Saturday, July 31, 2010

Terry Gross Interviews Mad Men Creator Matthew Weiner

If you're a fan of Mad Men, then this Fresh Aire interview by Terry Gross, Talking 'Mad Men' With Creator Matthew Weiner is required listening. I learned quite a few things.

As a bonus, listen to this 5 minute review of AMC's new series Rubicon that premieres tomorrow, 'Rubicon': Smart Spies Who Connect The Dots.

Ethics Trial Expected for California Congresswoman

The New York Times reports Ethics Trial Expected for California Congresswoman Maxine Waters. This doesn't sound particularly bad to me (unlike the Rangel charges which are bad).

"Ms. Waters, at the time the investigation by the House ethics panel began last fall, was accused of intervening on behalf of OneUnited, a Boston-based bank. The Times reported last year that Ms. Waters called Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. in 2008, as the economy was in a free fall, to ask him to host a special meeting with executives from black-owned banks.

What Mr. Paulson did not know at the time was that Ms. Waters’s husband, Sidney Williams, owned stock in and had served on the board of OneUnited, whose chief executive turned the Treasury headquarters meeting into a special appeal for bailout assistance. The executive of the institution, one of the nation’s largest black-owned banks, asked for $50 million in federal aid, The Times reported."

Friday, July 30, 2010

IBM's Interactive Dashboard of the World Factbook

information aesthetics wrote about IBM's Rendition of the World Factbook as an Interactive Dashboard and points to a few interesting infographics.

Bonus: Google Public Data Explorer described here.

I Told You So

Paul Krugman'sInflationistas And Deflationistas is a great big "I told you so".

As a bonus Don't Know Much About Economics is about Paul Ryan (R-WI) "the most intellectually ambitious Republican in Congress"

America the Beautiful Quarters Program

I'm still trying to track down a few state quarters minted in Denver and about half of the territories. Today I came across an odd one that said "Hot Springs" and Arkansas on it. Turns out it was this one and there's a new America the Beautiful Quarters Program "Beginning in 2010, the United States Mint will issue 56 quarter-dollar coins featuring designs depicting national parks and other national sites as part of the United States Mint America the Beautiful Quarters Program." I will not be falling for this.

Anthony Weiner Rips Apart Republicans on 9/11Health Bill

This video is making the rounds. Rep Anthony Weiner (D-NY) spent a minute slamming Republicans for defeating the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.

Pretty entertaining stuff. David Kurtz says he's My Kind of Democrat. "What I like about Weiner is that he reacts publicly with the range of emotions that someone truly engaged in politics should react with. Politics can be maddening, stultifying, unjust, absurd, and crazy-making. That's why a lot of people hate politics, even people ostensibly in politics. But if you're going to really do politics, if you're going to engage on the battlefield, you have to grapple with all the maddening things that go along with it in order to get done what you actually want done."

Greg Sargent says Anthony Weiner's rant captures Dem impotence. "To be clear, I'm all for the kind of passion Weiner is showing here, but let's direct it properly. Don't get into a shouting match about procedure. As emotionally satisfying as it may be to watch, raging against the GOP opposition machine's successful efforts to tie Dems in knots just makes Dems look whiny, weak and impotent."

I hadn't heard about this bill and didn't understand the opposition. CNN said: "Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner was raging Thursday night on the House floor after it became clear that Republicans had enough votes to defeat a bill that provided health care to 9/11 first responders. Democratic leaders made a motion to suspend the rules, a maneuver that prevented Republicans from offering amendments to the widely popular James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act."

So it was some kind of procedural thing? The Democrats have a solid majority in the House and there's no filibuster, so what was the problem? The Huffington Post had a little more: "a bill that would have provided up to $7.4 billion in aid to those sickened by toxins resulting from the 9/11 attacks." and "At the heart of the debate was a procedural maneuver made by Democrats to suspend the rules before consideration of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. The move allowed leadership to block potential GOP amendments to the measure (there was worry that Republicans would attach something overtly partisan in hopes that it could pass on the otherwise widely-popular measure). It also meant that the party needed a two-thirds majority vote."

Ok, so to avoid allowing Republican's to propose amendments that Dems might want to vote no on, they tried a procedure that required a 2/3 vote, which would have required some Republicans to vote for it. It's a popular "widely popular" bill so that might work though $7.4 billion does sound like a lot of money. Was this a case where the bill was unfunded like the unemployment benefits? Nope. It turns out FoxNews had a very informative article:

Rep Peter King (R-NY) "said Democrats were "petrified" about casting votes as the November elections near on controversial amendments, possibly including one that could ban the bill from covering illegal immigrants who were sickened by Trade Center dust."

"To pay the bill's estimated $7.4 billion cost over 10 years, the legislation would have prevented foreign multinational corporations incorporated in tax haven countries from avoiding tax on income earned in the U.S. Bill supporters said that would close a tax loophole; Republicans branded it a corporate tax increase." That really seems like something the Democrats could use against the Republicans.

"For weeks now, a judge and teams of lawyers have been urging 10,000 former Ground Zero workers to sign on to a court-supervised settlement that would split $713 million among people who developed respiratory problems and other illnesses after inhaling World Trade Center ash. The court deal shares some similarities with the aid program that the federal legislation would have created, but it involves far less money. Only the most seriously ill of the thousands of police officers, firefighters and construction workers suing New York City over their exposure to the dust would be eligible for a hefty payout."

"Nevertheless, with the House rejecting the bill and no vote scheduled on a similar Senate version, it appears almost guaranteed that there will be no new federal law by Sept. 8, the date by which ground zero workers involved in the lawsuits must decide whether to accept the settlement offer."

"The exact number of ailing rescue workers is unclear. Nearly 15,900 people received treatment last year through medical programs set up to treat Sept. 11-related illnesses, but doctors say many of those people suffered from conditions that are common in the general public."'

The NY Daily News had more. "The bill would spend $3.2 billion on health care over the next 10 years for people sickened from their exposure to the toxic smoke and debris of the shattered World Trade Center. It would spend another $4.2 billion to compensate victims over that span, and make another $4.2 billion in compensation available for the next 11 years. "This legislation as written creates a huge $8.4 billion slush fund paid by taxpayers that is open to abuse, fraud and waste," said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), arguing that it would be raided by undeserving scammers with tenuous links to 9/11."

"Mayor Bloomberg slammed the failure, calling it "outrageous," and blaming both sides. "It was wrong for the overwhelming majority of Republicans to vote against the bill, and it was wrong for Democrats to bring the bill to the floor under rules that made passage so much more difficult," he said."

This doesn't make it sound any better: "Democrats vowed they would try again, after Congress' summer vacation."

This whole thing seems ridiculous to me. Dems should have just brought it up for a majority vote. An amendment that bans payments to illegal immigrants doesn't sound so bad to me. Seriously, if that's the compromise that needs to happen to get something passed, what's wrong with that? Wait a minute, the Dems have a strong majority, they didn't need to pass that amendment, they could have just voted no on it. No compromise needed. So just what exactly were they afraid of? If Weiner is ranting that if you like it vote yes and you don't like it vote no, that applies to the amendment as well. Stop being wimps and avoiding votes and bring things up and govern. If the thinking was that if Republicans didn't vote to pass it with 2/3 they could use that against them, then so be it, do that, but be sure to the pass the bill so that people get the health care they need. I'm still not sure what the issue is, I assume most firefighters and police are covered for this through their existing insurance, though there were lots of other people that helped in the cleanup. Still $8.4 billion or $7.4 billion does sound like a lot of money even for the 9/11 cough which I believe is real.

I assume that after it passes the House it would have to go to the Senate where there's always the threat of filibuster. Kevin Drum wrote today Who's Afraid of the Filibuster?. "As I've mentioned before, there's no serious question that Democrats can get rid of the filibuster if they want to. It's not even complicated. They can't do it right now, because it takes 67 votes to change Senate rules in the middle of a congressional session, but at the beginning of a congressional session they can write all the new rules they want and pass them with a simple majority."

