Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Solstice

This morning was a once-in-centuries full lunar eclipse on the winter solstice, but even though last week's ice storms have melted off, it was too overcast here to be worth waking up.

Still thinking about solstice traditions. Since this is the first year I've had a proper Yule Tree, I'll save the trunk to kindle a fire on the solstice, and maybe grill some pork chops.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Even more continental drift

Somehow my earlier posts about speculative future continental drift neglected the great Oct. 20, 2007, article at NewScientist.com, "Pangea, the comeback".

Most of these projections assume that, over 300 million years or so, Australia (and possibly Antarctica) will fly across the Pacific Ocean and collide with western North America. Then, the Americas will mash together and collide with the eastern edge of Afro-Eurasia. The exception is Christopher Scotese's Pangaea Proxima, which has the Atlantic Ocean stop widening and begin to shrink away.

These are all just speculation, of course, and apt fodder for fantasy. Grognard James Maliszewski, considering setting his old-school RPG in a hypothetical future Pangea, pointed out that the map of the Mystara campaign setting was based on the continents of the Jurassic. Commenter Malcadon points out the similarity between Robert E. Howard's Hyborian age and the Afro-Eurasia of 50 million years from now.

Dougal Dixon, an author of "The Future is Wild", has another similar work: After Man: A Zoology of the Future.

Offensive redirected link removed for the Hyborian Age. Try Wikipedia here or here.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election results 2010

Ken Herndon concedes in the Metro Council race:
With all but two precincts reporting, James had 58 percent of the vote, while Republican Candace Jaworski had 13 percent, and incumbent Independent Deonte Hollowell had just 8 percent; the rest were write-ins.

Democrat Ken Herndon had tried a write-in campaign, but there were far fewer write-in votes cast than James received. County election officials will begin counting write-in votes Monday.

According to the election board, there are 14,013 registered votes in the district, which is centered in Old Louisville.

Herndon said around 8 p.m. Tuesday that he had called James to congratulate him on winning. “There was just too much straight party voting. It was too difficult to overcome,” Herndon said.
Background here and here. Full results later.

Paul beats Conway for the Senate seat, Yarmuth wins re-election, Fischer wins for mayor, and it looks like Ben Chandler won a very narrow re-election in KY-6.

Polls are closing in California, since it's about 10pm now: time to see what happens with Prop. 19.

EDIT (2010-11-11)
Write-in votes for Herndon counted; James win affirmed (C-J):
Democrat Ken Herndon, who ran a write-in campaign after the party’s executive committee selected David James as its candidate for the office, received 900 write-in votes, said Sue Toole, chief operations officer for County Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw.

Based on recorded machine votes, James, a former Louisville police officer and Fraternal Order of Police president, had 3,070 votes, while Republican Candace Jaworski had 657 votes and independent incumbent council member Deonte Hollowell had 398 votes. Herndon had conceded the race to James election night.

Sarah Palin in 2012

It seems like it'd be worthwhile to put down something I've thought for some time.

Since Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential elections, there has been a group on the blue side of the aisle that has been secretly hoping Sarah Palin would run in 2012 and become the Republican candidate. This is because she's considered easy for Obama to beat. Lots of voters strongly dislike her, and if she ran, it might set up a 1964- or 1984-style blowout election. See here or here. Even David Plouffe thinks so. But this kind of sentiment is wrong: this is a much more dangerous scenario than people recognize.

It became pretty clear after the 2008 elections, in early 2009 or so, that the economy was going to still be bad by the time of the 2010 elections, which was going to play to the benefit of the Republicans. The scale and impact of the 2007-2009 recession was badly underestimated by many, from John McCain's famous "the fundamentals of the economy are strong" gaffe at a time when many Republicans denied that there was a recession underway at all, to the Obama administration's underestimates of the rise in unemployment absent stimulus and subsequent decision to lowball the stimulus.

Although the media loves the tactical fallacy and dramatic narratives, structural factors like war deaths and economic conditions drive election results. Real disposable personal income predicts elections and presidential approval often tracks unemployment. The rest is window dressing. The 2007-2009 recession was another jobless recovery. Economic weakness can persist for years following the collapse of a major housing or asset price bubble: look at Japan. And so the Republicans are to have a big year this cycle.

It's pretty normal for the coattail effect to cause a hangover in the next midterm election. Since the Civil War, the president's party loses House seats in the midterm elections, averaging losses of about 32 seats. Here's a picture:

In that 100-plus years of midterm elections, there have been three exceptions. The Republicans need to win 39 seats to reclaim the House, so if they win 40-50 seats or so, their victory will be somewhat above average that will leave them with a very narrow majority. But hardly the blowout "apocalypse" that Republicans have been exulting about this season. Republicans are likely to overinterpret the results of this election, and the media will be complicit in propagating a narrative of a surging GOP winning a "referendum" on the president.

The opposition party campaigns on the deficit, which is driven by the cyclical fall in tax revenues despite flat government spending. The Republicans are probably deluded as usual about their desire to enact spending cuts to popular government programs, or will focus on inconsequential but high-profile gimmicks over the budget. Or they might be serious for once and try an ill-conceived austerity plan at a time of economic weakness. The "growth through austerity" argument is wrong in the short term; the IMF surveyed growth-through-austerity attempts and found "...that the typical such episode is clearly contractionary: a fiscal consolidation equivalent to 1% of GDP leads on average to a 0.5% decline in GDP after two years, and to an increase of 0.3 percentage points in the unemployment rate." Perhaps monetary policy and QE could counterbalance this. But in any case, divided government is unlikelier to respond accommodatingly if the economy receives another financial shock similar to the Lehman failure that neccesitated TARP. Problems with the euro may spark such a crisis, given Greece's problems. Who knows. In any case, given the scale of the output gap, likelihood of a continuingly jobless recovery, and serious downside potential to a weak political response to a new economic shock, there's a significant chance that the economy will be weak in 2012.

If the economy is too stagnant, weak, or recessionary in 2012, the Republican will probably win, regardless of who the candidate is. And although people wrote off her chances following the 2008 elections, the odds that Sarah Palin would be the Republican candidate for president in 2012 have been growing since then. Much of the excitement, media coverage, and money she has generated over the last two years has been driven by the speculation that she would run for president: that fades away if she runs and fails, and it fades away if she fails to run. Many of the current primary competitiors are boring technocrats, people who failed to ignite the base before, or elites or phonies like Mitt Romney that too many would have to hold their nose for to support (like they hated doing with John McCain). Palin encapsulates everything the base loved about President George W. Bush, and nothing they hated about him. Two years out, South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint looks to be Palin's only real competitor for Tea Party energy, and possibly the conservative elites could rally around him. But Palin thrives on the scorn of the media and Republican elites: the more they dismiss or belittle her, the more the base gathers around her. So there is a significant chance that she could win the Republican primary in 2012.

So, here it is: There is a nontrivial chance that Sarah Palin could win the primary, and a nontrivial chance that any Republican candidate could win the presidency in 2012. This is what has come to be known as a fat tail or a black swan. People think there's small chance of it happening, but the consequences would be large and very negative.

