Monday, June 29, 2009

Dear God Don't Bridge the Disconnect!

Fat is Bad! Bad I Say! BAAAAAAAAAAAAAD! ...Well, maybe not. So there's a study that showed that overweight people live longer than "normal" weight people (and that underweight die off faster than the severely obese). But the authors make a point of saying that this doesn't mean that fat is healthy (somewhat contradicting their data). What the Fuck? Seriously?

We think that having a bit of excess body fat is so bad that those whose research shows otherwise automatically react against it? Whenever a study shows how bad being fat is, there is no automatic counter about how most dieting may be counter productive (it messes with hormones and/or makes your body think it's starving and/or leads to reduced nutritional intake in the pursuit of lower calories). But a study that implies being a bit overweight isn't all that bad and that being skinny may be much worse? Must nip that bit of comprehension in the bud before people get any idea other than: be thin.

At the least the article should be an indication that the way we delineate fat, skinny and normal (typically read as "healthy") needs work, maybe we should shift things. Maybe we should stop using the idiotic BMI to determine this (I love that a bodybuilder gets a fatty character on the Wii). I've spent a few posts pointing out that healthy is disconnected to a large part from fat, and to an even larger part from weight. If you eat right and exercise you can be healthy, whether or not you lose weight, and weight gain in such case is probably good.

I'll add to this...having body fat is healthy. People without body fat must actually be careful not to burn more calories than they consume (extra calories burned will come from muscle). Fat may not have as much of the "lean times" need that it would have in centuries past, but we still have up and down times in terms of activity, fuel need and consumption that fat can smooth over. I'll grant that we don't need much fat to accomplish this, and men less than women, but dieting to lose (fat) weight is hard on the body, and moving to more healthy living without a focus on the scale or the waistline would produce better results for more people.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The King of Pop

My first album ever: Michael Jackson's Thriller

So, you wanna be startin' something?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

On the Subject of Taxes

I still hold that the easiest and best way to make taxes more progressive and simple is to eliminate all deductions and to make the bottom tax bracket 0% up to somewhere in the range of $20-30k. On the state level the dollar value when taxes begin to kick in may be higher or lower. I also think that social security and medicare should be done the same way.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pennsylvania Raising Income Taxes?

PA has a rather regressive income tax scheme (it's flat, but the deductions that can become available tilt to the more well off). So I would like for them to implement a progressive part of the code with any tax increase: right at the top everyone subtracts say $15k from their total income. This will greatly reduce the total taxes paid by those at the bottom of the income bracket, while still leading to higher overall revenues if combined with an appropriate percentage increase, maybe up to 4% instead of 3.57%.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

I'm a Thoughtfulicanocrat

I know that a lot of the things that I say here are far more left than right. The whole truth is that I have major issues with both wings, but only the right wing has had its way, so this country in policies and politics has been run hard to the right on the issues of taxation and foreign policy. Meanwhile, though the popularity of entitlement programs (mostly Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid) has prevented the right from actually ending or severely reducing them, as it repeatedly squawks about, their noise has prevented the left, even when in power from actually fixing them. Even now, the public wants health care reform (and a public option) but despite a real public mandate and large majorities of the party that supposedly represents that viewpoint, the "reform" that is likely to come will not be even remotely functional.

I've harped on this before, but it is the disparity between the utility of conservative and liberal politicians that astounds me and makes me very nervous for the future. When in power, conservatives take an our way or the highway approach to legislating. When out they successfully drive conversations toward bipartisanship. Supposedly liberal lawmakers go along with both (particularly in the Senate). It is only a small subset, but in a body where only a few votes makes a huge difference, it doesn't take many assholes to produce a pile of shit.

Because of that I spend more time complaining from a progressive viewpoint. I want real balance and we do not have it in the government or in media. Progressives have Olberman, Ed, and to a lesser extent Rachel and NPR and lesser still Matthews. Conservatives have the whole of Fox news and about 90% of talk radio. I do believe that that disparity is causal when it comes to politician behavior. When we went to war in Iraq, there was no real opposition presented by the media. When it comes to discussions on global warming or other science issues, we get more discussions with politicians than with scientists (particularly from the right, as the science is often overwhelmingly one way).

