On Being Separate

This issue has rattled around in my brain for too long. Google provides the answer…


1. verb
To put apart; to disunite; to divide; to make a boundary, barrier or space between; to single out from others

2. adjective
Divided from the rest; disconnected; distinct; individual; solitary; isolated  



1. nope
The second most common misspelling on the Internet
(the first being either loose or lose)  


Think: er = error:
separate = correct
seperate = error












Amplification of the Signal

In one of my classes we are studying signaling mechanisms in life forms (first plants, now animals). As always, there are powerful connections between the natural world and the human existence. From  Wikipedia:

In biology, signal transduction refers to any process by which a cell converts one kind of signal or stimulus into another…The number of proteins and other molecules participating in the events involving signal transduction increases as the process emanates from the initial stimulus, resulting in a "signal cascade," beginning with a relatively small stimulus that elicits a large response. This is referred to as amplification of the signal.

Amplification of the signal…….let me relate this concept to my world.

Many years ago, my mother bequeathed one of her sofas to me. Being young and in need of such assistance, the gift was happily accepted. A beautiful floral pattern lent an air of refinement to my bachelor milieu.

A while back, my dear friends re-did some rooms in their house. My wife and I inherited their very nice curtains. The curtains and my sofa did not match, so the curtains were put away until we upgraded our den.

 A tax refund and a small gift were the recent impetus for an update, so we bought a new sofa and chair. To go with the nice curtains, you see. That were free, but which did not match my sofa, which was also free. So kiss that money goodbye.

But curtains require rods. Nice curtains require different rods than those used to support the sheers we have been using. And it takes several trips to different stores to find just the right rods, in stock. Oh, and someone has to install the rods; specifically, I have to install the rods.

And installing rods requires tools. Which are buried under a pile of debris in my shed.  And the drill, which is battery powered, needs to be charged, which requires a further search for the charger. But it gets done.

And then I have to relearn the lesson that every amateur handyman learns again and again: don’t start a project on the most obvious location, because the work will be wrong on the first attempt.

And then, stepping back to admire the precision and care of the drilling, screwing, and hammering, we discover that the room is awfully dark with these nice, heavy, rich curtains. What’s that?……….ahh, pull backs. We need pull backs. So it’s back to the stores to find just the right pull backs, in stock.

Which require further drilling, screwing, and hammering. And don’t you dare strip the head of any of the screws!

And then, right on time, the new seating arrives. And yes, it looks very nice with the new curtains, and the den has a new ambience, a richer, warmer feel, a cozy family room.

But now the accessories don’t quite work. Which means that pictures are moved, mirrors are hung (more drilling, screwing, and hammering), and baleful looks exchanged as the recognition dawns that some tables might not work in the new setting. But they will have to wait for the next refund.

My work is done for now. But what started as the kindness of a mother and the kindness of dear friends, has now spiraled into a home improvement project that has, frankly, exceeded my miserly budgetary guidelines.

This friends, is a textbook example of the amplification of a signal.







One thing I learned early on is that gauging weather patterns on a college campus is impossible if you are using male attire as the metric. I’d forgotten, I’m sorry to say, that we fellas don’t need much clothing, even in the dead of darkest winter. Shorts, flip-flops, wrinkled t-shirts? It must be December. Jack Frost in town for a visit? No problem, put on that long-sleeve t-shirt under the short-sleeve t-shirt. A 19 year old guy is impervious and bullet-proof.

The girls are a different story. Bundled like eskimos, they grumpily endure the cold season, warding the winter’s chill with every weapon in their closet. But all it takes is a hint of pollen in the air, and the promise of an hour or so of air temperatures in the 70s, and like all of Nature’s great hibernants, they emerge suddenly to greedily embrace the warming rays of Sol.

It’s great to be on campus.


Who’s In Charge Here?


Rich Galen, author of the wonderful Mullings, points out some finger-pointing rhetorical misdirection on the part of The One in tonight’s press conference:

The predicate to Henry’s answer was a question by CBS’ Chip Reid about the $2.3 trillion difference in the size of the debt between the Administration’s estimates and the Congressional Budget Office. "Some Republicans," he said, "called your budget … the most irresponsible budget in American history."

Obama may be sitting in the Oval Office and he might have promised to open the post-partisan era, but his answer was:

First of all, I suspect that some of those Republican critics have a short memory, because as I recall, I’m inheriting a $1.3 trillion deficit, annual deficit, from them.

