Daily Archive: 03/14/2013

Mar 14 2013

Happy π Day

Pi mathematical constant photo 200px-Pi-unrolled-720_zpsc86fcb4a.gif π (Pi), how could we live without it. So let’s celebrate π on it’s day 3.14.

As you remember from grammar school math, π is the mathematical constant consisting of the main numbers 3, 1 and 4. According to the Wikipedia of π, “it is the the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, and is approximately equal to 3.14159.”

It has been represented by the Greek letter “π” since the mid-18th century, though it is also sometimes written as pi. π is an irrational number, which means that it cannot be expressed exactly as a ratio of two integers (such as 22/7 or other fractions that are commonly used to approximate π); consequently, its decimal representation never ends and never settles into a permanent repeating pattern. The digits appear to be randomly distributed, although no proof of this has yet been discovered. π is a transcendental number – a number that is not the root of any nonzero polynomial having rational coefficients. The transcendence of π implies that it is impossible to solve the ancient challenge of squaring the circle with a compass and straight-edge.

OK, enough of that. Let’s get on to the party part

It’s earliest known celebration was in California where in 1988 at the San Francisco Exploratorium physicist Larry Shaw along with the staff and the public marched around one of its circular spaces eating fruit pies. In 2009. The US House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution declaring 3.14 π (Pi) Day.

Coincidentally, it is also the birthday of theoretical physicist Albert Einstein. So at Princeton University in New Jersey there are numerous celebrations around both events that also include an Albert Einstein look alike contest.

Besides the partying at Princeton, here’s what is going on elsewhere to celebrate this mathematical necessity that drives mathematicians nuts.

In the past, MIT has posted its acceptance letters to high school seniors on Pi Day.

   Attention, Chicago residents: First Slice Pie Café will be giving out free slices of pizza today at 3:14 pm. For readers in the Southeast, pizzas cost $3.14 at Your Pie’s 16 locations across Georgia, Tennessee and Florida.

   The Microsoft store is offering 3.14% off on Dell tablets.

   At Mission High School in California’s Bay Area, students are composing “piems” – poems that have “the same number of letters as the corresponding digit of pi.”

   It’s OK if all of this talk about pi is making you crave pie. Last night, students at Cal Tech hosted a late-night pi-themed pie-eating party. The Pasadena Sun reports: students “dug into 130 pies laid out for them outside student housing. There were 26 each of five different pies. Follow that? So on 3/14 at 1:59 a.m. there were 26 each of five kinds of pie. None is by chance. The first digits of Pi are 3.14159265.”

   After pigging out on pies, you can go on a 3.14 mile bicycle ride in Milwaukee.

   And by the way, if you think all this pie-eating on Pi Day is merely an exercise in bad puns, prepare to have your mind blown.

   In France, British writer Daniel Tammet has kicked off “France’s first Pi Day celebration” at the Palace of Discovery, Paris’s science museum, CNN reports. In 2004, the then-25-year-old recited “22,514 digits of pi from memory” – breaking the European record.

And the founder of π Day, retired physicist Larry Shaw will be at the Exploratorium today leading a “Pi Procession”, in which “Pi partiers will get a yardstick mounted to a pie plate, each with a single digit of pi on it. Then all 500 of them will line up in pi-order” and trot around the “Pi Shrine.”

In 2010’s “Moment of Geek”, Rachel Maddow, host of MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show,” featured a math student teacher, Teresa Miller, from the University of New Mexico with a hula hoop and a Rubic’s Cube that was quite amazing.

I was never that energetic as a math student. Teresa should be a great math and phys ed teacher.

So, whatever you do today, every time you see a circle or a pie of any kind remember π

Mar 14 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Floyd Abrams and Yochai Benkler: Death to Whistle-Blowers?

LAST month Pfc. Bradley Manning pleaded guilty to several offenses related to leaking hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks in 2010, a plea that could land him in jail for 20 years. But Private Manning still faces trial on the most serious charges, including the potential capital offense of “aiding the enemy” – though the prosecution is not seeking the death penalty in this case, “only” a life sentence.

