Incongruous Amazon recommendations

Because I prefer local bookstores, I've ordered only a couple books from Amazon in my life. From those two purchases, however, Amazon has divined a constellation reading interests based on what "similar" customers have bought. How good are they at predicting what I might want to read? Let's check in on the latest spam:
Dear Amazon.com Customer,

We've noticed that customers who have purchased The Sandman: Endless Nights by Neil Gaiman also purchased books by B. G. Pachpatte. For this reason, you might like to know that B. G. Pachpatte's Integral and Finite Difference Inequalities and Applications, Volume 205 (North-Holland Mathematics Studies) will be released soon. You can pre-order your copy by following the link below.

So I purhcased a graphic novel (and not even a very good one) by a fairly popular fantasy author, and in turn, they think that I'm in need of a "monograph ... written with a view to provide basic tools for researchers working in Mathematical Analysis and Applications, concentrating on differential, integral and finite difference equations."

Maybe they are right!


Send in the yogic flyers!

Things are not looking good for Israel or Lebanon these days. Where can we go from here?

Well for one thing, we need to get serious about a cease fire (link):
The reality is, at some juncture sooner than many of us realize, Olmert will probably want a cease-fire deal pretty badly too. So rather than see America's reputation continue to plummet through the region (Condi's comments about the disaster unfurling in Lebanon constituting part of the "birth pangs" of a new Middle East might have even made Karen Hughes blush, so poorly chosen the verbiage--and the de facto Israeli bombing halt of Beirut that coincided with her visit was no great shakes in the public diplomacy wars either) for the achievement of, at best, uncertain ends, or risk even more American forces coming under attack in Iraq as a result of Sadrists and perhaps others becoming even more radicalized by the unfolding situation in Lebanon, I believe it is incumbent on the Administration to listen to its allies both in Europe and the Arab world and move with utmost urgency and speed to get a cease-fire deal negotiated no later than very early August.

It certainly will not help our rep to be trailing Israel in our efforts to end this violence. But even when (or perhaps I should say even if) a cease fire is coming, what happens after that? Probably civil war in Lebanon (link):
When Israel and Hezbollah reach a ceasefire at last, round two of this conflict will commence in short order. No one knows if the Lebanese will be able to keep the gun out of politics after all that has happened. A tiny minority of Lebanese (with help from the remaining Syrian agents) can burn the country to the ground all over again.

“What will become of us?” is the question on everyone’s mind. No one can know what will happen after Israel lifts its siege and the temporary national unity flies apart into pieces. And it will fly apart into pieces. The only question is how far the pieces will fly and how hard they'll land.

Cheery. Meanwhile, our black-and-white view of foreign policy is neither making friends nor influencing people (link):
Support for Hizbullah is growing in the Arab world with every day that it confronts Israel.... Rice had to scratch Egypt off her itinerary because of swelling support for Hizbullah there. In Arab countries with a large Shiite community, sectarian sentiment is being fueled by the fighting in Lebanon.

Wednesday's peace talks in Rome failed because of overt pressure by Condi Rice to block an immediate call for cease fire. That means the Bush administration has now openly assumed the political liabilities and consequences that will stem from Israel's crushing campaign in Lebanon. Add that to the legacy of the still unfinished war in Iraq and we can pretty much guarantee record profits for American defense contractors for the next two or three generations.

The last, best hope? Levitation through Transcendental Mediation (link)!
Yogic flying ... is the purported ability to levitate through the advanced practice of transcendental meditation, or TM.

Proponents of the art say world peace can be achieved by thousands of simultaneous yogic flyers spread across the globe.

Here in Israel, according to a formula that says the square root of one percent of a country's population is the number needed to tap into a collective consciousness robust enough to create a "shield of invincibility," 265 people are needed.

But Zelinkovsky's squadron, which includes architects, health workers and pensioners, many of whom are also teachers of TM, now numbers only about 20 after falling from a peak of 65 last week.

This, he explained with the conviction of the converted, is why Israel's war with Hezbollah, which has already left hundreds dead, has not stopped.


Is there anything plankton cannot do?

Via Posthuman Blues, "A Spanish company claimed on Thursday to have developed a method of breeding plankton and turning the marine plants into oil, providing a potentially inexhaustible source of clean fuel.

