Saturday, January 22, 2005

On Summers... 

For those interested in the recent brouhaha surrounding Lawrence Summers' comments there's a fairly reasonable rant over at PZ Myers and another (with some link to additional empirical research) at Crooked Timber. I have little of value to add here beyond the note that university presidents probably shouldn't be in the business of making broad generalizations - which seem to have some small degree of explicatory power for their university hiring practices - in public settings.

I would further note here, a fact which seems to get little play in most popular accounts of the Summers remarks, that Harvard offers tenure to approximately 25 people a year: even if we assume that the genetic differences between the quantitative ability of men and women are well understood, empirical research suggests that they are IN NO WAY large enough to explain the distribution of women and men among the Harvard faculty.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Catholic Marriage in Spain 

Within my experience (perhaps obviously) it's interesting how many otherwise observant Catholics choose to ignore the Church's council on birth control (i.e. don't use it). Along these lines, it's big news when a portion of the church seems to be almost saying "condoms are OK". Spanish bishops seem to have reached a point where they at least in the neighborhood of talking meaningfully about birth control. Perhaps this, more than the ongoing inauguration, is really today's sign that the apocalypse is upon us.

Friday, October 22, 2004

The season of dishonest Bush/Cheney ads.. 

If not now when, I suppose. Commentary on the latest piece of silliness can be found over at Campaign Extra.

Friday, October 08, 2004

On the mechanics of the breaking pitch... 

Because the next month or so is marked not just by the run up to the presidential elections (which happen every four years) but also by the basecall playoffs and the chance for the Boston Red Sox to win the World Series (which hasn't happened since 1918) I thought it appropos to spend some time thinking about the mechanics of the breaking ball.

It turns out that although complicated in the realm of popular culture, there's an old chestnut which makes the rounds something to the effect that physics can't describe a curveball, the mechanics of the breaking pitch has been well understood for at least 200 years. At it's heart is something called the Magnus effect (see here for some neat pictures and more on this topic): a description of what happens to a spinning entity as it travels through a fluid.

The basic idea is this. Because a baseball is relatively large relative to air molecules it is imperfectly aerodynamic: air tends to separate on the upstream side of the ball and recombine on the downstream. This means that, for a nonspinning ball moving forward through the air, a high pressure zone is created on the upstream and a low pressure one on the downstream. This pressure difference acts to slow the ball's forward progress and to make it fall to earth much more rapidly than it otherwise might.

The trick to throwing a breaking pitch is to throw the ball and set it spinning at the same time. When that happens the boundary layer of air around the ball is disturbed. No longer does air separate at the front of the ball and the currents recombine exactly at the back. Instead the location where the air recombines is shifted (if the ball has back spin the location is shifted down, if top spin it's shifted up). A incomplete but still possibly useful explanation of why this might be important has routinely been used to explain how an airplane flies. The idea is, basically, that the in the case of, for example, backspin the recombination point is shifted down. This means that air that travels over the top of the ball will travel relatively faster (think of it as getting the 'kick' from the spinning ball) than air that travels below, in the process becoming slightly less dense (think of it getting stretched) and hence giving the ball a small amount of lift. To make the ball sink or move sideways is a analogous.

If you think about it this way it seems like it might be tough to make a ball curve, but it turns out that big league pitchers and serious pitching machines can make a ball move something like 18 inches off the path it might otherwise take as it travels from the mound homeward.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

I just get sick of the lies... 

So last night was the Cheney/Edwards debate. In the course of the affair Cheney (in response to something that escapes me at the moment) asserted that "I have not suggested there's a connection between Iraq and 9/11." The problem with this sentiment , as anyone who's been conscious in the US over the last several years knows, is that IT JUST ISN'T TRUE. Cheney has asserted on numerous occasions that Hussein was strongly linked to the events of 9/11. I found myself thinking in the debate aftermath that Cheney certainly has to know, I know what he said. So why would he say it? The only explanation I can see is that Cheney has utter disdain for the intelligence of the average voter, has utter disdain for the intellect or seriousness of the people listening. This should make you angry where ever you stand on the poltical spectrum. If you're even just ambivalent on Kerry, vote Cheney out of office as a sign of protest - as your attempt to say "Listen Dick. I'm an adult, treat me like one." For more on this, and other post-debate spin, check Josh Marshall.

UPDATE - There's been a sizable amount written at many other political sites about the line that was undoubtedly expected to be one of the Republican slogans as we come down the home stretch. After asserting that, in his capacity as president of the Senate he was on the hill most Tuesdays, Cheny remarked, "The first time I ever met you was when you walked on the stage tonight", suggesting, of course, Edwards hadn't been showing up.

This is a lie on two levels.

1. Cheney had met Edwards on more than one prior occasion and the pictures exist to prove it (follow this link to Tim Noah at Slate or this to Kevin Drums entry on the topic).

2. Over the last several years at the Senate Cheney has presided over only 2 of a possible 129 Tuesdays. This, as it happens, is as many days as Edwards has presided.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Dogs just a bit smarter than we thought... 

We here at Our Take have previously written about just how smart we think dogs might be (you'll just have to trust me on this. The post was about a dog recognizing words but it seems to have gotten lost somewhere in the archive). The obvious intelligence of Red (an inhabitant of the Battersea Home for Dogs) was, however, outside of even our estimation. According to the BBC workers at the home had been finding many dogs loose and the place a bit of a wreck when they arrived in the morning. In an attempt to figure out what was going on they installed cameras. When they did so they found that Red had been letting himself out of his cage at night (using teeth and tongue) and then releasing some of his friends. Red now has many offers of adoption (link via OxBlog).

Kerry on Terrorism... 

This has been mentioned elsewhere (by Kevin Drum among others) but I think it's a useful corrective to the conservative blather suggesting Kerry is sort on terrorism and cravenly power hungery to check out David Sirrota and Jonathan Baskin's piece on Kerry's work at breaking up BCCI (that's Bank of Credit and Commerce International).

For those who might not remember, BCCI was a highflyer in international finance for about a decade starting in the early 80's. Founded by a Pakastani businessman, they invested extensively in (among other things) american politicians, creating a strong network of ties on both the right and the left. In the late 80's, though, BCCI started cropping up in all sorts of law enforcement operations: they laundered money from a dictator here, from a drug lord there. In work which was potentially damaging to his own political propects (it was over the objections of many democratic insiders) Kerry led Senate hearings, found a venue for persectution in New York with the sympathetic DA Robert Morgenthau and played a critical role in breaking up the bank both at home and abroad.

In retrospect BCCI was sort of a financial super store for things criminal. At significant potential risk to his own political future, and years before the general public seemed to care really strongly about terrorist financing, John Kerry played the most important role in breaking it up.

Monday, September 20, 2004

U-Locks for Bicycles 

As a public service I want to link to this site. It is apparently possible to pick some U-Locks in ~1 minute using nothing other than the shaft from a plastic ballpoint pen. If you regularly use these sorts of locks and live in an environment where bike theft is common it might be a good idea to add some other sort of protection.

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