Degrees of separation

Forget Google Earth, Google Street View, and those proposed Google goggles.  Here is Google’s coolest feature:  Google will now calculate how many degrees of separation a person is from Kevin Bacon.

It is the party game beloved of cinephiles everywhere, one which rewards detailed knowledge of the career of one of the finest actors never to receive an Oscar nomination. And now it is even easier to play: Google has built Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon into its search system.

Devised in January 1994 by a trio of students at Pennsylvania’s Albright college, the original game was based on the idea that it is always possible to connect every movie actor in the world back to the Footloose star in no more than six associations. A website, board game and book later emerged and an initially reluctant Bacon eventually embraced the phenomenon by launching his own site, SixDegrees.org, to foster charitable donations.

To use Google’s system, the user simply types in the words “Bacon number” followed by the name of the actor. By way of example, typing “Bacon number Simon Pegg” reveals that Bacon and the British actor are linked by Tom Cruise, because the latter appeared in 1992’s A Few Good Men with Bacon and in 2006’s Mission: Impossible III with Pegg. Pegg therefore has a Bacon number of two, indicating two degrees of separation.

Lead engineer Yossi Matias said the project was about showcasing the power of Google’s search engine by flagging up the deep-rooted connections between people in the film industry. “If you think about search in the traditional sense, for years it has been to try and match, find pages and sources where you would find the text,” he told the Hollywood Reporter. “It’s interesting that this small-world phenomena when applied to the world of actors actually shows that in most cases, most actors aren’t that far apart from each other. And most of them have a relatively small Bacon number.”

By way of example, type French Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard’s name into the system and it is revealed that she has a Bacon number of two, while Humphrey Bogart, who died in 1957, nevertheless has a Bacon number of just three.

via Google builds Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon into its search system | Film | guardian.co.uk.

The Google algorithm (someone please explain how it works)  just works for Hollywood figures, which is the original game, though one variation tries to connect anyone on earth to Mr. Bacon.  I, for example, have a Bacon number of four:  (1) The wife of a former colleague is the daughter of the man who did the make-up on Citizen Kane.  (2)  He worked for Orson Welles, who produced, directed, and acted in Citizen Kane.  (3)  Google tells me that Orson Welles appeared with Jack Nicholson in A Safe Place.  (4)  And that Jack Nicholson and Kevin Bacon appeared in A Few Good Men.

Another variation proposes that there are no more than six degrees of separation (or maybe a few more) between any two people in the world.  For example, what chain of people who have met or have had a direct personal contact with each other might connect me to, say, a hypothetical Chinese peasant named Chen who lives in the Jiangxi province?  (1) When I was in high school, I shook the hand of Senator Eugene McCarthy.  (2)  He shook the hand of Richard Nixon.  (3)  Nixon shook the hand of Mao Zedong.  (4)  Chairman Mao knew the members of his Communist Politburo.  (5)  The representative of the Jiangxi province worked with the Secret Police.  (6) One of whose members doubtless spied on Chen and his parents.

I don’t know if that always works, of course.  I suppose it’s based on the exponential calculations that perhaps someone could explain for us.  (Is it that if each person has met a thousand people, six degrees would mean 1000 to the 6th power, or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000, a number that would require a great deal of overlap since the world’s population is only about 7,000,000,000.)

I think it shouldn’t count if your only contact with a person is reading a book or article that was written by that person.  But if you comment on the person’s blog, that does count, like talking to someone over the phone.  So you can add onto my degrees of separation with Kevin Bacon.

Do any of you have any other interesting degrees of separation that the rest of us could then appropriate?

Why do we even have a president?

Historian Kenneth C. Davis looks at the origin of the office of the President, something our Founders went round and round about at the Constitutional Convention.

In that steamy Philadelphia summer of 1787, as the Constitution was secretly being drafted and the plan for the presidency invented — “improvised” is more apt — the delegates weren’t sure what they wanted this new office to be. To patriots who had fought a war against a king, the thought of one person wielding great power, at the head of a standing army, gave them the willies.

