Sunday, May 31, 2009

Abortion provider murdered

I'm expecting a lot more of this as the right-wing loses its grip on political power throughout much of the country:

George Tiller, the Wichita doctor who became a national lightning rod in the debate over abortion, was shot to death this morning inside the lobby of his Wichita church.

Tiller, 67, was shot just after 10 a.m. at Reformation Lutheran Church at 7601 E. 13th, where he was a member of the congregation. Witnesses and a police source confirmed Tiller was the victim.

Police said they are looking for white male who was driving a 1990s powder blue Ford Taurus with Kansas license plate 225 BAB. The vehicle is registered to an owner in Merriam, which is in the Kansas City area.

Random murder of civilians in order to coerce political concessions doesn’t have a great track-record. But direct action terrorist violence against abortion providers has, I think, proven to be a fairly successful tactic. Every time you murder a doctor, you create a disincentive for other medical professionals to provide these services. What’s more, you create a need for additional security at facilities around the country. In addition, the anti-abortion protestors who frequently gather near clinics are made to seem much more intimidating by the fact that the occurrence of these sorts of acts of violence.

In general, I think people tend to overestimate the efficacy of violence as a political tactic. But in this particular case, I think people tend to understate it.

I'm giving a donation to Planned Parenthood right now to try to offset the chilling this effect is going to have. If you feel saddened by this, do something. Technology has empowered us to do "impulse activism". Let's use it.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Dylan & McCartney to collaborate

Could be awesome. Could suck. Very curious.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Oh my God, 12% of mortgages are behind or in forclosure

Maybe we paid too much for our house:
A record 12 percent of homeowners with a mortgage are behind on their payments or in foreclosure as the housing crisis spreads to borrowers with good credit. And the wave of foreclosures isn't expected to crest until the end of next year, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Thursday.

The foreclosure rate on prime fixed-rate loans doubled in the last year, and now represents the largest share of new foreclosures. Nearly 6 percent of fixed-rate mortgages to borrowers with good credit were in the foreclosure process.

At the same time, almost half of all adjustable-rate loans made to borrowers with shaky credit were past due or in foreclosure.

The worst of the trouble continues to be centered in California, Nevada, Arizona and Florida, which accounted for 46 percent of new foreclosures in the country. There were no signs of improvement.
Well, I know we paid a good price compared to other similar nearby houses, but that's no protection from significant downward pressure in the overall market. Anyway, we can afford our payments, so we're not in any kind of trouble. But I'm no longer happy that home prices continue to fall.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"Welcome Great Zachary"

I want posters like this one to announce my next performance:

Non-English name pronunciation etiquette

The nomination of Sonia Sotomayor has brought this issue to the forefront. Here's Paul Campos of Lawyers, Guns, & Money:
On the more general point, I think the correct etiquette in these situations is for the non-native speaker of the language from which the name is derived to try and fail to pronounce the name as it's pronounced in the person's native language, and for the person to ignore the mispronounciation. That's what I do anyway (in both directions).

One of my favorite Dylan songs

Fetus masturbating in utero and other fun things

This video mentions:
  • A male fetus masturbating in utero
  • A woman who could achieve orgasm by having her eyebrow stroked
  • Another who orgasmed when brushing her teeth
  • Another who could think herself to orgasm in one minute
  • Orgasms are a possible hiccup cure

North Korean nuke yield estimate

Maniak, Internal Monologue's resident military hardware expert, estimates the yield on the recent North Korean nuclear test at about 2 kilotons.

Update: Maniak has revised the estimate to 3.7 kilotons.

Now you too can be Steve Reich!

My composition on this instrument.

