Moving Back to Montana

In case you didn’t know, Montana is-statistically speaking-a place young people move away from. My in-laws sent me this article about a recent exception.

Her parents redecorated her bedroom soon after she left for college, as sure as everyone else in this town that Melissa Meyer would not be moving back. …

So, how to explain this? Each morning, Melissa wakes up in her old bedroom, scans the foreign decor and thinks: This is the guest room now. I am the guest. I am not supposed to be here.

How to explain it? Pretty easily: “She graduated magna cum laude from the GW Business School in May, applied for 30 jobs at some of the nation’s best-known companies, and it went nowhere.”

On the Parenting Front Lines: Daytime Television


I’m a stay-at-home dad, or anyway I stayed home with Coen today while Amy went in to her office for a couple of meetings. Around three o’clock, I found myself trapped on the couch, afraid to move lest I wake Coen, who was finally sleeping in my arms after a couple of frustrated hours.

I dragged the remote control over with my foot and flipped through the three channels we get, and did you know that there really is such a thing as Dr. Phil? Of course I’d heard the man’s name and seen his picture in the tabloids, but I had always hoped that-like those aliens who are supposed to have cloned Bill Clinton-he was imaginary.

But no, Dr. Phil really does exist. Apparently someone pays him to talk on the television. On today’s show he was intervening in the matter of a grandmother who is suing for custody of her daughter’s children, that daughter being a drug addict, those children exhibiting odd bruises, there being a sociopathic boyfriend somewhere in the picture. The children’s father has brought a separate lawsuit.

“I don’t want any more lip,” Dr. Phil told the addict. “Now, say ‘thank you and I want your help.'”

“Thank you and I want your help,” she whimpered.

Apparently there is a web site where you can read posts by the different family members.

“This will really help you feel like you know them,” Dr. Phil told us.

Next up was The Oprah Winfrey Show, featuring sex addicts. This wasn’t as interesting as I hoped it would be, but it did provide the opportunity to hear Oprah say this to a recovering sex addict: “I usually enjoy the bag of chips while I’m eating it. It’s only afterward that I’m like ‘what did I do that for?'”

I turned the television off when the news started. I don’t want Coen watching anything trashy.

Climate Change: The Wedding Planner Analogy

David Ng says anthropogenic global warming is not NOT happening just because there hasn’t been any warming in the last 10 years:

Say you’re trying to plan a wedding, or bbq, or anything, where you hope to be outside, and you want to pick a particular day in the year to have the best chance of sunshine. Chances are, you would not base your day on only what happened the year before. That would be statistically risky. You might not even base it on only two years worth of data, and really, if you want to hedge your bets, you’d want an opportunity to look at many records of that day as possible. All through this, you can actually calculate probabilities along the way, and at some point even make calls on what might be a good number of years to look at all in an effort to feel pretty good about your chances. …

[T]he long story short is that folks have done statistical analysis on this sort of thing, and it turns out that focusing on something like a 10 year trend is just not a reliable way to overturn the long term predictions. This, by the way, is also why climate models aren’t about predicting “weather” – which is something very specific to day to day considerations and also exact locations.

The whole thing is worth a read.

Galileo’s Missing Fingers Found in Jar

So that’s where those were. Also:

Removing body parts from the corpse was an echo of a practice common with saints, whose digits, tongues and organs were revered by Catholics as relics with sacred powers.

The people who cut off his fingers essentially considered him a secular saint, Galluzzi said, noting the fingers that were removed were the ones he would have used to hold a pen.

“Exactly as it was practiced with saints of religion, so with saints of science,” Galluzzi said. “He was a hero and a martyr, keeping alive freedom of thought and freedom of research.”

Safire/Buckley: Worst Good Writers Ever?

Speaking of the dangers of reading only people you agree with (and I believe we were), Sam Kean of 3quarksdaily insists that, while he hated the writing of William F. Buckley and William Safire, it wasn’t because they were conservatives.

Most people who disliked Safire and Buckley lumped them together because their writing could be overtly, at times even grubbily, political. But that wasn’t it for me either. I don’t mind political dust-ups and enjoy reading (not watching on television, mind you, reading) people of all orientations, left, right, wherever. Reading only what you agree with narrows you.

No, says Kean, “whenever I felt my blood hit 100°C during one of their columns, it wasn’t because I took offense with their views-I took offense with their grammar, their vocabulary, their goddamn syntax.”

Kean felt the two men were ruined by “the journalistic environment” in which they came of age as writers, which is interesting, because I’ve so often heard it said that writing for a daily is about the best training there is for a writer. (Although usually it was ex-reporters saying this, come to think of it.) But he makes a good point:

People who bitch nowadays about how poetry and short stories are workshopped to within a comma of their lives really need to spend a year writing for a publication and trying to slip anything cute by an editor, or writing speeches by committee for a public figure. That’s editing; that’s homogenizing and submission. …

When you really care about words and sentences, as [Buckley and Safire] did, seeing them hacked up hurts. …

What better way to hold onto your prose, to make sure that no one ever strikes a letter, than to make it so exasperatingly exact that in some sense it can’t be edited? Hyper-correctness became a style, a strategy, because perhaps that’s all that was left to them.

