Thursday, January 28, 2010

Yep, They're Just Obstructionists

Ok, I'm still here. Senate Republicans vote 40-0 against re-establishing PAYGO rules. So much for being against the deficit. Hopefully the Democrats point this out to the American people.

"Four Republican senators who opposed the measure on Thursday voted for nearly an identical measure in 2006. That list includes Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both moderates from Maine, George Voinovich, the retiring Senator from Ohio, and John McCain, the party's standard-bearer in the 2008 presidential elections."

I'll be back...


Whole Foods Employee Discounts Based on BMI

Whole Foods to give greater employee discounts to workers with lower BMI, cholesterol.

"That's the message behind Whole Foods' drive to cut its health care costs by offering fatter employee discounts to workers who are in tip-top shape. The pricey grocery chain will give 30% discounts to those who don't smoke and have low blood pressure, cholesterol and body mass index (BMI) rates, says CEO John Mackey...Those showing "platinum" health will earn 30% discounts; "gold" gets 27% and silver 25%, while "bronze" wins 22% off."

The article includes complaints that this is discriminating against those that aren't "naturally thin". I'm not sure how I feel, the incentive part is good, but isn't it the overweight who need the greater discount?

No Constitutional Right to Dance in the Jefferson Memorial

Remember the Woman Arrested for Dancing at the Jefferson Memorial (and more here) in April 2008?

A DC court has determined, there is no "constitutional right to engage in expressive dancing in the interior of the Jefferson Memorial". From reading the 26 page decision, she made some lame arguments.


I'm hearing a lot of post SOTU discussion about how in spite of all the bipartisan rhetoric on both sides, Obama has to figure out how to be successful with zero Republican votes, because he's not going to convince any of them to vote with him. Well if that's the case (and it probably is) then it will be difficult to get anything through the Senate.

They could change the Senate rules but probably not in time to make a difference for November and it could backfire on them anyway.

Instead I think he has to make their obstructionist strategy (which even Obama said might be a successful short-term strategy) backfire on them. If the Republicans block everything and November comes around, they're going to say the Democrats didn't do anything, blame them for the countries problems and say vote for change and vote Republican.

Instead the Democrats have to reframe that (and they aren't very good at this) to the Republicans are the reason nothing happened, they blocked things they like (tax cuts) and previously voted for, and even jobs creation packages and bank regulation. If you want change from the policies of the past vote for more Democrats to be able to get things done. Vote against the partisan stonewalling. And to make this effective, they need to demonstrate this throughout the year. I think Obama's speech was a good start to that, let's see if his policies continue. Either he gets things done or he wins more seats for the second half of his term (ok, I can dream for a little bit).

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

State of the Union

I was too lazy to take notes during the speech. I thought it started a little slow, but ended up doing all the right things it needed to. He was talking straight. He backed up his Democratic initiatives, said he'd stand strong on them, said he'd be open to Republican ideas and offered lots of tax cuts that they didn't even applaud for (he even mentioned that once). He went after the banks and the Republicans also didn't applaud. Good luck with that. He also called out the Republicans on being obstructionist but framed it as a problem in all of Washington.

He even called out the Supreme Court on the Citizens United decision (of which I expect to have a long post about next week), saying "Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections." and cameras caught Justice Alito shaking his head and mouthing "that's not true". I think whether you agree with the First Amendment principles of the majority or not, Obama's statement is still clearly true.

Good speech, we'll see what comes of it.

Colorizing Dinosaurs

Scientific American writes Colorizing Dinosaurs: Feather Pigments Reveal Appearance of Extinct Animals. "A new study, however, proposes some of the first cellular hints. Extrapolating from primitive pigment-giving organelles known as melanosomes (which contain the coloring compound melanin and are still prevalent in modern animals) that have been found in fossilized dinosaur feathers from the Cretaceous period, a research team paints a picture of dark wings and brightly striped reddish tails."

I Like the Graph

Universe Today reports Kepler Goes Fishing and Reels in Two KOI.

"By now you've probably heard about the first results from the Kepler mission to find extrasolar planets. Five new exoplanet discoveries were announced recently at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington, D.C. Four of the five new planets are larger than Jupiter, about 1.4 times its radius, and they all have orbital periods around their host stars of 3-5 days. Kepler 4b, the oddball of that bunch is about the size of Neptune."

I just like this graphic:

Kepler-first-planets-temp_and_size-580x435 1.jpg


So Apple announced the iPad. I think I did pretty good on my guesses.

It's got the 10" screen, wifi, 3G is an add-on, almost full size virtual keyboard and more multi-touch stuff. It syncs with iTunes but doesn't stream. There is an updated iWork made for it and you can buy the apps separately. You can read documents on it, in portrait mode, on the device.

The iBooks app and iBookstore is new and about what I expected. No mention of a popup dictionary. And I'm not sure I like the page metaphor of books extended to this. I'd rather have continuous scrolling, there's no reason to continue to live with that limitation of paper.

There's no facing camera for iChat, I predict version 2.0. They didn't mention any remote apps but I suspect they'll come later like they did for the iPhone. No updated iLife but the iPhone photo app did get rewritten.

It's basically a big iPhone. The home screen looks a little barren. There's lots of spacing between icons and it has fewer apps than an iPhone, missing the Phone, Messages, Calculator, Stocks and Weather apps.

The price is pretty amazing, being half of the expectations for the low end version. The high end version is $170 lower than the $999 predictions. The 3G is optional and the data rates are cheap and no contract is amazing. I would have loved to have witnessed those negotiations. Though six different models does seem to be a lot for an Apple product.

They're trying to roll out an additional device to own. This doesn't replace a computer (you sync to one) and it's not pocket size like an iPod or iPhone. But it is a nice living room device and for some travel. With the new version of iWork maybe they're going for business travelers but I don't see that sticking much. The closest thing to it is a Kindle and it's not at all in the same league. It will be interesting to see how many books are in the iBookstore. It also I think goes for those people that have a netbook as an additional machine, but not those that use one as their primary machine because of price.

I wasn't expecting the accessories. The dock made sense if I had thought about it. I didn't expect their keyboard dock. I always thought the bluetooth keyboard would be paired with it. The case that converts to a stand looks great.

I'm curious to play with one (in 60 days). I might be fine with the wifi only model and would probably get the 32GB model. It would be great if you could tether it to an iPhone to use it's 3G while traveling. That might be my rationalization to not wait for the 2nd generation. :)

Update: The newspaper app sounds interesting. It didn't seem to support flash. A hulu app sounds like a need. It's SD though it can do 720p in H.264. With a connector it can support 1024x768 on a monitor.

Create good queries in Spotlight

Came across this old article today, Create good queries in Spotlight. I do use the keywords searches pretty often and I wished I used the metadata searches more often. OS X needs a better UI for entering and maintaining metadata.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Spending Freeze

Last night the White House leaked that Obama will announce a government spending freeze. Rachel Maddow had Jared Bernstein (Biden's economic advisor) on and pummeled him about this. We're in a recession, you don't cut spending, that's Hooverism and what got FDR in trouble in 1937. Bernstein commented on some details and made it sound better. He has comments posted today.

