Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Federal Judge Finds N.S.A. Wiretapping Program Illegal

The New York Times reports Federal Judge Finds N.S.A. Wiretapping Program Illegal "A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the National Security Agency’s program of surveillance without warrants was illegal, rejecting the Obama administration’s effort to keep shrouded in secrecy one of the most disputed counterterrorism policies of former President George W. Bush."


Obama Opens Up the Coast

I completely agree with Kevin drum on this, Obama Opens Up the Coast "I guess this makes me a bad environmentalist, but I've never really had a big problem with opening up these offshore tracts as long as (a) the affected states are OK with it and (b) oil companies don't get sweetheart deals. But here's what I don't get. When it comes to energy, conservatives are crazy about two things: nuclear power and offshore drilling. Now Obama has agreed to both. But does he seriously think this will 'help win political support for comprehensive energy and climate legislation'? Wouldn't he be better off holding this stuff in reserve and negotiating it away in return for actual support, not just hoped-for support? What am I missing here?"

Who Owns Your Genes? You Do.

The ACLU wrote Who Owns Your Genes? You Do. "On Monday, federal district court Judge Robert Sweet made history by issuing the first ruling ever that human genes can’t be patented. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has been issuing patents on human genes for over 20 years, giving private corporations, individuals, and universities exclusive rights to those genes and to test, study, or even look at them. This is the first time a court has said that this practice is unlawful."

Some sense being added to patent law.


Leonardo Aranda's Bracketology - NCAA 1985 - 2009 "I made this chart because I was curious to see how brackets have behaved since they started using the current 64-team format.
ncaa 1.jpg

Where's my genome sequence?

Where's my genome sequence? Almost 10 years after the human genome was drafted, many genomics goals remain unrealized "The first sequenced drafts of the human genome were announced 10 years ago this June. President Bill Clinton remarked at the time that, 'genome science will have a real impact on all of our lives.' Although hopes were high, neither he nor the researchers involved promised magical genomic cures or personalized genomes for everyone by 2010. So when exactly can we, as individuals, expect to see that impact?"

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Is a food activist the messiah?

I had missed this but The Guardian wrote this a week ago Friday: I'm not the messiah, says food activist – but his many worshippers do not believe him. "The trouble started when Raj Patel appeared on American TV to plug his latest book, an analysis of the financial crisis called The Value of Nothing.

The London-born author, 37, thought his slot on comedy talkshow The Colbert Report went well enough: the host made a few jokes, Patel talked a little about his work and then, job done, he went back to his home in San Francisco.

Shortly afterwards, however, things took a strange turn. Over the course of a couple of days, cryptic messages started filling his inbox.

'I started getting emails saying 'have you heard of Benjamin Creme?' and 'are you the world teacher?'' he said. 'Then all of a sudden it wasn't just random internet folk, but also friends saying, 'Have you seen this?''

What he had written off as gobbledygook suddenly turned into something altogether more bizarre: he was being lauded by members of an obscure religious group who had decided that Patel – a food activist who grew up in a corner shop in Golders Green in north-west London – was, in fact, the messiah."

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Dealing With The Debt

Paul Krugman puts the debt problem in context. Dealing With The Debt: A Brief Note.

In Financial Regulation, Recognize Our Limitations But Do Try

Conservative Harvard economist N. Gregory Mankiw writes in the NYT today, In Financial Regulation, Recognize Our Limitations.

"One thing we cannot do very well is forecast the economy. The recent crisis and recession caught most economists flat-footed. This is nothing new. We have never been good at foretelling the future, but when the news is favorable, others forgive our lack of prescience...Another thing we cannot do very well is regulate financial institutions."

Except I don't buy it. Yes there was a housing bubble but the problem was that the big financial institutions had so much money in derivatives based on real estate prices that when they collapsed the banks did too. The problem wasn't that we couldn't regulate banks well, it was that Congress in the 90s deliberately choose not to regulate derivates at all. It's not that they couldn't do it well, it's that based on that assumption, they were instructed to not even attempt to regulate. And as I've said over and over, it's not even the kind of regulation saying they shouldn't be able to do that, it's the kind of regulation that said they needed to report what they were doing with derivates. All free marketers have to realize that a free market only works with actual knowledge of the market available. Without any reporting regulations, there was no knowledge.

Why is this is hard to grasp? Clearly a Harvard economics professor should know this. Am I mistaken on this point?

Another Lie Down

Paul Krugman yesterday points out in File Under Vile two of the GOP talking points about the healthcare bill are just wrong. One is that in the first decade there are ten years of revenues with only 6 years of spending so it looks like it is debt free but isn't. This chart makes it clear:


The second point I knew already: "Claims that the plan is window-dressed to look good in its first decade only to go sour later might sound plausible – except for the fact that the CBO projects bigger deficit-reduction in the second decade of the reform than in the first decade, something that wouldn’t happen if lots of costs were being hidden by being pushed off into the future."

Saturday, March 27, 2010

An In-Depth Look At the Federal Budget and Economy

A month ago, 538 wrote An In-Depth Look At the Federal Budget "As such, it seems appropriate to look at the federal budget in detail to get a sense of what's there. All of the information contained in the graphs that follow is available from the CBO. Please click on all images to see a larger image. Also, all data starts in 1970 and goes through fiscal 2009." Nice graphs and information.

And three weeks ago in A Closer Look At the Beige Book, they look at the state of the current economy.

Healthcare Details

The Health Care Blog had an article a week ago : "I Am Not Bound To Win. But I Am Bound To Be True", that describes some of the lessor known provisions of the new healthcare reform law.

"Under the reconciliation bill Medicare will have the power to roll out successful ‘pilot projects' nationwide—without waiting for Congressional approval. In the past, Medicare has launched many very successful ‘demonstration projects’ that improved quality while cutting costs. But because these were ‘demonstration projects,’ and not ‘pilot projects,’ Medicare could not implement them without going through Congress.

For example, one demonstration project ‘bundled’ payments to doctors and hospitals involved in by-pass surgery at seven hospitals, encouraging doctors and hospitals to collaborate in figuring how to make care more efficient. As a result, Medicare saved millions; both hospitals and doctors actually saw higher profits, and patient satisfaction soared. Yet Congress never let Medicare implement the project on a larger scale."

This line, "Ultimately the Republicans did reformers a gigantic favor by presenting such unwavering opposition to reform." reminded me of something from the Supreme Court. Apparently Clarence Thomas' far right views and refusal to compromise drove Sandra Day O'Connor to the left. The result of his appointment was a shift in the court to the left.

"Did you know, for instance, that Medicare beneficiaries will be able to get preventive care recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force without paying a co-pay or worrying about a deductible? This provision goes into effect January 1, [2011]. Six months after the legislation passes, private insurers also will be required to offer free preventive in any new plans that they offer to the public."

Obama Threatened to Veto Intelligence Budget

I haven't seen any update on this from two weeks ago, Protecting agencies from oversight, Obama threatens to veto intelligence funding "The 2010 Intelligence Budget has gone through a number of key changes over the past few months, with House Democrats and the Obama administration butting heads over a number of provisions. Key among them for the latest White House veto threat is a provision that would allow the Government Accountability Office to investigate intelligence agencies."

"In its' present form, the 2010 Intelligence Budget would also significantly revise the "Gang of Eight" requirement, under which the president informs key members of Congress about ongoing covert activities. As a reaction to the Bush administration's secrecy over its' massive electronic spying program, Congress last year approved the revisions that would allow House and Senate intelligence committees to write their own rules on who is told what. "

I like that last bit. As I understood it, the who committee wasn't informed just the top four members of each party of each chamber. If they didn't like something, they couldn't do anything about it because to tell the rest of the committee was an intelligence leak.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Battle Over Bottled Water

The NYT Green Inc. blog wrote The Battle Over Bottled Water

"Published in recognition of World Water Day, a video called The Story of Bottled Water (at right, on top), made its debut on YouTube this week, using animation and snappy narration to convey what its makers consider to be the evils of bottled water. Not missing a beat, the International Bottled Water Association, declared the new video to be sensational, and quickly posted its own minifilm, highlighting the sustainability practices of its members, which include major brands like Nestl"

"“The Story of Bottled Water,” in a nutshell, accuses bottled water companies of scaring consumers by saying that tap water is dirty and contaminated, while they themselves simply bottle tap water. “Pepsi’s Aquafina and Coke’s Dasani are two of the many brands that are really filtered tap water,” the star of the video, Annie Leonard, says."

