Sunday, 31 July 2011

SpaceSquid vs.The X-Men #40: Askani'Son

You can’t get this far into a series of essays on the X-Men without realising that certain themes keep cropping up time and again. I don’t know whether that’s due to the fundamentally simple nature of the series’ central metaphors (and I in no way intend that as a criticism), or whether I’m just viewing every character through the same narrow lens my own experiences and interests have sculpted. It’s probably a little from Column A, a little from Column B.

Either way, this is not the time to suddenly change direction. We may have touched on (or fully embraced) the subject of nature vs. nature many times over the last few years, but Cable probably exemplifies that conflict better than anyone else. For one thing, there’s the two other versions of him running around the Marvel Universe stirring up trouble - and we’ll get to Stryfe and Nate Grey later - but that's only a fairly minor part of the picture.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Radio Innsbruck

It's all over.  The various members of the imprecise probability massive have headed off to their respective home countries, leaving me behind to consider the meaning of life, and possibly drink beer.

In honour of the last week of arguments over evidence theory, however, here's the tune that's been running through my head daily.

I get back to the UK late afternoon tomorrow, and my flat mid-evening.  Normal blogging will hopefully resume on Sunday.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Postcards From The Front

"Statistics is more religious than religion." - Alessandro Antonucci.

"Stab him with the wax crayons!" - Gero Walter

Greetings from Austria!  The weather here is terrible, but the maths is good and the beer is better.

One thing I find particularly useful about conferences, and the bi-annual ISIPTA conference in particular, is how well they work as a measure of one's mathematical progress.  My first ISIPTA conference, back in Prague in 2007, was thoroughly baffling.  Durham in 2009 was difficult.  This time around, I feel like I've finally gotten a handle on what's going on.  My head and my notebook are both filled with ideas for future research and potential collaborations, and to my great surprise I'm actually starting to find myself with "opinions" on things.  It's a scary prospect.

I'd also like to take a moment to note a fairly major moment in my mathematical career: taking a silver at the IJAR Young Researcher Awards.  The competition was monumentally tough, and all three of the researchers sharing the silver whose work I've read (Drs. Rebecca Baker and Nathan Huntley, both of whom show up on this blog from time to time, along with Gero Walter) are exceptionally talented (far more than I am).  Given how good they are, I can't imagine how exceptional Bernhard Schmelzer must be (I haven't read anything of his yet) to have taken the gold.  Congratulations all round, and particularly to Bernhard.

(Nathan, alas, was unable to attend the conference, so we've replaced him with Jasper de Bock, so as to keep the amount of hair on display roughly constant.  Jasper received an Honorable Mention, and deservedly so, his mathematics career is just beginnng, but already his work is astonishingly impressive).

Our apologies to David Sungdren, who was missed off the photo above because no-one bothered to tell us he had won a silver award as well.   I don't have any knowledge of his work either; clearly it's time to rectify that.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Eric Alterman: "What Liberal Media?"

(My apologies.  This started out as a review, but has become both that and a rundown of the conclusions the book later led me to draw.  As someone once said, the longer a review goes on the less you know about what is reviewed, and the more you learn about the reviewer, and that certainly applies here.  You have been warned...)

I had this book recommended to me by Glenn Greenwald (not directly, obviously, he's a very busy man), and although Mr Greenwald writes and acts like he's learned his approach to human interaction from a particulary dickish Terminator, his choice of reading material is generally excellent.

Also, I've been wanting to read a full book on the state of the American news media for quite some time now.  Seven years of fevered blog and article reading has been very illuminating, but I realise that approach needs to be occasionally leavened with full texts.

So how well does Alterman's book serve in that capacity, from the perspective of a long-term amateur?  I'd say it does OK.  Not great, but OK. 

Friday, 22 July 2011

Great Adventures

Expect light blogging for the next eight days, people; I'm off to a conference in the Austrian Alps.  Needless to say, sitting around the mountains drinking beer and arguing with people is going to exceptionally draining, but so beat be it (EDIT: that's what I get for writing posts whilst discussing Fall Out Boy's weird Latin version of that song with my office mate).

