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Archive for April, 2009

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Two Fascinating Political Videos

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Both via Megan McArdle’s excellent blog over at The Atlantic, Asymmetrical Information:

First, we have Arlen Specter, who has announced he’s switching parties, choosing to run for re-election in the Democratic parties, despite a long career as a Republican. This move gives the Democrats a 60-40 margin in the Senate, which allows them to override filibusters (assuming Minnesota eventually works itself out) which is big news, I guess, although I’m sure Arlen Specter wasn’t just in it for the publicity – he must have had some kind of personal gain in mind. Well, as it turns out, he’s happy to tell us what it was:

“I have surveyed the sentiments of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania, done public opinion polls, observed other public opinion polls, and have found that the prospects for winning the Republican primary are bleak. I’m not prepared to have my 29-year record in the United States Senate decided by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate.”

So, in other words, “I can’t win in that race, so I’m trying another one.” The honesty is, well, shocking.

Second, a rather clever discussion about President Obama’s plan to cut $100 million of spending out of the Federal Budget. I like this, not because of the commentary it makes on the President’s budget cuts – after all, every little bit helps – but because of the point it makes about how casually we throw around words like “million,” “billion,” and “trillion” as if they all mean roughly the same thing:

Categories: Political Rantings | 4 Comments »

Accidental Geo-Maps

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

This is very cool (from Newscientist via Speculist):

Billions of photos have now been uploaded to the internet, and many are tagged with text descriptions. Some are even geotagged – stamped with the latitude and longitude coordinates at which the image was taken. David Crandall and colleagues at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, analysed the data attached to 35 million photographs uploaded to the Flickr website to create accurate global and city maps and identify popular snapping sites.

David Crandall’s Cornell homepage is here, and his whitepaper on the subject is here.

This is one of those studies that, while important for its groundbreaking methods and potential practical applications, also produces some fascinating top-level results for us to marvel at. For instance, the image on the right is a map of Manhattan island, drawn entirely by plotting the geo-location of 1.2 million photographs taken by almost 36,000 people (the map to it’s right is the same thing with the streets drawn in for context). Also, here’s a list of the Top 20 Most Photographed Cities in the World (by number of photographers):

RankPhotographersPicturesCity
135,8601,204,137New York, NY
229,1521,122,476London, England
325,6941,115,870San Francisco, CA
418,940586,203Paris, France
517,729775,061Los Angeles, CA
612,025515,884Chicago, IL
711,834571,698Washington, DC
811,346535,671Seattle, WA
99,839243,726Rome, Italy
109,607280,549Amsterdam, Holland
119,318402,658Boston, MA
129,229258,926Barcelona, Spain
139,132304,720San Diego, CA
148,369236,818Berlin, Germany
157,652206,670Las Vegas, NV
167,438112,204Florence, Italy
206,586164,454Madrid, Spain

Finally, here’s a list of the Top 7 Landmarks in each of the Top 20 Cities (and globally):

LocationLM #1LM #2LM #3LM #4LM #5LM #6LM #7
All CitiesEiffel TowerTrafalgar SquareTate ModernBig BenNotre DameLondon EyeEmpire State Building
New York, NYEmpire State BuildingTimes SquareRocke- feller CenterGrand Central StationApple StoreColumbus CircleLiberty Island
London, EnglandTrafalgar SquareTate ModernBig BenLondon EyePicca- dilly CircusBucking- hamTower Bridge
San Francisco, CACoit TowerPier 39Union SquareFerry BuildingPrisonLombard StreetSan Francisco
Paris, FranceEiffel TowerNotre DameLouvreSacre- coeurArc de TriompheCentre PompidouTrocadero
Los Angeles, CADisneylandHolly- woodGetty MuseumFrank GehrySanta Monica PierGriffith Observa- toryCalifornia Adventure
Chicago, ILCloud GateChicago RiverHancock TowerSears TowerArt InstituteWrigley FieldBucking- ham Fountain
Washington, DCWash’n MonumentWWIILincoln MemorialCapitolJefferson MemorialMuseumWhite House
Seattle, WASpace NeedleMarketSeattle Public LibraryGas- works ParkKerry ParkDowntownFountain
Rome, ItalyColosseumVaticanoPantheonFontana di TreviBasilicaSpanish StepsVittoriano
Amsterdam, HollandDamWester- kerkNieuw- marktAmster- damMuseum PleinEuropeEurope
Boston, MAFenway ParkTrinity ChurchFaneuil HallPublic GardenUSANew England Aqua- riumHarvard Yard
Barcelona, SpainSagrada FamiliaParcguellBoqueriaCathedralCasamilàSpainCasabatlló
San Diego, CABalboa ParkSan Diego ZooUSS MidwaySealsSan Diego PadresStar of IndiaComic con
Berlin, GermanyBranden- burgertorReichstagPotsdam- erplatzBerlin- erdomTV TowerGedächt- niskircheCheck- point Charlie
Las Vegas, NVParisNew York, New YorkBellagioVenetianCasinoFlamingoLuxor
Florence, ItalyPonte VecchioDuomoPiazza del CampoFirenzeSanta CroceBridgeRiver
Madrid, SpainPlaza MayorPuerta del SolCibelesCathedralCallaoMetropolisParque del Retiro

So the most photographed landmark in the world is the Eiffel Tower. Four of the top seven are in England, one other is in France (Notre Dame) and the Empire State Building is the only one in the United States (despite New York being the most photographed city).

