Goose the Blog 2.0

"Oh, ha! Sarcasm: The last refuge of sons of bitches!"


a yard full of Chicken McNuggets

by John at 4/29/2004 03:00:00 PM

With the arrival of Brood X cicadas, the Humane Society is warning pet owners to watch what their pets eat:

"Imagine a yard full of chicken nuggets, that's sort of what it's going to be like," for dogs and cats...

The approximately 1 1/2-inch-long bugs "combine all the stuff that particularly dogs like to chase... They're kind of flying pet toys: They are loud, slow-moving, often low-flying."

"They're just so abundant that this is kind of the canine equivalent of a bag of potato chips."

Thanks to Wendy for the article!


grab a book game

by John at 4/27/2004 07:28:00 PM

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 23.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.

Stine himself has done recent fieldwork in the Patagonian Andes, where he discovered drowned stumps of southern beech trees in three lake basins whose radiocarbon dates correspond with remarkable fidelity to his Sierran samples.

from Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster by Mike Davis

via Gaijinworld


freedom from choice / is what you want*

by John at 4/26/2004 01:39:00 PM

An article in Scientific American discusses the penalty some people pay for being Maximizers as opposed to Satisficers. I can't actually read the article, because it is paid subscription only (my company library may have a copy, but I haven't wandered up there yet). However, there are some articles about the article on the web. This one, for instance, is from UPI.

Maximizers, in short, try to optimize the decisions they make, to maximize (get it?) personal happiness, whatever that might mean for them. Satisficers, on the other hand, use a short cut optimization - they settle for good enough. The author's finding is the ironic result that Maximizers tend to be less happy than Satisficers, because they are likely to expend more energy worrying over their decisions than enjoying the decisions they make.

I think I am a Maximizer on the inside, but I act like a Satisficer because I am too lazy to put in the work required to be a real Maximizer. Additionally, there have been several times in my life when I decided that I was just better off not knowing much about what I was buying. E.g., I wanted an inexpensive scanner - not one review I read of any scanner was positive, so I was pre-dissatisfied with any choice I was likely to make. When I was in the market, I heard a similar thing being said about buying diamonds; the less you know about them, the happier you will be with your purchase. All in all, laziness and bad experiences have conspired to make me act like a Satisficer. I almost always pick the good enough choice, even if I have to spend a little extra time convincing myself that it's really the best thing to do. My guiding principle in consumer spending has come to be "buy the mid-priced item."

In my research right now I am doing some work with optimization. Bearing in mind that I'm not an expert on optimization, two problems I keep running into are 1) local minima, and 2) a flat objective function surface.

The first one is the easiest to describe - the optimization algorithm gets stuck in a valley surrounded by hills. It works hard to find the lowest point in that whole valley. The problem is that, in some direction, just over the hills is a valley with an even lower floor. The algorithm was unable to find the best solution, despite working very hard at it.

The second problem is a bit different. Instead of hills and valleys, the objective function surface looks like a mostly flat plain. The algorithm searches all over the place, but can't find a minimum that is significantly better than any other point. It learns eventually to settle on whatever low point it can find, and then runs into the problem of local minima. The difference this time is that there are a whole lot of solutions that look very different, but have essentially the same objective function value.

Where am I going with this? I think Maximizers face the same basic problem. They are either hindered by an inability to see all the options and are therefore likely to fail at their optimization task, or they are faced with a variety of options that are superficially different but are actually barely discernable. Both problems seems like they would be common occurences in our consumer culture. A Satisficer, happy to settle for good enough, avoids both problems.

If anyone can get a copy of the SciAm article, I'd like to see it. (Fair Use - educational purposes, or maybe criticism, comment, and news reporting?)

* "Freedom of Choice" by Devo.


buddhist hell

by John at 4/23/2004 03:34:00 PM

Here is a link (via boingboing) to an interesting dioramic depiction of Buddhist hell at a Japanese tourist trap. The images are a bit gruesome and include nudity, but then again they are only odd little dolls. Don't be fooled - this description of hell predates Dante by about 300 years. Still, it features a river crossing, just like the Greek myth. There might be an interesting connection here, and my guess is Alexander the Great. Maybe the river is some kind of Jungian archetype - too bad the only thing I know about Jung's archetypes is that he had some.

Be careful if you decide to browse around the rest of the site - there is a lot of artistic photographic nudity, so it's probably not kid or work safe.

who's a fascist?

by John at 4/23/2004 02:15:00 PM

For starters, some people think I'm a fascist (you know who you are - when I finally grab the reins of power, I'll have my thugs beat the crap out of you and your little dog Toto!). Nonetheless, others have taken a more nuanced view of fascism; e.g.,

Robert O. Paxton, a former professor of social sciences at Columbia University and longtime historian of the political movement, sets out to formulate a working definition in his new book, "The Anatomy of Fascism."

