Wednesday, April 29, 2009

BREAKING NEWS! Robots attack again

Ah I wish this weren't finals week since I'd usually take some time to think of a witty one liner.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Rediscovering George Orwell

Since when did we get all indignant over the discomfort of a handful of magnates and tycoons? Obama is now being pilloried as a socialist bent on the destruction of capitalism, and everyone’s got their tea-bags out – and, for what? Well, Obama wants to allow the Bush tax cuts to lapse which will raise the top marginal tax rate of the richest Americans to 39.6% -- about 10 percentage points less than what they paid under most of the Reagan administration, and lots less than what they paid under Nixon or Eisenhower. (Remember those idyllic days of the 50’s when we still had our moral center, gay meant happy and carefree and only white people were ever seen on television and in the movies? And we taxed the richest Americans at a top marginal tax rate of 91%? Sigh.) Meanwhile, the tax rates for the rest of us under Obama’s proposals will be modestly reduced.

So, I’m left still scratching my head: why exactly are people grabbing their torches and pitchforks?

There was a time when people were less sympathetic to the plight of the filthy rich. I recently read a book review (A Fine Rage: George Orwell's revolutions by James Wood) of two newly published collections of essays of George Orwell -- Facing Unpleasant Facts: Narrative Essays and All Art Is Propaganda: Critical Essays -- which have been compiled and introduced by author George Packer. You remember Orwell from reading Animal Farm in high school. Apparently, Orwell wrote some slam-bang essays as well, which you didn’t read.

Despite having been hijacked by the Right over the years – he was virulently anti-communist and he really didn’t like pacifists, either – Orwell passionately railed against the privileged ruling classes and hoped that the British class system was on the way to extinction. In the midst of the Second World War he wrote: "This war, unless we are defeated, will wipe out most of the existing class privileges. There are every day fewer people who wish them to continue."

Orwell wanted above all to see Hitler defeated and saw class differences as a hindrance to the war effort. He believed that great disparities in wealth fanned the flames of discontent among ordinary people and sapped them of patriotic resolve. "The lady in the Rolls-Royce car is more damaging to morale than a fleet of Goering's bombing planes."

Plus, he had a generally low opinion of the rich. He called England, "a family with the wrong members in control." He observed that, "Probably the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton, but the opening battles of all subsequent wars have been lost there."

Orwell, of course, had no problem with taxing the rich; the very idea filled him with a sort of sadistic glee. In discussing the hardships of British workers during the war, Orwell had this to say:
The working class will have to suffer terrible things. And they will suffer them, almost indefinitely, provided that they know what they are fighting for. They are not cowards. . . . But they will want some kind of proof that a better life is ahead for themselves and their children. The one sure earnest of that is that when they are taxed and overworked they shall see that the rich are being hit even harder. And if the rich squeal audibly, so much the better. [I added the italics]

Today, income inequality is more pronounced than ever. In real dollars, the American GDP has tripled since 1960. But only the wealthiest have seen any of this increase. In the last two decades alone, the income level of the upper 1% of families has almost tripled but, otherwise, only the income levels of the top 20% of families have significantly increased. Today, the top 20% receive over half the country's income and their share is growing. Wages for the rest of the country have remained stagnant.

The imbalance in wealth is far more dramatic than the imbalance of incomes. The top 1% of the population has more than a third of the country's wealth and the top 5% own almost 60%.

On top of all this, who got us into this economic mess but a bunch of over-indulged investment bankers and mortgage brokers? Where is Orwell when we need him?