Thoughtfulness is a vice in the media because nuance is too hard to sell. When one party is very successful at driving away from conversation and to talking points and simple responses to complex questions in a society with an ever shrinking attention span, then the result is excessive media attention and a driving out of thoughtful people from their own party, and from politics in general. Ann Coulter said once that she enjoys debating stupid people, but the only person who can really enjoy such a debate must him or herself be devoid of a thoughtful intellect.

It is not possible to win an debate against an idiot or a liar.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Taxes and Promises, Part II

I'm sorry, but the notion of an intellectually honest conversation about politics is nice, but in order to have such both sides must first be able to concede to some sort of baseline. I already conceded that it is a broken promise. I then said why I don't think that matters even a tiny little bit (to me). The other side has got to concede that political campaign promises are not absolutes. They are a necessity to get elected, then say why this promise really matters.

We basically force politicians to make ludicrous promises or we won't vote for them, but that is crap. Those promises are an "as things stand here and now, I would like to..." type things, they are not contractual oaths.

I do not think that absolutism in terms of this discussion (is he breaking a promise or not?) is intellectually honest. The inability to recognize either a changing environment or the political necessity of such promises precludes one from being able to enter into a fully honest discussion about the present.

Taxes are necessary, and not evil, but people don't like them, so it is NOT POSSIBLE to get elected by saying "You bet I'm gonna raise your taxes." I recognize that conceding that point makes discussion about whether he is breaking a campaign promise more an abstract than anything meaningful, but if you are not going to concede it, then the subsequent discussion is not going to be intellectually honest.

More, I don't really give a damn about his promises. I do give a damn about what he does and whether it is best for the country, the world, and to a lesser extent for me. Some of those things may go back to promises and I will certainly use that in argument, as are you.

If you want to talk about the issues, fine, but if you want to split hairs on the meaning of campaign promises, that discussion doesn't hold much value to me. Obama is already going against them in ways I find more offensive than taxes. I want the photos released, gitmo detainees properly tried and either convicted and sentenced or released (I don't really care much if the base closes), I want real, meaningful financial reform and regulation, I want equal rights for everyone (gay marriage), and I want meaningful energy/environmental legislation. Those things are way more important to me than whether my taxes actually go up or down or stay the same, but the question to ask (in a world that I could actually ask the president something) would not be "How dare you? but "Why are you?" A satisfactory answer could mitigate my objection.

Now, to the other things. Capital gains are an income source, so taxes on them are income taxes (they are not, technically wage taxes). Payroll taxes are also taxes on income. No, they are not part of 1040 filing, but if you pay higher taxes by earning more money (up to 90 whatever k), it is a tax on income, and splitting hairs on income vs. wage vs. payroll vs. cap gains is kind of silly to me, and the "any taxes" following a bunch of income type taxes? Seems to me he meant other income type taxes, but if he didn't? Don't care. Not a meaningful discussion to me.

For passed down tax costs (like cap and trade making energy more expensive for us), you can't only look at that side of the pass down, and it is not possible to fully figure all the ramifications. I don't like cigarette taxes, but if they go up and people smoke less and quit more, and resultant expensive hospital bills are substantially reduced then it may be a net gain: slightly higher taxes but far more freed revenue. Same thing with cap and trade or other environmental regulatory taxation. If energy costs go up, but I get better mass transit, or reduced traffic resulting in my spending less time, and gas, and money on transportation to and from work, then the higher taxes may be coming back in a fairly direct way, never minding any secondary effects (actual environmental improvement, or at least mitigation of the long term negative effects). If you are going to pass on tax costs to higher energy, then you also have to try and pass it on to potential savings...that really isn't possible, which is why it will always seem cheaper and more profitable to slash and burn.

