Sunday, May 31, 2009
I have an iPhone. I like it well enough. There have been a couple freezing episodes, and in terms of productivity software they are crap compared with other smart phones, but it's an mp3 player, ok camera and phone together, plus the downloadable apps are sometimes fun. It is also very pretty.
Apple computers are great for people who don't have a clue what they are doing when it comes to computers. They are easy to use, trouble free devices. They are also very pretty.
If it was not for two things that they do, Apple would likely be the dominant home computer in this country (and maybe the world). The first was early on. They did not let others produce computers that would run MacOS. This is why, despite the advantage of being first and best for a decade or so, Microsoft, Intel et al. were able to push past and come to dominate to the extent that personal computer is now synonymous with a Microsoft OS system. The resulting market dominance means that new hardware developments and pretty much all software is available on PC's first...and for less.
Which leads us to the other thing Apple does: set prices way higher than comparable Microsoft systems. This has always been a bit of an issue to me as I want to buy the best computer that I can get for the money, and Apple has never been close. In fact, I build my own desktops and that has not been possible if you wanted an Apple...I think this is no longer the case, but it is still much easier to build a PC than it is a Mac.
The security and stability issue is real: people writing viruses and worms want to have as many computers as possible pick it up, so they target Microsoft OS rather than Mac. This has actually lead to Windows being the more secure system, but it is just attacked more often. Because many users do not use security features properly, there are plenty of PC's taken out by viruses, worms, and spyware. Because Mac's are not targeted and because they don't allow the user as much freedom to mess with settings (and cause problems), they are more secure.
Mac's really are good computers for people who just want basic internet and productivity function and don't ever want to fuss with things (most users), but they will never be as popular so long as they are ~1.5-2x+ the cost of a comparable PC. This will enshrine them as toys for people with money and without tech savvy. It's really a pretty narrow market. Value shoppers, bang-for-your-buck types, power gamers, and computer geeks (they may prefer Linux, but most have at least one Windows box...even if it's a switchable one) are all PC types, and they account for most of the market.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
All white male courts saw no problem with separate but equal (Plessy v. Fergueson), or denying suffrage to female US citizens (Minor v. Happersett), or returning a black man (Dred Scott) to slavery. Those were reflections of the white male values of the time. They put those values into their reading of the constitution. The notion that white men are somehow better able to rise above race or gender is, itself, racist. (Some pulled from here.)
Today is no different. White males still have overwhelming majorities in most of the power structure of this country. White males are also far more likely to oppose affirmative action, quotas, or gender/race based decisions because they will be adversely affected. But without those very quotas, without decisions made to force more balance and equality at the most influential levels, things will not change beyond a glacial pace (use the metaphor while we still can). Minorities will continue to see themselves (realistically) as locked out of power, and having to depend on the magnanimous white male.
And what we are seeing now is an effort to change things in that direction is being met by hard resistance by those in power. The vileness of the notion that Sotomayor got where she is today only because of her race is real, and not even hidden by the people opposing her nomination. For white male Alito to reference his background as the child of immigrants was a good thing, for Sonja it is racist. That is racism.
A supreme court that consisted of 4-5 whites (no more than 3 of either gender) 1 Hispanic, 1 Black, 1 Asian, and 1-2 others (Middle Eastern, Native American, or a second of one of those mentioned), with the total court made up of a 4:5, or 5:4 men: women split and that also had at least one LGBT, one Muslim, one other non-Christian on it, would produce better, more equitable decisions. It would also produce decisions that would hold more significance to minority groups. Experience and background do matter, especially when it comes to governance.
Friday, May 29, 2009
The article is quite long, but what it boils down to is: care decisions are made for the express purpose of generating revenue rather than based on evidence as to what the most effective treatment would be. This happens at many levels and is different in different locations. Despite places like Mayo Clinic, which offers some of the best care in the country at nearly the lowest cost, things are getting worse, not better.