For those desperate for further squidwords, however, Year X will be continuing as normal, since I'm far enough ahead with my X-Men reading to keep the blog regularly updating in my absence.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Thor's Poetry Recitals

(With apologies to Edgar Allen Poe.  Cross-posted at Year X.)

Once upon a midnight dreary, when I awoke both pale and bleary
My head still swimming fiercely from mead quaffed the day before,
With stomach swelled and bowels flapping, suddenly there came a tapping
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my Thrudvang door.
‘Tis some mortal,’ I muttered, ‘tapping at my Thrudvang door.
Only this, and nothing more.’

Ah, distinctly I remember, ‘twas my own day, in December,
And the ale-horns and the goat-bones spread their stains upon the floor
And I wished not for tomorrow, for ‘tis hard to make men follow
Gods who retched themselves out hollow, hollow even to the core
And with rare and radiant Sif gone, I was frozen to the core
Thunderstruck forever more
And the ne’er before unnerving rustling of each trollhide curtain
Now thrilled and filled with terrors a heart that had known none before
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
‘Tis some mortal who’ll prove helpless against my Thrudvang’s door
Some lost mortal who’ll prove helpless against my Thrudvang’s door
That is it, and nothing more.’
The pain in my skull grew stronger; I could bear the noise no longer
‘Fool,’ said I, ‘Of Midgard, Mighty Thor’s head is so sore,
That if you don’t hold fast your rapping, you’ll soon be found a’napping
Since your skull I'll put a gap in, when through your head Mjollnir bores
So begone before I smite you’ – here I flung open the door;-
Darkness there, and nothing more.
Deep into that darkness peering, I stood with my innards searing
Until I felt my stomach heaving and ran through the privy door;
And the silence was then broken by sounds of a Norse God choking;
For his churning guts had spoken and he must throw up his core;
But I swore that from the doorway I heard a whisper ‘Sif’; no more.
Merely ‘Sif’, and nothing more.
Back into my chamber turning, with stomach and bowels both burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
‘Surely,’ said I, ‘surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and then back to bed to snore –
Let my head be calm a moment and then back to bed to snore –
‘Tis a headache, nothing more!’
Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In stepped one of father’s ravens, jet black from beak to core.
And no tribute did he pay me; for no raven will obey me
When they’re of the lord or lady who’ve ruled since days of yore –
Perched he on the skulls of giants I’d piled by my chamber door -
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
For indeed I spied my father in the countenance it wore,
‘Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, still I recognise you raven,
And since Muninn is no craven who would quake behind my door –
Tell me what thy lord is wanting from the great and mighty Thor!”
Quoth the raven ‘Sif I saw.’
Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl chose to speak so plainly
For my father’s raven’s riddling was often best ignored
But I could not help agreeing that if honest he was being
And he had been blessed by seeing Sif on ocean or on shore
Then welcome was this raven to sit on skulls beside my door
For who else claims ‘Sif I saw’?
But the raven sitting lonely on the gleaming bones spoke only,
Those three words, as if his souls in that one phrase he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered – not a feather then he fluttered –
Till I scarcely more than muttered ‘I have heard such tales before –
On the morrow hope will leave me, as will the bile that burns my craw’
Then the bird said ‘Sif I saw.’
Startled at the stillness broken by reply so quickly spoken
‘Doubtless’ said I, ‘what it utters Odin taught it, to anger Thor,
Damn you, unfeeling master, who would take my heart’s disaster
And use it to remind me that I am bleeding from my core
This dirge you’ve made from hope weights burdens that you knew I bore
Say no more ‘Sif I saw.’
But the raven still beguiling my fur-lined mouth into smiling,
Rubbing my aching forehead I sat down beside the door,
Then my mind still slow from drinking I began to start the linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this Odin-bird of yore –
What this grim, unsettled memory made flesh as Odin-bird of yore
Meant in croaking ‘Sif I saw!’
Thus I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose eyes were burning what only Sif had lit before;
This and more I sat divining, with my brain cells wailing, whining
For to sit with thoughts entwining is no fit state for mighty Thor!
No, to sit with thoughts entwining was no fit state for mighty Thor!
‘Til first my Sif I saw.
Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from some holy censer
Swung by some impish elfling who would creep across my floor.
‘Wretch,’ I cried, ‘Odin hath lent thee – as Memory he has sent thee
To remind me he hath rent me in pieces forevermore
Alone, ‘tis he who could have rent me, by sailing my Sif from shore!’
Quoth the raven ‘Sif I saw.’
‘Muginn!’ said I, ‘thing of evil! – Memory still, if bird or devil!
Whether Odin sent, or whether Frigga tossed you to my shore,
Desolate yet all undaunted in this land of fields enchanted –
This home by lonely silence haunted – tell me truly, I implore –
Is she – is she still in Asgard? – tell me – tell me, I implore!’
Quoth the raven ‘Sif I saw.’
‘Muginn!’ said I, ‘thing of evil! – Memory still, if bird or devil!
By the bones of all the Aesir – by each goat and bear and boar –
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the flight of raven
I can find a dark-haired maiden by swimming from my shore
For I will find her where I must, though I pass through Jormungand’s jaws
Quoth the raven ‘Sif I saw’.
‘Be that line our sign of parting, Odin’s crow!’ I screamed upstarting –
Head and belly both forgotten as thunder rolled and lightning clawed
‘Leave no black plume as a token of the lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken, lest you be hammered to my door!
Take thy feet from off my skulls, and take thy form out through my door!’
Quoth the raven ‘Sif I saw’.
So the raven, never flitting still is sitting, still is sitting
For I cannot take a hammer to one who claims that Sif they saw;
For Memory gives no way of knowing what has past and what’s ongoing
And whether Sif might yet be rowing her way to some new land's shore
And still there might come a day when the raven will say more.
And so waits mighty Thor.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