Paxton says that there have been only two true fascist regimes, Nazi Germany and Mussolini's Italy. Franco? Not a fascist. Milosevic? Close, but not a fascist (he was sitting president of Yugoslavia when his fascist tendencies kicked in, not a political outsider). Islamic militants? Not fascists (fascism must arise from failed democracies, not failed monarchies or non-states).

What about George W. Bush? Good news, he's definitely not a fascist. Bush is actually one of the "traditional elites" that grudgingly find common cause with fascists in order to preserve their own wealth, power, and priviledge. So it looks like we have nothing to worry about.


the first cut

by John at 4/22/2004 09:40:00 AM

Yesterday, I mowed my lawn for the first time in 2004.

Man, my yard is such a mess. We have so much onion grass that it smells like I'm making soup when I mow (I've googled, but I still don't know if one can eat the bulbs...). I keep thinking about letting the whole thing go over to meadow, except for a path between the house and garden and along the fence. I could say the weeds were wild flowers.

The biggest problem with this is ticks. Ticks like wet grass, and tall grass stays wet longer than short grass. Where I live, ticks are a real hazard because of Lyme disease and a variety of other exotic bacterial infections. Southeastern PA has one of the highest incidences of Lyme disease in the nation. I think it's become such a (perceived) problem because so many of us are living out in the woods and fields now, in the suburban sprawl of Philadelphia and Wilmington, out among the deer and the field mice.

Last summer I was bitten by at least two ticks - both deer ticks, dammit, which are the primary carriers of LD in this part of the country. By my reckoning I got them off within a day of being bitten, and I've read that the incidence of transmittal of Lyme is very low, less than 1%, in the first 36 hours. I never felt any symptoms either, but sometimes people are asymptomatic until the chronic problems begin. Being bitten by a tick makes me feel violated, like someone has stolen from me. If you ask me, ticks are proof that there is no god (or that if there is one, it doesn't like us very much!).

So for now the meadow plan is on hold. I rationalize that the monoculture (actually duoculture) of perrenial rye and fescue is a poor environment for native critters and beneficial animals like spiders, earthworms, and pollinators. While a meadow would be better, a weedy lawn is not bad, and I am actually making a better local environment by allowing weeds to grow! Not to mention that I am not toxifying or otherwise altering the water supply by using herbicides or fertilizers. And leaving fallen branches to rot where they lay (and hastening their decomposition by repeatedly running them over with my John Deere, thus increasing the available surface area for mold, fungus and bacteria to grow) adds important nutrients to the soil. For now, I will keep mowing and just live with the weeds.


pirates! calculus! banking! alchemy!

by John at 4/21/2004 01:29:00 PM has an interview with Neal Stephenson and a review of the sequel to Quicksilver (and Volume 2 of the "Baroque Cycle"), The Confusion.

Check 'em out!


everybody on the bus

by John at 4/20/2004 08:32:00 AM

From those bastions of socialist thought, Fortune Magazine and The Cato Institute, comes A Conservative Case for Voting Democratic:

Bush officials argue that it is unfair to count military spending, but Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan also faced international challenges that impeded their domestic plans. Moreover, if you do strip out military spending and consider only the domestic record, GOP chief executives emerge in an even worse light. In terms of real domestic discretionary outlays, which are most easily controlled, the biggest spender in the past 40 years is George W. Bush, with expenditure racing ahead 8.2% annually, according to Stephen Moore of the Club for Growth. No. 2 on the list is Gerald Ford, at 8%. No. 3 is Richard Nixon. At least the latter two, in contrast to Bush, faced hostile Congresses.
History teaches us that divided government equals fiscal probity, so vote Democratic for President if you want responsible budgeting in Washington.

That's an argument anyone can get behind!


ich spreche kein Deutsch

by John at 4/19/2004 09:45:00 AM

I just got back yesterday from a short trip to Germany. I was there for four nights, although I only had one morning at a business meeting. So I got to travel around and see a little bit of the southwest part of Germany (the Black Forest, Rhine and Neckar River Valleys). Travelling in new places stresses me out and I don't enjoy myself very much - I am too concerned with not knowing what to do or how to do something. I'm afraid of looking stupid, and not speaking the language makes it even harder for me (almost everyone spoke English, anyway, which just makes me feel worse because I have been too lazy to learn their language). I keep hoping that as I travel abroad more, I will get used to feeling out-of-place. It hasn't happened yet, though.

Still, I feel like I had an OK time, despite all my usually internalized stress. I saw Karlsruhe, Heidelberg, Tübingen and Strasbourg. I even stopped briefly in the small town of Eschelbronn - Christian B. emigrated from there to a farm near Lititz, Pennsylvania around 1722, and started the B. clan in the United States. He was fleeing the religious wars that kept occurring in his home land, and came to a Colony with guaranteed religious freedom. Not coincidently, I think, the area he settled in looks surprisingly like the rolling hills and fields of the land he left. Tübingen is very picturesque and old (more authentic than Heidelberg or Strasbourg, according to my German coworker Karsten), and yet it is not a touristy town. It is a univeristy town.