Sarah Palin would be a terrible president, a dreadful president. And that's reason enough to hope she never gets anywhere near the office.

Elections 2010

Today is Election Day. I'll be watching the results tonight on the PBS Newshour on KET, as well as WHAS11 and Fox41. The CNN Election Center has good information, and in addition to the Louisville Courier-Journal and the New York Times, there's the usual political blogs. Check out Marc Ambinder's hour-by-hour guide, or try Nate Silver's.

Other useful sites for elections and election watching include:See also various voter guides, including the LEO overview of the Metro Council and mayoral races and the C-J's 2010 Louisville/Kentuckiana Voter Guide.

The most interesting elections this cycle? Prop. 19 in California is the most important vote on cannabis legalization in years, and could have a huge impact on American drug policy. The Louisville mayoral and Metro Council races will be interesting, too, although all the write-in votes will require a hand count.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Weird film adaptations

It's strange enough to hear that "What to Expect When You're Expecting" is being adapted to film as a romantic comedy.

But I was really amazed to see a press release announcing that DreamWorks is in negotiations to buy the film rights to View-Master. Yes, that View-Master, the stereoscopic toy. It's supposed to be a "Goonies"-style film from the writers of the new "Transformers" movies. And the press release wasn't dated to April 1.

I can even imagine a film based on "Candyland" or "Battleship". But aren't movies supposed to have conflicts, plots, or at least characters?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The wheel of fortune ever turns

And what goes comes full circle, I suppose. Yesterday morning we went outside to discover that over the weekend, someone had broken into our back shed and stolen my commuting bicycle along with a push mower and some other yard tools. I had won that bike last year, and dubbed it the Jub-Jub.

Since the Jub-Jub is gone, I'll have to have the Esquilax fixed up for commuting. And possibly uglify it even further.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

More metro council race

I summed up some of the backstory of this race a few weeks ago, but it was interesting to see the yard signs at the St. James Art Fair last weekend. The show is one of the largest events in Old Louisville, and has some interesting work; we spent the afternoon making and selling sandwiches for a neighborhood association fundraiser.

In the weeks leading up to the event, it seemed like Ken Herndon was the only candidate with any actual campaign. Not only have there been plenty of yard signs from his previous campaign with a "Write In" sticker, but he's printed new yard signs for the write-in campaign. Judging from yard signs, Herndon's campaign is clearly the most prominent in the neighborhood, drawing far more support than the Conway-Paul senatorial race, the Lally-Yarmuth congressional race, or the Fischer-Green-Heiner mayoral race. By contrast, it hardly seems like Deonte Hollowell or David James have a campaign at all.

The James campaign got a couple of large yard signs up around the time of the show, but I've hardly seen any Hollowell signs (just promotional paper fans). At least Hollowell has been ruled a valid candidate for the race, although there have been reports of marijuana possession at a 2009 speeding arrest.

Friday, October 1, 2010


It's official: for Louisville, this is the driest September on record, and the third driest month ever. 0.14 inches of rain in 40 days, and little prospect for more soon.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Coin hoarding, Gresham's Law, and base metals

Argentina's weird coin shortage got some press back in 2008 and 2009, and it continues into 2010. Some suspected hoarders or melters when inflation was at 25%, and led small businesses to give change in mints or candy.

Where are Argentina's coins? (Global Post, 2009-05-11):
The coin scarcity has created a strange predicament: Merchants regularly refuse to sell their goods or services if it means they’ll have to give coins back as change. For small transactions, they’d rather lose the revenue than spare the change. ...Many of the banks are as loath to let go of their coins as the small businesses are.

...The cause of the coin scarcity isn’t clear. The Central Bank says it’s supplying enough: a record 524 million new coins in 2008, up 13 percent from 2007. This year will likely bring a new record, and there are supposedly 5 billion Argentine coins currently in circulation — about 125 per person.

Many blame coin hoarders and black-marketeers, several of whom have been caught. But they seem to be effects, rather than causes, of the shortage. Another scapegoat is the city buses, which until now have only accepted coins.

...The shortage might have been precipitated by the rise in commodity prices in the last few years, said Dardo Ferrer, chief economist at the Market Foundation. There have been reports of people inside Argentina and across its borders melting coins for their metal, which became worth more than coins's face value when the price of raw materials rose.
Coin hoarding and melting were common in an earlier age, when money derived most of its value from the intrinsic value of the metal, James Surowiecki explains:
Hoarding of this sort, and the resulting coin shortages, was once a recurring economic problem, one that the Italian economic historian Carlo Cipolla dubbed “the big problem of small change.” But these shortages were thought to be a feature of premodern times, when coins were made out of precious metal, and people literally brought silver to the mint to have it turned into coins. If the value of silver rose beyond the face value of coins, hoarding silver was a natural response. Today, coins are government-issued tokens, and their value is theoretically unconnected to the metal they contain.

This isn’t to say that the material worth of a coin’s metal can’t still exceed its face value; the rising value of zinc, for instance, meant that, last year, every new penny issued cost the U.S. Mint about 1.7 cents. But hoarding no longer makes sense unless it’s done on a large scale, and most people in Buenos Aires are not melting down their coins into hunks of copper.
Gresham's law implies that coins with a lower intrinsic value will replace coins with a higher intrinsic value if the nominal value of the coins remains the same. A lot of this happened in the 1960s and 1970s, when the U.S. shifted to a true fiat currency and started minting dimes (and other coins) in a copper-nickel alloy rather than silver. Numismatists shifted through change for decades to collect all the silver dimes and remove them from circulation. According to Coinflation.com, the intrinsic value of a silver Mercury or pre-1964 Roosevelt dime is US$1.59, although the face value remains US$0.10.

So, how likely is it that hoarders are (or were) melting down the coins of Argentina for a profit? The Central Bank of Argentina's Web site is a little strangely laid out, but has useful information about the coins. Most of Argentina's coins are minted in aluminum bronze or cupronickel, and some of them have a brass-plated steel variant. Let's look at three of them: the aluminum bronze 50-centavo coin, the aluminum bronze 25-centavo coin, and the cupronickel 25-centavo coin. Since there are no brass-plated steel variants, these would be among the easiest to collect and melt down.
  • The 50-centavo coin weighs 5.8 grams, and is composed of 92% copper and 8% aluminum. The metal in each coin is thus worth US$0.044. The nominal value of 50 centavos is US$0.12.
  • The aluminum bronze 25-centavo coin weighs 5.4 grams, and is composed of 92% copper and 8% aluminum. The metal in each coin is thus worth US$0.04. The nominal value of 25 centavos is US$0.063.
  • The cupronickel 25-centavo coin weighs 6.1 grams, and is composed of 75% copper and 25% nickel. The metal in each coin is thus worth $0.072. The nominal value of 25 centavos is US$0.063.
Only the cupronickel coin has greater intrinsic value than face value. But Argentina, like the U.S., has a penny problem. Both of the 1-centavo coins are worth more than US$0.01 for the copper, while the face value of the coin is only worth a quarter of a U.S. cent. Argentine pennies are worth nearly four times as much for their metal as for their face value. Melting may make economic sense with the 1-centavo coin, and possibly others. But if melting was the culprit, it seems like steel coins would eventually make their way into circulation. Or perhaps, having gotten swept up in a hoarding dynamic, hoarders can profitably sell even steel coins, which helps maintain the hoarding behavior.