If successful, the prosecution will establish a chilling precedent: national security leaks may subject the leakers to a capital prosecution or at least life imprisonment. Anyone who holds freedom of the press dear should shudder at the threat that the prosecution’s theory presents to journalists, their sources and the public that relies on them.

Dean Baker: Does Paul Ryan Want to Change the Relationship Between Americans and Their Government or Give Money to Rich People?

Ezra Klein looked at Paul Ryan’s latest budget and told readers:

“Ryan’s budget is intended to do nothing less than fundamentally transform the relationship between Americans and their government. That, and not deficit reduction, is its real point, as it has been Ryan’s real point throughout his career.”

Well, that is one possibility. There is another option: Paul Ryan wants to makes rich people richer. I think the evidence supports the latter view. [..]

Arguably the evidence supports the latter view. Needless to say, even if Ryan’s mission was to redistribute income upward, he would not present his case this way since there are not enough rich people to win elections. A politician seeking to get support for policies that redistribute income upward will get much farther claiming to support a free market and getting government out of the way. If Ryan’s agenda is in fact redistributing income upward the media do him a great favor when they describe it instead as a commitment to free market principles.  

Paul Krugman: Euro Zone’s Bad Fortunes Tied to Failed Predictions

Joe Weisenthal is wrong. The reporter at Business Insider recently wrote that everyone predicted the unfolding economic disaster in Europe. Not so. It’s what he predicted, it’s what I predicted, but it’s not at all what many people were predicting.

And the people who got it completely wrong happen to be the people still running European economic policy.

As the economist Jonathan Portes pointed out in his blog, it is now more than two years since Olli Rehn, the European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, declared that “Europe’s recovery in the real economy has taken hold and is becoming self-sustaining.”

Mr. Rehn is still in place at the European Commission, and he’s still telling us that austerity will work any day now. And he’s not alone. The economics team at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that told us in May 2010 not just that Europe needed fiscal austerity, but that the Federal Reserve needed to raise rates by the end of the year to head off inflation, is still issuing reports. And then there’s Britain’s David Cameron and George Osborne.

Richard Reeve: Get the Hell Out of Afghanistan

If you Google “Afghanistan,” you get your choice of occupiers. There’s “Occupation of Afghanistan by British,” “Occupation of Afghanistan by Russians” and “Occupation of Afghanistan by United States.”

The British occupation began in arrogance in 1878 and ended in 1880 in massacre. The occupation by the Soviet Union ended in defeat and humiliation. The American occupation, officially an operation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, goes on and on toward another bad ending.

You’d think we would have Googled the place before we invaded after the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. We did not use the word “invasion” then, of course. We said it was a “mission” to find and punish al-Qaida and its leader, Osama bin Laden, and the brutal Taliban, which had given him refuge in the hard mountain territory of western Afghanistan.

Robert Reich: Ryan the Redistributionist

“Who is going to end up making all the money in the end if Obamacare continues to be in place?” Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus growled Monday on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show. “It’s going to be the big corporations, right? And who gets screwed? The middle class.”

The Republican Party makeover is breathtaking. Now, suddenly, instead of accusing Democrats of being “redistributionists,” the GOP is posing as defender of the middle class against corporate America-and it’s doing so by proposing to do away with the most progressive piece of legislation in well over a decade.

Paul Ryan’s new budget purportedly gets about 40 percent of its $4.6 trillion in spending cuts over ten years by repealing Obamacare, but Ryan’s budget document doesn’t mention that such a repeal would also lower taxes on corporations and the wealthy that foot Obamacare’s bill.

Joe Conason: Ryan’s Blurred Vision: What the ‘New’ Republican Budget Reveals (and Conceals)

Someone needs to tell Paul Ryan that his party-and the economic platform of austerity and plutocracy he crafted for it-lost a national election last year. Someone also needs to tell the Wisconsin Republican that he still chairs the House Budget Committee mainly thanks to gerrymandered redistricting.

