Saturday, December 24, 2011


An AP-GfK poll found that 77% of American adults believe in angels. I'm not sure if this completely discredits American adults or polls. I would like to see what the results would be for belief in Hobbits. I also would like to hear how these 77% define angels (and possibly, 'belief').

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Golden Age of Popular Christmas Music

Was it the trauma of the depression and WWII that created a need for songs of togetherness and family? Was it the perfect storm of the standardization of records, the emergence of the movie musical and the invention of the microphone? Was there some more mystical cause? Well, in any event, in a relatively short span of years in the mid-20th century a great outpouring of Christmas music occurred. I’ve seen different dates for this golden age of popular Christmas music. But everyone agrees that it encompassed at least the 40’s and 50’s. Others include the late 30’s and still others the early 60’s. But, somehow or other, every great modern Christmas song was written within these 30 years. Except for a few isolated songs, everything since has been a cover or terrible.

Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town 1934

Winter Wonderland 1934

Jingle Bells 1935

Carol of the Bells in 1936

Happy Holiday 1942

White Christmas 1942

I'll Be Home for Christmas 1943

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas 1944

Let it Snow! Let it snow! Let it Snow! 1945

The Christmas Song 1946

Here Comes Santa Claus 1947

Merry Christmas, Baby 1947

Blue Christmas 1949

Baby, It's Cold Outside 1949

Sleigh Ride 1949

Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer 1949

Frosty the Snowman 1950

Marshmallow World 1950

Silver Bells 1950

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas 1951

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus 1952

Santa Baby 1953

Home for the Holidays 1954

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day 1956

Jingle Bell Rock 1957

Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree 1958

Little Drummer Boy 1958

Do You Hear What I Hear? 1963

Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) 1963

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year 1963

All I Want for Christmas Is You 1963

A Holly Jolly Christmas 1964

Quotes of the Day

This is from the "everyone knows it, but no one will dare do anything about it" department.

As has been reported previously on In Progress, Barak Obama has said (without a trace of humor):
"These past 10 years have shown that America does not give in to fear."

Charles Mann wrote an article for Vanity Fair about his experience with airport security which included this quote:
 "…so much inconvenience for so little benefit at such a staggering cost…."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

This week in the Weekly

The one or two things you should know from this week's Harper's Weekly.

Officials in Los Angeles disclosed that they had infiltrated Occupy LA on suspicions that protesters were stockpiling bamboo spears and buckets of human feces.


Congress passed a $662 billion defense spending bill that allows for indefinite detention of terror suspects. "And when they say, 'I want my lawyer,'" said Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), "you tell them, 'Shut up. You don't get a lawyer.'"

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Second Coming

Once upon a time a man was born who recognized the hypocrisy of religious leaders, their institutions and the oppressive laws constructed by those leaders and their institutions. Those laws were defended as "God's laws" and as such were considered by those leaders as sacrosanct—unchangeable, unquestionable, and above the laws of man and nature. These religious leaders, the so-called Sadducees and Pharisees of their time, defended themselves and their institutions by intimidating others with God's punishment, as if they had been bestowed with a special knowledge of God's dictates.

After a period of study during the early years of his life, this man publicly ranted against this hypocrisy and exposed it as the sham it was. He did so despite vicious public outcry and condemnation from church leaders. In essence, he said he came to destroy the Temple. In its place he proposed the sanctity of, not religious institutions and totalitarian laws, but the individual. Each person should not be beholden to the law but to their individual conscience.

Sadly, this man died before he could see the full benefit of his work.

I'm talking not of Jesus of Nazareth, but of Christopher Hitchens.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Kidnapped! - episode 8

[on the closet floor, listening]

Up until now, dear reader, you may be excused for thinking this adventure was more comedic than calamitous, more droll than deadly. And, while each of us views life's events in our own unique way, from my perspective, as you can tell by the tale told thus far, that is how I saw it. Certainly on the night's scale there was much that weighed on the deadly side: the gun, the gunmen, and the abduction. Sitting on the toilet or the closet floor tied and blindfolded is not something you do for a good time…after the age of 12 or so. But on the other side of the balance rested the clear novelty of the adventure, the less than brutish nature of my abductors, and all of life's inevitable quirkiness when people are performing a very high stakes game with absolutely no prior experience. I was definitely winging it in my role, and I had to believe that these two had done little more than breaking and entering, and selling stolen goods. If they are alive today they are probably doing illegal downloads. So, on balance, it wasn't a calamity, say, compared to spending a night with Krampus or Miss Ames. It was intense and important, and could easily escalate into actions that could be calamitous. The problem with this type of adventure is that you don't know how it will end…and that is what makes it scary.

As I blindly listened to what was going on outside the closet, I could hear nothing. It was now or never. Perhaps they had already left. Or, perhaps they were quietly waiting for me beyond the closet door, trying to see if I could escape. I easily slipped my hands out of my bindings. If they discovered me now, there was no way I could re-tie my hands. I would be undone. I removed my blindfold. It was dark in the closet. Quickly I went to open the closet door. Perhaps it was locked or they had placed a chair against the knob. I tried to turn the handle, but my hands were so wet with nervous sweat that they just slid right off the knob. My body was trying to tell me how apprehensive I really was. I bent down to grab the scarf which was my blindfold and used it to grasp the door knob. It turned.

Here is where I was more afraid than anytime in my life. I was shaking for real. I felt there was a good chance the gunman was simply waiting silently outside the closet ready to use the gun if I tried to escape. I opened the door and…no one! I ran to the front door which was open. I slammed it shut. They had my keys, but there was a chain lock on the inside. Quickly I went to slide the chain lock in the slot. It wouldn't go! This was a bad dream; why wouldn't it go? I was about to panic when I saw that this type of chain lock was not just a round knob. It was oblong and had to be inserted on the slotted track the right way. Finally, I was able to chain lock the door to my apartment.