None of the health care changes being discussed at the federal level really deal with this problem, and despite the fact that the poorer care, higher cost places (like McAllen TX) have lots of waste to eliminate, much of that waste is profit generating waste, meaning that the hospitals and doctors are not going to give it up so easily.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
$2/gallon would be the minimum, and it should increase by 2% or so a year. The problem with just raising CAFE standards is that making vehicles get better mileage does not make people want to own them. Higher mileage vehicles are slower, smaller, and--thanks to the simple physics of mass--inherently less safe for the occupants.
The one thing that the 2008 spike in gas prices proved is that the only way to change the behavior of US consumers when it comes to choosing a car (and how much they drive) is for gas to go over $4/gallon. That's the only way to affect behavior. It would increase demand for low mileage vehicles and automakers could start to see the % profit on those that they had been enjoying on SUVs. It would drive innovation, shift production, and all without the nasty government forcing auto makers to do anything.
Of course it is also a tax hike, and people will go apoplectic over it, and politicians will have a hard time getting (re)elected, and it is middle class regressive (rich won't feel it much, and many poor don't have cars), so it won't happen, no matter how much of a good idea it is, no matter how much it may be needed to reduce our energy consumption.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
I'm a pretty lazes faire type of fellow, but if some other nation came here, arrested me, sent me to some prison in a different nation than either, where I was accused of things I hadn't done (and maybe even some I would have), possibly tortured, not given access to lawyers, or allowed to see friends, family, etc for years, then released because it turns out they had arrested me wrongly, I'd probably be a little miffed. I can't now imagine wanting to come home and blow them up or kill anyone, but I can neither imagine the feeling of helplessness and insignificance that one would feel when wrongly and illegally captured and held.
I am aware that in seeing people from the Middle East as actual real human beings with feelings and shit the crazy wing of the GOP will consider me as one who sympathizes with terrorists, but that's the damn problem. They see anyone who was captured and held, regardless of reality, as a terrorist. And if those people, upon release happen to engage in terrorism, regardless of the reality (which we won't actually ever know), they see themselves as vindicated for acting illegally in the first place. It doesn't matter that the illegal activities of Bush, Cheney and Co. could very well have created more terrorism than it prevented.
Yes, this is why Obama should also have released those photos. Trying to hide our mistakes makes people distrust and dislike us. IT HELPS CREATE TERRORISTS. They can say "See, the evil USA is not changing their ways and coming clean and righting the wrongs of the previous administration, but they are continuing to cover them up and probably continuing those very wrongs themselves because why else would they cover up and not punish those who committed those evil acts?"
We cannot lead by example when our example is crap.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Wedding bands make sense to me, and stylistically I like the elegant simplicity of matched, plain (gold, silver, platinum) bands. Engagement rings have always seemed odd to me. I am amused that it used to be a means of essentially buying a woman's virginity, and the diamond cartel history is fascinating, though it makes me have less desire to purchase those stones, never minding the whole conflict diamonds issue.
Ok, I'll admit, I'm a guy with respect to jewelry and I don't get much any of it, but the idea of wearing two months' salary (it used to be one) on one's finger seems overly silly. It's a means to brag about the wealth of a future husband, not of his love, or devotion. There is little sincerity to it either: figure out whether the monthly salary thing is before or after taxes and should factor in any bonuses, multiply by 2, go to jewelery store and look at rings that are in that price range, possibly with girlfriend (or one of her friends), identify appropriate ring at the correct price, and purchase (often on credit card to be paid off over next few years).
The real reason is the number of other things that one can do for the cost of two months' salary, and it doesn't even matter what one's salary is. For someone earning $24k/year that's $4000 that could be spent on a nice vacation, or new furnishings/appliances/renovation for their house. No matter how much one earns 2 months' salary is a lot.
It really may not be much different than a guy showing off his 52" LCD that is up in a smallish living room that could be fully and well served by a 32" model, or a $15k, 950cc motorcycle that is used for slow touring on nice weekends. Except that the tv can be used by many people and provides plenty of entertainment and the bike does still get one around (and in relatively fuel efficient fashion, though at 950cc, only ~45 mpg).