MySpace Codes

Friday, April 24, 2009

The tiger behind the door and Uncle Jim's psychological breakdown of the question reminded me of this scene-

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Pittsburgh Sports

What in the world is going on with Pittsburgh sports these days? The Bucs are 3 games over .500 (Adam LaRoche is hitting OVER .300 in April - which is not nearly as shocking as he is hitting OVER .200 in April), the pitching staff looks fantastic (lowest ERA in the majors); the Penguins are finally playing up the their potential (sorry Philly fans) and Steeler veterans are actually showing up to the practice field to begin preparing this year's defense of their Super Bowl victory. Obviously the Steelers have been quite successful over the past decade, but with the resurgence of the Penguins over the last couple years, and the Bucs looking downright good (well, at least not awful) this spring, is Pittsburgh experiencing some type of sports renaissance? (I didn't even mention Pitt basketball finally getting past the Sweet 16 and football getting to a bowl game this year)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Brain teaser

The tiger riddle was a warm up-

1% of men at age forty who participate in routine screening have testicular cancer. 80% of men with testicular cancer will get a positive result. 8.2% of men without testicular cancer will also get a positive test result. A man in this age group had a positive test in a routine screening. What is the probability that he actually has testicular cancer?

Again no googling please. To avoid spoilers do not look at the comments. If you want more than one shot send me the answer and I'll tell you if it's correct ( so you can avoid the comments.

A riddle for you

There are three doors, two of the doors have a man-eating tiger waiting behind them and one has an ice cream sundae. You’re asked to guess which door has the ice cream. You make your choice. Of the two remaining doors, the host opens one with a tiger behind it. You’re left with two remaining doors: the door you’ve chosen and the other unopened door. Do you stick to your original choice or pick the other door?

Remember your life is on the line and this may have already been discussed at a Harvey Reunion.

Workout your answer before looking at the comments to avoid spoilers.

Hey no googling, the host at the doors does not provide internet access.


"The 2005 memo also says that the C.I.A. used waterboarding 183 times in March 2003 against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-described planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks."

I am not going to touch this one... but 183 times in a single month? Jeez.

And another quote from the article:
The Senate Intelligence Committee has begun a yearlong, closed-door investigation of the C.I.A. interrogation program, in part to assess claims of Bush administration officials that brutal treatment, including slamming prisoners into walls, shackling them in standing positions for days and confining them in small boxes, was necessary to get information.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Great Strides- Pittsburgh!

Hey Everyone,

I have never posted on here, so I hope this works!

Some of you may have gotten the invite on facebook and in email, but I thought I would post it to our blog as well!

We (Patricia and Kathleen) will be participating in this years Great Strides to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis on May 17, 2009! This is our first large scale fundraising effort and we are rather excited! We are asking you to help by donating to our cause. Any amount is helpful! Or, if you are interested, you can join our team!

To donate:
Step 1:
Step 2: Click the button at the top "Click to Donate"
Step 3: Enter information!

Let me know if you would rather donate with a check or cash and we would be happy to help you!

This cause is obviously very important to us and we would love to be able to feel everyone's support!

What is Great Strides?

In cities all across the United States, tens of thousands of people are showing their commitment to "adding tomorrows every day" to the lives of those with cystic fibrosis through the simple act of walking.

Year after year, volunteers make every GREAT STRIDES walk site both fun and successful. Their dedication has helped GREAT STRIDES become one of the country's most effective and efficient fundraising efforts. Since the first GREAT STRIDES walk in 1989, more than $180 million has been raised to support the vital research and care programs of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

For more information, please don't hesitate to ask or visit

Thank you for all the love and support!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The song that's perfect for any occasion

A Whiter Shade of Pale, the 1967 Procol Harem hit, has been announced by music company Phonographic Performance Ltd as the most played song in public places in Britain over the last 75 years. Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody came in at number two. "Publicly aired" includes plays on radio, at sports stadiums and on jukeboxes as well as the music heard in elevators, dentist offices and supermarkets. See Procol Harum shade Queen to top Britain's most-played chart

The elusive secret of writing a guaranteed hit has finally become obvious. Both songs contain the word fandango.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Considering recent world events, I predict International Pirate Day will never again seem quite as jocular. But wait!!!!


Seems like everything we knew/were told about the Columbine shootings was false.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Same Sex Marriage Redux

Just a little update on gay marriage and the question of whether we want change by judicial fiat or by majority vote.

I believe my earlier position has gotten some vindication by the fact that the Vermont legislature on Tuesday overrode Gov. Jim Douglas’s veto of a bill allowing gay couples to marry. That step makes Vermont the first state to allow same-sex marriage through legislative action instead of a court ruling.