However, there have been at least some cases where it is known that people have been melting down base metal coins to use as a raw material.

Sharp practice of melting coins (BBC, 2007-06-26):
Millions of Indian coins are being smuggled into neighbouring Bangladesh and turned into razor blades. And that's creating an acute shortage of coins in many parts of India, officials say.

Police in Calcutta say that the recent arrest of a grocer highlights the extent of the problem. They seized what they said was a huge coin-melting unit which he was operating in a run-down shack.

The grocer confessed to melting down tens of thousands of Indian coins into razor blades which were then smuggled into Bangladesh, police said.

"Our one rupee coin is in fact worth 35 rupees, because we make five to seven blades out of them," the grocer allegedly told the police. "Bangladeshi smugglers take delivery of the blades at regular intervals."
This was three years ago, and prices have changed since 2007, but a quick comparison at contemporary prices may be interesting. According to the Royal Bank of India, all currently-minted Indian coins are minted in stainless steel. The old two- and five-rupee coins were cupronickel. Assuming a 75% copper/25% nickel alloy, the metal in the old six-gram two-rupee coin would be worth approximately US$0.07, while one nominal rupee is worth US$0.02 at current exchange rates. So it's entirely plausible that hoarders were melting the coins for copper and nickel. It seems like steel prices would have to be higher for the metal for the new 5.62-gram stainless steel two-rupee coin to be worth more than the face value of the coin, but perhaps Bangladeshi melters have additional costs to obtain raw materials otherwise.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Falls City Beer in 2010

Perhaps I noticed this in passing and then completely forgot, but it appears an entrepreneur has bought the old Falls City Beer and relaunched it as a craft beer. Louisville is a really great town for beer, compared with our neighbors.

Falls City was a Louisville brand for many years, probably most (in)famous nationally for the market flop Billy Beer. It eventually devolved into the kind of weak alcopop politely and euphemistically known as "American pale lager", contract brewed in Evansville and then Pittsburgh. It had a surprising amount of loyalty, and I'd long hoped it could be revivified as a purveyor of good beer. It appears to be so. Here's their new FaceBook page.

Apparently this happened some time ago, and I completely missed it. Blogging at Mojo back in December 2009, John LaFollette said:
A new Falls City Brewing Company has set up shop in the city that gave the iconic brand its name, pledging to recreate the craftsmanship and high-quality standards that, in its heyday, earned Falls City beer national distinction.

The new owner, Louisville businessman David Easterling, declined to be interviewed until his plans for the company were clearer, but said they should be producing beer and test-marketing it around town within the month.

...Falls City beer was once a staple of Louisville bars. Falls City bar signs are still hanging at Check's Café in Germantown—the bar gets regular requests for it, and says they will carry the new version—and at the Outlook Inn in the Highlands.

In the years following Prohibition, Falls City competed locally with the Fehr's and Oertel's breweries and with Evansville-based Sterling, and by 1950 was producing 750,000 barrels a year, making it the most popular beer in Louisville.

Still, by the late 1960s, the brewery struggled to keep up with larger, national brands, and made cuts in ingredient and production quality. Facing declining sales and a declining reputation, Falls City was sold in 1978 to the Wisconsin-based G. Heileman Brewing Company
Roger Baylor had an interview with owner David Easterly in the LEO, beside some consumer reactions, back in April 2010.

Has anyone had the new brew? It sounds like it may be worth supporting.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Greatest hits from the Zombie Apocalypse

My previous blog (2006-2008) was known as Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse, as noted before, and mostly consisted of tongue-in-cheek reviews of zombie movies.

I've been considering importing at least some of that old content, especially now that the company hosting the old blog is changing its business model. My plan at present is to post stuff here backdated to the date of its original post, but edit the content as I see fit: Archive the interesting stuff, but give it a buff and polish. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The down side of "sound money"

I have a soft spot for goldbugs: they're at willing to consider how our economic system could be different with very different foundations, and relitigate century-old monetary disputes. It's like a steampunk monetary policy. Although I always wonder why they never talk about silver, the international standard for thousands of years, instead of gold, a colonial-era fad. Or why something like the terra wouldn't be more plausible going forward.

But the gold standard is a bad idea. Gold is deflationary, because it can't be mined at a pace that keeps up with global economic growth. Deflation discourages investments in future production rather than savings, and it's difficult to get people to accept nominal pay cuts during a recession. Modest, controlled inflation is more conducive to long-term growth, but everybody really, really hates inflation.

But this chart from Doug Short lays out the effects pretty clearly.

The gold standard offered great price stability in its day. Because it more frequently interrupted inflation and economic growth with deflation and protracted recessions.

Happy Equinox

...btw; today's the autumnal equinox (and the week of Oktoberfest).

I managed to find Jupiter with my wee telescope on Monday, but I couldn't get it to focus any sharper than a blur.

Visualizing Louisville

Yesterday I saw Eric Fischer's maps of race and ethnicity in American cities, but somehow managed to miss his map of Louisville (h/t tVV).

Louisville Magazine has a brief piece about Charlie Farnsley's effort to bring back the old city flag. Bumper stickers are available at Brand Louisville (h/t WFPL The Edit).

The Louisville metro council 6th district race is a mess

It's kind of a long story, but the Louisville Metro Council election in my district (6th) looks like it's going to be a huge mess.

Back in 2008, Ken Herndon ran against the incumbent, George Unseld, in the Democratic primary. Days before the election, a truly vile and viciously homophobic mailer was sent out to residents of the district attacking Herndon and his campaign. The mailer attacking Herndon came after Metro Councilman Jim King had pressured Herndon to drop out of the race.

After Unseld very narrowly won the primary (by only 112 votes), Herndon filed a lawsuit in an attempt to uncover the source of this flyer. He found evidence linking Unseld and King's offices to the flyer (allegedly at the behest of Mayor Abramson's office), but no smoking gun.

Councilman Unseld died this June in his offices, suffering extensive bleeding following a fall. Hundreds came to his funeral.

Twenty applicants applied to fill the open seat, of whom several dropped out. The Metro Council interviewed the remaining 11, including Herndon, U of L Pan-African Studies professor Deonte Hollowell, and attorney Neena Parks Thompson. A long series of deadlocked votes ensued. Finally, independent Deonte Hollowell was chosen as a compromise; he's reportedly the first Independent to serve on the Metro Council.

Dr. Hollowell came to our neighborhood association meeting after announcing that he was running as an Independent in the November election to fill the remainder of Unseld's term (the first such meeting we've attended, btw). He says that he is very committed to running as an Independent rather than seeking the backing of a party, since he feels (IIRC) that such partisan disputes are not relevant to the welfare of the district. It is a noteworthy sentiment, but I suspect it's somewhat naive: the district's voters are registered 71% Democratic, 17% Republican, and 11% independent or other.