Within New York, it’s interesting to note that the Apple Store is the fifth most popular landmark, which says something about the (not so) random sample you get when your source population is Flickr users. That said, it’s still a fascinating list to review (at least to me).

Categories: Random Acts of Blogging | 3 Comments »

Photo-Op Fiasco

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

OK, quick quiz: This picture was taken in lower Manhattan within blocks of the World Trade Center site. Question: on what day was it taken? Wrong, guess again. It was yesterday, April 27, 2009.

In what was clearly the dumbest move of the Obama administration thus far, a gentleman named Louis Caldera, the director of the White House military office, decided to fly one of the modified 747′s that serves as Air Force One when the President is on board, over and around the Statue of Liberty, in order to take pictures of it, which would later be given out to family, friends or supporters. The pictures were taken by someone in an F-16 fighter jet, which was trailing the 747.

According to the New York Daily News, the planes flew as low as 1,000-1,500 feet above the city, circling the Statue of Liberty and then flying over Manhattan, Staten Island, and New Jersey. As a point of reference, the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers were roughly 1,360 feet tall.

At first, Mr. Caldera and officials for the FAA claimed the flight “was approved and coordinated with everyone” via a confidential security memo that went out last week to the NYPD, the mayor’s office, the NJ State Police and other agencies. The Star Ledger (a local NJ paper) reports that the memo said, “[we acknowledge] the possibility of public concern regarding Department of Defense aircraft flying at low levels, [but] the information in this document is considered FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY and should only be shared by persons with a need to know.” They all changed their tune when the mayor of New York and the President of the United States both used the word “furious” to describe how they felt about this little stunt, and promptly apologized for the fear and panic they caused.

The reaction in New York? Well, workers in many of the surrounding buildings evacuated. Some of them ran down long staircases, just as they had on September 11, 2001. Several thought the F-16 was in pursuit of the 747, rather than escorting it, and were convinced it was going to shoot it down over lower Manhattan. One Wall Street worker said, “It’s like someone coming up to you, sticking a gun to your head for 15 seconds, walking away and hearing 20 minutes later it was an undercover cop posing for a photo.”

This woman took cell-phone video. Listen to the fear in her voice:

I believe she said, “Oh my God! That’s not normal. It’s a hijacking, I know it. It’s going around.”

Hearing about this, I can’t help thinking back to Bill Clinton’s infamous Air Force One haircut, which kept two runways at LAX closed for an extra hour back in 1993. This one wasn’t directly Obama’s fault, but it reminds me that new Presidents and their administrations are learning on the job, and don’t always comprehend the consequences of their actions.

At least Clinton’s faux pas didn’t scare the crap out of a few thousand people, though…

Categories: New York, New York | 4 Comments »

New York City Sights – Ground Zero

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

For my recent visit to Yankee Stadium, I treated myself to a new digital camera (one that takes video), which means I now get to carry my old camera around every day, and photograph all those things I see in New York that make me think, “I should post that on my blog.”

I’ve tried weekly or monthly features on this blog before, all to eventual failure, so I won’t commit to any regularity, but when I see something worth capturing, I will post it under this heading – New York City Sights. Time will tell how regular it becomes.

Anyway, today’s edition focuses on the former site of the World Trade Center, known today as Ground Zero. I’m guessing that most people still think of Ground Zero as a big, empty pit, mired in political bickering and construction delays. And while it’s true that we’re almost eight years past the terrible events of September 11, 2001 and we do not have new, completed skyscrapers, there has been quite a bit of change since the day they finally emptied “the pit.” Behold:


The structure on the left is the beginning of The Freedom Tower (a.k.a., One World Trade Center). It currently stands at six stories tall, and will eventually rise to a symbolic 1,776 feet (including a rather large antenna). To the right of it (and behind the blue tarp) is the footprint of the South tower (the North tower’s footprint is behind the Freedom Tower at this angle). Those two pieces of now-sacred ground will eventually form the September 11 Memorial, currently scheduled to open on September 11, 2011 (the ten-year anniversary of the attacks).


