Archive for the ‘Theme Thursday’ Category

Theme Thursday: Food   2 comments

This week’s Theme Thursday is “Food”.

Did you know that 17,400,000 households (not people, mind you, households) in the United States don’t put three square meals on the table, due to lack of resources?  And that this has been going on for two years?

Eighty-five percent of American households were food secure throughout the entire year in 2009, meaning that they had access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. The remaining households (14.7 percent) were food insecure at least some time during the year, including 5.7 percent with very low food security. In households with very low food security, the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food. Prevalence rates of food insecurity and very low food security were essentially unchanged from 14.6 percent and 5.7 percent, respectively, in 2008, and remained at the highest recorded levels since 1995, when the first national food security survey was conducted.

These numbers are essentially unchanged for 2008 and 2009.  The insecurity numbers were 11.1 percent and 4.1 percent in 2007.  10.9 and 4.0 in 2006. The recession has clearly hit the poor pretty damn hard.  Remember that the next time you want to complain about how bad things are for you.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Posted November 18, 2010 by padraic2112 in food, Theme Thursday

Theme Thursday: Mystery   6 comments

I love mysteries.  I love hard-boiled detective fiction, whodunits, and campy mysteriocomedies.  Gimme all if it, Miss Marple, Peter Death Bredon Whimsey, Sam Spade, Elvis Cole, Bernie Rhodenbarr, Hieronymous Bosch, Travis McGee, Irwin Maurice Fletcher, Francis Xavier Flynn, Philip Marlowe, I could go on and on and on… in novel form or short story, on the little screen or deep in the bowels of a dark cinema.  The kids are into the original Scooby Doo episodes right now, and as campy and silly as they are, it’s been a good lead-in to explaining to Jack what that big chunk of brown- and blue-bound books are and why he wants to read them…

I read those Hardy Boys books, from The Tower Treasure to The Sting of the Scorpion (all 58 stories) before I started third grade, most of the first 38 in the original runs prior to the re-writes.  I still have most of them, having survived the cycle of being loaned out to, and returned from, avid younger readers.  I’m looking forward to reading Jack those crazy cliff-hanger end-of-chapter pages!

As cheesy as the television series was at times, it still had that late-70s trend towards awesome intros.  Orson, you da man.

Theme Thursday: Bell   3 comments

I’m a Bell.

That’s not a joke. I actually am a Bell. Also a Lion and a (no, really) Pedant. Not exactly a Beaver or a Cub, although I’ve spent more time at Caltech than most students and I was at Loyola High as a staff member long enough to qualify as a member of both communities.

I’m talking about mascots. CGU’s mascot is the Pedant (an ant wearing a mortarboard, although the choice of words was tongue in cheek and intentional), LMU’s mascot is the Lion, and Bellarmine College Preparatory‘s mascot is the Bell.  Archibishop Mitty students were Monarchs.  St. Francis students were Lancers.  We were the Bells.

I hated that mascot.  Apparently every so many years someone would suggest a name change and the alumni would all vote it down.  I always wanted someone to explain to me what sort of collective idiocy that represented.  Not because of the inevitable jokes about “Belles” (after all, thanks to Saturday Night Live I was immune to gender-based “insults” by the time I got to high school), but because it was a lame mascot.  Bells call you to be spiritual, or they call you to dinner, or announce the time.  They don’t call you to a contest, which is what your mascot is actually supposed to be doing, right?

You don’t follow a bell onto a gridiron.  You follow a bell to vespers.

Now, I’m a little older.  What’s interesting to me, though, is that I still don’t like the Bell mascot.  I don’t dislike the Pedant; really when you’re in grad school a funny mascot (particularly a self-deprecating one) ought to appeal to you.  High school is different, though, just like teenagers are different from adults.  Sports are important when you’re in high school, even if you’re like I was and aggressively ignore them while you’re there.  They mean something to the community at large.  And you still don’t follow a bell onto a gridiron.

I find it mildly amusing that I still get annoyed about my high school mascot.  What’s yours?  Did you like it?

Posted February 19, 2010 by padraic2112 in noise, Theme Thursday

Theme Thursday: Climate Change   19 comments


I’ve been interested in science, mathematics, and philosophy for a long time now.  At various points in my life, I’ve been a practicing mathematician and an armchair philosopher, and I’m currently engaged in scientific research.  I’ve worked for an educational institution specializing in hard core research for almost a decade now.

