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12.30.2004

Aw, crap 

The Arizona Diamondbacks are trading Randy Johnson to the Yankees in exchange for Javy Vazquez, a couple prospects and a lot of cash.

For the Yankees, this is rather like buying a Lexus, totalling it and then trading it in for a BMW.

Jeopardy! Ultimate Tournament of Champions 

Apparently 150 former Jeopardy champions will compete for the right to face Ken Jennings. Here's how it's supposed to go:

First round: 135 players in 45 matches. Losers win $5,000.

Second round: 45 winners from round 1 + 9 contestants who were given byes, 18 matches. Losers win $15,000.

Quarters: 18 winners from round 2 in 6 matches. Losers win $25,000 or $50,000 (?)

Semis: 6 winners from quarters in round 2. Losers win $50,000 or $100,000 (?)

Finals: 2 winners from Semis + Ken, 3-game match. Winner gets $2,000,000, 2nd place gets $500,000, 3rd place gets $250,000.

Obviously the format of the tournament is somewhat of a stunt -- Jeopardy doesn't want Ken losing early. From the point of view of the contestants, it's not completely clear whether this format is favorable to a straight ournament where Ken has to fight his way through just like everyone else. In the current format, it's harder for the other contestants to win, but there's no chance of a strong player getting shafted by the draw and losing to Ken in round 1. In a straight format, players would have a better chance of winning the whole thing but also a 8/149 (about 5.4%) chance of drawing Ken in one of the first 2 rounds.

12.29.2004

Scholarly 

My Harvard Ph.D. thesis was titled "A Modular Non-Rigid Calabi-Yau Threefold".

Jeff Rosenfeld's Harvard undergraduate thesis was titled "Debates of Artistic Value in Rock Music: A Case Study of the Band Weezer, 1994-2001".

(HT: Matt Yglesias, author of "Political Epistemology")

Earthquake/tsunami relief 

Click here to donate to the American Red Cross's relief efforts. Then keep hitting the refresh/reload button and watch the total grow.

12.27.2004

Has Osama bin Laden finally overplayed his hand? 

Osama bin Laden, or someone posing as him, has called for a boycott of the upcoming Iraqi elections. Money quote:


Iraqis are scheduled to elect a 275-member National Assembly on Jan. 30, and those lawmakers will draft a new constitution. There have been calls to postpone the election because of the ongoing insurgency, but President Bush has insisted the vote be held as scheduled.

The speaker condemned those elections.

``In the balance of Islam, this constitution is infidel and therefore everyone who participates in this election will be considered infidels,'' he said. ``Beware of henchmen who speak in the name of Islamic parties and groups who urge people to participate in this blatant apostasy.''

He apparently was referring to Shiite clerics, particularly Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who have issued edicts saying participating in the election was a ``religious duty.''


The average law-abiding Iraqis may not be convinced that we are his friends, but hopefully this edict will convince him that al-Qaeda is his enemy.

12.21.2004

Bridge in Brooklyn for sale 

Apparently North Korea is the only country on earth that is free from HIV and AIDS:


SEOUL, Dec 20 Asia Pulse - North Korea has expelled 27 foreigners who tested positive for HIV, the virus that can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), according to a North Korean English weekly obtained by Yonhap News Agency.

The Pyongyang Times also said in its Dec. 4 edition that there are no North Korean AIDS/HIV carriers, saying "The DPRK is the sole country on the earth that has no AIDS-related patients so far." DPRK is the acronym for Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea's official name.

"If any, there were 27 foreigners who turned out to be positive in the test and they were sent home at their request," Han Kyong-ho, director of the Central Hygienic and Anti-Epizootic Center, an arm of the Ministry of Public Health, said in an interview with the Times.

Calling AIDS "the 'plague' of the 20th century" that was first discovered in the United States, the official said the country's security from the global disease has been assured by the World Health Organization. The world health watchdog sent an expert to North Korea to conduct AIDS tests on 200 local agricultural workers who had been to Africa and found no one affected with the HIV virus, Han said.

He also said the country has tested more than 400,000 people for AIDS since 1989, and none tested positive except the 27 foreigners.

The official said the country has launched several government organizations to scrutinize people for possible infection, such as the National AIDS Committee and the AIDS Prevention Office, both established in 1988, and the AIDS Test Room, which was created for each province to perform tests on both locals and foreigners who have crossed the border.

The government strictly bans the import of blood and blood products, and all local blood products should first pass examination by blood banks before distribution, Han said.


I know the borders of North Korea are hermetically sealed, but I'm sure that by now North Korea has "repatriated" somebody from China or some other place who managed to contract HIV. And I'm willing to bet that if North Korea really is HIV-free, that this is accomplished by, uh, more efficient methods than deportation.

A modest proposal 

Anybody else think Christmas should be moved to the summer? It'd be historically accurate, and seasonal affective disorder would no longer compound the stresses of the holiday.