Now, thanks to this wonderful little flash applet, you can be your own minimalist composer! It took me only a few minutes to "compose" the work you see above, and I am most pleased with the results. It reminds me of the music of Steve Reich. Sullivan quotes I Heart Chaos:
This visual musical synthesizer by Andre Michelle is one of the most awesome things I've ever encountered anywhere. It's incredibly simple, effective and provides instant positive feedback in that almost nothing you do will produce an awful bit of music. I want my entire house plastered in something that does this. It also wants me to spend an entire weekend on drugs, just fucking around with this thing.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Welcome to our new home

That door could use a paint job

Monday, May 25, 2009

Google Earth meets Memorial Day: a picture

This is from the link I just posted. I should get a better iPhone
blogging tool.

Google Earth meets Memorial Day

[I sent this from my iPhone, so please excuse any excessive brevity or
typographical errors.]
--Zachary Drake

Friday, May 22, 2009

Humor of the day

via Mad Latinist over email, who got it from a friend.

Thought of the Day

Why does the media act like anyone cares what the fuck Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich are saying?

New Urbanism

I'm very happy our new house is in a walkable environment. This clip is an ad for the "new urbanism" movement. I hope it catches on, for both environmental and aesthetic reasons. If more areas were nice and walkable, the price of nice, walkable areas would be lower, and more people could live in them.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Me outside the title company with the down payment for our house

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Red State, Blue State, Poor State, Rich State

What if the UN human development index were applied to individual states? Well, you'd get this map. The correspondence between human development and voting Democratic in recent federal elections seems pretty high. Though who knows which way the causal arrows are pointing.

UPDATE: There are some problems with this map, apparently. A better version here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Obama Drug Czar: No more "War on Drugs"

Here's something to applaud the Obama administration for doing:
The Obama administration's new drug czar says he wants to banish the idea that the U.S. is fighting "a war on drugs," a move that would underscore a shift favoring treatment over incarceration in trying to reduce illicit drug use.

In his first interview since being confirmed to head the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske said Wednesday the bellicose analogy was a barrier to dealing with the nation's drug issues.

"Regardless of how you try to explain to people it's a 'war on drugs' or a 'war on a product,' people see a war as a war on them," he said. "We're not at war with people in this country."

I'd like it more if we weren't at war with people in other countries, either. But this is a good start. I really hope the tide is turning on the harsh criminalization of drugs.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Republican Death Spiral Watch: Florida edition

Republican Strategist #1: Oh, here's a welcome bit of good news: The Republican Governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, will run for senator in 2010! He has high approval ratings from Republicans, Democrats, and Independents! When Crist announced his intention to run, Congressional Quarterly shifted their rating of this race from "tossup" to "leans Republican". This is great! What can we do to support him?

Republican Strategist #2: I know! Let's get behind a right-wing challenger, Mark Rubio, and spark an ugly primary battle that will force Crist to tack to the right, damaging his standing with the Democrats and independents! That way, we can either replace our enormously popular candidate with one who is less popular, or at least damage Crist enough so that he'll be more vulnerable to a Democratic rival! He may still win, but we'll have to spend a lot more money and energy than we would otherwise have to!

Republican Strategist #1: Sounds like a great idea!

Republican Strategist #2: It work so well with Arlen Specter we managed to chase him out of the party!

Republican Strategist #1: Think of the ideological purity we will be able to achieve!

Obama proposes cutting funds for abstinence only

I am pleased to hear this:

[May 7, 2009] WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's $3.55 trillion budget proposal, released on Thursday, eliminates spending for programs that teach U.S. schoolchildren sexual abstinence and shifts funds to programs aimed at reducing teenage pregnancy.

The administration's $78.4 billion spending plan for the Department of Health and Human Services, which must be reviewed and approved by Congress, includes support for teen pregnancy prevention.

"The program will fund models that stress the importance of abstinence while providing medically accurate and age-appropriate information to youth who have already become sexually active," the budget proposal said.

That's why I voted for and supported this guy. You still got a lot of work to do, though, Obama. Internal Monologue is all up in your business!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Let's find Mommy and wish her a Happy Mother's Day!