Return with me now to January 3, 2007 when John Boehner, Republican of Ohio was elected Speaker of the House following the 2006 mid-term elections.

Whoa! What? Nancy Pelosi became Speaker? And the Democrats controlled the House? And the Senate? And they have controlled the budget committees for the past two years? So the "$1.3 trillion deficit, annual deficit" was adopted by the Democrat-controlled Congress?

Well, then, which Congressional Republicans could President Obama have been talking about? Must have been those Republican Chairmen of the House and Senate Budget Committees, U.S. Rep. John Spratt (D-SC) and Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND).

How much longer will President Bush and the Republicans be in control before Obama gets the ship of state under his control?

Busted By The Bracket

This is my reward for picking with my heart instead of with my academically motivated, statistically driven, algorithmically programmed decision model:


NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament 2009

270 33.35% 3086071 1420


These terrible numbers as of 7:27PM with games still underway. In descending order of screwed, I have been hosed by Clemson, Wake Forest, and Mississippi State. I had Clemson making it to the final eight, and the other two sluggard to the round of 16.

View my bracketology here.


Congress is a Lynch Mob

From The Big Picture and worth repeating in its entirety:

A Lynch Mob!
March 21, 2009

“Let’s go hang ‘em.”

American history is replete with examples of lynch mobs taking control of a situation and inflicting injustice. In the end most lynch mobs have dealt harmful blows to society. Congressional action to punish AIG employees over the bonus issue is already seeding that outcome.

Members of the US House of Representatives who voted for this bill said they were reacting to the anger of their constituents. In failing to show leadership they have just undermined the entire structure designed to repair the financial system.

Specifically the House did the following:

1. They licensed the abrogation of contracts. Their message is simply that it makes no difference what rules we put into effect now; we can and will change them so you cannot depend on them. Global businesses take heed: Your previous judgment about the sanctity of US law has been rendered faulty by our political leadership.

2. They passed retroactive taxation. Their message is that, whatever you plan with regard to the federal tax code, do not assume consistency and do not build any reliability about your government into your decision making. We, in Congress, can reverse our laws and confiscate your results.

3. They made the tax punitive. A 90% tax on something is like taking all of it. The chairman (Rangel) of the House taxation committee actually admitted that by taxing the 90% he was leaving the remainder for the states. In other words, states are now encouraged to engage in the same form of behavior.

Sure citizens are outraged over the $165 million in bonus payments to AIG staff. But they should direct their outrage at the Congress and not threaten the employees or their families with personal injury. The Congress authorized these payments; Dodd, Geithner, and Obama Administration personnel admitted that. Remember, the law passed without giving anyone the chance to testify in public hearings and without allowing comment on the draft legislation. When the law originally went through the Congress, the House leadership suppressed amendments. This Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi-led House is especially guilty of ignoring the rule of law. They are now guilty of encouraging the rule of lynch mob.

The result of this House action is already damaging. The federal regulator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has shown the courage to ask that this law not be advanced in the Senate. We expect to hear more from those federal personalities who have the strength to speak up and oppose this House-approved proposal.

But depending on the Senate to soften the law or depending on the US Supreme Court to overturn it is a dangerous strategy. Some Congressmen admitted privately that they voted in favor because of constituent pressure, even though they were really opposed to the concept. They voted “yes” because they were relying on the Senate or the courts to say “no.”

Some damage is already done. Firms that were gearing up to participate in the federal program to be announced this coming week are considering withdrawal. They fear that any action which puts them into the federal assistance plan will subject them to the chance of retroactive punishment and taxation. The House has undermined the so-called public-private partnership designed to help restore financing of consumer items like automobiles and credit cards. We expect that the participation in the program to be announced this coming week will be tepid at best.

At Cumberland, we are advising institutional clients to take great care when engaging in any form of activity with the federal government. Simply put: a lynch mob can turn on you in a second and cannot be trusted. The risk is now very high.

Other firms that are already acting with TARP monies, or other federal monies for that matter, are seeking ways to deleverage and exit. In the entrepreneurial and risk-taking business and financial community the universal response to this act by Congress is outrage and distrust and disgust.

So far President Obama is silent on this lynch-mob approach. He has yet to declare himself against it.