Here’s another view of Ground Zero – this one from the Winter Garden, which is the building between the two towers of the World Financial Center (which survived the attacks). Here, you can see both tower footprints (hard to see unless you know where to look). Across the street is Century 21, a department store that has become a fixture downtown, the Millennium Hotel (to the left of Century 21), and One Liberty Plaza (to the right), which everyone thought might fall down immediately after the attacks, but turned out to be structurally sound.

Categories: New York, New York | 4 Comments »

Different Diff’rent Strokes

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

For anyone who doubts the effects of music in movies or television, check out these two clips:





(Via)

Categories: Primetime TV | No Comments »

The Untold History of Earth Day

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

Check this out:

Today is Earth Day, a holiday created to honor the planet and to raise the consciousness of man’s effect on the environment. Philadelphia has a very strong tie to this day. One of its native sons, Ira Einhorn, was a co-founder of the environmentalist jubilee.

But Mr. Einhorn has another line on his resume. In addition to being a environmental guru, he is the Unicorn Killer.

While a student at the University of Pennsylvania, Mr. Einhorn dated a Bryn Mawr College graduate by the name of Holly Maddux. When the affair ended in 1977, Mr. Einhorn went into a jealous rage and murdered her.

He concealed his crime for 18 months by stuffing Ms. Maddux’s body in a trunk that he kept in his apartment. The foul odor of the decomposing corpse coming from Mr. Einhorn’s Powelton Village apartment caused neighbors to complain. In 1979, police found the trunk stored in a closet in Mr. Einhorn’s apartment.

Trust me…read the whole thing.

Categories: Random Acts of Blogging | 4 Comments »

Some Advice for President Obama

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

[You should not exercise] excessive intervention in economic activity and blind faith in the state’s omnipotence. In the 20th century, the Soviet Union made the state’s role absolute. In the long run, this made the Soviet economy totally uncompetitive. This lesson cost [them] dearly. I am sure nobody wants to see it repeated.

Nor should we turn a blind eye to the fact that the spirit of free enterprise, including the principle of personal responsibility of businesspeople, investors, and shareholders for their decisions, is being eroded in the last few months. There is no reason to believe that we can achieve better results by shifting responsibility onto the state.”

In the longer run, [military Keynesianism] won’t solve the problem but will rather quell it temporarily. What it will do is squeeze huge financial and other resources from the economy instead of finding better and wiser uses for them.

We must assess the real situation and write off all hopeless debts and ‘bad’ assets. True, this will be an extremely painful and unpleasant process. Far from everyone can accept such measures, fearing for their capitalization, bonuses, or reputation. However, we would ‘conserve’ and prolong the crisis, unless we clean up our balance sheets.

The time for enlightenment has come. We must calmly, and without gloating, assess the root causes of this situation and try to peek into the future.

          - Vladimir Putin
          - Russian Prime Minister
          - World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland
          - April, 2009

Categories: Money Talk, The World Wide Weird | No Comments »

Even loansharks took the money back

Monday, April 20th, 2009

I’ve written several long, rather technical posts on The Financial Crisis(TM). But this is short and sweet:

U.S. to put conditions on TARP repayment:

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Strong banks will be allowed to repay federal bailout funds, but only if such a move passes a test to determine whether it is in the national economic interest, the Financial Times reported on Sunday, citing a senior U.S. administration official.

The report said banks that had plenty of capital and demonstrated an ability to raise fresh capital from the market should, in principle, be able to repay government funds.

But the judgment would be made in the context of the wider economic interest, the report said.

So here’s my question: does refusing to take the money back when the banks are willing to pay it lessen our leaders’ ability to say, “How dare they spend money on <X> when they’ve accepted $<Y> billion in taxpayer-funded TARP money?”

No, I didn’t think so…

Categories: Money Talk | No Comments »

Opening Day at Yankee Stadium – Everything Perfect but the Score

Friday, April 17th, 2009

As I predicted in my post about Citi Field’s Opening Day, the New York Yankees once again showed Major League Baseball, and the world, what it means to have an historic team in an historic ballpark.

The day began with the West Point Marching Band playing John Phillip Sousa marches out in centerfield (back in 1923, Sousa himself led a band into centerfield of the original Yankee Stadium, playing his famous marches). Then, a familiar voice from a missing friend. Bob Sheppard (recorded) saying, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Welcome to the New Yankee Stadium,” which is what he used to say back in 1976, after the renovation, when I used to go see games there as a kid. If you’re a Yankee fan, you’ll understand how special that was. If you’re not, I’ll never be able to explain it to you.

Then there was John Fogerty performing “Centerfield” on a guitar shaped like a baseball bat, while video of some of the Yankees’ most famous centerfielders ran on the big screen – Bobby Murcer (who, having passed away recently, was on everyone’s mind amidst all the hoopla), Joe DiMaggio (who is mentioned in the song), Mickey Mantle, and Bernie Williams.

