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What has most influenced your worldview? October 17, 2009

Posted by Ron Gordon in Uncategorized.
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Via Megan McArdle, Tony Woodlief  has an amazing post entitled “If only these people would read…”  Meaning that, if you’re a conservative, what books do you think you could get a liberal to read that may change his/her mind?  And, I ask , vice-versa.  Click the links to see what they and their commenters say.  I’ll add my two cents here, with 3 books for each point of view that I think will challenge as well as be palatable to the skeptical.

To convert a liberal to conservatism:

  • All the Trouble in the World, P.J. O’Rourke.  Funny as all hell, chock full of facts [although the source of some of them seem loaded], but best of all powered by actual travel to actual hellholes such as Dhaka, Mogadishu, Miami University, etc., O’Rourke is in top form and will have you questioning some of your liberal assumptions about hunger, overcrowding, central planning as an environmental good, etc.
  • Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler.  Before Orwell there was Koestler, a fanatic Communist whose travels to Stalin’s Soviet Union made him change his mind in a hurry.  This novel about a political prisoner about to meet his maker is an expression of this extreme volte-face.  It is a chilling look at what runaway communism brings.
  • Fashionable Nonsense, Alan Sokal.  Written by a committed lefty, Sokal, the author of the Sokal Hoax, absolutely torches the leftist academic war on science.  Yes, the immediate threat on science comes from the right these days, but one must recall that the left also has an interest in mucking up science for its own twisted narrative.

To convert a conservative to liberalism:

  • Betraying Spinoza, Rebecca Goldstein.  Goldstein, raised an Orthodox Jew, recalls her own journey away from orthodoxy in this beautifully penned and brief biography of Spinoza, the first true modern liberal.  Spinoza’s philosophy had an absolute impact on this country in the Separation of Church and State.  Spinoza was, as our Founding Fathers were, Deists.  Not Christians, not observant Jews, not Muslims, etc.  Spinoza’s story is worth reading and re-reading as the Right in this country go to war against the Separation Clause in the First Amendment.
  • Host“, David Foster Wallace in The Atlantic [April 2005].  Read for yourself.  This article, extremely well-written as is everything Wallace and without any pretensions, single-handedly exposes the seedy end of the right-wing talk radio business.  Keep in mind that this was written in 2005, 3 years before any financial meltdown, as Wallace wonders “As of spring ’04, though, the most frequent and concussive ads on KFI are for mortgage and home-refi companies—Green Light Financial, HMS Capital, Home Field Financial, Benchmark Lending. Over and over….Why is KFI’s audience seen as so especially ripe and ready for refi?”  Scary as hell.  Remember that as the Right continues to blame Obama and poor people for the entire financial mess this country is in.  [BTW John Ziegler, the subject of the article, shows his classiness here.  Bravo.]
  • Conspiracy of Fools, Kurt Eichenwald.  No, this is not an attack on capitalism.  But this extremely detailed and fascinating account of the Enron scandal will have you think twice before you think that business leaders can always be trusted to do the right thing in comparison with the government.

I’d like to hear if any of you have any suggestions along these lines, either way.  And, please, Sean Hannity or Ann Coulter will never convince a liberal, nor will Naomi Klein or Michael Moore convince a conservative.


Is ignoring evidence that someone about to be executed is innocent a criminal act? October 4, 2009

Posted by Ron Gordon in Uncategorized.
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It sure sounds that way.

The New Yorker article by David Grann about the Cameron Todd Willingham execution has shone a light on the state of the TX justice system.  Rebuttals about any facts left out of the story have been weak and dismissed.  This has left Gov. Rick Perry to either man up and admit that he may have made a mistake in ignoring the new, irrefutable evidence.  Or, alternatively, he could just dig in harder and call the new reports, one of which he could have read before the execution, BS.  Guess which route he took?