Vehicle tests are some time away because the company, Bio Fuel Systems, has not yet tried refining the dark green coloured crude oil phytoplankton turn into, a spokesman said."


CDC to study Morgellons Disease

The Bellman previously discussed a new malady called Morgellons Disease and it was strongly suggested that the disease is a hoax, or worse...it was viral advertising.

It now appears that the CDC will investigate to determine if the disease is real:
Now, after a year or more of pressure from people who believe they have it, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has agreed to investigate Morgellons to determine whether it's a real disease or a shared delusion. "Either way," said Dan Rutz, a CDC spokesman, "it's a public health threat."...

Fibromyalgia and Gulf War syndrome are also conditions that have been heavily researched and still have no identifiable cause. And doctors say they see patients every day who have symptoms for those and other hard-to-define conditions. The best approach is to admit that "we don't know what we don't know," said Dr. Don Deye, an internal medicine doctor at the Cambridge Medical Center in Cambridge, Minn.

"It's a mistake to consign these folks to psychiatric issues and that's the end," said Deye, who works with such patients to find treatments that are effective.

After all, illness is something uniquely experienced by an individual, said Dr. John Dyer, a professor who studies the history of medicine at the University of Minnesota. And a collection of symptoms becomes a disease not only when science finds a clearly identifiable cause, but also when society accepts it as such, he said. The medical history books are full of diagnoses that were popular for a time and then faded away. And they are also full of diseases that were at first mysterious and then proved to be devastatingly real -- such as AIDS. |Star Tribune|


More hunger for more war

You got to be the Israelis last time! It's my turn!

Kevin Drum connects the dots (for the dots, see my last post), and concludes:
It is, often, not so much war itself that people long for, but the moral certainty that comes with it; thus the venom directed even toward those who are skeptical of war, let alone those who are resolutely opposed to it. It's not that the skeptics prevent the hawks from getting the war they want — they usually don't — but that they deny them the moral certainty they so desperately yearn for. And that cannot be tolerated.

I don't want to ascribe this particular psychological clusterfuck to hawks in general. But there has been a lot of unseemly enthusiasm for World War Three (or is it Four?) amongst the chattering conservatives.

And it looks increasingly like they are going to get their regional conflagration. In addition to the Israeli situation....

* Turkey is going to strike at the Kurds, setting the stage for an intra-NATO conflict between the US and Turkey.

* The rest of Iraq is sliding into civil war.

You know, I hope Jesus does take this opportunity to come secondarily. If anybody can sort out this mess, it's a messiah.


Happy people, sad people, crazy people

Opinions differ.

Sad people:
The vast majority of Israelis themselves don't want to go into Syria, because nobody really has a clue who would replace Bashar Assad, and his successor could be even worse for the Israelis.
| Belgravia dispatch |

Israel should not have bombed Central Beirut, which was almost monolithically anti-Hezbollah. They should not have bombed my old neighborhood, which was almost monolithically anti-Hezbollah. They should not have bombed the Maronite city of Jounieh, which was not merely anti-Hezbollah but also somewhat pro-Israel.

Israelis thinks everyone hates them. It isn't true, especially not in Lebanon. But they will make it so if they do not pay more attention to the internal characteristics of neighboring countries. "The Arabs" do not exist as a bloc except in the feverish dreams of the Nasserists and the Baath.
| Totten |

On the other hand, happy people too:
The first salvo of missiles returned us to that familiar feeling of a war fought against a ruthless enemy who attacks our borders, a truly vicious enemy, not one fighting for its freedom and self-determination, not the kind that makes us stammer and throws us into confusion. Once again we’re confident about the rightness of our cause and we return with lightning speed to the bosom of the patriotism we had almost abandoned. Once again, we’re a small country surrounded by enemies, fighting for our lives, not a strong, occupying country forced to fight daily against a civilian population.