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ezra Klein - What does the health-care bill do in its first year?

Ezra Klein writes What does the health-care bill do in its first year? and includes this chart:

Remaking foreign-language films in English

The LA Times wrote Remaking foreign-language films in English "Of the nearly 1,000 foreign-language films released in the U.S. since 1980, only 22 have grossed more than $10 million, with more than 70% of them taking in less than $1 million, "

Of the 22, I've seen all but four: The Motorcycle Diaries, Iron Monkey, The Protector, and Brotherhood of the Wolf. I've liked the 18 I've seen. Of the top 100 I've seen 46

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

H.R.3590 Vote Graphic

The New York Time has a nice graphic House Vote 165 - H.R.3590: On Motion to Concur in Senate Amendments.

“Wingnuts” and President Obama

“Wingnuts” and President Obama is scary.

"A new book, Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America by John Avlon describes the large numbers of Americans who hold extreme views of President Obama. This Harris Poll seeks to measure how many people are involved. It finds that 40% of adults believe he is a socialist. More than 30% think he wants to take away Americans’ right to own guns and that he is a Muslim. More than 25% believe he wants to turn over the sovereignty of the United States to a world government, has done many things that are unconstitutional, that he resents America’s heritage, and that he does what Wall Street tells him to do. More than 20% believe he was not born in the United States, that he is “the domestic enemy the U.S. Constitution speaks of,” that he is racist and anti-American, and that he “wants to use an economic collapse or terrorist attack as an excuse to take dictatorial powers.” Fully 20% think he is “doing many of the things that Hitler did,” while 14% believe “he may be the anti-Christ” and 13% think “he wants the terrorists to win.”

See all the data in the post.

91% of Americans use cell phones

Wireless survey: 91% of Americans use cell phones "The survey of wireless carriers revealed that over 285 million Americans are mobile subscribers, about 91 percent of the total population. That's up 15 million over the same time last year, and growth has slowed somewhat due to market saturation. Those 285 million callers used 1.12 trillion minutes of talk time in the last half of 2009, up 3.4 percent of the same period in 2008. That breaks down to an average of 6.1 billion minutes used per day, or about 21 minutes per person per day."

Mossberg Reviews TiVo Premiere

As much as I love my TiVo, I'm not rushing out to upgrade to the new TiVo Premiere. Walt Mossberg's Review.

"The new HD interface was slower than the old standard one in my tests, with frequent delays, even in scrolling through a list of recorded shows. TiVo says this is a bug being fixed."

"Finally, the new HD interface isn’t available when watching live TV. You have to constantly bounce between the new and old software designs."

A Letter from David Mamet to the Writers of The Unit

Here's a pretty entertaining Letter from David Mamet to the Writers of The Unit. I did really like that show but this is less about that and more about how to write dramatically for the screen.

Yup, High Fructose Corn Syrup is Bad

Princeton University says Princeton researchers find that high-fructose corn syrup prompts considerably more weight gain. "A Princeton University research team has demonstrated that all sweeteners are not equal when it comes to weight gain: Rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same. In addition to causing significant weight gain in lab animals, long-term consumption of high-fructose corn syrup also led to abnormal increases in body fat, especially in the abdomen, and a rise in circulating blood fats called triglycerides. The researchers say the work sheds light on the factors contributing to obesity trends in the United States."

Update: Ars Technica goes through the study in some detail. "Although some of the results are suggestive, given the somewhat confusing and, in some cases, contradictory nature of the result, it would seem to be appropriate to interpret them with caution, and go back and start a larger population of rats on a study with a more consistent design. The authors haven't gone that route, as their conclusion (in its entirety) reads, "In summary, rats maintained on a diet rich in HFCS for 6 or 7 months show abnormal weight gain, increased circulating TG and augmented fat deposition. All of these factors indicate obesity. Thus, over-consumption of HFCS could very well be a major factor in the 'obesity epidemic,' which correlates with the upsurge in the use of HFCS.""

Reviewing Bonnie and Clyde

I'm not a big fan of Bonnie and Clyde, but this They're young, they're in love, and they kill people might change my mind. This might be the best movie review I've ever read. It explains that the movie isn't really about Bonnie and Clyde but about the media, and it's not really a movie review about Bonnie and Clyde, but about reviewing movies.

Child-Proofing Your Mac

I don't know anything about this, but some readers might appreciate The Complete Guide for Child-Proofing Your Mac.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Steven Levitt

Yesterday I went to a talk by Steven Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics and Super Freakonomics. I haven't read the books and I know his science is suspect but still he's an interesting speaker.

He told a few anecdotes about the some of the projects in the books but also some others. Early on he creating an algorithm for gambling at the racetrack and had some luck with it. He got money from some friends and family to fund a bigger stake (like a hedge fund) but didn't do very well. He said he found out "It's more fun to lose your own money and to lose other people's money" and "As long as you wrote a good investor's letter, people didn't mind so much."

He apparently wasn't a great student (even though he went to Harvard and MIT). He noted that some survey found that economists thought to be successful economists, only 2% thought you needed a good working knowledge of the economy but 70% thought you needed a good knowledge of mathematics. He wasn't good at math. The only time his father gave him an encouraging talk, the lesson was, "If you have no talent, pick an area of study that no one else is willing to study and you can be 'the best' at it." His father was an expert on intestinal gas.

How Obama Revived His Health-Care Bill

How Obama revived his health-care bill is an interesting deal of how, when and between whoom the deals happened. I have much more respect for Al Franken and Nancy Pelosi and much less for David Axelrod.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Industry Interests are not in Their "twilight"

Glenn Greenwald as usual, has a good piece on how healthcare reform happened, Industry interests are not in their "twilight".

Lawrence Lessig has a similar piece, The Moment. "However good, however essential, however transformative this health care bill may be, we should not mistake success here as a sign that Washington has been cured...Obama's victory was achieved because his team played the old game brilliantly."

Waterloo for the GOP

David Frum describes the healthcare reform vote as their Waterloo.

"We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat. There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or – more exactly – with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother? I’ve been on a soapbox for months now about the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us."

Great Moments In Selective Outrage

No More Mister Nice Blog's Great Moments In Selective Outrage really made me laugh out loud. This was Peggy Noonan's complaint on Friday (at least the beginning of it), "Excuse me, but it is embarrassing -- really, embarrassing to our country -- that the president of the United States has again put off a state visit to Australia and Indonesia because he's having trouble passing a piece of domestic legislation he's been promising for a year will be passed next week. What an air of chaos this signals to the world."

Obama's Share Determined Dems' Votes on ObamaCare

538 has some interesting stats on the vote, Obama's Share Determined Dems' Votes on ObamaCare.

The Tea Party & The Circus

This was pretty funny (and a little scary, but I knew that already).

Stocks Strengthen on Health Care Vote

I seem to remember the right saying Obama's election was bad for the country because the stock market fell after the election (or maybe it was the stimulus) . I didn't believe it mattered at all but the right claimed that's what the market was saying. Well to those that believe that sort of thing, I was happy to see this today, Stocks Strengthen on Health Care Vote.

Is it Just Me?

Or are Republican talking points just completely divorced from reality? Mitt Romney wrote
President Obama Has Betrayed His Oath To The Nation. Really? He passed a national health care plan based on the plan Romney passed in Massachusetts. If you're going to be so upset about something, at least be right about it.

Just How Unpopular Is The Health Care Bill?

NPR answers Just How Unpopular Is The Health Care Bill? "But with all that bad publicity and all the doubt generated by a year of debate and opponents' vituperation, the latest Gallup Poll showed 48 percent against the bill and 45 percent in favor. That does not look like overwhelming rejection. In fact, it's within the margin of polling error."

What We Learned

Tom Schaller wrote What We Learned "Putting the policy and its implications aside, what political lessons can we takeaway from the past year? Plenty, some of them rather disconcerting."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Science (Mostly Astronomy) News

Here are a bunch of stories, I encourage you to click through to the articles for some very pretty pictures.

