The amazing levitating Slinky

All the actions is in the first 140 seconds.The remaining four minutes of explanation, involving claims of “information transfer” and “signals,” strike me as, frankly, bulltwaddle. Much more plausible is the explanation furnished by Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish, which in turn came from an even more thorough explanation on Rhett Allain’s blog at

What you’re seeing:

If a slinky is hung by one end such that its own weight extends it, and that slinky is then released, the lower end of the slinky will not fall or rise, but will remain briefly suspended in air as though levitating.


[T]he best thing is to think of the slinky as a system. When it is let [go], the center of mass certainly accelerates downward (like any falling object). However, at the same time, the slinky (spring) is compressing to its relaxed length. This means that top and bottom are accelerating towards the center of mass of the slinky at the same time the center of mass is accelerating downward.


Dishing it out, and out with The Dish

Andrew Sullivan, who writes the Daily Dish blog on The Atlantic‘s website, is one of these rare commentators who’s fun to read when you agree with him, more so when you don’t. If he weren’t the sole member of the selection committee, he’d be a perennial shoo-in for his own Yglesias Award, which honors partisans willing to criticize their own side when warranted.

In that spirit, I’ll register my disappointment at Sullivan’s recently announced decision to decamp for Tina Brown’s Daily Beast, which itself recently merged with the faded Newsweek.

sullivan-150CI’m a Dish addict, but following Sullivan to the Beast will be a tough slog. Tina Brown’s circus master tenure at the New Yorker tenure left a queasiness in my gut that bromides cannot erase. With the New York Times and The Guardian, The Atlantic is among a tiny handful of mainstream publications to embrace the internets with grace and wit. Andrew’s soon-to-be-former colleagues are too gentlemanly to say so, but that ought to have earned some loyalty. (Am I alone in reading a Zen subtext into their sparing au revoirs?)

Glenn Greenwald-125Coverage of the impending Dish-Beast nuptials in other media was notable for its lack of attention to the terms of the deal. When AOL bought Huffpo, the coverage was all about price. Not so when Brown and Colvin bought the Dish. (Andrew did not respond to an email asking about the financial details.)

But… onward and upward, as the pre-1992 New Yorker might have said. Who should fill the Dish space at I nominate Glenn Greenwald. Though superficially poles apart, he and Andrew share many qualities that make for great reading. Both are fearless, prolific, stubborn, indefatigable, diligent, whip-smart, and occasionally intemperate. Both read voluminously, with steely eyes for detail. Both harbor abiding respect for America’s battered democratic values. The Atlantic rightly prides itself on being a big tent operation, and Glenn would expand the canvas into welcome, and hitherto neglected, territory. Then again, maybe Greenwald feels some loyalty to, which has hosted him for years.

That indispensable serial comma

Merle Haggard - serial comma caption-450

The cutline reads:

The documentary was filmed over three years. Among those interviewed were his two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall.

Which propelled University of Pennsylvania sociologist Jeff Weintraub to ask:

Were Merle & Kris & Robert ever actually married?

What the caption writer neglected, of course, was the serial comma, the one that comes (or is omitted) after “crackle” in “snap, crackle, and pop.” When left out of a sentence, this tiny mark sometimes seeks revenge by sneaking up on a unwary writer and landing a devastating blow. In a similar, but more famous example, perhaps apocryphal, a book dedication implied a less-than–immaculate conception:

To my parents, Ayn Rand and God.

As Weintraub notes, the Haggard caption should have read:

Among those interviewed were his two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson, and Robert Duvall.

Nowadays, most newspaper style manuals eschew the serial comma, to their readers’ evident peril. The Chicago Manual of Style, The New Yorker magazine, and Contrarian uphold it.

Some think fussing over serial commas a waste of breath, but a 1998 Halifax Daily News column on the neglected mark — now, curiously, preserved on a Russian language website — drew more reader comment than any other column I ever wrote.

If only I’d been as canny as Lynne Truss, I could have parlayed that piece into a massive best-seller, and devoted the proceeds to a leisurely retirement writing Contrarian.

[From Bruce Baugh via Patrick Nielson Hayden, Brad DeLong Jeff Weintraub, and the Daily Dish.]

WaPo unmasks a hidden, top-secret America

The blogosphere is agog at a Washington Post series that uncovers the astonishing, bloated, secret, and likely ineffective national security apparatus that has grown up in the United States following 9/11. Two crack WaPo reporters, Dana Priest and William M. Arkin, spent two years tracking down the story, an increasingly rare example of what the dead-tree media can do when it taps its traditional strengths. Here’s the opening sentence:

The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.

Some highlights:

— Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on Top Secret programs related to counter-terrorism, homeland security, and intelligence at over 10,000 locations across the country. Over 850,000 Americans have Top Secret clearances.

— Redundancy and overlap are major problems and a symptom of the ongoing lack of coordination between agencies.

— In the Washington area alone, 33 building complexes for Top Secret work are under construction or have been built since September 2001.