I’ve known scientists for a long time.  I’ve seen grumpy scientists and happy scientists, conservative scientists and liberal ones (somewhat more of the latter than the former).  I’ve seen scientists have arguments with each other just this short of breaking out firearms and elevating to mayhem, and those same scientists publishing work together after they discovered that they were both wrong about their relative positions and finding the results of their argument to actually be interesting.

I’ve seen lazy scientists, venal scientists, greedy scientists, and scientists with such an odious personal manner that you’d be hard pressed to share a meal with them.  I’ve seen lots of towering egos, and almost as many deflated ones.  Quite a few reconstructed ones in the mix as well.  [edited to add: lest this sound like all scientists are stereotypical difficult personalities, I’ve also known plenty of nice, friendly, and outgoing scientists.]

I have never seen a scientist actually engage in unethical behavior in their own field.  I know it happens, there are plenty of examples… but on the whole the act of deliberately falsifying results and misrepresenting reality is as uncommon among scientists as running away from a burning building is among firefighters.  Most of them can’t even conceive of the idea; it’s almost incomprehensible.

This is not because scientists are a uniformly ethical crowd (although anyone who will spend their entire life on research that they largely don’t profit from in proportion to the impact of their work is probably going to have at least a high baseline sense of ethics).  It’s because scientists know that reality wins.  If they publish bogus results, sooner or later someone will try to replicate their results, or find some other results that contradict the bogus results.

Scientific argument isn’t like political argument.  The scientific method isn’t even like mathematics.  In mathematics, you declare your axioms and prove interesting stuff follows logically as a result.  In science, you observe reality, make notes, and draw conclusions.  You can have all the nice, logical, consistent theories you want… but when you put a paper up for peer review, or attend a conference, or try to discuss your work with another scientist they’re only interested in the theory in passing.  Reality wins.

What they want to see is the evidence.  Not “beyond reasonable doubt” evidence, but “towering monolithic gargantuan piles of evidence”.  If you don’t have it, you can get eaten alive (at least, metaphorically speaking)… if you don’t have it, you’ve got what is commonly referred to as, “An interesting little theory”, a phrase that itself carries a depth of meaning that isn’t parsed well by people who aren’t learned in the particular field.  The difference between a cap-“T” theory and a little-“t” theory is the difference between the Nobel Prize (not the Peace prize, which has no measurable standard, but the other prizes, that you can only get if you’re the freaking grandmaster ninjitsu tenth-level jedi master gun-kata guru 1,000 lb gorilla of a scientist)… and not getting the invite to go out bar hopping after the keynote speech.

Even if you *do* have a huge pile of evidence, you can get eaten alive if your resulting theory directly clashes with existing theory.  This isn’t because science is hidebound or dogmatic; it’s because scientific theories are based on lots and lots of observations, and if you come up with a new theory that challenges existing theory, you’ve got a pretty high bar to climb over.  People point to all of the major turning points in science as if those moments represented some sort of failure… “See!  They used to think exactly the opposite of what they think now!  They can never make up their minds!”

What those naysayers don’t realize is that “never making up your mind” is a central tenet of being a scientist.  You take some things for granted because nobody has time to learn everything and someone else is better versed than you are, but if someone shows that what you took for granted is wrong, you change your mind.  If you don’t, you don’t get published (at least, not for very long), and that’s the long slow death of the scientist.  Tenure doesn’t mean much if you can’t get a grant.

Reality wins.

Of course, scientific discourse isn’t political discourse.  Scientific discourse isn’t legal discourse.  There’s plenty of studies that show cigarettes cause cancer; it still took decades of fighting misinformation before anyone who worked in the tobacco industry would admit that reality really was described best by the theory that there was a causal link between tobacco and cancer… and it wasn’t piles and piles of scientific studies that convinced anybody, it was a legal and political battle.

The “Climate Change Debate” is just like that.  There isn’t a climate change “debate” among climatologists.  There isn’t even really a climate change debate among scientists in general (a couple of outliers, none of whom study climate science, does not a debate make), nor is there serious belief in a  “non-anthropocentric cause”.  Not because scientists are out to get rid of technology (I have yet to meet one that didn’t love his or her computer).  Not because they’re out to halt progress (you pretty much need to be on board with the *idea* of progress to become a scientist in the first place).