General relativity passes a large scale test "General relativity, our current best understanding of gravity, has passed yet another test—this time on a much larger length scale. Ever since relativity's first confirmation in 1919, when Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington observed that the light from distant stars was shifted by the mass of the sun, direct tests have been confined to length scales smaller than our solar system. No test to date has stringently probed general relativity's applicability to the length scales of the universe itself."

Scientists supersize quantum mechanics "A team of scientists has succeeded in putting an object large enough to be visible to the naked eye into a mixed quantum state of moving and not moving."

New Images Unlock Secrets of Jupiter's Red Spot "It's difficult enough to track the weather on Earth, but with new thermal images of Jupiter's Great Red Spot, scientists now have the first detailed interior weather map of a giant storm system on another planet. 'This is our first detailed look inside the biggest storm of the solar system,' said Glenn Orton, a senior research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. 'We once thought the Great Red Spot was a plain old oval without much structure, but these new results show that it is, in fact, extremely complicated.'"

Finally, a "Normal" Exoplanet "Chalk up another exoplanet discovery for the CoRoT satellite. But this planet, while a gas giant, could have temperatures cool enough to host liquid water. Corot-9b orbits a sun-like star at a distance similar to Mercury – one of the largest orbits of any extrasolar planet yet found, and may have an interior that closely resembles Jupiter and Saturn. ‘This is a normal, temperate exoplanet just like dozens we already know, but this is the first whose properties we can study in depth,’ said Claire Moutou, who is part of the international team of 60 astronomers that made the discovery. ‘It is bound to become a Rosetta stone in exoplanet research.’"

The Air Force is building it's own secret space shuttle? Secret Mini Space Shuttle Could Launch April 19 "It's cute. It's little. It's also top secret. The X-37B orbital test vehicle is at Cape Canaveral in Florida, and the word is that it will be launched on board an Atlas V rocket on Monday April 19, 2010 at around 10 pm EDT. Other than that, the Air Force isn't saying much about this mini-space shuttle look-alike. The reusable unmanned vehicle is capable of staying in orbit for 270 days, but the mission duration hasn't been announced. Additionally, the ship has a payload bay for experiments and deployable satellites, but no word if any payloads will be included on the inaugural flight of this mini space plane."

Jupiter may have a new ring that was created by a smash between moons. "The possible ring appears as a faint streak near Jupiter's moon Himalia in an image taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft. The telescopic camera aboard the Pluto-bound probe snapped the ring in September 2006 as the craft was closing in on Jupiter in the lead-up to a close encounter with the planet the following February.'We were taking an image of Himalia to test the instrument. It was completely unexpected that something else was there.'"

Yes It's Constitutional

In commenting on an op-ed, Jack Balkin goes through various reasons the healthcare bill is constitutional.

Football - Real Kick

i have no need to buy or ever play this, but this video brings a big smile to my face. Brilliant...

Saturday, March 20, 2010


A week ago the Court-Appointed Lehman Examiner Unveiled His Report. I haven't since too much written about it since the initial stuff. Probably because it's over 2000 pages long. There were a lot of articles on Repo 105, the accounting technique that Lehman used to move $50 billion in toxic assets off their balance sheet before quarterly reports. Like CDSs it seems to be a useful technique that was abused in this case. This is perhaps bad news for Lehman's accountants Ernst & Young, though they claim their last audit of Lehman was for the fiscal year ending November 2007. Lehman's CEO claims he didn't know about the use of Repo 105, but "Tyler Durden" says "Evidence, however, suggests that Fuld is blatantly lying".

Still, the report says "The examiner concludes that the conduct of Lehman’s officers, while subject to question in retrospect, falls within the business judgment rule and does not give rise to colorable claims. The examiner concludes that Lehman’s directors did not breach their duty to monitor Lehman’s risks." I wonder how many more 2000 page reports we'll see?

Meanwhile it seems Alan Greenspan has written a 66 page paper on The Crisis [pdf] and Greg Mankiw comments on it.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Proposed Changes in the Final Health Care Bill

The New York Times has a nice interactive graphic Proposed Changes in the Final Health Care Bill.

This short NPR piece describes what got left out. "For comparison, rewind to late February when President Obama finally released his proposal for what the administration really, really wanted to be part of health overhaul and some things it thought should be scratched."

Printing Body Parts

I know about 3D printers. These are printers that actually print 3D models, kinda like sculptures. They use an ink jet like technology but lay down layer on top of layer and build up an object. These are used for modeling designs, but also for manufacturing some parts. The Economist had an article a couple of weeks ago, Printing body parts: Making a bit of me about using this kind of technology to make organs.

"The new machine, which costs around $200,000, has been developed by Organovo, a company in San Diego that specialises in regenerative medicine, and Invetech, an engineering and automation firm in Melbourne, Australia. One of Organovo’s founders, Gabor Forgacs of the University of Missouri, developed the prototype on which the new 3D bio-printer is based. The first production models will soon be delivered to research groups which, like Dr Forgacs’s, are studying ways to produce tissue and organs for repair and replacement. At present much of this work is done by hand or by adapting existing instruments and devices.

To start with, only simple tissues, such as skin, muscle and short stretches of blood vessels, will be made, says Keith Murphy, Organovo’s chief executive, and these will be for research purposes. Mr Murphy says, however, that the company expects that within five years, once clinical trials are complete, the printers will produce blood vessels for use as grafts in bypass surgery. With more research it should be possible to produce bigger, more complex body parts. Because the machines have the ability to make branched tubes, the technology could, for example, be used to create the networks of blood vessels needed to sustain larger printed organs, like kidneys, livers and hearts."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Nice Job Best Buy

Best Buy.png

Digital Books

A friend read a post here and commented on it on his blog. I was going to comment there but it got long and I figured I'd make a post of it. Read his piece first: My thoughts on the iPad, and more importantly on books.

I'm not sure I buy it. I, like you, don't read as many books as I used to. My fiction reading has mostly been replaced with graphic novels. Those aren't kindle-able but there's talk about having them on the iPad. I'm not so sure.

But while your family might not buy a lot of books retail, some people do. I do because I want to support the industry and the authors. I do buy at a discount and Amazon is great for that. I've gone to book signings but to me its more for seeing the author rather than having a collectable signed.

Last week while waiting in a line for a movie (my native habitat), I was next to an older woman who pulled out her Kindle. I asked her how she liked it and she loved it. She was a voracious book reader and loved having so many books with her. Travel was much easier as she didn't need to carry around so many books. Also it sync'ed with her iPhone so she could always read something and pick up right where she left off. Interestingly, she had tried reading a newspaper on it but hated that experience.

I liked the article's distinction between disposable reading and other things. I would have finished Anathem by now if it were smaller and I could more easily bring it to more places. And after buying the hardcover, I'm not willing to buy it again for the Kindle app on my iPhone.

Here's the place I'd like to be. I want to be able to buy a work (fiction or non-fiction) and get be able to read it on whatever device I own and have it sync between them. Let me read it on my laptop, iPad, iPhone Kindle whatever I have with me. It would be cool to be able to borrow someone else's device and get to my books, but that's not going to happen (how often do you borrow someone's phone for more than a minute). I think that for a while, printed versions should be bundled with digital versions but also digital versions should be available on their own. Over time, fewer printed versions will be sold. That's fine, no one uses a telegraph anymore and AT&T is officially not an acronym and doesn't stand for anything anymore.

I think I'm fine if I can't give a completed book to a friend or sell it on a used market. If someone else is going to consume it, let the author be paid. A digital copy doesn't degrade so there's no reason for a used market to sell things for less. But I do want to be able to tell friends about what I'm reading and send them sections. Maybe a page or two from a non-fiction book (to share info) or the first chapter of a novel ("Hey I think you might like this, give it a try and see if you want to buy it"). I also want to be able to easily access parts of it from my computer so I can blog a review. I think all of the above are fair use and shouldn't have copyright problems and would help publicize the work to others.

Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart's opening segment on The Daily Show last night was great. He starts with Dodd's financial regulation reforms and goes back to the causes of the crisis. Brilliant.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
In Dodd We Trust
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Reform

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Citizens Unite

Lawrence Lessig has come up with text for his proposed amendment to mitigate the Citizen's United decision. He wrote in The New Republic, Citizens Unite. "Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to restrict the power to limit, though not to ban, campaign expenditures of non-citizens of the United States during the last 60 days before an election."

