In my aimless web-surfing today I learned about karagoz, a shadow-puppet theater form from Turkey. Although it started in court performances for the Ottoman Sultan, karagoz trickled down to become one of the most popular performing art forms in Turkey. Karagoz, or Black-Eye, is the main character in these plays, and is always cracking jokes at the expense of his friend Hacivad. In structure, it is similar to other folk theater forms — a prologue, set piece, the main play, and fixed epilogue. The plays use stock characters, similar to commedia dell’arte, although necessarily more germane to Turkey. Since I don’t know much about Indonesian puppet theater, I can’t compare it to that, but it would probably be cool to see a performance.

coir mats

Berkeley Economics Professor Brad DeLong has a thought-provoking post on trade at his blog. He takes to task an article from Slate on the ethics of purchasing goods manufactured in developing countries under exploitative practices. The author of the article calls for a boycott of such goods, but DeLong points out that this only hurts the poor villagers. He then goes on to give a list of constructive actions to improve the situation, ending with this call:

Think analytically, people. Think hard about opportunity cost–what people’s options are–and how to expand those options, not narrow them. Think not about the first-round effects of actions, but their implications for equilibrium.

I admit that I have similar “liberal” knee-jerk reactions to labor issues like this, but after reading a proposal to improve labor standards I gained a better understanding of the complexities of the issue.

On my reading list at the moment (who knows when I’ll get to it): International Labor Standards, by Flanagan and Gould.

writing as a weapon

I’ve never read a book by E.L. Doctorow, but this essay has many locutions beautiful to my ears:

A war will do that as well as anything. You become a wartime leader. The country gets behind you. Dissent becomes inappropriate. And so he does not drop to his knees, he is not contrite, he does not sit in the church with the grieving parents and wives and children. He is the president who does not feel. He does not feel for the families of the dead, he does not feel for the 35 million of us who live in poverty, he does not feel for the 40 percent who cannot afford health insurance, he does not feel for the miners whose lungs are turning black or for the working people he has deprived of the chance to work overtime at time-and-a-half to pay their bills – it is amazing for how many people in this country this president does not feel.

But he will dissemble feeling. He will say in all sincerity he is relieving the wealthiest 1 percent of the population of their tax burden for the sake of the rest of us, and that he is polluting the air we breathe for the sake of our economy, and that he is decreasing the quality of air in coal mines to save the coal miners’ jobs, and that he is depriving workers of their time-and-a-half benefits for overtime because this is actually a way to honor them by raising them into the professional class.

It is in these two paragraphs, a little gem of parallel construction, that Doctorow manages to encapsulate the damned insincerity of our President that so infuriates me. One might argue that Kerry is equally dissimulating, but I find the cries of “flip-flop” unconvincing. What is better, to give with one hand while the other takes away, all the time smiling, or to decide to give, then rescind the decision? Both are aggravating, but the first is more fundamentally dishonest.

tracks go

Of course I know nothing of baseball…

1. Take Me Out To The Ballgame (Harry Hindermyer)
2. Fools Rush In (Frank Sinatra)
3. She’s Actual Size (They Might Be Giants)
4. Morphee (Moxy Früvous)
5. 6 Romanian Folkdances — I. Danse au bâton (Béla Bartók / Michel Béroff)
6. 6 Romanian Folkdances — II. Brâul
7. 6 Romanian Folkdances — III. Le batteur de grain
8. 6 Romanian Folkdances — IV. Danse de Bucsumi
9. 6 Romanian Folkdances — V. Polka roumaine
10. 6 Romanian Folkdances — VI. Danse rapide
11. Coney Island Baby (Tom Waits)
12. Bounce of the Sugar Plum Fairies (Jack Kirby / Don Byron)
13. The Cradle Will Rock (Marc Blitzstein)
14. Prince Charming (Jim’s Big Ego)
15. King of Birds (REM)
16. Ac-Cent-Tchu-Acte The Positive (Johnny Mercer / Ella Mae Morse)
17. Heaven (Talking Heads)
18. Andante (Vivaldi / Bobby McFerrin & Yo-Yo Ma)
19. The Broad Majestic Shannon (The Pogues)
20. Peppermint Patty (Vince Guaraldi / Ellis Marsalis)
21. Flowers On The Wall (The Statler Brothers)
22. Paper Tiger (Beck)
23. Blue Skies (Cassandra Wilson)
24. Lovecats (The Cure)
25. Shout And Feel It (Count Basie)
26. Love Potion Number 9 (The Searchers)
27. Take Me Out (Franz Ferdinand)

I was 30 years too late

In doing some literature searches, I came across paper from 1973 with the following in the abstract:

A generalization of information theory is presented with the aim of distinguishing the direction of information flow for mutually coupled statistical systems… An extension to a group of such systems has also been proposed. The theory is able to describe the informational relationships between living beings and other multivariate complex systems as encountered in economy. An application example referring to group behavior with monkeys is given.

Monkeys are so cool…

Lucky Charmers vs. Cheerioians

McSweeny’s has a hilarious parody of David Brooks’ column “style”:

A close look by a disarming columnist/commentator/author at the issues facing the candidates this year shows that one of these groups may decide the upcoming election. That group is the Cheerioians, because the Lucky Charmers are six years old, and therefore cannot vote. More importantly, they can’t read my columns, which unerringly describe the shape and fabric of the America that exists inside my own head.

Seriously though, David Brooks makes me want to chop off my arm. I know it’s appealing to generalize about people, but he seems to actively promote the idea that voting for someone based on superficial features is somehow the American thing to do, and that therefore it’s ok, and indeed the appropriate thing to do.

a question of efficiency

There is a semi-circular drive on the west side of the campus, and I usually bike or walk up it on my way in to school every day. Most pedestrians walk on the sidewalk on the outer edge. Let r denote the radius to the sidewalk on the inner edge of the drive, and r’ the width of the road. Then a pedestrian on the outer edge walks a distance of (π/2) r + r’ to reach the east side of the top of the drive, whereas a pedestrian on the inner edge walks a distance of (π/2) (r + r’). Clearly the inner path is shorter, yet fewer people take it.

As an extra credit problem, why does it make sense for me to take the outer path anyway?