Obama needs to be reminded of a parallel in history. A century ago a man named Leo Frank was lynched in Georgia for a murder he did not commit. Local politicians supported the lynch mob; those courageous politicians that opposed it were voted down. Frank was an innocent victim. His subsequent posthumous pardon did not undo the harm.

A century later a man named Barney Frank brags about the earmarks he obtained for his Congressional district (see his website). This modern Frank foments the modern-day version of a lynch mob. The House of Representatives and the Financial Services Committee under the leadership of Barney Frank have made the first day of spring, 2009 a sad day for America. They suppressed the rule of law; they chose the rule of the lynch mob; they are now going to have to live with that result.

When the citizens of America realize what the House has done, they may redirect the lynch mob against the Congress. That is coming next. As Yogi Berra said: “This ain’t over till it’s over.”


More Trouble With the Box Set

Really, this stuff is just too ridiculous to be made up….

Direct from PowerLine:

This is absolutely unbelievable. You recall the embarrassment over the Obama administration’s incompetent treatment of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown during his state visit to the U.S. The last link in that chain of ineptitude was Obama’s parting gift to Brown, a box of 25 Hollywood CDs. Hey, when Sarkozy comes to town, maybe we can get him a Netflix subscription.

At the time, some wondered whether North American DVDs will even play in European machines. But that seemed too wacky to be true. As Mark Steyn says, "at the back of my mind, I didn’t quite believe that even the Obamateur Hour crowd at the White House could be that clueless."

Only–oops–it turns out they could be:

While not exactly a film buff, Gordon Brown was touched when Barack Obama gave him a set of 25 classic American movies – including Psycho, starring Anthony Perkins on his recent visit to Washington. Alas, when the PM settled down to begin watching them the other night, he found there was a problem.

The films only worked in DVD players made in North America and the words "wrong region" came up on his screen. Although he mournfully had to put the popcorn away, he is unlikely to jeopardise the special relationship – or "special partnership", as we are now supposed to call it – by registering a complaint.

Well, one good thing–thank goodness we have smart, sophisticated Democrats on the White House staff now, instead of those yahoo Republicans. Then again, maybe not:

A White House spokesman sniggered when I put the story to him and he was still looking into the matter when my deadline came last night.

By the way, when Obama’s unlikely gift was disclosed, a reader emailed me to ask if Clueless was among the films. Funnily enough, it was not.

The Obama administration is rapidly earning a reputation for incompetence. We’ll leave the last word to Mark Steyn:

But don’t forget, folks: Somewhere in Texas a village has been reunited with its idiot, and we now have the whip-smartest administration of David Brooks’ lifetime.

ONE MORE THING: Can you imagine the Democrats’ reaction if the Bush White House had given a European head of state a set of DVDs that can only be played on North American machines? It would have been conclusive proof of Bush’s provincialism, lack of sensitivity to our allies’ sensibilities, ignorance of the wider world, techno incompetence, failure to appreciate the superiority of European civilization, blah blah blah. That’s how it would have been reported and editorialized on in every newspaper. So let’s check tomorrow’s papers and see whether that’s how Obama’s gaffe is covered. Or whether it’s covered at all.

GWB is looking pretty good in hindsight…

Change We Can Believe In – The Famer’s Market

This women wants to put an end to your farmer’s market. Read it and weep:

HR 875 – The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009

Maybe Joe Riley can use his influence with Obama to save our local farmer’s market. Or, maybe Jim Clyburn can intercede, even though he hates Gov. Sanford, and save our local farmers. But, wait a minute, I thought lobbyists were going to part of the most corrupt administration ever (that would be the latest Bush Administration), and would disappear in this administration.

The sponsor, Rosa DeLauro, is, coincidentally, married to Stan Greenberg.

Stan lobbies on behalf of Monsanto. Monsanto, according to the link:

It is the world’s leading producer of the herbicide glyphosate, marketed as "Roundup". Monsanto is also by far the leading producer of genetically engineered (GE) seed, holding 70%–100% market share for various crops. Agracetus, owned by Monsanto, exclusively produces Roundup Ready soybean seed for the commercial market. In March 2005, it finalized the purchase of Seminis Inc, making it also the largest conventional seed company in the world. It has over 18,800 employees worldwide, and an annual revenue of USD$11.365 billion reported for 2008.[2]

Monsanto’s development and marketing of genetically engineered seed and bovine growth hormone, as well as its aggressive litigation and political lobbying practices, have made the company controversial around the world and a primary target of the anti-globalization movement and environmental activists.