Waiting in the wings, however, are New York, New Jersey, Maine and New Hampshire, where proposals to permit gay marriage have gained legislative support in recent months.

Now, the Freakonomics people report that polling guru Nate Silver has built a regression model, based on demographic and political trends, to forecast when a majority of the voting public in each of the 50 states might vote against a gay-marriage ban, or vote to repeal an existing one. His findings (Will Iowans Uphold Gay Marriage?) show that by 2016, most states will have legalized gay marriage, with Mississippi alone holding on until 2024. He predicts legalized gay marriage in Pennsylvania by 2012. If we can trust this forecasting, gay marriage may be inevitable.

There are two problems with letting the judiciary be the engine of change, rather than the rabble. The first is an abstract one: it does violence to our quaint notion that we have a government by the people. The second is more practical: judicial activism frequently results in creating the unintended consequence of a backlash from folks who might have agreed with you but just resent being told what to do.

The reason people will come around to allowing same-sex marriage is the reason James stated earlier: there is absolutely no good reason to oppose it. I happened to run across this sermon – maybe a lot of you already knew about it – from Fr. Geoffrey Farrow, a chaplain at University of California Fresno, which was delivered on October 5, 2008, opposing Prop 8. The whole thing is worth reading. See Geoffrey Farrow's last homily. I share part of it:
[In directing the faithful to vote yes on proposition 8], the bishops are asking gay and lesbian people to live their lives alone. Why? Who does this benefit? How exactly is society helped by singling out a minority and excluding them from the union of love and life, which is marriage? How is marriage protected by intimidating gay and lesbian people into loveless and lonely lives? What is accomplished by this? Worse still, is to intimidate a gay or lesbian person into a heterosexual marriage, which is doomed from its inception, and makes two victims instead of one by this hurtful “theology.” This “theology,” which is parroted by clerics in polished tones from pulpits, produces the very prejudice and hatred in our society which they claim to abhor. . . .

There is an expression in theology: “the voice of the people is the voice of God.” If your son or daughter is gay or lesbian, let them know that you love them unconditionally. Let them know that you are not ashamed or embarrassed by them. Guide them as you would your other children to finding true and abiding love. Let them know that marriage is a union of love and life and is possible for them too.
Of course, Fr. Farrow was immediately suspended as a priest.

“It is better to die excommunicated, than to violate one’s conscience.” -St. Thomas Aquinas, Quaestiones Disputatae de Veritate

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The horse replaced by Twitter

Everyone knows the automobile replaced the horse, but in the 21st century, perhaps the horse has been replaced by Twitter, Facebook and the social internet. Paul Revere would no longer need a horse, but this.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Pirate Preview!!!

I am continually surprised at how the world works. For example, here we are on the precipice of one of the most remarkable and cherished records of sports—the all-time franchise consecutive loss record—and people go about their lives "same as it ever was." Even more baffling is the tripe that gets passed off as Pirate Baseball coverage. Every year we hear about the "new, and improved" club house spirit, the winning attitude, or the great rapport with coaches. Was this the year for "accountability" or was that last year? A more aggressive approach? or was that the Penguins? Whatever. It is time for some real analysis, so here is the 2009 Pirate Preview!

I know, many of you don't care a whit about the Buccos or baseball, but wait. Let me explain why you should. As an English major I realize the world is a strange, subtle, amorphous place. But as an accountant and programmer, I am constantly trying to define this amorphous world with numbers. Baseball is the dream of the Accountant Poet. (Did Wallace Stevens love baseball?) It's your best chance to reduce the world to numbers in a meaningful way. Anyone who appreciates the subtleties of life, yet has an analytical bent, should embrace baseball.

With that said, "Do the Pirates have a chance?" or are they doomed to set the all-time loss record for all major sports? Contrary to the typical baseball writers' aforementioned tripe, my approach is this:
What if the current lineup for the 2009 season all have their best years? What if each batter duplicates his best batting average and each pitcher performs his best ERA? Where would we stand?

