Thursday, September 30, 2010

World's Scariest Bridges

World's Scariest Bridges "From sky-high suspension bridges to dilapidated rope bridges, these crossings aren’t for the meek."

U.S. Has Now Lost 75 Percent of Guantanamo Habeas Cases

McClatchy reports U.S. has now lost 75 percent of Guantanamo habeas cases "A federal judge has ordered the release of another Yemeni captive at Guantanamo, the 37th time a war on terror captive in southeast Cuba has won his unlawful detention suit against the U.S. government."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Web Snooping Is A Dangerous Move

Bruce Schneier wrote a good article on CNN, Web snooping is a dangerous move.

"On Monday, The New York Times reported that President Obama will seek sweeping laws enabling law enforcement to more easily eavesdrop on the internet. Technologies are changing, the administration argues, and modern digital systems aren't as easy to monitor as traditional telephones.

The government wants to force companies to redesign their communications systems and information networks to facilitate surveillance, and to provide law enforcement with back doors that enable them to bypass any security measures.

The proposal may seem extreme, but -- unfortunately -- it's not unique. Just a few months ago, the governments of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and India threatened to ban BlackBerry devices unless the company made eavesdropping easier. China has already built a massive internet surveillance system to better control its citizens."

Scalia's Inconsistencies

David Gans wrties Justice Scalia's Originalist Sins. "Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is famous for being a stickler about the words of the Constitution, often castigating his colleagues for failing, in his opinion, to honor what the Constitution’s text actually provides. But Justice Scalia tends to apply this approach selectively, or not at all when it comes to the Fourteenth Amendment."

It's a good article. I haven't read the specifics of the case, but from the Scalia decisions I have read, this does seem true to me.

Justice Breyer’s New Book

Balkinization has several posts on Justice Breyer’s New Book "This is an unusual book for a Supreme Court justice. It is not a memoir or a short book based on lectures. I take this to be Breyer's summa in 15 chapters. As you might expect, there are no insider anecdotes concerning life at the Court. But he doesn't hesitate to discuss recent issues the Court has faced, some where Breyer has dissented (such as gun rights) and others where he has voted with the majority (detainee treatment). This is a book such as a former law professor might write. I believe it is always worth bearing in mind a person's formative experiences and Justice Breyer was an academic for many years at Harvard."

Where Breyer Was Right "United States v. Lopez is familiar to everyone who teaches constitutional law. It leads off the section on the commerce clause in many casebooks and serves as a 'master case' in the sense that it discusses and categorizes many other prior cases. Lopez was remarkable when it was decided, for it was the first time in nearly 60 years that the Supreme Court had struck down a congressional statute on the basis that it was beyond Congress's power to regulate interstate commerce. Justice Breyer wrote the principal dissent and he discusses Lopez in his new book, Making Our Democracy Work."

Then there's this humorous post, The Condensed Supreme Court Justice's Guide to the Court.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Wire Creator David Simon Gets a MacArthur Award

Genius Gets Its Own Reward "While most aren't well known outside their fields, this year's crop includes David Simon, the Baltimore author and screenwriter responsible for such popular shows as the Emmy-winning HBO television series 'The Corner,' as well as HBO dramas 'The Wire' and 'Treme.'

The MacArthur foundation said it gave Mr. Simon a grant because of his ability to 'craft richly textured narratives that probe urban America's most complex and poorly understood realities.'

In an interview, Mr. Simon, 50, said that while he was honored to receive the award, he also felt a tinge of guilt. Past winners have been 'people directly engaged in trying to improve the environment or trying to address social injustices,' he said. 'To be blunt, I'm in the entertainment industry…and my contracts are well funded right now.'"

Monday, September 27, 2010

Downhill With the G.O.P.

On Friday Krugman wrote an op-ed Downhill With the G.O.P. about the GOP Pledge to America.

"So how did we get to the point where one of our two major political parties isn’t even trying to make sense? The answer isn’t a secret. The late Irving Kristol, one of the intellectual godfathers of modern conservatism, once wrote frankly about why he threw his support behind tax cuts that would worsen the budget deficit: his task, as he saw it, was to create a Republican majority, ‘so political effectiveness was the priority, not the accounting deficiencies of government.’ In short, say whatever it takes to gain power. That’s a philosophy that now, more than ever, holds sway in the movement Kristol helped shape."

And yesterday he tackled the myth that unemployment is structural and employers are complaining that employees don't have needed skills, in Structure of Excuses. (He has a nice graph here).

And remember, when you see all those ads saying the stimulous 'did not create or save any jobs' that "The truth is that the stimulus increased employment by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million people, compared with what employment would have been otherwise. That’s according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office."

Winner-Take-All Politics

In Here's What's the Matter With Kansas Kevin Jones gushed over the new book Winner-Take-All Politics.

"I'm not doing Pierson and Hacker justice here. In fact, I'm not really even trying to. What I am doing is telling you to buy a copy of their book and read it. Seriously. Just get a copy and read at least Parts I and II. No book is perfect, and I feel a little silly gushing too much, but this is the most complete and sustained explanation I've ever read of why, over the past 30 years, America has gone the direction it has even while most other countries haven't. And although Hacker and Pierson's sympathies are obvious, this isn't a polemic. It's an explanation. For me, it was a 300-page 'Aha!' moment."

Has anyone read it?

Understanding Shakespeare

"Understanding Shakespeare is the B.A. thesis project of Stephan Thiel at the Interfacedesign program of the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam. Its goal is to introduce a new form of reading drama to help understand Shakespeare’s works in new and insightful ways and to address our changed habits of consuming narrative works and knowledge through the capabilities of information visualization.

As a result, and based on data from the WordHoard project of the Northwestern University, an application of computational tools was explored in order to extract and visualize the information found within the text and to reveal its underlying narrative algorithm. The five approaches presented here are the first step towards a dicussion of this potentionally new form of reading in an attempt to regain interest in the literary and cultural heritage of Shakespeare’s works among a general audience."

It wasn't immediately obvious to me if the charts are useful, but Tufte has taught me that's not necessarily a prerequisite. They were interesting.

How to Update Your Insecure Passwords and Make Them Easy to Use

I don't do think quite so extensively but Lifehacker had a good article on How to Update Your Insecure Passwords and Make Them Easy to Use.

Mark Bittman Cooks Solo for a Week

Mark Bittman Cooks Solo for a Week in two parts, Saturday, Sunday and Monday and Tuesday to Saturday. Pretty interesting to see how he managed the leftovers and mostly stuck to his vegan-before-six philosophy. I liked his ability to keep some of one ingredient around and use it in a different way the next day.

Who Bends the Rules Better?

Kevin Drum asks Who Bends the Rules Better?.