Really, though, taxes in general have become nothing more than a right wing bogyman; we had astronomically higher taxes in the 50's and did pretty well for ourselves, though I wouldn't advocate for going back to a 90% top rate. The government needs money for defense and education and infrastructure, and it seems for bailing out the "free market." It gets that money from taxes (unless the population votes for politicians who cut taxes too much, in which case it borrows the money from China). Taxes will absolutely have to go up unless we decide collectively that defense spending can be dramatically cut and health care can be dramatically reformed. Those are the social security and welfare along with any other government program that can be named that people don't like, are like ants to a whale. I have zero hope for substantial defense cuts and diminishing hopes for real health care reform, so taxes will need to go up at some point.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cynicism in Politics

Next post is going to be the meat of the counter to the comment discussion on promises, but I did want to say that there is a real difference in the nature of the cynicism from people. I am cynical about the behavior of the masses, not individuals. My cynicism regarding politics relates not so much to the politicians, but the nature of getting elected. What people will and won't vote for, how trigger words and phrases, no matter their truth or fairness, cause people to change their minds.

I think that the utility of dishonesty in politics attracts dishonest politicians. It also means that it is impractical for an honest person running for office to succeed without employing distorting rhetoric. I think Obama is the most thoughtful and competent president we have had in my lifetime and then some, but due to the nature of campaigning he had no choice but to engage in less than fully honest statements, particularly on taxes. I see that as a system and mob mentality failure, not as a failure of the specific person elected. I actually feel the same way about Bush. He is who he is, and while I did not like him, I did not see his presidency as a failure of him or his policies, but of the voters.

So yes, I would rather have a dishonest president who does the best thing for the nation than an honest one who does not...and I am aware that the "best thing for the nation" is up for serious debate. Honesty in politics is rare because it tends to preclude good politicians from getting elected, and bad politicians have no problem with lying.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bill Gates

So, Bill Gates uses his vast wealth and, I guess, fame to publicly help the impoverished throughout the world.

I've never been a huge windows fan due to their anti-competitive practices and memory hogging bloat, and I'm not exactly a Bill Gates fan. Still, it is the rare crazy-rich person in this world who does what he has through his foundation, and I really think that his present day actions should be more often held up as an example. More, I wish that influential rich people of a more public nature (like Oprah) would do similar real good with their wealth. Rather than use it to peddle crap like that horrible Secret book.

HDMI Cables

Cabling for various components in an entertainment system can be fairly complicated and very pricey. With analog cables the high cost makes sense. Pickup and loss along the length directly affect the signal, so very low resistance wires (heavy gauge copper) with high quality shielding that is separated by the center conductor by a fair distance and preferably driven are very important to signal quality. Good analog signal cables are expensive.

Digital is completely different. Signals are transmitted quickly but are either 1 or 0. No in betweens. Noise pickup is almost irrelevant. This is one of the major advantages to digital signal transmission. It also means that you do NOT need any special care in the cable. This means that digital cables should be much cheaper than analog. I picked up my HDMI cables for about $3 each (including shipping) online. Cheapest I could find at a store: $30 at Radio Shack. Most are over $50 with plenty of them being over $100!

There is zero reason for these cables to cost over $10...or for them to not be included with devices that use them. Zero. It's a rip off. Unfortunately for most (low-info) shoppers, this information is not exactly handed out at anyplace that sells these cables. They make too much money to let people in on the scam.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Taxation and Politician Promises

In this case, it's Obama's repeated statements during campaigning that people making less than $250k/yr would not have their taxes raised. Personally I think it is pretty obvious that he was talking only about their marginal income tax rate. A friend of mine, however, uses that as a benchmark against any tax increases that would apply across the board (like a higher gas tax or cap and trade pass down or change in deduction schemes).