This is actually Quinn hunting for Easter Eggs, but today it's Quinn looking for Mommy Sarah to wish her a Happy Mother's Day!

Quinn and I are feeling better

Quinn's fever is much less and we feel much better!

[I sent this from my iPhone, so please excuse any excessive brevity or
typographical errors.]
--Zachary Drake

Friday, May 08, 2009

Facial transplants

Photo of Connie Culp before being shot in the face with a shotgun, after, and after a facial transplant. More surgery will be required to remove the excess skin from the new face. Photo from Cleveland Clinic via Newsweek.

I have to admit that my interest in this is probably more ghoulish than scientific. But it is absolutely amazing what can be done now.

This reminds me of something I've heard said about author William Gibson (or maybe I invented it): He used to write science fiction novels about weird, fantastical futures. Now he writes contemporary thrillers set in the weird, fantastical present. Science fiction used to help us think about possible futures and the future impacts of technology on human beings. But now we need a literary genre just to help us deal with the implications of what's already happened. Which in turn reminds me of what Nietzsche's madman said about the death of God:
This prodigious event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time, deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves.
The changes are coming too fast for our psyches to absorb them, unless we are children. Children are optimized to take in the wonderous (though I bet even they have their limits). From now on, every adult will be to some extent a fish out of water. Maybe the prolonging of adolescence in our culture isn't some kind of self-indulgent refusal to grow up, but a natural and healthy reaction to a rapidly changing society that rewards those who can keep up and punishes horribly those who cannot. If I stay a teenager, maybe I can catch the next wave (personal computers, dot com, biotech, search engines, clean energy social networking...), stay hip to the latest thing. Being a rooted grownup makes me too vulnerable to the massive changes crashing over us all the time. But can we really surf forever? At some point don't we have to make some choices with some permanence? But what has permanence in a world where one can get a facial transplant?

OK, that's enough pretension for one day.

Support passage of CA SB 399

Via Silvia on Facebook, here's something I didn't know: current California law allows youth under 18 to be sentenced to life imprisonment with no chance of parole. This is not done in countries outside the United States, and it seems to be one of those laws that is more about moral posturing than actually protecting society, delivering justice, or rehabilitating criminals. SB 399 is an attempt to reform that law and create a review process that would allow the possibility of reduction of sentences for those who committed crimes before they were 18 and who demonstrate maturity and change. It's coming in front of the appropriations committee on May 11th. Now would be a good time to exert what pressure you can on the California State Senate. You can start here to look for ideas. I emailed Loni Hancock, my State Senator.

Dude, this is NOT what I wanted when I voted for you

Update: Obama pledges to change this policy in a May 5th handwritten letter to a soldier.

Sent to you via Google Reader

Obama Fires A Military Linguist

It's the commander-in-chief's first persecution of a servicemember critical to national defense and intelligence. The man is Dan Choi, a West Point graduate and officer in the Army National Guard
who is fluent in Arabic and just returned from Iraq. Obama is firing him because he's openly gay. And he has no plans to change that policy, despite a clear campaign commitment.

[I sent this from my iPhone, so please excuse any excessive brevity or typographical errors.]
--Zachary Drake

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

We're getting a house (99% sure)

The seller agreed to lower the price. Not by as much as we were hoping
for. But enough to make it make sense and be a good value and be
competitive with comparable houses. Lots of work to do. ZOMG WE'RE

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

School lunch in France sounds much yummier

School lunch in France:

Here’s what students in one Paris school district ate for lunch last Tuesday: cucumbers with garlic and fine herbs; Basque chicken thigh with herbs, red and green bell peppers and olive oil; couscous; organic yogurt and an apple. For snack, they had organic bread, butter, hot chocolate and fruit.

Like the Japanese (see the last Country Watch post), the French take school lunch seriously. The mid-day meal is supposed to teach students good manners, good taste and the elements of good nutrition. Recommendations from the French government assert that eating habits are shaped from a young age and that schools should ensure children make good food choices despite media influence and personal tendencies.