I rented a cool car - a BMW 520 with GPS navigation. It was less than €20/day more than the standard full-size car (the minimum my company requires we rent, for safety reasons). The navigator was a great help in getting around, and left me free to concentrate on driving on the autobahn. I never went faster than 170 kph (~105 mph) but in the car I was driving, this felt like 45 mph in my Jeep. German drivers are very courteous (especially the slow ones) and seem to have a sort of compact about not getting in another's way too much. Also, trucks almost always stay in the right lane and are typically limited to 80 kph, which means you pass them at double their speed! Blink, and they are just a tiny toy in the rearview mirror. About the navigator: it spoke with a calm female voice, but the increasingly rapid suggestions to "Please make a u-turn" or "Take the next right" once you had reached (and ignored) your destination seemed to edge into restrained panic. Maybe it was just me.

Some interesting things about Germany:

  • The toilets are bad. They look a lot like American toilets, but have some strange "features" like a horizontal shelf for holding your poop out of the water and splashing urine. I can't figure out what the design criteria were. The German sinks I found sensibly used a single spigot, unlike many of the sinks in England which had separate hot and cold spigots.

  • Terminal 1 at Frankfurt Airport seems to have been designed to be as uncomfortable as possible. The combination of floor to ceiling white tiles and harsh lighting makes it seem as if they might just hose the whole thing down with antiseptic spray at night. And there was a very strange video played on the Luftansa plane just before landing, the purpose of which was to familiarize the passengers with disembarking, customs, and baggage procedures, and how to get to your next flight. It was shot in jerky, sped up, over-exposed footage with directional signs lit up in too bright letters. It actually hurt my eyes to watch, and I'm part of the MTV generation.

  • Thanks to the EU, driving from Germany to France is like going from Pennslyvania to New Jersey - "France, 1000m." With Poland entering the EU on May 1, there is a lot of concern that the border with Eastern Europe will be too porous to illegal immigrants and smugglers, which means they will have access to the rest of the EU as well.

  • The Germans kept saying "Cheers!" to me when I left their shop or restaurant. "I bet they picked up that habit from the English," I thought. Wrong - they were saying "Tschüß!" which sounds a lot like "cheers" but means "bye." Anyway, saying "Cheers" back doesn't make me look stupid (though technically it still makes me stupid).


doing something right

by John at 4/06/2004 09:59:00 PM

Perhaps the Bush White House will do something right for a change. The AP writes:

The Bush administration is taking steps to highlight an ongoing humanitarian crisis in Western Sudan, mindful that the world's inattention to Rwanda a decade ago may have contributed to the genocide that occurred there.
U.S. officials say lingering remorse over the American brushoff of the Rwanda genocide is influencing the U.S. response to the developing crisis in the Darfur region of Western Sudan.

This is not the familiar Christian / Muslim civil war in Sudan. This is about the growing ethnic cleansing and forced displacment of African Muslims by Arab Muslims. The problem is more than a year old, but it is not too late to stop the worst from happening.

$60 million down the drain

by John at 4/06/2004 03:00:00 PM

Survey: Opinions steady despite ads

At least they are supporting television networks and media firms. And hey, ad company execs have to eat, too.

what's it worth to them?

by John at 4/06/2004 10:56:00 AM

This is related to the post below.

Yesterday, I was referred to an article at the website of a newspaper (the Austin American-Statesman). To register, they ask for current address, home phone number, gender, year of birth, and household yearly income. According to the SWIPE data calculator this data may be worth as much as $16.25 to them (disclosure: or as little as $1.25 if household yearly income and birth year do not count as employment information or bithdate). That's a lot to pay them just so I can read an article. Of course, I could set up a bogus email address and fill their data base with fake information, but that is still a lot of work. I don't mind giving the data to companies I visit often as fair compensation for the service I receive, but if I am just dropping by once, the data gathering doesn't do them a lot of good (unless they sell it to someone else) and it annoys me.

That's why the idea (below) is a good one.

registration required?

by John at 4/06/2004 10:29:00 AM

Many online news sites require registration, and my recent experience is that the registration requirements are getting more intrusive than just username and email address (phone number? annual home income?). I appreciate that companies would like information about their customers for marketing purposes, but I would also like a little privacy.

Now to the point. I got this off a discussion thread over at Atrios' site:

Username mailinator and password mailinator work on just about everything. Sometimes a site asks for an email address whenever you login - then use

If the mailinator combo doesn't work then set it up. Use an email address at then surf to to pick up the registration details.