Worse, Perry has scuttled a post-mortem investigation by of the state’s forensic science panel.  He replaced 3 of the members, including the chairman with a political ally, who then stated that he had no idea when the investigation would begin again.  I’d guess that it’ll happen at least after the election. 

So, suspicious behavior aside, has Perry done anything criminal?  Yes, says Glenn W Smith:

Perry may have also committed a crime against the U.S., and I’m not talking about his secession threats. He may have violated federal law,  U.S.C. 18.1001. This is no trivial matter. An innocent man was executed. Federal laws and guidelines are in place to keep that from happening. Perry may well have violated those laws and guidelines, for which there are criminal penalties…

Texas receives millions of dollars in crime-fighting money from the Coverdell Forensic Science Improvement Grants Program of the U.S. Justice Department. To receive that money, Texas had to create the Texas Forensic Science Commission. The applying and receiving agencies, including the governor,  certify that an independent, external agency exists that will investigate “negligence or misconduct substantially affecting the integrity of forensic results.”

Smith makes a pretty good case that a Federal law was broken, read the whole thing. 

I’d like to make a small proposal.  I think the problem here is that TX executes too many people, and the large numbers lead to a culture of apathy as we have witnessed in the Willingham execution.  One way to bring down the numbers executed is to make the person ultimately responsible for the execution, the chief executive, liable for manslaughter or murder of an innocent man was executed in the face of overwhelming evidence of the man’s innocence available to the chief executive.  On the face of it, there may be problems with real crimials fabricating “evidence” so that a governor would be forced to consider it.  But, I think this would force the number of executions downward.  It would certainly have prevented this tragedy, because I seriously believe that Perry should be indicted for manslughter.

A projectile extremum problem September 25, 2009

Posted by Ron Gordon in Uncategorized.
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A projectile is launched at initial speed v at angle θ w.r.t. the horizontal. In beginning physics, if you took it, one of the first things you did was compute the horizontal range of the projectile, and you found it was a maximum at θ=45°. OK, here’s a harder problem: determine the angle at which the total distance travelled by the projectile is maximized. [i.e., along the arc of the projectile]
Solution:  Let y(x) be the path of the projectile, given by the equation
The arc length of the projectile from launch until it hits the ground again is given by

At this point, one wonders how to evaluate the integral.  I admittedly got confused and thought it looked like an elliptic integral.  In such a case, the tempoting thing to do is then take the derivative with respect to θ and see where that gets you.  This approach will only lead to worse things, and is not the approach of choice.  In fact, the integral is quite doable and is the challenge of this problem.  The way I did it was to do a few substitutions.  First, recognize the symmetry of the projectile path and that you only need to integrate out to z=1/2.  Then let w = z(1-z) and get the following expression for the projectile arc length:


One more substitution: let u be the value of the integrand above, i.e., the square root.  Then we get an integral without all those nasty square roots that make life so hard:


Note that in this last equation, I emphasized the dependence of the projectile arc length s on the launch angle θ.  Now the integral is ready to be tackled with a trig substitution, but this is a bit trickier than one may think.  A substitution that worked for me was


and the analytical expression for the projectile arc length is


We are almost there.  To find the maximum, differentiate with respect to θ and solve.  The value of θ that maximizes the projectile arc length satisfies the equation


The value of θ that solves this is approx. θ = 56.5°, which gives a path length of about 1.20 in units of v²/g.  In contrast, θ = 90° gives 1.0 in units of v²/g.

Why Deval Patrick is a lousy Governor, Part 6,947 September 24, 2009

Posted by Ron Gordon in Uncategorized.
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He is a lousy Governor because he can’t even do the right thing right. Rather than setting a good example, he ends up looking like an idiot that does not understand economics.

Background: there was a lot of outrage in the wake of the outsourcing of 100 housekeeping positions by Boston Hyatt hotel management. But, you might say, this is a tough economy, and loads of people from all walks of life are being laid off. I couldn’t agree more.