Then I ran to the kitchen in the back of the apartment and picked up the phone. They had cut the wires and the phone was dead. From my window in the back I could see other apartments. By this time it was fairly late and everyone's lights were out. I started screaming out the window trying to wake up a neighbor.

"Help! I'm being robbed! Call the police! My phone has been cut! Please, call the police. There is a robbery going on!"

Meanwhile the two came back up the stairs and opened the door hard against the chain lock. I could hear it bang from the kitchen. I yelled a little louder. If they had tried, I'm sure they could have shouldered the door hard enough to tear the screws of the lock out of the door frame. But they did not. They ran.

Eventually I woke someone up and was just coherent enough to get them to call the police. Not calmly, I tried to explain by yelling out my kitchen window to what was probably their kitchen window, perhaps 50 feet away, what was happening, so they could relay it to the police who were now on the phone. I don't remember exactly what I said, but I do recall that it took some time for me to provide information in a manner that made sense to the police. It was like the telephone game played around the dinner table. There were only three people playing, but one was yelling in a highly agitated state instead of whispering.

After I was told that the police were on their way, I didn't move, literally, until I could see the reflected flashing red lights of a police car from my window.

[To be continued…]

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

This Week in the Weekly

The one or two things you should know from this week's Harper's Weekly.

A U.S. surveillance drone crashed in Iran. Iranian military officials claimed to have brought down the plane by hacking into its control system, though an American analyst said the craft most likely crashed on its own, because "that's what drones do."


In the second attack by a gunman at Virginia Tech in four years, Radford University student Ross Ashley shot and killed a police officer, then shot and killed himself. "I'm kind of surprised," said Ashley's former roommate. "I'm also not kind of surprised."

Monday, December 12, 2011

Season 2

A Canticle for OWS?

At today's Mass, in lieu of the psalm, we sung part of the Magnificat, or the Canticle of Mary. Mary goes to visit her kinswoman, Elizabeth and, just like a musical, when Elizabeth greets her, Mary breaks into song. She starts off with the great line: My soul doth magnify the Lord. From there it goes to:

He has shown strength with his arm
and has scattered the proud in their conceit,
Casting down the mighty from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.

I couldn't help but think of the Occupy Wall Street people.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Let's Keep the Creepiness in Christmas

According to a piece I heard on NPR this morning, the antidote to Christmas saccharine is the Krampus. The Krampus is a creature from Alpine folklore. It stands on two hooves and has horns growing out of its skull. An extremely long tongue hangs out of its mouth, and it carries a basket to haul away naughty children to its lair presumably to devour them. The creature works with St. Nick, who rewards the good children. St. Nick, however, either can't or won't interfere with the work of the Krampus. In places in the U.S. there are Krampus parties, and the traditional Krampuslauf: a procession of people dressed as Krampus, walking through the streets with noisemakers. In this age of no-consequences, I think this is a good story for children everywhere.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Dance v. Powerpoint

Science and dance: perfect bedfellows. Also another reason to leave arts funding alone.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Occupy Wall Street may finally have a practical focus

And it's Bill's idea* of taxing stock transactions. Finally a policy that makes sense.

*James Tobin also independently came up with the idea…and he won a Nobel Prize. Bill's idea, unlike Tobin's, however, has the additional advantage of thwarting institutions from making money on instantaneous differences in stock prices between world stock exchanges.

High Tech or Old School?

Here's the perfect gift for the author who wants to illustrate his own work. It is the creation of Washington-based artist Tyree Callahan, who converted an old 1937 Underwood Standard model.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Kidnapped! - episode 7

[tied up on the toilet]

We have arrived at the moment of truth. Two strangers with a gun and a clear disregard for personal freedom and private property have arrived at my apartment after a long circuitous journey which has left them in a foul mood. I am helplessly tied up and blindfolded in the bathroom. As you can imagine, they were horrified.

"Do you believe this guy?!" was repeated again. "Where is the TV? Where is all your stuff?" Looking around the apartment, they must have thought I was a member of some religious sect practicing the vow of poverty. No expensive furniture. No rings or jewelry. No fancy appliances. Not even a Betamax. I didn't even have a watch they could take. They were completely confounded that anyone could live without a TV, despite what I had told them. It was un-American.

"Where is all your money?"

At this point I wasn't going to say, "I told you so." I just repeated that I was new to the city and had just started my job. Come back in a few years.

I did have a nice stereo system with tape deck and speakers that I had bought in Guam on my way back from Palau. This was probably the only thing that saved me from being shot on the spot out of frustration. As I sat on the toilet, I could hear them gathering up anything they thought was of value and stacking it in the living room. They kept trying to figure out where my worth was.

Looking through my closet was a big disappointment. "Where do you buy your clothes, Sears?"

Not only was I being robbed, but also humiliated. I had told them I was wearing my one nice suit. They were so desperate for something that they took my sweaters. They also rolled up my rug.

At one point they asked if I had money in the bank. When I told them I did have some, they suggested that I write them a check. Incredulous, I readily agreed knowing I would just stop payment on it. However, they never followed up on that notion.

As they worked, I guess they started feeling sorry for me. Perhaps they felt I was poorer than they were. They started opening up about how tough it was for blacks in Boston. They had a rough childhood and really had no opportunities. They were just trying to get by.

"We're really not bad. We don't want to hurt you. We just need to provide for our families. You can understand that. After we take your stuff, we'll leave your car at the Government Center Garage where we found you."

As desperate as they were, they weren't going to keep a Chevette with no back seat or glove compartment. Everything, I learned, can be justified for one's own benefit. It was just basic monetary policy, redistribution of wealth. They talked as if robbery should become a fully funded federal program.

It was probably around 10:30 when they were ready to carry the few things they had gathered—mostly stereo equipment—down to the car to make their get-a-way. For some reason they moved me from the bathroom to the closet floor. Here was one of the more frightening moments for me. After they sat me blindfolded on the floor of the closet, I imagined that they would smack the back of my head with the gun to ensure I would not escape. I braced for it. Fortunately, the blow did not come.