Someone clearly needs to remind him of those realities because the “vision document” he proposed on Tuesday as the Republican federal budget is only a still more extreme version of the same notions (and the same evasions) that he and Mitt Romney tried to sell without success last fall.

Mar 14 2013

On This Day In History March 14

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

March 14 is the 73rd day of the year (74th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 292 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1885, The Mikado a light opera by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, had its first public performance in London.

The Mikado, or, The Town of Titipu is a comic opera in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert, their ninth of fourteen operatic collaborations. It opened in London, where it ran at the Savoy Theatre for 672 performances, which was the second longest run for any work of musical theatre and one of the longest runs of any theatre piece up to that time. Before the end of 1885, it was estimated that, in Europe and America, at least 150 companies were producing the opera. The Mikado remains the most frequently performed Savoy Opera, and it is especially popular with amateur and school productions. The work has been translated into numerous languages and is one of the most frequently played musical theatre pieces in history.

Setting the opera in Japan, an exotic locale far away from Britain, allowed Gilbert to satirise British politics and institutions more freely by disguising them as Japanese. Gilbert used foreign or fictional locales in several operas, including The Mikado, Princess Ida, The Gondoliers, Utopia, Limited and The Grand Duke, to soften the impact of his pointed satire of British institutions.

The Mikado is a comedy that deals with themes of death and cruelty. This works only because Gilbert treats these themes as trivial, even lighthearted issues. For instance, in Pish-Tush’s song “Our great Mikado, virtuous man”, he sings: “The youth who winked a roving eye/ Or breathed a non-connubial sigh/ Was thereupon condemned to die / He usually objected.” The term for this rhetorical technique is meiosis, a drastic understatement of the situation. Other examples of this are when self-decapitation is described as “an extremely difficult, not to say dangerous, thing to attempt”, and also as merely “awkward”. When a discussion occurs of Nanki-Poo’s life being “cut short in a month”, the tone remains comic and only mock-melancholy. Burial alive is described as “a stuffy death”. Finally, execution by boiling oil or by melted lead is described by the Mikado as a “humorous but lingering” punishment.

Death is treated as a businesslike event in Gilbert’s Topsy-Turvy world. Pooh-Bah calls Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner, an “industrious mechanic”. Ko-Ko also treats his bloody office as a profession, saying, “I can’t consent to embark on a professional operation unless I see my way to a successful result.” Of course, joking about death does not originate with The Mikado. The plot conceit that Nanki-Poo may marry Yum-Yum if he agrees to die at the end of the month was used in A Wife for a Month, a 17th century play by John Fletcher. Ko-Ko’s final speech affirms that death has been, throughout the opera, a fiction, a matter of words that can be dispelled with a phrase or two: being dead and being “as good as dead” are equated. In a review of the original production of The Mikado, after praising the show generally, the critic noted that the show’s humour nevertheless depends on

“unsparing exposure of human weaknesses and follies-things grave and even horrible invested with a ridiculous aspect-all the motives prompting our actions traced back to inexhaustible sources of selfishness and cowardice…. Decapitation, disembowelment, immersion in boiling oil or molten lead are the eventualities upon which (the characters’) attention (and that of the audience) is kept fixed with gruesome persistence…. (Gilbert) has unquestionably succeeded in imbuing society with his own quaint, scornful, inverted philosophy; and has thereby established a solid claim to rank amongst the foremost of those latter-day Englishmen who have exercised a distinct psychical influence upon their contemporaries.”

Mar 14 2013

Congressional Game of Chicken: Filibuster Ain’t Reformed

Here we are again, talking about filibuster reform. Despite the insistence of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), it ain’t fixed by any stretch of your imagination. It wasn’t Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and his 13 hour filibuster of CIA Director John Brennan’s nomination that set this off but the blocking of a qualified appointments by using the same cloture tactic that has been applied to stop nearly everything productive out of the Senate. The Democratic leadership has no one to blame but themselves and now they are scrambling to fix this disaster.