But, that’s not the problem. This is the problem:

When the housekeepers at the three Hyatt hotels in the Boston area were asked to train some new workers, they said they were told the trainees would be filling in during vacations.

On Aug. 31, staffers learned the full story: None of them would be making the beds and cleaning the showers any longer. All of them were losing their jobs. The trainees, it turns out, were employees of a Georgia company, Hospitality Staffing Solutions, who were replacing them that day.

That’s right: Hyatt management has no balls.  And no balls means no ethics.  Hyatt is by no means unique in replacing workers who get high wages (relatively speaking, please) and benefits with low wage workers who are not the responsibility of the company.  We can debate until we are bleeding from our eyes what this means for consumers.  [Many of whom, by the way, would not know who the folks that make their bed from their assholes.  I say this not be be cruel, but because it is true.] 

But a sense of ethics and value for the human fucking beings that bust their rump for your company means being fucking straight with them.  Training one’s replacement is the ultimate in suckage.  But there are ways to handle this.  For example, lay off the workers and give them the option of extending their benefits and pay if they do the training.  Yes, there’s the risk that the outrage at being laid off is so great that they may decline the opportunity.  But good managers will have a Plan B.  And, besides, I think the workers will appreciate the extra time and honesty.

But that’s not the path the Hyatt managers took.  They decided that the they did not value these people enough to treat them according to The Golden Rule.  They deceived them in a most cruel way.  They did so merely so that they didn;t have to deal with all the ickiness of staff that may not be sufficiently motivated because they were getting the boot.  So they looked past what they owed – yes, owed – them and just went for what was most convenient for them.

The outrage for customers, and anyone else who works for this set of ball-less managers, is that one wonders what stops them from acting this way toward them.  By “acting this way”, I mean lying, cheating, deceiving, just to make their lives easier.  As a consumer, I have no trust in such people, and no time for them.  Until the management personnel that treat folks like this are discharged from any interaction with customers, no matter how indirect, my family will not be staying in Hyatts in the future.

OK, now onto Deval and his idiocy.  Deval, trying to seize the moment and look to be seen to be supporting the victims of this bamboozlement, has announced a boycott of Hyatt hotels from Commonwealth workers.  [State employees at Hyatts?!?  Never mind.]  Fine.  But here’s his rationale:

I understand first hand how difficult it is to manage through the current economic challenges without compounding the disruptions the times have caused. In this economy, no business (or government, for that matter)is immune from these kinds of choices. But surely there is some way to retain the jobs for your housekeeping staff, as other hotels in the area have clone, and to work with them to help the company meet its current challenges, rather than tossing them out unceremoniously to fend for themselves while the people they trained take their jobs at barely livable wages.

So, in a nutshell, Gov. Patrick fell into the trap that the Sean Hannitys and Rush Limbaughs and Glenn Becks would set for him.  Patrick never mentions the deception and consequent lack of trust that runaway capitalism has spawn.  Rather, by attacking the layoffs themselves, Patrick now appears to be attacking capitalism itself.  Brilliant.

This wasn’t a complicated move for Patrick, and there’s a lot of upside in demonstrating that the people of MA demand high ethical standards of the people charged with running businesses, especially in tough times like now.  The behavior of Hyatt management was outrageous.  But because Gov. Patrick failed to address the real issue of ethics and made it appear that he was attacking capitalism, he now appears to be picking on poor Hyatt, as if laying off workers wasn’t hard enough.  And so he sets himself up for this response:

In a statement, Phil Stamm, general manager of Hyatt Regency Boston, said the chain “has been forced to make some very difficult decisions” and “regret whenever staff reductions are necessary.

“We are disappointed by the governor’s decision to threaten a boycott of our hotels since it directly threatens the 600 associates who work in Hyatt properties and who live and work in Massachusetts at a time when businesses and individuals are cutting back on travel during the worst economic periods we have seen in decades,” he wrote. “We do not understand why the governor is putting more Massachusetts jobs at risk instead of working with us to find jobs for employees affected by the realities of these unprecedented economic challenges.”