Well, except for those poor saps living in the Southern hemisphere. But they can all kiss my hairy yellow butt.

12.16.2004

Why the Electoral College should be abolished, Part 56 

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:



Voting irregularities were few in Minnesota this year -- until it really counted.

Defeated Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry likely is going to get one less electoral vote nationally than he should have -- 251 instead of 252 -- because of an apparent mistake Monday by one of Minnesota's 10 DFL electors.

One of the 10 handwritten ballots cast for president carried the name of vice presidential candidate John Edwards (actually spelled "Ewards" on the ballot) rather than Kerry.

"I was shocked ... this will go in the history books," said Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, who presided over a ceremony that normally is uneventful.
Kiffmeyer said she was unaware of any other such apparent mistake in Minnesota, although there have been cases in other states of "faithless electors" casting ballots for candidates other than those to which they were committed.

There was stunned silence after the announcement that Edwards had gotten a vote for president, but none of the 10 electors volunteered that they voted for Edwards as a protest, nor did anyone step forward to admit an error.

"It was perhaps a senior moment," said elector Michael Meuers, 60, a Bemidji marketing consultant for a health care firm, the second-youngest member of the Minnesota delegation to the Electoral College.
Meuers said he was certain that the Edwards ballot wasn't his, but he noted that "both the candidates were named John, and the ballots looked pretty much alike."
This year's DFL Party electors were typical -- senior party activists typically chosen for their long years of service. They ranged in age from 52 to 83.

"These are not paid political professionals," said Bill Amberg, the DFL Party's communications director.

"It was clear that everybody thought they had voted for Kerry, and all 10 of these folks were for Kerry during the pre-nomination period. There is no sign of protest."

Kiffmeyer, a Republican and the state's chief election official, said that there apparently is nothing that can be done once the secret ballots are cast.


Clearly our country needs more senile people in important positions like this.

Another three guys from suburban Detroit end up in the news 

A guy from Whitmore Lake, MI, about 20 miles from West Bloomfield, has been given a record sentence for cyber-crime. Two other guys from Waterford (which borders West Bloomfield on the north) are also awaiting sentencing.

12.15.2004

This one's for the Ross readers 

Harken back to all those JC/counselor meetings when Arnold Ross railed against the federal government for taking away funding from the Ross program and allocating it to other educational outreach programs, and read this post by Eugene Volokh.

Only be sure always to call it please "research" 

The Chronicle of Higher Education wonders if plagiarism is rampant in scholarly research.

Perhaps these scholars should ditch academia and become songwriters.

(This link stolen from The Volokh Conspiracy.)

Twenty camping/outdoorsy uses for a frisbee 

link

Note that Discraft Ultra-Stars and other flying discs approved for use in Ultimate Frisbee can in fact hold about 9 cups of water, not the 2-3 cups that can be held by one of those cheap promotional flying discs they hand out at recruiting fairs. They're also large enough to sit in when you're changing clothes.

12.13.2004

Bonus Patriots statistic 

Troy Brown is tied for the team lead in interceptions, with three. However, he has only one touchdown this season, tying him with Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour, Jarvis Green, Asante Samuel and Randall Gay.

David Wells signs with Sox 

Over-under on first matter-antimatter explosion with Curt Schilling: May 23.

12.09.2004

Dowdification 

So some soldiers grill Donald Rumsfeld about the lack of proper body armor for their vehicles. Pretty reasonable question, and it deserves a respectful response, even if it's not completely satisfactory, right? According to the AP, here's how Rumsfeld replied:



"Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to uparmor our vehicles?" Wilson asked.

A big cheer arose from the approximately 2,300 soldiers in the cavernous hangar who assembled to see and hear the secretary of defense.

Rumsfeld hesitated and asked Wilson to repeat his question.

"We do not have proper armored vehicles to carry with us north," Wilson said after asking again.

Rumsfeld replied that, "You go to war with the Army you have," not the one you might want, and that any rate the Army was pushing manufacturers of vehicle armor to produce it as fast as humanly possible.

And, the defense chief added, armor is not always a savior in the kind of combat U.S. troops face in Iraq, where the insurgents' weapon of choice is the roadside bomb, or improvised explosive device.

"You can have all the armor in the world on a tank and it can (still) be blown up," Rumsfeld said.



Oh, the nerve of that lowly soldier to be asking such a question!

But if you read the full transcript of the exchange, it goes something like this:



"Q: Yes, Mr. Secretary. My question is more logistical. We’ve had troops in Iraq for coming up on three years and we’ve always staged here out of Kuwait. Now why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromise ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles and why don’t we have those resources readily available to us? [Applause]

SEC. RUMSFELD: I missed the first part of your question. And could you repeat it for me?