Andrew Sullivan rounds up blogger reaction. Money quote to Glenn Greenwald:

We chirp endlessly about the Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court, the Democrats and Republicans, but this is the Real U.S. Government:  functioning in total darkness, beyond elections and parties, so secret, vast and powerful that it evades the control or knowledge of any one person or even any organization.

Flowingdata highlights the infographic:


Click the image (or here) to activate the graphic and explore that the Post calls, “an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight.” [Note: the graphic was sluggish this morning, presumably owing to heavy traffic.]

After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine…

Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications….

The NSA sorts a fraction of those into 70 separate databases. The same problem bedevils every other intelligence agency, none of which have enough analysts and translators for all this work.

9/11 happened not because intelligence agencies hadn’t detected elements the plot, but because inter-agency secrecy meant no one could put the pieces together. A core finding of the WaPo investigation is that this inability to connect the dots is worse than ever. They detail how various agencies collected ample evidence about alleged Ft. Hood shooter Nidal Hassan and attempted Christmas Day bomber Umar Abdulmutallab, but didn’t recognize its significance.

PBS even has a “making of” video:

A spider crab molts

The scale is deceptive. This is not the ordinary crab we’re used to, but a giant Japanese spider crab (Macrocheira kaempferi), whose leg span (3.8 meters or 12.5 feet) and weight (up to 19 kg. or 41 lb.) make it the largest arthropod in the world. This time-lapse video was shot over a 6-hour period.

Hat tip: Enoshima Aquarium, Fujisawa, Japan, via Daily Dish.

Canada’s Progressive Tories?

First gets Canadian politics bassackwards, now the Daily Dish’s Andrew Sullivan compounds the error:

The Americanization of British politics continues. First the TV debates, now fixed parliamentary terms. If that’s true, it means that the new government will not be a caretaker before another snap election, but a potential fusion of the Liberal and Tory brands over several years – perhaps the embryo of a whole new center-right party. It feels a little like Canada’s Progressive Tories. [Emphasis added.]

Canada’s Progressive Tories? How is it possible for US* journalists to misperceive Canadian politics so utterly? The Conservative Party of Canada was formed when an ultra-right party persuaded the right wing of a centre-right party to amalgamate,** leaving its time-honored moderate elements to choose between banishment (Joe Clark) and copious servings of humble pie (Peter MacKay). Successive minority governments have forced Prime Minister Stephen Harper, chief architect of this union, to water his wine ever so slightly, though not into anything that could be termed remotely progressive. The one time he thought he could rule as if he had a majority, Harper proposed a sweeping series of far right measures, touching off a Constitutional crisis that led to his full retreat. The measures never became law.

Harper did push through a law fixing the date of Canadian elections in 2006, but broke it (along with oft-repeated promises) less than two years later, when he judged, mistakenly as it turns out, that he could win a majority.

* Sullivan is an British citizen, but his journalistic career has been centered entirely in the US.

** Technically, the merger took two steps, from here to here, thence here.

Turmoil at The Atlantic

The Atlantic’s* blog section, my single favorite part of the Internet and a frequent source of posts and links here, is in turmoil this morning owing to a redesign that has stripped its superb habitues of the graphical personality and color that made their individual pages so compelling. It didn’t help that a series of glitches accompanied the changeover, including the (apparently temporary) loss of RSS feeds and the (hopefully temporary) disappearance of daily email updates.

The esteemed James Fallows, though characteristically uber-polite, is unable to conceal his unhappiness:

[T]he new layout scheme — in which you see only a few-line intro to each post but no pictures, block quotes, or other amplifying material — unavoidably changes the sensibility and tone of personal blogs. It drains them of variety and individuality, not to mention making them much less convenient to read. Only now that it is gone do I realize how important the placing of photos has been to my own sense of what I wanted to convey, along with the ability to alternate between longer and shorter posts on a “landing” page, or to deliberately save some material for “after the jump” placement.

Continue reading Turmoil at The Atlantic

Another kindred spirit

I promise not to go on about this ad nauseam, but I just discovered that Beagle-owner Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic noted Rosie’s obit in his Daily Dish blog Sunday. Rosie’s sardine can caper reminded Andrew of the time his now aging beagle Dusty broke into an overnight bag some house guests had imprudently left on the floor of his loft—with two large boxes of Godiva chocolates hidden inside. Moneyquote:

It was a beagle Linda Blair – with viscous chocolate liquid projectile vomiting everywhere in sight. I went to grab her to get her outside. She decided this was a game. So yours truly spent the next ten minutes chasing a projectile chocolate vomiting beagle around my loft until every single item of furniture, every rug, and the bed was covered in what felt and looked like chocolate mucus. My low point was actually slipping in some and careening headfirst into a pile of still-warm, and very slippery chocolate goo. That’s when my guests returned, to find their secret busted. But all they could do was laugh at me until they near-collapsed.

Dusty-cr-ccAndrew closed with some wistful thoughts about his attachment to dogs in general, and Dusty in particular:

I used to think that dogs were just dogs, beneath us humans, different in fundamental ways. I don’t any more. I see the trace of God’s love and God’s creation in every one. But I only really see it in the one I love and have lived in the same room with for twelve years and counting.