"Five Senate Democrats have said they will not support a lowering of the 60-vote bar necessary to pass legislation. Another four lawmakers say they are wary about such a change and would be hesitant to support it. A 10th Democrat, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), said he would support changing the rule on filibusters of motions to begin debate on legislation, but not necessarily the 60-vote threshold needed to bring up a final vote on bills."

"No matter what anyone says, this has always been the reason the filibuster continues to exist: because both parties want it. ... They're more interested in stopping the other guys when they're in power than they are in getting their own things done when they're in power." He has some more stuff on modest reforms and a followup and a nice graph:


Astronomy and particle physics race to replace Standard Model

Astronomy and particle physics race to replace Standard Model "The Lindau meeting featured an all-star panel that ran through some of the evidence that we could be on the verge of finding something big, in a discussion entitled 'Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the LHC.' Smoot and his co-laureate John Mather, who won for the Cosmic Background Explorer, were joined by physicists David Gross, Carlo Rubbia, Gerard t'Hooft, and Martinus Veltman." What follows is an interesting summary.

Curbing Your Enthusiasm

Krugman wrote another good piece on Obama politics Curbing Your Enthusiasm.

"So why is this issue still up in the air? Yes, Republicans might well try to filibuster a Warren appointment, but that’s a fight the administration should welcome. O.K., I don’t really know what’s going on. But I worry that Mr. Obama is still wrapped up in his dream of transcending partisanship, while his aides dislike the idea of having to deal with strong, independent voices. And the end result of this game-playing is an administration that seems determined to alienate its friends."

Is the ‘Kennedy Court’ Over?

Linda Greenhouse wrote Is the ‘Kennedy Court’ Over?. "That label has been applied to the Supreme Court for the last few years, including by me. It reflected the fact that on a polarized court, with two blocs of four justices reliably taking opposite sides in any case with a hint of ideological content, the majority in important cases turned out to be wherever Justice Kennedy was. In the 2006-2007 term, the first full term after Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s retirement, the court decided 24 cases by votes of 5-to-4, and Justice Kennedy was in the majority in all 24.

But during this past term, Justice Kennedy was in dissent in 5 of the 18 cases decided by five-vote majorities (a figure that amounts to one-quarter of the 73 cases decided with signed opinions, down from 31 percent in the previous term and 40 percent in the term before that.) Three justices to Justice Kennedy’s right, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr., all cast fewer dissenting votes in those close cases (three, three and four, respectively) and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was tied with Justice Kennedy at five."

University Website

Today's xkcd, University Website, applies to so many more sites than just schools...


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Movie Review: Winter's Bone

Winter's Bone is an indie drama that won two awards at Sundance including the Grand Jury Prize and the Special Jury Prize at IFFBoston this year.

This is not a happy film. It was filmed, on location in the Missouri Ozark's and therefore has been typically described as an Ozark noir. Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is an impoverished 17 year-old raising her two young siblings herself. Her mother is described as "sick" but appears to live in the house and not do much or say anything. Her father is a meth cooker and has disappeared yet again. This seems like a good thing, except at the beginning of the film a sheriff tells Ree that his court date is in a few days and he put the house up as part of his bail. If he doesn't show, they'll lose the house. Instant plot.

So Ree has to find her dad. Fortunately she has a bunch of relatives in the area she can ask. Unfortunately she'd rather stay away from all of them. I remember hearing an NPR interview with novelist Daniel Woodrell and the director and co-writter Debra Granik. Woodrell talked about the effect of meth on the area, how it generated a lot of violence and made people very unpredictable. Ree approaches a lot of these people, none of them want her too.

The result is a suspenseful film that's a study of both the main character and the region. With just a $2 million budget, everything in this film is interesting. Lawrence's performance is the best I've seen this year. She plays a young woman with few, well practically no options, a huge heart, and lots of determination and desperation. Her brother and sister are "too young to feed themselves" but she takes care of them and teaches them to make potato soup and shoot a rifle and dress a squirrel. That scene is not for the squeamish but contains one of my favorite lines: "Do we eat these parts?", "Not yet". She teaches them "Never ask for what ought to be offered" and in spite of the burden she says "I'd be lost without the weight of the two of you on my back".


The other actors are all excellent. Most of the men are arbitrarily stubborn and capriciously violent. The women seem to cover all the stages of PTSD. Basically everyone is an asshole and no one knows how to communicate. Two actors stand out. John Hawkes (Lost's Lennon and Deadwood's Saul) plays Ree's uncle Teardrop and Dale Dickey plays Merab the wife of someone important in the meth world. Both are short tempered and violent people. Both also have the opportunity to show some depth. Teardrop shouting at his wife, "I already told you once with my mouth" is actually an act of kindness. Merab nails the equality of this society by asking Ree, "Ain't you got no men to do this?"

The characters are interesting and well acted and the story is compelling. Winter's Bone goes further than most films in describing a place in a particular time that's unfamiliar and unsettling (and apparently accurate). This town wouldn't be welcoming to strangers, it's not even welcoming to family, so exploring it is interesting. The plaid flannel and winter coats and hats and gloves and broken cars in the yards all set one stage. The high school however was in surprising great shape and offered practical extra curricular activities in parenting and ROTC drills. As Ree looked through the windows at these she was looking into her possible futures.

This is currently my second favorite film of the year (next to Inception). It's not happy but it's very well made. I think it's closest to Frozen River though I've seen a lot of comparisons to Brick which I don't really see. I've also seen comparisons to Deliverance and even The Wizard of Oz but those seem more superficial. I hope it's remembered come Oscar time, particularly Jennifer Lawrence, so far this year I don't think anyone else comes close to her performance.

Movie Review: Salt

I was expecting Salt to be a fun dumb action flick. It turns out, two out of three in this case isn't so good. Angelina Jolie is a CIA agent on the run, there's all the description you need. Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor, both of who I like a lot, are chasing her. Andre Braugher has what I think might be his smallest role ever.

The action scenes were ok, you could follow what was going on and it was somewhat interesting and while clearly beyond the bounds of reality, not too far beyond the bounds of movie fights and stunts. It was also quite dumb. I mean really dumb. My favorite example is from late in the film and isn't too much of a spoiler. She was trying to get into a fortified bunker with thick concrete walls. She couldn't get through the door or bulletproof glass windows (yes, windows on a bunker), so she decided to go through the concrete wall to get at the door control on the inside. So she knocked on the concrete wall as if looking for a stud to hang a picture on.

I can see the creators thinking this film was clever with a few twists and stuff, but they really don't work. It came off like a bad season of 24 where the plots by the bad guys were just ridiculous. Actually they weren't really plots, they were just missions given literally at the last minute and completely improvised. Which is exactly what you'd do with sleeper agents put in place for decades.


Productivity & Office Software for Mac

Mac.AppStore has The Ultimate Collection of Productivity & Office Software for Mac a long list of apps in the categories To Do, Information Collection, Notes, Time Tracking (and billing), All In One, Outlining, Misc, Office Suites, Word Processors, and Spreadsheets.

For the record, I use The Hit List and iWork regularly. I've used On The Job for time tracking and invoicing, and I've just started using Notational Velocity for note taking. In the past I've toyed with Evernote and DevonThink and have always wished I had a use for Curio.

Not included in their list but mentioned in the comments, I'd use Scrivener for creative writing. I've also looked at Circus Ponies Notebook but it was never quite right and I didn't have that much of a need. They're working on an iPad version and that could be amazing.

Infographic: Where Did the Money to Rebuild Iraq Go?

Good writes Infographic: Where Did the Money to Rebuild Iraq Go? "The Department of Defense is unable to account for the use of $8.7 billion of the $9.1 billion it spent on reconstruction in Iraq."

post_full_1280267275dod-iraq-2 1.jpg

Elizabeth Warren Blogged

Turns out she was a contributor to Credit Slips. Her last post was Jan 2009.

