Notes for a November Monday

It looks like a lousy year for fall color. Maples that are usually brilliant red at this time are merely brownish orange. However, roses are doing just fine.


Today’s forecast. I probably should have stayed in bed.


If you’re wondering my political affiliation is, it’s with the Wet Blanket Movement:

I too have a fervor—a fever, in fact—for political inactivity. I want to be part of a movement that makes electoral politics so boring that rather than having term limits, we’ll need laws requiring politicians to serve their full term. I want to join a party that make politics and government work so dull that political journalists and elected officials dream of leaving their fields for the exciting worlds of actuarial science and telemarketing.

I want to thrown in my lot with others who want to throw a wet blanket over politics and whose desire is to dampen the enthusiasm for all forms of political activity. I want to consort with citizens who are willing to arrest the ardor, dash the devotion, sap the spirit, and zap the zeal from anything that remotely resembles political enthusiasm. I want to create a new party, dedicated to the mastery of the art of anti-propaganda and committed to the conscientious devotion of alert inactivity.

If this is your dream too, then I hope you’ll join me in the Wet Blanket movement.


Don’t take seriously what the “experts” predict:

The dismal performance of the experts inspired Mr. Tetlock to turn his case study into an epic experimental project. He picked 284 people who made their living “commenting or offering advice on political and economic trends,” including journalists, foreign policy specialists, economists and intelligence analysts, and began asking them to make predictions. Over the next two decades, he peppered them with questions: Would George Bush be re-elected? Would apartheid in South Africa end peacefully? Would Quebec secede from Canada? Would the dot-com bubble burst? In each case, the pundits rated the probability of several possible outcomes. By the end of the study, Mr. Tetlock had quantified 82,361 predictions.

How did the experts do? When it came to predicting the likelihood of an outcome, the vast majority performed worse than random chance. In other words, they would have done better picking their answers blindly out of a hat. Liberals, moderates and conservatives were all equally ineffective. Although 96% of the subjects had post-graduate training, Mr. Tetlock found, the fancy degrees were mostly useless when it came to forecasting.

(Via Steven.)


Charles G. Hill on tomorrow’s chore:

I will, of course, continue to perform my civic duty. But every year that nothing is done to curb the politicization of Damn Near Everything, you can expect me to perform it with less enthusiasm. If, two years from now, someone hasn’t thrown Barney Frank into Boston Harbor, I’ll consider the entire two years a complete and utter waste.

April in Kansas

The tax collectors of Kansas want me to file my taxes online this year. How well does their website work?

After calling the toll-free number and learning nothing useful, I tried again.

So I clicked there.

I can cycle through the log-in page and these two pages indefinitely.

Every year I try to pay my taxes online, and every year I marvel at the utter incompetence of the website designers. Then I file my tax return on paper. Now the state of Kansas, in its wisdom and magnanimity, is going to start charging an extra fee for those who don’t file online (and another fee for those who want paper checks). There do exist some words that — weakly — describe my feelings toward the Kansas taxman, but I prefer to keep my website PG-rated.

Update: Success, finally, after changing to a different browser.

Fun with Google

What’s the secret word?

(Via Peeve Farm.)

Update: I’ve amused myself these past few days by guessing whether “climategate” will appear in the autosuggestions as I type it in the search box. Sometimes it will appear as soon as I type “clim;” a few hours later, we’re back to “climate guatemala.” Perhaps it really is just a flaky algorithm, but I can’t help being skeptical.

Hate crime?

Some Roman Catholic churchmen, meanwhile, have said that the words “hokey pokey” derive from “hocus pocus” — the Oxford English Dictionary concurs — and that the song was written by 18th-century Puritans to mock the language of the Latin Mass. Last year the Catholic Church in Scotland, concerned that some soccer fans were using the song as a taunt, raised the possibility that singing it should be prosecuted as a hate crime.

I suppose I should take umbrage at Focus, too.

Bus rage

If you have 400 miles to travel and your options are Greyhound bus or a skateboard, choose the skateboard. You’ll get there faster and in greater comfort.

I left the house at 2 a.m. a week ago Sunday and arrived at the Wichita bus station shortly thereafter. I sat down with a book to wait for the 3 a.m. bus. And waited. And waited. And waited.