Rings can be beautiful works of art. They can have meaning and history (passed down, found second hand, designed by one of the couple). Most engagement rings, however, are the equivalent of gold plated spinners: too much money spent on an accessory meant for showing off that money, not love.
Friday, May 22, 2009
On a smaller scale, however, credit cards are also good. They simplify bill paying and money tracking. They provide a buffer for the unexpected. They allow people, particularly young people and immigrants who are high credit risks, to establish credit history so that they can, in the future, finance that purchase of a car or house.
If it were a perfect world they would also be an excellent source of credit for many people with little to no credit history and/or bad credit. The well heeled DC insiders are badmouthing the practices of credit card issuers (mostly banks), and I generally agree, but there are reasons to give pause. Actions that remove many of the more evil aspects of credit card agreements (1 day late? hello, 10% point increase in your rate, never to come down.) are good and fair, and some of them will make it so that credit card issuers will be sensible in how they hand out credit cards. Others will mean, as the industry is whining, that less credit will be available to people at the bottom who need it.
As an example of silly practices: while still in college and without a set job or any declared income I had a credit card with a limit of $9500! I got it my first year in college, did not have my parents sign on, and for those first few years, they would just randomly increase my limit (it went over $20k in grad school before I finally called them and asked them to knock it off).
The risk of giving credit (even as little as $100) to those who are high risk is supposedly mitigated by giving lots of credit to people who are low risk. The overall benefits everyone. I have my insanely high limit card that I can turn to in emergency, and the cash back one I can use for most purchases and pay off at the end of each month. Many people may finance a summer vacation or holiday spending on a card that they can pay off over the year, and those trying to get a leg up and a job can get cleaned up and ready for an interview.
The problem is really that this is not how people use credit. In practice, even the middle and upper middle class bought beyond their means to pay off, and they are now the ones (those with good incomes and credit scores) defaulting. This fouls up the risk side and
On the low end, despite the supposed overcompensation with low risk individuals, high risk are often not given access at all (and the current legislation may make that worse) which results in the proliferation of predatory lending practices like payday loans. The absence of credit to the poor contributes to making an impoverished lifestyle more expensive (lots of other things factor in and this is a good read).
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
We are emotional creatures, and emotion plays and flirts with reason in such a fashion as to complicate the nature of every decision we make. Inherently there is some reason for any choice, yet that word "reason" implies rational, that there is a logical construct that will allow one to determine the result given all entry parameters. There is a reason for our choices, but it is not so simple as to be easily ascribed right or wrong, or good or bad. It can be beyond our abilities to understand. We may say that some decisions don't make sense, even to the one who makes them. That's not fair, though. Our own failings of comprehension should not be attributed to choices made, even if those choices prove at some point to have been less favorable.
The perception is that emotion conflates reason and we make choices that are not reasonable or logical. That perception, however is based on a post enlightenment western view that our capacity for reason is to our advantage over the lesser animals and that it allows for us to make choices that will be of greatest benefit.
Animals lack this capacity for reason, yet we perceive that their behavior is entirely rational. They eat, sleep, mate, migrate, hibernate, defend, flee, and more all as is in their current best (perceived) interests. The “decisions” of such animals are instinct, seen by us as a logical response to stimulus. Within ourselves we have relabeled instinct as emotion and ascribed to it an anti-logical connotation.
Our emotion is our basest response to stimulus. When we feel comfort with (or fear of) another; when we unconditionally love our children, we are experiencing emotion, and we are also exhibiting our basest form of logic: our instinct.
That is not to say that our emotion will always produce a response that is within our best interest. Because we have grown up and developed—both in terms of long term evolution and in terms of a single life lived in modern society—we have come to appreciate that we are capable of overcoming base instinct to create to develop to explore to discover. Our instinct for curiosity has caused us to develop impartial reason as a means to examine the world around us, and to examine ourselves. The development of that part of our minds has become a part of us every bit as much as our instinctive, emotional, core. As such our decisions are a complex twinning of the two sides, two parts of reason that do not have each other’s best interest in mind.