Something must have spooked them during the process of carrying my goods down to my car. They entered the closet, raised me from the floor, and brought me out to the stairs. I was instructed to repeat, "Hey! Be careful with that stuff" for the benefit of anyone else living in the apartment building. The assumption was that my voice was giving unqualified approval for removing stereo equipment, sweaters, and a rug from the apartment. I had to say it a few times in order to get the right pitch and loudness. Satisfied, they placed me back on the closet floor.

There I sat, frustrated that I had done little to thwart this kidnapping and robbery. I had failed to out smart them. As I listened to their movements, there came a time when I heard nothing but silence. Maybe I could still do something. Were both of them carrying something down to the car, leaving the room empty? Perhaps this was my chance to slip my bonds and escape!

 [To be continued…]

Saturday, December 3, 2011

December 3 — Shonen Knife

Here's my favorite…universal appeal even to Pluto.

BTW, they were in Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago, but didn't do Space Christmas.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Jackson Browne's Xmas song

One of my favorites:

December 1!

Let the countdown begin!

Quote of the Day

This quote explains why, when traveling, you may want to avoid the expensive hotel in favor of a cheaper one.
if you want to swap stories about taking a boat through the backwaters of Kerala, go with the cheap place. If you want to talk about who’s going to win the Superbowl this year then go with the package tourists.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pogues from Anonymous

This song is on continuous for me since Thanksgiving.

Reminds me of my Mom's post- from the Shane, "The Little Drummer Boy"

Also, from last year, James' reminisce on time spent in New York.

Favorite Toy

It's easy to tell when you become an adult. It's when you feel it really is better to give than to receive. Wired has a GeekDad article which lists the 5 best toys of all time. GeekDad must have been a normal child since he gets it right. Actually, I'd be suspicious of anyone who didn't answer the top two toys correctly. Like meeting someone at night in the woods during WWII when you ask them a baseball question (What was Andrew McCutchen's batting average in 2011? Ans: .259), when the world is invaded by shape shifting aliens and you need to tell who is human, just ask them to name their top two childhood toys.

I still constantly find sticks placed in the garage at mom's house which I dare not throw out, and every time I go to Pete and Lisa's house there is a stick made into a bow just waiting to put someone's eye out. Some of my happiest times were spent inside a big box. I might question the entire list of five, however. I would probably put dirt/mud higher on the list, especially if that includes sand, and somehow would fit blocks into the top 5.

Anyway, what is/was your favorite toy? (other than the one's named in the article)

While I'm tempted, as others must also be, to name a toy I dreamt about but never received, like the Red Ryder BB Gun, that is against the rules since an actual toy often is nothing like the one you dreamt it was. (For example, any toy you received from sending in box tops—oh, except the baking soda submarine. That was awesome!)

My favorite would probably be water, in the bath tub, down the basement, out in the back, and in the ocean. A less generic toy would be Miss Hetherington's blocks. They did have a sort of dream quality about them since I only played with them once or twice. They were stone blocks of many various shapes, ideal for constructing fantastic castles.

Also in my top five would be a Hopalong Casidy 2 gun & holster set because I got to show them off at school and the Sittman's walk-on-water shoes for riding in waves at the beach.

What toy(s) do you feel gave you the most fun?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Kidnapped! - episode 6

[in my apartment between Brookline and Brighton, near Cleveland Circle, in Boston]

All this time I had dutifully kept my eyes away from my attackers. Whether it was fear of "He saw me, so we now must kill him!" or simply being an obedient victim, I still had not seen their faces. My one huge regret—something I would do differently, and my recommendation to anyone who has a future adventure of this type—I did not pay enough attention to all the other ways in which I could have identified them. I should have considered their height, weight, body shape, and, most importantly, memorized all of their clothing. As it was, I completely neglected all of this, which was foolish.

When we reached the third floor and entered my apartment, I was tied and blindfolded. They found a scarf, which had been knitted for me by one of my students at St. Catherine's, in my closet and tied it over my eyes. Then they found an extension chord, and my hands were tied behind my back.

Now, where I was an mere amateur at identifying assailants, in the field of shackles, I was an expert. Hardly a day went by in my childhood that I didn't manacle, chain, handcuff or tie someone's hands behind their back or had my own hands similarly bound. We knew everything about imprisonment. Perhaps I should have shown them how to tie my hands behind my back and loop the rope around my neck to ensure that if I tried to escape, I would strangle myself. No, I had offered my last bit of advice back at the parking garage.

As any child who has brothers or sisters knows, there are two fundamental principles in the art of restraint. Number one, you must pull as hard as you can to the point of cutting off circulation. You learn quickly that if you don't use all your might in tightening the rope, your victim will escape before you have a chance to find a decent hiding place. Number two, when you are being bound, pry your hands slightly apart, cupping them ever so slightly, as best you can. Your assailant thinks your hands are flat together, but they are not. This technique has been documented in any number of Saturday morning cowboy movies. Well, as I have hinted before, my assailants had a lot to learn in the field of crime. One, they didn't pull nearly hard enough, and two, I kept my hands apart. The result was pitiful. I could pull my hands out of their bounds anytime.

Blind folded with my hands (weakly) bound behind my back, I was placed on the toilet in the bathroom. For good measure they took another scarf and tied it around my feet. Then they went about their business of emptying my apartment of anything of value.

[To be continued…]

Friday, November 25, 2011

James Carse and Charlie Brown

I’m still preoccupied with James Carse’s The Religious Case Against Belief. At one point, Carse talks about the nature of poetry. He says that poetry – or any form of original expression “from hairstyling and dramaturgy to oratory and ceramics” – “says nothing.” Poetry’s only meaning is its own creation. “Poetry is… not about anything.” As Carse says, “If we could agree on what Oedipus Rex is about we could focus on the agreement and ignore the play. But the play defies replacement by anything besides itself.”