Freddy Sanchez  .344 (2006)
Ryan Doumit .318 (2008)
Jack Wilson .308 (2004)
Nate McLouth .276 (2008)
Adam LaRoche .285 (2006 with Atlanta)
Andy LaRoche .166 (2008; only 223 At Bats in 2008, only 316 AB total)
Brandon Moss .245 (2008; only 236 At Bats in 2008, only 261 AB total)
Nyjer Morgan .294 (2008; only 160 At Bats in 2008, only 267 AB total)

Before I get to where we would rank in batting, let me make some observations which jump out of the page, but which, to my knowledge, have not been reported.

First, we have 3 players who have less than 320 at bats in the major leagues. Even though they do not qualify as rookies (130 or less ML at bats), they practically are. How many teams are relying on 3 rookies in their starting eight? We are not really a young team, but we definitely have three very inexperienced players in the starting lineup. The good news is that we do have some more experienced players with better stats on the bench, namely Craig Monroe (best year, .293) and Eric Hinske (best year, .288)

Second, thus far in Spring training the big concern is "Will Nyjer Morgan hit?" In fact, among the 3 'rookies' Nyjer Morgan is the only one who has! Andy LaRoche at third base was a fan concern, but when he hit in spring training, his horrible numbers and limited experience were all but forgotten. And I have heard no skepticism about Brandon Moss—261 major league at bats and a .245 batting average for a left fielder!

OK, where would we rank in BA for 2008 with our lineup having their best years? I could not come up with a 9th spot BA, so I just chose the Mendoza Line for pitchers, .200. Using the above averages and .200 for the 9th spot, it comes to a .271 team batting average. This would be tied for 6th with 2 other teams and 3rd in the National League for 2008—not too bad.

Unfortunately, if we do the same for On Base Percentage, the best each in our lineup has done is a combined .331. (I used .300 for the 9th spot.) That would place us tied for 17th in the league or 8th in the NL. Conclusion: not so good, we definitely need to get hit by the ball more.

Let's do the same thing with Earned Run Average for our 5 starters.

Paul Moholm 3.71 (2008)
Zach Duke 4.47 (2006; he had 1.81 in 2005 but only with 84 innings pitched)
Ian Snell 3.67 (2007)
Ross Ohlendorf 6.46 (2008; only 62 innings in 2008 and only 69 innings total)
Jeff Karstens 4.03 (2008; only 51 innings in 2008 and only 108 innings total)

Again, the first thing that grabs you is that we have two starting pitchers who, while technically not rookies (50 innings or less) have very limited experience. I haven't heard this discussed by the analysts. Unfortunately here we have no experienced back ups, with the possible exception of Tom Gorzelanny, who is at AAA.

Our 'best year' pitching would give us a 4.486 ERA. This would rank us tied for 21st in 2008; 13th in the National League, only 3 places above our last place finish last year. Ouch!!

This sounds pretty bleak and definitely confirms that the main problem is starting pitching—our nemesis last year. So even if our players each duplicate their best year, pitching most likely will bring us another losing season.

However, as optimistic as "each-player-has-his-best-year" sounds, it is not asking any player to do something they are not capable of. Usually fans (and writers) expect players to improve on what they have done in the past! The good news is that we have 3 position players and 2 pitchers who have so little experience that our only hope is that they do, in fact, "improve on what they have done in the past!"—that is the only way we will avoid the dreaded record.

Post Script:
Even though the chance of a winning Pirate baseball season seems relegated to the "field of dreams" in 2009, there is another 'reductio ad numerical' which is more positive. The average ticket price of a Major League game in 2009 is $26.74 with the Yankees' new stadium topping the list at a mind-blowing average ticket price of $72.97. The Pirates' average ticket price in 2009 is down from 2008 and 2nd lowest in the league (after Arizona) at $15.39. So, based on 2008 home records, you only pay $31.96 for a win at PNC Park.

While this is not as good as $24.15 for a win at Arizona, think of the poor Yankee fan who must fork over $123.14 to see a win in Yankee Stadium.