Some people today are going off the deep end, like Paul Krugman, Obama Liquidates Himself, but then he heard more and doesn't seem so worried about it. "What I hear from bat-squeaks is that it’s not a big deal on economic substance, and that admin officials hope it will clear the way for some modest job-creation efforts."

Brad DeLong adds to this in
Ezra Klein puts it in some perspective,
The Obama administration loses the deficit -- and the spending -- argument. "But you can't look at this as anything less than a tremendous defeat for the Obama administration. It's not the policy itself. The freeze locks in a post-stimulus, and potentially post-jobs-bill, level of spending. It's not terribly onerous. But it's also the administration's white flag on the argument that the deficit must be understood as a health-care reform problem rather than a taxes and spending problem. This was their most audacious effort to change the way Americans think, and it didn't work. For all the effort Democrats put into building a health-care bill that cuts the deficit, a full 60 percent of Americans think (pdf) the legislation increases the deficit. Only 15 percent think it's a deficit reducer."

In fact, apparently the Senate healthcare bill is very good at cutting the deficit. "The health care bill before the Senate would cut costs and reform health-care delivery more than any piece of legislation in American history, White House budget director Peter Orszag declared on Wednesday. "The bottom line is the bill that is currently on the Senate floor contains more cost containment and delivery system reforms in its current form than any bill that has ever been considered on the Senate floor period," the Office of Management and Budget director told reporters during a conference organized by the publication Health Affairs."

Meanwhile the liberal blogosphere is going nuts. The Hotline has a summary as does Andrew Sulivan and Brad DeLong can't find anyone (on the left or right) that likes it.

Jim Bopp

digby writes Hail Bopp.

"Who is James Bopp, you ask? Well, that's very interesting. He's the lawyer who put together the Citizens United case that just unleashed corporate cash into our system."

"He's a far right activist lawyer who's developing these election cases in this era of right wing judiciary dominance, while simultaneously working within the Republican party to ensure that the big money that's newly freed is spent on strictly approved conservative initiatives. He's a one man wrecking crew."

The sanctity of military spending

Glenn Greenwald tackles The sanctity of military spending.

"The U.S. spends almost as much on military spending as the entire rest of the world combined, and spends roughly six times more than the second-largest spender, China. Even as the U.S. sunk under increasingly crippling levels of debt over the last decade, defense spending rose steadily, sometimes precipitously."

"The US military budget was almost 29 times as large as the combined spending of the six 'rogue' states (Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria) who spent $14.65 billion."

He also points to recent headlines that al Qaeda wants to attack us with WMDs and that (sarcastically) we need a strong military budget to deter them. I wish he had spelled out that of course they attacked us with our own planes when our military budget many times theres.

Q&A With Simon Johnson On Financial Reform

The Atlantic Business Channel has a Q&A With Simon Johnson On Financial Reform.

Make Them Filibuster, Maybe

Balinization writes about Make Them Filibuster. He points out some other senates rules that make changing back not so attractive. I'm not sure I'm convinced. Something has to change, and I'm all for making Republicans have to explain why they're blocking things, though I guess it's more important that Democrats explain why Republican arguments (at least those presented so far) are silly.

The Abdulmutallab Dots that Should Have Been Connected

Bruce Schneier writes about The Abdulmutallab Dots that Should Have Been Connected mostly pointing to a posting by Kevin Drum refuting many of the assumed facts.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Barney Frank seeks end to Fannie, Freddie

Barney Frank seeks end to Fannie, Freddie.

"‘The committee will be recommending abolishing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in their current form and coming up with a whole new system of housing finance,’ said Frank during a finance committee hearing Friday, according to Bloomberg News. ‘That’s the approach, rather than a piecemeal one.’"

Bill Moyers Journal This Week

Every week my TiVo records Bill Moyers Journal. About 10-20% of the time I recognize the guests and am thrilled to see someone interview them. The rest of the time I've never heard of the guest and then I watch and wonder where have these people been and why isn't more of the media like this?

This week he had Melissa Harris-Lacewell and Eric Alterman discuss Obama's first year. It's easily the most intelligent and reasoned conversation I've seen (or had) on the topic.

Then he had Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson talk about their new book Who Turned Out the Lights? "Your Guided Tour to the Energy Crisis". They framed the issue in the most accessible way I've ever heard.

The links above have both the video and transcripts of the segments. Watch or read them.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Electoral College Reform

"This Electoral Reform Map redivides the territory of the United States into 50 bodies of equal size. The 2000 Census records a population of 81,421,906 for the United States. The states ranged in population from 493,782 to 33,871,648.1 In this map, new states have formed, all with equal populations of roughly 5,617,000."

Can't say I like the idea but the map is interesting.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Apple Guessing Game

David Pogue plays The Apple Guessing Game about the iTablet. I mostly agree with him but here are my thoughts.

I'd like a tablet sized device for around the house. I want it mostly to consume media (music, videos, documents, web surfing). I want it to be portable around the house (so not a desktop) and more comfortable to hold than a laptop and have a bigger screen than an iPhone. The standard guess of a 10" screen sounds pretty good, though showing an 8.5" x 11" document at full size (how none European of me) would be great.

I think a camera facing the reader to enable video iChat would be great. It doesn't need one facing away like the iPhone has.

Obviously it needs wifi but a cellular connection should be an add-on like the iPod Touch vs the iPhone.

WIth a touch screen it would be fine for taking light notes or annotating documents but not too much more. An iPhone like virtual keyboard would be much better at something approaching full sized. See this comparison of input technologies. Some extra multi-touch stuff as has been rumored would be fine too.

A friend wants it to control his Apple TV and that sounds fine to me. I suspect like the Remote apps on the iPhone there will be better remotes apps on a bigger screen. Also I suspect it will let me access my iTunes etc. collection on the device (via syncing or streaming or both).

I suspect the talk about a multi-touch iWork or syncing your iTunes to the cloud to access it from anywhere will come with a later release (if at all). I also suspect the updated iLife will include stuff for rending on the table device (make movies in iMovie and photo albums in iPhoto for it).

It might be just because I'm reading through a 186 page pdf of a Supreme Court decision now and it's tying me to my desk, but it would be great to have a tablet device to read this comfortably on the couch. I'd like the Mac OS built in dictionary functionality too. And yes, this would make it comparable to a Kindle so I suspect Apple will have the ability to buy magazines or books from it too though perhaps that comes later. All the buying will obviously happen through the iTunes store.

The result might be a laptop with the ease of use of an iPhone. It's not general purpose and you wouldn't use it for Photoshop or creating spreadsheets, but it would be a great living room device.

Paul Krugman For The Fed?

Simon Johnson recommends Paul Krugman For The Fed chair.

Krugman says that's crazy.

James Kwak wonders "is this a serious 'I don’t want to be considered'”.

Personally, I'd like to see Krugman in the administration in some capacity.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Be Careful at the ATM

Would You Have Spotted the Fraud? "Pictured below is what’s known as a skimmer, or a device made to be affixed to the mouth of an ATM and secretly swipe credit and debit card information when bank customers slip their cards into the machines to pull out money. Skimmers have been around for years, of course, but thieves are constantly improving them, and the device pictured below is a perfect example of that evolution."

63% of internet readers will like this comic

This is a fun comic from PhD Comics, 63% of internet readers will like this comic "Dear News Media, When reporting poll results, please keep in mind the following suggestions..."