Hollowell was likely chosen as a seat-warmer until a Democratic candidate could fill the seat in November. I suspect he was not taken very seriously at the time. But since taking the seat, he's been working with Unseld's staff and has been doing a very competent job, to my understanding.

For the November election, the Democrats selected former FOP president David James, despite potential residency problems. James was nominated after a weighted vote by a nine-member panel. At the last minute, the GOP selected Candace Jaworski for the race.

In August, Ken Herndon launched a write-in campaign, making it a four-way race. Normally, a write-in campaign is not a serious effort. But Herndon is well-known in the district with a large bloc of support, the nomination process was badly tainted by party shenanigans, and the electorate is already very split since the incumbent is an Independent. There are a ~lot~ of Ken Herndon signs (left over from the primary) with a "Write In" sticker on them in Old Louisville.

So at present, there are four candidates: Republican Candace Jaworski, Democrat David James, incumbent Independent Deonte Hollowell, and write-in candidate Ken Herndon. Anything could happen.

Now, a lawsuit has been filed to remove Hollowell from the ballot, alleging that he didn't have enough petition signatures to be eligible to run as an independent. Ed Springston points to former Democratic Party chair Jennifer Moore among others (you can guess who).

At this point I think it's responsible only to vote for Deonte Hollowell or write in Ken Herndon. And it's certainly plausible that someone could win the seat outside the two major parties. The parties have made a real mess of this. But at least the results will be "interesting".

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

More electoral fusion in New York

New York is about the only state in the country that has a system where third parties robustly participate in elections, since the state retains electoral fusion. Electoral fusion allows small parties to cross-endorse the candidates from the major two parties. Although the two major parties continue to dominate the state's politics, this means that the smaller parties can wait in the wings for unusual situations and allow ideological voters to express their preferences in other ways.

It got a lot of attention back in the 2009 special election for New York's 23rd Congressional district, in which more Conservative Doug Doug Hoffmann beat more liberal Republican Dede Scozzafava for the seat, as voters in the right-leaning district attempted to signal their preference for a more conservative candidate.

Now, it might be consequential in the 2010 New York gubernatorial election, as Rick Lazio is still on the Conservative Party line against Republican nominee Carl Paladino after losing in the Republican primary.

More coverage:
Paladino Rout of Lazio Jolts New York G.O.P. (NYT)
Paladino and New York’s Republicans (538@NYT)
Poll Showing Gains by Paladino Excluded Key Candidate From Ballot (538@NYT):
A new poll this morning from Rasmussen Reports suggests significant tightening in the New York governor’s race. The poll has the Democrat, Andrew Cuomo, ahead 54 percent to 38 percent against Carl P. Paladino, the boisterous Buffalo businessman who soundly won the Republican primary last week against Rick Lazio.

...Still, there is one clear flaw with this poll, which is that it did not include an option for Mr. Lazio, who – even as he lost to Mr. Paladino among Republicans — won the Conservative Party’s nomination for governor and is expected to remain in the race. The Conservative Party is a big deal here in New York because of fusion voting, which allows multiple parties to endorse the same candidate on the ballot (Mr. Cuomo, for instance, is the nominee of the Democrats, as well as the liberal Working Families’ Party). Some voters in New York look toward the endorsements of the Conservative Party and the Working Families’ Party when filling out their ballots, and they can sometimes tip the outcome in a race.

But sometimes, the Conservative Party and the Republican Party split, as they have in this case — and this can have a much bigger influence on the outcome.
Or not. Rick Lazio has dropped out.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

More English spelling reform

Via Johnson via John Wells, I learned of Masha Bell's blog Improving English Spelling covering spelling reform. Some of the best posts are among her earlier ones, in which she makes the case for very modest regularizations of the most common English words to facilitate education and literacy among young students:...as well as plenty of posts discussing individual spellings or the weird history of irregularly spelt short u. The sheer pigheadedness behind some of the irregular spellings is always amazing, as when the inkhorns added a "p" to the front of Gaelic "tarmigan" in order to make it look Greek and thus edumacated.

Wells makes a great point, too:
She also compares the ‘redundant’ -e in such words as accurate, adequate, delicate, private, with the ‘phonic reliability’ of words such as accelerate, assassinate, calculate. ...This implies, interestingly, that perhaps we ought to complicate our spelling by introducing a difference between moderate (verb, ˈmɒdəreɪt) and moderat (adjective, ˈmɒd(ə)rət), or separate (verb, ˈsepəreɪt) and separat (adjective, ˈsep(ə)rət) and other similar pairs.

It would certainly, I think, be advantageous to abolish the -e not only in love but also in have and give. These three very basic words immediately undermine the ‘magic e’ rule that reading beginners are taught. It would be nice, too, to be able to distinguish liv (verb, lɪv) from live (adjective, laɪv).

A great idea. Spelling reform has been going nowhere for years, and is generally done in countries more comfortable with language policy, language planning, and more significant government power over elements of popular culture. More recently, it was controversial in Germany.

I suspect the only hope for spelling reform in English is through guerilla and asymmetrical means, such as by endorsement of popular respellings like "nite" for "night". It will happen when writers just begin writing and publishing in reformed spellings, and the spellings that make sense drift from signs and text messages into usage in increasingly formal or prestige contexts.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Letters to a future age

...on the Georgia Guidestones, an American Stonehenge: Monumental Instructions for the Post-Apocalypse (Wired).

It's kind of amazing how relatively easy it is to send Rosetta Stones forward into the future, although I wonder how this monument would hold up over 10,000 years. That is a truly mind-boggling distance of time, and yet but a pittance if our species is to continue to survive in geological time.

The third directive is "unite humanity with a living new language".

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Summon monster lists in Pathfinder RPG

The summon monster lists of 3.5e never made much sense to me, since the monsters tended to be of fairly widely varying power levels. The summon monster spells in the Pathfinder RPG seem a little more systematic.

For these generalizations, ignore the CR boost provided by the fiendish/celestial creature template, which occasionally puts creatures outside of this range. Summon monster I generally summons CR 1/3 to 1/2 creatures, with the exception of the CR 1 riding dog. Summon monster II summons CR 1 creatures, with the exception of the less powerful giant centipede, while summon monster III always summons CR 2 creatures.

Summon monster IV summons creatures of CR 3 to 4; summon monster V summons creatures of CR 5 to 6; summon monster VI summons creatures of CR 7 to 8; summon monster VII summons creatures of CR 9 to 10 (mostly 9); summon monster VIII summons CR 11 outsiders; and summon monster IX summons outsiders of CR 13 to 14.

So, for example, when putting together an alternate summoning list, a CR 2 axe beak would be an appropriate creature to summon with summon monster III.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Every key Westminster system parliament hung

This blog follows electoral reform somewhat lackadaisically: mostly I reckon electoral fusion is the likeliest way to enable third parties to survive and complement the major parties in the US, which has a first-past-the-post presidential system with a strong status-quo bias, rather than the parliamentary system in which most multi-party systems thrive.