He quotes Matt Yglesias, "I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I think this is a really genuinely and non-ironically praiseworthy attribute of the Republican congressional caucus that makes congressional Democrats look really, really bad....Republicans are determined to follow the actual laws and rules. When in the minority, they don’t rebel. They don’t murder their political opponents, they don’t organize coups d’état. What they do is they try to win legislative battles through all the tools at their disposal. And when in the majority they . . . do the same thing. They believe, strongly, that letting wealthy businessmen get what they want is good for America, and they go about doing that with seriousness of purpose. Many Democrats, by contrast, seem to believe that their highest responsibility is to make themselves look good, to preen for the cameras, or to maximize their own personal authority."

Drum then comments, "OK, but look: Democrats did use all the tools at their disposal to pass healthcare reform. They hauled out reconciliation and used it in a very unusual way to overcome Senate rules and pass the final bill. And there's more. Obama has made increasing numbers of recess appointments. He used TARP to rescue GM and Chrysler even though that was pretty plainly not what TARP was intended for. Dems passed PAYGO rules and then declared anything that violated it 'emergency spending.' Likewise, they denounced closed rules when they were out of power but used them routinely when they took over the House. Just last week Obama appointed Elizabeth Warren as a White House special advisor to run the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as a way of evading the normal rules for Senate confirmation."

On a related note, Ezra Klein notes How Newt Gingrich remade the Senate based on a recent paper. "The House, as we know, is a more polarized place. That's been especially true since 1978, when Newt Gingrich was elected and began ratcheting up the GOP's partisanship in order to create a clearer contrast with the majority Democrats. Gingrich's strategy worked -- and not just in the House. Some congressmen, after all, go on to become senators. And it turns out that the behavior of those congressmen-cum-senators can single-handedly account for the rise of polarization in the Senate."

Kevin Drum also wrote about it and concludes "Take from this what you will. But there's not much question that the radicalization of House Republicans during the 80s and after was largely a Newt Gingrich phenomenon, and Theriault and Rohde demonstrate pretty convincingly that he was eventually responsible for the radicalization of the Senate too. Nice work, Newt."

GOP plan doesn't 'make sense'

Ezra Klein interviewed Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House's Office of Health Policy, on the GOP's new healthcare plan. DeParle: GOP plan doesn't 'make sense'.

"[Q] And what about the plan that Republicans put out today? They said they'd repeal the bill but keep some of its more popular provisions, like the ban on preexisting conditions.

[A] I think they would’ve done better to just say repeal rather than say they’ll replace it with these things that don’t make sense. We’re trying to figure out what they mean when they say they’ll continue to ban preexisting coverage exclusions. Their language there says that insurers can't discriminate against people who had 'prior coverage.' That's the existing law in COBRA. If it’s that, then it does nothing. But if they mean they’ll ban preexisting conditions without asking everyone to get covered, CBO says that’ll raise costs by 20 percent."

U.S. Tries to Make It Easier to Wiretap the Internet

The New York Times reports U.S. Tries to Make It Easier to Wiretap the Internet. "Essentially, officials want Congress to require all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct ‘peer to peer’ messaging like Skype — to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order. The mandate would include being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages."

In another article, they report that such a proposal is further along in India, Critics Say India’s Spy Plan Deters Businesses.

The ACLU is already on it, Executive Branch Spying Powers Already Too Broad, Says ACLU.

Glenn Greenwald, as always, goes into great depth on the topic, The Obama administration's war on privacy.

And it seems related that Emptywheel writes Obama Doesn’t Know Why the Fuck He’s Entitled to Kill Al-Awlaki, He Just Is, Damnit. "The most striking aspect of the government’s motion to dismiss the ACLU/CCR lawsuit challenging the use of targeted killing is that the government does not commit to the basis for its authority to kill an American citizen like Anwar al-Awlaki with no review."

The Whining of the Rich

A week ago a topic of conversation was the rich, whining about letting their tax cuts expire. There seemed to be two big threads.

First Ben Stein wrote Raising My Taxes Is a Punishment. "But what I don't get is this: There is no known economic theory under which raising my taxes in the midst of a severe recession will help the economy recover. It isn't part of any well known monetarist or Keynesian theory. So if it does no good to raise our taxes, I assume we are being punished."

digby really doesn't like Ben Stein and here's why, There's No Crying In Nieman Marcus. I'm not a big fan either, most recently because of this, The End of Wishful Thinking. "The people who have been laid off and cannot find work are generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities."

But on a more factual rebuttal there's this other thread that started with this post by Todd Henderson, We are the Super Rich. "The rhetoric in Washington about taxes is about millionaires and the super rich, but the relevant dividing line between millionaires and the middle class is pegged at family income of $250,000. (I’m not a math professor, but last time I checked $250,000 is less than $1 million.) That makes me super rich and subject to a big tax hike if the president has his way." He's a law professor at the University of Chicago and his wife is a doctor and they're having problems making ends meet.

Michael O'Hare then tried to fill in some of the math that Henderson left out, The whining of the rich. "So how does our third-of-a-million-a-year law prof/doctor couple and their three kids, barely scraping by already and falling before our eyes to the very bottom of the top 1% of US families by income, make out under Obama’s rapacious soak-the-rich commie attack on all that is holy and American and fine? Wait for it; take a guess before the jump: His taxes will go down $3700; he can buy one of those ties every two weeks! And this guy is threatening to fire the gardener and the house cleaner, take the kid out of art class, turn off his cell phones, and try to raise competent adults with only basic cable. Prof. Henderson, I’m ashamed to share my profession with you."

Brad DeLong posted a fair amount of this and Henderson commented and DeLong really went into it In Which Mr. Deling Responds to Someone Who Might Be Professor Xxxx Xxxxxxxxx. "Now it is time for a reality check on this "most working Americans." The median household income in the United States today is $50,000. Half of all households make more than this. Half of all households make less. The big expenses in the Xxxxxxxxx family budget--their $60,000 a year in contributions to tax-favored retirement savings vehicles, their $25,000 a year savings building home equity, their $55,000 for housing, their $60,000 in private school costs, even their $10,000 a year for new cars--are simply out of reach for the overwhelming majority of Americans. Half of all households make less than $50,000 a year--the Xxxxxxxxxs make nine times that. 90% of households make less than $100,000 a year--the Xxxxxxxxx's make 4.5 times that. The Xxxxxxxxx's are solidly in the top 1% of American households, in the select 1% group that receives more than $350,000 a year."

"Professor Xxxx Xxxxxxxxx's problem is that he thinks that he ought to be able to pay off student loans, contribute to retirement savings vehicles, build equity, drive new cars, live in a big expensive house, send his children to private school, and still have plenty of cash at the end of the month for the $200 restaurant meals, the $1000 a night resort hotel rooms, and the $75,000 automobiles. And even half a million dollars a year cannot be you all of that.