He is not technically wrong in that any such tax would go against the stated promise of our new president. I, obviously, do not agree with that, and I know that if any of those other forms of taxation increase then Obama will be hit with it as breaking a promise. Two things:

One: taxes are not bad, but people do not like them so no matter how much better their lives may end up with higher taxes, it is political death to talk about raising them. Even with Obama only talking about raising taxes a small amount on a very small percentage of the population, he was hit hard and often about his raising taxes. The whole truth of those arguments don't seem to matter to many on the right, but the whole truth of Obama's promise sure as hell will.

Two: even absent splitting hairs on what it means to keep the promise it is a moot point when the world changes. I am fully aware that Bush Sr (the smart one) likely lost due to his proper decision to sign into law a tax increase (we had a war to pay for after all), but that doesn't change the fact that the promise was made prior to shit that happened. It is not possible to anticipate the future, and while I do think politicians need to be held accountable for their actions once elected (you know, when they run for reelection) it is a worse thing to be unwilling to bend to changing situations than it is to break a promise made while campaigning and while the situation was different.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Banks Paying Back TARP?

I say let them, but if they pay back the funds so that they can pay their execs megabucks, then get in trouble a few months then no help. None. They seem to have some notion that they pay back funds now, so they can behave like they want, while still having government protection if it bites them down the road. Uh-uh.

We get the money back, plus a bit of interest, and never have to worry about them again. Otherwise this is a raw deal.

Electrochemical Impedance Spectroscopy

Ok, so the title should have scared most people away...

EIS is a technique used in corrosion, sensors, and echem energy (batteries, fuel cells, super caps, dye sensitized solar cells). Impedance is measured at a series of discrete frequencies, and plotted either linear as imaginary vs. real (Nyquist) or on a Bode plot (log x log: mag and phase vs freq). The vast majority of meaningful information and behavior occurs at frequencies well below 1 MHz, and really, below 10 kHz. For instrumentation, however, 1 MHz has become the standard, and so that's what everyone specs. The problem is that there is no speaking to the accuracy. Doing impedance measurements at 1 MHz is very difficult. Stray capacitance on the high end and inductance on the low conspire to pinch the impedance bandwidth as frequency increases.

Some of those 1 MHz instruments are not even within 10% accuracy at 1MHz anywhere (or 10 deg phase). I suppose you could argue that this virtual lie is no different than the presentation of current resolution as an indicator of the current limit of detection (when noise is the real cutoff, which many potentiostat manufacturers do not specify).

As I work for a company that does not lie about that or hide it or inflate specs beyond performance I end up with mixed feelings. I want to be able to publicly call this crap out, but it is unseemly or something. In the peculiar confluence of science and business, science has to fight really hard to come out ahead.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Tiananmen Square

I know I'm a day late. I was 12 years old at the time and I have no clear specific memories about Tiananmen Square when it occurred. I do have vague recollections of Chinese killing pro-democracy protesters, and the Tank Man image that came out some time later.

China continues to refuse to apologize for the actions it took. Right now we can't really say anything to them about it.

Prior to 2001-2003 we were on a pretty solid high ground footing with respect to China (not sure exactly when the torture began, but the Iraq war marks the end otherwise) when it comes to civil rights. Overall we still are, but torture, Guantanamo and a war of choice have severely weakened our stance in the eyes of the world. It is difficult to tell someone else to straighten up their act when our own has become so bent.

Maybe that is the most important part of Obama's speech in Cairo. In speaking candidly about mistakes we made the past 8 years, and in making it clear some of what needs to happen to right some of those things, he is helping to regain our standing in the world.