Extreme Close-Up of the Face on Mars

Universe Today< has an Extreme Close-Up of the Face on Mars. "Here's a picture you probably won't see in the tabloid racks while waiting in line at the grocery store. This is the famous 'Face on Mars,' and is the closest image ever of this landform, taken by the best Mars camera ever, HiRISE on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. And it certainly looks like …. the top of mesa, which is exactly what it is. This feature in the Cydonia region of Mars is most likely a lava dome that has created an isolated mesa or butte-like structure, i.e., a hill. Compare this image to the original image from the Viking orbiter from 1976 image, below, which created such a furor, including a whole new culture of conspiracy theories, books, late-night radio talk show discussion and even a full-length feature film""

face-on-mars-close-up-580x435 1.jpg

Glenn Beck's Gold Scam, Explained

I hadn't heard of this at all but here's Glenn Beck's Gold Scam, Explained. "This infographic by Jess Bachman explains how Glenn Beck and Goldline have collaborated to make money by getting paranoid old people to buy numismatic gold coins of vastly inflated value."


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

You Too Can Blog Like Paul Krugman

Ever wonder where Krugman gets all the graphs he posts from? The answer seems to be St. Louis Fed: FRED Graph where you too can create graphs of tons of economic data.

Update: Krugman lists some more sources: Data Notes

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Afghanistan What's Changed?

From TNR's Afghanistan: What's Next?AfghanistanChart 1.jpg

What's on my iPhone

iTunes says I have a 180 apps, not all are currently on the phone. Here's a list of apps I use most often (not including the built-in ones).

Faces Lite - lets you create up to two pages showing pictures of up to 12 contacts on each. Clicking can start a phone call, text message, email, map of their address, or whatever else you want. Works much faster for me than going to one of the apps (Phone, Mail, Messages) directly. This is the free lite version, the $2 version gives you up to 14 screens though development seems to have stopped.

Echofon - my favorite twitter client. Free with ads, which aren't bad (the ad-free version is $5 which seems high). Does location, pics, completion, lists, searches, etc. I like it better than the official Twitter app (formerly Tweetie) because you can click on links directly in the main list instead of having to first select a specific tweet. Also it syncs with the desktop client which is fantastic.
Facebook - works reasonably well for keeping up with facebook. Wish it supported groups
Instapaper - I use this app to access the web service that saves articles for later viewing. It's a great app for reading, with tilt scrolling and nice formatting.
NetNewsWire - I have this to read my RSS feeds and it integrates with Google Reader so I can sync with the desktop app. But it doesn't keep my folders in the same order and syncing is slow and the formatting is just ok. As a result I don't use it all that much. Would love to find a better RSS reader.

Yelp - Good for getting restaurant and business reviews, phone numbers, locations, etc.
Grocery iQ - Just found this and it's a nice grocery list app, with favorites, stores with custom aisles, and bar code scanning. Was easy to populate with items I buy and sort them store. I used HandyShopper on the Palm and this is the closest I've seen to it. If you give yourself time to populate it all it becomes much easier to use.
Lose It! - Pretty good for keeping track of calories and exercises and is free.
Amazon - I use this all the time when shopping to check prices and reviews of a product before buying it. Great feature is that you can take a picture of the product, upload it and amazon will figure out what product it is and link to the page usually within 30 seconds.. Works best on books but also on other things. Also gives access to wish lists.

WeatherBug - my favorite weather app. There's a free version and I bought the full one (I don't remember the difference and it was cheap). Shows forecasts and animated radar maps.
NPR News - Yes, you can get audio stories but this is also the app I turn to for text news.
NYTimes - I had problems with early versions, but the current one works well.
Sportacular - Gives me enough info about the sports I do follow and let's me know if local teams are playing in town so I can avoid traffic.
Bloomberg - great market info
Flixster - I used to use Now Playing for movie times but it seems to have died (no updated info). This works almost as well showing info by theater or movie and upcoming films. Also gives access to my Netflix queue and integrates (a little too much) with the Facebook app and lets you buy tickets (which I haven't used it for).

Google - I use the voice search all the time and it works great, almost never makes an error.
Wikipanion - great formatting of wikipedia pages and does completion so you don't have to type out the whole search. I use the free version
IMDb - Does well for movie info searches and formats things nicer than just surfing to the web page, but doesn't include all the info (though there is a link to display in Safari)
Wolfram - I don't use it much but lately I've been using it to find when the ISS is visible or when sunset is. The web site works well, but the app does better at knowing where I am which helps in those searches.

AppBox Pro - a collection of little utilities like a flashlight, tip calculater, battery meter. Cheap (there's also a free lite version I think) and replaced a number of apps, but I don't use it that much.
Solve - a cute calculator that lets you draw numbers and operations with your finger. Surprising good for quick calculations
PCalc Lite - a free RPN calculator
Tip Box - a tip calculator that does bill splits, rounding, tips without tax and even separating out drinks from food.
Light - a free flashlight that uses the LED flash on the iPhone 4

Soundhound - Was originally Midomi and my choice for hearing a song playing and telling me what it is
Remote - a free iTunes remote from Apple. Works great when sitting in the living room away from my mac which is streaming to the stereo speakers over the AirPort Express
Pandora - everyone else uses it but I rarely do, I really should use it more

GoodReader - great reader that can handle very large PDFs with tons of well explained options. Also can read many other formats. I have some documents to read and maps to look at in it. I set it up as a file server and copy files over via the Finder, there are other ways too
Dropbox - a great web service for syncing files across various machines. Easy way to put files on your iPhone.
Simplenote - I've just started using this. It's a web service for simple text notes, but there's an open API and several client apps on various platforms. The syncing is fast and this app works well for reading and writing notes on the iPhone. I use Notational Velocity on the Mac.

Starmap - my favorite astronomy app and by far the most expensive app I've bought ($12). I've even bought the iPad version already while it's on sale for $1 for when I do get an iPad at some point in the future. On an iPhone 4 (and 3GS) it's great with the compass, just hold it up and it shows you what's in front of it. I also use the Tonight feature to see what's interesting to look at. Great app.
iCSC - Shows a graphic representation of how good the viewing conditions are at night. Basically you want the squares to be darker and if so it's worth looking at the stars.
NASA - Nice news on various missions and great images of the day.

I don't play a lot of games an tend to play quick puzzle like ones. I'm open to more suggestions.

Gems 3D - This is an iPhone version of my favorite Palm puzzler called No Mess. Great small game that you can pick up and put down and play for any amount of time.
Strategery - a risk-like game. I played the free lite version for a while and finally bought the full game. The epic size is huge. Great way to kill 3-10 minutes
Moonlight lite - My mahjongg puzzle of choice
SmartReversi - the best othello port I've found, I still suck at this game
FourFree - ConnectFour
Archon - this is a faithful port of the game I played on the Atari 800 in high school. It's a chess like game, except when you take a piece, they fight on a field and each piece has a different power.
NetHack - a year and a half ago I got Rogue on the iPhone. Last weekend I got NetHack which seems to have been ported by the same person. Great job, great dungeon adventure game that's been in development for over 20 years.
iQuarters - Just got this and it's surprisingly fun. Lots of richochetts.

So what else is there that should be on my iPhone?

Yeah, That's The Reason...

Lufthansa Searches for Savor in the Sky. "Their aim is to understand the decline in haute cuisine at high altitude. Initial test results: Perceptions of sweetness and saltiness drop by up to 30%. Sour, bitter and spicy flavors are barely affected. Resulting culinary turbulence can spoil the most eye-catching dishes."

Getting Stuck in a TSA Line at the Airport?

There's an app for that. "So to help travelers get the information they might need quickly and easily, we launched the MyTSA mobile web app and iPhone app to put the information you need right at your fingertips."

Monday, July 26, 2010

Our Energy System

Our Energy System "This interactive diagram is based on the energy flow diagram produced by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 2009. The data are from the Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE/EIA-0384(2008), June 2009). Hydro, wind, and solar electricity inputs are expressed using fossil-fuel plants’ heat rate to more easily account for differences between the conversion efficiency of renewables and the fuel utilization for combustion- and nuclear-driven systems."