What Happened to Keith Olbermann?

I haven't watched Countdown in a while, instead I settled on The Rachel Maddow Show. Still I caught Countdown on Wed and thought Olbermann was sounding more and more like O'Reilly. Then last night, Jon Stewart did this:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Special Comment - Keith Olbermann's Name-Calling
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

He's taken on Maddow and Olbermann this weekend. I wonder if that's a new strategy?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Parliament vs Congress

CSPAN3 is showing British PM Gordon Brown addressing the House of Commons on Wednesday. You only need to see a few minutes of the debate to realize that Congress is horribly broken.

Stephen Colbert Races Shani Davis

If you ever wondered what it would be like to race a speed skater, Stephen Colbert did so last night.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Skate Expectations - Speedskating Race - Shani Davis
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorEconomy

Dissecting the Data of Scott Brown's Victory has some graphs Dissecting the data of Scott Brown's victory but I'm not sure I understand how to read them usefully.

The first one says "Towns with more Republicans generally saw higher voter turnout." But the two towns they site as having the highest percentage of Republicans have just 27%. I guess it is MA after all. I'd like to see info with number of Republicans and not just percentage.

The second graph says "areas with higher proportions of Democrats tended to have lower turnouts". They list Fall River, Springfield and Lawrence as the outliers proving this (with 5X% Dems and 3X% turnout. But Boston (56% D and 43% turnout) and Cambridge (50% D and 54% turnout) probably dwarf the number of votes.

Graphs 3 and 4 show the same data inverted. "Towns with more independent voters tended to support Brown...and the reverse was generally true for...Coakley". There's a lot more deviation in this but the bulk is 60% Ind were 60% Brown.

The New York Times has a better maps of Results and Analysis. It shows not just percentage but number of votes by town. Coakley won 4/5 of the 100,000 person cities (Boston, Worcester, Springfield and Cambridge but not Lowell) but not by enough of a margin to make up for all the towns in the middle and south of the state. My town was 67% Coakley.

MA has about 6.5 million people and 4 million registered voters (as of Oct 2004):

Screen shot 2010-01-21 at 12.14.32 PM.png

Here are various maps showing economic, educational and other data.

Is Health Care Reform the new Iraq War?

Nate Silver asks Is Health Care Reform the new Iraq War? David Brooks frames the run up to Iraq War as if it were like the health care debate and concludes given the health care circumstances that Bush would have been right to take a second look. Nate points out:

"Here's the problem with that analogy. Imagine that we had this debate over the Iraq invasion, and there were some legitimate differences of opinion. But one side was mostly telling the truth and the other side was mostly confusing the public and telling lies. At the end of the debate, opinion polls reflected that the side telling lies had persuaded a majority of the public, and we went ahead and launched the war. Oh wait -- that actually happened?"

"Brooks' analogy to the debate over health care, then, is somewhat ironic: once again, one side has told a lot of lies to help alter the course of public opinion. Some of these lies, like death panels or the government takeover meme, are not very subtle. Others are a little more clever: the notion, for instance, that we could easily require insurers to cover all people with pre-existing conditions without either adopting an individual mandate or substantially escalating premiums."

He then goes on to describe statistics and concludes:

"There's more than way for democracy to become dysfunctional. One way is if the Congress consistently adopts policies that the American people don't support. Another is if one of the major political parties routinely misleads the public to manipulate public opinion, and the other party aids and abets them by behaving like a bunch of gutless wonders who can't see farther than the next midterm. Neither outcome is desirable -- but Iraq ought to be a reminder that the latter is every bit as much a threat to our democracy as the former."

Meanwhile, Paul Krugman says He Wasn’t The One We’ve Been Waiting For. "Maybe House Democrats can pull this out, even with a gaping hole in White House leadership. Barney Frank seems to have thought better of his initial defeatism. But I have to say, I’m pretty close to giving up on Mr. Obama, who seems determined to confirm every doubt I and others ever had about whether he was ready to fight for what his supporters believed in."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Exit Poll: Only 38% Said Opposition To Obama Policies Drove MA Vote

The Plum Line writes Exit Poll: Only 38% Said Opposition To Obama Policies Drove Mass Vote. This seems to be a more reasonable analysis of the Tony Fabrizio exit poll than as reported by Politico (which I won't link to).

"When voters were asked if their vote was motivated by Obama’s overall policies and the direction he’s taking the country, only 38% said they were motivated by opposition. Meanwhile, 32% said they were motivated by support, and another 27% said his policies were not a factor — a total of 59% who were either for Obama’s policies or indifferent.

Meanwhile, 44% of independents said they were motivated by opposition to Obama’s overall policies, an uncomfortable number, to be sure, but smaller than the 53% of indys who either supported his policies or were indifferent to them.

One other interesting tidbit: The poll also found Obama’s job approval running at 55%, and 48% among independents, versus 47% who disapprove.

Bottom line: These exit numbers do paint an uncomfortable picture for Obama and Dems on health care. But if this exit poll is to be believed, it’s way too simplistic to paint last night’s results as a wholesale repudiation of Obama and his entire governing agenda."

So people in a state with 98% health care coverage didn't want to support a health care bill with some obvious flaws (like paying for Nebraska in perpetuity). People won't vote for crap.

And it's important for the Dems to learn how to point out the good and effectively dispute the inevitable bad that the Republicans will point out (e.g., death panels) so that people know the difference. Coakley certainly didn't do that. Saying Ted would have wanted this wasn't enough.

Pixar Shorts

ABC Family showed 20 Pixar shorts (almost all of them) tonight (in HD). They included several starring Mater from Cars shown on Toon Disney. I didn't think these were up to the quality standards of the most of others. Here they all are ranked from my favorite to least favorite.

Knick Knack1989
One Man Band2005
Jack-Jack Attack2005
For the Birds2000
Geri's Game1997
Luxo Jr.1986
Mike's New Car2002
Your Friend the Rat2007
Red's Dream1987
Tin Toy1988
Mater and the Ghostlight2006
Unidentified Flying Mater2009
El Materdor2008
The Adventures of André and Wally B.1984
Mater the Greater2008
Rescue Squad Mater2008

I give the first four a 5 and the next five a 4 out of 5 stars.

David Blaine: How I held my breath for 17 min

He's not a good public speaker, but I couldn't turn away from this video.

Alternative Choices for Seafood to Avoid

Monterey Bay Aquarium lists Alternative Choices for Seafood to Avoid "Use this guide to find ocean-friendly alternatives to seafood on the Seafood Watch ‘Avoid’ list".

They also have cute pocket guides you can print out, by region, here and an iPhone app.

Why Zippers Have YKK On Them

Why Zippers Have YKK On Them.

"Today I found out why zippers have a YKK on them.   The YKK stands for Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikikaisha (say that five times fast).  In 1934 Tadao Yoshida founded Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikikaisha (translated Yoshida Industries Limited).  This company is now the worlds foremost zipper manufacturer, making about 90% of all zippers in over 206 facilities in 52 countries.  In fact, they not only make the zippers, they also make the machines that make the zippers; no word on if they make the machines that make the parts that make up the machines that make the zippers."

Post-Partisanship Epic Fail?