This Is A Public Service Announcement

Lock up your children, people!  The scurrilous uprising of the leopard (AKA "nature's mother-fuckers") has begun!

h/t John Cole.


Someone reminded me of this during our usual mathematical arguments over lunch. 

Replacing pi with a value twice it's size would seem to be a zero-sum proposition: it makes circumference calculations "more natural" at the expense of area calculations, and makes radian considerations easier at the cost of complicating the periodicity of the tangent function.

Even so, I say we go with it for two reasons.

First, it will set a precedent whereby I can double the amount of grant money I can apply for, on the grounds that the increased figure "seems more natural".

Second, it will really piss this guy off.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

I Don't Give A Shit About What You Think You Know

It's been pretty much forgotten in all the sturm und drang generated by the phone hacking scandal, but there were still a few aspects to the Dominique Strauss-Kahn situation I thought worth considering.  That, then, is what this month's It All Adds Up is about.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Cross-Continental Bullshit

No fewer than two (count 'em!) people have asked me this week whether I see the current wave of scandal that has engulfed the News of the World doing any damage on American shores.

Well, there have been politicians on both sides of the aisle calling for investigations (which is notable in a political climate where it's difficult to get both sides to agree that deliberately ruining the US economy is a bad idea), and it's been widely reported that the FBI is getting its investigation on, though whether they treat the matter any more seriously than John Yates did remains to be seen. [1]

Actually, though, I think the biggest indication that things are liable to go pear-shaped across the pond comes from one of Murdoch's own mouth-pieces, the Wall Street JournalThis op-ed is so ridiculously prickly and filled with preemptive vitriol that it's distinctly reminiscent of Paul McMullan's "defense" from Newsnight: i.e. it works from the principle that one should fight fire with fire, even when in one's own house during a gas leak.