Picture-13 1.png

The Coming Debate Over the "Bush Tax Cuts"

GOOD writes Charts to Help You Understand the Coming Debate Over the "Bush Tax Cuts":


"The chart above (from The Wall Street Journal) might help you make sense of the debate. It shows what taxes will be like for different earners in 2011 if we renew the Bush tax cuts (that's the red bar) and if we adopt Obama's proposal (that's the blue bar). As you can see, Obama's proposal would actually lower taxes for many less wealthy people."

The article has another interesting chart as well.

Entertaining Legal Opinions

Google Scholar Blog writes about some Entertaining legal opinions "Judicial opinions in common law countries, like the United States, clarify and refine the law of the land. They consider weighty issues, weigh conflicting requirements and carry much weight among all who read them. Here are some opinions for your summer reading." Yes, some of them are entirely in verse.

WikiLeaks Docs

So WikiLeaks leaked 90,000 pages of docs on the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The New York Times reported on it in The War Logs.

Glenn Greenwald writes about how the big story being reported is about the leaking and not about the info in the documents.

Kevin Drums lists some of the info contained. "Both the Guardian and Times reports offer short bullet lists of the most dramatic revelations from the document dump. Although written independently, they're pretty similar."

Firedoglake also discusses some of the details revealed.

Tour de France Photos

The Big Picture in has some great photos of 2010 Tour de France - part IIt01_24374155 1.jpg

Apparenty Megan McArdle is Always Wrong

Thomas Levenson in The Inverse Square Blog explains Why Friends Don’t Let Friends Cite The Atlantic’s “Business and Economics Editor”: Further to the Megan McArdle is Always Wrong chronicles. He shreds her article speaking against Elizabeth Warren to head the Consumer Protection Agency.

The Monumental Hypocrisy of the Republican Party

Mark Thoma cited two articles worth reading on The Monumental Hypocrisy of the Republican Party.

Cornering the Chocolate Market

The New York Times reported In Trader’s Cocoa Binge, Fear for Chocolate Prices

"Mr. Ward, 50, is not some rabid chocoholic, former employees say. He simply has a head for cocoa. And, through his private investment firm, Armajaro, he now controls a cache equal to 7 percent of annual cocoa production worldwide, a big enough chunk to sway prices."

"Now, traders here are buzzing that Mr. Ward has placed an audacious $1 billion bet in the London market for cocoa futures. This month, he bought 241,100 metric tons of beans, they say. His play has some people up in arms. While some see it as a simple bet that cocoa prices will rise on falling supply, others say Mr. Ward has created a shortage of cocoa simply to drive up the price himself."

Who Cooked the Planet?

Paul Krugman answers Who Cooked the Planet? "Alas, Mr. McCain wasn’t alone; and there will be no climate bill. Greed, aided by cowardice, has triumphed. And the whole world will pay the price."

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Vegetative State

In June The Economist wrote Dialogue. "PATIENTS in a vegetative state are, by definition, unable to respond to stimulation with any form of overt behaviour. Recently, however, a group of British and Belgian researchers have shown that some of them respond to simple commands by altering their brain activity while in an MRI scanner."

Will it optimize?

A quiz for programmers only, Will it optimize? "See how well you know (or can anticipate) gcc’s optimizer. For each question, the left box contains some code, while the right box contains code that purports to do the same thing, but that illustrates a particular optimization. Will gcc apply that optimization? Put another way, will the code on the left be as fast as the code on the right, when compiled with an optimizing gcc?"

I screwed up 1 and 5.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Death of the Climate Bill

The New York Times wrote yesterday Democrats Call Off Climate Bill Effort "The effort to advance a major climate change bill through the Senate this summer collapsed Thursday even as President Obama signed into law another top Democratic priority — a bill to restore unemployment benefits for millions of Americans who have been out of work for six months or more. Bowing to political reality, Senator Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat and majority leader, said the Senate would not take up legislation intended to reduce carbon emissions blamed as a cause of climate change, but would instead pursue a more limited measure focused on responding to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and tightening energy efficiency standards."

I guess keeping the planet habitable just isn't important enough.

Kevin Drum wrote about Obama and Climate Change. "This has been a pure vote whipping exercise from the start, and the votes were never there. Aside from common sense, there are two big pieces of evidence for this. First, the House climate bill, even after massive compromises, passed by only 219-212. That is, it won by one vote in a chamber where Democrats hold a 35-vote majority. Second, when Lisa Murkowski's bill to prohibit the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases came before the Senate, the vote against it was only 53-47. As Dickinson notes, six Democrats voted for it: Evan Bayh, Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln, Mark Pryor, Ben Nelson, and Jay Rockefeller. Aside from Lindsey Graham, there were never going to be any Republican votes for a climate bill. If we in the liberal community still haven't figured that out, we have rocks in our skulls. And it's almost certain that three or four of those six Democrats were simply unpersuadable too. Even a watered-down climate bill never had more than about 55 votes in the Senate, and even that's probably optimistic.

Still, Dickinson is right that Obama should have done more. Even if the bill lost anyway, he should have done more. It's his job, after all, to rally public opinion... His problem isn't that he worked an inside game on Capitol Hill or gave a weak speech after the Gulf spill, the problem is that he's barely talked about climate change for years. Even if he had, the spark that it takes to get it done might still not have come. But without it, it will never come."

Matthew Yglesias wrote about The Death of Comprehensive Climate Legislation and points out the GOP cynicism. "The fact that McCain and other Republicans supported the goal of reducing carbon emissions and support carbon pricing as the means of reducing carbon emissions is the whole reason anyone ever thought reducing carbon emissions via carbon pricing was feasible. When they decided—for no clear reason—that they no longer held this view, they doomed the idea to defeat."

And you wouldn't know this from reading the standard press articles reporting one side and the other equally, Scientific expertise lacking among 'doubters' of climate change, says new analysis "The small number of scientists who are unconvinced that human beings have contributed significantly to climate change have far less expertise and prominence in climate research compared with scientists who are convinced, according to a study led by Stanford researchers."

But even if you choose to be ignorant and ignore science, there are other considerations, What happens when we run out of oil and coal?. "Many of the plans for addressing climate change rely on 20- to 50-year roadmaps of increased efficiency and use of renewable energy. But, as Nobel Laureate Robert Laughlin pointed out in his talk at the Lindau Meeting, we're going to have to deal with alternative technologies on that time scale no matter what—many projections indicate we're going to be out of oil within 60 years (usable coal will last a century and a half longer, give or take). So, even if you don't think climate change is something to worry about, Laughlin suggested you might want to be thinking about the sorts of technologies we'd need to do without fossil fuels—and that, in turn, requires some thought about what existing technologies we'd want to bring forward."

Are there alternatives to the federal legislation?

The Times' Green Blog writes After the Climate Bill Failure "Can federal and state governments move ahead under existing law to achieve some or all of the greenhouse gas reductions envisioned in the failed legislation? Just in time comes a report from the respected World Resources Institute attempting to answer just that question...The bottom line: If federal agencies and state governments pursue the most ambitious paths available, the United States could achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gases that approach but fall short of the 17 percent."

Joe Klein points out MA v. EPA, There Will Be An Energy Bill...soon. "Why? Because there is a Supreme Court ruling, now three years old, that carbon dioxide is a poison that needs to be cleaned up. Next year, the Environmental Protection Agency will begin regulating the hell out of Co2. The business community won't like that, nor will many Republicans. "Putting a price on carbon is the only alternative," says Senator Maria Cantwell, who has offered a bill--with Maine Republican Susan Collins as co-sponsor--that would force the 2000 top polluters to participate in an auction to purchase the right to spew; 75% of the income would be returned as a "dividend" to taxpayers, the other 25% would go to alternative energy. "There's no question that we will have a bill before the EPA regulations kick in." "

Then again maybe the followup legislation isn't so good. Natural Gas Vehicles, Here We Come. "So the big winner of the climate-bill fiasco could turn out to be… T. Boone Pickens. That's right, the billionaire who financed the Swift Boat ads against John Kerry in 2004. According to Harry Reid, the slimmed-down energy bill that's getting introduced next week will include four parts: Some new oil-spill regulations, money for land and water conservation, incentives for home efficiency, and—this one's the kicker—money to "invest in the manufacturing of natural gas vehicles." (well trucks)."