Nate Silver wrote in FiveThirtyEight Post-Partisanship Epic Fail?, "Back in 2008, the smart liberal spin on 'post-partisanship' -- one which I frankly bought into -- is that it was in part an effort to put a popular, centrist sheen on a relatively liberal agenda. Instead, as Leonhardt points out, what Obama has wound up with is an unpopular, liberal sheen on a relatively centrist agenda. It's not just on health care."

It's an interesting analysis and one of the better summations of Obama's first year I've seen.

"What's more alarming still is that some of the policies which have become unpopular -- like the health care bill and arguably the stimulus (although the polling is more equivocal there) -- did not start out that way. With the exception of the bailouts -- a policy which the White House certainly wasn't pursing for political expediency -- virtually every policy that the Democrats have advanced polled reasonably well when it was first proposed. It did not always end up that way after it had been through the legislative meat grinder. The reflexive Republican opposition to virtually any policy that the Democrats advanced -- they've overwhelmingly opposed policies as benign as delaying the digital TV changeover date! -- has in retrospect been exceptionally effective."

Scott Brown is More Liberal Than Olympia Snowe

Interesting FiveThirtyEight article Scott Brown is More Liberal Than Olympia Snowe, and Now He’s Pivotal, Too

"Scott Brown won the special Senate election in Massachusetts over Martha Coakley yesterday. . . . based upon his voting record in the Massachusetts State Senate as well the Votesmart surveys of MA state legislators (include his own from 2002), I [Boris] estimate that Brown is to the left of the leftmost Republican in the Senate, Olympia Snowe of Maine [typo fixed] and to the right of the rightmost Democrat in the Senate, Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Just as important, Brown stands to become the pivotal member of the Senate—that is, the 60th least liberal (equivalently, the 40th most conservative)–a distinction previously held by Nelson."

I'm not sure how to square this with the Coakley ad that he voted with Republicans 96% of the time which I think was sourced to the Boston Globe.

"But let’s be realistic. Scott Brown is a politician, not a kamikaze pilot. As David Mayhew argued in 1974, the first and proximate goal of politicians in the United States is to get re-elected. Brown will have a far harder time in 2012 against some credible, seasoned Democrat who won’t get surprised again (or run so badly). Turnout will be higher in that presidential year, meaning the Democratic base will be far more evident at the polls. And the Democrat will get to ride Obama’s coattails, influencing independents in the Democratic direction. And Brown doesn’t have that many years to build up the incumbency advantages that other freshman Senators get. He won’t have brought home as much bacon, and he won’t have risen too far in Congress.

All in all, 2012 will be a very tough election for Brown. So what will the soon-to-be-worried Senator do to enhance his electoral chances? He’ll take the public opinion pulse of his state very, very carefully. And his state is amongst the most liberal in the country. Unless he aims to run for President in 2012 (pro-choice Republicans do well in Republican primaries, right?), his liberal constituency and a desire for re-election will inevitably pull him to the left. Sure, he is far more conservative than Kennedy, Kirk, or Coakley, but that’s immaterial. Brown’s a liberal Republican, and now he’s pivotal."

Sexting, and What it Means to be a Girl

The ACLU rights their opinion of the sexting case: Sexting, and What it Means to be a Girl.

French Law for Everyone, DVDs Released 4 Months After Theaters

The Media Wonk wrote For ‘Avatar,’ three-strikes means a quick out. I've never heard of this before:

"Often overlooked in the hoopla surrounding the three-strikes provision in France’s Creation and the Internet law passed last year that established a procedure for cutting off Internet access for repeat copyright infringers, were other measures strictly regulating release windows for movies in France. Under the law, any movie released theatrically in France must be released on DVD and Blu-ray, as well as made available for authorized downloads, exactly four months after its theatrical debut.

Since Avatar was released in mid-December, Fox was technically obliged to release it on Blu-ray/DVD/ in mid-March April, although a separate provision in the law allows a distributor to petition for a one-time extension of the window in the case of very high-grossing films (or for quicker DVD release of  theatrical turkeys). That bought Fox another six weeks, to June 1, but that’s it."

Seems pretty crazy to me.

Save the Senate: Bring Back the Filibuster

Aaron Zelinsky writes in the Huffington Post Save the Senate: Bring Back the Filibuster.

"In response to the routine invocation of the filibuster, some commentators have proposed that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid undertake an effort to scrap the filibuster completely (a tactic the Democrats once dubbed the 'nuclear option').

They're wrong. Senator Reid should not get rid of the filibuster: He should bring it back. What we have today is a cheap and easy filibuster-lite; Senator Reid should reestablish the real thing.

Traditionally, senators had to physically speak on the Senate floor to sustain a filibuster. Filibusters were costly and dramatic. They truly tied up the Senate and the individuals undertaking them. Members of both parties had to be present during a traditional filibuster, the majority for quorum calls, the minority to sustain the ongoing discussion. Senator Reid no doubt remembers these traditional procedures vividly; he filibustered on the floor of the Senate in 2003, against judicial nominees of President George W. Bush.

However, Senator Reid's 2003 filibuster was the last of its kind. In the Aughts, the modern filibuster fully emerged; it requires no real action or sacrifice by senators. In recent times, Senators merely notify the Majority Leader of an intent to filibuster, and the Majority Leader delays further action unless he has sixty votes."

I wrote in November I wasn't sure where I stood on it but I thought " it is too easy to filibuster and Senators should watch the old Star Trek episode A Taste of Armageddon." I still stand by that. Then again, I'm sure the Republicans speeches will have more pithy lines that will resonate on cable news channels over and over again.

Still Looking for a TSA Head

TSA nominee Erroll Southers withdraws "President Obama's nominee to lead the Transportation Security Administration withdrew from consideration on Wednesday, saying his nomination was 'obstructed by political ideology.'"

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) opposed him for fear he would allow TSA workers to unionize. Then there were discrepancies in his descriptions of a 20 year old incident where as an FBI employee he inappropriately accessed criminal records about his ex-wife's current boyfriend. He admitted the wrongdoing (and I think was censured at the time) but in telling Congress apparently got specifics wrong about whether he did the search or had someone else do it for him.

"Through a spokeswoman, Homeland Security Committee Chairman Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) expressed disappointment with Southers's decision. "The senator thought the combination of his law enforcement and aviation security skills uniquely qualified him to lead the TSA," a spokeswoman said."

"Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the panel's ranking Republican and the only lawmaker to ever publicly question Southers about the incident, said, "It is critically important that the White House act quickly to nominate someone with qualifications and reputation which are beyond reproach to lead this agency.""

I think our standards might be too high. I don't know anyone who is perfect. DeMint's objections were just crazy, you can disagree on the policy, but that doesn't disqualify him. Calling someone out on a minor mistake from 20 years ago that he takes responsibility for isn't right either.

Saving Health Care After Coakley

Dylan Loewe writes in the Huffington Post, Saving Health Care After Coakley:

"It's not the Senate bill. It's not reconciliation. It's both. The House could agree to pass the Senate bill, but with the caveat that the substance of their negotiations be dealt with later this year, during the reconciliation process. This does a couple of things: it allows liberals in the House to vote for the Senate bill they don't like, assured that in the very near future, they will be able to improve it. It allows Democrats to take a curtain call on health care, perhaps even in time for the president's State of the Union on January 27th. And most importantly, it presents the potential for creating a health care bill that is substantially stronger than it otherwise would have been."