My sense is that Carse overstates his case a bit, or doesn’t quite state it correctly. Poetry or art is about something: it is just not about anything that can be bottled up in some definitive understanding or replaced by other language. Carse recognizes that there is some content to poetry. Elsewhere, he says that poets “exercise the freedom of opening doors” and that poets are the “sources of unexpected wisdom.” But the attempt to sum up the meaning of a poem, or reduce it to a few words or a few pages, is likely to hide more than it reveals. As Carse says, poetry “does not translate into belief, or into rational thought of any kind,” and its meaning cannot be captured. Poetry, nevertheless, discloses reality in some way and enriches our lives. To attempt to translate that disclosure into something familiar and manageable inevitably obscures it. There is a possibly apocryphal story about Robert Schumann. After he had just finished playing his most recent composition, an earnest young man approached him and inquired: "Extraordinary, Herr Schumann! But what does it mean?" Schumann simply sat down and played the piece again.

Carse, unlike many of religion’s critics, does not consider religion to be some attempt to compete with science with an alternative explanation of the universe. Religion, rather, for Carse, is closer to art. Or, perhaps more accurately, it is a great mosaic of art forms: literature, music, liturgy, architecture, the graphic arts amassed over thousands of years in one great collection. Carse says that “[r]eligion in its purest form is a vast work of poetry.” “[A]s richly verbal as religions are, like poetry they say nothing.” I might qualify this by saying that they say nothing that can be encompassed by some other form of expression.

Perhaps, this is why the conclusion of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is so deeply satisfying. In total exasperation Charlie Brown cries out, “Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about? Rather than give Charlie Brown some common bit of boiler plate – you’ve heard them all: Christmas is all about Jesus, or family, or giving rather than receiving, or love, or children or wonder – he simply recites the Luke birth narrative. This, of course, just begs the question because Linus never explains what the chapter from Luke means. Just as the meaning of religion cannot be captured, neither can the meaning of Christmas.

Although to be true to Carse's point, Linus would have to read, not just the Luke passage, but Matthew's account as well, and every other treatise, story, poem, song, liturgy or anything else that's ever been written about Christmas in the last two millenia or so. He'd also have to display every piece of art or sculture that's ever been created that focused on Christmas. Once that was complete, Linus could finally and truthfully say: “ . . . And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown,” The meaning of Christmas runs deeper than any description. There's simply no explaining it away.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The March of Civilization

Though some have probably seen this, I couldn't help but post it; not so much as another—there is nothing like it—"awesome", but as a treatise on current society and the march of civilization.

Topics for conversation:
  • "Hey you bastards, I'm still here."
  • No matter what you do, if you wave the flag, people will cheer.
  • The TV camera has replaced the lab coat.
  • Everything in life should have musical accompaniment.

Kidnapped! - episode 5

[Somewhere in Boston]

As I drove around Boston, my strategy to be submissive was working almost too well. The more I played the part of the helpless victim, a role for which I needed no extra motivation, the more sympathetic they became, to the point of being almost compassionate. I'm not sure how much was acting and how much was sobering up to my current situation, but I started to shiver a bit. They could see my hands shake on the steering wheel. 
Perhaps their concern was simply survival instinct. They didn't want to get into a car accident because of my excited state. Also, looking back, I suspect that they must have been apprehensive in their own right. Despite living in Boston, apparently they had hardly ever been out of their own neighborhood. They had no idea where they were. Seven or eight miles from their home must have been a foreign country to them. This was taking much longer than they had anticipated. And how could anyone not know where they lived? 
They started to assure me that they did not want to hurt me. They just needed some money. Certainly I could understand that. Just get us to your apartment, and we will get what we want and be gone. I didn't say anything, but continued trembling. 
Eventually, whether by dumb luck or the realization that I could not delay any longer, I arrived at my apartment. I stopped the car right in front. By this time it was well past 9:00 o'clock at night. I gave them my keys and, while one kept guard over me in the car, the other went up to inspect the apartment. They were afraid that someone else would be there. 
Satisfied that it was empty, I was led up to what was, for the last two months, my own living quarters on the third floor. 

[To be continued…]

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Kidnapped! - episode 4

[We just left the parking garage and I made $5.]

Soon after leaving the Government Center Garage we made a wrong turn and went over the Charlestown Bridge into Charlestown. Like many cities, Boston is quite segregated, and Charlestown was not where these two wanted to be. We pulled to the side of the road. There was a change of plans. I would now drive with one in the seat next to me. The other with the gun at my head would be in the back. I was to drive to my apartment…and instructed to get out of Charlestown.

As I said, this was the first time I had driven to work. I knew I could follow Beacon St. or Commonwealth Ave. and get to my apartment, but I was in no hurry to do that. Also, I am not blessed with the greatest sense of direction. I'm not certain of all the places I drove—Cambridge, Newton, Back Bay. Between not wanting to take them to my place and my unfamiliarity with Boston, I managed to drive for a couple of hours around Boston without finding my apartment.

At various times my assailants were incredulous.

"Do you believe this guy?" was said more than once. "How can anyone not know where they live?"

But I continued to drive. All the while I was thinking of how I could outsmart them and escape. I ran through every TV crime, cowboy, or detective show trying to think of how the stars got out of their impossible situation. Once I was stopped at a traffic light and I thought I could quickly open the car door and roll out before I would be shot. As I looked over at the car door, I realized I had put on my seat belt. Why did I do that? Scratch that plan.

Another time we were stopped at a light and at the opposite end of the intersection, facing us, was a police car. Unfortunately, they saw the police car also, and the one in the back put the gun up against the back of my head and cocked it.

"Don't do anything foolish or you are dead," he said or words to that effect. By this time I felt that the gun must be empty. The way they were handling it; if it even went off accidentally, they would be facing a murder charge. In fact my real fear was getting hit on head with the gun rather than getting shot. Of course, I later learned it was loaded.

[To be continued…]

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Is there a difference between science and magic?

Despite the old Arthur C. Clarke quote, "Any significantly advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.", I have firmly held on to a reverence toward science, at least the scientific method of observing and testing nature. Certainly some areas of science, such as medicine, chemistry, and Newtonian physics have provided us with rational benefits. Now, however, there are parts of science that are hard to distinguish from magic.