Charlie Rangel

And in case anyone wants to call me biased against Republicans and in favor of Democrats, maybe I am a bit, but fuck Charlie Rangel and the House Ethics Committee. Why is this dragging on so freaking long? Rangel has certainly done some good things and overcome a lot, but corruption is another matter and he needs to resign and/or be charged crimes. He's 80 years old and has been in the House for 40 years, it's time for someone else to represent Harlem and the Upper West Side.

CNN writes on Charlie Rangel's spectacular rise and fall but Wikipedia does a better job on detailing the lengthy investigations.

Combating Lies

Krugman had an op-ed yesterday that's great. Addicted to Bush "For a couple of years, it was the love that dared not speak his name. In 2008, Republican candidates hardly ever mentioned the president still sitting in the White House. After the election, the G.O.P. did its best to shout down all talk about how we got into the mess we’re in, insisting that we needed to look forward, not back...In recent weeks, G.O.P. leaders have come out for a complete return to the Bush agenda, including tax breaks for the rich and financial deregulation. They’ve even resurrected the plan to cut future Social Security benefits."

He gives several examples, but here's one: "On the economy: Last week Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, declared that “there’s no evidence whatsoever that the Bush tax cuts actually diminished revenue. They increased revenue, because of the vibrancy of these tax cuts in the economy.” So now the word is that the Bush-era economy was characterized by “vibrancy.” I guess it depends on the meaning of the word “vibrant.” The actual record of the Bush years was (i) two and half years of declining employment, followed by (ii) four and a half years of modest job growth, at a pace significantly below the eight-year average under Bill Clinton, followed by (iii) a year of economic catastrophe. In 2007, at the height of the “Bush boom,” such as it was, median household income, adjusted for inflation, was still lower than it had been in 2000."

So here's my question, why does this kind of stuff, you know fact-checking, only appear in an editorial by someone considered biased? Isn't this what journalists (you know the skilled kind with degrees and stuff) are supposed to be doing all the time in their stories? I couldn't find a story on McConnell's comments on the NY Times site (and why does filtering to just "articles" include reader's comments?). Here's the original TPM story, It's Unanimous! GOP Says No To Unemployment Benefits, Yes To Tax Cuts For The Rich and here's Ezra Klein commenting on it in the Washington Post, McConnell: 'No evidence whatsoever that the Bush tax cuts actually diminished revenue'. Krugman commented at the time too. It really bothers me that the GOP can spread lies and the Constitutionally protected press does too little to stop it.

Krugman also commented today on Iraq, Again. "Were we lied into war? Yes." and he has to point to the WSJ and Financial Times for his evidence, Iraq intelligence fiasco could happen again. "As documents released by the inquiry make clear, the government was warned the invasion would increase the threat of terrorism to the UK. All this was disregarded, as Mr Blair embarked determinedly on his great adventure with George W. Bush into the mire of Mesopotamia, creating laboratory conditions for the urban warfare urged on jihadis by Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s strategist. It is now harder than ever to avoid the conclusion that the Bush and Blair governments cherry-picked morsels of intelligence. "

Astronomy News

Hyperfast Star Was Booted From Milky Way "A hundred million years ago, a triple-star system was traveling through the bustling center of our Milky Way galaxy when it made a life-changing misstep. The trio wandered too close to the galaxy's giant black hole, which captured one of the stars and hurled the other two out of the Milky Way. Adding to the stellar game of musical chairs, the two outbound stars merged to form a super- hot, blue star."

NASA Telescope Finds Elusive Buckyballs in Space "Astronomers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope have discovered carbon molecules, known as 'buckyballs,' in space for the first time. Buckyballs are soccer-ball-shaped molecules that were first observed in a laboratory 25 years ago. They are named for their resemblance to architect Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes, which have interlocking circles on the surface of a partial sphere. Buckyballs were thought to float around in space, but had escaped detection until now. " They are the largest molecules to have been found in space.

NASA Spacecraft Camera Yields Most Accurate Mars Map Ever "A camera aboard NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft has helped develop the most accurate global Martian map ever...The map was constructed using nearly 21,000 images from the Thermal Emission Imaging System, or THEMIS, a multi-band infrared camera on Odyssey. Researchers at Arizona State University's Mars Space Flight Facility in Tempe, in collaboration with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., have been compiling the map since THEMIS observations began eight years ago."

Last Roll of Kodachrome Processed

Wired writes Death of Film: Last Roll of Kodachrome Processed

"What do you know about Dwayne’s Photo Service of Parsons, Kansas? It is the place where the very last roll of the Kodachrome was processed. Kodachrome, the slide-film that inspired songs, was discontinued by Kodak last year at 74 years of age"

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Oil spill in Dalian, China

The Big Picture of does another amazing job with Oil spill in Dalian, China. These photos are astounding.

"Five days ago, in the northeastern port city of Dalian, China, two oil pipelines exploded, sending flames hundreds of feet into the air and burning for over 15 hours, destroying several structures - the cause of the explosion is under investigation. The damaged pipes released thousands of gallons of oil, which flowed into the nearby harbor and the Yellow Sea. The total amount of oil spilled is still not clear, though China Central Television earlier reported an estimate of 1,500 tons (400,000 gallons), as compared to the estimated 94 - 184 million gallons in the BP oil spill off the Louisiana coast. The oil slick has now grown to at least 430 square kilometers (165 sq mi), forcing beaches and port facilities to close while government workers and local fishermen work to contain and clean up the spill. (29 photos total)"

The Good, the Bad, and Ugly, of iPad app user interfaces

I don't have an iPad but that doesn't stop me from reading things like The Good, the Bad, and Ugly, of iPad app user interfaces.

Critiquing the Kindle Commercial

This strikes me as a combination of a Corona and Apple commercial. Beach scene, check. Catchy toon, check. No obnoxious voice over telling you about the product, check.

It's a good idea, the eInk screen is a huge selling point for the Kindle and it works much better on a beach than say an iPad. But the first time I saw it I thought it was backwards. It should have started with the shot from behind them to make it look like a Corona commercial and then zoomed in over their shoulders to reveal the Kindle and then passed them into the horizon (which matches with the lyrics).

Inside the iPhone Network Meltdown

Wired wrote Bad Connection: Inside the iPhone Network Meltdown this month and it got a lot of good buzz. I finally read and it's ok but I can't say I learned much new.

The Seven Most Inaccurate Movie Sound Effects

The Seven Most Inaccurate Movie Sound Effects "Let’s face it, some things just sound cooler in your imagination than they do in real life. Like your own voice, for example. You hear yourself on tape and think ‘Do I really sound that much like a monkey? Why did no one ever tell me? I will never eat a banana in public again.’ Movies can present a similar situation: some things just sound way, way cooler if they’re enhanced or just plain made up. Here are a few:


Sunset on Mars

NewImage.jpgThis image has been making the rounds today as Sunrise on Mars when it's actually a sunset from 2008. Still, it's pretty amazing.

"Spirit acquired this view of the Martian sunset from Gusev Crater on April 23, 2005. Using data from images such as this, scientists have learned that twilight on Mars is longer than on Earth, lasting for up to two hours before sunrise or after sunset. Dust high in the atmosphere scatters light to the night side of the planet. Similar twilights are seen on Earth following major volcanic eruptions. "

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lightning Over Athens

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is Lightning Over Athens. Holy Crap!

lightning_kotsiopoulos 1.jpg

"Explanation: Have you ever watched a lightning storm in awe? Join the crowd. Oddly, nobody knows exactly how lightning is produced. What is known is that charges slowly separate in some clouds causing rapid electrical discharges (lightning), but how electrical charges get separated in clouds remains a topic of much research. Lightning usually takes a jagged course, rapidly heating a thin column of air to about three times the surface temperature of the Sun. The resulting shock wave starts supersonically and decays into the loud sound known as thunder. Lightning bolts are common in clouds during rainstorms, and on average 6,000 lightning bolts occur between clouds and the Earth every minute. Pictured above, an active lightning storm was recorded over Athens, Greece earlier this month."