The emotional side wants a companion with whom we feel a certain type of comfort, the logical side wants stability. The emotional side wants that one house, while the logical side studies the mortgage payments. The emotional side thinks a big slice of cheesecake would be the perfect finish to the already large meal, while the logical side says that it is unnecessary and unhealthy. (It is not our instinct to stop eating when full.)
Every decision has a reason behind it. Some of those reasons are impartial decisions, and others are emotional. Some we can step back and make sense of, others we cannot. Some are good for us and others are not.
I am personally driven to understand the reason behind things. I don’t care if that reason is the result primarily of logic or emotion, or a more equal interweaving of the two. I don’t care if the reason is complex or simple. I don’t care if the reason is faulty or sound. I am painfully curious, especially of things I do not understand and that affect me personally.
There are certainly times when that desire to understand can come off as argumentative, or that I am trying to influence or change someone else’s decision to be more favorable to me. I cannot deny that that is ever the case. In fact, it would be a wholly reasonable thing for me to attempt to create a decision that would be in my perceived best interest. Of course, what I perceive to be in my own best interest may not actually be in my best interest. I understand that, which complicates things horribly.
Decisions that are to have a long and lasting effect on my life are not ones I take lightly. To begin or end a relationship (or to accept such things), to buy a house, to get a dog, someday to get married, to have a child. Those are complex, long term decisions. They will affect me not only when I make them but for years to come. Years which are unknown and unknowable.
How do we make those decisions? How do I? It depends on the situation. Some decisions are best left to reason (when to get gas, whether to go to work). Others are better suited to emotion (what to have for dinner, whether to kiss one's partner). Big decisions should get input from both sides. Of course this is primarily a rational look at choice, reason and emotion, and it ignores the fact that people can misuse reason, or misinterpret emotion.
Monday, May 18, 2009
I've never been a Notre Dame fan despite being Catholic. I certainly don't see the point in making noise about Obama's talk there. He didn't say anything surprising or contrary to previous statements. The Pope has expressed optimism about Obama (the friggin Pope!).
To be sure, while recently abortion has been supplanted by gay marriage for the title of "wedge issue d'jour," it is still a major issue within the Catholic Church. It is actually pretty hard to get excommunicated, but abortion is one of the easiest paths to that, e.g.
On the one hand I sympathize with the moral difficulty surrounding the question. On the other, the only time we can legislate against a moral issue is if that issue goes against our rights as well (murder, robbery: illegal, cheating spouse: legal). The anti-abortion crowd rallies around the fetus as a separate human deserving equal protection. The pro-abortion crowd fights back that a pregnant woman is not two people--no matter her declarations--historically, under the law, or in practice. The privacy issue goes something like this: a woman does not need to declare herself pregnant, and so any actions that she takes while pregnant cannot be judged on the basis of that pregnancy. Abortive actions, while bizarre, would not be illegal actions if a woman were to chose to have them done while not pregnant. Elective surgery is not illegal. Since it is not legal to forcer her to declare her pregnancy, nothing she does while pregnant can be illegal if it is not illegal otherwise. ...or something.
My personal view on the legal front is that it cannot (and should not) be outlawed. On the other end any moral decision made in a vacuum (as mine must be made) is precludes a stark response, so I am limited to saying that I feel, in general, it tends toward the darker shades of gray. My biggest issue is that "pro-life" people in large numbers seem to have supported the pro-death Bush administration. I can say that on the moral gray scale, starting a war against a much smaller country that has done nothing to you is pretty damn black...and so is torture.
Of course I bring up the abortion and Notre Dame thing to point out bad and highly publicized statistics (the link goes to the reasons for the bad).