My day-after thoughts on the election:

She ran a really bad campaign. The Gerald Amirault case gave a lot of people early trepidation. Being on vacation 3 weeks before the election is lazy. Misspelling Massachusetts was laughable. Insulting Fenway and Schilling sealed the deal.

And Brown ran a good hard campaign, relating to the working class voter. The truck driving (in MA?) pro-waterboarding, pro-life average MA voter. Wait, what?

I think people were uninformed on the issues and voted the personalities. Nice hard working guy vs lazy out-of-touch woman with poor judgement.

As Jon Stewart said, the Dems will have to pass legislation with a bigger majority than Bush ever had. I don't know if they can manage that. The GOP hive-mind makes it difficult. I'd like to see real filibusters happen, the Mr. Smith kind.

I'd also like to see health care bills that don't give Nebraska a free ride. Maybe they'll clean it up now. In and ideal world that would give them more votes, but there's that hive mind again.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


The Onion on Lost Fans

Final Season Of 'Lost' Promises To Make Fans More Annoying Than Ever

I love the popup: "Government modeling efforts on successful containment of 'The Wire' fans"


To those of you that shoveled your sidewalks, thank you.

To those of you that haven't shoveled Sunday's snow, I'll assume you're away.

To those of you that thought that small stretch of sidewalk between your driveway and your neighbor's driveway was a good place to pile snow, you're idiots.

Mass Backwards

I'll be casting another lessor of two evils vote today. Last night Jon Stewart expressed the frustration very well...

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There have been a ton of commercials by both sides. But I've noticed this, all the Brown commercials talk about him and all the Coakley commercials (with one exception with Vikki Kennedy's endorsement) are negative commercials describing Brown. The result, Scott Brown's name is out there far more than Coakley's. That can't be the right thing to do.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Newton's apple: The Real Story

CultureLab from New Scientist writes Newton's apple: The real story:

"It is the manuscript for what would become a biography of Newton entitled Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton's Life written by William Stukeley, an archaeologist and one of Newton's first biographers, and published in 1752. Newton told the apple story to Stukeley, who relayed it as such:

'After dinner, the weather being warm, we went into the garden and drank thea, under the shade of some apple trees...he told me, he was just in the same situation, as when formerly, the notion of gravitation came into his mind. It was occasion'd by the fall of an apple, as he sat in contemplative mood. Why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground, thought he to himself...'"

Winsor McCay

Here's a collection of "editorial headings by Winsor McCay 1867 ~ 1934"

The Destruction in Port-au-Prince

The New York Times has another great interactive feature on The Destruction in Port-au-Prince. Satellite photos before and after the quake. Just devastating.

Cache's Smoking Gun

My review of Cache is still one of the most popular pages on my blog (even though it only got one comment).

Five years later, it seems people have figured out the movie CACHE's Smoking Gun, based on a recent review by Roger Ebert who says he noticed things in his third viewing of the film. Ebert realizes, "A stationary camera is objective. A moving camera implies a subjective viewer, whether that viewer is a character, the director, or the audience."

Update: Maybe not.

The top 20 lines at the Golden Globes | Reuters

I didn't watch it, but Reuters lists The top 20 lines at the Golden Globes so I didn't have to.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Internet is Explaining Itself

Internet Meme Database, Know Your Meme.

Movie Review: Avatar IMAX 3D

I saw Avatar again last night. Unlike last time, I saw it in IMAX, both times were 3D. Visually the big screen was nice, but not a necessary upgrade. There was a bigger difference sound-wise and I always forget this about the theater at Jordan's in Natick. Lots of sound, lots of bass in your seats.

I noticed a few details I had missed the first time. The Na'vi have 4 fingers on each hand (one thumb) and the avatars have 5. I guess that's because of the mix of human/na'vi DNA, but if they're supposed to blend in with the natives... I also noticed that Cameron's camera is always moving. It works for showing the action and it's not shaky or nauseating at all (it's better than the constantly cutting), but a few times I wanted to stare at things and it was difficult.

My opinion of the 3D hasn't changed. There are times when things seem to be projected on glass, surfaces that should be solid seem a little transparent. A theory is that it's an artifact of the polarized lens used for the 3D. Both times I saw it used this system instead of the shutter glasses. And I still hate when things in the foreground (like floating seeds) are out of focus. But otherwise it works and the flying scenes are gorgeous. I did notice two cheesy effects when guns were pointed at the camera, but that wasn't a big deal and is more likely just something that's bound to happen from time to time rather than a deliberate 3D-ism.

If you have the choice, seeing it in IMAX is better, but there isn't a great need to see it a second time in IMAX if you didn't the first.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

When Glenn Met Sarah

I watched the first part of the Glenn Beck-Sarah Palin interview at Andrew Sullivan's blog: When Glenn Met Sarah. It's insane. These people talk in horoscopes!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

#130 Conan O’Brien

Stuff White People Like #130 Conan O’Brien.

WTF is Wrong With These People?

Regarding the earthquake in Haiti...

Rush Limbaugh said: "This will play right into Obama's hands, humanitarian, compassionate. They'll use this to burnish their shall we say credibility with the black community, the both light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in this country. It's made to order for them. It's why he couldn't wait to get out there, could not wait to get out there."

Of course it doesn't make any sense. As if Obama's standing in the black community needs improving. Clearly Obama should have copied Bush's anemic response to the tsunamai of 2004 or Katrina in 2005. Those certainly didn't "burnish" his (or our) credibility and didn't exemplify compassion. And of course we wouldn't want to be humanitarian or compassionate in the first place.

But then the idiot Pat Robertson says something even dumber.

"Something happened a long time ago in Haiti and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. You know Napoleon, the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said we will serve you if you'll get us free from the French. True story. And so the devil said ok it's a deal and the Haitians revolted and got themselves free."

Ummm. How did this work exactly in the late 1700s? Did they all swear together at the same time? Did they all vote ("they got together") to do this? How did that vote happen? Did they send representatives to a meeting? Ok, so clearly the Haitian revolution from Napolean's forces only succeeded because of this pact with the devil. Did George Washington also make a pact with the devil? Is that how the US revolution succeeded? Or can you have a successful revolution without a devil pact? And if you can, why didn't Haiti?

Ways To Support The Relief Effort In Haiti

The Intersection lists Ways To Support The Relief Effort In Haiti

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Google: A new approach to China

Due to some security incidents including some targeting human rights activists, Google is considering A new approach to China.

Conan's Response

I'll say this, Conan wrote a classy letter.

I think it's really bizarre that in an age where people can't even remember not having a remote control for the TV and so many people having DVRs that the 10 o'clock lead in is such a significant factor for the local news. People didn't try all the local news broadcasts and pick the one they liked best? I guess not.

I'm also not at all surprised that Leno's ratings at 10 o'clock were bad. NBC should have expected that. I suspect they did and since the costs are less are fine with the profit they're making. But those local affiliates and their 11pm shows.