But it's interesting that the London School of Economics blog points out that the results of the 2010 Australian elections mean that first-past-the-post electoral systems, the Alternative Vote (aka instant-runoff voting), and other systems of proportional representation have led to a hung Parliament in every major country using the Westminster system.

Every key ‘Westminster model’ country now has a hung Parliament, following Australia’s ‘dead heat’ election (LSE):
Thanks largely to the success of the Greens in attracting one in every nine votes, Australians now have a lower house (called the House of Representatives) which is completely hung, for the first time since 1940.

...For the first time in history, the Australian outcome means that every key ‘Westminster model’ country in the world now has a hung Parliament. These are the former British empire countries that according to decades of political science orthodoxy are supposed to produce strong, single party government. Following Duverger’s Law their allegedly ‘majoritarian’ electoral systems (first past the post and AV) will typically produce reinforced majorities for one of the top two parties.

But now the table below shows that four of the five key countries have coalition governments in balanced parliaments where no party has a majority. The one exception is Canada, where the Parliament has been hung since 2004, across three general elections.

The linked paper has some interesing conclusions about Duverger's law, the premise that first-past-the-post voting systems lead inexorably to two-party systems (while conversely, proportional representation leads to a more diverse system of parties):
Few propositions in political science are as well known as Duverger’s association of plurality rule systems with two (or few) party competition and an accompanying ‘hypothesis’ (more tentatively) linking proportional representation systems to multi-party systems.

...While the DL literature undeniably opened the way for us to explore some fundamental underlying regularities in the operation of all elections, we have argued here that it extensively misattributes competition space effects to electoral system differences. Using the key concepts of the number of observable parties and 'effectve competition space', we developed a series of precisely measurable tests for Duvergerian two-party drift, and also contrasting predictions of how district-level performance should be structured if results are random or reflect only equi-probability influences (that is, assuming that all logically possible vote combinations across parties are elikely to occur).

When the ‘number of observable parties’ is just 2 or 3 we can predict the district-level results by assuming equi-probability With only two observable parties, outcomes should followbi-nomial probability distribution, defined essentially by the mean vote for the largest party (V1). For three observable parties, outcomes outcomes should reflect the multi-nomial probability distribution, defined by the mean support for the two largest parties (V1 and V2). This approach means that most of the ‘strong’ cases conventionally cited as evidence of Duverger’s Law (sucperfect 2 party district-level outcomes in many US Congressional districts) can be fully and more parsimoniously explained in ECS terms, rendering them inadmissible as support for DL effects.

Both the theoretical argument and the preliminary data from India, the UK and USA reviewed here, suggest that as more and more parties enter competition so strong automatic pressures come into play that make it less and less feasible for two-party drift to occur. Again it is not clear that any reference to electoral system effects is needed to explain multi-party vote outcomes – the driving force here is simply the increase in the number of parties getting a tiny 1 percent of the vote each and the impacts of such changes on the shaping of competition space. we might turn around Sartori’s famous (and loaded) question (2005, p. 107): ‘How much feebleness makes a party irrelevant?’ A clear implication of our approach (and of the data reviewed here) is that every small party getting enough votes to enlarge the competition space can be very relevant indeed for the evolution of party systems.

See also the LSE guide to voting systems.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

For re-reading of Nehwon

I always think of the Nehwon stories of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser as coming from a much later fantasy tradition than the sword-and-sorcery of the 1930s pulps, since Fritz Leiber continued writing these stories through the 1960s, 1970s, and into the 1980s. Several of the anthologies were published in 1968 (Swords in the Mist, Swords Against Wizardry, and The Swords of Lankhmar) and 1970 (Swords and Deviltry and Swords Against Death). Leiber created Fafhrd following the excesses of the rather inhuman Conan; Fafhrd may be a northern barbarian, but he is usually the more cautious and circumspect of the pair, with an uncanny singing voice.

My first reading of these stories was in the order that the anthologies have come to be arranged in: first, Swords and Deviltry (Vol. 1); then Swords against Death (Vol. 2); Swords in the Mist (Vol. 3); Swords Against Wizardry (Vol. 4); The Swords of Lankhmar (Vol. 5); Swords and Ice Magic (Vol. 6); and The Knight and Knave of Swords (Vol. 7). But this seems a faulty way to read them; it implies that the stories present a sustained fantasy narrative, when they rather are very episodic and diverse in tone and style.

I've been considering rereading these stories in order of original publication, skipping from book to book to learn of the adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser as they were revealed, in order to break up the illusory suggestion of a narrative flow. In a way, this approach also shows how old many of these stories are. For rough comparison, Robert E. Howard committed suicide in 1936; H.P. Lovecraft died in 1937; Clark Ashton Smith turned toward sculpture around 1935. Leiber and Harry Otto Fischer began constructing the world of Nehwon around 1937, and Leiber published the first Fafhrd/Mouser story in 1939.

So here follows a listing of the anthologized stories in order of original publication. It's not a bibliography exactly, but more like a cheatsheet for ordering the 36 stories in the anthologies. For example, "Scylla's Daughter", originally published in 1961, later became the first part of The Swords of Lankhmar. The Internet Speculative Fiction Database, the ISFDB Wiki, Galactic Central's magazine list of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Wikipedia were useful references.
  • "The Jewels in the Forest" aka "Two Sought Adventure" (August 1939), Swords Against Death
  • "The Bleak Shore" (November 1940), Swords Against Death
  • "The Howling Tower" (June 1941), Swords Against Death
  • "The Sunken Land" (February 1942), Swords Against Death
  • "Thieves' House" (February 1943), Swords Against Death
  • "Adept's Gambit" (1947), Swords in the Mist
  • "Claws from the Night" aka "Dark Vengeance" (Fall 1951), Swords Against Death
  • "The Seven Black Priests" (May 1953), Swords Against Death
  • "Induction" (1957), Swords and Deviltry
  • "Lean Times in Lankhmar" (November 1959), Swords in the Mist
  • "When the Sea-King's Away" (May 1960), Swords in the Mist
  • "The Unholy Grail" (October 1962), Swords and Deviltry
  • "The Cloud of Hate" (May 1963), Swords in the Mist
  • "Bazaar of the Bizarre" (August 1963), Swords Against Death
  • "The Lords of Quarmall" (January and February 1964), Swords Against Wizardry
  • "Stardock" (September 1965), Swords Against Wizardry
  • "The Two Best Thieves in Lankhmar" (August 1968), Swords Against Wizardry
  • "Their Mistress, the Sea" (1968), Swords in the Mist
  • "The Wrong Branch" (1968), Swords in the Mist
  • "In the Witch's Tent" (1968), Swords Against Wizardry
  • The Swords of Lankhmar (1968)
  • "Ill Met in Lankhmar" (March 1970), Swords and Deviltry
  • "The Snow Women" (April 1970), Swords and Deviltry
  • "The Circle Curse" (1970), Swords Against Death
  • "The Price of Pain-Ease" (1970), Swords Against Death
  • "The Sadness of the Executioner" (April 1973), Swords and Ice Magic
  • "Trapped in the Shadowland" (November 1973), Swords and Ice Magic
  • "The Bait" (December 1973), Swords and Ice Magic
  • "Beauty and the Beasts" (January 1974), Swords and Ice Magic
  • "Under the Thumbs of the Gods" (April 1975), Swords and Ice Magic
  • "Trapped in the Sea of Stars" (September 1975), Swords and Ice Magic
  • "The Frost Monstreme" (August 1976), Swords and Ice Magic
  • "Rime Isle" (May and July 1977), Swords and Ice Magic
  • "Sea Magic" (December 1977), The Knight and Knave of Swords
  • "The Mer She" (December 1978), The Knight and Knave of Swords
  • "The Curse of the Smalls and the Stars" (March 1983), The Knight and Knave of Swords
  • "The Mouser Goes Below" (1988), The Knight and Knave of Swords
It was in issue 11 of "The Dragon" that "Sea Magic" appeared, a year after TSR published a Lankhmar board game. TSR included the Nehwon pantheon in 1980's Deities & Demigods and a Lankhmar campaign setting book for AD&D in 1985.