As you might suspect, it is all related to quantum physics. Matter just doesn't exist at a certain time and place, it has a probability of existing. This is starting to lead to all sorts of magical things. We learned about this weirdness during Quantum Week, but this new experiment is, well…magical.
Phys­i­cists in Swe­den say they have man­aged to cre­ate light from vac­u­um, the clos­est thing to emp­ty space known to ex­ist. 
In find­ings pub­lished this week in the re­search jour­nal Na­ture, the sci­en­tists said they ver­i­fied an ef­fect pre­dicted over 40 years ago by cap­tur­ing some of the par­t­i­cles of light, or pho­tons, that con­stantly ap­pear and disap­pear in the vac­u­um. 
Taken from here.
The experiment is based on one of the most counterintuitive, yet, one of the most important principles in quantum mechanics: that vacuum is by no means empty nothingness. In fact, the vacuum is full of various particles that are continuously fluctuating in and out of existence. They appear, exist for a brief moment and then disappear again. Since their existence is so fleeting, they are usually referred to as virtual particles.
Chalmers scientist, Christopher Wilson and his co-workers have succeeded in getting photons to leave their virtual state and become real photons, i.e. measurable light.
Taken from here

I always question how main stream media reports science experiments, so be sure to search for more reports on this experiment. I'm sure there will be plenty of reports. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Decline and Fall of the American Empire?

When Pete the elder stayed overnight this week, I tried to draw him into a conversation about the Republican presidential campaign. He simply said something along the lines of that he hadn't been following it because "I've better things to do." And, who can blame him?

Rick Perry makes a speech in Manchester, New Hampshire, that was "so obscurely digressive, so marked by airy hand gestures and slurry intonations" that the Governor found himself forced to answer questions the next day as to whether he had in fact been drunk. To say nothing of his subsequently forgetting the name of departments he'd like to eliminate if he were president. It's always bad to end an answer to a question posed in a debate with the word "oops." Cain's level of intellectual sophistication is revealed in his sage 9-9-9 tax plan. Meanwhile, Cain can't remember what Obama's Libyan policy is. And the candidates demonstrated that their fealty to orthodoxy triumphs over any sense of realism when a moderator asked the candidates to raise their hands if they would walk away from a deal that cut ten dollars from the deficit for every one dollar in tax increases and every last candidate said they'd reject that deal. Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum hardly deserve comment.

As David Remnick of the New Yorker says: “The lack of independent thinking on the notion that real economics matters anymore, as well as science, is just devastating. This party is in ideological crisis.”

In fact, this campaign has prompted Remnick to observe: "Sometime in the future, when a twenty-first-century Gibbon searches for a moment to use as a starting point for a chronicle of American decline, he or she might want to alight on the late-October and early-November days of 2011."

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence

As we continue to follow some extraordinary claims in science recently, here is a bit of confirming evidence that neutrinos travel faster than light.

Kidnapped! - episode 3

[I'm curled up in the back of my Chevette]

Before I continue I should mention one other event that took place while I was still trying to negotiate with these two ski-masked men. During this time one of them called the other, "Thomas." As soon as he realized what he had done, however, he turned to me and said in a very deliberate tone, "His name is Jefferson and my name is Cochise." Just to make sure I wouldn't forget, he had me repeat it. 

"His name is Jefferson and your's is Cochise," I said as convincingly as I could, while vowing to never forget "Thomas" and wondering what type of person would be so naive as to draw attention to his real name by having me repeat such obvious aliases?  This event had two repercussions. One we will see much later, and the other was that I now knew my plan: I would out smart them! 

Meanwhile, I was curled up in the back of my Chevette. They started the car and promptly stalled as the driver didn't have much luck with my clutch. Backing the car up and driving to the exit was a succession of starts, stops, jerks and stalls. Finally, we got to the exit and the attendant asked for the parking ticket. Now, I assume they had taken their ski masks off at this point, but they had told me to keep my head down and I obliged. I also assume that the attendant could not see me in the back—the white guy in a suit lying down. (We will learn later that the two were black, as I suspected from their voices.) In Boston this would be suspicious. 

I had given them the ticket, but no money. They were anxious to get away from the attendant and the parking garage so they paid the $5 parking charge. At this point I felt pretty good. I was $5 ahead of the game.

[To be continued…]

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Jack and Steve

Jackson Ward Harvey

For those of you who have not yet heard, the newest addition to the Harvey family arrived yesterday, November 15th at 2:30am. Mom and baby are doing great. Jack was 9lbs and 22.5in. Just in time for Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Kidnapped! - episode 2

[So where were we? Ah yes… I was being assaulted by two unsavory characters in a parking garage, one of whom had a gun and was threatening to blow my head off.]

The first thought that went through my endangered head was of the Norwegian fairy tale Three Billy Goats Gruff. I had only recently moved to Boston after spending all my money and time in grad school. My first pay check had gone to the one nice thing that I owned, my new Brooks Brothers suit. Obviously, they had picked me out for my splendid clothes. They had made a terrible mistake.

In addition, I had just spent most of my cash buying drinks for my fellow workers. I think I had to borrow a few dollars as I left the bar in order to have cash to pay for my parking.

So I immediately began to explain to the gunman and his friend that, "No, no, no…I'm not the one you want. I just moved to Boston. I have no money. Let me go and I'm sure someone with more money will come along, and it will be worth your while."

Unfortunately, the more I tried to explain the situation to them, the madder they got. As I now look back upon the incident, it seems like such an archetypal moment. Despite my slightly inebriated head, I was seeing the situation clearly and giving them the best advice that perhaps they had ever received in their lives. Take a pass on this guy and you won't regret it. Yet, as is often true in life, good advice is rarely received in the same dispassionate manner in which it is offered. The more I tried to convince them we were the wrong match, the more violent they became.

