Red spread

As predicted, Mary Landrieu (D-Obamacare) has lost her run-off for the Senate seat in Lousiana, about 57-43%.  Her debate strategy of explaining that she really didn't support the President on Obamacare because he wanted single-payer, but she and other courageous Democrats confined him to wrecking our health insurance market, evidently didn't fly with the Louisiana voters.

"Why won't they look at my record?"

Don't stand so close to me

"Jonathan Who?" syndrome strikes again.

Boredom at traffic lights

This is a great idea for entertaining people they wait for the light to change.

This and the next few posts will be from Not Exactly Rocket Science.

Catching fraud with Benford's Law

For reasons I can't imagine, digits between 0 and 9 in financial transactions are not equally likely, even in the later digits.  They follow a distribution described by "Benford's Law," and any deviation from this pattern may signal fraud.  In the linked article, an overabundance of "4s" raised suspicions that operators with the authority issue cash refunds up to $50 without a supervisor's OK were issuing fraudulent refunds to co-conspirators.  But even without the special problem of concentrating on fake numbers just under $50, numbers randomly chosen by fraudsters will produce a pattern unlike that of natural financial digit distribution.

The Chaos

by Dr. Gerard Nolst Trenité (Netherlands, 1870-1946)

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.

Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it's written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.

Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.

Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation's OK
When you correctly say croquet,
 Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.

Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Foeffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.

Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.

Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.

Pronunciation -- think of Psyche!
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won't it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It's a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.

Finally, which rhymes with enough --
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!

Setting Up for Failure

Good luck with this latest grand jury decision.

I'll be out of the country for about two weeks. Let me know how it turns out.

Crimes Against Humanity

So the Pope got some good press today.
Religious leaders from a half-dozen faiths have signed on to a new Vatican initiative to end modern-day slavery by 2020, declaring that human trafficking, forced labor and prostitution are crimes against humanity.

Pope Francis and the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, were joined Tuesday by the Hindu guru Mata Amritanandamayi, known as Amma, as well as Buddhist, Jewish and Shiite and Sunni Muslim representatives for a signing ceremony of a joint declaration against modern slavery....

Francis has made eliminating human trafficking and modern-day slavery one of the key priorities of his pontificate, instructing the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to focus on it in their academic conferences and studies... . "Here he came into contact with the drug situation, the situation of the excluded — and naturally the most dramatic form of exclusion is slavery, which is forced labor and prostitution," [Bishop] Sanchez Sorondo said in an interview ahead of the ceremony.
I find the inclusion of prostitution very interesting. In both cases it's coupled with forced labor without an Oxford comma, so I'm not sure if the intent is to couple "forced prostitution" with "forced labor," or if it is prostitution per se that is being condemned as a crime against humanity. The Pope's actual remarks suggest it may only be forced prostitution, but it isn't clear there either.

It's an interesting question, because St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine both found that prostitution -- though gravely immoral -- probably ought not to be illegal. I dissent from that particular point of argument, but it is a position supported by thinkers with significant authority.

Something must be wrong

Paterson, N.J., a city of about 150,000 people, had exactly 19 high school students this year who managed to break a 1500 score on the 2400-scale SAT (that's a score of 1000 on the old 1600 scale, for us codgers).  The teacher-student ratio in the Paterson school district is about 13 to 1; annual spending per student is about $17,000.  Alertly discovering that something was badly wrong, school district officials explained that the local school system has been plagued by numerous restructurings in recent years, leading to confusion and dysfunction.  As a result, they've decided to take the obvious step and quit using the SAT to gauge performance.

Advent Continues

D29 writes to say that he likes this version of the chant more than the one I posted.

It does have a substantially different feeling! Sometimes I wonder why the Church no longer celebrates in this manner. It does require substantial effort and training, but surely not much more than the choral and musical performances we do encounter. Beauty and truth and virtue all align. Why should we not, then, align our performances-meant-to-be-beautiful with the truth and virtue they mean to uphold?


The old world. The new world. Well, it was new two hundred years ago. At that time we thought it was going to disrupt these kinds of elite power structures, so that new men -- men like Andrew Jackson, to the tremendous upset of what turn out to have been his relatives -- could rise.

Well, we didn't get that, then or now. So what did we get?

Spacetime for amateurs

I've been enjoying a Great Courses lecture in my car lately, a highly popularized explanation of special and general relativity with only the most moderate use of math.  The lecturer stresses a popular misconception that the theory of relativity means that "everything is relative."  It would be more accurate to say that the speed of light is absolute, with the consequence that space and time have to be squished to account for things like the fact that two light beams passing each other like trains in the night still have a relative speed of c, not twice-c.  (That's not just a wild idea, by the way, but something than clever guys have proved experimentally.)

I grew up with science fiction stories that grappled with the speed of light, sometimes treating it as an inviolable barrier and sometimes as an inconvenience to be papered over in the interests of advancing the story.  Viewed as a natural law, the inability to exceed the speed of light somehow comes across as a traffic ordinance that's begging to be violated.  We know light can go slower, as it does through glass or water, for instance, so why not faster?  Learning a little bit more about it as an amateur, I now gather it's more a question of light-speed as an inherent quality of a specific thing, like the length of a pencil, that only seems to have maximum and less-than-maximum manifestations because we're looking at it in more or less foreshortened perspectives, so to speak.  So your pencil might look longer or shorter depending on your angle, but it's always as long as it is, and no longer.

My Great Courses lecturer used an analogy that leapt out at me.  Drawn from an excellent 1965 popular textbook by Edwin Taylor and John Wheeler (Spacetime Physics, 1st ed., PDF link to 1st chapter here), the analogy is "the parable of the surveyors."  The king asks his surveyors to figure out how far the smithy is from point "X."  One uses a coordinate system based on true North, while the other uses magnetic North, so they get different recipes for "go so many feet East, then so many feet North."

No matter what N-S-E-W coordinates we choose to measure the distance from "X" to the smithy, the straight-line diagonal distance will be the same.

But the two vectors we add to get to the straight-line distance can be nearly anything, depending on how we rotate the frame of reference.  The analogy is to space and time as the elements that make up the speed of light:  from some points of view, the distance will be one thing and the time elapsed another, but those two elements can change.  What will never change is the speed of light.  It's not so much that light isn't "allowed" to go faster; it's more like the fact that the smithy is a certain distance from "X."  Would it be allowed to be farther?  Sure, but that's not where it happens to be.

The way the lecturer puts it is that space and time are aspects of the same thing, and the speed of light, c, is the conversion factor needed to switch back and forth between them.  Similarly, mass and energy are aspects of the same thing, and the speed of light squared is the conversion factor needed to switch back and forth between them.  Why is one just c and the other c-squared?  No idea.