Q: Yes, Mr. Secretary. Our soldiers have been fighting in Iraq for coming up on three years. A lot of us are getting ready to move north relatively soon. Our vehicles are not armored. We’re digging pieces of rusted scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass that’s already been shot up, dropped, busted, picking the best out of this scrap to put on our vehicles to take into combat. We do not have proper armament vehicles to carry with us north.

SEC. RUMSFELD: I talked to the General coming out here about the pace at which the vehicles are being armored. They have been brought from all over the world, wherever they’re not needed, to a place here where they are needed. I’m told that they are being – the Army is – I think it’s something like 400 a month are being done. And it’s essentially a matter of physics. It isn’t a matter of money. It isn’t a matter on the part of the Army of desire. It’s a matter of production and capability of doing it.

As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time. Since the Iraq conflict began, the Army has been pressing ahead to produce the armor necessary at a rate that they believe – it’s a greatly expanded rate from what existed previously, but a rate that they believe is the rate that is all that can be accomplished at this moment.

I can assure you that General Schoomaker and the leadership in the Army and certainly General Whitcomb are sensitive to the fact that not every vehicle has the degree of armor that would be desirable for it to have, but that they’re working at it at a good clip. It’s interesting, I’ve talked a great deal about this with a team of people who’ve been working on it hard at the Pentagon. And if you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can be blown up. And you can have an up-armored humvee and it can be blown up. And you can go down and, the vehicle, the goal we have is to have as many of those vehicles as is humanly possible with the appropriate level of armor available for the troops. And that is what the Army has been working on.

And General Whitcomb, is there anything you’d want to add to that?

GEN. WHITCOMB: Nothing. [Laughter] Mr. Secretary, I’d be happy to. That is a focus on what we do here in Kuwait and what is done up in the theater, both in Iraq and also in Afghanistan. As the secretary has said, it’s not a matter of money or desire; it is a matter of the logistics of being able to produce it. The 699th, the team that we’ve got here in Kuwait has done [Cheers] a tremendous effort to take that steel that they have and cut it, prefab it and put it on vehicles. But there is nobody from the president on down that is not aware that this is a challenge for us and this is a desire for us to accomplish.

SEC. RUMSFELD: The other day, after there was a big threat alert in Washington, D.C. in connection with the elections, as I recall, I looked outside the Pentagon and there were six or eight up-armored humvees. They’re not there anymore. [Cheers] [Applause] They’re en route out here, I can assure you. Next. Way in the back. Yes."



Suddenly Rumsfeld doesn't look quite as arrogant as condescending as he did when just one or two quotes were clipped from his answer.

West Bloomfield appears in the news 

You get one guess as to why.

12.05.2004

Does taking certain drugs during pregnancy influence the sexual orientation of children? 

This report in the Telegraph seems to indicate as much:


Women who take slimming and thyroid pills during pregnancy are substantially more likely to have homosexual children, according to research.

A study of thousands of mothers and their adult children has revealed that Thyroxine – used to treat thyroid deficiency – and amphetamine-based diet pills appear to influence sexual orientation. Both were identified as being strongly linked to a higher rate of homosexuality among female offspring.

The mothers of homosexuals were found to be up to eight times more likely to have taken such drugs, with the effect being strongest with daughters whose mothers took the drugs during the first three months of pregnancy. The discovery, to be published by researchers in America, backs claims that human sexuality is determined by genetic and biochemical factors at work during early pregnancy.

Prof Lee Ellis and colleagues at Minot State University, North Dakota, traced the mothers of more than 5,000 American and Canadian students and members of gay and lesbian support groups, looking for links between prescription drugs taken during pregnancy and the sexual orientation of their children.

The researchers found that the mothers of homosexual women were at least five times more likely to have taken synthetic thyroid medications during pregnancy than mothers of heterosexual women, and eight times more likely to have used amphetamine-based diet pills such as Dexedrine and diethylpropion.

They also found evidence that some drugs have the opposite effect during pregnancy, reducing the probability of homosexual offspring. Mothers of heterosexual males were 70 per cent more likely to have taken drugs to combat nausea than those of male homosexuals.


I have no idea how statistically robust these results are, but it's still bizarre.

12.01.2004

Oh, baby 

Finally, I can see the confrontation between the Fellowship and the Mouth of Sauron, and the Scouring of the Shire.

Buster Douglas has knocked out Mike Tyson! 

One game after beating Ken Jennings, Nancy Zerg lost in a match in which she was effectively locked out of Final Jeopardy, having less than half the score of the winner.

Nancy was not quicker on the buzzer than Ken, and she did not have a greater breadth of knowledge than Ken. She won because Ken got stung on a couple difficult Daily Doubles and because she bested Ken in Final Jeopardy.

Ken's a pretty quick thinker (go to this bulletin board and start talking trash about him if you don't believe me), and he's stated that a lot of times he relies on indirect cluage to get correct answers, so it's a bit surprising that he didn't answer Final Jeopardy correctly. Sigh.

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