The plan was that they would drive me to my apartment and would rob me of all my goods. I had explained to them that I did not have a TV set (perhaps the one common thread of my life), but they refused to believe me. It was about this point—when I observed their complete incredulous reaction to "no TV"—that I resigned myself to the fact that we had some trust issues. I finally realized that, if I kept this up, I was going to be injured as well as robbed, so I completely changed my position. From that moment on I would be as passive and submissive as possible. I started doing whatever they said, and they calmed down considerably.

I gave them the keys to my Chevette and, per their orders, climbed into the back part of the car. The car was a hatchback and, as I have said, had no back seat, so I was lying curled up on my side in the back, seatless trunk. In addition to no back seat, the car had no automatic transmission. And neither of my assailants had much familiarity with a stick shift. Clearly they had not fully prepared for this line of work.

[To be continued…]

Friday, November 11, 2011

Jim's Inspiration

Jim has recently posted two poems on the blog: "Birds" and "Words." I gotta believe that this was his inspiration. (N.B. This is from a time when lyrics meant something.)


[Since it's Veterans Day, and Ellen is taking a creative writing class, I thought I would relate an old tale of greed, daring and crime.]

I will begin the story of my adventures with a certain morning early in the month of November, the 11th, to be exact—Veterans Day in Boston, as elsewhere. I took out my car keys to drive to work at the downtown offices of Arthur Young & Co. for the first time since arriving in Boston in September. Normally, I would be heading to a client, but, as this was Veterans Day, many of our clients' offices were closed, and we had scheduled an in-house training session. Previously I had always taken the "T" downtown, but since traffic would be light today, I thought I would experiment with the car. Little did I know that by the end of the day I would be surrounded by flashing police cars, shaken to my very core, and rewarded with the best story ever for impressing the opposite sex. 

The sun began to shine as I drove passed the whistling blackbirds and the mist that was beginning to arise and die away. It would be nice to share some time with my fellow accountants who had started with me at Arthur Young this fall. And that was true for, after the day of training, we went out to a nearby bar for a couple of laughs and drinks.

It was dark, past 7 o'clock, when we left. In good spirits I went to get my car at the Government Center Parking Garage. I had been able to park on the first level so I walked right to the car. There were only a few other cars parked there. As I opened the door to my Chevette—a remarkable car not only because the make was perhaps the least notable car of this or any other era, but also because mine had no back seat, just a hard plastic floor where the seat should have been—two darkly clothed men with ski masks over their heads emerged from behind a nearby parked car. One had a gun pointed right at me, "Don't make a sound. Put your hands on the car or I'm going to blow your head off!"

[To be continued…]

In the vein of Can Troy Get Any Cooler

Performance artist Lui Bolin prepares for one of his "Vanishing artist" performances/photos. (But he doesn't play football.) 
I have a feeling Dan has done this many times, but we just haven't been aware.

Comings and Goings

Good News! Ellen is coming to Pittsburgh and will be at her grandmothers' house Friday evening to lend comfort and good spirits. The bad news, as you may know, is her grandma broke both bones in her wrist from a fall on Wednesday.
Update: There are some shifts. Ellen's grandma may shift temporarily to Providence Point (for a few weeks), so Ellen may be shifting among 149 and 245 Jefferson and Providence Point.
Further Update: The plans did not go as planned. Mother has a room, 5103, in St. Clair Hospital for the next 3 days. Then she will probably be at Providence Point for a couple of weeks. I can't really explain this online, but many thanks to Mary and Maureen.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

To follow birds

by James Harvey

Suppose that God does not make birds,
But something else, for lack of words,
Identical in every instance — 
Unnamed, unknown, but with existence.

Imagine no modality;
Ubiquitous totality;
Everything is still all there,
But without words, we're unaware.

Or are we? Ah, now that's the game.
The world's the same, as some would claim.
Just what in life would be withdrawn 
If played with all our language gone?

No representation of sensation;
It's taxing, when up against creation.
In other words than words incurred
Wordlessness is just absurd.

But chances are that we'd get by,
As birds do now; they even fly.
There's something lost, but much more gained
When Nature's framed by how we name. 

As being, God is intervening, 
But words for us make up the meaning.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

New York Knicks: 1967–1975

One of the multitude of discussions Jim and I had at the beach this year centered upon the one time in my life I had was an NBA fan: when I followed the New York Knicks of the late sixties to mid-seventies. This was the team of Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Jerry Lucas, Bill Bradley, Dave DeBusschere and Phil Jackson, just to name a few. I arrived in New York in 1971 at the height of Knicks' popularity. We didn't call them the most talented team; we called them the smartest team in basketball.

Now it seems that the gods were listening in on our conversation, and I recently read of a new book out, When the Garden Was Eden: Clyde, the Captain, Dollar Bill, and the Glory Days of the New York Knicks. The New York Times begins its book review, "The Glory of the Knicks," as follows:

Who made the most dramatic entrance in New York City history? A historian might say it was George Washington, who led 800 soldiers into town on Nov. 25, 1783, as the British evacuated the city. For New York sports fans of a certain age, that is wildly off the mark; we all know it was Willis Reed. The captain of the Knicks strode — not limped, strode — onto the hardwood court of Madison Square Garden on the evening of May 8, 1970, moments before the start of the seventh and deciding game of the National Basketball Association finals, rallying from a crippling injury, inspiring his teammates to vanquish the Los Angeles Lakers, winning New York its first N.B.A. championship.
Indeed, my memory is more or less correct. The Knicks were the perfect team for the uber-sophisticated New Yorker. As the review states:
Knicks fans took pride in believing they had the basketball smarts to appreciate disciplined team play. Bradley says: “You began to hear the fans applaud the pass that led to the pass that led to the basket. You could hear the anticipation as the ball moved around the perimeter that something they would appreciate was about to occur.”
Anyway, it was a wondrous but brief moment in time which we may never see again: when smarts, team play and strong defense meant something in professional basketball.