The whole article is worth reading, it's an instant classic in (if not textbook example of) the "No-one is completely innocent therefore no-one can be considered guilty" genre of rebuttals.  You know, the one that goes "MSNBC leans liberal, so what the big deal when FOX says Democratic politicians are in league with paedophiles?".  This is my favourite part, though:
The idea that the BBC and the Guardian newspaper aren't attempting to influence public affairs, and don't skew their coverage to do so, can't stand a day's scrutiny.
It's certainly true that anyone spending a day checking whether the Guardian attempts to influence public affairs has wasted 23 hours and 55 minutes, but then that has nothing to do with the investigation or the outcry.  The WSJ is trying to employ the "Let he who is without sin throw the first stone" defense that Jesus employed to save an adulteress, but in their case the actual quote would be closer to "Let he who has never slept with their wife throw the first stone."

In short, this is the same crap McMullen tried to pull on Steve Coogan: if you're entirely happy with legal activity, then you're a hypocrite if you object to illegal activity which achieves the same end.  The WSJ, in fairness, have a much stronger claim to innocence than McMullen did, at least right now, but that doesn't make their argument any weaker, or their desperate attempts to throw mud in all directions any less unpalatable.

[1] Amazingly, John Yates has managed to knock Captain Mike Yates from the top spot of "Biggest traitor with the surname Yates".  And Mike drew a gun on the fucking Doctor.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Friday 40K: The Greater Good

Since I've now both reached 1500 points with my Tau army, and rebased them in line with edenspresence's advice, I figured they were due another look.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Chart Of The Day

After doing a little poring over opinion poll results, Nate Silver discusses what he sees as being a fundamental problem regarding the debt ceiling negotiations: "[T]here is a larger ideological gap between House Republicans and Republican voters than there is between Republican voters and Democratic ones".

His chart certainly bears this out:

But there's more to the story than just this.  Here's the chart redrawn (you'll need to click on it to see it properly, natch):

and here it is again with a new data point added: the proposed spending cut/tax increase balance proposed by Obama himself:

Much as I think the reason the talks have collapsed is entirely due to Republican intransigence and cupidity, there's plenty of reason to dislike what Obama's doing as well.  Republican voters might be more like Democratic voters than they are their own party's politicians, but it's just as worrying that, at least on this issue, the Democratic president is further to the right of Republican voters than Republican voters are of independents ones.

I'm not sure there are many things that display more convincingly how much American politics basically boils down to a bunch of reasonable stooges for the rich battling the thoroughly unreasonable stooges for the rich.

Hell of a country.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

A Brace Of Mea Culpae

Ten days ago I argued that the Republican strategy regarding their game of chicken with the debt ceiling was as follows: stall until the eleventh hour, then offer passage in the House in exchange for the repeal of the health care bill passed in early 2010.

Well, it turns out that's been batted around a bit, by presidential-hopeful-cum-destroyer-of-worlds Michele Bachman, as well as various new members of the Republican Caucus.  Drum argues in that same article though that such a plan is an obvious non-starter.  I'm not wholly convinced - Obama clearly will want to avoid shredding it at almost all costs, but it's still disliked by a (thin) majority of Americans - but I'm happy to defer to him here, and accept that whilst my idea was clearly popular amongst some conservatives, it wasn't actually the official game plan.

I don't think we'll ever know for sure, though, because the Republicans have blinked.  Naturally, they've blinked in the most cynical, hideous way imaginable.  Their proposal essentially runs as follows: "We'll give the President the power to raise the debt ceiling whilst every single Republican votes against it, and tells the country the Democrats are the party of runaway spending".

It's almost impressive, in it's way.  Over the last year the Republican high command have gone from "The debt ceiling must be raised" to "Raising the debt ceiling is unacceptable unless we get everything we want with no concessions" to "Raising the debt ceiling is necessary, but only if we can use it as a weapon against Democrats in the next round of elections."

And yet, as twattish and dangerously cynical as this admission is, it is still an admission. All I could think about when I read this proposal was sitting at the dining room table in 1993.  My ten year old sister had accused my seven year old brother, of kicking her viciously during an earlier altercation.  My brother's defence to my father ran as follows: "First, I didn't do it. Second, she deserved it."

