Software Nerd

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Ten simple poems

On an old thread, some members said they weren't keen on poetry. So, I though I'd make a list of poems for poetry-newbies. I won't claim these are the best 10 for the purpose; more like the best 10 of the one that I had "top of mind".

1. Let's start with some fun. If you have a daughter entering her teens, you may appreciate "Romantic Age" by Ogden Nash.

2. A simple poem about a man admiring a woman. "She Walks in Beauty", by Lord Byron

3. "The Road Not Taken", by Robert Frost

4. Here is one in the voice of a soldier, fighting a war for a cause he does not understand. "The Man He Killed", by Thomas Hardy

5. "Love's Philosophy", by Shelley

6. "She Was a Phantom of Delight", by Wordsworth

7. "The Listeners", by Walter de la Mare (His "Someone Came Knocking" is one of my childhood favorites)

8. "Red, Red Rose", by Robert Burns

9. "The Children's Hour", by Longfellow

10. "Song to Celia" by Ben Jonson

And, as a bonus, I'd add Dylan Thomas, reciting his own poem "Do not go gentle into that good night".

What other poems would you recommend to specifically to get someone started?


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Blue Laws

Ari Armstrong posted about "blue laws". These are laws that restrict various business activities on Sunday.

On the face of it, such laws violate the constitution, because they use the religious idea of a sabbath (i.e. a mandatory day of rest), to restrict the rights of non-religious people who do not agree with the day-of-rest ideology in the same sense as the democratic majority.

In 1961, the SCOTUS decided a case, [GALLAGHER v. CROWN KOSHER MARKET] and ruled 6-3 that blue-laws were indeed constitutional. The judges offered some pretty specious rationalizations. For instance, they say that the most current version of the law now had a preamble, giving secular reasons for the restrictions. Even though the law speaks of Sunday as the "lord's day", the majority said this was simply a "relic", and not the basis for the blue laws.

In essence, the majority of the SCOTUS found that those blue-laws did not have a Christian basis. A rationalist might buy that argument, but I bet you couldn't put it past a truck-driver!

The judges then pointed out how an assortment of things were allowed in the current law (unlike the old ones which were really strict). The clear reason for this is simple: the democratic majority loosened up their religious observances, and were now doing a lot of things that their forefathers did not do on Sunday. Somehow, the SCOTUS rationalized that because the law had been loosened up, therefore the remaining restrictions were no longer be religious. The court reasons thus: since the latest version allows the sales of soda and tobacco and allows amusement parks to open, therefore it cannot be religious. (In fact, the new law merely reflects the new, easier-going religion of the democratic majority.)

The SCOTUS essentially affirmed that the government has the right to force its citizens to take a day of rest and recreation. (Not sure what constitution they're reading.) And, given this right, it made sense, says the SCOTUS, for Sunday to be that day since most people are Christians. Right reasoning from the wrong starting premise.

This got me thinking: how might a "constructionists" like Scalia rule on something like this? Since blue laws have been around ever since the constitution, wouldn't he take that as proof that the founders could not have meant to disallow them? And what of the slightly older, but still post-Constitution versions that were more explicitly religious but still hung around? Wouldn't those be upheld on the same basis?

What say, you lawyers out there?

Has Scalia ever had to rule on a blue-law? If so, I'd like to know.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Flat earthers

Some folk still believe that the earth is flat!
Q: "Why do the all the world Governments say the Earth is round?"
A: It's a conspiracy

Q: "What about NASA? Don't they have photos to prove that the Earth is
A: NASA is part of the conspiracy too. The photos are faked.

Q: "Why has no-one taken a photo of the Earth that proves it is flat?"
A: The government prevents people from getting close enough to the Ice Wall
to take a picture.

Q: "How did NASA create these images with the computer technology available
at the time?"
A: Since NASA did not send rockets into space, they instead spent the money
on developing advanced computers and imaging software instead PLEASE NOTE This
means that pictures confirming the roundness or flatness of the Earth DO NOT IN

Q: "What is the motive behind this conspiracy?"
The motive is unknown although it is probably money

Q: "If you're not sure about the motive, why do you say there is a
A: Well it's quite simple really; if the earth is in fact flat, then the
governments must be lying when they say it isn't.

Q: "The government could not pull off the conspiracy successfully"
Actually, they could.

Q: "How are the world governments organized enough to carry out this
A: They only appear to be disorganized to make the conspiracy seem

Q: Why hasn’t this site been shut down by the government?
A: Doing so would prove that the government is hiding something.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Income Inequality

Lots of people decry the supposed inequality of income in the U.S., and claim that the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing. For instance, one web-site says the following:
The top 1 percent of Americans received 21.2 % of all personal income in 2005... a big jump from 2004, when the top 1 percent's share was 19 %, and slightly above the 2000 figure of 20.8 %
The bottom 50 percent of Americans got 12.8 %..., down from 13.4 % in 2004 and 13 % in 2000.
The problem with this type of analysis is that it is not measuring the same people. Those who were the "top 1%" in 2000 are not the same as those who are the top 1% in 2005. The same for the bottom 50%.

The bottom 50% in any year consists of many people who are earning less for some temporary reason. The analysis above was done from tax-returns. Many of those in the lower 50% were fresh out of college in the first few years of their career. When we look at the lower 50% from 2005, many of the 2000 folk have moved into the upper 50%.

The figures expressed this way can only be of interest to those who are interested in equality as a primary; but egalitarianism in the aggregate is simply pointless. If one wished to figure out whether individuals are truly able to work hard and increase their incomes, then the way to do that is to follow a fixed group of people, from various income groups, across a series of years. This would give one a picture of if and how people are able to progress economically.

The WSJ (Nov 12th, 2007) reports on one such study, that tracked over 90,000 from 1996 through 2005. Here are some of their findings:
  • The lowest 20% group, were earning 90% more in 2005 than they did in 1996
  • Over half of those in the lowest 20% group of 1996 had moved to higher quintiles, with almost 25% moving above the median
  • From the second-lowest quintile, 17% moved down, but over 50% moved to a higher quintile
The article has more.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Librivox: Some Interesting Links

Librivox is a site where volunteers record poetry, fiction and non-fiction that are no longer under copyright. Their catalog has grown rapidly. Here's a list of recordings, mostly related to U.S. history.

Monday, November 05, 2007


"Rags to riches" is my favorite type of story. This one is not about money, but it's in the same spirit: the refusal to accept one's "station" in life. It is about ambition; about wanting to be more than one was "born into"; about not accepting the man-made as the metaphysical, even if it's really difficult to change. In a way, it is also a story of how great the USA really is.

This true story is about a young 19-year old immigrant, working as a farm laborer in the 1980s. Twenty years later, he's an assistant professor of neurosurgery and oncology and director of the brain-tumor stem-cell laboratory at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.