And so the spokesman for Hyatt now has an easy job making Gov. Patrick look ridiculous.  And a great opportunity to bring to light the issue of ethical standards in treating employees is completely wasted.

What a jerk.

Free Market vs. NHS September 21, 2009

Posted by Ron Gordon in Uncategorized.
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Megan McArdle of The Atlantic and Lord Darzi, formerly head of the NHS, debate social medicine and the much-maligned image of the NHS in the US.

Why the OPS stat cheats the base-stealers September 21, 2009

Posted by Ron Gordon in Uncategorized.
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In baseball, the OPS stat is generally accepted to be correlated well to offensive production.  The formula is OPS = OBP + SLG, where OBP is the on-base percentage = (hits+walks+hit-by-pitches)/plate appearances, and SLG is the slugging percentage = total bases/at-bats.  [NB plate appearances does not equal at-bats: PA = at-bats + walks + hit-by-pitches + sacs]  So, the addition of these two numbers means nothing, nominally, except that some guy figured out that the best hitters had the best OPS numbers.  So, despite its being a total nonsense number, it has become easy to sell to the average baseball consumer.

I assert that this offensive indicator sucks for guys who hit a lot of singles and steal a lot of bases.  Guys like Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox, who leads the majors with 63 steals.  As of today, Ellsbury’s stat line is as follows:

52 Jacoby Ellsbury BOS 575 83 175 26 9 8
55 63 10 43 65 .304 .356 .423 .778

So, despite having a .304 BA [admittedly, a flawed stat, but still], good for 15th in the AL, and 63 steals, he is not even in the top 50 in OPS.  There’s something wrong with this. 

The problem is in how we treat SLG.  To illustrate, if a player hits a double, he is credited with 2 total bases.  If the player hits a single and then steals a base, then he is credited with only one base for the SLG computation.  Same result, different treatment. 

So, a guy like Ellsbury would benefit from what I think is a more fair computation of the SLG that is computed by the adjusted formula SLG = (total bases + steals)/at-bats.  For Ellsbury, who has 243 TB, the adjusted OPS = OBP + adjusted SLG is now .888, which is 22nd instead of 52nd in the league and an improvement of 110 points.  [The ranking was done by comparing the adjusted OPS for the top 75 players.]  I think this is much closer to the actual value that Ellsbury brings to the Red Sox, and if I were his agent, I would make this argument in contract negotiations. 

One objection would be…well, what happens if he’s caught stealing?  Doesn’t a guy with a lot of CS’s lose value?  Sure, but 1) The number of CS’s will never be that high, b/c someone who can’t successfully steal will be cut off from attempting to do so by his manager, and 2) the guy who hits a single but gets thrown out trying to stretch it to a double still gets a total base for SLG computations.  So the CS issue is not a problem.

The Limits of Diplomacy September 20, 2009

Posted by Ron Gordon in Uncategorized.
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Most folks who read the many words I waste on Jews and Israel know that I am both a critic and defender of the “Zionist entity” that remains a safety net for Jews around the world.  Despite appearances of course.  I value and defend the existence of Israel from those that label it a mere post-colonial relic.  The UN General Assembly, for example.

Which brings me to the subject of this post.  The year 5770 has opened with pretty bad-looking stuff for the Jewish State.  The UN Goldstone Report on the Israeli Gaza “incursion” of late last year heaped a whole slew of human rights violation accusations at Israel.  The lead investigator, Judge Richard Goldstone, a Jew and Zionist from South Africa, issued a 575-page tome concluding human rights abuses for both Hamas and Israel.