But if he values the high-end consumption so much, why doesn't he rearrange his budget? Why not stop the retirement savings contributions, why not rent rather than buy, why not send the kids to public school? Then the disposable cash at the end of the month would flow like water. His problem is that some of these decisions would strike him as imprudent. And all of them would strike him as degradations--doctor-law professor couples ought to send their kids to private schools, and live in big houses, and contribute to their 401(k)s, and also still have lots of cash for splurges. That is the way things should be."

DeLong then does a really good job explaining why he things Prof Henderson thinks the way he does. How incomes above and below his have changed in the last 30 years and how that affects how people perceive their standing in society. It's really worth a read.

Ezra Klein expands on the explanation for Henderson's feeling not super-rich. The rich are not bad. Just rich.. "Which is all to say that this debate has gotten a bit confused. The argument for taxing people who make more than $250,000 isn't that they're bad people, and it isn't that they won't notice the tax increase. It's that we've got a very large budget imbalance, and we're going to need to do a lot of things to correct it. Taxes on the rich have dropped even as the incomes of the rich have skyrocketed. So one of the obvious things to do is update the tax code to correct for that drift. But eventually, we'll need to do much more than just increases taxes on the rich, and though politicians have tried to sell this one as a change that most Americans won't notice and needn't worry about, eventually, they're going to have to start talking about changes that people will notice, and should worry about."

Venture Capitalist Garrett Gruener wrote about The Bush tax cuts [from] an entrepreneur's perspective "No one particularly enjoys paying taxes, but one lesson we should have learned by now is that for the good of the country, we need to tax people like me more. At a minimum, we need to return to the tax rates of the Clinton era, when the economy performed far better. Simply taxing the wealthiest 2% of Americans at the same rates they were taxed before the Bush tax cuts could reduce the national deficit by $700 billion over the next 10 years. Remember, paying slightly more in personal income taxes won't change my investment choices at all, and I don't think a higher tax rate will change the investment decisions of most other high earners. What will change my investment decisions is if I see an economy doing better, one in which there is demand for the goods and services my investments produce. I am far more likely to invest if I see a country laying the foundation for future growth"

Kevin Drum summed that up nicely as "Fine. Gruener is a lefty. But this is the simple truth: changing the top marginal rate from 35% to 39.6% will have no measurable impact at all on work or investment decisions. From a macroeconomic perspective, it will reduce the future deficit and nothing more. It's a pure win for everyone, even the rich."

Unexpecting Things About Planets

An Alien’s View of Our Solar System points out that from another solar system, it's probably Neptune that will be most visible because of it's gravitational effect on the Kuiper Belt.

STEREO Catches Mercury Acting Like a Comet "The STEREO mission to study the Sun also has observed some unusual comet-like features exhibited by the planet Mercury, with a coma of tenuous gas surrounding the planet and a very long tail extending away from the sun."

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Bechdel Test

I'm surprised it took me this long to hear about The Bechdel Test to measure if a movie is worth seeing. It's a three part test:

1. It has to have at least two women in it,
2. Who talk to each other,
3. About something besides a man

It came from this 1985 comic strip, The Rule written by Alison Bechdel. I saw it first in an Entertainment Weekly article written about here. And the Bechdel Test Movie List is a site where people rate if movies pass the test.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

FactChecking ‘The Pledge’

FactCheck.org wrote FactChecking ‘The Pledge’.

"Summary
The Republican ‘Pledge to America,’ released Sept. 23, contains some dubious factual claims:
* It declares that ‘the only parts of the economy expanding are government and our national debt.’ Not true. So far this year government employment has declined slightly, while private sector employment has increased by 763,000 jobs.
* It says that ‘jobless claims continue to soar,’ when in fact they are down eight percent from their worst levels.
* It repeats a bogus assertion that the Internal Revenue Service may need to expand by 16,500 positions, an inflated estimate based on false assumptions and guesswork.
* It claims the stimulus bill is costing $1 trillion, considerably more than the $814 billion, 10-year price tag currently estimated by nonpartisan congressional budget experts.
* It says Obama’s tax proposals would raise taxes on ‘roughly half the small business income in America,’ an exaggeration. Much of the income the GOP is counting actually comes from big businesses making over $50 million a year.

For details on these and other examples please read on to the Analysis section."

How to balance the budget through spending cuts

How to balance the budget through spending cuts

"Ezra Klein: Your paper, as I read it, tries to take the vague talk of spending cuts and show what it looks like when translated into real reductions in the funding of real programs. So what’d you learn from the exercise?

Michael Ettlinger: Well, when you talk about cutting spending, you’re talking about cutting things that serve a useful purpose and for the most part are popular. You dig into it, and there’s not a line in the budget that says waste, fraud and abuse. Every line has a rationale behind it.

EK: So then why do people believe that there’s so much waste and fraud in the government? If these programs serve purposes and are basically popular, and they’re where the money goes, why does the government’s spending have such a bad reputation?

ME: To make up some numbers, 60 or 80 percent of the public supports any given line in the budget, but the remainder don’t support that given line. So all of us have 10, 20, 30 percent pf the budget we think could be cut. So as long as that’s in the budget, all of us individually think there are budget cuts that should happen before I pay higher taxes."

A Digital Media Primer for Geeks

"Xiph.Org has undertaken a series of self-produced videos to spread techie-level knowledge about digital media as well as our own work involving new media research."

"This first video from Xiph.Org presents the technical foundations of modern digital media via a half-hour firehose of information. One community member called it 'a Uni lecture I never got but really wanted.'"

This is a remarkably good intro. It really is a ton of info and yet, it's quite followable.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Scenes from China

The Big Picture has some amazing photos in Scenes from China. "The past several months in China have brought devastating floods, a mysterious North Korean jet crash, the Mid-Autumn festival, crackdowns on gambling and much more. A country with nearly the same land area as the United States, China is home to over a billion more people than the U.S. (1.3 billion to be more precise), and as it grows economically, it is grappling with environmental, social and political issues that affect people and places around the world. Collected here, from the past several months, are photographs from around China, the land and the people - their daily lives, challenges, work and play"

Creating Shazam in Java

This post from June, Creating Shazam in Java seems like a pretty interesting exercise.

What Would Happen if You Stuck Your Hand in the Large Hadron Collider?

This is fun. Experts try to answer a question they're not sure about. What Would Happen if You Stuck Your Hand in the Large Hadron Collider? About 5 mins in they start answering other questions.


Jon Stewart on The Pledge to America

Last night Jon Stewart does what he does so well in covering the Pledge to America. "Republicans do some soul-searching and come back with fresh new ideas that sound exactly like their old ones."

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Postcards From the Pledge
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party


Just why is it the Democrat National Committee can't do this? Why can't they refer to it after Jon Stewart does it?

You Think Your Commute Sucks?

Presidential Job Approval Center

Gallup has a nice infographic at their Presidential Job Approval Center.

