Sarcastic and Bitter

For your entertainment, some choice quotes from Carl Paladino’s campaign web site, most with pithy commentary. Would that it were all a joke.

  • “Carl will work for charter schools for the poorest of our urban students as an alterative to dysfunctional schools of today.” Unfortunately, this is our universe, not an alterative one.
  • “Carl will consolidate schools to countywide districts to eliminate redundancy of administration and allow for more funds to be devoted to lowering class sizes and excellence.” If anyone knows how to lower excellence, CP does.
  • “This is – and more – long, long overdue.” [No pithy commentary.]
  • “I am particularly incensed Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s no-show job at a high-priced personal injury law firm.” We should all be incensed CP’s illiteracy. I am.
  • “(See more HERE.)” (where HERE is not a link). Thank you no. I don’t care to see more.
  • “Carl strongly support the State University at Buffalo 2020 plan and similar programs for other higher education institutions in the State to be able to grow in both size and student population with out State intrusion.” I can has cheezburger, with out State intrusion, please.
  • “[Candidate for lieutenant governor Greg Edwards] graduated Panama High School in 1978 and then went to Allegany College in Pennsylvania.” Where correctly spelling the name of the college is apparently not a requirement for graduation.

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Let me get this right. Writing for the Washington Post about the tragic suicide of Tyler Clementi, Kathleen Parker (“Decency plunged when Tyler Clementi jumped”) doesn’t “want to play down the gay aspect of this travesty [sic], but there isn’t space in a column to tackle everything.” Then she goes on to recommend solving social problems by making people “feel ostracized” and “targeted as pariahs.” She wants to go back in time to when it was “bad manners to display oneself — or one’s affections — in public,” and she thinks people should “make it unattractive and unacceptable to intrude on others.”

Malicious intrusions of privacy are wrong, but Parker’s idea of “respect for privacy” rings loud and hollow. It rhymes with that facetious definition of “privacy” bigoted homophobes want from gay people when they say (not quoting Ms. Parker now), “Just don’t shove it in my face.” Like, by getting married. Or holding hands in public.

How hard is it for people to understand that gay kids suffer, and some of them kill themselves, because the shame of being gay is so painful to bear. Society ostracizes homosexuality. Straight kids might be embarrassed about their sexuality, but so ashamed to love someone of the opposite sex that they take their own lives to escape the pain? Who can imagine that?

Parker writes, “Although Clementi was filmed with another man, one can imagine as easily a roommate spying on a heterosexual encounter.” Sure, but what one can’t imagine is that the unwitting video star would then jump off a bridge.

By the way, I don’t want to play down Kathleen Parker’s callousness in calling this a “travesty” (does she know what that word means?), but there isn’t space in a column to tackle everything. Fortunately there’s just enough space left for me to say “fuck you” to Kathleen Parker and to mention that I do believe ostracism has a place in the world, but not where she wants to put it.

In contrast to Parker, Bloomberg columnist Ann Woolner (Sex Video Suicide Leaves Shared Guilt Behind) is not a travesty. She understands.

2 Responses to “Kathleen Parker Is a Travesty”

  1. Kyle Says:

    Bullshit. Being spied in a hetero sex act spread on the internet would be also be horrific — and would cause too many shy young people terrible damage, even leading to suicide. Stop stating that being gay gives you a monopoly on being terribly hurt.

  2. Mike Sloothaak Says:

    Kathleen Parker begins “The suicide of an 18-year-old Rutgers student following an unimaginable invasion of his privacy has launched an overdue examination of casual… disregard for other’s personal space.” Subsequently Ms. Parker claims ”there are several dimensions to the story, complicated by the fact that the victim was gay.”

    I take issue with the columnist’s contention that Tyler Clementi’s homosexuality was merely a complication– that the real issue is one of invasions of personal space. “How did we get here?” she asks, “How could anyone think that another’s most private, intimate moment was fair game?” While she leads her readers through the evolution of the word “friend” from noun to verb, and the ostracizing of smokers, groping for her own answer, I feel compelled to provide the obvious one: homophobia. She appeals to the good old days, when “respecting others’ privacy was a matter of manners” oblivious to the fact that the privacy of homosexual acts was legally recognized only in 2003 with the case Texas v. Lawrence. Before that, the video would have been evidence of a criminal act and made that Tyler Clementi vulnerable to prosecution (and presumably within the bounds of good manners of law enforcers, at least) Ms. Parker’s strained attempts to ignore the obvious answer actually provide her readers with a subtle yet effective endorsement of homophobia; dismissing it as a complication that can be ignored or minimized even when that requires rewriting history. Her essay exposes a certain lack of scruples on her part, and as she instructs: “When others are victimized by another ‘s lack of scruples, be outraged.”

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Thanks to Edward Tufte, millions of people have seen Charles Minard’s remarkable chart of the French Army’s losses during its Russian campaign in the winter of 1812-13. Minard’s chart is a joy to behold. It’s the acme of data presentation — magnificent, spectacular, inspiring. So it kills me that Gene Zelazny, who wrote the you-know-from-the-title-it’s-bad book “Say it with Charts” FUCKING SHAT ALL OVER MINARD’S LEGACY.