And if they need a lead in then I'm sure their poor ratings are affecting Conan's show too. So it all comes down to the fact that people don't want to watch Leno at 10pm, just cancel that show and get rid of Jay. He announced his late night retirement way back in 2004, so retire already. Or just stick to the standup shows he does each year and lives off the income of (he reportedly hasn't spent any of his Tonight Show earnings).

At this point I don't watch any of these guys regularly. I check and see if any of them have interesting guests and if so TiVo them and watch just that interview, and I'm usually disappointed. I haven't liked Letterman in years. Conan is ok. Leno's new show is far too obviously pre-scripted for me. I like that Craig Ferguson's monologue is improvised and his conversations are clearly spontaneous. Jimmy Fallon reminds me of Letterman from 20 years ago; spontaneous and audacious.

For my money, John Stewart is watch to watch at 11. You get the news and comedy at the same time.

SCOTUS v. Orthogonal

The Volokh Conspiracy points out "From the oral argument transcript today in Briscoe v. Virginia, a funny moment in the argument of University of Michigan law professor Richard Friedman."

"The Supreme Court has never used the word “orthogonal” in a written opinion." We programming geeks use it all the time.

And I'm very happy that the Justices are not at all afraid to ask when they don't know a word.

The Unconstitutional Filibuster

Kevin Drum in The Unconstitutional Filibuster makes an interesting case (I haven't looked into it enough yet to know if it's compelling).

Database of Periodic Tables

There's an Internet Database of Periodic Tables "There are hundreds of periodic tables in web space.... but only one comprehensive database of periodic tables & periodic table formulations"

Calorie Counts of Fast Food and Frozen Meals Aren’t Always Accurate

The New York Times wrote Calorie Counts of Fast Food and Frozen Meals Aren’t Always Accurate "Anyone who counts calories by using the figures on menus in fast-food restaurants or on the packages of frozen meals may want to count again. When researchers tested the food served in 29 chain restaurants and 10 frozen meals sold in supermarkets, they found that their calorie content averaged considerably more than the stated values."

The average was 18% over and the FDA allows a 20% margin of error.

Why the US and much of Europe are shivering in the cold

Why the US and much of Europe are shivering in the cold

"The folks who run the National Center for Atmospheric Research have a great rundown of the details of the AO Oscillation. In short, high pressure in the Arctic forces the jet stream south, and it drags cold air with it, chilling North American and northern Eurasia. In its opposite mode, those same regions tend to be much warmer. Right now, we're in such an extreme high-pressure event that the readings have run off the scale of NOAA's AO index. Fortunately for those hoping to warm up a bit, the AO is a weather event—it often changes states multiple times within a single season, and there's no clear evidence linking its behavior to climate trends.

The NCAR site also points out one of the reasons why people are making a big deal out of this one: we tend to think short-term when it comes to our surroundings. We haven't had an AO event this severe since 2003, and the high pressure mode has been relatively rare since 1990, so many places have simply gotten used to not having an Arctic blast during the winter. The fact that November was unusually warm in the US, Canada, and Europe probably doesn't help matters, either."

John Stewart Interviews John Yoo

Last night's Daily Show was great. The opening segment was great and then he spent time with John Yoo, the Bush administration lawyer who wrote the infamous torture memos. The interview ran long and was edited for broadcast, they now have the full interview online in three parts...

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Daily Show: Exclusive - John Yoo Extended Interview Pt. 1
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Two things strike me about this interview. John Yoo is frustratingly evasive in it. It doesn't strike me as deliberate, but for someone who's supposedly an expert in this topic, he seems unable to succinctly state his arguments. Particularly when talking to a layman he should be able to respond to the gist of the question and not get caught up in legal specifics of words chosen at least until the main point is made.

Second, it really is amazing that John Stewart solved the access problem (that conservatives won't come onto his liberal show) by being an excellent forum to sell a book. And there's no way conservatives would put up with Stewart's (polite yet uncomfortable) interview unless it really sold books. I guess the Daily Show audience is particularly literate

Sure, some of these same people go on morning news shows or others, but they don't get grilled like they do on the Daily Show. I'm sure Matt Lauer doesn't prepare for a segment by reading legal briefs for two days as Stewart said he did for this. Rachel Maddow does similarly incisive interviews but doesn't (yet) get the guests that Stewart does and Olbermann doesn't get them at all.

Ok, here's the opening segment:
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Fright Club
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Update: Here's Kevin Drum's take.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Movie Reviews

A Single Man is about a gay professor (Clin Firth) in 1962 grieving about the death of his partner. Given the time frame virtually no one knows about their 11 year relationship, he can only talk with his boozy divorced friend (Julianne Moore) but that doesn't always go so well. There's oscar buzz about the two performance, particularly Firth's and it's certainly well deserved. There is also a fair amount of criticism for first time directors Tom Ford's work. There are a bunch of arty shots and fade to whites, but it mostly worked for me. He's trying to involve all the senses using color, texture, sound and descriptions about smell and at times almost taste. It's an intimate story getting into the head of a character that's very guarded and isolated and emotional. I was also proud of myself for recognizing Jon Hamm's (uncredited) voice and the poster for Psycho by just a small part of it. And I'm not sure but I think I recognized the rocks where Kirk fought the Gorn.

Sherlock Holmes - The reviews weren't very strong, but the people I knew who saw it all liked it. It was better than I expected and I found a lot of the criticism to be off. It is more of an action film than a mystery but there are a number of times where you see Holmes use deductive skills that no one possesses. The end explained everything except how during the climatic chase they went from the sewers of Parliament to the top of Tower Bridge by just climbing a couple of ladders. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law had good chemistry together and as usually I liked Rachel McAdams and didn't think her role was too small. I also liked the look of 1890s London. I did find it dragged a little about two-thirds through. They were mentioning a number of characters by name and I wasn't sure who was who. I'd give it a 3.5/5

I finally caught Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince having missed it in the theaters. I thought it was a perfectly good continuation of the series. I liked following all the characters and the story. I thought the filming was a bit dark, but it seems everything was continuously cloudy deliberately. I hadn't read the book so I don't know how much they left out, but I'm looking forward to next two films.

FIve Graves to Cairo is a Billy Wilder film from 1943 set during WWII. It opens with a great scene of a tank rolling through the dessert that I won't describe further. Franchot Tone plays British Corporal John Bramble who's separated from his men and finds himself in a bombed out hotel run by Farid and his maid Mouche (Anne Baxter). German troops show up and take over the hotel. Bramble disguises himself as the waiter Davos who was killed in the bombing. Then Field Marshal Rommel shows up played by Erich von Stroheim and Bramble tries gathering intelligence without getting caught. It's a Billy Wilder film so there is a lot of good dialogue and some fun twists. I'm a big Wilder fan and really enjoyed this. It's not on DVD but will be shown on again TCM on Feb 22 and April 24.

What Women Want is a 2000 film written and directed by Nancy Meyers who also wrote and directed It's Complicated which is in theaters now. I hope it's better because I found What Women Want to be pretty weak and condescending. Mel Gibson's Nick was described as a guy's guy but he only had one friend and was an ass and a horrible father. Fine he's supposed to grow but Helen Hunt's Darcy was completely underwritten. If you've missed this so far, there's no need to see it now.