Democrats Snared By Republican Tax Trap

NPR writes Democrats Snared By Republican Tax Trap. "In the run-up to the mid-term election, on Thursday, Democrats decided to put off a vote on extending the tax cuts until after the election. Democratic lawmakers in close races worried that a vote to extend the cuts only for households with incomes below the $250,000 threshold, the preferred approach of President Obama and congressional leaders, would expose them to the toxic charge of voting for higher taxes."

It walks through the various possibilities of how the election comes out and what that means for the vote. It all seems pretty dumb.

In a two year voting cycle and a 24 news cycle and with an internet that never forgets, it doesn't matter when votes happen. As long as the Democrats continue to allow the Republicans to frame the conversation, they're going to lose. In this case it's "vote to raise taxes". How different would be it be if it was "vote to lower deficit"?

Vast Majority Of Software Patents In Lawsuits Lose

Vast Majority Of Software Patents In Lawsuits Lose.

"Digging deeper into the report, it looks at and tests a variety of different concepts around patents and litigation. In theory, if a patent is used in multiple patent cases, you tend to think that it must be a pretty solid patent, and one that has been vetted plenty of times. And yet, when the researchers looked at the 106 patents that have been involved in eight or more lawsuits since 2000, they found that the patent holder wins such cases only 10.7% of the time. For patents that have only been brought to litigation once, the patent holder wins 47.3% of the time -- an astounding difference. "

There's a lot more in the study and the article.

Outed! Senate staffers, anti-gay slurs, and IP addresses

Outed! Senate staffers, anti-gay slurs, and IP addresses "Will they never learn? It has been more than four years—a geologic era in Internet time—since Wikipedia investigated Congressional staffers for mucking about with politicians' entries on the site."

"But someone in Sen. Saxby Chambliss' (R-GA) office didn't get the memo. In the aftermath of this week's failed vote on the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, someone named "Jimmy" registered an account at the gay news blog Joe.My.God. just to say, "All Faggots must die." Your standard Internet troll? Not exactly, since in this case the site's operator, Joe, posted Jimmy's IP address, and it wasn't long before it was resolved back to Chambliss' office (and it appears to be a district office back home in Georgia). At that point, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution swung into action, snagging the confirmation from Chambliss' office that "it was indeed the source of a highly publicized homosexual-bashing slur on an Internet site" and that "it has not discovered exactly who was behind the slur, and has turned the matter over to the Senate Sergeant At Arms.""

Idiots. On so many levels.

The Stuxnet Worm

Ars reported Stuxnet worm attacks industrial targets, could be aimed at Iran "Security researchers have uncovered some unexpected behaviors in a piece of malware called Stuxnet. The worm exploits a number of zero-day vulnerabilities in order to propagate itself over Windows networks, but it also targets embedded software developed by Siemens that runs in industrial equipment. The worm could be used to disrupt factories and other industrial environments. Researchers have found that the highest concentration of Stuxnet infections is located in Iran. That discovery, coupled with the very high level of sophistication exhibited by the malware, has led some researchers to speculate that it was crafted by a major government body with the aim of disabling Iran's nuclear power plant."

Here's Schneier on The Stuxnet Worm.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

13 Bizarre Lakes

The Mother Nature Network lists 13 Bizarre Lakes "Because lakes are landlocked bodies of water, they are our planet's experimental mixing pots. They can stew strange chemistry and give rise to anomalous creatures found nowhere else on Earth. Some lakes are the site of catastrophic historical events like meteor strikes or volcanic eruptions, while others harbor ancient secrets or unique geology."

No Reason to Change the Oil Every 3,000 Miles

No Reason to Change the Oil Every 3,000 Miles.

"‘There was a time when the 3,000 miles was a good guideline,’ said Philip Reed, senior consumer advice editor for the car site Edmunds.com. ‘But it’s no longer true for any car bought in the last seven or eight years.’

Oil chemistry and engine technology have improved to the point that most cars can go several thousand more miles before changing the oil, Mr. Reed said. A better average, he said, would be 7,500 between oil changes, and sometimes up to 10,000 miles or more."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Jon Stewart on Oprah Tuesday



And I found this Oprah Interviews Jon Stewart from 2005.

The Best Foreign Language Science Fiction Movies

The best foreign language science fiction movies "It's not difficult to dig up a list of the 'best science fiction movies' on the internet - but for those of us in the States they're always very English language-centric. Sure, you'll usually get Metropolis on the list and maybe Akira, but for the most part foreign sci-fi films are rarely as appreciated as their big-budget Hollywood equivalents. There's no logic in this - it's not like there aren't any foreign language science fiction movies. Due to the technical limitations and astounding budgets, there are certainly less, but the ones we do get over here can still be fantastic films. Since they don't usually have the money behind them, they can't just rely on special effects like US films tend to, they actually need to tell a convincing story. This list leaves out the above-mentioned films, which have already received more than enough credit."

i've seen:

8. The Host (South Korea) - okay, some great scenes
6. La Jetée (France) - interesting for an experimental short
5. Alphaville (France) - didn't care for it
3. Timecrimes (Spain) - loved it

A friend recently recommended:

2. Fantastic Planet (France)

Anyone seen any of the others?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Chuck Jones: That's not all, folks!

Roger Ebert wrote Chuck Jones: That's not all, folks! "Chuck Jones (September 21, 1912 - February 22, 2002) was one of the great figures of Hollywood's Golden Age, creating perfect films, all about six minutes long. They were called Looney Tones, or Merrie Melodies, or cartoons, but when the three on this page were placed in the National Movie Registry, they were also called masterpieces."

It's Official: Larry Summers Is Out

White House Makes It Official: Larry Summers Is Out. "The White House this afternoon announced that Larry Summers will retire at the end of the year and return to Harvard, with the director of the National Economic Council becoming the third high-profile member of President Obama's economic team to depart in recent weeks."

The crisis of middle-class America

A couple of months ago, the FInancial Times had a good article on The crisis of middle-class America. The most surprising fact in it to me was this...

"Alexis de Tocqueville, the great French chronicler of early America, was once misquoted as having said: ‘America is the best country in the world to be poor.’ That is no longer the case. Nowadays in America, you have a smaller chance of swapping your lower income bracket for a higher one than in almost any other developed economy – even Britain on some measures. To invert the classic Horatio Alger stories, in today’s America if you are born in rags, you are likelier to stay in rags than in almost any corner of old Europe."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Primary Voter Turnout Stays Low, but More So for Democrats

FiveThirtyEight reports Primary Voter Turnout Stays Low, but More So for Democrats "For the first time since the 1930s, participation in Republican primaries exceeds participation in Democratic primaries, according to a report by the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University. The study, which looked at elections held through Sept. 1 of this year, found that more than four million more voters cast ballots in Republican primaries than in Democratic primaries."