Debunking Lies

Nice to see some articles vigorously debunking the latest round of lies

Ezra Klein wrote in the Washington Post Everything David Brooks says about reconciliation is wrong "Jon Chait did a very funny job taking apart David Brooks's column on reconciliation. I want to do a serious job on it. The factual statements Brooks uses in his argument are wrong. Not arguable, or questionable, or suspicious. Wrong. And since everything else flows from those wrong facts, the rest of the column can't be taken seriously."

David Gibson in Politics Daily wrote The Senate Bill Funds Abortions? Nope, and It's More Pro-Life Than the House Version "A close reading of the two bills, however, informed by analyses from a range of experts, reveals that the pro-life claims about the Senate bill and its abortion financing provisions are, in fact, mistaken. Indeed, the Senate bill is in some respects arguably stronger in barring abortion financing and in promoting abortion reduction."

And this isn't really a lie but more hypocracy. Think Progress writes Conservatives Who Demanded We ‘Listen To’ And ‘Stand Behind’ Gen. Petraeus Now Disregard Him.

30+ Super Secret iPhone Features and Shortcuts

app storm has 30+ Super Secret iPhone Features and Shortcuts a few of which were new to me.

Building a Better Teacher

A couple of weeks ago the Sunday Times Magazine Section had an article Building a Better Teacher.

Designed for the iPad

I have at least one friend that pre-ordered the iPad. I'm still waiting to hold one to see if I buy it immediately or wait for the second generation (my general rule with Apple products). Here are two articles about how the form factor might change the way apps are designed.

Is The iPad Just A Big iPhone? and Books in the Age of the iPad

Spacewalking: Through an Astronaut's Eyes

Universe Today reports Spacewalking: Through an Astronaut's Eyes "Astronaut Chris Hadfield...[gives] the best description ever of a spacewalk."

Is Deem and Pass Constitutional?

Jack Balkin asks and answers Is Deem and Pass Constitutional?. Apparently in some twisted way yes, but I agree with him, "Speaker Pelosi is trying to give House members a way of saying they did not vote for the Senate bill, but my point is that however much she and they may be trying to do this rhetorically, she and they can't really do this politically and constitutionally. They have to take responsibility for what they are doing and the language of the bill has to say that they are taking responsibility. This is the point of Article I, section 7."

Seriously, Democrats want healthcare reform and have a majority, pass it and be proud of it.

C-Span Puts Its Full Archives on the Web

C-Span Puts Its Full Archives on the Web "The archives, at, cover 23 years of history and five presidential administrations and are sure to provide new fodder for pundits and politicians alike. The network will formally announce the completion of the C-Span Video Library on Wednesday."

Monday, March 15, 2010

What will the Supreme Court be like without Justice John Paul Stevens?

Jeffrey Toobin has a piece in the new New Yorker, What will the Supreme Court be like without Justice John Paul Stevens?.

"Ever since last fall, when it emerged that Stevens had hired only one law clerk for the next year, instead of his customary four, there has been growing speculation that he will soon retire. Since 1994, Stevens has been the senior Associate Justice and so has been responsible for assigning opinions when the Chief Justice is not in the majority. He has used that power to build coalitions and has become the undisputed leader of the resistance against the conservatives on the Court. ‘For those fifteen years, John Stevens has essentially served as the Chief Justice of the Liberal Supreme Court,’ Walter Dellinger, who was the acting Solicitor General in the Clinton Administration and is a frequent advocate before the Court, says. In Stevens’s absence, leadership of the Court’s liberals would fall, by seniority, to Ginsburg, but she is also elderly and has suffered from a range of health problems. Even if President Obama appointed a like-minded replacement for Stevens, that person, while taking his seat, would not fill his role."

Elizabeth Warren

I've been very impressed with Elizabeth Warren in the past year. Here are three articles:

Warren Winning Means No Sale If You Can’t Explain It from Bloomberg in November.

America Without a Middle Class by Warren in the Huffington Post in December.

Elizabeth Warren Calls Out Wall Street by James Kwak in February commenting on an op-ed she wrote.

Health Reform Myths and Arguments

Paul Krugman has been writing on Healthcare reform. A few days ago he wrongHealth Reform Myths and yesterday he described some Bizarro Health Reform Arguments.

Video From the Make Markets Be Markets Conference

Video From the Make Markets Be Markets Conference including short videos by Simon Johnson and Elizabeth Warren.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Justice Thomas' Wife Launches 'Tea Party' Group

The LA Times reports Justice's wife launches 'tea party' group.

"'I am an ordinary citizen from Omaha, Neb., who just may have the chance to preserve liberty along with you and other people like you,' she said at a recent panel discussion with tea party leaders in Washington. Thomas went on to count herself among those energized into action by President Obama's 'hard-left agenda.' But Thomas is no ordinary activist. She is the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and she has launched a tea-party-linked group that could test the traditional notions of political impartiality for the court."

I'm not particularly bothered by this. It's not like we didn't know Thomas was conservative. This strikes a cord though: "She is intrigued by Glenn Beck and listening carefully," the bio says. That to me just says she's dumb. This is a man who just listened to the lyrics of Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. and thinks it's anti-American.

MA Jobs Program Lost Its Way — and Tax Money

The Boston Globe wrote Jobs program lost its way — and tax money

"Over the past 16 years, Massachusetts has given away hundreds of millions of dollars in state and local tax breaks for more than 1,300 development projects under its Economic Development Incentive Program, which aims to encourage companies to invest here and create jobs. Often the incentives work and new jobs result. But far too often taxpayers have not come close to getting their money’s worth, a Globe review has found.

Hundreds of the projects delivered fewer jobs than promised, and some companies actually slashed employment. Many firms won subsidies for projects they were set to build without state assistance; in some cases, incentives that were approved long af ter the projects were underway or complete. And many got generous packages though they agreed to create only a handful of low-paying jobs.

A review of state records found that more than 40 percent of the companies that received tax breaks pledged to create 10 full-time jobs or fewer, including nearly four dozen that promised only to add one full-time job. Often, the companies planned to pay new workers little more than minimum wage.

Among the tiny projects singled out for subsidies were a pizzeria in Ware, a liquor store in Plymouth, an auto body shop in Fall River, a video store in Somerville, a laundromat in Brockton, a self-storage facility in Somerset, and a hair salon in New Bedford."

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Inside Man

Simon Johnson reviews Hank Paulson's book Inside Man in The New Republic.

Blame Yesterday’s Reforms for Today’s Gridlocked Congress

I'm not a fan of David Frum, but a couple of weeks ago he wrote Blame Yesterday’s Reforms for Today’s Gridlocked Congress which had some interesting insights into the ways Congress is broken. E.g.,

"Candidates consumed by fundraising? Two generations ago, candidates barely raised money at all. Once nominated, a candidate would turn to his party apparatus to provide the money and expertise needed to contest an election. But the maximum contribution by a party organization was capped in the 1940s, and it has not been raised significantly since. This cap was supposed to clean up politics by weakening party bosses. Instead, it has forced every individual member of Congress to spend the bulk of his or her time begging for funds — the very opposite of clean politics."

I think he's down playing the previous problems that the reforms addressed but I still found it interesting.

Bruce Barlett commented on it in What Broke Congress?. " While I don't disagree with David's specific points, I think he is ignoring the proverbial elephant in the living room: the demise of the conservative Southern Democrat." Matt Yglesias concurred and offered some graphs in Civil Rights, Polarization, and Gridlock.

Booking a Flight the Frugal Way

Last month, the Frugal Traveler wrote Booking a Flight the Frugal Way "Today, however, booking a flight is a total mess. Travelocity and Expedia have been joined by Bing and Orbitz and Dohop and Vayama and CheapTickets and CheapOair and Kayak and SideStep and Mobissimo and and and … I could go on and list every single Web site out there, but I won’t. There are just too many. Instead, I’ll lead you through the steps I make when I’m booking a flight myself."