Evidentally Greyhound assumes that nobody reads any more, because there was a television up on the wall, tuned to CNN, the volume set to Very Loud. It was hard to read with the nattering voices. Nobody watched the television.

The stairway to the men’s room at the bus station was dark. It was not pleasant walking up them and, with my recent orthopedic problems, it was no fun at all making my way back down. Two of the four stalls were out of order, as were three of the five urinals. At the sink where I rinsed my hands, water flowed down the drain and onto the floor. There was no soap in the dispenser.

At 4 a.m., CNN repeated Larry King’s 2 a.m. interview with Colin Powell. Neither Powell nor King said anything worth hearing once, let alone twice.

At 5 a.m., just as CNN began repeating their 3 a.m. news report, the 3 a.m. bus arrived. It left the station shortly before 5:30, about two-and-a-half hours late.

My 7:15 a.m. connection east was long gone by the time the bus rolled into the Kansas City station, so I had the privilege of spending the rest of the morning there. At least the fixtures in the men’s room worked, and I was able to purchase a small hamburger that merely cost three times what it was worth. However, there were, not just one, but two televisions blaring, and none of the seats were comfortable. There were occasional announcements on the loudspeakers, but they were unintelligible with all the noise. I saw no chart listing which bus was boarded from which door. Fortunately, I correctly guessed which line was for the bus I needed in time to catch it.

The second bus left only about twenty minutes late, and I eventually arrived at my destination, about six hours late. ((Let me note for the record that all the Greyhound staff I talked to were courteous and apologetic. I’m not angry at them.))

Never again.

This was not my worst experience with Greyhound. Some years back, during a complicated journey, one of the bus drivers didn’t bother to go to work that day. I eventually reached my destination, exhausted and furious, in the middle of the night rather than the scheduled mid-afternoon.

It wasn’t always like this. Years ago, busses ran on time. You could even check in your luggage as you do at an airport rather than lug it from bus to bus, and you didn’t have to pay $10 for a second suitcase. I could buy a two-week pass for a very reasonable price, visit friends and family in several states out east and spend a few days at the Pennsic War on the way home. I used to entrust my hammered dulcimer to a friend with a car and take the bus to Winfield, arriving in time to set up my tent before the fingerpicking championship.

But not any more. Fewer busses run these days, seldom at reasonable times, almost never on time, and they don’t stop at Winfield.

Update: Maybe Greyhound executives should visit Japan.

Are you a twit?

Do you tweet? Are your thoughts expressible in no more than 140 characters? Perhaps you should reconsider. Here are a variety of philosophical arguments against using Twitter. For instance:

Natural Law Argument
(1) It is wrong to do what is not natural.
(2) There is nothing remotely natural about broadcasting the minutiae of your life to all and sundry whenever it takes your fancy.
(3) Therefore, Twittering is wrong.

(Via First Things.)


A useful term:

A related concept is heiwa-boke (hei-WA boh-keh), literally meaning “numbed from too much peace,” which describes the state of literally being made stupid by living in a country that’s overly harmonious, like the Japanese who traveled to Iraq in 2004 to help rebuild the country only to be promptly kidnapped because, well, they were in friggin’ Iraq.


A piece on the Montreaux jazz festival included this note about an unlikely pairing:

The pair [Lang Lang and Herbie Hancock] ended with Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 — which Lang Lang says inspired him when he heard it in a Tom & Jerry cartoon at 2 years old.

Here’s that cartoon, a classic combination of music and violence. The pianist you hear is likely Shura Cherkassky.



My sister sent me a link to an “identify the album” quiz. The page is no longer maintained — the link to the answers returns a 404 — and at least one of the identifications is wrong, but you might find it amusing anyway.

The above is one of my favorite covers, though the album, a collection of medieval dances, is too obscure to be fair game for such a quiz. Here it is in higher resolution.



Is there a superhero in your neighborhood? Check the registry. (Via Ken the Brickmuppet.)


Introducing Edward, the Veggie-Vampire.


I’m an embarrassment to Barack!

I only scored 14 on the Obama Test

(Via John Salmon.)