"Why is participation in partisan primaries on the decline? Are voters increasingly apathetic, or channeling their anger elsewhere? The most likely answer seems to be that fewer voters are eligible to participate in primary elections. Evidence on changing partisan identification, coupled with state-by-state eligibility requirements for participation in primary elections, suggests that declining turnout in partisan primaries reflects voters’ retreat from partisan identifications."

chart3.1 1.png

Politics and the Tea Party

Other than pointing to articles, I haven't written too much about politics lately. Some of it was it was August and not much that was interesting was happening. It's the time of all stupid side stories and I was happy to ignore all that. But after the primaries and with all the tea party talk, I'm just kinda bewildered.

I'm sure this is wrong, but I basically equated the tea partiers to the birthers and the polls kept telling me the birthers are about 20% of the population (30% of Republicans). So I didn't see the tea partiers winning. That was wrong with Scott Brown (kinda, it wasn't all tea partiers) and it made for some strange upsets this week. Now I see the TV anchors ask the various DC pundits about the the tea party platform other than the anger at the DC insiders. Not surprisingly, the pundits are a bit defensive and angry at the tea party.

Glenn Greenwald wrote about his opinion of The misguided reaction to Tea Party candidates "All that said, there are some reactions to the Tea Party movement coming from many different directions -- illustrated by the patronizing mockery of Christine O'Donnell -- which I find quite misguided, revealingly condescending, and somewhat obnoxious. "

"Most people are not like Rove's political patron, George W. Bush, who was born into extreme family wealth. O'Donnell's financial difficulties, which Rove is describing, and implicitly condemning, are far from unusual for ordinary Americans."

He makes the case, that the tea party candidates are no crazier than the previous GOP insiders who did radical things like nominating Robert Bork, courting Falwell's moral majority, warning President Clinton not to go onto US military bases, torturing, and of course impeaching Clinton. The big difference is that they aren't millionaires and they've made that a way to related to average (outraged) voters. And, "As Atrios also suggested, these Tea Party candidates differ not in their views but in their untrained, unsophisticated style of expressing those views."

digby points out that Tony Blair's new book gives a few more examples of just how dumb George W. Bush was. It's not clear that Sarah Palin or Christine O'Donnell is any worse.

digby also makes the point this isn't new, Voices of reason notice the right wing is batshit insane "Ben Smith notes that George Packer and Andrew Sullivan are lamenting the irrationality of the right and he posits that liberals are going to be increasingly relying on this argument the more we lose. He might be right about that. But I would love to know where people have been the last decade or so. The right impeached a president over sex, they stole and election, they invaded a country that hadn't attacked us and they created a bizarroworld media which purposefully misinforms its audience. "

Michael Tomasky in The Guardian wrote that they are the current form of the anti-federalists and have been around for 230 years and now The US Republicans have created a Frankenstein monster. He ends with some strategy thoughts for the Democrats.

"Meanwhile the Democrats now have an opportunity, in a year that has largely been bereft of them, to make the Beltway politics chatter focus on the other side's problems, rather than their own. Democrats have a tendency to play by the old rules. One old rule of politics is that when the other side is shooting itself in the foot, do nothing – just stand back and watch. But we are in a new media and political environment. In fact it's not even new any more. It's been around for 15 years, but still Democrats think the old rules apply. One old rule is, don't respond to nutty allegations because you only give them oxygen. Well, Democrats have spent two years not responding as "birthers" spin their conspiracies about Obama, and the result is that between 20% and 25% of American adults doubt that the president is a genuine American. So I propose a new rule: when the other side is shooting itself in the foot, stand close by and keep handing out bullets. Democratic strategists should be thinking of fresh ways to demonstrate to the American people that these Tea Partiers are not the sons and daughters of John Adams but people who stand almost entirely outside the country's best mainstream traditions."

Of course that doesn't seem to be what they are doing. They're just being quite and hoping the GOP crazies will bring out the Democrat voters . Glenn Greenwald doesn't agree with The Democratic fear-based strategy. In August Rachel Maddow commented that they shouldn't run on fear (like the GOP is) but rather to effectively inspire their base, they should run on accomplishments and a policy of doing what's right. Greenwald says, "One can reasonably debate the efficacy of this strategy:  I personally find it hard to believe that large numbers of voters will be motivated by a fear-mongering campaign centered around people who do not currently wield power, do not occupy any positions, and are not even running for office.  But the more significant point is what this tactic says about the Democratic Party.  They have controlled both houses of Congress for almost four years and the White House for almost two.  Yet rather than run primarily on affirmative accomplishments (some Democrats are even running against them), they're reduced to this not-very-inspiring or hope-laden message:  at least we're not as bad as Sarah Palin."

He also says, "There's one irony worth noting in all of this as well. It's been extremely common to hear Democratic Party commentators complain that the media pays too much attention to Palin and her various utterances. But the reality, as today's NYT article demonstrates, is that Democratic officials want her front and center, and have done everything they can to keep her in the spotlight, because they desperately need her to distract from their own record. Above all else, they want Palin and those like her to receive as much attention as possible, all in an attempt to try to use fear as a replacement for the hope and inspiration which are largely missing even among their own core supporters."

I've heard many people from Jon Stewart to Rachel Maddow to Sunday talk show people talk about how "it could have been worse" is a bad campaign slogan. I have to agree. The Democrats have a some impressive accomplishments, health care, finance reform, a genuinely improved economy and a draw down in Iraq. All of those could have been better and would have been if it wasn't for the Republicans. They should be shouting this from rooftops. I've heard Robert Reich and DNC chair Tim Kaine phrase it as at least we're moving in the right direction now, lets not go back to digging the hole deeper. What's missing is the rationale for their policies and the explanation for why it's the right direction. It should be easy to make that case and without doing so, the public debate is controlled by the GOP and vapid.

I looked for Christine O'Donnell's positions and her platform on her own website is nothing of greater depth than a soundbite. I'm fearful of new candidates getting in on the basis of fiscal responsibility when they can't do math. I see nothing from the Palin's to the O'Donnells to the Boehners indicating that they can. Ezra Klein has been explaining that Yes, tax cuts increase the deficit when you don't propose spending cuts. He also wrote about Putting the $3.9 trillion extension of the Bush tax cuts in context. The Democrats have consistently failed to point out that the health care bill wasn't just about covering more people (which has been misappropriated as socialism) but as being necessary to cut the deficit.

So far The Tea Party Batting Average is frighteningly high, "They won in 24 out of 51 contests. That's a 47% winning record." Granted that is in primaries and not general elections and I'd expect them to do worse there (well I hope they will). As usual, Nate Silver has all the forecast details, After Delaware, G.O.P. Senate Takeover Appears Much Less Likely.

That doesn't stop others from offering various speculation on election night theories. Digby wonders if "the crazed rightward shift of the GOP might start to suppress enthusiasm among the mainstream Republicans and right leaning Independents. It's hard to know --- they may all come out just for the chance to stick it to the hated Democrats. But I wouldn't be surprised if some unknown number of them forget to vote. It's getting pretty weird. A lot weirder than 82."