Childhood Obesity Infographic Submissions

Project: Create an Infographic About Childhood Obesity, Submissions "Our latest infographic contest asked you to create an infographic about childhood obesity, in partnership with the Let's Move! Initiative. We've received some great submissions, which you can see below. "

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Stupidity and Hypocrisy of the Austerity Movement

538 writes about The Stupidity and Hypocrisy of the Austerity Movement.

"So what have we learned?

1.) This new found love of lower government spending is politically motivated. It has nothing to do with altruism or love of country. It's about the November elections. Period.

2.) Government spending has been and always will be part of the the GDP equation

3.) Countries that tried austerity are worse off for it.

4.) Countries that inject massive amounts of the proper stimulus (such as infrastructure spending) grow at high rates."

Killing zombie lies and exploding the Social Security myths

digby wrote about Killing zombie lies and exploding the Social Security myths "The assignment is this and this post by Susan G at Daily Kos about Social Security myths. The first is this one about life expectancy, which is something that has driven me crazy for years. Mush of the literature about 'problems' with social security will tell you that longer life expectancy was unanticipated by the people who designed the system, which is ridiculous. They certainly did. And they will also tell you that life expectancy was only 63 at the time social security was designed, which is true, but they neglect to explain that life expectancy in those days was was shorter mostly because of childhood diseases, which means that the financing ratios were never affected. After all, kids who die at 3 never pay FICA in the first place. "

Good read.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Obama Assails G.O.P. for Blocking Benefits Bill

The NY Times says Obama Assails G.O.P. for Blocking Benefits Bill "‘After years of championing policies that turned a record surplus into a massive deficit, the same people who didn’t have any problem spending hundreds of billions of dollars on tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are now saying we shouldn’t offer relief to middle-class Americans like Jim or Leslie or Denise, who really need help,’ Mr. Obama said, referring to the three people who stood with him in the Rose Garden, brought to Washington by the White House to help illustrate the president’s point."

Well, it's a start.

If You Need Convincing to See Inception

I will try to tell you a little about Inception without giving away any spoilers. I loved this film but I can easily see it's not for everyone. My hope is this will help you figure out if you'd hate it or not.

I knew three things about the film going into it. One, it was about dreams. Two, the writer-director Christopher Nolan (Memento, The Dark Knight) was being compared to Stanley Kubrick. Three, it has an ending that spawned various articles that talked about it.

The first isn't a spoiler at all and is given away in first or second scene. The second seemed absurd to me before seeing the film. I do venerate Kubrick and Nolan just does different stuff, but a little into the film I understood why the comparison is being made.

Eyes Wide Shut was a film about dreams. The point of it was to make you experience a dream. All the stuff was bizarre and not clearly understood and moved at an other-worldly pace and had jarring music. Kubrick didn't explain it was a dream. No review I read ever explained it as such (and I read dozens and dozens). I tried to analyze every element of the film and didn't work it out on my own. I knew Kubrick was a genius and I was missing something, but I couldn't figure out what. It wasn't until I saw Martin Scorcese guest host with Ebert on At The Movies where he put it in his Top 10 list and explained it.

Inception is about dreams. Your experience watching it is dream-like. It's complex and teases out information about what's going on and you can almost follow it. As an example, they explain at one point, that when you dream, you're someplace, and yet you don't know how you got there. This film recreates that feeling for the viewer but in such a way it's not annoying. There's a complex plot, it juggles a lot of plates at once and I always felt I had just enough info to think I was following what was currently going on and had just strong enough memories of all the levels down the rabbit hole that I thought I knew how we got here but knew I was just forgetting something. It kept me completely engaged throughout. I thought about looking at my watch, but I honestly didn't want to know how much time had passed and I seriously didn't want to look away from the screen for a single second.

I think, like with Eyes Wide Shut, a lot of critics are missing that the point (well a point) was to experience a dream while watching the film. If you don't like complex stories and hate not following everything, you might not like the experience at all. If you always complain that movies are too simple and find plot holes in everything, you'll love this film. If you're looking to go to the theater and turn your mind off, don't pick Inception.

Knowing there was something interesting about the ending I kept trying to figure it all out. With some films (think M. Knight Shyamalan), knowing there's a twist ending can ruin the experience because you look for every little clue and might figure it out. That's not the case with Inception. There were several times where I thought something and I may or may not have been right, but it didn't matter at all. The visceral experience was so wonderful and it was so much fun working so hard to keep up. And yet, what's really magic about this film, I think you can watch this on just a scene by scene basis and not have to figure out every little detail and get an equal enjoyment of the ride, you'll still experience a dream. I'm not sure, but I bet if you do figure it all out (and I will try) it will be completely internally consistent. It's like a Pixar film that works for kids and adults at two levels. This works (should work) if you follow it or not. And if you're really good, it works at another level too.

To compare it to other films, I'd have to say it's the point of Eyes Wide Shut, but instead of being boring, it has all the mind-trippy thrills of The Matrix and it's as effective and emotionally manipulative as Where the Wild Things Are.

I don't know if I've ever had as satisfying a movie going experience. They're completely different films, but I loved A Fish Called Wanda and In The Loop. But I wasn't riveted to the screen for two and half hours barely able to keep up. I loved the amazing story telling of the first half of Wall-E but the second half not so much (though I loved the end credits). Star Wars made a huge impact on me as an 11 year-old, but it didn't manipulate my brain as a second order effect as Inception did. The only recent film that comes close to this for me is Where the Wild Things Are and this left me far more excited. I always say Rear Window is my favorite film, because it's great but also because it really started me on my extreme love of movies. It might take me 20 years to figure it out, but I'm not sure Inception will quite be that for me, but it will be in my Top 10.

As far as other comparisons with Kubrick, I don't see it. I'm not sure there was any imagery in this film that will be as iconic as Kubrick always managed to do. There's no monolith, axe through a door, Singing in the Rain, man riding a nuclear bomb, or anything like that that's seared into my brain. Maybe that's better. I can't figure out if I want to see it again right now, or let it slowly fade like a dream.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Go See Inception

I'm going to write three reviews for Inception. This one, which will be brief and give away nothing about the film (except my reaction to it), another for those that need a little more convincing, and another with spoilers for discussion after seeing the film. The third might take a few days for me to get to and maybe another viewing or two.

So here's the point: If you're willing to see a film based solely on my recommendation, read nothing about this film and get to a theater. It's a masterpiece.

Don't worry about IMAX or digital projection or anything. It doesn't matter, just see it. (I saw a digital projection which was great, but it really doesn't matter.

i was hooked immediately. I almost literally didn't blink for the last two hours. I was continuously awestruck for the whole two and half hours. I was audibly and uncontrollably giddy three times. I don't mean I laughed at something that struck as me funny (which happens a lot), I mean that my body physically needed to express the gleeful delight I was experiencing. When it ended, I had to sit in the theater for a few minutes to catch my breath before leaving. I actually thought if there was oxygen available I would take some. I was actually wobbly on my feet leaving the theater. After walking a couple of blocks to a pub and sitting for a few minutes and ordering, I turned to a friend and said you may have to drive my car home.

I'm not sure I've ever enjoyed seeing a film as much as this one. I'm sure I'll be able to come up with a handful of films, but it will be a short list and I doubt those films are "better" than this. I can't conceive of how there will be a better film than Inception the rest of this year (but how amazing that would be).