Sunday, May 17, 2009
If someone commits murder, and someone else, sees it (maybe even screamed "don't") but then fails to notify authorities, and maybe even helps to hide the body, then we have two people who have both demonstrated a moral failing. Two who have broken the law. The order of magnitude is doubtless different, but neither is worthy of praise, and in fact both deserve condemnation.
We know we tortured, we know it was sanctioned, and that makes the Bush (Cheney) administration deplorable on a level that has certainly not existed in my lifetime, or my parents, and possibly my grandparents. If Obama does not pursue justice, if he continues to hide what happened, then he is no different than the witness in the murder scenario. We cannot know that we are progressing in the right direction if we hide all of our tracks. We could just as easily double back. Obama got my vote last year with a promise of change. If he fails in producing this particular change, then he will not get my vote in 2012, and he will get me to actively campaign against him.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Online dating is great. Especially for people (like myself) who can't really get into the bar scene. I enjoy going to bars, but meeting someone there just doesn't seem fit my personality much. (It works great for some.) Online, however, is an excellent environment to encounter a large number and variety of people. As an added benefit, it is easy to fit into even very busy or chaotic lives.
Of course it is also troublesome: it makes people feel compelled to rush and so tends to favor those who can manage to be aggressive without seeming too intense/creepy/forward--a tricky balancing act I will never figure out--it encourages us to disregard people for often superficial reasons or to make snap judgments based on too little info, and the timing and nature of whether and when people respond mean that good opportunities could easily be missed and worse ones pursued. In the grand scheme it should most often work out in the end: missing out one or even several very good potential matches doesn't mean that another will not show.
Beyond the early rush intro, is the pressure to find meaning in with someone as quickly as possible. But everyone is different, and while those differences can make for good relationships, they may also make for one that would not be able to get off the ground in this environment.
In the end, I suppose that I (and others) can only be ourselves and hope that the other person knows what she/he wants and asks. Of course if the need is for another to meet expectations without having to make those known...
P.S. I am not referring to any one person in this, but everyone, myself included.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
In the end if you eat something that has nearly zero available calories (lettuce, celery), then even the very small amount of calories you must burn to consume them make them negative calories. Depending on the timing, the ability of fiber to bind fat in our digestive tract means that high fiber foods can remove calories contained in high fat foods by keeping them from ever being absorbed by the body.
Quantifying becomes very difficult. Even if you can do all the different equilibrium calculations necessary, the relative concentrations are dependent on what you eat, when you eat it, and your specific metabolism. The exact amount of "negative calorie" intake you can really get in a day is very difficult due to the fat robbing issue--maximized by eating too much fat anyway--but you can eat foods that will reduce your total calorie count for the day. Of course, you won't know by how much, and it isn't like a carrot is going to cancel that slice of pizza.
In the end it is a bad idea to depend on or try and count negative calories, but it is a very good idea to eat fruit and veggies. On their own is all good, but the complimentary benefits of filling your stomach and having some of that fiber peel off a bit of the other fat you've consumed, means that the best use of veggies is as a substantial (by volume or weight) fraction of a meal. You will eat less of the high calorie (meat and carb) portions as a result.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
The statement and add are not false. The implication is really that Cheerios does something that other cereals won't. That bugs me. Soluble fiber can lower cholesterol. Oats are particularly high in soluble fiber. Cheerios contain oats, and that soluble fiber, and, therefore, lower cholesterol. Of course, so will granola, or oatmeal, or any other oat containing cereal.
I think the FDA warning is a bit iffy too, though it is most likely due to the specific 4% in 6 wks claim, which is troublesome, as someone switching from oatmeal to Cheerios would likely have higher cholesterol than if they stayed on oatmeal.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Healthy options tend to have at least one of two major drawbacks: they are expensive and/or they are time consuming. On the prepared meals front, the healthy ones (like kashi) are always more expensive. Even when they are affordable, there are still plenty of cheaper options. Organic complicates this further. Much of the organic labeling doesn't really matter, but in the places it matters most: meat and dairy, it is the largest price jump on the most expensive items.
