Saturday, January 30, 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010

for the win

Forgery of Matisse by Elmyr; going price: $3,500

Friday, January 22, 2010

more pro-smoking science

The most recent issue of Science reports on a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research concerning the relative public health risks of smoking and obesity:
In the past 15 years, smoking has decreased by 20%, but the number of fat Americans has increased by 48%. By 2020, the team calculates that obesity will rob an 18-year-old of 0.7 years of life on average and 0.9 years of "quality of life."

The average gain for an individual from not smoking—0.3 years—is more than offset by the loss of more than a year from weight gain, the authors reported last week in The New England Journal of Medicine. Even if obesity increases level off to as little as 0.15% per year, they'll swamp overall gains from nonsmoking by 2020.

Given the well known and documented power of nicotine as an appetite suppressant, this looks like yet another argument in favor of the public and personal health benefits of smoking. I can see the public service announcement now:

Add an average of .4 years to your life: smoke!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

wisdom and superstition

. . . All times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifters the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea. I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known—cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honored of them all,—
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson recounts the travels and wisdom of Ulysses. The Norton Anthology of Poetry footnotes "Hyades" with this gloss:

A group of stars in the constellation Taurus, believed to foretell the coming of rain when they rose with the sun.

Now, what is the implication of "believed to foretell"? Suspicious connotations of superstition and mythological mumbo jumbo!

Yet the passage of the constellations through the skies bears a direct causal relation to the seasons—both are correlated with our yearly passage around the sun. Determinations of season and, correspondingly weather, can be made from our position in the cycle through the zodiac. As it happens, the rising and setting of the Hyades corresponds to the rainy seasons in spring and fall, in particular, the notorious rainy season in April.

So, the association between the Hyades and rain is not a mere mythological superstition but a demonstration of reliable calendrical knowledge.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

beer in the fridge

Consider two roommates, call them A and B, with very different drinking habits. A drinks to excess on a daily basis, while B drinks only on rare occasion.

Suppose now, despite an eclectic cast of wine and sundry harder stuffs rotating through the pantry, a single beer survives an unusually long time in the fridge.

Now, this brand of beer is a particular favorite of B's — if B were to drink a beer, this would be it. As each day goes by, however, A observes the beer is still there. With each passing day, A 's certainty that B is off liquor for good grows.

B, for his part, grows to expect the welcome presence of the beer in the fridge. Each day arriving home from work B notices the beer. B thinks A 's interest in this particular brand must have waned, and with each day B's expectation that the beer will be there waiting for him grows.

ending 1: That Tuesday, B experiences a particularly trying day at the office. Filled with frustration, he decides to finally drink the beer. On the way home, he becomes filled with anticipation at the rare treat to come. When he arrives home, he discovers that A has drunk the beer.

ending 2: That Tuesday, A gets off work early. He's in a good mood, relaxed, and feeling breezy. Arriving home, he's in the mood for lighter fare then he's tended toward recently in hours of stress. He notices the beer. Although previously he'd refrained from drinking it in deference to B's tastes, he'd recently notice a pronounced drop in interest on B's part in booze. With a clear conscience, A tells himself waste not, want not.

Friday, January 1, 2010