A friend I saw it with said she was a little bored the first half hour and while I wasn't at all, I can see how people might feel that way. I can also see how it might not be to everyone's taste, but I'll gladly say, they're wrong. The point of this film is to evoke a visceral experience and it definitely achieves that.

I'll accept another excuse for not seeing this in a theater. I had a couple sitting next to me that kept talking. I honestly didn't want to miss or be distracted from a single second of this film. I shhh'ed them once and then once more much more firmly which worked. If it hadn't, I was going to say to them "if you can't be quiet for two and half hours than don't come to the fucking theater, now be quiet or leave."

But seriously, if I was at all vague above, you should see Inception.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Obama Blasts Republicans?

In today's Weekly Address, Obama talks about Weekly Address: Filibustering Recovery & Obstructing Progress "The President blasts Republicans in the Senate who are blocking unemployment insurance and small business tax breaks to create jobs -- even as they push for permanent, massive tax cuts for the richest Americans." Transcript.

That's "blasting" huh? I was reminded of this clip from Happy Days (just before the 6 minute mark), you need to have hit someone before...

Friday, July 16, 2010

Tim Geithner’s Ninth Political Life

Simon Johnson writes about Tim Geithner’s Ninth Political Life now that it seems he's trying to block Elizabeth Warren from being head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. I have no doubt that Warren should be offered the position before anyone else.

There's also this. Congress, Progressives Roll Out in Support of Elizabeth Warren

The Newest Apple

No this isn't about Apple Computers (or phones or pods or pads). Slashfood writes The Newest Apple: Red to the Core "It may look like a tomato, but the new Redlove Era is all apple -- and has red flesh beneath the skin, all the way to the core. Talk about true blue -- er, red.

The Redlove, marketed by Suttons of Britain, has yet to make it into supermarkets, but according to the London Times, those who've tasted it are giving it raves. 'Berry nuances,' they're saying. 'Sweet and tangy.' 'Ideal for cooking.' Not only that, but the apple may even be healthier than its paler counterparts -- that red tint is due to the presence of flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties. And get this: Apparently the flesh won't go brown, making the apple a dream for salads and other raw dishes."

apple-red-flesh-590 1.jpg

Baskin-Robbins Retires 5 Icons

Baskin-Robbins Retires 5 Icons "Baskin-Robbins announced that is was shelving five of its 31 signature flavors including the classic staple French Vanilla, which was with the company since it started in 1945, Caramel Praline Cheesecake (1970), Campfire S'mores (1975), Apple Pie a La Mode (1976) and Superfudge Truffle (2007). "

"Join our effort on Facebook -- our mission is to gather enough support to convince Baskin-Robbins that they must keep French Vanilla around!"

I couldn't care less about French Vanilla and I'm surprised to learn that Basin-Robbins is even in Massachusetts, let alone in Cambridge.

Deficits of Mass Destruction

Chris Hayes in the The Nation calls it like it is. Deficits of Mass Destruction "Perhaps the most egregious aspect of the selling of the Iraq War was its false pretext. It never really was about weapons of mass destruction, as Paul Wolfowitz admitted. WMDs were just 'what everyone could agree on.' So it is with deficits. Conservatives and their neoliberal allies don't really care about deficits; they care about austerity—about gutting the welfare state and redistributing wealth upward. That's the objective. Deficits are just what they can all agree on, the WMDs of this manufactured crisis. Senator John Kyl of Arizona, speaking on Fox, has come out and admitted as much. All new spending increases must be offset, he said, but 'you should never have to offset the cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans.' So there you have it."

Greenspan Says Congress Should Let Bush Era Tax Cuts Expire

Bloomberg has a pretty entertaining interview with Greenspan, Greenspan Says Congress Should Let Bush Era Tax Cuts Expire. I particularly enjoyed how he can only partially get his head around more stimulus.

Signs of the Stimulus

Signs of the Stimulus "Have you noticed those signs—they usually appear along the freeway—indicating that some infrastructure repair or upgrade has been paid for by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the stimulus bill? An ABC News story reports on the money being spent on the signs, and asks if it's a waste."


Thursday, July 15, 2010

10 Lessons From Apple

Farhad Manjoo wrote in Fast Company Invincible Apple: 10 Lessons From the Coolest Company Anywhere "How does one become the 'Apple of [insert industry here]'? After speaking with former employees, current partners, and others who have watched Apple for many years, it's clear that the answers center around discipline, focus, long-term thinking, and a willingness to flout the rules that govern everybody else's business. It's an approach that's difficult to discern and tougher to imitate. But everyone wants to give it a try. Here, then, is our report on the Apple playbook. Short of something falling into your hands in a Bay Area bar, this may be as close to the truth about Apple as you're going to get."

A very interesting read.

How We Subsidize Fossil Fuels

Boing Boing wrote How we subsidize fossil fuels referring to Jon Taplin's blog post about this graphic:

fossilfuels 1.jpg

The original paper is here.

What Caffeine Actually Does to Your Brain

What Caffeine Actually Does to Your Brain "What follows is a brief explainer on how caffeine affects productivity, drawn from Buzz and other sources noted at bottom. We also sent Braun a few of the questions that arose while reading, and he graciously agreed to answer them."

Two Graphs on Unemployment

Here are two good graphs to debunk any GOP talking points about unemployment benefits being the cause of unemployment.

slacktivist writes Tom Corbett is not right, smart or good "Tom Corbett, the Republican candidate for governor in Pennsylvania" thinks there are jobs out there but that people aren't applying for them because they're getting unemployment benefits. Here:


Kevin Drum rips apart the infamous Arthur Laffer. "Yep: Laffer is seriously suggesting that unemployment benefits, which, according to his own chart, begin rising after unemployment rises, are what cause unemployment to rise. It's groundbreaking stuff, but as an exercise for the reader, can you think of an alternate mechanism to explain why total unemployment benefits paid out might go up when the unemployment rate goes up? Anyone? Take your time. I know it's a chin scratcher."


Seriously, this is the level of stupidity the Democrats seem incapable of beating. I just don't understand it at all. I was never a big fan of David Axelrod so I'm not surprised if he's awful at talking points, but what's David Plouffe doing the last couple of months?

Update: Number of the day. "The average weekly unemployment check is: $307. This figure, which comes from a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis of Department of Labor data, shows why it's unlikely many people are passing up jobs in favor of continuing to collect unemployment checks. With average weekly wages around $800, it doesn't make sense."

Obama's Problems

digby wrote Winning Isn't Everything, It's The Only Thing about Obama's predicament. "Greg Sargent has been making the argument for a while that GOP obstructionism is helping them at the polls because people actually blame the majority Democrats for failing rather than blame the Republicans for succeeding. I think he's right about that and there are two reasons."

"The party in power is expected to do what's necessary to pass its agenda. If it can't, it is held responsible for the failure, not those who stopped them from doing it. "

"The failure of those things to materialize as a measure of his failure to deliver on his promise. This president is more hampered than most in making the (legitimate) argument that the Party of No is to blame for the nation's troubles."

I suppose those things are true, but it doesn't seem like the administration is even trying. He should be explaining his policies clearly instead of leaving it up to Congress to bicker about (for a year with health care) and he should explaining how the obstructionism is working. It's not like the GOP positions even make logical sense, it should be a simple slam dunk. Instead the GOP controls all the messaging and the Dems start to add their policies into the bills making everything destined to fail. It's moronic.

Update: Atrios, Krugman, Benen and DeLong talked about this too: What Rough Beast?.

MESSENGER Spacecraft Reveals New Information About Mercury

NASA reports MESSENGER Spacecraft Reveals New Information About Mercury "Launched in August 2004, the Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging spacecraft, known as MESSENGER, conducted a third and final flyby of Mercury in September 2009. The probe completed a critical maneuver using the planet's gravity to remain on course to enter into orbit around Mercury next year. Data from the final flyby has revealed the first observations of ion emissions in Mercury's exosphere, or thin atmosphere; new information about the planet's magnetic substorms; and evidence of younger volcanic activity than previously recorded."

