late to the party

For me, the best thing about Wampum’s 2003 Koufax Awards is the number of excellent blogs to which the nominations (which start here) have introduced me. True to form, though, I haven’t been paying attention as I added new blogs into my favourite new toy, so no list of new notables from me. Instead, I’ve gone through the nominations for Best Post, and here present (in no particular order within each group) my own selections from that list, with reasons why you should go vote for them as well.
Best of breed:
Lady Sisyphus’ post, actually written by a friend of hers, called so great a cloud of witnesses. I defy anyone to read this and maintain opposition to gay marriage without engaging in serious cognitive dissonance.
Billmon is nominated for a number of posts, but the one that really resonated with me was Dream Time. I also grew up in a racist milieu, bear its lasting marks, and am determined to rid myself of every last trace of it.
The rest of the best:
Prometheus 6 looks at American slavery from a viewpoint you should not miss. Whites, as well as blacks, had to be conditioned to accept an economy built on injustice.
David Niewert at Orcinus is nominated for a widely (and deservedly) praised post on the impact of the political on the personal.
Amp at Alas, A Blog takes a swipe at one of the last socially acceptable prejudices. What I want to know is, what’s so terrible about being fat anyway?
Amp has also been nominated for his succinct explanation of how Republicans could get a late-term abortion ban if they really wanted one, and why they don’t.
Very Very Happy on why you should at least get your facts straight before you decide to hate the French. Read this before you ever make the “cheese eating surrender monkeys” joke again, ‘k?
Honourable Mentions:
Allen Brill at The Right Christians provides annotations for MLK Jr’s “I have a dream” speech. If you can stomach my writing and opinions, you don’t need me to explain why that speech is important, and Allen has done a nice job of tracking down the sources of its powerful imagery.
The Left Hook is nominated for a post about Jose Padilla. I was embarassed to realise that I did not know what was happening in that critical case, so the post makes my list for administering a much-needed jolt (even if it was written back when I was still paying attention). If, like me, you need to catch up, Google is your friend. (Bottom line: no progress.)
Greg at The Talent Show also makes the list for telling me something I should have known. He starts out teeing off on Transcendental Meditation, then goes on to deliver the coup de grâce to the Hundredth Monkey bullshit (that the latter was so readily debunkable is what I didn’t know, but should have).
Nathan Newman gets points for defending the (almost) indefensible Al Sharpton, and doing a good job of it.
Tresy is nominated for an enjoyable and accurate anti-Shrub rant on corrente, The Chickenhawks Come Home to Roost.
I admit it, Atrios’ Secret Media Memo made me laugh.

against reincarnation

If you go, love, dawdle
down the unlit path.
Fob the ferryman off
with vague replies.
I won’t be far behind.
Throw your penny in the water,
or hand it to some poor shade
trapped on the shore. I’ll
bring you another. We’ll cross together.

Don’t drink the water! If you forget me
my name will become another word for sorrow.

le hasard favorise l’esprit prepare

In an aside to this post, Mark Liberman at Language Log links to a wonderful talk by Richard W Hamming on how to do significant research. This is a useful collection of observations for anyone who wants to go beyond the solid, plodding “good” to the really first-class. (Not, I hasten to add, lest this post come back to haunt me, that there’s anything remotely wrong with “good”. I have a long way to go to get even that far; and Hamming himself pretty much admits that, as a general rule, unless you are a towering Pauling-esque genius you can be happy or you can be significant.)
[updated, see below]

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can you tell I’m a biologist?