So is it any wonder that we’re all secretly just a tiny bit relieved?
Give us Iran, give us a pinch of Syria, give us a handful of Sheik Nasrallah and we’ll devour them whole. After all, we’re no better than anyone else at resolving moral ambiguities. But we always did know how to win a war.
| Etgar Keret, via an unsealed room |

And, of course, the crazy people
The apocalyptics Christians (along with the Israeli lobby) ensure that America's destiny is tied to Israel's future and therefore we fund and defend their military regime. I think there is little hope for changing this fact in the current political climate.
|Safety Neal |

Don't believe him?
"For the first time in my Christian walk, I have no doubts that the day of the Lords appearing is upon us," writes Ohappyday. "I have never felt this way before, I have a joy that bubbles up every-time I think of him, for I know this is truly the time I have waited for so long." A person who posts under the name "Waitin" exclaims, "I too am soooo excited!! I get goose bumps. It was quite a day yesterday, in the world news, and I add in local news here in the Boston area!! Tunnel ceiling collapsed on a car and killed a woman of faith, and we had the most terrifying storms I have ever seen here!! But, yes, Ohappyday, like in your screen name, it is most indeed a time to be happy and excited, right there with ya!!" "My head is spinning...I want to stay on the news 24 hours!" says jreed3. "Everything is on hold here at my house. No housework, cooking, sewing, anything. All focus is on breaking events over there," writes BamaLady. "I think that things are going really fast now!! Come Lord Jesus!!" elfuddo exults.
| via Jon Swift |

Sweet zombie Jesus, these peope vote!


A blog by any other name would... actually be less offensive

I really hate The Futurist blog. I was excited when I ran across it, but it turns out that despite the promising name, this piece of tired malarky has nothing to do with "futurism" in any sense whatsoever. Furthermore, for a blog called "The Futurist," I would think that they could configure their TITLE tag, but apparently they cannot. If you can't handle HTML 101, you should not be allowed to claim the future. Gosh.

Anyway, what launched me on this little rant was just another case of severe asshat-ery courtesy of The Futurist. In a post entitled The US Job Market is Booming, For Those Who Can Admit It, we find this little moment of joy:
[Those who deny that the economy is [sic] improving based on these job numbers] will say is that these jobs are all lower-skilled jobs that pay poorly. This directly contradicts their claims that all the gains of US economic growth gravitate to the top of the income latter while the rest received no benefit.

Ah, you are so right, Mr. Future! "Low-skilled jobs that pay poorly" are indeed a benefit, when compared to unemployment. They also look good when compared to leprosy! We should be grateful that our real wages are plummeting, because we don't live in a Mexican prison!

There an equally flagrant logical fallacy in the next bullet point of their article. You might just win a t-shirt if you can name it!


Boondocks Friday

Just found out that not everybody on the planet loves "The Boondocks." I've been wanting to try out embedding Youtoube movies in a post, so for no other reason than those stated above, check out these excerpts.

Here's a couple bank robbers, discussing the merits of text messaging.

The fight:

Game recognize game, grandpa, and you're looking kinda unfamiliar...

The feud!

Lots more on YouTube! Or you can just tune into Comedy Central and purchase the goods and services being advertised during the authorized broadcasts of this material. Yeah, you should probably do that instead.


Supposed to be working, part 2

The only way I'm going to get any work done is to turn off my RSS aggregator. Otherwise, I'm just going to be more pissed off when things like this zip across my ticker.
Our sources tell us that Israel does not intend to bring about a broader conflict by extending the present crisis to Syria or Iran. Rather, the plan is to retrieve the soldiers who have been taken prisoner in both Gaza and Lebanon, do some damage to the terrorists' ability to carry out rocket attacks from those bases, and return home. If that's right, and events don't take an unforeseen turn, the effect will most likely be that the long-term issues posed by Iran, Syria, the Iran-Syria alliance, and Iran and Syria's control over terrorist groups including Hamas and Hezbollah, will go unresolved.

Got that? "Will go unresolved." Not "may go unresolved," or even "mostly likely will go unresolved. To Powerline, there is only one way resolve "the long-term issues posed by Iran, Syria, the Iran-Syria alliance, and Iran and Syria's control over terrorist groups including Hamas and Hezbollah," and that is WAR, BABY!

You can almost taste their disappointment as they type "Israel does not intend to bring about a broader conflict." They had the champaign already chilled, and the lube and the "chicks with guns" magazine all laid out....

UPDATE: No casualties in Haifa. One poor Israeli woman did get blown to bits while sipping coffee on her balcony, however, and hundreds of Lebanese people (who had just started to think they were in control of their destiny) have been killed by Israel.