There is a lot of wind spent on specifics (Sotomayor, health care, the bailout, Cheney and Limbaugh, etc) and those things are a lot easier to comment on and to understand. Our world has shrunk dramatically in the last 15 years, and global issues are the most critical but also by far the most complex. How we deal with China is critically important for just about everything. Economics, greenhouse gas emissions, consumption, civil rights, military strength, space exploration, and more are all at stake, but many of those issues are opposed. The best path forward is not to demand or even request, but to lead. If we want China to improve their civil rights then pressure can only be brought to bear if we do the same (including, in my opinion, investigating and prosecuting anyone involved in torture). If we want China to push for green tech and energy we had damned well better do the same. If we want Iran to stop pursuing (if they are) nuclear weapons, and for North Korea to stop testing them, we had best get out of Iraq as quickly as possible. If we want the help of other nations in pursuing global compromise we should probably ensure that we help our own citizens recognize the importance of that global community, and to do that we must help our own citizens to live lives of dignity with things like health care.

Leading by example is hard work. Obama's speech was good, but there's a lot of living up to it that he and the rest of us will need to do for it to have been meaningful in the long run. If the media refuses to grow up in their reporting endeavors I wonder if it will be possible for Americans to come to understand this.

Curious: For some reason spell check wants me to write "Tienanmen". Since it's actually a Roman alphabet approximation of the Chinese word, it probably doesn't matter much but it seems the agreed upon spelling is with an "a" there.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Earth to GM: The Stupid, it Hurts!

New CAFE standards are going to be 36 mpg.

Probable direction for oil/gas costs during and after recovery is up and then way up.

And then there is the overall environmental issue which will mean more smaller vehicles with less internal combustion (directly) powering them.

The brands GM is keeping are the most profitable based on the high profit margin of the SUV and big truck: Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC and Buick (Buick?!?).

Caddy and Chevy make sense in all manners. They are flagship plates. Chevy covers the spectrum from the small Aveo to the massive Suburban to the quintessential Corvette. Cadillac has less cachet than it used to but still can compete with Mercedes, Lexus and Audi.

GMC is a bit more iffy. The label is only big-ass trucks and a forward thinking individual might see that brand, like Hummer, as one that could nose dive in the coming years. Unlike Hummer, GMC does do big business in fleet sales (things like moving vans and sales to fire depts and more), so it does have that side that could well keep it alive despite likely plummeting consumer sales.

But Buick? Seriously? About the only thing I can figure here is that they are assuming that the Obama health plan will be so good that there is going to be a booming market for sales to the over 80 crowd in the coming years, but even that over 80 crowd will be increasingly people who eschewed the Buick label (along with much of the rest of the big 3), and an unlikely source of revenue. Maybe the government buys lots of Buicks? Or maybe Buick is profitable because they only spend about 50 cents a year on R&D? I'm pretty sure that the Buick design team discussions go something like: "We'll bring back the fender portholes so old people will remember how they used to be!" and then a few years later: "Now we will remove the fender portholes because most people think they are silly!"

They are ditching Saturn and Pontiac--brands that have great future potential--and keeping Buick. Yes, GM is bound to fail again. It is precisely this type of ass-backwards thinking that has led to their going over the cliff while Ford, Toyota, Mazda, et cetera are suffering but surviving. Of those two dying brands Saturn probably has the best potential and will likely be purchased or spun off somehow and end up more successful in the long run than any of the kept brands save Chevrolet.


Ok, it's funny. Bad economy driving people to take to the streets in costume. Never fear, Bill the laid off office worker is here! Is it a low cost version of a midlife crisis? Or am I just missing t4e aw350m3?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Mind Your Own Damned Buisness

Mostly this post by John Cole is about abortion, and should be read as such, but it gets at the heart of a whole mess of issues that really get me riled up. There is a noisy bunch of people in this country that wants to tell everyone how to live. Abortion and gay marriage are high on that list, but science issues (evolution, stem cells) and other social welfare issues (welfare, Medicaid, affirmative action) I would also include. These are issues that either cost the taxpayer nothing or that cost less than doing nothing (more crime, decay and health issues w/o welfare, more high cost emergency room treatment w/o public health care). Particularly in the case of science, the opponents are often factually wrong (either deliberately or because they have faith in their own set of "facts")

And yes, this is a is also a 1 paragraph blog post. To tease out the subtle distinctions between and withing groups I have grouped together would take pages...for each issue.