I guess all this is to say I have no special insight and am a bit fearful. I suspect many others are in the same boat and after last week a lot of incumbents who weren't worried now are. It will be all too interesting to see how the effects of the Citizen's United decision affect this election.

Poverty During the Bush Years

Ezra Klein on The poverty numbers you should worry about. "Between 2001 and 2007, the poverty rate increased from 11.7 percent to 12.5 percent. But the economy grew in every one of those years. This was the first period since we began keeping records in which the economy expanded but poverty went up -- usually, economic expansions bring the poverty rate down. It's more evidence that the pre-crisis 'normal' was an economy that wasn't working very well for a lot of people, even when it was growing."

Senate Fails Small-Business Owners on 1099 Reform

Much of the news this week was about the election and the tea partiers but Congress is back in session and there are some law making details that are kind of interesting.

Ezra Klein wrote a nice piece Senate fails small-business owners on 1099 reform. He explains the issue as follows:

"The 1099 reporting requirement raises $17 billion in the health-care bill. It says that businesses have to report every purchase from every vendor above $600. Those purchases currently go unreported, and taxes related to them often go unpaid. Tracking them will fix that, and the government will collect some much-needed coin. But getting there will require a lot of paperwork. Enough, actually, that many people on both sides of the aisle are convinced it's simply not worth it. And they're right. Making the lives of small-business owners miserable isn't a good idea."

"The Senate considered two different proposals to reform that law today. One, from Bill Nelson, would've exempted purchases of less than $5,000 (which is 90 percent of them) and paid for the lost revenue by cutting oil and gas subsidies. Another, by Mike Johanns, would've repealed the provision entirely and paid for it by cutting spending on public health and weakening the individual mandate. Both failed."

"Nelson's 56 ayes included zero Republicans. Johanns's 46 ayes included seven Democrats. So though both amendments were designed to do the same thing, there was very little overlap among their supporters. Most Democrats weren't willing to weaken the individual mandate or our public health infrastructure. No Republicans were willing to cut oil and gas subsidies to free small-business owners from a law they describe as ruinous."

Kevin Drum follows up. "So here you've got Democrats agreeing to modify the requirement and offset the cost by cutting oil and gas subsidies. Who could be against that? I mean, who's actually in favor of oil and gas subsidies? Come on down, Rep. Paul Ryan!."

Klein followed up on The difference between the parties. "Democrats came up with another way to do it, this time by closing a tax loophole that allows hedge-fund managers to be taxed at a much lower rate than people in other professions. Republicans don't like this, either." So there you go, the GOP likes hedge fund managers and their clearly out of line tax break, more than they do small business owners. If only Democrats would say this out loud on TV or some thing.

Don't Kill Growth and Jobs in the Name of Deficit Reduction

The Institute For America's Future set up a new website, Don't Kill Growth and Jobs in the Name of Deficit Reduction. "The statement on this page, signed by more than 300 economists and major civic leaders, reflects a grave concern that the ‘austerity economics’ being advocated by many politicians in Washington will derail our already weak economic recovery."

Even though digby describes it as "in language even Sarah Palin should be able to understand" I doubt it will do much. You'd think it would be obvious to not repeat the mistakes of the depression, but it's not.

More GOP Craziness

So two term governor and nine term representative Mike Castle famously lost a Delaware primary this week to Christine O'Donnell for Joe Biden's Senate seat. O'Donnell has been widely ridiculed for some crazy things she'd said. It turns out she's not the only crazy DE republican who won a primary related to Castle this week. In running for the Senate he gave up his House seat. The GOP primary winner for that race was Glen Urquhart. Here's a clip of him



He's of course completely wrong. I'll quote a US Supreme Court decision that quotes Jefferson's letter. "In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation between Church and State.'"

TV Premieres

Remember how a few years ago the new TV season was so spread out that shows were starting every week and some as far out as November. It seems Hollywood learned and that just about everything is starting up this week. It also seems to be a year of cop shows with a couple of legal ones and no doctor shows. Thankfully there don't seem to be too many new reality shows either. Anything you're looking forward too?

I'm most looking forward to the return of Dexter and of course The Big Bang Theory. Boardwalk Empire on HBO is getting a lot of buzz. I'm not sure about it but will give it a try. Same with The Event, Hawaii Five-O, $#! My Dad Says, and Undercovers. The first ep of Outlaw was pretty weak, but I'll give it another shot.

Interview with Sen. Russ Feingold

Glenn Greenwald conducted an Interview with Sen. Russ Feingold about Obama's civil liberty record. Here's the transcript.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Calif. Whooping Cough Cases Near 55-Year High

NPR reports Calif. Whooping Cough Cases Near 55-Year High. "The state health department now says there have been nine death — all babies.
All the infants were 2 months old or younger when they got sick. Eight were Hispanic."

"Overall, more than 4,000 cases of whooping cough, or pertussis, have been reported this year. That's the most since nearly 5,000 cases were reported in 1955, and the year is far from over. Among the cases that public health authorities know have led to hospitalization, nearly three-quarters involved children less than 6 months old."

"To protect the youngest and most vulnerable children, it's important that relatives and the community at large be vaccinated to prevent spread of the whooping cough. Data just published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that in 2009 about 95 percent of American kids, aged 19-35 months, had three or more doses of the vaccine combination that protects against pertussis. But in California, a measure of the uptake of a series of recommended vaccines found only about 72 percent of the kids that age had the shots they needed."

Fuck you Jenny McCarthy and people like Oprah who helped her spread her message.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Extreme Right Goes Crazy

Last week Dinesh D'Souza wrote How Obama Thinks, an absolutely appalling article in Forbes, in fact the cover story.

Daniel Larison did a nice job in ripping it to shreds in Obama, Anticolonial Hegemonist?.

Newt Gingrich cited D'Souza's story in an interview. David Frum speculates why in Gingrich: Obama Wants Whitey’s Money.

Kevin Drum is where I first heard about all of this. He declared Forbes Jumps the Shark and wonders What Was Forbes Thinking?

Jupiter Makes Close Pass At Earth

Universe Today writes Jupiter Makes Close Pass At Earth "Jupiter is always bright, but if you think it looks a little brighter than usual this month, you’re right,’ says Robert Naeye, editor in chief of Sky & Telescope magazine. ‘Jupiter is making its closest pass by Earth for the year. And this year’s pass is a little closer than any other between 1963 and 2022.’ The giant planet will reach its nearest point to us on the evening of September 20, 2010 – but will remain one of the brightest objects in the night through the end of the month."

Quite the Hurricane Season

The Intersection reports Hurricane Karl Goes Haywire. "There have only been 6 hurricanes so far this year–and 5 of them have been Category 3 or higher. There are also three hurricanes in the Atlantic right now, at this very moment–itself quite a rare occurrence."