Walt Frazier

Falling Down is Funny on Every Planet

Sunday, November 6, 2011

You know…language

by James Harvey

Suppose a flock of birds sing prose
Opposed to verse by murderous crows,
Or covey of quail, gaggle of geese,
A peep of chickens, or hawks on lease.

Imagine rasps of guinea fowl
Squawk and squabble like parliament owl;
Ascending larks' loud exaltation;
Or starlings whir in murmuration.

But what rite is the spring of teal
Or wisp of snipe, which seems unreal?
Are Lapwing false in their deceit?
No doubt doves dole is but conceit.

This game of swans is just a cluster;
Magpie tidings won't peacocks muster.
A siege of cranes can not assail
The day watch of the nightingale.

Yet ere we're reined by plain refrain,
(As V-shaped geese in flying skein),
There's something gained despite the harm
When Nature's loosed by finches' charm.

Fools like God create mere birds
But only man can make up words. 

From the New Yorker

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Screenings -- Moneyball

I finally saw Moneyball. Co-written by Aaron Sorkin, it was not as frantic as The Social Network, but it was still about smart people being pretty smart. It's essentially a movie for people who love talking about baseball and also love statistical analysis (I'm thinking Jim here). Brad Pitt is impressive, as is Jonah Hill, and they make a great team.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Hallowe'en

Some think that the twilight world of Hallowe'en is dressing up, carving pumpkins and getting candy. Well, our family tradition recognizes the real nature of Hallowe'en. Enjoy the music, but beware of the darkness.


[Um…could my little brother use your bathroom, please? He wet his pants at the house next door.]

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween and Other Stories

After we moved up the mountain to a new house at 262 Harding Drive, I would always go back to my old neighborhood to go trick-or-treating with Judy and my friends. I can't remember any costumes I wore, but I do remember that I was only allowed to take candy. Sometimes people would give us money, like a nickel, but I wasn't allowed to take the money. 

I remember one time when John and I were living in New Jersey that my mother came over to our house dressed in my father's clothes—like a hobo—for Halloween. She was crazy like that. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Few Words in Defense of the Crazy Ones

Science, like everything else, is messy, controversial, and misunderstood, but I'm going to give a definition, an operational definition: Science is systematically observing the world in search for repeated patterns. Theoretical science is when these patterns are organized into a meaningful model (or principle or theory or law).

Today Andrea Rossi, Italian 'scientist', demonstrated to a fairly large group of invited scientists, engineers, customer representatives and selected press…get ready… cold fusion! Using 52 bundled micro reactors, the experiment reportedly achieved 470 kW for 5 1/2 hours during self-sustain mode, i.e. no energy was added to the system. This is not 1MW which was advertised, yet 470 kW, if true, is incredible. It appears that the test was a resounding success. Rossi reports that the customer, who is an American company or government agency, was satisfied.

Per my definition, Andrea Rossi was not practicing science. He readily admits he does not understand the theoretical principles involved in his reaction—no one does. What he is practicing is engineering. Of course, he uses repeated experiments to improve his engineering. With the amount of time and work he has spent during the last 20 years, it doesn't appear that he is a charlatan, but time will tell if this demonstration will lead to world changing events or unrepeatable dead ends. Unfortunately, no one, including the press, was allowed to ask questions to the engineers running the demonstration.

The press has been reluctant to report on Rossi's demonstrations. This may change tomorrow. For now, perhaps wildly optimistic skepticism is in order. The best I can do is give you some links so you can make up your own mind.

Here is an article from January of this year. It is outdated, but it gives some background.
Here is Rossi's site with some of his (and others) comments on today's test at the bottom. There is a link, also near the bottom, where Rossi allows you to download his public report on the demonstration.
Here is a fairly detailed report from a site advancing cutting edge energy generation.
Here is Wired-UK's story on the day's proceedings with some positive and negative comments.
Note that there was someone from AP news service at the test, but no report yet.

Leave it to Richard Feynman to define science another way. In warning against the danger of believing scientists and not mother nature, he said, "Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts." If that's true, Rossi is a scientist.

It's the engineer's lament. "We can make it work in practice—now if we could only get it to work in theory!"

Thursday, October 27, 2011

U.S. Senators swing into action

This is an even bigger political story than Republican candidate heresies. What can get Congress working again? Poverty? Income inequality? Occupy Wall Street? …yawn. The budget? The economy? …call my secretary. Housing? Health Care? …boring. No, we're talking college football!!!
West Virginia's two U.S. senators and a congresswoman expressed outrage Wednesday night amid reports that a Kentucky politician may have muddied the Mountaineers move from the Big East Conference that seemed all but a done deal Tuesday. 
The New York Times reported Wednesday that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., pressured the Big 12 to consider Louisville as the league's next member instead of West Virginia. 
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said at a new conference in his Charleston, W.Va., office that he would call for an investigation in the U.S. Senate if necessary. 
"If these outrageous reports have any merit -- and especially if a United States senator has done anything inappropriate or unethical to interfere with a decision that the Big 12 had already made -- then I believe that there should be an investigation in the U.S. Senate, and I will fight to get the truth," Mr. Manchin said. 
Believe it or not, this is not The Onion.

I guess it's unethical for Kentucky senators to get involved and not West Virginia senators, because…well, it's not that there is more important work to do, but rather those pesky Wildcats are fair game for Mountaineer sharpshooters.