Honestly, it’s taken me a long time to come to any conclusion about this.  Israel, as well as Hamas, refused to cooperate in any way with the report, relying on its own investigations to draw its own conclusions.  Internal investigations are always never going to be believed, even if previous hyperventilations against the IDF were shown to be bollocks.  Hamas of course didn’t even bother, although to be fair it does have far fewer resources; somehow I doubt that even if it did, they still wouldn’t bother.  Nor would the world care.

The Goldstone report seems on its face a pretty reasonable thing.  Why not?  A Jew, not just any Jew, but a trustee of Hebrew University, led the investigation.  The report recognized a basic fact: that anyone who fires rockets indisciminately at civilians, even when there are few casualties, is committing horrific war crimes.  So I was puzzled at the fierceness of the reaction against this report.

Not anymore.  The history of the report is damning, as Marty Peretz reports, as is the context in which the report came into being.  [Yes I know, Marty can blow a lot of hot air, but in this instance he is very right and I give him credit for tipping me here.]  Here’s what outrages him, and me:

Actually, the very sponsorship of the Report is suspect. The investigating body operated under the aegis of the United Nations Human Rights Council which spends early all of its time preparing resolutions condemning Israel. The legislation establishing the Goldstone commission was sponsored by Cuba, Egypt (in behalf of the Organization of Arab States) and Pakistan (representing the Islamic Conference). Months before the commission was established one of its not yet appointed members had already decided (and in public) that Israel was guilty of war crimes in Gaza. (The Council has not been able to decide whether Sudan is guilty of war crimes. Or Congo. Or Sri Lanka. Pardon me: but I don’t mean to compare Israel to these states.)  [Emphasis mine.]

That brings up a rather interesting and inconvenient fact.  Has anyone noticed what has happened in Sri Lanka?  They won their War on Terror.  I kid you not.  If you don’t believe me, read Robert D. Kaplan’s excellent dispatches in The Atlantic.  Here’s a sample:

The insurgents are using human shields? No problem. Just keep killing the innocent bystanders until you get to the fighters themselves. There is no comparison between the few civilians that have been killed by American Predator drones in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, and the many that were killed by the Sri Lankan government. The Americans have carefully targeted select al-Qaeda members and, in the process, killed a few—at the most, dozens—of civilians among whom the fighters were surrounded. By contrast, the Sri Lankan military indiscriminately killed large numbers of civilians—as many as 20,000 in the final months of fighting, according to the United Nations.

So where’s the outrage?  Where’s the UN’s report on human rights violations?  Where are all those nice British leftists denouncing Buddhists and the Dalai Lama for being bourgeois warmongers that have it against the world, etc?  Not here, for sure.

It has become clearer to me that the UN is simply not to be trusted when it comes to Israel, however nicely it dresses up its reports.  Israel by no means is always right, and it has a lot to do to if it wants to be a majority Jewish state living peacefully amongst its Arab neighbors.  But the UN has become a blunt instrument with which to remind Israel and the Jewish diaspora that they will always be suspect in the eyes of the world.  And therefore the UN will always be suspect to anyone who supports Israel. That’s too bad.  Mary Robinson, the former UN Commissioner for Human Rights, says it best:

When I was speaking in Gaza, I took up this issue of the missiles that were sent by Hamas to kill or injure innocent civilians. I went to Sderot, the town, met the mayor. I absolutely condemn what Hamas does. And that also should be a subject of inquiry. And unfortunately, the Human Rights Council passed a resolution seeking a fact-finding mission to only look at what Israel had done, and I don’t think that’s a human rights approach. We need an inquiry to look at the violations of international humanitarian law by—potential violations by all sides.  [Emphasis mine.]

Testing 1-2-3 September 20, 2009

Posted by Ron Gordon in Uncategorized.
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The title of this blog is a Genesis song, about a dude that hopes to bed the date he is taking to the cinema show.  Discussion of the Greek mythological character Tiresius and his experience as both a man and woman ensue.  Which pretty much has nothing to do with what I plan to write about.  But, hey, a man’s gotta have his vices.