It’s because the evidence for other theories isn’t there.  There are several major research journals in climate science, and (unsuprisingly) the Caltech library subscribes to electronic versions of them all.  When someone pointed me at Senator Inhofe’s web site, claiming that there was peer-reviewed science that refuted global warming, I went looking for it.  I didn’t find it.  Irritated that I had no actual citations to start with (something I find to be a general media failure, so I could hardly assume that the lack of such was immediate evidence of nefariousness)  I looked again.  I still couldn’t find it.

So I went out on the general Intranet and tried to find any sort of reference to the actual journals these papers were published in, or what their titles were.  I didn’t find that, either, but I did find a whole pile of blog posts by scientists on Inhofe and dismantling the claim into teeny, tiny little shreds.

If you believe that global warming is bunk, you’re very, very likely to be very, very, horribly wrong.  Not guaranteed wrong, of course.  Again, science is not mathematics.  We can’t say that anything is definitively true, because we don’t know for certain what all the axioms of the Universe are.

So what?

We also can’t say that it’s definitely true that if you stick a loaded gun against the side of your noggin and pull the trigger that you’re going to die.  The gun might not fire.  The bullet might be a dud.  The gun could explode in your hand, and just cause a terrible injury, or the bullet might bounce off your skull or by some random roll of the dice not hit anything critical on its way through your grey matter.  Maybe we’re all plugged into the Matrix and the truth is, there is no gun.

I wouldn’t bet on it.  It astonishes me that so many people are not only willing to bet on it, they’re eager to do so.

Posted October 14, 2009 by padraic2112 in science, Theme Thursday

Theme Thursday: Wild   3 comments

Yesterday’s TT topic was “wild”.

When I was a child, I used to watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.  I thought that Marlin Perkins was awesome.  Interesting little tidbit about Marlin that I didn’t know (from his Wikipedia page):

Because Walt Disney had fabricated footage of a mass suicide of lemmings in its film White Wilderness,[6] CBC (at that time) journalist Bob McKeown asked Marlin Perkins if he had done the same. Perkins, then in his eighties, “firmly asked for the camera to be turned off, then punched a shocked McKeown in the face.” [7]

As interesting and wild as our world today, for sheer magnitude nothing beats the Late Cretaceous for wildness.  We truly had Sea Monsters living in what is now the central United States.  National Geographic did a special that’s worth watching…

A chunk of the last episode of the BBC series Walking with Dinosaurs: Sea Monsters, showing the Mosasaur (fictitious, obviously, but pretty well done) –

That show has spawned a world tour (which, unfortunately, doesn’t hit Los Angeles).  If you live in Texas, you might still be able to get tickets to one of the later shows.  If you have any adolescent boys in the house, it’s probably a winner.

Posted September 25, 2009 by padraic2112 in Theme Thursday

Theme Thursday: Funky   9 comments

This week’s Theme Thursday is my suggestion, so of course I can’t be late on *this* one.  The theme is “funky”.  Funky has lots of different usages, but this week I’m going to talk about one in particular.

In the household of my youth, my parents listened to several different kinds of music.  Dad listened to Irish folk music (The Clancey Brothers and The Dubliners and the like), classical music (Beethoven’s 5th in C minor is my all-time favorite classical piece, courtesy of my father), and on the rare occasion Bob Dylan, at TOP volume.  Mom, on the other hand, introduced her children to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, Joan Baez, and this…


James Brown, Otis Redding, Jackie Wilson, Joe Tex, Archie Bell and the Drells, etc.

Motown, where Funky started.

The above two-album (long play 33s, for you youngsters out there) set came out usually when Mom had a couple, and sister Megan and I would dance like a couple of nutbars.  Later, Tom and Ann would likewise get into the act.  I’m not exactly sure why Mom picked me to be the inheritor of the set, but I’m glad I got it.  I’ve been meaning to get the stereo hooked up to a computer for years to get the thing digitized, and it’s only been in the last couple of weeks that this project has started moving forward.