I learned about Zelazny’s desecration here, though Andrew Abela, who reported it, failed to call it that. “Zelazny notes that the graphic is difficult to read, and proposes that there might be better ways to convey the same information.”

Sure, there might be, just like there might be better ways to decorate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but what Zelazny offers is an epic numerical fail, because IT NOT ONLY DEPICTS DIFFERENT (AS IN WRONG) INFORMATION, IT ALSO DEPICTS THE WRONG INFORMATION BADLY (as in we can’t even tell what wrong numbers he wants us to find and what they are supposed to quantify).

Zelazny might as well propose that “there might be better ways to clean up the Gulf of Mexico,” trot out a broken doorknob and a bent bicycle tire, and ask us to wonder with him. Ugh, ugh, ugh. And ugh.

Here are a few of the gory details (of which there can be but few, given how little actual stuff there is in Zelazny’s chart).


Ok, so the spirit levels in the cutesy clipart thermometers don’t match the numbers, only their absolute values (sort of).  But the numbers are wrong, too. Five of Zelazny’s six data points are wrong — misread from Minard’s original. Five out of six. That’s almost all wrong, for those of you who aren’t counting. Badly, differently, and horrifyingly wrong.

Minard reports that there was rain on October 24, and that the temperature was about zero*. Zelazny misread the day of the month (24) as a temperature, then used the only other written figure at that spot on Minard’s chart (8bre, for octobre) for both the month and the day. No explanation short of “Who gives a fuck?” works for this slop.

*Minard’s figures give the Réaumur scale temperature, which detail Minard, lest future readers misconstrue his chart, tells us. Minard cared deeply about communicating. (Zelazny’s figures are wrong in every known temperature scale. He cares less. Much less, like not at all.)

Remarkably or not, almost nothing is correct in Zelazny’s “presentation.” The border between Poland and Russia is misplaced, and all the graphical scales are wrong. I’m no PowerPoint guru, but I assume you have to work very hard to incorporate numbers into a slide this wrongly (as was famously done here, and better).


Even Zelazny’s title is wrong.


Things got bad on the retreat from Moscow. And it’s not clear how many died. Minard charted the number of troops, not deaths. Some who didn’t return were captured. Others may have deserted. And the overall message isn’t “the colder … the more.” The biggest declines were early in the campaign, when the temperatures aren’t given. So the title is all wrong, but hell, IT FIT ON TWO LINES. Shit like this matters. It’s our planet’s fucking history.

Sure, Minard’s correct title (Carte figurative des pertes successives en hommes de l’ Armée Française…, and penned more beautifully than any web typography can be rendered) won’t work projected at WXGA resolution or on your favorite eReader or phone.

THIS IS WHY WE PRINT STUFF ON PAPER. If you don’t have a copy of Minard’s chart, buy yourself one. Fuck, if you’re one of the first five people to ask me, I’ll buy you one.

Now turn off your computer and pick up a beautiful book. Or go to the library. Or write. On paper. Thanks for listening.

One Response to “Let Charles Minard Rest in Peace”

  1. Alex Kerin Says:

    Steve, you have encapsulated my thoughts in a way that I cannot express on my company blog. There was consternation a while back because I used the word ‘wanker’ in a post.

    Good job. And, what’s with the 3D pie charts on the front of Zelazny’s books? Say it with charts? Remind me not to hire McKinsey.

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Web sites about mathematics should help people understand and appreciate mathematics, not confuse the crap out of them with misinformation. Unfortunately, Wolfram Mathworld does the latter.

Example 1. MathWorld explains here that “The numbers of palindromic numbers less than a given number are illustrated in the plot [below].”


So the left plot tells us that there are about 100 palindromes less than or equal to 20. But there are only 21 nonnegative integers less than or equal to 20, so there can’t be 100 palindromes among them. In fact, there are 11 palindromes less than or equal to 20: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 11. My guess is that the left plot illustrates the n-th palindromic number as a function of n. In any case, it’s not what MathWorld describes.

MathWorld begins its list of the “first few palindromic numbers” with 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 (these 10 numbers are palindromes and are all less than 10), but in the next paragraph, MathWorld states that the number of palindromic numbers less than 10 is 9. There are 9 if you don’t count zero for some strange reason, but if you don’t intend to, give a definition that excludes it (MathWorld’s definition is less than clear), and then don’t list it.

Still confused? Read the Wikipedia article.

Example 2. Pascal’s Triangle shouldn’t be hard to screw up, right? Wrong. Here’s MathWorld’s Pascal’s Triangle:


This triangle needs to go to the shop for an alignment. The numbers are neither lined up in columns nor staggered (the latter being the usual presentation). What are the numbers in the column containing the rightmost 4? What numbers are along the diagonal through the top? (1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 5, 6?) As shown, MathWorld’s anyway-ill-worded “each subsequent row is obtained by adding the two entries diagonally above” is meaningless.

