?

Monday, September 19, 2011

What else to lure me back to blogging but urban planning:
“A lot of people feel that they want to live in a cul-de-sac, they feel like it’s a safer place to be,” Marshall says. “The reality is yes, you’re safer – if you never leave your cul-de-sac. But if you actually move around town like a normal person, your town as a whole is much more dangerous.”
Also see Felix Salmon's comments.

Friday, August 26, 2011

In the last ten years, 16 people have died because of terrorism in the United States. Bruce Schneier nails it, as usual.

Given the credible estimate that we've spent $1 trillion on anti-terrorism security (this does not include our many foreign wars), that's $62.5 billion per life saved. Is there any other risk that we are even remotely as crazy about?
Note that in the last ten years 400 thousand people have died in car accidents in the United States.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

It is hard to get a cartoon in the New Yorker:

When my life didn't offer usable material I started reaching for the low hanging fruit: desert-island gags and gorillas.
Some of his cartoons are actually quite good.

Also, this seems like as good a time as any to point you to a site that takes New Yorker cartoons and gives them the most literal, straightforward captions possible.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

P. J. O'Rourke starts with this fun sentence:

What is admired as whimsy could be awful as fact — real slithy toves in an actual wabe.
His article is about the architecture of Antoni Gaudí, and I found it pretty interesting, but probably mostly because I saw all the stuff he talks about pretty recently.

If a Gothic cathedral is (as some have said, misapplying their Shakespeare) a sermon in stone, then La Sagrada Família is a sermon in broccoli.
Somehow that sentence is a compliment. And one I agree with - I am no expert on architecture, but Sagrada Familia is the most astonishing building I've ever seen.

Monday, August 15, 2011

In Warsaw, in 1941, a Jewish father is expecting to die at the hands of the Nazis. But he wants to save his daughter:

Leon Weinstein bundled Natalie, 18 months old, in heavy pants and a thick wool sweater. He headed for a nearby apartment, the home of a lawyer and his wife. The couple did not have a child. Weinstein hoped they wanted one.

He lay Natalie on their front step. Tears ran down his cheeks. You will make it, he thought. She had blond locks and blue eyes. They will think you are a Gentile, not one of us.
In New York, in 2011, a woman wants a child. But only one:

She was 45 and pregnant after six years of fertility bills, ovulation injections, donor eggs and disappointment — and yet here she was, 14 weeks into her pregnancy, choosing to extinguish one of two healthy fetuses, almost as if having half an abortion. As the doctor inserted the needle into Jenny’s abdomen, aiming at one of the fetuses, Jenny tried not to flinch, caught between intense relief and intense guilt.
"We created this child in such an artificial manner — in a test tube, choosing an egg donor, having the embryo placed in me — and somehow, making a decision about how many to carry seemed to be just another choice. The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control.”

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A very good sentence from Ta-Nehisi Coates, about the Civil War and the civil rights struggle:

Freedom was most literally achieved through the reception and infliction of horrific violence, and completed through the utter rejection of that violence.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Tuesday we were talking about the social status of scientists on this blog. And last night I hear will.i.am on Marketplace talking about science, education, and what it's like to go to a robotics competition:

You know when you watch the movie Waiting For Superman, you're like, oh man. You're all, 'Aw man, we're so doomed.' And your heart breaks. This is the total opposite of that. Here, you would think like somebody sprayed magic dust and out popped genius little kids.
This is great, and I really do think he's doing a good thing by bringing attention to this and by playing at the "halftime show" of the robotics competition.

But (of course there's a but), the guy who gets interviewed on NPR is the musician, not the scientist. The Super Bowl is a big thing because it's the Super Bowl, and will.i.am at the halftime show is just an extra. This robotics competition is (now) a big deal because will.i.am is talking about it and playing a show there. Otherwise we wouldn't know about it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tyler Cowen has a book, The Great Stagnation, which complains of a slowdown in innovation. His solution (to drastically over simplify) is to raise the status of scientists. Today, he has a blog post titled "The status of scientists" that links to a New York Times piece about scientists organizing to get involved in politics.

I'm all for raising the status of scientists. I might even be for getting scientists more involved in politics. But the two are completely unrelated - have you seen the approval numbers for politicians lately? That's not status. Take a quick look at the Google trends for today, or the popular Bing searches or whatever. There are no scientists. But there are no politicians, either.

Another thing. In the NYT piece you can take a quiz to see if you can correctly identify ten scientists - I scored 6/10, for what it's worth. But you're supposed to recognize these scientists by their pictures.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I might move to Vilnius:

Fed up with the number of luxury vehicles parking in a bike path along a main thoroughfare in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, the city’s mayor, Arturas Zuokas, released a video in which he uses some military-grade machinery to crush an illegally parked Mercedes Benz.
This goes way beyond the idea that the punishment should fit the crime. But it's entertaining anyway.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Grade inflation:

By the end of the last decade, A’s and B’s represented 73 percent of all grades awarded at public schools, and 86 percent of all grades awarded at private schools.
Each semester I get a printout telling me what my grade distribution was (in case I didn't know...) and how it compares with other sections of the same course, other classes in the math department, other classes at LSU, and so on.

According to these printouts, stepping into my class (or any class in the math department, really) is like going back to 1988 or so, for good or for ill.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bill James echoes the Solzhenitsyn quote that gives this blog its name:

It's reductive to think of evil as something foreign and separate from the rest of us. Evil is part of everyone. We all have the capacity to commit evil acts.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Matt Yglesias is in awe of our amazing technology here in Louisiana:

Here in downtown DC, for example, the tallest office buildings are 110 feet tall. In Boise, Idaho by contrast, they have technology that’s allowed them to create a 267 foot building, and in Baton Rouge, they’ve somehow figured out that it’s possible to build a 450 foot building. If we could somehow import that kind of know-how to DC, then I bet people would be employed first building the structures and then working in the buildings. [...] But how on earth would we figure out how to build a 450 foot building? What magical technologies have they developed in Baton Rouge?
Our magical technology was developed by a wizard, but unfortunately the know-how died with him.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Paul Krugman and Jim Manzi both long for the freedom and safety of their childhood, of course. Everyone does. But the childhood of the 1950s was no safer than the childhood of today.

I would say a lot about this, but Alex Tabarrok does it much better, and I encourage you to go read what he says. The key bit:

Has childhood freedom been lost? No. Childhood freedom hasn’t been “lost,” it has been taken away by parents.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My ING account is currently giving me one percent interest. I have thought about giving loans with Kiva, and I probably should, but it doesn't solve the interest rate problem. Which is why I was intrigued to hear about Prosper:

By putting lenders directly in touch with borrowers—rather than through the banking system—person-to-person lending sites claim that they can cut down on overhead costs, thereby making it cheaper to lend to people with poor credit.
And they claim returns for me, the lender, of around 10 percent.

Of course, it's probably just the next bubble, and as soon as I get involved it will pop.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Bill James has a fun and interesting excerpt arguing that we are very good at developing sports talent, and saying that's a good thing. This has attracted some interesting commentary. We have Alan Jacobs, who says James got the math wrong, and Ross Douthat who basically just agrees with Jacobs. Most interesting is Ta-Nehisi Coates, who highlights what sports has to do with race and opportunity.

But the thing that struck me was one throwaway sentence that we in the United State are very very good at teaching people to drive automobiles.

It's true. Driving is not a trivial skill. It's moderately hard. As hard as learning calculus, I would say. But yet, pretty much everybody learns to drive, but not everybody learns calculus.