Paris 26 Gigapixels

Paris 26 Gigapixels is an "Interactive virtual tour of the most beautiful monuments of Paris".

NY Taxi Drivers Gouged Riders Out of Millions

The New York Times reports Taxi Drivers Gouged Riders Out of Millions "About 3,000 New York City taxi drivers routinely overcharged riders over two years by surreptitiously fixing their meters to charge rates that would normally apply only to trips outside the five boroughs, according to the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission."

"The drivers’ scheme, the commission said, involved 1.8 million rides and cost passengers an average of $4 to $5 extra per trip. The drivers, officials said, flipped switches on their meters that kicked in the higher rates, costing New York City riders a total of $8.3 million."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Looking at Ryan's Plan

In Who Do You Love, Part II Paul Krugman points to several analyses of Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) Roadmap for America’s Future.

The Center on Budge and Policy Priorities concludes: "Contrary to claims that the Ryan plan is fiscally responsible — which reflect a misunderstanding of CBO’s analysis of the proposal — the plan would leave the federal budget in dire straits for decades as a result of its massive tax cuts for wealthy households and its diversion of Social Security payroll taxes to private accounts. The plan attempts to reduce deficits and debt many decades into the future by making deep cuts in Social Security’s defined benefits and by eliminating guaranteed Medicare benefits and substantially cutting back on medical assistance for low-income families and seniors. Yet even with these sweeping changes, the plan fails to achieve its fiscal goal, since federal debt under the proposal would rise over the next four decades to unsustainable levels far in excess of 100 percent of GDP. The proposal also would seriously erode employer-sponsored health insurance coverage for working Americans and their families without instituting the accompanying reforms in health insurance needed to create a viable substitute. All in all, the Ryan Roadmap charts a radical course that, if they understood it, few Americans likely would want to follow."

Krugman includes this graph:


Drawing Senate Reconciliation Votes

senate_recon_sm.pngThe Sunlight Foundation wrote A Brief History of Senate Reconciliation Votes with a nice graphic.

"As Democrats move forward to pass health care reform attention has focused on a key piece of Senate rules known as budget reconciliation. This post takes Senate vote records covering 13 key reconciliation votes from 1990 to 2007 to show how senators in both parties voted–and how sitting senators voted in the past–on a variety of reconciliation bills."

"The voting record shows that reconciliation is often used as a way to pass otherwise contentious legislation that could not receive sufficient bipartisan support to reach the 60 vote supermajority necessary to clear a cloture vote. Seven of the thirteen reconciliation measures examined here passed between 1990 and 2007 were almost universally opposed by the minority party while gaining almost total unity in support from the majority using the reconciliation process."

Budget Bubble Graphs

I don't agree with his politics but I like Keith Hennessey's graphs. Last week he Introduced Budget Bubble Graphs. He explains it all in the post but they look something like this:
bbg00cintrodiagramwithdiagonals_thumb 1.png

The circles show the size of the deficit as a percentage of GDP. Then this week he used them to ask Does the President’s budget increase the deficit or reduce it?. The graphs let him compare the CBO and OMB estimates and show their baselines.

ffbpresbudc_thumb 1.png

I haven't looked into his data (though his posts do seem to do a good job of separating fact from opinion) and I'm curious to see where GOP proposals fall on these graphs.

Nature is Awesome

The Coolest Carnivorous Plant/Toilet Plant You’ll See This Week.

Eric Cartman Signed Out 500 AK-47s

Spencer Ackeman wrote It Was A Good Day: Eric Cartman To Sign For 500 AK-47s "Around lunchtime on February 23, I attended an embargoed briefing for a couple reporters in Carl Levin’s office. Levin wanted to share the results of an investigation his Senate Armed Services Committee staff launched into Blackwater’s operations in Afghanistan. He distributed a document summarizing the investigation, a couple double-sided pages long, and I read through it as we waited for Levin to get started. Something caught my eye on the top of the sixth page, describing Blackwater signing out hundreds of AK-47s from a U.S. military weapons depot: ‘Receipts show that the guns were issued to an ‘Eric Cartman’…’"

Now there's this...

Here are some details: "Blackwater personnel appear to have gone to exceptional lengths to obtain weapons from U.S. military weapons storehouses intended for use by the Afghan police. According to the committee, at the behest of the company’s Afghanistan country manager, Ricky Chambers, Blackwater on at least two occasions acquired hundreds of rifles and pistols from a U.S. military facility near Kabul called 22 Bunkers by the military and Pol-e Charki by the Afghans. Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of all U.S. military forces in the Middle East and South Asia, wrote to the committee to explain that “there is no current or past written policy, order, directive, or instruction that allows U.S. Military contractors or subcontractors in Afghanistan to use weapons stored at 22 Bunkers.”

On one of those occasions, in September 2008, Chief Warrant Officer Greg Sailer, who worked at 22 Bunkers and is a friend of a Blackwater officer working in Afghanistan, signed over more than 200 AK-47s to an individual identified as “Eric Cartman” or possibly “Carjman” from Blackwater’s Counter Narcotics Training Unit. A Blackwater lawyer told committee staff that no one by those names has ever been employed by the company. Eric Cartman is the name of an obnoxious character from Comedy Central’s popular “South Park” cartoon."

Why new hard disks might not be much fun for XP users

Ars Technica writes Why new hard disks might not be much fun for XP users "A rather surprising article hit the front page of the BBC on Tuesday: the next generation of hard disks could cause slowdowns for XP users. Not normally the kind of thing you'd expect to be placed so prominently, but the warning it gives is a worthy one, if timed a bit oddly. The world of hard disks is set to change, and the impact could be severe. In the remarkably conservative world of PC hardware, it's not often that a 30-year-old convention gets discarded. Even this change has been almost a decade in the making."

I have to say, while it's a technical article, it's incredibly well written. I found it easy to understand and it seemed to cover all the aspects of the problem. I wish all the articles I read were this good.

Pink Floyd Wins Legal Battle to Only Sell Full Albums Online

Pink Floyd Wins Legal Battle to Only Sell Full Albums Online "Pink Floyd has just won a legal battle with label EMI prohibiting their music from being sold as individual tracks. If you want to listen to Floyd, you'll be buying full albums."

"As of right now you can still grab individual tracks on iTunes, but that shouldn't last too long. So if you want Pigs On the Wing but not the rest of Animals, now's your last chance"

I really do like being able to buy individual songs, but agree that the artist should have the choice of how their music is sold. I do like that the judge ruled that the contract's line "preserve the artistic integrity of the albums" meant not just in the form of records as EMI was arguing.

We have to get better at separating the work from the medium. Newspapers moving from printing on dead trees to online doesn't mean the end of newspapers any more than the end of vinyl meant the end of music. And no, I don't mean to belittle the business model problems that medium changes involve.

CT AG Sues Moody's, S&P on Bad Ratings

Blumenthal Sues: Moody's, Standard & Poor's Accused Of Misleading Investors Connecticut "Attorney General Richard Blumenthal sued two of the nation's most prominent credit rating agencies Wednesday, alleging they misled investors about the soundness of certain types of investments and unfairly reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues. Unlike other recent lawsuits against credit rating agencies — including one Blumenthal filed last July — these attempt to enforce state consumer protection laws, rather than to recoup losses for specific investors."

Blumenthal is running for US Senate (Chris Dodd's current seat). Apparently he as some competition, Blumenthal declines 2nd debate with Alpert.

Honest Movie Titles: Oscars 2010

CollegeHumor has some funny Honest Movie Titles: Oscars 2010 with reworked movie posters of nominated films.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Photo Essay: The Real Hurt Locker

Foreign Policy has an interesting Photo Essay: The Real Hurt Locker "A look at the actual people behind the controversial Oscar-winning film." I'm not sure what's so controversial about the film, but the photos are amazing.


studio kmo's Photostream on Flickr is amazing. These are called mapcuts.


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

After Financial Ruin, Plotting America's Comeback

I caught some of this on Fresh Air today, After Financial Ruin, Plotting America's 'Comeback'. "'Yes, we can do what is necessary to create a better future,' says David M. Walker, the former comptroller general of the United States. But he says it's going to take some work, and soon.