Pericat agrees with Mike Täht that he, Mike, is not a lemming. I don’t know Mike from a hole in the ground (though I’m sure he’s a fine fellow), so what grabbed my interest was the article concerning lemming population cycles to which P also linked. The research paper on which the article is based is available here in pdf format. It’s outside my area of research, so take this with an appropriately large grain of salt, but I am not convinced by the proposed theory. It rests on two ideas I find problematic:
1. plants producing lethal toxins (that they do not normally produce) in response to heavier-than-usual grazing. The mechanism of this toxin production must differentiate between regular grazing and “preferred food has all been eaten, so look out” grazing; if wound-induced toxin production were dose-responsive (more wounds, more toxin) that might work, but as far as I can tell the authors cite no actual examples of this occurring.
2. the idea that the primary reasons for a lack of toxin resistance development in the rodent population are the long (relative to generation time) periods between toxin production and immigration from susceptible genepools. The authors do not seem to explain how either of these is a defense against the fixation in the population of a mutation which provides toxin resistance and is not detrimental to reproductive fitness in the absence of toxin.
Finally, the authors state:

Evolved resistance will be delayed further if the toxins have a longer-term effect of interfering with breeding […] This will reduce the probability of resistant residents breeding with each other

I don’t buy that either. It seems to me that it only holds true if the resistance does not extend to the breeding interference, which does not seem likely; in fact, resistance to a toxin present in the primary food source during a food shortage seems likely to increase reproductive fitness.
How’s that for a tangent?

pulling my weight

First: it is indisputable that George W Bush is a miserable failure and, in my opinion, he is unelectable.
Second, a few words prompted by the Iowa Democratic debate: “Howard Dean” “sealed records” “flip flop” “Osama death penalty” “Bush was warned” bullshit.
Since he’s clearly the frontrunner and seems likely to get the nomination, I wish Howard Dean would add a section to his blog specifically to combat the spin that is going to be repeated and repeated and repeated about him. Three early issues came up in the Iowa debate, and I thought he handled them well:

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RSS will set you free

Now this is sweet. Bloglines is an online RSS aggregator with a clean, selbstverständlich interface and a host of useful features that allows you to streamline your weblog reading enormously (it will also work with email newsletters and newsgroups – anything that can be syndicated). Here’s the overview, and my account is open for public viewing if you want to see the system in action (it’s a bit messy because I’m still putting it together). This thing will save me hours; mad props to founder Mark Fletcher.

a few links

Some links that were languishing in a textfile; sorry about the lack of attribution, I’ll try not to do that again.
Kurt Wenner’s amazing trompe l’oeil street paintings.
Possibly the worst CD of all time.
A collection of creative gene names. Most of the best ones are Drosophila genes, fruit fly genetics being a field with a long history of wry jokes. For example: cleopatra (interaction with asp is lethal), barentsz (doesn’t reach pole), amontillado (larvae can’t hatch — For the love of God, Montresor!).
An interesting way to divide the US up into political regions. I’m happy to be in a zone that’s “known for both civic responsibility and civil disobedience”.
A brilliant cartoon from film maker Mark Osborne (Quicktime).
Direct conversion of the energy in a moving liquid to electricity; no moving parts, no pollution. A link: search on Google confirmed my feeling that this story is not getting much attention (and reminded me that I found it on the excellent Laputan Logic), but also introduced me to FuturePundit via this post, which points out some reasons for less than unbounded optimism.
scanning electron micrograph of a fly's foot
Microangela has a scanning electron microscope, and she’s not afraid to use it. That’s a fly’s foot — Musca domestica I assume, although the site doesn’t specify. No wonder the little bastards can stick to anything.
In-wheel drive. The Dutch city of Apeldoorn is about to undertake a six-month evaluation of a bus with inside-out electric motors in each wheel and a small diesel motor to keep the necessary batteries charged. If the inventors are to be believed, the new arrangement of old technology offers 60% savings on fuel and massive reductions in both noise and fuel-emission pollution.
Campaign for a moratorium on the death penalty. I think there are two ways to look at the death penalty: one, in the hypothetical case of a perfect justice system which never convicts the innocent; and two, in the real case of our present justice system which all too often convicts the innocent. I’m against it in both cases, but I think the argument in the second case is utterly compelling.