It's a pity, as well, that my cheap ibooks paperback editions from 2003 are already turning yellow and brittle with age. Hopefully the Dark Horse editions will be more durable.

Further comparison: The Fellowship of the Ring was first published in 1954, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was first published in 1950.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Succumbing to Warhammer

Well, I usually go to GenCon for the RPGs; in 2010 it looks like the collapse of the 3e bubble is nearly complete. There were some good deals on old stock from Goodman Games, but there were many fewer clearance sales.

This year, I got really nostalgic for the kind of strategy and war games that I used to play back in the day, but rarely play anymore. In the early 1990s, I used to play a lot of Axis & Allies, and later on borrowed some armies to play Warhammer with folks that played old Avalon Hill wargames from time to time. At recent GenCons, I've picked up dwarf, undead, and monster decks for Battlegrounds Fantasy Warfare (bgg), which is a great concept (I was hoping to pick up the Punic War deck, but Your Move Games was not at the convention this year). So I spent some time demo-ing strategy boardgames from Fantasy Flight Games. They were heavily promoting Battles of Westeros (bgg) this year, which I watched some demos of. I personally only demo-ed Tide of Iron (bgg) and Battles of Napoleon (bgg). Tide of Iron was OK; it seems like a fun enough game, but possibly overgeneralized and random for my tastes, although it did allow more than two players. Of the three, Battles of Napoleon seemed like the most fun and worthy game. It has relatively few unit types (infantry, cavalry, and artillery) that play over a large hex grid, but much of the strategic depth comes from the command structure and management. It looked like a lot of fun, but at $100, it's somewhat pricey for a game I'd rarely play.

At the last minute, I instead went in for Warhammer, splitting a copy of the Battle for Skull Pass (bgg, review) with a friend. Tonight we assemble and divide it. As another friend said, it's cheaper now, but more expensive in the long run ;)

Battle for Skull Pass includes small 500-point armies for the dwarfs and orcs & goblins and 7th edition rules.The more recent set, Island of Blood, includes small Skaven and High Elf armies and 8th edition rules, which were released in June (1, 2, 3).

Games Workshop has articles on collecting, modelling, gaming, and painting, errata and FAQs, and a nice map of the Warhammer world. There are fan forums like the 40k forums knowledge base
with basic information on gluing, painting, and stripping paint. Wikipedia has background on the game and the armies.

Mantic makes cheaper, ostensibly compatible figures and has a how-to section that includes assembling and painting dwarf and undead units at present.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Voter choice in primaries vs. parliamentary systems

Yglesias points us to Neil Sinhababu on getting your voter choice fix:
Whenever I talk to people who wish our system allowed for more parties, and thus more options in a general election, I tell them that they've got plenty of options -- they just have to get involved in primaries. ...I guess there are different ways of fulfilling voters' desires for more than two choices -- primaries and multiparty systems. Maybe part of the reason why so few countries have direct primaries is that when you already have a multiparty system, you've given enough scope for voter choice that you don't need primaries.

2010 has seen a lot of really interesting primary races, especially on the GOP side. The Jack Conway-Daniel Mongiardo/Trey Grayson-Rand Paul races here in Kentucky offered some interestingly contrasting candidates, and the "centrists" of each party didn't win out in the way that's usual. While it's not quite true today that primaries are the real election in the way it was during the era of machine politics, primaries are really important races. It's a shame people pay so relatively little attention to them.

But still I say: Electoral fusion!

Monday, August 9, 2010

An extensible number system

Earlier this year, I pointed to John Nystrom's 1862 proposal for a tonal (hexadecimal) number and measurement system to replace that of English in lieu of the metric system, and speculated that a system similar to Nystrom's could be used to generate a flexible number system that can be extended to describe any base. I've been noodling around with the idea since then, and here's what I've come up with.

Each of the numbers from 1 to 20 has a simple word that represents its basic identity. These words are simple consonant-vowel syllables; these should be generally accessible to speakers of numerous widespread languages, and contrast in place and manner of articulation as much as possible.

A table of the numbers and their names is below. The numbers are named as follows: "Ye" is 1; "bi" is 2; "sa" is 3; "te" is 4; "fu" is 5; "go" is 6; "mi" is 7; "pa" is 8; "ze" is 9; "du" is 10; "vo" is 11; "ki" is 12; "hu" is 13; "be" is 14; "su" is 15; "to" is 16; "fi" is 17; "ga" is 18; "me" is 19; and "pu" is 20.

The consonants are pronounced roughly as in English, and the vowels are pronounced as in Spanish or Japanese. A different orthography might be appropriate for English speakers: the word for 2 rhymes with "bumblebee", and the words for both 14 and 19 rhyme with "meh", but the words for 2 and 14 have different vowels. It'd probably be almost impossible to get English speakers to pronounce everything properly, though ;)

Each of these numbers can be used as the basis for a number system. To indicate that a number is the base, append "-n" to that number's name. For example, the word "du" represents the idea of 10. Thus, "dun" represents 10 within the context of the decimal (base-10) system. Effectively, appending "-n" to "du" means "10 raised to the 1st power".

This may not seem terribly useful. But the system can regularly extrapolate a word for any position in the number system as an exponent of the base. The decimal word for 100, for example, means literally "10 raised to the 2nd power". To do this, append "-l" to the word for the base, and follow it with the word for 2 ("bi") appended by "-n". So the word for a hundred is "dulbin". The word for 1,000 is "dulsan".

Overall, the system is strict place-value notation, similar to East Asian numbers. Numbers larger than the base are said as they are written in positional notation, multiplying and adding as necessary. Within the context of decimal math, "dun ye" (literally, "ten and one") is 11. "Bi dulbin dun bi" (literally, "two hundreds, ten, and two") is 212. "Sa dulsan ye dulbin bi dun sa" (literally, "three thousands, one hundred, two tens, and three") is 3,123. Since "dun" is the word for 10 in a base-10 context, the decimal system is internally known as the "dunal system".