Walker, the CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, is the author of Comeback America, a book detailing his belief that if significant fiscal reforms aren't immediately enacted in the United States, interest rates on the national debt will rise, and federal taxes could easily double from current levels by 2030"

I want to read his book now.

Opening Lines

Flavorwire writes First Impressions: Our 30 Favorite Opening Lines in Literature.

How Genetics Works

I came across this photo and description and love it. How genetics works:
13068_540 1.jpg

The Economist on Noise-Cancelling Technology

The Economist had an interesting tech article a couple of weeks ago, Noise-cancelling technology: Opting for the quiet life "MANY of those who talk loudly into their mobile phones are just inconsiderate show-offs for whom no punishment is too evil. Sometimes, however, there is an excuse. Noise in the background can make it hard for your interlocutor to hear what you are saying. Raised voices are an inevitable consequence.

Soon, though, this excuse will vanish. Thanks to advances in manufacturing techniques, which allow miniature mechanical components to be built into electronic chips, it is now possible to add better noise-cancelling features to phones, and also to other products, such as the small ‘earbuds’ used to listen to music players."

And only slightly related, Macworld wrote: 11 canalbud headsets compared

Monday, March 08, 2010

Exclusive: How Google’s Algorithm Rules the Web

Wired had an article How Google’s Algorithm Rules the Web which was pretty interesting.


Yesterday was the Oscars and I of course watched. I came in 4th in my pool getting only 15/24 categories right. I'll do better next year. :)

As far as the show, I was fairly underwhelmed. It struck me as particularly long and mostly uninteresting though I do appreciate some of the things they attempted to do.

Not that the red carpet show is ever great, but this was awful. Who thought to have Sherri Sheppard and Kathy Ireland do interviews? And who is Jess Cagle? Why are they spending time interviewing Miley Cyrus, Zac Efron and Tayor Lautner? And why do they have a video clip introducing the best picture nominees of 1943? If you're into the clothes thing or even semi-candid talks with stars, this didn't deliver at all.

I thought the opening was weak. They had the best actor and actress nominees walk out on stage. They were announced and just sat down but I was fearful they would make them sing. It's kinda nice to see them, but we're going to see these 10 people several times again so it didn't seem necessary.

Then Neil Patrick Harris came out and did a musical number that introduced the hosts. It was an odd reminder that he wasn't hosting which lots of people had hoped for. But oddly, I didn't find the musical number to be memorable at all ("So go go Martin and Baldwin, the biggest pair since Dolly Parton"), it's probably the worst thing I've seen him do. And through it, they cut to audience members they didn't light them, so it was, hey look at this star in the dark. Some friends really enjoyed all the flubs of the broadcast.

Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin hosted. I thought Martin had some very funny lines and Baldwin looked a bit stiff and his timing was off. It wasn't that he was just being a straight man. It would have been better if Martin hosted alone. And if you're going to have hosts, why have most presenters introduced by the announcer instead of the host? Their monologue (duologue?) had them make jokes about various nominees and had some good laughs. My favorites:

"Meryl Streep holds the record for most nominations as an actress or as I like to think of it most loses"

"Oh and look, there's that damn Helen Mirren",
"Steve, that's Dame Helen Mirren"

"Anyone who ever works with Meryl Streep always ends up saying the exact same thing: Can that woman act and what's up with all the Hitler memorabilia?"

"You know Gabourey and I have something in common, in our first movies we were both born a poor black child."

Then the rest of the show is awards presentations and other things. For the awards, they did some clever things to make the more minor categories more interesting. Morgan Freeman narrated a film clip explaining the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing (which no one knows). The first is the recording the sound effects and the second is editing (or mixing) them together (the big board with all the knobs and levers). For the screenplay awards they showed clips of the films with the script overlaid on the screen and a presenter narrating the stage directions. I thought this did a good job of showing things that people often don't realize is part of the script. For the three short film categories they started with a short film that interviewed filmmakers who got their start in short films and then went on to features, all saying it was a great learning experience and encouraging aspiring filmmakers to do the same. As in the previous few years there was a cute animated clip with the characters from best animated film.

For the two leading acting awards they brought out a co-worker of each nominee to say a few words about them. It's probably quite meaningful to the nominees to have a peer say something about their craft though it does take a lot of time at the end of the show when people would like it to finish already. Some worked better than others. Tim Robbins just make jokes about Morgan Freeman though it was funny. I thought Oprah did a great job for Gabourey Sidibe, both in making her cry for pointing out that in her first role she's nominated with Meryl Streep and for mentioning that her real personality is so different than the role she played. I was much more impressed with her performance once I saw her interviewed. Never having seen her before, it was just too easy to assume she was like the character, but she seems so completely opposite that.

With 10 best picture nominees they introduced clips for each throughout the night. Each was a little more than a minute so that was 12 minutes of the whole broadcast. It worked pretty well, though the clips did seem a little long (they seemed long in a lot of the categories). They also removed the singing of the nominated songs and I'm fine with that. They got through all 3 short film awards in just 9 minutes which seems pretty zippy. The best way to make that more interesting would be to get more people see the nominated films in the first place.. I still think they should go back to showing short films before features in the theater. Aren't the theaters looking for ways to lure an audience from their home theaters?

The best presenters by far were Tina Fey and Robert Downey Jr. describing what actors look for in screenplays and what writers look for in actors. It was a very funny caricature of the industry, delivered perfectly. None of the others were particularly memorable except for Ben Stiller. I found his dialog pretty lame but he was blue (dressed in Na'vi makeup from Avatar) so that stuck out. And they're back to saying "and the winner is..." instead of "the Oscar goes to..."

The heavy favorites won the big six awards, so it was predictable. Both screenwriting awards were a little bit of a surprise. Most winners got just 45 seconds though the leading actors got 3 minutes. The better ones were the acting ones, maybe they should let everyone speak for for a minute or a minute and half. If they had a little more time they could thank people and say something interesting?

Sandra Bullock gave the best speech. It was funny, thankful, touching, and genuine. She was the only one to praise her fellow nominees and did it in a funny way (though everyone seemed to make jokes about Meryl Streep). Jeff Bridges just listed a number of names and rambled through some thank yous and sounded a bit too much like The Dude to me. Christoph Waltz and Mo'Nique both gave good speeches.

Geoffrey Fletcher won for Precious' screenplay and seemed a bit lost for words but quietly thanked his family and others in a very heart felt way. Steve Martin had one of his best ad-libs saying afterwards, "I wrote that speech for him".

I thought the worst speech was Sandy Powell who won for costumes. Oddly, I thought her dress was pretty bad and could hear Michael and Nina saying too costumy. But her speech was worse. She said: "Wow, well, I already have two of these, um, so I'm feeling greedy. I'd like to dedicate this one to the costume designers that don't do movies about dead monarchs or glittery musicals. The designers that do the contemporary films and the low budget ones actually don't get as recognized and they should too and they work as hard. So this is for you...but I'm gonna take it home tonight. Thank you." There are some nice sentiments in there, but they are awkwardly expressed.

The strangest thing was a Kanye West moment when some woman in a purple dress took over a speech by the best documentary short winner. Here's the background story on that.

And then there was the other stuff in the broadcast. The yearly In Memoriam tribute seemed long but it was only 3 minutes. And still they managed to leave out some people like Farrah Fawcett and Bea Arthur, though apparently it was deliberate. They did have time to mention some PR guy.

John Hughes got a tribute all to himself and it was twice as long, though very good. During the (long) clips I was thinking they should have all of these actors come out on stage and then they brought out seven of them. But why only have 4 of the 5 breakfast club? Where was Emilio Estevez?

I could have done without the 5 minute horror film tribute. It just seemed like an excuse to bring some Twilight stars out on stage.

They removed the performances for nominated songs, but somehow felt the need to spend almost 6 minutes on interpretive dance for each of the nominated scores?!?! Robot mime for Up? Breakdancing Na'vi? Is that what you think of when you think of natives? This was the most egregiously bad part of the night. Apparently one of the Oscar producers also produces So You Think You Can Dance and I'm guessing wanted some of his dancers on the show. I would have thought someone would have reminded him of the last time they did something like this, which I think was the debacle of Debbie Allen choreographing interpretive dance for Schindler's List.