Congratulations, Republican voters!  You elected my seven year old brother to run the House of Representatives, and to try as hard as possible to bankrupt the world.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011


Since today saw the fifth book of George R R Martins’ Song of Ice and Fire hit the shelves, it’s probably time I got around to talking about the last episode of Game of Thrones. As one might expect from the season finale, spoilers will abound after the jump.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Hat Banshee's Millinery Corner

Next week: Hat Banshee takes some time to appraise the fashion choices of visitors to the Blarney Stone, AND HE DOES NOT LIKE WHAT HE SEES!

(X-posted at Year X)

I Really, Really Hate These People

Shorter Paul McMullan: If you've ever been paid by someone in exchange for work which you then did, you lose your right to complain when they illegally monitor your phone messages.

You have to give Coogan credit here.  Sure, he was agitated and straining at the leash, but he managed too very impressive things: he didn't walk over and cockpunch McMullan with both fists, and he managed to avoid saying what I shouted about five seconds into this clip: "Surely the biggest loss here is the 200 jobs you've pissed away, you remorseless cunt." [1]

Now that would have been telly.

(h/t to Rising Hegemon)

[1] Actually, he may have said that later on in the clip, I could only watch a couple of minutes before my monitor was in desperate danger of being smashed.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Nice Package, Shame If Anything Were To Happen To It

Just a quick grumble to start the day: when did delivery services get so breathtakingly gittish?

An Amazon order I made a couple of weeks ago was finally dispatched at the start of the week, and I missed both deliveries due to, you know, having a job.

The delivery service is now offering me two options.  I can either drive 30 miles to pick the package up, at a precisely arranged time and with my passport and a utility bill, or I can wait in from seven thirty am to seven thirty pm for them to drop it off.  And that has to be on a week day.

Anything else will cost me extra money: five pounds to choose something as obviously unreasonable as either a morning or an afternoon delivery, or ten pounds if I want it delivered on Saturday, which makes it more expensive than having simply gone for the first class option in the first place.

Right, that's better.  Rant over.  We now return you to your regularly scheduled program of ranting about comic books and American politics.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Two Shorts Make A Long

Shorter David Brooks: having encouraged my friend for decades to drink heavily, vomit on his opponent's carpets, and drive me home whilst he's steaming drunk, and having on multiple occasions called the barmen who wouldn't serve him as secret Prohibitionists who don't realise or care how much Americans love their booze, I am disgusted to find that said friend has an alcohol problem.

Shorter rest of the internet: Go fuck yourself, David Brooks!

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

American Gods

I've finally gotten around to reading this, having waited so long that they even published online for free at one point.  On the other hand, it does mean that my statue of limitation of spoilers has expired.

Except... I can't really think of a way to discuss this book without (very slightly) spoiling the fifth year of Supernatural as well.  So that's what I'm going to do.  Anyone behind in their Winchester watching (though , really, it's about the same level of spoiler as mentioning that Season 1 features wendigos and Bloody Mary), look away now.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Quote Of The Week

Having spent forty eight hours at his Count's pleasure, I'm a bit behind in my reading, so I didn't really get to grapple with this until a few hours ago. I've talked a lot in the past about how baffled I am over the sheer ferocity of hatred so many in the American Christian right have for homosexuality.  I could go through all of that again, but really, what's the point?  Let's just boil this down to the quickest rebuttal possible:
I think we need to remember the term sodomy came from a town known as Sodom and Sodom was destroyed by God Almighty and the thing that they practiced was homosexual activity and even they tried to rape angels who came down there, so that’s the kind of people they were.
So is it possible, is it just about conceivable, that Sodom was destroyed not because it was chock-full of homosexuals, but because it was packed with vicious packs of gang-rapers?

About ten years ago I started reading the Bible from cover to cover to try and get a better grip on it.  I ended up abandoning the attempt somewhere in Numbers (if only I'd thought about starting a blog charting some ridiculously arbitrary variable throughout the book's run), but I distinctly remember the story of Sodom.  I kinda thought God was being a dick about it, quite frankly, right up until a mob showed up at Lot's door demanding he give up his house guests so that they could rape the shit out of them.   I switched sides pretty quickly after that.