What’s next, nationalized health insurance, or maybe making wounded soldiers pay for their medical care?

The fix is in…..



Of Man, Pigs, and Bacteria


Those brave few who find their way to this blog know that I have no truck with most of the columnists writing for the New York Times. But Nicholas Kristof, writing in today’s New York Times, reports on the rampant overuse of antibiotics in commercial pig-farming operations.

It is both terrifying and outrageous. To wit:

We don’t add antibiotics to baby food and Cocoa Puffs so that children get fewer ear infections. That’s because we understand that the overuse of antibiotics is already creating “superbugs” resistant to medication…

Yet we continue to allow agribusiness companies to add antibiotics to animal feed so that piglets stay healthy and don’t get ear infections. Seventy percent of all antibiotics in the United States go to healthy livestock, according to a careful study by the Union of Concerned Scientists — and that’s one reason we’re seeing the rise of pathogens that defy antibiotics…

Yet the central problem here isn’t pigs, it’s humans. Unlike Europe and even South Korea, the United States still bows to agribusiness interests by permitting the nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in animal feed. That’s unconscionable.

The peer-reviewed Medical Clinics of North America concluded last year that antibiotics in livestock feed were “a major component” in the rise in antibiotic resistance. The article said that more antibiotics were fed to animals in North Carolina alone than were administered to the nation’s entire human population.

“We don’t give antibiotics to healthy humans,” said Robert Martin, who led a Pew Commission on industrial farming that examined antibiotic use. “So why give them to healthy animals just so we can keep them in crowded and unsanitary conditions?”

The answer is simple: politics.

Read it all. This is behavior that is so short-sighted, so selfish, and so wrong as to beggar description.

Here’s why:

Approximately 80 percent of the atmosphere is nitrogen gas (N2). Unfortunately, N2 is unusable by most living organisms. Plants, animals and microorganisms can die of nitrogen deficiency, surrounded by N2 they cannot use. All organisms use the ammonia (NH3) form of nitrogen to manufacture amino acids, proteins, nucleic acids and other nitrogen-containing components necessary for life. Biological nitrogen fixation is the process that changes inert N2 to biologically useful NH3. This process is mediated in nature only by bacteria.

Did you get that last bit? Without bacteria, all life forms on this planet would not be able to process Nitrogen. Without bacteria, all life forms on this planet will die.

More detail here. And this explains it nicely, with some pictures…

Nitrogen comprises 78.08 % of the atmosphere making it the largest constituent of the gaseous envelope that surrounds the Earth. Nitrogen is important in the make up of organic molecules like proteins. Unfortunately, nitrogen is inaccessible to most living organisms. Nitrogen must be “fixed” by soil bacteria living in association with the roots of particular plant like legumes, clover, alfalfa, soybeans, peas, peanuts, and beans. Living on nodules around the roots of legumes, the bacteria chemically combine nitrogen in the air to form nitrates (NO3) and ammonia (NH3) making it available to plants. Organisms that feed on the plants ingest the nitrogen and release it in organic wastes. Denitrifying bacteria frees the nitrogen from the wastes returning it to the atmosphere.

Nitrogen Cycle


We live in, and are part of, an enormously complex eco-system. Yes, there are many levels of redundancy built into our biological systems, but there are also pieces of Nature’s plan that provide important functions which can be easily destroyed if Man continues to act stupidly and selfishly. I’m not a tree hugger, and I’m not an environmental wacko, but we are playing with fire when it comes to antibiotics…..

Uncertainity and the Newspaper

 Clay Shirky sheds some light on the chaos that is the current state of the newspaper business. Lots of time, money, and thought has been applied by the problem, yet no solution has been identified, at least to the satisfaction of the owners and their employees. Shirky’s analysis of the situation demonstrates that there may not be a solution to the problem, at least not right now.