Bell Book and Candle is a 1958 romantic comedy based on the play. James Stewart is a publisher in New York and Kim Novak is his neighbor and happens to be a witch. I'm assuming this was the inspiration for Betwitched. Jack Lemmon is her warlock brother and while it's not great, it's pretty fun.

The trailer for The Soloist had oscar bait written all over it but it came and went from the theaters very quickly, now I know why. Robert Downey Jr. plays Steve Lopez, an LA Times journalist who comes across nathaniel Ayers, a mentally ill homeless man played by Jamie Foxx. Ayers is making beautiful music on a violin with just two strings. it turns out he went to Julliard and was a prodigy. Lopez writes some articles about him and tries to help him and finds that to be difficult. It's based on a true story and the performances are quite good, but the movie meanders around and never gets the drama right. It's probably because it's keeping to the truth but that didn't work for me in this case.

I didn't read the book but I saw the movie Blindness and I'm sorry I did. It's not a metaphor for anything it's just a collapse of society Lord of the Flies type story. What a surprise, people behave terribly. This was almost as bad as The Happening, it had better acting, but it was also a half-hour longer so it might actually be worse.

Sarah Palin to Contribute to Fox News

I knew it had to happen, Sarah Palin to Contribute to Fox News. Yet another reason not to watch FNC

Saturday, January 09, 2010

A Peek Into Netflix Queues

The New York Times has a nice infographic A Peek Into Netflix Queues showing maps of netflix rental patterns by zip code over 10 cities and 50 films.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Lots of Random Things

Newtonville Books writes "This is pretty freaking cool: Matt Kish illustrates Moby Dick page by page. Apparently the inspiration came from Zak Smith’s page-by-page illustration of Gravity’s Rainbow"

"Here are lessons learned and tips that might prevent your Gmail and other Google Accounts from getting hacked.'

Treehugger posts 22 Most Amazing Maps Changing How We See The World

Universe Today does a regular challenge, posting a photo and asking Where in the Universe it is. Check out this one:
Where in the Universe #86

"This image shows a region of sand dunes in the high northern latitudes on Mars. The features that look like bristles, and actually streaks on the crests of the dunes. In the winter, a layer of carbon dioxide ice covers the dunes, and in the spring as the sun warms the ice it evaporates. This is a very active process, and sand dislodged from the crests of the dunes cascades down, forming dark streaks."

Apple: Pixels as Touch Sensors for Brighter, Thinner Screens

Pretty neat Apple patent, Apple: pixels as touch sensors for brighter, thinner screens. "Apple's idea takes advantage of the faster switching of poly-Si to drive the pixels one instant, and use the capacitive properties of the individual pixels as touch sensors the next. The switching happens fast enough to give a clear, bright display, as well as responsive touch sensing. The elimination of the separate touch-sensing layer also makes for a thinner, lighter, brighter, and simpler touchscreen unit."

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Former Bush Counsel Charged With Attempted Murder of his Wife

Former Bush counsel charged in Conn. with trying to kill wife after she sought divorce.

"A onetime senior attorney to former President George W. Bush was charged Thursday with trying to kill his wife at their Connecticut home by beating her with a flashlight and choking her."

"Farren was general counsel at Xerox Corp. in 2007 when he was named deputy White House counsel during Bush's second term. He was previously undersecretary for international trade in the Commerce Department under Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush; deputy manager for the elder Bush's 1992 re-election campaign; and deputy director for his transition team in 1989."

The Avon Barksdale Story Trailer

Here's the trailer for The Avon Barksdale Story. "Here’s a trailer for the DVD release of a new documentary that details the life and times of real life Baltimore kingpin Avon Barksdale, the man on whom the infamous character from The Wire was based."

The trailer is lame but the story sounds interesting.

Beijing's Bird's Nest winter wonderland

What to do with a big Olympic stadium after the Olympics are over? turn it into a Bird's Nest winter wonderland.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Dominoes Everywhere for the Holidays

Dominoes Everywhere for the holidays from Jared Lyon on Vimeo.

Gay Marriage v First Cousin Marriage The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan

Andrew Sullivan today posted, For The Record this graphic:

Same Sex Marriage vs First Cousins by State

I can't find the original at the New York Times, though I did find this article: Beyond Kissing Cousins - Marriage Taboos Erode "For the most part, scientists studying the phenomenon worldwide are finding evidence that the risk of birth defects and mortality is less significant than previously thought. A widely disseminated study published in The Journal of Genetic Counseling in 2002 said that the risk of serious genetic defects like spina bifida and cystic fibrosis in the children of first cousins indeed exists but that it is rather small, 1.7 to 2.8 percentage points higher than for children of unrelated parents, who face a 3 to 4 percent risk — or about the equivalent of that in children of women giving birth in their early 40s. The study also said the risk of mortality for children of first cousins was 4.4 percentage points higher."

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Google's biggest announcement was not a phone, but a URL

ars technica writes Google's biggest announcement was not a phone, but a URL.

"The Nexus One is a sharp-looking smartphone, but, as nice as it is, it is the least significant thing that Google announced today. The real news is Google's online store, and what it means for the US wireless industry."

"In short, what Google announced today wasn't just the Nexus One, but the world's first carrier-independent smartphone store; the Google store is now the only smartphone store in the world where, for every phone on offer, you first pick which phone you want, and then you pick a network and a plan on that network. So you can comparison shop among networks based purely on plan price and network quality, because you already have your phone picked out."

Maybe Google is big enough to change the wireless industry. Maybe they'll try to fix the banks or Congress next. They did their IPO in their own way.

Lost Seasons 1-5 in 8 Minutes and 15 Seconds

Lost season 6, the final season, premieres in 4 weeks. Here's everything you need to know about Lost Seasons 1-5 in 8 Minutes and 15 Seconds. My favorite line, "Mr. Friendly throws like a girl."

The Best Times to Buy Anything

Lifehacker lists The Best Times to Buy Anything, All Year Round.

"You're always hearing about off-season, post-peak times to save money on purchases and food, but it always arrives too late. We've compiled a timeline and lots of best-time-to-buy suggestions into one post to help you plan a more frugal 2010."

I think I blogged something like this before, but I'm too lazy to see if the list changed for 2010.

Visa and Debit Card Fees

The New York Times writes The Card Game - How Visa, Using Fees Behind Its Debit Card, Dominates a Market

"When you sign a debit card receipt at a large retailer, the store pays your bank an average of 75 cents for every $100 spent, more than twice as much as when you punch in a four-digit code.

The difference is so large that Costco will not allow you to sign for your debit purchase in its checkout lines. Wal-Mart and Home Depot steer customers to use a PIN, the debit card norm outside the United States.

Despite all this, signature debit cards dominate debit use in this country, accounting for 61 percent of all such transactions, even though PIN debit cards are less expensive and less vulnerable to fraud.

How this came to be is largely a result of a successful if controversial strategy hatched decades ago by Visa, the dominant payment network for credit and debit cards. It is an approach that has benefited Visa and the nation’s banks at the expense of merchants and, some argue, consumers."

30 Best Blogs of 2009

Fimoculous lists the 30 Best Blogs of 2009. I don't make the list and I only read two of them (Information is Beautiful and Mad Men Footnotes).