I tried it on a few sites and it worked. My guess is this won't last too long as these kind of accounts get deleted from user databases, so enjoy it while you can.


read it and weep

by John at 4/05/2004 09:20:00 PM

Maybe we can't even give the White House much credit for the other war.

history never repeats

by John at 4/05/2004 01:22:00 PM

I fear my insufficient support for Dear Leader's War Against Terrorism in Iraq has lead us back here.

"Local outbreaks against British rule had occurred even before the news reached Iraq that the country had been given only mandate status. Upon the death of an important Shia mujtahid (religious scholar) in early May 1920, Sunni and Shia ulama temporarily put aside their differences as the memorial services metamorphosed into political rallies. Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, began later in that month; once again, through nationalistic poetry and oratory, religious leaders exhorted the people to throw off the bonds of imperialism. Violent demonstrations and strikes followed the British arrest of several leaders.

When the news of the mandate reached Iraq in late May, a group of Iraqi delegates met with Wilson and demanded independence. Wilson dismissed them as a "handful of ungrateful politicians." Nationalist political activity was stepped up, and the grand mujtahid of Karbala, Imam Shirazi, and his son, Mirza Muhammad Riza, began to organize the effort in earnest. Arab flags were made and distributed, and pamphlets were handed out urging the tribes to prepare for revolt. Muhammad Riza acted as liaison among insurgents in An Najaf and in Karbala, and the tribal confederations. Shirazi then issued a fatwa (religious ruling), pointing out that it was against Islamic law for Muslims to countenance being ruled by non-Muslims, and he called for a jihad against the British. By July 1920, Mosul was in rebellion against British rule, and the insurrection moved south down the Euphrates River valley. The southern tribes, who cherished their long-held political autonomy, needed little inducement to join in the fray. They did not cooperate in an organized effort against the British, however, which limited the effect of the revolt. The country was in a state of anarchy for three months; the British restored order only with great difficulty and with the assistance of Royal Air Force bombers. British forces were obliged to send for reinforcements from India and from Iran.


The 1920 revolt had been very costly to the British in both manpower and money. Whitehall was under domestic pressure to devise a formula that would provide the maximum control over Iraq at the least cost to the British taxpayer. The British replaced the military regime with a provisional Arab government, assisted by British advisers and answerable to the supreme authority of the high commissioner for Iraq, Cox. The new administration provided a channel of communication between the British and the restive population, and it gave Iraqi leaders an opportunity to prepare for eventual self-government. The provisional government was aided by the large number of trained Iraqi administrators who returned home when the French ejected Faisal from Syria. Like earlier Iraqi governments, however, the provisional government was composed chiefly of Sunni Arabs; once again the Shias were underrepresented.

At the Cairo Conference of 1921, the British set the parameters for Iraqi political life that were to continue until the 1958 revolution..."
(emphasis mine)

The Economist says this: As coalition forces battle with both Sunni and Shia militants in Iraq, influential voices in Washington are asking if the country is descending into civil war—and whether America will still be able to hand over power to Iraqis on June 30th.

The Washington Post says this: The unrest signaled that the U.S. military faces armed opposition on two fronts: in scarred Sunni towns such as Fallujah and, as of Sunday, in a Shiite-dominated region of the country that had remained largely acquiescent, if uneasy about the U.S. role. If put down forcefully, a Shiite uprising -- infused with religious imagery, and symbols drawn from Iraq's colonial past and the current Palestinian conflict -- could achieve a momentum of its own.

I won't bore you tabulations of the number of dead Iraqi civilians and policemen and soldiers. I won't say the cost has been too high. But, if worse comes to worst, it will be for nothing. Iraq will be fragmented, and what's left after the Kurds form their own nation will end up a Shia theocracy or another Sunni dictatorship. Hope is not a plan, but hope for an exit is all Dear Leader has given us.

Update: I apologize - what I wrote above isn't very clear. Here's what I am trying to say:

Current events in Iraq resemble the events leading up to the Iraqi Revolution of 1920, which cost the British and the Iraqis dearly, and resulted in the creation of a long term provisional Iraqi government that was dominated by one of the opposing religious factions. In 1958, this repressive, pro-British Iraqi government was overthrown in a military coup, which lead in short order to the the rise of the Baathist party and Saddam Hussein.

The White House has not provided a plan for the separation of American forces from the new Iraqi government. It has barely described what the American/Iraqi political relationship will look like after June 30. The Kurds are our only allies in Iraq, but their chief concern is continued autonomy, not the larger Iraqi state. They will not fight our battles for us. If American military forces withdraw there will be civil war and new dictatorships, and if we stay there will be bloody and growing opposition to our presence. Palestine is probably a good example of what we can look forward to in the latter case. Our failure so far has been to hope for the best without preparing for the worst. Expect this trend to continue.