Ronald Reagan Redux

Tom Schaller at 538 writes Ronald Reagan Redux "Saturday marks the 30th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's 1980 acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in Detroit. I wrote about the speech this week in my Baltimore Sun column which, limited to 700 words, provides insufficient room to discuss fully the impact that Reagan's campaign and presidency had on the course of American politics during the three decades since."

Then and Now: The Retreating Glaciers

Then and Now: The Retreating Glaciers "In 1921, George Mallory, a British mountaineer, took a black-and-white photograph of Mount Everest. The photo, now legendary, shows the world’s highest peak in the distance and an S-shaped river of ice running toward the foreground: the Rongbuk glacier.

Three years ago, David Breashears, a mountaineer, photographer and filmmaker, returned to the very spot where Mr. Mallory stood to take the photograph and updated the vista. The change is sobering."

First Half of 2010 Warmest on Record

MSNBC report First half of 2010 warmest on record "Jan.-June warmest first half of year on record. 2010 tops 1998 temps; question now is whether 12 months will break 2005 record for warmest year"


"Each of the 10 warmest average global temperatures recorded since 1880 have occurred in the last fifteen years," it added. "The warmest year-to-date on record, through June, was 1998, and 2010 is warmer so far."

Waiting to hear from George Will....

The 400th Anniversary of Galileo's First Saturn Observations

The 400th Anniversary of Galileo's First Saturn Observations "On July 15, 1610, four months after the publication of Sidereus Nuncius, Galileo first aimed his 30 power telescope at Saturn."

Star Wars Subway Car

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Should Businesses Be Run Like The Post Office?

The New Republic has a nice article on the post office. Should Businesses Be Run Like The Post Office?. It's short and worth reading the whole thing, but here's the beginning.

"The post office plans to raise stamp prices again. The usual groans about government inefficiency are sure to follow. But the post office doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Contrary to popular perception, it receives no federal funding for its operations, subsisting almost entirely on the fees it charges for delivering mail. It’s a great bargain: It’ll take your letter anywhere in the country for what’s still a modest fee. And when Consumer Reports compared package services, it concluded that ‘the good old U.S. Postal Service is often cheapest by far.’

But put all of that aside. The post office bests the private sector in another way: It’s actually put the money aside to pay for its workers’ retirements. Audits show that, at the end of fiscal 2009, it had contributed enough funds to cover all but 1 percent of future pension obligations to its current workers. The post office does this because it must: Federal law mandates that the post office, like all other federal agencies, finance pensions fully. The private sector faces a similar requirement, but many firms use loopholes to wiggle out of their responsibilities. A recent study shows that pensions among S&P 1500 companies are underfunded by 21 percent."

Oh Yeah, What To Do About Iran and Nukes is Still an Issue

The New York Times wrote Israeli Attack on Iran Would Start Long War

"Oxford Research Group, which promotes non-violent solutions to conflict, said military action should be ruled out as a response to Iran's possible nuclear weapons ambitions. 'An Israeli attack on Iran would be the start of a protracted conflict that would be unlikely to prevent the eventual acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran and might even encourage it,' it said in a report. It would also lead to instability and unpredictable security consequences for the region and the wider world, it added."

Remember, The Deficit is Bush's Fault

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out Critics Still Wrong on What’s Driving Deficits in Coming Years. "Some critics continue to assert that President George W. Bush’s policies bear little responsibility for the deficits the nation faces over the coming decade — that, instead, the new policies of President Barack Obama and the 111th Congress are to blame. Most recently, a Heritage Foundation paper downplayed the role of Bush-era policies (for more on that paper, see p. 4). Nevertheless, the fact remains: Together with the economic downturn, the Bush tax cuts and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq explain virtually the entire deficit over the next ten years (see Figure 1)."

chart-of-the-day-bush-policies-deficits-june-2010 1.gif

My Obama Problem

I completely agree with Krugman about My Obama Problem.

"We’ll never know how differently the politics would have played if Obama, instead of systematically echoing and giving credibility to all the arguments of the people who want to destroy him, had actually stood up for a different economic philosophy. But we do know how his actual strategy has worked, and it hasn’t been a success."

No, Bush's Economy Wasn't Great

Krugman in Invincible Ignorance takes on the GOP myths that tax cuts are the solution to everything and pay for themselves.

"But anyway, look: it’s been a long time since Morning in America. We’ve now been through two two-term administrations, one of which raised taxes, the other of which cut them. Which looks like it presided over a more vibrant economy?"

Graphs in the article. And it doesn't look like people can accept it.

Scientists Expected Obama Administration to be Friendlier

The LA Times reported Scientists expected Obama administration to be friendlier "When he ran for president, Barack Obama attacked the George W. Bush administration for putting political concerns ahead of science on such issues as climate change and public health. And during his first weeks in the White House, President Obama ordered his advisors to develop rules to 'guarantee scientific integrity throughout the executive branch.'

Many government scientists hailed the president's pronouncement. But a year and a half later, no such rules have been issued. Now scientists charge that the Obama administration is not doing enough to reverse a culture that they contend allowed officials to interfere with their work and limit their ability to speak out."

Obama really needs to get better at executing his policies. These don't sound like the same issue as under Bush as they don't really advance Obama's positions. It just seems like bureaucracy getting in the way. Then again, I could be wrong.

My New Desktop Wallpaper

"A colourful star-forming region is featured in this stunning new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of NGC 2467. Looking like a roiling cauldron of some exotic cosmic brew, huge clouds of gas and dust are sprinkled with bright blue, hot young stars.

Strangely shaped dust clouds, resembling spilled liquids, are silhouetted against a colourful background of glowing. Like the familiar Orion Nebula, NGC 2467 is a huge cloud of gas — mostly hydrogen — that serves as an incubator for new stars."


This shot of Pluto crossing a dark Nebula, taken by an amateur on July 6th doesn't suck either.

Rosetta Triumphs at Asteroid Lutetia

In 2004 the European Space Agency launched Rosetta, intended to orbit a comet and set a lander on it in 2014. In the mean time, since there are giant rocks just floating around in the solar system, Rosetta took some great photos.

Rosetta triumphs at asteroid Lutetia "Asteroid Lutetia has been revealed as a battered world of many craters. ESA’s Rosetta mission has returned the first close-up images of the asteroid showing it is most probably a primitive survivor from the violent birth of the Solar System. The flyby was a spectacular success with Rosetta performing faultlessly. Closest approach took place [on July 10th], at a distance of 3162 km."

4_closest_approach,1.jpgLutetia is the Latin name for Paris which is where Hermann Goldschmidt discovered it in 1852. It's the largest asteroid a spacecraft has visited and is in the asteroid belt beyond Mars. The Planetary Society Blog has more on Rosetta's Lutetia pictures.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Deflation and the Fed

Calculated Risk sums up a few articles on Deflation and the Fed.

Weekend Flooding

Boston had some nasty flodding over the weekend. Here in the third best city to live in in the country, not so much.

Pretty Fun Rant

squid314 wrote about Stuff. It's not too long and starts with Babylon 5 and talks about Doctor Who, but the bulk is about the history channel. I'll just quote the end, but read the whole thing. "So yeah. Stay away from the History Channel. Unlike most of the other networks, they don't even try to make their stuff believable."

Infographic: The Simpsons Voice Actors

Infographic: The Simpsons Voice Actors.

Simpons Voice Actors

The Kanjorski Surprise

Simon Johnson wrote The Kanjorski Surprise – Now It Gets Interesting "The bank lobbyists, it turns out, missed one.  They and their congressional allies were able to gut the Volcker Rule, the Lincoln Amendment, and almost everything else that could have had a meaningful effect on the industry. But, as I point out in a Bloomberg column today, they couldn’t get at (or didn’t sufficiently understand?) the Kanjorski Amendment...Kanjorski gives federal regulators the power and the responsibility to limit the activities or even break up big banks if they pose a “grave risk” to the financial system."