In America, $11,000 a Year Is Not Poor

In America, $11,000 a Year Is Not Poor "Besides being generally outraged that our country is failing to provide for so many of our citizens, let's examine the real absurdity: The poverty line is $10,830. A year. For a family of four, the poverty line is $22,050, which is even worse. The idea that, statistically, we are comfortable calling someone making less than $20,000 a year anything other than poor is simply wrong. "

Around the Solar System

The Big Picture has an amazing collection of photos from Around the Solar System. "With dozens of spacecraft currently orbiting, roving or otherwise and traveling through our solar system, I thought it would be interesting to get a general snapshot in time, using images from NASA and ESA spacecraft near Mercury, Earth, the Moon, Mars, Saturn and a few in-transit to further destinations. Collected here are recent images gathered from around our solar system, at scales ranging from mere centimeters to millions of kilometers."

Bill Clinton on the Daily Show

Bill Clinton was on the Daily Show last night.

I really like Jon Stewart's interviews with politicians. His celebrity ones, not so much, but with politicians he mostly asks interesting questions and gives them time to give full answers. The problem is he usually runs out of time on the show, but now he just puts the rest of the interview on the web. I really question the format of a show that starts with a half an interview on air at 11:30 and then points me at their web site for the rest of it, but doesn't put it up til the next morning.

Anyway, he had Clinton on last night and mostly Clinton just talked and Jon nodded his head. Clinton spoke quite well. If he were running I'd vote for him. I know he's not going to convince any crazy right winger, tea partier or not, but this is the kind of stuff that would bring out Democrat voters and should be influencing actual politicians to enact policy and win the public debate to build political capital.

I really want to know why he's the only one speaking like this and why he's doing it on the daily show and not in some bigger forum. Maybe Jon can get him to speak at the Rally to Restore Sanity.

The first two clips are what was aired, the second two are only on the web site and are more interesting regarding politics.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Bill Clinton Pt.1
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Bill Clinton Pt. 2
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - Bill Clinton Extended Interview Pt. 1
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - Bill Clinton Extended Interview Pt. 2
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Thursday, September 16, 2010

High Fructose Corn Syrup Seeks a Makeover

Slashfood reports High Fructose Corn Syrup Seeks a Makeover. "Dogged by a growing image problem that has linked high fructose corn syrup (in the public mind) with everything from obesity to diabetes, the Corn Refiners Association has come up with a smart solution (or sneaky, depending on your point of view): change the name. According to the Associated Press, the association is applying to the federal government to approve 'corn sugar' as an alternative name on food labels."

Ridiculous.

A Transformative Year For Don Draper

This Fresh Air interview with Jon Hamm, A Transformative Year For Don Draper is required listening for Mad Men fans.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

iPads as Wine Lists

The New York Times writes Vintage Bottles via New Technology "At Bone’s, Atlanta’s most venerable steakhouse, a clubby place of oak paneling and white tablecloths, the gold-jacketed waiters now greet diners by handing them an iPad. It is loaded with the restaurant’s extensive wine list, holding detailed descriptions and ratings of 1,350 labels."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The News Media’s Latest Failure

Juan Cole writes The media’s failure to cover “the great Pakistani deluge” is “itself a security threat” to America.

NewImage.jpg

"But even the big new Time magazine cover story for their European, Asian, and South Pacific editions, Through Hell And High Water, doesn’t make the cut for the U.S. edition’s cover (as the screen capture above shows).  In fact, can someone tell me if it made the print edition at all, since I can’t find the story in the table of contents? Equally significant, the Time story itself never mentions the link to climate change or global warming at all, even though it is pretty basic physics"

He goes into it much more. But this isn't the first time the US edition of national news magazine has had a different cover story then the other editions.

Monday, September 13, 2010

TED Talks

Yann Arthus-Bertrand captures fragile Earth in wide-angle includes clips of two films he made, one is interviews with people around the world and the other is about the planet. Both worth seeing and made me want to find the full films.

The child-driven education, Sugata Mitra discusses some amazing teaching experiences he had. He gave young kids (10 years old) in various countries (India, South Africa, Italy) access to the web and asked them to find info, sometimes in languages they didn't speak, and they showed remarkable results. When curious and given access to information, kids can learn on their own; and it seems it works much better when they do so in a group then when on their own.

Films to Skip

I'm very far behind on movie reviews. Here are some quick ones of films to avoid.

Whiteout - I liked the graphic novel of a murder investigation in Antarctica, but as a film this just didn't work. Boring, predictable and not interesting.

The Invention of Lying - Clever idea of a world in which no one lies until Ricky Gervais figures out how useful a skill it can be. It's not just that they don't lie, it's that they are compelled to tell the whole truth. It's interesting at first how different the social decorum is but then you realize it just doesn't work. That people forget things from one moment to the next and their complete honesty mean that their reality is constantly being rewritten by Gervais. I liked the comentary on religion it became but never really liked or cared much about the characters.

Angels & Demons - There are elements of this beyond Tom Hanks' haircut, that are better than The Da Vinci Code but it becomes a wrote exercise working through the setup. Oh there are four symbols so there there will be four setup murders and there's no chance of catching them before the fourth. There are a few more twists but it just become overwrought.

Couples Retreat - This was amazingly bad. It's set up a comedy but it's not funny and then it becomes marriage counseling as each of the four couples has a different problem to work through.

Terminator Salvation - It's fine, but an unnecessary addition to the series. I saw it a while ago and don't remember much about it aside from the fact that it all looked the same.

The Box - Frank Langella shows up with a half a face and gives Cameron Diaz a box but with button. If she pushes it she gets $1 million and someone she doesn't know dies. There were some good ideas here but it got too involved and too ridiculous.

Burglars Said to Have Picked Houses Based on Facebook Updates

I wondered how long until this would happen... Burglars Said to Have Picked Houses Based on Facebook Updates "According to New Hampshire’s WMUR Channel 9 News, three local men, Mario Rojas, Leonardo Barroso and Victor Rodriguez, have burglarized more than 18 homes in the Nashua area of New Hampshire simply by checking status updates on Facebook and then pillaging the houses of victims who announced on the social network that they were not home."

Some Recent Science Articles

String theory and black holes show a possible path to practical superconductors. "They figured out there was another system that shared the same properties as these superconducting strange metals, and best of all this system could be explained using gravitational mechanics and relativity instead of quantum mechanics. That system is a black hole. At low energy levels, the black hole model is a good match for the traits and behaviors that cuprates exhibit. Most importantly, electrical resistance in a black hole is directly proportional to temperature, not the temperature squared, which is the crucial match for superconducting cuprates. None of these revelations would be particularly useful if it wasn't possible to correlate the features of the black hole model with those of the strange metals, and that's a tricky task because black holes are described by relativistic features while the cuprates are governed by quantum mechanics. String theory solves that problem, providing a bridge between quantum and gravitational mechanics called gauge/gravity duality."

