July 31, 2014

Tour time

Larry and Bill go to the Eugene Debs Museum.



[Y]ou have to wonder what good we’re all doing. If policymakers ignore professional consensus, and if views about how the world works are completely insensitive to evidence and results, does knowledge matter. If a tree falls in the academic forest, but nobody in Brussels or Washington hears it, did it make a sound?


July 30, 2014

I've always suspected this...

Subliminal messages hidden in Christian Broadcasts!

I clearly made out "[Something something]... Sam in Missouri...."

July 27, 2014

And we ain't

“We see ourselves as a-biological.”


July 22, 2014

More T. H.

Herewith, all the T. H. Huxley from The Viking Book of Aphorisms (Auden and Kronenberger, 1962):

  • A man's worst difficulties begin when he is able to do as he likes.
  • Men are very queer animals - a mixture of horse-nervousness, ass-stubbornness and camel-malice.
  • The world is neither wise nor just, but it makes up for its folly and injustice by being damnably sentimental.
  • Anyone who is practically acquainted with scientific work is aware that those who refuse to go beyond fact rarely get as far as fact.
  • Tolerably early in life I discovered that one of the unpardonable sins, in the eyes of most people, is for a man to go about unlabeled.  The world regards such a person as the police do an unmuzzled dog.
  • The great tragedy of science - the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.
  • It is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and end as superstitions.
  • Science commits suicide when it adopts a creed.
  • Every great advance in natural knowledge has involved the absolute rejection of authority.  
    • Editor's note:  Ὁ ἔχων ὦτα ἀκουέτω
  • The struggle for existence holds as much in the intellectual as in the physical world.  A theory is a species of thinking, and its right to exist is coextensive with its power of resisting extinction by its rivals.
  • There are some men who are counted great because they represent the actuality of their own age...  Such a one was Voltaire.  There are other men who attain greatness because they embody the potentiality of their own day...they express the thoughts which will be everybody's two or three centuries after them.  Such a one was Descartes.
  • "Virtually" is apt to cover more intellectual sins than "charity" does moral delicts.

July 21, 2014

Nice pendulum, Foucault...

...now try it in Antarctica.  More here.

July 20, 2014

Lessons from the Jardin des Plantes

Last week we walked through the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, one of the most important botanical gardens in France, but also a nice park full of statues and museums.  Back before Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité and all that, it provided therapeutic herbs for the royal household.  Later, during the Siege of Paris, the garden's zoo served as a last-ditch food source for the rebels.

The park is pleasant enough, but as Left Bank green areas go, it suffers by comparison to the less functional but more congenial Luxembourg Gardens, over on the other side of the Sorbonne.  It is also decorates a slightly less-impressive neighborhood.  Luxembourg Gardens is just down the street from the Panthéon, and bumps shoulders withe the Odéon-Théâtre de l'Europe.  By contrast, Jardin des Plantes is just down the street from a big mosque, or, if you prefer, Pierre and Marie Curie University.  In any other city Jardine des Plantes would be a crown jewel, but in Paris...well, it's a different league.

A league where this is not first place

During our ramble I paused at the statue of Lamarck, vaguely recalling some negative commentary about him in that fine book on evolution, Apes, Angels, and Victorians.  On the pedestal there is an inscription, which seems to credit the great man with discovering evolution.  Ah, French science...it never changes.  I recalled this passage, which describes Huxley's demolition of the Academy as Darwin's work struggled to gain acceptance:
In 1864 two eminent scientists sharply criticized the Origin. One was R. A. Kolliker, famous for the clarity of his expositions in microscopies; and the other was M. J. P. Flourens, who, though he had done distinguished work in nerve physiology, rejoiced rather too much in being Perpetual Secretary of the French Academy of Sciences. 
Being very busy at the time, Huxley disposed of both men in a single review, crushing Kolliker beneath the weight of his own clear, precise misapprehensions of Darwin, and grinding Flourens between the two millstones of his fatuity and his academic position: 
"But the Perpetual Secretary of the French Academy of Sciences deals with Mr. Darwin as the first Napoleon would have treated an 'ideologue'; and while displaying a painful weakness of logic and shallowness of information, assumes a tone of authority, which always touches upon the ludicrous, and sometimes passes the limits of good breeding."   
And then after a devastating illustration: "Being devoid of the blessings of an Academy in England, we are unaccustomed to see our ablest men treated in this fashion, even by a 'Perpetual Secretary.'"

I had a good chuckle and walked on.