Still, Hamilton asserted in the Federalist Papers that this experimental executive must have “energy” — a quality characterized by “decision, activity, secrecy and dispatch.” Hamilton knew that the times demanded bold action. Operating under the Articles of Confederation, a weak Congress had dithered through crisis and conflict, unable to collect taxes or raise an effective army. And the presidents of Congress — 14 of them from 1774 to 1788 — wielded nothing more threatening than a gavel. They couldn’t even answer a letter without congressional approval.

As the delegates to the Constitutional Convention sweltered behind closed windows, in the same Pennsylvania State House where the Declaration of Independence had been adopted 11 years earlier, they disagreed about many things. But no issue caused greater consternation than establishing an executive office to run the country.

Would this executive department be occupied by one man or a council of three? What powers would the executive have? How long would he hold office? How would the executive be chosen? And how would he be removed, if necessary? (Without an answer to this question, Ben Franklin warned, the only recourse would be assassination.)

On these questions, the record points down a tortuous path filled with uncertainty and sharp division. While some delegates feared creating a presidency that could become a “fetus of monarchy,” others called for an executive who could negotiate treaties and make appointments — or command an army if the nation was threatened. Or at least answer the mail. . . . [Read more…]

Now a French magazine ridicules Mohammad

First an American puts up a YouTube video inflaming the Muslim world and now a French magazine has published cartoon inflaming the already inflamed Muslim world.

A French magazine ridiculed the Prophet Mohammad on Wednesday by portraying him naked in cartoons, threatening to fuel the anger of Muslims around the world who are already incensed by a film depiction of him as a lecherous fool.

The drawings in satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo risked exacerbating a crisis that has seen the storming of U.S. and other Western embassies, the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and a deadly suicide bombing in Afghanistan.

Riot police were deployed to protect the magazine’s Paris offices after it hit the news stands with a cover showing an Orthodox Jew pushing the turbaned figure of Mohammad in a wheelchair.

On the inside pages, several caricatures of the Prophet showed him naked. One, entitled “Mohammad: a star is born”, depicted a bearded figure crouching over to display his buttocks and genitals.

The French government, which had urged the weekly not to print the cartoons, said it was temporarily shutting down premises including embassies and schools in 20 countries on Friday, when protests sometimes break out after Muslim prayers.

via Cartoons in French weekly fuel Mohammad furor – Yahoo! News Canada.

So is this freedom of the press or religious bigotry?  Or both?  Is there a point at which religious bigotry can become an infringement of freedom of religion?  Are elements in the West–France, no less!  and what’s been coming out from the ultra-tolerant Danes and the Dutch! — coming together in an anti-Islamic reaction?

Back under the knife

Having completed several weeks of recovery from cataract surgery, we do it all again starting today, as my left eye gets operated on.

Despite the forced inactivity, I was able to keep the blog going pretty well, so I hope can do the same this time.  This eye, though, will be corrected for near vision–the other one was for distant vision–so this operation may affect me more in reading and blogging, at least for a few days until the vision stabilizes.  When that happens, I should see really well in both eyes.  But if I’m not able to blog at my normal pace, you’ll know what has happened.

The plan, after taking out the cataracts, is to put in new artificial lenses that will correct my vision so that I might not even need glasses.   But it will work like this:   My right eye will be for distant vision. My left eye will be for near vision.  My brain supposedly will work the board, cutting from one camera/eye to the other.  This is called “monovision,” and I’m told that quite a few people with contact lenses have this arrangement.

But isn’t “stereo” better than “mono”?  If I just use one eye at a time, won’t that throw off my depth perception?  Will I be able to see 3-D movies?  If not, I don’t really mind, since I have never seen 3-D effects in a movie that I liked, with the exception of the Michael Jackson short film at Disneyland, and this will save me a lot of money in extra ticket prices.  But I’d sort of like to see 3-D effects in real life.

Would glasses let me use both eyes together?  I haven’t been wearing them since the first surgery since the prescription isn’t valid anymore, and I realize that I feel weird not wearing the things.  I actually like wearing glasses.  I hate to give them up, especially since the styles I first wore in 7th grade have finally come back in fashion and are defined as “hipster” frames.