It has come up here before, but eating healthy is not necessarily expensive, it can, in fact be quite cheap. Trouble is it takes time and effort. And I don't mean just the prep and cooking, as there are plenty of meals that are very fast on that front. What I really mean here is the planning and forethought. In order to get a meal together, you have to decide what you want to make, ensure that you have all the ingredients (or go to the store to get them), and then get them out and start the prep. If this is for dinner, then it could be after getting home from work, and when you are hungry and not really in the mood to think about cooking, but just wanting to eat.
There are all sorts of ways to get around that, but there are always trade-offs. You can make large meals on the weekend, then box up individual lunches/dinners throughout the week. But this means giving up weekend time for cooking, and not everyone wants to make that trade, and it also means not having day to day choice. Now having choice really is a luxury, but it is one we have become accustomed to. The ease with which we can order pizza, or grab a burger, or even pick up the frozen meals at the supermarket is remarkable by comparison.
Monday, May 11, 2009
Ignoring that torture generally does not work, efficacy is not an effective argument. If it were, then the genocide in Rawanda could be easily defended as a very effective method of population control to deal with the overcrowding in that country. Physical castration could be an effective way to prevent rapists from repeat offense. In fact, giving people life sentences for any crime would be an effective way to guarantee no recidivism. On the less criminal front, I could build a speed bump on the road outside my house to slow down the drivers who go by too fast, as that would be quite effective.
We have laws for a reason. No one gets to shirk them at their will because something that is illegal happens to be effective. Of course, in the case of torture, it isn't effective either.
Friday, May 08, 2009
This was brought about by Tancredo's horrid interview on Hardball, which I had heard about in advance and was kind of interested in. As an aside, Chris Matthews should have had an actual scientist there to scream bloody murder at Tancredo's utter lack of scientific awareness on the subject.
The GOP has no respect for science because a tiny group of people (who all happen to be Republican voters) doesn't like science because it messes with their world view.
Thursday, May 07, 2009
Soldiers dying in combat is a good thing.
One of the reasons that war is so universally held to be bad and evil is because of the human cost of life. The key component to a war is people dying...on both sides. When one side can remove the human life element, when one side has sufficient might and muscle that it no longer needs to sacrifice its own citizenry to engage in armed conflict, then it loses the necessary and appropriate specter of that conflict: its dead citizens.
While we do have soldiers fighting and dying for us, more and more we are relying on combat techniques designed to minimize casualties while inflicting maximum loss on an enemy. This is perceived and trumpeted as the good of saving lives. It is in fact bad. It distances us from the effects of warfare. For the cost of a handful of American lives, we can kill hundreds of thousands. The disgust of that statement, both in terms of the death represented and the casual dismissal of the loss of some Americans as trivial is palpable.
War is bad. If we get to the point that we risk nothing in a war, will we perceive it as good?
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
The new justice will not change the court much in terms of how it votes, but it almost certainly will change one thing: it's makeup. This is good. The much ballyhooed headline "White Men Need Not Apply" and the sniping about Obama's SCOTUS nominee needing to be anti-affirmative action are destructive to gender and racial equity advancement in this country.
Yes, we have a black president. We also have 1 black senator (out of 100) who is not particularly respected what with the whole Blago thing and all; there are 40 non-delegate black members in the House along with 72 women, 23 Hispanics, 5 Asians, and one native American (out of 435). Less than 50% of this country is male, and less than 75% is white, meaning something like 36-37% of the US population is white male, but white males make up more than 70% of those two bodies and are 78% (7 of 9) of the current supreme court.
The notion than affirmative action is unnecessary because we have a black president is ludicrous. Our nation is NOT well represented in congress or on the supreme court. White men are over represented too as heads of corporations, in corporate boardrooms, as faculty on university campuses throughout this country. Top level positions are dominated by white men. Having a black president is a major step forward for racial equality, but the notion that everything is equal now is horse shit.