Top Democrats Badly Blew It on the Filibuster

by Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Huffington Post

Supposedly, the saving grace in all this is that in 2014 and beyond, Democrats might lose their majority in the Senate to the GOP and then they’ll need the filibuster as their weapon to hold the GOP in check from riding roughshod over the Obama administration in getting its legislative initiatives through. But this is all guesswork and sophistry in trying to predict the future. The reality is that in the two years that the Democrats hold their Senate majority until January 2015 there will be countless numbers of presidential nominations that need to be approved, and crucial legislation from budget bills to immigration reform proposals that the Obama administration and Democrats will be pushing. And even if the GOP does take majority control of the Senate in January 2015, there’s absolutely no guarantee that it won’t simply rewrite the rules to do what Reid didn’t do, and that’s sharply limit how and when the filibuster can be used. The loser would still be the Democrats, because that’s who the GOP would target. [..]

In the meantime, the filibuster with all of its terrifying potential to delay or style effective legislation and the confirmation of Obama nominees that have been trapped in limbo for months, even years, remains in full play. Here’s a final stat to drive home just how terrifying and damaging it has been. Since 2007, according to the Senate Historical Office, Democrats have had to end Republican filibusters more than 360 times. That is a record. With Obama in the White House for three more years, the GOP, thanks to the failure of top Democrat’s to do something about it, may even break that record.

Senate Dems Weigh Consequences For GOP Filibusters Of Key Nominees

by Brain Beutler, Talking Points Memo

Senate Democratic leaders have engaged in preliminary discussions about how to address Republican procedural obstruction, according to a senior Democratic aide, reflecting an awareness that key administration and judicial vacancies might never be filled, and that a watered-down rules reform deal the parties struck early this Congress has failed. [..]

The source said conversations are still too preliminary for Democrats to lay out publicly potential avenues of recourse just yet. And the last thing leaders want is to create the expectation that they will change the filibuster rules in the middle of the current Senate session. But they are occurring in the wake of a series of GOP filibusters of top nominees, including a cabinet secretary (Chuck Hagel), the CIA director (John Brennan), and a federal judicial nominee (Caitlin Halligan) whom Republicans have effectively blocked from confirmation to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for years.

Elizabeth Warren Slams Republicans For Filibustering Consumer Protection Agency Chief

by Sahil Kapur, Talking Points Memo

“From the way I see how other agencies are treated, I see nothing here but a filibuster threat against Director Cordray as an attempt to weaken the consumer agency,” she said at a Senate Banking Committee hearing on the CFPB nomination. “I think the delay in getting him confirmed is bad for consumers, it’s bad for small banks, it’s bad for credit unions, it’s bad for anyone trying to offer an honest product in an honest market.

“The American people,” Warren said, “deserve a Congress that worries less about helping big banks and more about helping regular people who have been cheated on mortgages, on credit cards, on student loans, on credit records.” [..]

“What I want to know is why, since the 1800s, have there been agencies all over Washington with a single director, including the OCC, but unlike the consumer agency, no one in the U.S. Senate has held up confirmation of their directors demanding that the agency be redesigned,” Warren said.

“What I want to know is why every banking regulator since the Civil War has been funded outside the appropriations process but unlike the consumer agency no one in the United States Senate has held up confirmation of their directors demanding that that agency or those agencies be redesigned.”

Now the president decides to get involved.

Obama To Senate Dems: We Need Solution To GOP’s Confirmation Filibusters

by Brian Beutler, Talking Points Memo

n a closed door lunch meeting with Senate Democrats on Tuesday, President Obama expressed his frustration with Republican slow-walking and filibustering of key nominees, and urged them to address the issue, according to a senior Senate Democratic aide. [.]

The White House official said Obama “made it clear that it was a priority – particularly with judges and asked for more help identifying nominees and getting them passed.”

Though some of his supporters complain the administration has been slow to name people to fill judicial vacancies, Republicans have blocked or slow-walked the confirmation many of the people he has nominated.

Pres. Obama may may have another motivation to push for filibuster reform with the threats from Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to filibuster any cuts to entitlements.