Example 3. In its article on Mersenne numbers (numbers that are one less than a power of two), MathWorld attempts to explain why “[i]n order for the Mersenne number [2n-1] to be prime, n must be prime.” MathWorld’s justification: “This is true since for composite n with factors r and s, n = rs. Therefore, 2n1 can be written as 2rs1, which is a binomial number and can be factored.” That’s sloppy to say the least. First, if a composite number n has factors r and s, it’s not necessarily the case that n = rs. Furthermore, the fact that a number can be factored doesn’t prove it’s composite. Every Mersenne number 2n1 can be factored. It’s just that when n is composite, there’s definitely a factorization into positive integers neither of which equals 1. Explaining it isn’t hard: In order for 2n-1 to be prime, n must be prime. For if not, n = rs where r and s are integers greater than 1 and less than n; then 2n1 = 2rs1 has a factor between 1 and 2n1, namely 2r1.

Example 4. MathWorld describes prime numbers as “numbers that cannot be factored.” Prime numbers, like all integers, however, can be factored, and elsewhere, MathWorld gives the factorization of several prime numbers, such as 7: 7 = 7×1.

Example 5. Any of MathWorld’s articles on statistics.

In the article on the Central Limit Theorem, what is lowercase n? What is f? The “limiting cumulative distribution function” of Xnorm is limiting in the sense of what approaching what? (It’s not clear to me that MathWorld’s statement of the theorem is even correct, but it’s clearly unclear.)

The article “explaining” the p-value has perhaps the worst definition of p-value I’ve ever seen when not grading exams. MathWorld says it’s “[t]he probability that a variate would assume a value greater than or equal to the observed value strictly by chance: P(z > zobserved)” (wrong). Wikipedia says “In statistical hypothesis testing, the p-value is the probability of obtaining a test statistic at least as extreme as the one that was actually observed, assuming that the null hypothesis is true” (right).

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On Monday, CBS News leapt (or leaped, if you wish) onto the alarm bandwagon, writing (emphasis mine):

So far, the biggest outbreak has taken place on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, but the fungus has since spread past the order [sic] into Oregon where it’s become a "a major source of illness in the region," according to the online journal PLoS Pathogens.

Not to be snarky (translation: Imma snark (translation: sarcasm coming)), but besides misspelling “border,” the CBS News writer failed to read either my previous post here (highly forgivable) or my comment on the PLoS Pathogen article’s discussion page (less forgivable, being that there are only two comments on the article).

It’s interesting to think about where in the scientific peer review process a clinker like “major source of illness” should have been caught. (I’ll think to myself.)

For the record, a publications assistant at PLoS Pathogens who handled my comment deserves thanks. He offered helpful feedback on a first draft of my comment, and he followed up to suggest that PLoS Pathogens cares when their articles are misinterpreted.

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What do you call it if someone commits a crime in an attempt to prove they were right that the crime rate is increasing? Last year, Martin Bernheimer wrote about the sorry state of arts criticism in the country:

Many US papers have abandoned thoughtful, detailed reviews altogether. Publishers, editors and, presumably, readers want instant evaluations and newsbites, preferably with flashy pictures. It is Zagat-think, simplicity for the simple-minded.

Today, Martin Bernheimer reviewed the New York Philharmonic’s performance of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony. You can guess where I’m going with this. (Disclosure: I sang in the chorus.) The Financial Times as an organization may or may not have abandoned thoughtful, detailed reviews, but Bernheimer nonetheless gave them the kind of review he said many US papers want. Nope, I won’t be filing his review under “thoughtful and detailed.” The date of the concert, the names of the soloists, and the row in which Bernheimer unhappily sat unfortunately don’t pass the bar for detail. And nothing in his mostly weasely review fits the thoughtful category. Not to omit detail myself, I’ll mention a couple of things Bernheimer got wrong: Joseph Flummerfelt didn’t prepare all three choirs, and Anthony Dean Griffey wasn’t motley. Admittedly, the hypothesis that Bernheimer is writing bad reviews to support his claim that there are too many bad reviews is hard to support. If that were the point, wouldn’t he write the bad reviews using a pseudonym? So here’s another hypothesis about what’s wrong with the guy. He reported today that Avery Fisher Hall

distorted the inherent complexities virtually beyond recognition. Echoes abounded, balances went awry, attacks blurred. Some voices disappeared in the muddle, others boomed as if electronically amplified. It was ugly.

I think one of the abounding echoes was that of his own voice in his own head, because last month, he had this to say about Boulez’s performance of Mahler’s Eighth in Carnegie:

Balances went askew. Melodic details got buried in textural muddles.

Next time someone pays for Bernheimer to sit in a chair, an audiologist’s office might be the right venue. Welcome to my new sarcastic and bitter category. My excuse for being sarcastic and bitter? None, but I’ll point out that I’m not claiming to be a real critic, nor am I getting paid to write this. I promise to post something warm and fuzzy soon. Related reading: Shut up, Martin Bernheimer (Einstein on the A Train, April 23, 2008) Related hearing (only through July 10, 2009): tonight’s performance of the concert, which was broadcast live. I think you’ll love it.

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