If you move the lifetime achievement awards to a different ceremony, why spend 3 minutes to show clips from that night? And then if you have them in the audience and stand up, put them someplace so people giving a standing ovation know where to face. Maybe on stage would work. And if they're there, let them speak.

The sets were really strange. What was with the lamp shades?

At 3 hours and 37 minutes, that makes it just about average over the last 10 years. The three before that were considerably longer. I don't know why they don't just schedule it to be 3.5 instead of 3 hours. And yeah, I did count, there were 38 minutes of commercials. Though they were oddly structured, with 10 minutes in the first hour, just 8.5 in the second and 17 minutes of commercials in the third hour and just 2.5 in the fourth. I suspect they don't want to loose people early on with too many commercials, but having so many in the third hour does make that drag on very long. And there was a break in the first hour that was almost 5 full minutes and a couple in the third hour that were almost 4.

So next year:
Schedule it to be 3.5 hours, it's going to be anyway
Have just one host, someone who can ad-lib
Cut out the interpretive dance
Give the saved time to the speeches and ask them to not be a list of names or to be short
Instead of a tribute to horror films, how about show clips of other movies of the year. There were a lot of good films that I would have like to have seen at least mentioned. Cut out the extra five best pic nominees and do a clip show of lots of films from the year that didn't get nominated.
To cut down walking time, move all the nominees of the current category down to the front row so the winner has a short walk and the losers can still hide in the audience.
Don't leave out famous people from the memorial.

Gays Banned from Donating Blood?

Kevin Winge wrote Bad Policy: Banning Gays from Donating Blood.

"for the past 27 years men who have engaged in sex with men have been banned from donating blood in the United States."

"Last week, 18 U.S. senators called for an end to this discriminatory practice, including Minnesota’s junior senator, Al Franken. The senators cite the support of the American Red Cross, which in 2006 joined other blood banks in calling the policy “medically and scientifically unwarranted.” The nation’s blood supply is safe from HIV, so why don’t more elected officials call for the lifting of this ban? Why doesn’t the Food and Drug Administration end a policy that no longer serves a purpose? Why don’t our leaders use this as an opportunity to educate the public about the realities of HIV/AIDS rather than creating a false impression that the blood supply is somehow safer because gay men can’t give blood?"

Edward Tufte Presidential Appointment

Edward Tufte Presidential Appointment. "I will be serving on the Recovery Independent Advisory Panel. This Panel advises The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, whose job is to track and explain $787 billion in recovery stimulus funds".

At least the reports will have pretty graphs.

Sunday, March 07, 2010


I'm still working on my pics. Most of the big categories seem to have heavy favorites. A few of the smaller ones have some real contests. I'm having a hard time picking in Cinematography, Foreign Language and Documentary Short Subject.

Of the 43 feature length films nominated I saw all but these seven:
The Lovely Bones (Supporting Actor)
The Secret of Kells (Animated)
A Prophet (Foreign)
The Milk of Sorrow (Foreign)
El Secreto de Sus Ojos (Foreign)
Which Way Home (Doc)
Burma VJ (Doc)

To be fair I haven't had a way to see any of these except the A Prophet which opened in a handful of theaters Friday and The Lovely Bones which while it was in wide release in theaters it was showing since it's been nominated. I think Secret of the Kells opens next week, which seems like really bad planning on their part.

Of the shorts I saw all the animated and live action ones but none of the 5 Documentary Shorts.

Friday, March 05, 2010

The Moyers Legacy

The Nation has a good editorial on The Moyers Legacy.

Does The Obama Administration Even Want To Win In November?

Simon Johnson asks Does The Obama Administration Even Want To Win In November? "But ever so quietly, you get the impression the Obama team itself is not so very unhappy – they know the jobs will come back by 2012, they feel that Republican control of the House will just energize the Democratic base, and no one will be able to blame the White House for getting nothing done from 2010 on."

"There’s no story in the culture about what the big banks did and why. There is no attempt from the top to push through the key message for the day – financial reform – and to explain what this can do and how. The adminstration, in effect, is not even trying. The inner team apparently thinks that 2012 will go just fine – as long as unemployment is down around 6 percent. And, they reason, the people who lose their seats this November won’t be around to complain."

Obama Close to Reversing Holder on Civilian Trials

Glenn Greenwald writes Obama close to reversing Holder on civilian trials. "One of the very few commendable steps taken by the Obama administration toward reversing the Bush/Cheney Constitution/Terrorism template was the DOJ's decision to try the five accused 9/11 defendants in a civilian court (just as the rest of the civilized world does with Terrorists).  But ever since that was announced, Obama officials have been clearly signaling that they intend to reverse that decision in response to the GOP's political attacks (while Rahm Emanuel has been busy making clear he disagreed with Holder's choice), and a new story in The Washington Post this morning provides the clearest evidence yet that this will happen.  The article reports that 'President Obama's advisers are nearing a recommendation that Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, be prosecuted in a military tribunal . . . a step that would reverse Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.'s plan to try him in civilian court.'  This reversal will be due to 'demands, mainly from Republicans, that Mohammed and his accused co-conspirators remain under military jurisdiction.'"

Spencer Ackerman has more.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Scientists Come to a Conclusion: Asteroid Killed the Dinosaurs

Universe Today writes Scientists Come to a Conclusion: Asteroid Killed the Dinosaurs "Over the years, scientists have debated the cause of the mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Now, a panel of 41 international experts says it's official: a massive asteroid around 15 kilometers wide slamming into Earth at Chicxulub, Mexico is the culprit. After surveying a wide variety of evidence for the competing theories, the panel said the telling evidence was the structures preserved in the interior of the crater. Computer models predicted how much rock was vaporized or ejected by the impact. 'Our work lets us visualize the astonishing events of the few minutes after impact,' said Dr. Penny Barton, who led the group. 'The front of the asteroid hit the Earth while the far side was still out in the upper atmosphere, punching a hole though the Earth's atmosphere.'"

RNC Document Mocks Donors, Plays on Fear

Politico has an Exclusive: RNC document mocks donors, plays on 'fear' "The Republican National Committee plans to raise money this election cycle through an aggressive campaign capitalizing on ‘fear’ of President Barack Obama and a promise to 'save the country from trending toward socialism.'

The strategy was detailed in a confidential party fundraising presentation, obtained by POLITICO, which also outlines how ‘ego-driven’ wealthy donors can be tapped with offers of access and ‘tchochkes.’"

The 72 page powerpoint presentation is a great example of a crappy powerpoint presentation. But of the course the relevant thing is there's no content there. Page 30 is most telling: What can you sell when do not have the White House, the House or the Senate...? Save the country from trending toward Socialism!" No actual ideas, just fear-mongering.

Page 70 calls out the Citzens United decision and states the "Significant holding: Access and Gratitude ≠ Corruption"

Filibuster Madness

Kevin Drum writes Filibuster Madness.

"Back in 2005 Democrats filibustered ten of George Bush's judicial nominees, ending with the famous 'Gang of 14' compromise. Apparently Republicans have decided to get their revenge by filibustering every Barack Obama nominee, even ones that Republicans themselves unanimously approve of."

"By the way, whether or not the Democratic filibusters were defensible, they had pretty good reason for them. Everybody seems to have forgotten about this history, though, so here's the background."

He points to this article by Steve Benen, Meet Barbara Milano Keenan.

Some Massachusetts lawmakers pay little or no federal income tax

Some Massachusetts lawmakers pay little or no federal income tax.

"Some state lawmakers living more than 50 miles from the State House are using an unusual loophole that allows them to deduct as much as $311 per day from their federal income tax. Federal tax law allows them to legally deduct up to that amount which, for some, could mean deducting their entire state salary, WCVB reports."

"It's fair because it's the law and that is the federal government's way of helping me cover transportation costs,'' said Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, who also takes the deduction.

I disagree. It's the law so it's legal, but that doesn't mean it's fair. More details in the article.

Lawrence Lessig: Systemic Denial

Lawrence Lessig wrote Systemic Denial

"The first is that things are actually much worse than anyone ever talks about. The pivot points of our financial system -- the infrastructure that lets free markets produce real wealth -- have become profoundly corrupted. Balance sheets are 'fictions,' as Professor Frank Partnoy put it. Trillions of dollars in liability hide behind these fictions. And as expert after expert demonstrated, practically every one of the design flaws that led to the collapse of the past few years remains essentially unchanged within our financial system still. That bubble burst, but we can already see the soaring profits of the same firms that sucked billions in taxpayer funds. The cycle has started again.