This system's main feature is that it can predictably extend any base up to 20. The octal, or base-8, system, is the "panal system", since "pan" is the word for 8 in a base-8 context. "Te pan fu" (literally, "four 8s and five") is decimal 37. "Mi palbin fu pan sa" (literally, "seven 64s, five 8s, and three") is decimal 491. In hexadecimal, "te tolbin" (literally, "four 256s") is decimal 1,024.

This is more limited than scientific notation, of course. But without resorting to scientific notation, in vigesimal, the system can count to more than decimal 2 octillion. In decimal, the highest it can count is one short of one sextillion.

For convenience and clarity, binary can be handled in a somewhat different manner, the short binal system. In short binal, 1 is "ye", 2 is "bin", and 4 is "tel". Subsequent numbers are created by appending "-b" to the name of the power of 2. For example, "sab" is 8 (rather than "bilsan"), and "teb" is 16 (rather than "bilten"). Thus, "teb sab tel ye" is decimal 29.

One clear drawback is the high level of rhyming. These words are more similar than the same words in English; the example of decimal 212 above adequately demonstrates how repeating the same sounds could be confusing. Of course, explicitly repeating the base might make it easier to break the number up. And the difference in scale between "dulsan", "dulgon", and "dulzen" might be more readily apparent than between "thousand", "million", and "billion", given that people often fail to easily conceptualize the difference in degree. Certainly, this is a limited system deficient for the purposes that John Nystrom envisioned (replacing the number system of a natural language); but it may be useful within the scope of its intent.

NumberNameDecimalHexadecimalVigesimalShort Binal
1 Ye ye ye ye ye
2 Bi bi bi bi bin
3 Sa sasasabin ye
4 Te tetetetel
5 Fu fufufutel ye
6 Go gogogotel bin
7 Mi mi mi mi tel bin ye
8 Pa pa pa pa sab
9 Ze ze ze ze sab ye
10 Du ye dun du du sab bin
11 Vo ye dun ye vo vo sab bin ye
12 Ki ye dun bi ki ki sab tel
13 Hu ye dun sa hu hu sab tel ye
14 Be ye dun te be be sab tel bin
15 Su ye dun fu su su sab tel bin ye
16 To ye dun go ye ton to teb
17 Fi ye dun mi ye ton ye fi teb ye
18 Ga ye dun pa ye ton bi ga teb bin
19 Me ye dun ze ye ton sa me teb bin ye
20 Pu bi dun ye ton te ye pun teb tel
21 bi dun ye ye ton fu ye pun ye teb tel ye
22 bi dun bi ye ton go ye pun bi teb tel bin
23 bi dun sa ye ton mi ye pun sa teb tel bin ye
24 bi dun te ye ton pa ye pun te teb sab
25 bi dun fu ye ton ze ye pun fu teb sab ye
100 ye dulbin go ton te fu pun gob fub tel
256 bi dulbin fu dun go ye tolbin ki pun to pab
400 te dulbin ye tolbin ze ton ye pulbin pab mib teb

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Downtown eats in Indy

We're leaving for GenCon tomorrow. Yay!

GenCon is fun if you work it right, especially to meet up with old friends who live elsewhere. But I'm not a big fan of downtown Indy; it seems like what a suburbanite's idea of what a downtown should be like. It seems so sterile, rather than being an organic neighborhood where people might actually live. And it is completely overrun with generic chain restaurants.

We always go to the Ram (link), a chain brewpub with a location next to the convention center that has always made a show of welcoming gamer nerds. The Shake 'n Steak nearby is a little cheaper, but always super crowded, while the Einstein Bros Bagels (link) is decent for a breakfast. The food at the Convention Center itself is expensive and truly wretched. We've tried to eat elsewhere from time to time, but such experimentation has led to some terrible experiences, as when (desperately hungry late at night) we wandered into a Hooter's that served one of the most disgusting greasy fish and chips I've ever eaten.

So here's some preliminary research on restaurants near the Convention Center. Mostly I've been using the IndyEthnicFood.com map, trying to get information on places that aren't too expensive, too generic, or serve what we already eat too much of.

The place I've always wanted to go to eat in Indy is the Brugge Brasserie (link, map), ever since sampliing some of their beer at events here in Louisville. They brew some fantastic Belgians, as I recall. The brasserie is a gastropub serving Belgian and European food. At 1011 A.E. Westfield Blvd., however, it is way to the north in Broad Ripple about seven or eight miles north of downtown. This neighborhood, though, appears to have a bunch of great restaurants and all of Indy's independent brewpubs such as Barley Island (link) and Broad Ripple Brewpub (link).

Two years ago, it was really nice to have lunch at a Japanese restaurant after a couple days of Convention Center food and pub grub. The nearest Japanese restaurant is Mikado. A block east is Sushi on the Rocks (link, map, menu) which has lunch specials under $10. At 235 S Meridian St., it is between Georgia and South St.

Noodles & Company (link, map, menu) is a chain that offers a variety of Asian-, American-, and Mediterranean-inspired pasta/noodle dishes. It looks like a meal here runs about $5-10. At 121 W. Maryland St., it's right next to the Convention Center between Capitol and Illinois Ave. The Pita Pit (link, map, menu) is another chain that has various sandwiches for $5-10 and is open until 9 or 10pm. At 1 N. Pennsylvania St., it is just north of Washington St. and about a block southeast of the Soldiers & Sailors Monument. There's a couple of other places around Pennsylvania Ave. and Washington St., like King David Dogs (link) and Dick's Barbeque (link, map, menu) at 50 N. Pennsylvania Ave, which has meals under $10.

TaTa Cuban Cafe (link, map) sells Cuban sandwiches. At 137 W. Market St., it's about a block due west of the monument. Giorgio's Pizza (link) has sandwiches and calzones for just over $5 as well as pizza by the slice, and is on the eastern side of Monument Circle.

The nearest Indian restaurant that I can see is India Garden (link, map, menu). Most of its entrees range from $10-15. At 207 N. Delaware St., it's just north of Ohio St., about two blocks northeast of the Monument.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Epic feats of literature and memory

Given that historical epics were transmitted orally by rhapsodes, scops skalds, bards, and other singers of tales, it might ought be unsurprising that a person can memorize the entire "Paradise Lost". But since there's little tradition of this sort of thing being done in contemporary English, it's interesting to see exactly what it entails.

It's never to late to memorise a 60,000-word poem:
Pounding the treadmill in 1993, John Basinger, aged 58, decided to complement his physical exercise by memorising the 12 books, 10,565 lines and 60,000 words that comprise the Second Edition of John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost. Nine years later he achieved his goal, performing the poem from memory over a three-day period, and since then he has recited the poem publicly on numerous occasions. When the psychologist John Seamon of Wesleyan University witnessed one of those performances in December 2008, he saw an irresistible research opportunity.

...Just how did JB manage to pull off this incredible feat? He studied for about one hour per day, reciting verses in seven-line chunks, consistent with Miller's magic number seven - the capacity of short-term, working memory. Added together, JB estimates that he devoted between 3000 to 4000 hours to learning the poem. Seamon's team interpret this commitment in terms of Ericsson's 'deliberate practice theory', in which thousands of hours of perfectionist, self-critical practice are required to achieve true expertise.