Scientists Say They Can Now Test String Theory "Duff and his colleagues realized that the mathematical description of the pattern of entanglement between three qubits resembles the mathematical description, in string theory, of a particular class of black holes. Thus, by combining their knowledge of two of the strangest phenomena in the universe, black holes and quantum entanglement, they realized they could use string theory to produce a prediction that could be tested. Using the string theory mathematics that describes black holes, they predicted the pattern of entanglement that will occur when four qubits are entangled with one another. (The answer to this problem has not been calculated before.) Although it is technically difficult to do, the pattern of entanglement between four entangled qubits could be measured in the laboratory and the accuracy of this prediction tested."

Working Tractor Beam Can Move Objects 5 Feet With Just Light " Using only light, Australian researchers say they are able to move small particles almost five feet through the air. It's more than 100 times the distance achieved by existing optical 'tweezers,' the researchers say. Not quite a simple grabby tractor beam, the new system works by shining a hollow laser beam at an object and taking advantage of air-temperature differences to move it around."

Here's an explanation of how scientists cool off atoms by shooting lasers at them.

On the really more theoretical scale, Physicists investigate fate of five-dimensional black strings, "While black holes in four-dimensional space-time are stable and can persist for a long time, their higher-dimensional analogues are usually unstable. One such theoretical analogue is a five-dimensional black string, which is unstable to perturbations and tends to decay into different forms. But like all unstable "black objects," it's difficult to determine what the end state of the perturbed system might be. Using a new computer code, physicists have been able to simulate the evolution of five-dimensional black strings well beyond earlier studies, leading them to predict that the strings eventually turn into five-dimensional black holes."

The Alcott Analysis: The Dark Knight

Todd Alcott writes The Alcott Analysis: The Dark Knight, by far the best and most in depth and longest review I've seen. Definitely worth a read. I put it in Instapaper and read it over several occasions.

"I’ve worked on a handful of these types of movies as a screenwriter, and let me tell you: they’re hard. They’re really hard. There are so many issues for the writer to address: the protagonist must be active, the villain’s plot must make sense, there must be a romantic interest, there must be due attention paid to the history of the character and the rules of the genre, they must be both fantastic and grounded at the same time. All these balls must be kept in the air and these concerns must mesh in a straightforward, compelling, swift, action-packed cinematic narrative, consistent in tone and true to its source material. I haven’t seen one — not one — that has managed to get everything in and do everything right. None of the Superman movies do it, none of the previous WB Batman movies do it, none of the Spider-Man movies do it, neither of the Fantastic Four movies do it, and, even after 22 tries, none of the Bond movies do it either. (The Iron Man movies come close — really close.) But The Dark Knight not only does a better job than any other movie based on its source material — and by that I mean ‘superhero comics’ — it does it with a radically ambitious screenplay that challenges any number of conventions and brings a new, added weight to its subject."

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Human PAC-MAN

iPhone Field Test Mode

Gizmodo explains how to Check Your iPhone 4's Antenna Reception With Field Test Mode In iOS 4.1. Basically dial *3001#12345#* on your iPhone. I saw between -90 and -118 in and around my house. Pretty crappy.

I'm hoping this come to me:

2010 Top Ten Movies

Meet in the Lobby provides a Box Office Update: 2010 Top Ten Movies.

"The official close to the summer season is an ideal time to check the top films at the 2010 box office. What has the American moviegoer flocked to? And what does it all mean? (Hell if we know, but we can hypothesize. One thing is for sure: We continue to love the familiar.)

Seven films of the current Top Ten were released this summer (as expected). Four on the list are animated (two of those are sequels), two are live action sequels, and three are remakes. That leaves one original, non-animated idea: Inception. Thank goodness for the bold mind of Christopher Nolan."

I've only seen Toy Story 3, Iron Man 2 and Inception and really don't have much interest in seeing any of the others. Should I? (I'll probably at least catch Alice in Wonderland on cable.)

Fireballs Light up Jupiter

NASA writes Caught in the Act - Fireballs Light up Jupiter. "Amateur astronomers working with professional astronomers have spotted two fireballs lighting up Jupiter's atmosphere this summer, marking the first time Earth-based telescopes have captured relatively small objects burning up in the atmosphere of the giant planet. The two fireballs – which produced bright freckles on Jupiter that were visible through backyard telescopes – occurred on June 3, 2010, and August 20, 2010, respectively."

Nice amateur video on the site.

25 things to do this fall under $25

Summer isn't officially over and yet Boston.com lists 25 things to do this fall under $25 - Boston.com. "Crisp air, apple pie, and leaf-peeping are upon us. Get out there and make the most of the fall — without breaking the bank — with our list of 25 things to do under $25 in New England."

Sun Pics

NewImage.jpg Amazing pictures of the Sun from the NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Vacation Daze

GOOD has an infographic, Vacation Daze. "Did you take vacation this summer? If you did, it was because your company generously allowed you a few paid vacation days. Unlike buinesses in these other countires [sic] (all members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), U.S. companies are not required to give employees time off. Despite working some of the longest hours in the world, we take very little vacation. no wonder you're feeling burnt out.

The graphic is done as small multiples with tons of chart junk. Here's my version from iWork Numbers:

Screen shot 2010-09-08 at 9.16.08 PM.png

Clearspending Calls Out USASpending.gov

The Sunlight Foundation's Clearspending.org reports that USASpending.gov sucks.

"In the past three years there has been an increase in the number of programs reporting to USASpending.gov. However, the reported data suffers from an abundance of errors. There are also serious problems with the data’s timeliness and completeness. Of the $1.9 trillion the government spent on grants in 2009, $1.3 trillion – 70% -- was incorrectly accounted for on USASpending.gov."

Details are here.

Clearspending puts it in some context. "But there's also a larger point that I want to make about this analysis: it's not news -- not really. People have known that this data is bad for a very long time. Not in this level of detail, perhaps. But they've known there were problems. Yet instead of fixing those problems, the folks behind USASpending decided to build new websites on top of the same lousy data, collecting superficial plaudits from advocates who were excited about the apparent potential of the site but didn't have sufficiently direct access to the data to see its flaws."

Rome is Burning

Karl Smith writes in Modeled Behavior Rome is Burning. It's a good rant making it all clear...

"We have very low capacity utilization (75%) and very high unemployment (10%).

That is, we have factories sitting idle for lack of workers – low capacity utilization. At the same time we have workers sitting idle for lack of factories – high unemployment.

There are machines waiting to be worked and people waiting to work them but they are not getting together. The labor market is failing to clear.

This is a failure of our basic institutions of production. The job of the market is to bring together willing buyers with willing sellers in order to produce value. This is not happening and as a result literally trillions of dollars in value are not being produced."

Read the rest.