Are lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court bad?

I've been seeing a number of arguments against life tenure for Supreme Court justices around the blogosphere. Here's a Wall Street Journal opinion piece back from 2005 on the subject. I tend to agree: lifetime appointments encourage the appointment of justices who are young, so you can "stack the deck" as long as possible. This is not a good incentive.

A fixed term would also discourage the practice of justices hanging on too long, waiting for an administration they like, while their physical and mental capacities deteriorate.

Will painting roofs white reverse climate change?

From the New York Times:
Today’s idea: Painting roofs white in the hot parts of the planet could reflect huge amounts of solar radiation back into space and offset greenhouse gas problems caused by the world’s cars. So calculate three California energy experts.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Progressives lose "cramdown" fight in Senate

Sirota on OpenLeft:
Here's what we know:

- 12 Democrats (listed here) voted against allowing bankruptcy judges to compel banks to renegotiate mortgage terms so as to prevent homeowners from being foreclosed on and thrown out of their homes.

- Bankruptcy judges currently have this "cramdown" power to renegotiate mortgage terms on vacation homes and investment properties.

- Vacation homes and investment properties are disproportionately owned by very rich people.

QUESTION 1: Out of the hundreds of professional "journalists" who work in Washington, can someone - anyone - please ask these 12 Democratic senators why they believe it is perfectly fine for bankruptcy judges to cram down mortgages for very rich people's vacation homes and investment properties, but not mortgages for regular people's homes?
I wasn't harping on this enough. Not that this blog or some email I sent to a Senate office would have made a difference. But I feel bad for not being on the ball.

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) on Monday:
"And the banks -- hard to believe in a time when we're facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created -- are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place," he said on WJJG 1530 AM's "Mornings with Ray Hanania." Progress Illinois picked up the quote.
"they frankly own the place". Anyone who thought our work was over with Obama's election should be disabused of that notion forthwith.

There are two major political parties in this country: one of them is deeply corrupted by financial interests, out of touch with where the American people are, and has leadership that is more concerned with maintaining the current power structure than making America a better place. Then there are the Republicans, who are just batshit crazy.

Souter retiring

Souter is retiring. Obama gets to nominate a Supreme Court Justice.

A great article on "TRON"

While looking for pictures of a recognizer from the movie Tron, I found this article. Some interesting trivia:
lisberger wanted to correct a rumor that peter o'toole was to play sark. o'toole wanted to play tron! he said he interviewed o'toole in a hotel room and o'toole was jumping back and forth between two beds to prove he could do the part.
That would have been awesome if Peter O'Toole had been in that movie. I think the dialogue was pretty lame, though, so I don't know if he could have overcome that. Here's another thing I didn't know:
while discussing how they as actors were the first to do what is commonplace now, act on a blank stage with characters that aren't there, bruce mentioned that jeff was flynn. jeff was always playing the battlezone video game they had on set. lisberger added that jeff got so good at the game he took it places it's designers never intended.
CGI was a lot harder back then:
bill kroyer gave the following example illustrating of how difficult what they were attempting was: no one in visual fx at that point could do motion and everyone's software was proprietary. they had no way to see the cgi shots in motion. they would calculate in cartesian space (x,y,z), the angles of the lightcycles, the recognizers, the camera, etc., and write down these coordinates for each of the 24 frames per second. they'd create lists of numbers, which they'd then fax over to the vfx house, who would input the numbers by hand into the computer. the vfx house would render out the images and print them to film, and the first time they'd see the results of their numbers would be when watching the dailies on 70mm projection! there was no watching an animatic on a computer or making a quicktime. as a vfx person myself, that's friggin' amazing.

bill also told the story of how recently he was at a conference and a kid using lightwave recreated in one day a scene from the lightcycle/recognizer chase that took them months - and it looked exactly the same.
I can't believe they were "flying blind" like that. That's amazing.