JB didn't use the mnemonic techniques favoured by memory champions, but neither, the researchers say, should we see his achievement as a 'demonstration of brute force, rote memorisation'. Rather it was clear that JB was 'deeply cognitively involved' in learning Milton's poem.

Seamon, J., Punjabi, P., & Busch, E. (2010). Memorising Milton's Paradise Lost: A study of a septuagenarian exceptional memoriser. Memory, 18 (5), 498-503 DOI: 10.1080/09658211003781522

Basinger describes the experience in a way evocative of the ars memorativa, as a building he can enter and explore. Nine years is certainly short enough for a youth to learn such a poem, if it comprised the bulk of his formal education.

One might compare the case of a Muslim hafiz, who has memorized the entire Qur'an. The Qur'an has 114 chapters with a total of more than 6,000 verses, comprising some 80,000 words.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

An endorsement for fusion voting

...from Bruce Bartlett in Forbes:
One option I have long favored for giving third parties more influence without the necessity of changing the Constitution or abandoning the two-party system would be fusion voting. Under such a system, third parties could cross-endorse major party candidates and have their votes aggregated. Such a system has long operated in New York, which has a Conservative Party, Liberal Party and many others. Oregon has recently adopted this system as well.

The main benefit of fusion voting is that it would force major party candidates to seek the additional nomination of third parties and work to accommodate their interests. In New York, for example, the failure of a Republican candidate to also secure the Conservative Party nomination virtually guarantees defeat.

Fusion voting also allows for interesting alliances and provides useful information to voters. A Republican with cross endorsement from the Liberal Party might be viable in a heavily Democratic area. Those who would never vote for a Republican might be willing to do so by pulling the Liberal lever.

Fusion voting thus makes third parties an important part of the political system. Without it, people mostly feel that their votes are wasted on a third party candidate because the odds are so heavily stacked against them. Fusion voting also encourages fringe voters to participate in the political system, rather than being alienated from it.

I made the case here; some history here.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I write like horror

A few moments ago I idly succumbed to the "I Write Like" meme going around on Facebook. I plugged the text of this old blog post into their analyzer and got this result:

I write like
Dan Brown

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Horrors! I have never read Dan Brown. Because Geoffrey K. Pullum's hilarious review at Language Log has convinced me that he is a contemporary Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

I write like Dan Brown? This aggression will not stand, man! So I try again with the text of this blog post. The result?

I write like
David Foster Wallace

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

An improvement, I suppose. Although it seems my writing remains likely to irritate the guys at LanguageLog, even if I don't share DFW's absurd prescriptivism.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Cycling ban in Colorado

Black Hawk is a tiny town in Colorado, just west of Denver and north of Idaho Springs. They have banned bicycles in town. Of course, it's an illegal bike ban that violates cyclists right to travel and contradicts state law. Repeal doesn't seem likely because the town is so tiny and city government is all for it, but litigation is scheduled for August. The mayor of Black Hawk seems to have some ethical problems as well.

Today in stupid driving tricks

This morning I was cycling up 4th St., and as I approached a stop light, a driver tried to zoom around me with a lazy pass. He didn't have enough distance to complete the pass before the stop light, so as we waited at the red light, his car was stopped taking up most of the oncoming lane. His only comment, of course, was "GTF out of the road."

A few weeks ago, I came up to a red light on 4th St. in Old Louisville. I stopped and signaled a left turn, and a car came up and stopped behind me. I signaled again and started into the left turn when the light turned green. But as soon as the light turned green, the driver started forward and tried to pass me in the oncoming traffic lane in the middle of the intersection, right through my path of travel. Fortunately, the dude stopped this boneheaded maneuver before he hit me. He waited in the oncoming traffic lane in the middle of the intersection for me to complete my turn before continuing on his way.

It's been a long time since stuff like this has happened. People on 4th St. are usually pretty good about sharing the road.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


The following post is released under the OGL.

Were-eels are lycanthropes with the ability to turn from humanoids into marine eels and eel-humanoid hybrid shapes. Natural lycanthropes are born with this ability and have perfect control over their shapechanging. Afflicted lycanthropes contract this ability like a curse or disease from another lycanthrope; they sometimes change form involuntarily.

Were-eels follow the normal rules for lycanthropes, but gain the amphibious special quality when in hybrid form.

This elongated creature looks like a humanoid with the wide-mouthed head of an eel, flippery hands, and mottled, slime-slicked skin.
Were-Eel (Human Form) CR 3
XP 600
Human fighter 2
CE Medium humanoid (human, shapechanger)
Init +6; Senses low-light vision, scent; Perception +3
AC 16, touch 12, flat-footed 14; (+4 armor, +2 Dex)
hp 17 (2d10+2)
Fort +4, Ref +2, Will +1
Speed 30 ft.
Melee longsword +4 (1d8+2/19-20)
Ranged dagger +4 (1d4+2/19-20)
Space 5 ft.; Reach 5 ft.
Str 14, Dex 15, Con 13, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 10
Base Atk +2; CMB +4; CMD 16
Feats Improved Initiative, Power Attack, Cleave, Combat Reflexes
Skills Climb +7, Swim +7, Perception +3
Languages Common
SQ change shape (human, hybrid, and marine eel; polymorph), lycanthropic empathy (marine eels and giant moray eels)
Environment warm oceans and coasts
Organization solitary, pair, or nest (3-6)
Treasure NPC gear (chain shirt, longsword, 3 daggers, other treasure)

Were-Eel (Hybrid Form) CR 3
CE Medium humanoid (human, shapechanger, aquatic)
Init +6; Senses low-light vision, scent; Perception +3
AC 23, touch 12, flat-footed 21; (+4 armor, +7 natural armor, +2 Dex)
hp 19 (2d10+4)
Fort +5, Ref +2, Will +1
Defensive Abilities bravery +1; DR 10/silver
Speed 30 ft., swim 30 ft.
Melee longsword +5 (1d8+3/19-20), bite +5 (1d8+3 plus grab and curse of lycanthropy)
Ranged dagger +4 (1d4+3/19-20)
Space 5 ft.; Reach 5 ft.
Special Attacks gnaw
Str 16, Dex 15, Con 15, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 10
Base Atk +2; CMB +5; CMD 17
Feats Improved Initiative, Power Attack, Cleave, Combat Reflexes
Skills Climb +8, Swim +16, Perception +3
Languages Common
SQ change shape (human, hybrid, and marine eel; polymorph), lycanthropic empathy (marine eels and giant moray eels), amphibious
Gnaw (Ex) If a were-eel in hybrid or animal form begins a round with a grabbed foe, it inflicts automatic bite damage (2d4+3 points of damage). A were-eel possesses a second set of jaws in its throat that aid in swallowing—it can make a second bite attack (+5 attack, 1d4+3) against a foe it has already grabbed.

Natural were-eels tend to be stolid and secretive, with oily, pale skin and unnaturally wide and grim smiles.

Were-eels prefer isolated coasts, harbor towns, and busy ports, where they can blend in with a transient population and have access to both humanoid victims and salt water.