His post is deserving of a read in its entirety, but I cannot resist the temptation to post the best bits of his words…but be sure and read the entire post:

The problem newspapers face isn’t that they didn’t see the internet coming. They not only saw it miles off, they figured out early on that they needed a plan to deal with it, and during the early 90s they came up with not just one plan but several…

Revolutions create a curious inversion of perception. In ordinary times, people who do no more than describe the world around them are seen as pragmatists, while those who imagine fabulous alternative futures are viewed as radicals… Inside the papers, the pragmatists were the ones simply pointing out that the real world was looking increasingly like the unthinkable scenario. These people were treated as if they were barking mad. Meanwhile the people spinning visions of popular walled gardens and enthusiastic micropayment adoption, visions unsupported by reality, were regarded not as charlatans but saviors…

When reality is labeled unthinkable, it creates a kind of sickness in an industry. Leadership becomes faith-based, while employees who have the temerity to suggest that what seems to be happening is in fact happening are herded into Innovation Departments, where they can be ignored en masse. This shunting aside of the realists in favor of the fabulists has different effects on different industries at different times. One of the effects on the newspapers is that many of its most passionate defenders are unable, even now, to plan for a world in which the industry they knew is visibly going away…

With the old economics destroyed, organizational forms perfected for industrial production have to be replaced with structures optimized for digital data. It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem…

That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen. Agreements on all sides that core institutions must be protected are rendered meaningless by the very people doing the agreeing…

And so it is today. When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution.They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to…

If you want to know why newspapers are in such trouble, the most salient fact is this: Printing presses are terrifically expensive to set up and to run. This bit of economics, normal since Gutenberg, limits competition while creating positive returns to scale for the press owner, a happy pair of economic effects that feed on each other…

The old difficulties and costs of printing forced everyone doing it into a similar set of organizational models; it was this similarity that made us regard Daily Racing Form and L’Osservatore Romano as being in the same business. That the relationship between advertisers, publishers, and journalists has been ratified by a century of cultural practice doesn’t make it any less accidental.

The competition-deflecting effects of printing cost got destroyed by the internet, where everyone pays for the infrastructure, and then everyone gets to use it. And when Wal-Mart, and the local Maytag dealer, and the law firm hiring a secretary, and that kid down the block selling his bike, were all able to use that infrastructure to get out of their old relationship with the publisher, they did…

Print media does much of society’s heavy journalistic lifting, from flooding the zone — covering every angle of a huge story — to the daily grind of attending the City Council meeting, just in case. This coverage creates benefits even for people who aren’t newspaper readers, because the work of print journalists is used by everyone from politicians to talk radio hosts to bloggers. The newspaper people often note that newspapers benefit society as a whole. This is true, but irrelevant to the problem at hand; “You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone!” has never been much of a business model. So who covers all that news if some significant fraction of the currently employed newspaper people lose their jobs?

I don’t know. Nobody knows. We’re collectively living through 1500, when it’s easier to see what’s broken than what will replace it. The internet turns 40 this fall. Access by the general public is less than half that age. Web use, as a normal part of life for a majority of the developed world, is less than half that age. We just got here. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen.

Imagine, in 1996, asking some net-savvy soul to expound on the potential of craigslist, then a year old and not yet incorporated. The answer you’d almost certainly have gotten would be extrapolation: “Mailing lists can be powerful tools”, “Social effects are intertwining with digital networks”, blah blah blah. What no one would have told you, could have told you, was what actually happened: craiglist became a critical piece of infrastructure. Not the idea of craigslist, or the business model, or even the software driving it. Craigslist itself spread to cover hundreds of cities and has become a part of public consciousness about what is now possible. Experiments are only revealed in retrospect to be turning points.

In craigslist’s gradual shift from ‘interesting if minor’ to ‘essential and transformative’, there is one possible answer to the question “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” The answer is: Nothing will work, but everything might. Now is the time for experiments, lots and lots of experiments, each of which will seem as minor at launch as craigslist did, as Wikipedia did…

Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.

When we shift our attention from ’save newspapers’ to ’save society’, the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.’ And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work.

We don’t know who the Aldus Manutius of the current age is. It could be Craig Newmark, or Caterina Fake. It could be Martin Nisenholtz, or Emily Bell. It could be some 19 year old kid few of us have heard of, working on something we won’t recognize as vital until a decade hence. Any experiment, though, designed to provide new models for journalism is going to be an improvement over hiding from the real, especially in a year when, for many papers, the unthinkable future is already in the past.

For the next few decades, journalism will be made up of overlapping special cases. Many of these models will rely on amateurs as researchers and writers. Many of these models will rely on sponsorship or grants or endowments instead of revenues. Many of these models will rely on excitable 14 year olds distributing the results. Many of these models will fail. No one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the reporting we need.

The lesson from Shirky is that there is no lesson; there is only opportunity.