From Hertzberg's Blog

Answer Me These Heresies Three

Posted by Hendrik Hertzberg

Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail


Believe it or not, studies have been done that show that in Western Europe, people at the lower parts of the income scale actually have a better mobility going up the ladder now than in America.
Rick Santorum, CNN Republican debate, October 18


No, it [i.e., the abortion issue] comes down to it’s not the government’s role or anybody else’s role to make that decision. Secondly, if you look at the statistical incidents, you’re not talking about that big a number. So what I’m saying is it ultimately gets down to a choice that that family or that mother has to make—not me as President, not some politician, not a bureaucrat. It gets down to that family. And whatever they decide, they decide. I shouldn't have to tell them what decision to make for such a sensitive issue… I can have an opinion on an issue without it being a directive on the nation. The government shouldn’t be trying to tell people everything to do, especially when it comes to social decisions that they need to make.
Herman Cain, CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight, October 19


I’m sorry, Rick, that you find so much to dislike in my plan, but I’ll tell you, the people in Massachusetts like it by about a 3-1 margin. And we dealt with a challenge that we had, a lot of people that were expecting government to pay their way. And we said, you know what? If people have the capacity to care for themselves and pay their own way, they should.... What we do is rely on private insurers, and people—93 percent of our people who are already insured, nothing changed. For the people who didn’t have insurance, they get private insurance, not government insurance.
Mitt Romney, CNN Republican debate, October 18

Supplementary notes:

ONE: Santorum was apparently referring to a 2008 Brookings Institution (!) study showing that, as the authors put it, “rising on one’s own bootstraps is harder in the United States than it is in several Northern European countries,” to wit, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Sweden. The study shows that the people of Canada, Germany, France, Spain, and Australia, too, are living the American dream better then Americans are.

All these countries have high taxes, government-guaranteed universal health care, ample social services, and non-crumbling infrastructure. But you already knew that.

TWO: No amplification needed. Transcript here. To the stake!

THREE: A little murkier, but Romney’s admonition that people who have the capacity to pay their own way should do so is actually a reference to the requirement that people get health insurance, with a government subsidy if necessary, or else pay a penalty—an idea promoted by conservatives like Newt Gingrich and the right-wing wonks of the Heritage Foundation, as Romney correctly noted. This is the notorious "individual mandate," a feature of both "Romneycare" and "Obamacare," as is the provision of care via "private insurance, not government insurance." But you already knew that, too.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Quote of the Day

Guess which countries have a greater income inequality than U.S.?
(Gini coefficient on data from 2001-2009)

United Kingdom
South Africa

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Today's Quote

History is a race between education and catastrophe.
H.G. Wells

(Katy and Sean, please take note.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades.

Steven Pinker, the Harvard psychologist, has graced the pages of this blog before. See On Taboo. Now, he provides us with a significant counter-narrative to the views of the cynic in his new book, "The Better Angels of Our Nature."

According to the New York Times Review of Books, "The central thesis of 'Better Angels' is that our era is less violent, less cruel and more peaceful than any previous period of human existence. The decline in violence holds for violence in the family, in neighborhoods, between tribes and between states. People living now are less likely to meet a violent death, or to suffer from violence or cruelty at the hands of others, than people living in any previous century."

Pinker supplies a lot of statistical – and some anecdotal – evidence to prove his point. But, for me the more interesting issue is why: why is the arrow of history pointed toward more human decency? Pinker doesn't claim to know for certain, but he has some theories. One is what I call the socialist theory. This theory claims that the development of the state monopoly on violence reduces violence among its own citizens. A state which has a disproportionate ability over its citizens to inflict violence has the power to impose penalties that eliminate the incentives for aggression. We see the rise in violence in places like Somalia where government is virtually non-existent or in marginalized places in this country where law enforcement is ineffectual and the mob or drug lords still act with impunity.

The second theory is what I call the capitalist theory. It says that the ability to trade our surpluses with pretty much anyone in the world for their surpluses creates a positive sum result in which both parties benefit. It's not hard for people to see that this arrangement is preferable to the zero sum outcome of war. As Robert Wright, the original proponent of this theory, put it, "Among the many reasons that I think that we should not bomb the Japanese is that they built my mini-van."

Perhaps, the most intriguing theory is based on the fact that people are simply getting more reasonable. Here's what the New York Times Review said:
Pinker's claim that reason is an important factor in the trends he has described relies in part on the "Flynn effect" — the remarkable finding by the philosopher James Flynn that ever since I.Q. tests were first administered, the scores achieved by those taking the test have been rising. The average I.Q. is, by definition, 100; but to achieve that result, raw test scores have to be standardized. If the average teenager today could go back in time and take an I.Q. test from 1910, he or she would have an I.Q. of 130, which would be better than 98 percent of those taking the test then. Nor is it easy to attribute this rise to improved education, because the aspects of the tests on which scores have risen most do not require a good vocabulary or even mathematical ability, but instead test powers of abstract reasoning.
The jury is still out on the causes of the Flynn effect. But, because evolution can't work that fast, it can't be that we are biologically smarter than our ancestors. Rather, it suggests that the brain is fairly malleable and is influenced by environment. Many suggestions have been made, including proposals that better nutrition or more emphasis on timed test-taking improve scores.

The most convincing argument, however, is that, because we live in a more complex environment which requires more abstract thinking, our minds have trained themselves to think more logically. Here's what Flynn himself had to say, "We weren't more intelligent than they [our ancestors], but we had learnt to apply our intelligence to a new set of problems. We had detached logic from the concrete, we were willing to deal with the hypothetical, and we thought the world was a place to be classified and understood scientifically rather than to be manipulated." Flynn's belief was that, as our minds expand their abilities, we will continue to create more complex environments, which will in turn stretch future minds to even higher functioning and more complex environments. Who knows where this ever expanding circle of intellectual capacity might lead? It makes us envious of the future generations.

According to Pinker, given our increased reasoning powers, we now have the ability to detach ourselves from our immediate experience and from our personal or parochial perspective, and understand our own situation in universal terms. Pinker suggests that the increased ability to think outside our own particular box moves us toward moral advances – mostly by the recognition that, from the standpoint of the universe, no one holds any position more privileged or more deserving than anyone else. In other words, we finally get what it means to say that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. So, if we prefer life over death and happiness over suffering, we can't expect anyone to accommodate us unless we're willing to accommodate others. This perception, captured in the golden rule, was once the exclusive insight of religious visionaries. But now through the Flynn affect it is within the intellectual grasp of almost everyone.

Pinker calls this the moral Flynn effect. We're not only getting smarter; we getting better. And, if Flynn is correct, these advances will happen at an ever increasing rate. Hey, the future's so bright I gotta wear shades.