Supposed to be working

But I find it very hard to focus on this stuff while WWIII breaking out. I'm really depressed.


What we need now is a greater society

If John Edwards wants to solve poverty, he can begin by cutting government spending, reducing bureaucratic overhead on private enterprise (starting with Sarbanes-Oxley), and introducing more free-market approaches, rather than the tired, failed top-down government programs that the Democrats have espoused since Lyndon Johnson's Great Society promised to end poverty in America.

That's Captain Ed, in rare form. I don't read the Captain any more, but I ran across that quote at Legal Fiction, where Publius makes fun of Ed's fuzzy math skills, and then writes:

Ah yes, the “failed” Great Society. Well, let’s go back to Cap’n Leibniz’s chart. In 1960, 31% of Americans — 31 — lived at 125% or below. The actual number of people was 55 million. After the mid-60s, it starts dropping sharply and is 17.6% (35 million people) by 1970, and hovers steadily there until 1980. What, I wonder, happened in the mid-60s that caused poverty to be cut so sharply. Hmm. Repeal of Sarbanes-Oxley? No, that's probably not it. I’m sure it will come to me eventually.

The point of all this snark is that Cap’n Ed’s post has literally no empirical basis. The number of people in poverty is increasing, and the Great Society programs worked. Thus, the foundation of his entire post is 100% wrong. It's fine if you don't believe that government helps reduce poverty, but it's not fine to pretend that this position has any basis in the reality-based world.

Tuesday headache inducer, optical Illusion edition

This may give you a headache, or trigger epilepsy, but aside from that it's pretty neat. Go here and click the little full frame option in the lower right corner of the video player.

You are encouraged to post your favorite optical illusions in the comments.


The Word Cup is over

And it was a good one. Each time I chose a team to support, that team was promptly eliminated from the tournament, but all in all, it was still a great Wold Cup. Some final thoughts:

Mexico: I had a lot of ill will towards the Mexican national team from years past, but they did a good job and played relatively clean soccer. By the round of 16, I was rooting for them. Of course, then they promptly lost.

Germany: They are going to be really good in the Euro Cup and the next World Cup. They promptly lost after I chose to root for them in the semis.

Zidane! I am intensely curious about what could have provoked him into that crazy headbut. If anybody hears any explanation, even crazy-ass rumors, please let me know. UPDATE: Yglesias has a good video of the headbut and it's run up.

(Thanks to Mr. E. S. Pony for the animated gif--I don't know where he got it).


Isn't this odd?

Like I said, science fiction is the only literature people care enough about to steal on the Internet. It's the only literature that regularly shows up, scanned and run through optical character recognition software and lovingly hand-edited on darknet newsgroups, Russian websites, IRC channels and elsewhere

... says Cory Doctorow. Pleasantly surprising, if true.


Sodium can throw itself farther than you can throw sodium

thar she blows
I realize we haven't been very serious on the blog, lately. I'll get back to politics and the weighty issues of the day in a little while. I'm a little burnt out on all things political, so I'm just staying informed and lying in wait for an issue to strangle to death with my prose. In the mean time, let the strange blog posts continue! Via Rusted Sky, check out the Sodium Party:
This is quite alarming: The longest time between impacts, timed on the videotape, was 3.12 seconds. If you do the math, this means the chunk was thrown almost 40 feet high. Fortunately it was going reasonably close to straight up and down, and we were quite far away (about 200 feet). But this skipping behavior, which so far as I know is documented here for the first time on the internet, clearly gives the whole thing far greater potential reach. It's easy to imagine a chunk skipping hundreds of feet.
If someone were to throw a chunk like this (about three ounces) by hand into a lake, it could very easy come back and hit them. This video tape clearly demonstrates that sodium can throw itself farther than you can. And more ominously, you can clearly see on at least one of the jumps that it tends to come back at the direction it was thrown from. My theory is that when it hits the water it forms a cavity as it plunges down. This cavity acts like a cannon barrel to direct the chunk back in the direction it came from, when the steam and evolved hydrogen explode.


Bill Frist, Gorilla Killer

Remember when Senate Majority leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) took time out of his busy schedule to provide medical care for a gorilla?

Well, he killed it.
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