Sunday, January 03, 2010

I Want to Debate George Will

I'm tired of George Will saying things on This Week and not being effectively challenged on them. Today, George Will said of the underwear bomber, "As Senator Leiberman said, this man should be treated as an enemy combatant, not lawyered up under miranda rights that interferes with interrogating him." Why?

First off, do they not think he'd be convicted in a federal court? His own father reported him to a foreign government for being an extremist. He was caught in the act with the entire aircraft as witnesses. A bomb was found in his underwear! The phrase "liar liar pants on fire" actually applies!

"not lawyered up", does Will not think accused should have lawyers? Should they just have to defend themselves or should they not be allowed to that either? Don't enemy combatants in military tribunals get lawyers?

"under miranda rights", is Will still fighting this conservative fight? Miranda rights were created in 1966 in Miranda v. Arizona the Warren court established that defendants be read their rights before being interrogated to protect their Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights. Conservatives went nuts about people getting off on technicalities and said the ruling would increase crime. As a result of the Supreme Court ruling, Ernesto Miranda was retried and was convicted with existing evidence and sentenced to 20-30 years . It can be done. And I'm pretty sure that enemy combatants have the right to remain silent. Conservatives are also still mad at Rehnquist about this. In 2000's Dickerson v. United States, the Supreme Court upheld Miranda Rights, only Scalia and Thomas voted against them.

"interferes with interrogating him", does reading him his rights before interrogating him really interfere? Is it such a high burden? If he chooses not to speak wouldn't he do that even before miranda rights or without a lawyer? Does Will just want to torture him?

Saturday, January 02, 2010

The Legacy of Grace Kelly

The Legacy of Grace Kelly in: The New Yorker is an interesting read. Then again, it's about the perfect woman, how could it not be.

The Cash Committee: How Wall Street Wins On The Hill

The Cash Committee: How Wall Street Wins On The Hill is a long but worthwhile article. Particularly the third page starts getting into why democracy is difficult.

"In the fall of 2008, Democrats took the White House and expanded their Congressional majorities as America struggled through a financial collapse wrought by years of deregulation. The public was furious. It seemed as if the banks and institutions that dragged the economy to the brink of disaster -- and were subsequently rescued by taxpayer funds -- would finally be forced to change their ways. But it's not happening. Financial regulation's long slog through Congress has left it riddled with loopholes, carved out at the request of the same industries that caused the mess in the first place. An outraged American public is proving no match for the mix of corporate money and influence that has been marshaled on behalf of the financial sector."

"In short, by setting up the committee as a place for shaky Democrats from red districts to pad their campaign coffers, leadership made a choice to prioritize fundraising over the passage of strong legislation. "It makes it difficult to corral consensus," says Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), a subcommittee chairman, of the unwieldy panel."

And in this case it's not the Goldman's or the Bank of America's getting the influence, it's small auto-dealers or insurance agencies. Then again: "Then Waters chastised Kosmas for skipping out: "Even yesterday when we were engaged with consumer advocates, one member got up and left and went to a fundraiser with the banking community, in the middle of all that. Well, all I have to say is, I'm hopeful that our advocates will be stronger than ever and we will fight against this opposition.""

And it's not my congressman's fault: "As the House leadership set up committees for the 111th Congress in early 2009, Frank pushed to shrink the size of his own panel in order to better meet the historic challenges presented by the financial collapse and bailout, say several members of the committee including Reps. Watt, Miller and Lynch. Instead, it got bigger. "He was obviously outvoted," quips Lynch. "Either that or he missed the meeting." Frank doesn't conceal his distress at the size of his panel. "I had no part in setting up the committee. That was all the Speaker," Frank says when asked about the front-row frontliners. "

"Ultimately, though, Democrats are essentially relying on a "great man" strategy, figuring they can dump as many bank-friendly Democrats on the committee as they want and Frank will generally keep them in line. "We have a lot of faith in Barney. He can handle it," says a senior Democratic aide when asked about the phenomenon. Frank's senior staffers, say several current and former committee aides, similarly outmatch their counterparts. The chairman, they say, is able to use the knowledge gap at both the member and the staff level to his advantage."

Friday, January 01, 2010

Movies Seen in 2009

I saw 300 movies in 2009. That's counting all entire films I saw. 262 were feature length and 32 were shorts (half live action, half animated). 6 were TV films.

I saw 37 in February, 34 in April and 32 in December. February was trying to see all the Oscar nominated films and seeing the shorts festivals. April was the Independent Film Festival of Boston and December was trying to get to 300.
Screen shot 2010-01-01 at 3.59.04 PM.png

I saw 100 in the theater and 176 on Cable. Only 13 on Netflix, I think this year I'll make better use of my subscription. I watched 8 DVDs I own, saw 4 online and one streamed to my TiVo via Netflix. Counting only features and not shorts, i saw 75 films in a theater.

201 were from the 2000s and 238 were made in the US. 20 were from Britain, 7 from France and then the others from 20 different countries.
Screen shot 2010-01-01 at 3.55.41 PM.png

264 of the films I saw for the first time, 36 I had seen before. I reviewed 67 of them. I rated them all on a scale from 1 (worst) to 5 (best). In the chart below the blue are the films I saw for the first time and the green are the ones I had seen before.
Screen shot 2010-01-01 at 3.55.11 PM.png

Here's the distribution of just the 2009 films
Screen shot 2010-01-01 at 3.57.26 PM.png

Here's all the films I saw, in the order I saw them, including their year, type, genre, nationality and my rating. I'll do a best of 2009 later, I still have 10 films to see, but I think I'm in pretty good shape for the seeing the Oscar nominated films (to be announced Feb 2nd).
Hold Your Man1933FeatureDramaUS3
Two For the Road1967FeatureDramaUS4
The Big Store1941FeatureComedyUS3
Revolutionary Road2008FeatureDramaUS2
Murder on the Orient Express1974FeatureMysteryUS2
Yonkers Joe2009FeatureDramaUS2
The Crowd1928FeatureDramaUS2
La Roue1923FeatureDramaFrance2
Vantage Point2008FeatureThrillerUS3
Beyond the Rocks1922FeatureDramaUS2
The Long Long Trailer1954FeatureComedyUS1
Harry and Son1984FeatureDramaUS2
The Milky Way1936FeatureComedyUS3
The Wrestler2008FeatureDramaUS3
Get Smart2008FeatureComedyUS3
13 Tzameti2005FeatureThrillerFrance3
Cassandra's Dream2008FeatureCrimeBritain2
The Champ1931FeatureComedyUS3
Welcome to Macintosh2008FeatureDocumentaryUS3
The Reader2008FeatureDramaUS4
Heavy Metal 20002000FeatureSci-FiUS1
Tropic Thunder2008FeatureComedyUS2
Funny Girl1968FeatureMusicalUS2
Waltz With Bashir2008FeatureDramaIsrael2
The War Room1993FeatureDocumentaryUS4
Designing Woman1957FeatureComedyUS2
Let the Right One In2008FeatureHorrorSweden5
Harold & Kumar 22008FeatureComedyUS2
The Jazz Singer1927FeatureMusicalUS3
Two Lovers2009FeatureDramaUS2
Kung-Fu Panda2008FeatureComedyUS2
The Band’s Visit2007FeatureDramaIsrael3
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