But the second point was even worse. Expert after expert spoke as if the problems we faced were simple math errors. As if regulators had just miscalculated, like a pilot who accidentally overshoots the run way, or an engineer who mis-estimates the weight of cargo on a plane. And so, because these were mere errors, people spoke as if these errors could be corrected by a bunch of good ideas. The morning was filled with good ideas. An angry earnestness was the tone of the day.

There were exceptions. The increasingly prominent folk-hero for the middle class, Elizabeth Warren, tied the endless list of problems to the endless power of 'the banking lobby.' But that framing was rare. Again and again, we were led back to a frame of bad policies that smart souls could correct. At least if 'the people' could be educated enough to demand that politicians do something sensible.

This is a profound denial. The gambling on Wall Street was not caused by the equivalent of errors in arithmetic. It was caused by a corruption of the system by which we regulate those markets. "

Why Exactly Are Big Banks Bad?

Simon Johnson explains Why Exactly Are Big Banks Bad?

He also has five Questions for Mr. Pandit, Citibanks CEO.

Best "Blue Marble" Images Yet

Universe Today writes Best "Blue Marble" Images Yet "The Goddard Space Flight Center has a Flickr account showcasing a series of images of our own home planet. Called 'Blue Marble,' these spectacular images are the most detailed true-color image of the entire Earth to date."


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Bill Halter for Arkansas Senator

MoveOn is raising money for Bill Halter. "Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln is one of the worst Democrats in Washington. But she's raised enormous sums from corporate interests and has $5 million in the bank—so Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter, who's challenging her in the Democratic primary, needs overwhelming support from grassroots progressives across the country to wage an effective campaign. Our grassroots coalition met our first goal of $500,000 in the first 12 hours—now we're going for $1 million. Can you make a contribution to Bill Halter's campaign for Senate today?"

Bunning Accepts Deal Allowing Benefits Bill to Advance

Bunning Accepts Deal Allowing Benefits Bill to Advance. "Under increasing pressure from Democrats and members of his own party, Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) Tuesday night abandoned his one-man filibuster of a one-month extension to unemployment benefits and other programs.

In the end Bunning agreed to a deal allowing him one vote on an amendment to pay for the bill’s $10 billion cost. That proposal was offered by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last Thursday at the start of his filibuster, but Bunning rejected it because he feared his amendment would not pass.

Reid has also agreed to give Bunning two votes on amendments to a larger, one-year extension bill that is currently under consideration in the Senate."

The New TiVo Premiere (Series 4)

The TiVo announcement happened and based on the TiVo Premiere (Series 4) Impressions: Like IMDB On TV I don't need to go out and upgrade my Series 3. The new UI seems to waste a lot of space on images of suggestions rather than textual details of my selections. Then again, seeing it in person might change my mind if the article is right that the little details make a big difference (which was always the case with TiVo).

Though, I might have to get the optional step-up remote which apparently will work with my Series 3.

What Do Conservatives Want?

John Sides wrote an article in Salon about a poll of what Conservatives want to cut. There were some mistakes in the original article and the correction doesn't seem to help much. Kevin Drum's article on it, What Do Conservatives Want? is clearer (see the second chart not the first).

"The basic point still holds: conservatives aren't in favor of cutting very much. However, foreign aid is still a bogeyman, though it represents only a tiny part of the federal budget, and conservatives are in favor of cutting 'welfare' generally, though not so much in favor of cutting specific welfare programs."


Jonathan Chait writes about Reconciliation: Obsessed Or Ignorant, Pick One. First he explains how reconciliation would be used: "Now their plan is to have the House pass the Senate bill, and then use reconciliation to patch up the bill. That means enacting a handful of relatively modest changes to the Senate bill, changes that would be budget related. This would not be some unprecedented use of reconciliation. As uses of reconciliation go, it would actually be quite minor, applying small changes to a health care bill that’s already been passed."

Then he rips apart a Face the Nation exchange and Politico's reporting of it. "Look, it would be okay for reporters and pundits to be obsessed with what legislative method is employed to pass health care reform if they boned up on the issue. Alternatively, it would be okay for them not to understand it at all if they deemed it an irrelevant issue. (Which, in my opinion, it is.) But obsessed and ignorant makes for a bad combination."

Liz Halloran of NPR interviews Robert Dove, retired Senate Parliamentarian on more details of reconciliation.

More on Bunning

McClatchy wrote Who really gets hurt when GOP's Bunning blocks this bill? and included this graphic:


CNN Fact Check asks: Is Sen. Bunning's stand against unemployment extensions in line with his past votes?. "Senator Bunning has voted for unemployment benefit extensions that did not include budget offsets at least twice in the past. He also voted for President Bush's tax cuts, as Majority Leader Harry Reid pointed out, as well as the Medicare Drug Benefit plan which the Bush administration acknowledged would add to the deficit. Despite his push for budget constraints and against TARP spending, his stand against unemployment benefit extensions without budget offsets isn't in line with past votes."

Kevin Drum writes more on Jim Bunning and the End of Outrage. "The Republican leadership has, by all accounts, done nothing, and the rest of the caucus — or enough of it, anyway — has actually rallied around Bunning. Rallied around him! They know perfectly well he's a crackpot; they know perfectly well this is a bipartisan bill designed to provide working-class relief in the middle of a massive recession. But for guys like Bob Corker and Jeff Sessions and John Kyl it's more important to demonstrate solidarity with a crackpot than it is to help a few people out. "I admire the courage of the junior senator from Kentucky," said John Cornyn, apparently speaking for many."

Ackerman Calls Romney’s Foreign Policy a Fantasy

Spencer Ackerman says Romney’s ‘No Apology’ Outlines Foreign Policy for Fantasy World. "Mitt Romney’s just-published book, ‘No Apology: The Case For American Greatness,’ is a bid to bolster the former Massachusetts governor’s nonexistent national-security and foreign policy portfolio ahead of a possible 2012 presidential run. But a glance through the remarkable conflation of conservative shibboleths, paranoid global fantasies and deterministic myopia in ‘No Apology’ makes it difficult to avoid the conclusion that the perennial GOP candidate might have been better off saying nothing at all."

New Palin Poll Numbers in Alaska

The Mudflats New Palin Poll Numbers in Alaska "The Alaska GOP’s favorite pollster Dave Dittman has come out with some new numbers about our ex-almost-one-term governor. How many of them would like to see her run for President of the United States? What percentage of Alaskans think that the woman who couldn’t even survive one term as the governor of half a million people should run the country?

It would appear that it’s 17%. That would leave 83% of Alaskans who think that’s a bad bad idea. BUT, I would submit to you that I know many progressive Alaskans who would love Palin to run for president.  Their little eyes get all twinkly, and they look like someone has just asked them if they want a piece of cake.  A Palin candidacy, they tell me,  assures another four years of a Democratic White House."

And to those of you scared to death she'll run in 2012, "She does seem to bring in a lot of money for the candidates she supports, but she also polarizes the debate so much that she brings in just as much for the opponent. Palin is the Republican party’s gift to Democratic fundraisers across the nation."

A Magnetometer in the Upper Beak of Birds?

A magnetometer in the upper beak of birds?. "Specialized iron compounds in the [beak's] dendrites locally amplify the Earth magnetic field and thus induce a primary receptor potential. Most probably each of these more than 500 dendrites encodes only one direction of the magnetic field. These manifold data are processed to the brain of the bird and here – recomposed – serve as a basis for a magnetic map, which facilitates the spatial orientation. Whether this magnetic map is consulted, strongly depends on the avian species and its current motivation to do so: migratory birds, for example, show magnetic orientation only during their migratory restlessness, as could be shown in multiple behavioural experiments by Prof. Wolfgang Wiltschko, who has discovered magnetic field guided navigation in birds. The cooperation with his research team has suggested that magnetic compass and magnetic map sense are based on different mechanisms and are localized at different sites: The magnetic compass resides in the eye, the magnetometer for the magnetic map lies in the beak."