Then Bernie Williams himself took up his familiar position in centerfield, this time to play his own, classical-guitar arrangement of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

After that, forty-six Yankee greats, spanning from the 1940′s to the 2000′s, took the field. Forty-six. As a reminder, the Mets fielded exactly two: Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza, one of whom went to the press box after the ceremony and the other of whom went home to “spend more time with his family.” In contrast, at least one former Yankee, David Wells, took a seat in the bleachers and had some beers with the fans (yes, Virginia, you can drink beer in the Yankee Stadium bleachers again).

The present followed the past, as both the visiting Cleveland Indians and the hometown Yankees were introduced. Then, Kelly Clarkson sang a stirring rendition of the National Anthem, complete with giant American flag and fighter jet flyover (the Mets, need I remind you, had a bunch of unknown Broadway singers, improperly mic’ed).

Then, the game began. The pitching rubber and home plate were the same ones used in the last game at the previous Yankee Stadium, and were removed after this game for immediate placement in the Yankees Museum, located on the premises of the new Yankee Stadium. One might have thought the pomp and circumstance was over at this point, but no – the Yankees had one more trick up their sleeves. On loan from Dr. Richard Angrist of Point Pleasant, NJ, owner of the largest game-used baseball bat collection in the world, was the bat that Babe Ruth used to hit the first homerun in Yankee Stadium back in 1923. It was laid down across homeplate and announced. Derek Jeter, the Yankee Captain and leadoff hitter, picked it up and jokingly handed his actual bat to the bat boy, as if he was going to hit with the Bambino’s lumber.

Perhaps my favorite moment of the day, though, was when the bat boy brought the Babe’s bat back into the dugout. Every Yankee on the bench picked it up and feigned a couple of practice swings with it – as if just holding it in their hands might help conjure some of the Babe’s magic. Even Hideki Matsui (the “Babe Ruth of Japan”) took a turn examining the artifact.

The game itself was a genuine pitcher’s duel until the seventh inning, when Jose Veras and Demaso Marte joined together to give up 9 runs, including a grand slam homerun to Grady Sizemore and turn the game into a rout.

As for the “firsts:” Johnny Damon got the first hit. Jorge Posada got the first homerun. People lamented that it wasn’t Jeter, but he’s already redeemed himself by hitting a game-winning homerun in today’s game (#2 in the new Stadium) in the bottom of the 8th inning, paving the way for Mariano Rivera’s first appearance and first save.

And as for the rest of the comparisons to the Mets: the first visiting batter did not hit a homerun. The first Yankees pitcher to fall off the mound is an as-of-yet unclaimed honor, as is the first Yankee pitcher to balk in the winning run.  The Yankees have yet to see their first random animal running around the field during the game, and we haven’t had any reports of fans who can’t see the field from their seats.

One can only dream…

Categories: New York, New York, Sports Talk | No Comments »

Colbert Nation launches into orbit

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

As disturbing as my last TV-related post was, this one really makes me smile.

Stephen Colbert, host of Comedy Central’s hilarious Colbert Report, has made a habit of asking his viewers to write in his name in a variety of public naming contests. To date, he’s managed to get a Hungarian bridge, a San Francisco Zoo-born eagle, a hockey team mascot, a species of trapdoor spider and a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor named after him.

His most recent target was the new node (i.e., room) on the International Space Station, which NASA has asked the public to name via on online poll. NASA’s suggestions were “Serenity,” “Legacy,” “Earthrise,” “Venture,” and the dreaded write-in vote. So enthusiastic are Colbert’s fans (which he has dubbed the “Colbert Nation”) that as of a few weeks ago, the write-in suggestion “Colbert” was beating it’s closest competitor (“Serenity”) by nearly 20,000 votes. NASA wisely reserved the right to ignore the poll results and pick an “appropriate” name, should they be unhappy with the public’s selection.

Well, as it turns out, after 1.2 million votes were cast, NASA went with “Tranquility,” one of the Top Ten suggestions in the poll, in honor of the upcoming 40th anniversary of Apollo 11′s historic moon landing at the Sea of Tranquility.

In a nod to Colbert Nation, though, NASA has dubbed a treadmill that will eventually reside in the new node the “‘Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill,” or C.O.L.B.E.R.T. for short. Astronaut Suni Williams made the announcement on “The Colbert Report,” two years after running the Boston Marathon in space on a station treadmill similar to COLBERT.

Incidentally, the logo on the left is the actual image posted on the actual NASA page announcing the name of the new space station node.

Kudos to Steven Colbert for keeping the public enthusiastic about the space program, and kudos to NASA for not taking itself so seriously as to ignore the taxpayers that fund their important research.

Categories: Primetime TV, The Future is Now, The World Wide Weird | 1 Comment »

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