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Seattle Times Pulitzer Prize

April 12, 2010 Leave a comment

How about that? Our lone local daily newspaper received a Pulitzer Prize today in the category of Breaking News Reporting. Sadly, the breaking news was the horrific murders last November of four Lakewood, Washington, police officers.

The citation reads:

Awarded to The Seattle Times Staff for its comprehensive coverage, in print and online, of the shooting deaths of four police officers in a coffee house and the 40-hour manhunt for the suspect.

Here is the Seattle Times’ own coverage (with an AP assist) of its award.

The Times has its faults, ones I’m usually happy to describe. But it has strengths too, its mere existence being one of them. We would be far poorer without a serious, independent local newspaper covering the events of the city, region, and state. I am pleased to support it as a subscriber and to congratulate it on today’s recognition.

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Categories: Journalism

Opening Day at Safeco

April 12, 2010 1 comment

Opening Day, 2010

[Dean Rutz, Seattle Times]

The Seattle Mariners’ home opener is underway, in the 6th inning. Not the best baseball weather, cloudy and cool. When I saw the photo above at the Seattle Times website, I couldn’t resist posting it. As you can see, several Mariners from the good old days were back, with Randy Johnson receiving the honor of throwing out the first pitch. (See Larry Stone’s weekly Sunday column yesterday on Randy in retirement.)

In case you’re not sure, that’s Jay Buhner on the left, Dan Wilson next to him, Randy Johnson towering over his ex-teammates, Edgar Martinez next, and still-active Ken Griffey, Jr. on the right. If you’re in a nostalgic mood, check out this box score of a game featuring all five. Not just any game, of course. This one was kind of important. And we were there: Gail, Gail’s Dad, Joel, me.

Categories: Baseball

Taibbi on Brooks

April 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Matt Taibbi

It’s hard to take NYT columnist David Brooks seriously, especially when he falls into the pontifical mode in which he vastly expands or misstates the applicability of some scientific study in order to draw his desired, unwarranted conclusion. Mark Liberman at Language Log has posted regularly on this proclivity. (See for instance here and here.

The NYT has an online weekly feature, The Conversation, in which David Brooks and fellow NYT columnist Gail Collins discuss some topic. Last week’s topic was Redefining What It Means to Work Hard. You may wish to read it, but even better, read Matt Taibbi’s dissection of it two days ago at his blog. Taibbi, who writes for Rolling Stone, has a way with words, a tendency toward hyperbole, and a seeming inability to resist cuteness, cleverness, and coarseness, but he never leaves you in the dark about what he thinks.

A taste of Taibbi is below. Read it all; it’s well, if coarsely, done.

I had to read this thing twice before it registered that Brooks was actually saying that he was rooting for the rich against the poor. If he keeps this up, he’s going to make his way into the Guinness Book for having extended his tongue at least a foot and a half farther up the ass of the Times’s Upper East Side readership than any previous pundit in journalistic history. But then you come to this last line of his, in which he claims that “for the first time in history, rich people work longer hours than middle class or poor people,” and you find yourself almost speechless. . . .

Only a person who has never actually held a real job could say something like this. There is, of course, a huge difference between working 80 hours a week in a profession that you love and which promises you vast financial rewards, and working 80 hours a week digging ditches for a septic-tank company, or listening to impatient assholes scream at you at some airport ticket counter all day long, or even teaching disinterested, uncontrollable kids in some crappy school district with metal detectors on every door.

Most of the work in this world completely sucks balls and the only reward most people get for their work is just barely enough money to survive, if that. The 95% of people out there who spend all day long shoveling the dogshit of life for subsistence wages are basically keeping things running just well enough so that David Brooks, me and the rest of that lucky 5% of mostly college-educated yuppies can live embarrassingly rewarding and interesting lives in which society throws gobs of money at us for pushing ideas around on paper (frequently, not even good ideas) and taking mutual-admiration-society business lunches in London and Paris and Las Vegas with our overpaid peers. . . .

Then again, maybe I’m looking at this from the wrong perspective. Would I rather clean army latrines with my tongue, or would I rather do what Brooks does for a living, working as a professional groveler and flatterer who three times a week has to come up with new ways to elucidate for his rich readers how cosmically just their lifestyles are? If sucking up to upper-crust yabos was my actual job and I had to do it to keep the electricity on in my house, then yes, I might look at that as work.

But it strikes me that David Brooks actually enjoys his chosen profession. In fact, he strikes me as the kind of person who even in his spare time would pay a Leona Helmsley lookalike a thousand dollars to take a shit on his back. And here he is saying that the reason the poor and the middle classes are struggling is because they don’t work hard enough. Is this guy the best, or what? Does it get any better than this?

Categories: Journalism, Politics

Grigory Perelman

April 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Henri Poincaré

In my last post, on a Wall Street Journal article about Martin Gardner, I noted that it’s “a rare day when any major newspaper has an article with mathematical content.” I didn’t want to let the moment pass, so I wrote about the article. Now the latest New York Review of Books has arrived, with yet more mathematical content, a review by John Allen Paulos of Masha Gessen’s biography of Gregory Perelman, the Russian mathematician who proved the Poincaré Conjecture in 2002.

The conjecture, made by the great French mathematician Henri Poincaré in a 1904 paper, was one of the great unsolved problems in mathematics. Every mathematics graduate student learned about it when studying topology. It’s so easily stated, yet it resisted the efforts of mathematicians for a century, even as analogues were proven in dimensions 5 and higher by Stephen Smale, John Stallings, and E.C. Zeeman in the 1960s and in dimension 4 by Michael Freedman in 1982. Smale and Freedman were awarded Fields Medals for their work.

Perelman posted three papers in 2002 purporting to prove the conjecture, but the papers did not provide complete proofs. This led to a complex sequence of events that I won’t try to recount, with other mathematicians studying the approach he laid out, filling in details, and publishing their own papers verifying that he had indeed proved the conjecture. A 2006 New Yorker article by Sylvia Nasar and David Gruber that received a lot of attention gives an account of some of the controversy that ensued. Perelman was himself awarded a Fields Medal in 2006, but declined it. He was in the news again just two weeks ago when he declined the million-dollar prize awarded him on March 18 by the Clay Mathematics Institute for solving one of their seven Millennium Prize Problems. (Learn more by reading the Clay Institute’s short press release and full press release.

You can learn more about Perelman from the New Yorker article of 2006, Paulos’s review of the Gessen biography, or Jascha Hoffman’s NYT review of the biography last December. Hoffman notes in closing that Gessen “has written something rare: an accessible book about an unreachable man.”

Categories: Math