But later I felt a pang of conscience.  What about Lamarck?  Was there anything to that inscription?  As my family dozed, I re-perused Apes, Angels, and Victorians:
Cuvier [he has the fountain at the entrance to the park] was all that a scientist should be; Lamarck, all that he should not be. Lamarck's chemistry was an anachronism, his physiology a museum piece, and his general theory, except for a few inspired ideas, something between poetry and prophecy. Cuvier's chemistry was strictly up to date; his paleontology was at once his own creation and a valid science; his general theory, melodramatic as it seems, was a cautious modification of Aristotle in the light of new facts from the strata of the Seine basin and the Alps. Incidentally, it permitted a vague but comforting compromise with Moses. Cuvier had developed an old-fashioned idea in a modern and skeptical spirit; Lamarck had developed a modern idea in a credulous and old-fashioned spirit.

But, and this is a fact - Lamarck did believe that organisms gradually evolved.  He didn't know how, or why, and his denial of the existence of species more or less guaranteed that he would never get the right answer on the mechanics.  But, as Galileo might say, eppur si evolve...and yet it evolves.  The empirical observation, hard-won from close analysis of skeletal structures across specimens, was valid.
What discredited Lamarck among scientists was that he explained too much and in too antiquated a manner. His theory of the natureof life itself is a strange mixture of mechanism and vitalism, by which the essential characteristics of all living things are traced analytically to the mere motion of a metaphysical fluid or ethereal fire. What discredited him among the religious was the reckless logic with which he insinuated that man himself was not exempt from the evolutionary past. "I devoured Lamarck en voyage," wrote [Darwin's friend] the youthful Charles Lyell. "His theories delighted me more than any novel I ever read."

So Darwin was really just a bookkeeper, filling in the factual basis to explain evolution as already demonstrated by the great French naturalist.  This is the sort of thing you learn, walking around a park in France.

We also walked into the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle.  It would be irresponsible to attempt to review it here, so let me just show you the sculpture that is next to the ticket booth:

And that, I explained to my family, is what French science is all about.

Say what you want, the man could sell cameras

The great advertising man David Ogilvy wrote that you should get good professional actors for commercials, people with presence who know how to deliver a line.  I'm sure he had in mind (and probably envied) Doyle Dane Bernbach's 30-year relationship with Polaroid.

These DDB ads with James Garner were huge for Polaroid at the time.  James Garner not only did the voiceover and demos well, he also put together a little act with Mariette Hartley that ran over a number spots, including this early selfie demonstration.  The act worked so well that Hartley had a t-shirt made saying "I am NOT James Garner's wife".

Garner really only played one character, but that's true of a lot of these guys.  I always enjoyed his performances, though they were never individually memorable or challenging.  He had, I think, a bit of Wodehousian self-consciousness, an understanding that no matter how big you are, the joke is still on you, a trope handled less-well by Roger Moore, and picked up later by Tom Selleck (who got his start on The Rockford Files).  Unlike most leading men, Garner played well with his ensemble partners, and if someone else wanted to win the scene, oh hell, why not:

He really could act.  The New York Times obituary (probably written 30 years ago) gets it mostly right I think:
Mr. Garner was a genuine star but as an actor something of a paradox: a lantern-jawed, brawny athlete whose physical appeal was both enhanced and undercut by a disarming wit...  His naturalness led John J. O’Connor, writing in The New York Times, to liken Mr. Garner to Gary Cooper and James Stewart. And like those two actors, Mr. Garner usually got the girl.
One of his best performances was as klepto-CEO Ross Johnson in the HBO show Barbarians at the Gate.  It's really good, and faithful to the (factual) book.  Take the time to watch it in its entirety sometime:

Garner did ok of course, but with just a little more gravitas I think he could have been president.

July 19, 2014

Foiled goes to 11, with a cameo from Patton

This may not be his masterpiece, but it is at least Othello in the Weird Al canon.

Blogging from fictional characters re-allowed

Oh, and Google, that attempted log-on from Munster Germany?  No idea.  Must have been some other fictional character.

July 14, 2014

Climbing Mount Jerry, With President Warren G. Harding

Warren G. Harding at a Wax Museum

"I love you when  
You open eyes  
And mouth and arms
 And cradling thighs . . .
If I had you today, I’d kiss and  
fondle you into my arms and
 hold you there until you said, ‘Warren, oh, Warren,’ 
in a benediction of blissful joy."

---President Warren G. Harding, getting busy with Carrie Phillips. Letters are finally revealed. What is thunk, cannot be un-thunk.

Post-Script: I happened to be starting a new Mack Brain adventure on this very topic, titled "The Nickel That Rattles in President Skull."

July 08, 2014

I'd say Bondo Patch and a Lot of Sanding, like on the Dreamliner

Some of the 737s that went off the rails and some into the river in Montana *cough* outsourcing *cough.*  To be fair, Kansas to Seattle manufacturing has been going on since the War. HOWEVER...