Compact discs are higher quality than digital downloads or L.P.s, but there’s something about the familiarity of albums.  When you own records and play them routinely, they develop idiosyncracies that nobody else’s copy of the album has.  The hiss on one track and the pop of a physical mar on another trigger a personalized memory.  Listening to the album is different from listening to a digital recording, for those of us who are old enough to have had them.  I owe my siblings at least tape recordings of this set.  Here’s what’s on ’em

Record One, Side A

  1. Sweet Soul Music, Arthur Conley
  2. I’ve Been Loving You Too Long, Otis Redding
  3. Funky Broadway, Wilson Pickett
  4. When Something Is Wrong With My Baby, Sam and Dave
  5. Knock On Wood, Eddie Floyd

Record One, Side B

  1. When A Man Loves A Woman, Percy Sledge
  2. Shake, Sam Cooke
  3. Slip Away, Clarence Carter
  4. Tighten Up, Archie Bell and the Drells
  5. Soul Man, Sam and Dave

Record Two, Side A

  1. I’ll Be Doggone, Marvin Gaye
  2. Skinny Legs And All, Joe Tex
  3. Have You Seen Her, Chi-Lites
  4. Hold On! I’m Comin’, Sam and Dave
  5. In The Midnight Hour, Wilson Pickett

Record Two, Side B

  1. (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher, Jackie Wilson
  2. Hold On To What You’ve Got, Joe Tex
  3. Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag, Otis Redding (better than James Brown’s version, IMO)
  4. Show Me, Joe Tex
  5. Going To A Go Go, The Miracles

Now, if you’ll excuse me, in honor of Theme Thursday, I have to go put on Funky Broadway.

Every town I go in
There’s a street, uh, huh
Name of the street, uh, huh
Funky funky Broadway

Down on Broadway, huh
There’s a nightclub, now, now
Name of the nightclub, now baby
Funky Funky Broadway

Down on Broadway
There’s a crowd, now, huh
Name of the crowd, baby
Broadway crowd

Down on Broadway, yeah
There’s a dancestep, huh
Name of the dance,
Funky Funky Broadway, hey! huh

Wiggle your legs now, baby
Shake your head, ooh, huh
Do the shing-a-ling now baby, now
Shake, shake, shake now
You don’t know, huh, baby, now
You don’t know, now woman, owww!
Doin’ the funky Broadway, hey!
Lord have mercy

Oh, you got me feelin’ alright

Dirty filthy Broadway
Don’t I like the Broadway, huh
That Broadway, lookit here

Down on Broadway
There’s a woman
Name of the woman, huh
Broadway woman, hey!

Down on Broadway, yeah
There’s a man, huh
Name of the man…

Posted July 2, 2009 by padraic2112 in Theme Thursday

Theme Thursday: Swing (and Clock)   4 comments

I missed last Thursday (clock), and I’m late this week.  Apologies to the other TT bloggers.

In 1952 a man named Bernard Malamud wrote a book about a baseball player.  The book was adapted in 1984 and made into a movie.  Hold off on the links!

I’ve read the book, and seen the movie, and this is one of those cases where a movie adaptation has a pretty major departure from the book that foundationally changes the message you get when you walk away from the art itself.  Some critics of the movie really don’t like the difference; the message in the book is certainly more complex and darker than what you get from watching the movie.

However, I think this is one of those times when the two products are of equal merit.  The movie is obviously over-the-top “feel good”; but it’s designed for a completely different audience than the book, so I don’t think of this as a detraction.  It’s just different.

Have you guessed yet how this ties into the theme for this week?

Almost at the very end of the movie is the scene that marks the departure from the novel.  In the book, Hobbs throws the game, throws away the payoff as a gesture, ruins his career, and breaks down on the last pages.  In the movie, this happens:

… and then the movie wraps up with sweetness and light.  It’s a fluffy ending, absolutely… but so’s the ending of “Rudy”.

There’s two swings in this clip, the swing that breaks Wonder Boy (the first bat), and the swing that brings on the stirring part of the Randy Newman soundtrack.  I leave it to the reader to decide which is more significant, in the frame of the movie.

[edited to add]

And here’s a handy clip germane to last week’s Theme Thursday, almost as if I planned it this way:

My favorite part in this scene is the old man, giving the hand sign after the hit.  I don’t know who that extra was, or if the guy was a professional actor, but he stole that scene.

Posted June 12, 2009 by padraic2112 in movies, Theme Thursday