I did always think it was interesting that Lot's retort - the response of the only good man in Sodom - was to say something along the lines of "There's no way I'm turfing out my guests so that you can screw them to death.  You'll have to take my daughters instead."  The general Sodom citizenry might have been pretty unfortunate to be surrounded by homosexual rape gangs, but it turned out to be pretty lucky for Lot's daughters. 

Not that they probably appreciated it at the time, of course.  I doubt that "Hooray!  The men father has offered us to as rape-victims have no interest in the front-bottom!" is likely to have been their response.  I suppose they got their revenge later on, when they got their father too drunk to know what he was doing and then took it in turns to fuck him.

(h/t to Steve Benen).

Sunday, 3 July 2011

A Chance To Be Original

Like anyone else with an interest in the future of the state of the global economy, I've been watching the debate over raising the US debt ceiling with a great deal of interest (albeit with a far smaller amount of experience or understanding).

My economics skills are all but non-existent; I know what I taught for my Actuarial Maths course, and that's about all.  Having said that, I don't think you really need to know your Keynes from your Friedman to grasp the basics of the current fight.

DEMOCRATS: Failing the debt ceiling would be disastrous on a global scale!
REPUBLICANS: Yes, it would!
DEMOCRATS: We must raise it!
REPUBLICANS: So long as we get what we want!
DEMOCRATS: What do you want?
REPUBLICANS: Spending cuts!
DEMOCRATS: Only if we get tax increases!
REPUBLICANS: Let's cut a deal!
DEMOCRATS: Here are your spending cuts!
DEMOCRATS: Now about those tax cuts hikes...

An awful lot of ink and bile has been spilt on the way the GOP has behaved during these "negotiations".  Essentially, it boils down to this: the Republicans get literally everything they ask for, without the Democrats getting anything, or the global economy - the global fucking economy - goes into free-fall.

The liberal/left-leaning/remotely sane areas of the blogohedron are going mad, desperately trying to process why anyone would be so sociopathically irresponsible.  The Republican strategy, they argue, is to simply sit in a corner demanding they shouldn't ever have to increase taxes until Obama caves in the hope of, y'know, keeping the world turning.

That would be insane, of course.  And whilst my contempt for the Republican leadership is both boundless and well-documented, I don't think they're this crazy.  I think they have something up their sleeve.

Or rather, some of them do.  The Tea Party, as far as I can tell, is taking advantage of the crisis to start demanding the most imbecilic legislation imaginable.  Hardly a surprise, of course.

But for the larger block of what I'll reluctantly call "The smart GOP", I think a different strategy is in effect.  If I'm right, the plan is pretty simple: reject all offers, all deals, even all serious attempts at negotiation until the eleventh hour.  Then have a super-secret Republican huddle, in which tears are shed and hard choices made.

Then announce a press conference.  A big one.  A huge one.  And walk to the podium and say: "The Republican Party is opposed to tax increases.  They are never a good idea, and at this point in our nation's history, with soaring unemployment and a low median wage, they're frankly insulting.  However, the debt ceiling must be raised to prevent calamity.  The Democrats have agreed to many of the spending cuts we have asked for, and in return we are prepared to make equally hard choices.  We are willing to increase taxes N and M by X and Y percent.  We ask for only one further thing in exchange.

The job-killing Affordable Care Act must be repealed."

BAM.  That's how you do it.  You take Obama's signature act, and argue that it costs so much that it's a deal breaker.  Tax cuts on the rich are massively popular.  The ACA is (just) the wrong side of public opinion.   So you swap a very unpopular stance for one the US public has decidedly mixed feelings about, and you do it close enough to the deadline that alternatives suddenly seem distinctly reasonable.

And you do it in the certain knowledge that the American media won't spend even five seconds considering why this has been asked for and what the consequences to poor people will be.  All they'll give a shit about is that the Republicans have "shown leadership" (stopped sulking) and "offered a bipartisan solution" (agreed to the debt ceiling range in exchange for Obama's second term).

I might well be way out on this, of course, but it's something to think about.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Friday Equestrianism

Never let it be said that there is nothing of interest to be found through Twitter (h/t to Jewel Staite).