And here’s Kean’s description of the style:

[T]here’s a kind of literary-political righty that enjoys being perversely old-fashioned. This often shades over into a urge to distress if not shock people-a desire no less potent than in those radical “artists” who work in bodily fluids or set up exhibits featuring themselves masturbating to sounds of crying children. The writer-righties transgress via regress. They’re imps in bowties, good at getting a rise out of people and pimping emotions.

I’m just surprised Kean never once mentions George Will as another prime example.

Internet a Petri Dish For Denialism?

At Scienceblogs, Razib Khan mentions an interesting-sounding new book called Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives, by Michael Specter. I liked this:

The totally rational life, where all acts and opinions are subject to deep and thorough criticism, is not the human life… . But, serious problems emerge when our intuitive prejudices push themselves into the scientific domain. Natural science has over the past few centuries proven itself to be a marvel not by extension of our intuition, but contravention of that intuition resulting in an even closer fit to reality (contrast Newtonian physics with “folk physics”).

Indeed, what Khan calls the “genre of argument from intuition and plausibility derived from an emotional response” sounds very familiar. Is “denialism” of various stripes becoming more and more common, or does it just seem that way?

If it is becoming more and more common, it may be the internet’s fault. Science has long known that dividing people into like-thinking groups causes them to settle more and more firmly into their beliefs. According to this New Yorker review of Cass Sunstein’s On Rumors: How Falsehoods Spread, Why We Believe Them, What Can Be Done, the internet-“which makes it easy for extremists to chat with their soul mates”-only exacerbates this tendency.

There is virtually no opinion an individual can hold that is so outlandish that he will not find other believers on the Web. “Views that would ordinarily dissolve, simply because of an absence of social support, can be found in large numbers on the Internet, even if they are understood to be exotic, indefensible, or bizarre in most communities,” Sunstein observes. Racists used to have to leave home to meet up with other racists (or Democrats with other Democrats, or Republicans with Republicans); now they need not even get dressed in order to “chat” with their ideological soul mates.

At one point, the reviewer gently mocks “the assumption that people turn to the Web for information.” It seems to me we’d all avoid a lot of frustration if we could learn to distinguish between people who are truly seeking knowledge, and people who are merely interested in confirming that their suspicions are correct.

Thought for the Day

A lot of people smirk when it is suggested that hunting is a “sport.” Well, there’s all different kinds of hunters and all different kinds of hunting, and I know that part of this attitude comes from skepticism that using a rifle to kill something is truly sporting.

But a friend of mine took me hunting yesterday, and I have to say that it was ten hours of the most punishing physical activity I’ve experienced in a long time. (No, we didn’t shoot anything. If we had, it would have been more like fourteen hours, and I would have died.)

The Week’s Tweets (2009-11-21)

  • Where can I get Dr. Bonner's in Missoula? #
  • Mullan and Reserve! #
  • Getting names wrong on Twitter. #
  • The difference between @Stokes, @StokesUP, @STOKESGYLT, and @Stokez. #
  • Upgrading my databases. #
  • Adventures in typos: almost just told someone I was forwarding them an email threat. (for "thread") #
  • Mt. St. Coen is extremely active and frequently erupts without warning. #
  • "you can…hear Foer thinking: Yes, these arguments have been made…before, but they’ve never been made in this font". #
  • Only in Montana: folks at next table discussing which bronc riders they will bring to their rodeo. Oh, and, they have a flow chart. #
  • OK, so I have Google Wave. Now what? #
  • "In an unfamiliar culture, it is wise to offer no innovations, no suggestions, or lessons." #
  • Trying not to take it personally when people have a different worldview from mine. #
  • Anyone know any cops or anyone who would know some details about interstate pot smuggling, particularly how much good couriers get paid? #

Have You Ever Heard of a Line?

Speaking of Nicolas Cage (and I believe we were), his fans know there’s only one answer to such an impertinent question.

I don’t know why Matchstick Men doesn’t get mentioned more often in discussions of Nicolas Cage’s better work. It has an enjoyably intricate caper/long-con type of storyline, and Cage chews up the scenery as an OCD grifter who finally meets his match.

Forbes Magazine: Baltimore’s Patterson Park One of America’s Best

My friend Kevin, the current First Citizen of Baltimore (an honorary title he made up), passes along this Forbes article on America’s Best City Parks.

The article focuses first on the big-name parks like Central Park and Chicago’s Millenium Park, but then there’s this:

Patterson Park in Baltimore, for example, is steeped in needles history; it was the site of Union encampments during the Civil War, and houses several unique, historic buildings. It’s also full of present-day pleasures–skating rinks, pavilions and playgrounds–that connect the surrounding neighbors to the space.

The article has a slideshow of all of the parks mentioned, including this shot of the pagoda in Patterson Park.

Of course, if you haven’t seen Patterson Park during a Great Halloween Lantern Parade, you haven’t lived. Here are some shots from 2005:

DSC 0203

DSC 0192

DSC 0173

This one isn’t from Patterson Park, but it is also from Halloween 2005, and I feel it’s just as important:


Yes, that is someone using a lasso to try to control a berserk Pikachu.