I know, I know, I should have asked my doctor about all of this, but I always want to get out of the doctor’s office as soon as possible.

General Motors wants its freedom

Our little experiment in industrial socialism didn’t work quite as well as the Democrats are saying.  General Motors did not pay back the bailout, and the American auto industry is not exactly “roaring back,” as the President said.  The government still owns over a quarter of all GM stock.  The company wants the government to sell out, but if it does, such is the low stock price, taxpayers would lose billions.  From Market Watch:

The Treasury Department is resisting General Motors’ push for the government to sell off its stake in the auto maker, The Wall Street Journal reports. Following a $50 billion bailout in 2009, the U.S. taxpayers now own almost 27% of the company. But the newspaper said GM executives are now chafing at that, saying it hurts the company’s reputation and its ability to attract top talent due to pay restrictions. Earlier this year, GM GM -1.41% presented a plan to repurchase 200 million of the 500 million shares the U.S. holds with the balance being sold via a public offering. But officials at the Treasury Department were not interested as selling now would lead to a multibillion dollar loss for the government, the newspaper noted.

via General Motors pushing U.S. to sell stake: report – MarketWatch.

Your lying eyes

Leftover from the Democratic convention, Peggy Noonan’s review:

Barack Obama is deeply overexposed and often boring. He never seems to be saying what he’s thinking. His speech Thursday was weirdly anticlimactic. There’s too much buildup, the crowd was tired, it all felt flat. He was somber, and his message was essentially banal: We’ve done better than you think. Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?. . .

Beneath the funny hats, the sweet-faced delegates, the handsome speakers and the babies waving flags there was something disquieting. All three days were marked by a kind of soft, distracted extremism. It was unshowy and unobnoxious but also unsettling.

There was the relentless emphasis on Government as Community, as the thing that gives us spirit and makes us whole. But government isn’t what you love if you’re American, America is what you love. Government is what you have, need and hire. Its most essential duties—especially when it is bankrupt—involve defending rights and safety, not imposing views and values. We already have values. Democrats and Republicans don’t see all this the same way, and that’s fine—that’s what national politics is, the working out of this dispute in one direction or another every few years. But the Democrats convened in Charlotte seemed more extreme on the point, more accepting of the idea of government as the center of national life, than ever, at least to me.

The fight over including a single mention of God in the platform—that was extreme. The original removal of the single mention by the platform committee—extreme. The huge “No!” vote on restoring the mention of God, and including the administration’s own stand on Jerusalem—that wasn’t liberal, it was extreme. Comparing the Republicans to Nazis—extreme. The almost complete absence of a call to help education by facing down the powers that throw our least defended children under the school bus—this was extreme, not mainstream.

The sheer strangeness of all the talk about abortion, abortion, contraception, contraception. I am old enough to know a wedge issue when I see one, but I’ve never seen a great party build its entire public persona around one. Big speeches from the heads of Planned Parenthood and NARAL, HHS Secretary and abortion enthusiast Kathleen Sebelius and, of course, Sandra Fluke.

“Republicans shut me out of a hearing on contraception,” Ms. Fluke said. But why would anyone have included a Georgetown law student who never worked her way onto the national stage until she was plucked, by the left, as a personable victim?

What a fabulously confident and ingenuous-seeming political narcissist Ms. Fluke is. She really does think—and her party apparently thinks—that in a spending crisis with trillions in debt and many in need, in a nation in existential doubt as to its standing and purpose, in a time when parents struggle to buy the good sneakers for the kids so they’re not embarrassed at school . . . that in that nation the great issue of the day, and the appropriate focus of our concern, is making other people pay for her birth-control pills. That’s not a stand, it’s a non sequitur. She is not, as Rush Limbaugh oafishly, bullyingly said, a slut. She is a ninny, a narcissist and a fool.

And she was one of the great faces of the party in Charlotte. That is extreme. Childish, too.

via The Democrats’ Soft Extremism – WSJ.com.


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