Monday, August 31, 2009


"4 am," he said out loud. Then laid back down astride oddly placed pillows; his sheets in bunches.

He had gone to bed at 11 and now was waiting for some semblance of the fatigue he felt turning hie eyes red to drive his brain to shut itself down. Three and a half hours until he had to be up again, maybe another 15 minutes if he didn't wash more than his hair.

What was it this time? He couldn't even clearly remember. There was no focus left. He had spent the past six hours trying to clear the conversation and its repercussions from his head, and the mix of thought, video and fantasy he had driven himself to engage in to clear out the other thought had done nothing to help him sleep. It had confused things. He wondered if he should dig it up again.

"No use," he said as he sat up. Tears came to his eyes as he reconciled to say what he needed. He wouldn't call. Waking her up for this was not nice. She had work to and there was no sense in ruining both of their slumbers.

He sat down in front of the computer punching the monitor button to turn it on. The box didn't sleep. As the screen flickered to life he opened the document he had been working on for some time now. He would make little changes here and there now and then. Time for a new paragraph.

It seems to me as though my life has turned again for the worst. She hates me and is only staying with me until she can find someone better. She sounds exasperated when she says she loves me. She got off the phone and went to hook up with some guy. I know it...

It continued in such banal fashion for a while. Though he considered himself as such, he was not smart. No one would confuse his works with those of a competent writer. And yet, in five hours time, he would be the cause of salvation for the world as it would be...for the survivors.

Martin Trapper: the first person to die of the strange disease that would be named "Traps," and in whose tissue would be found an antiviral that stopped it. His girlfriend would die of the disease three hours after him. She had never cheated. She would have regretted not doing so if she had had a chance.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

No One Wants Rational Discourse

Rational discourse starts with concessions to the other person's viewpoints. This requires certain levels of validity to the opposing point of view and the ability of the holder of that viewpoint to recognize the same in mine/yours/the first person's/whatever.

Health care reform, pay equality, gay rights, taxation, abortion and more. People willing to have rational discourse on these issues are not the ones driving the debate, and are also just too damned nice to the opposition thereby committing the grievous sin of being too boring for TV. As such, we will not see a rational discourse on any of these. Ever.

Friday, August 28, 2009


Came home from work tonight and Sixteen Candles was on some channel. It struck me that if this movie were to be made today that Molly Ringwald would never be cast. A more recent comparable movie would be She's All That...with Rachel Leigh Cook in the comparable role.

For some reason normal women are no longer allowed to be romantic leads.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

GOP Chair Michael Steele

Was on NPR this morning. It was like listening to a blind person describing shapes in the clouds.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


US students are behind in science and math! I'm not kidding!

Studies like this are entertaining, sometimes informative, but often dubious. In this case, while math--I think--we can use as a good benchmark for educational assessment, science is a lot harder. The evidence is that we don't do very well with science education here, but I'm not convinced we are worse than other places. Our universities provide science education to much of the world, and we tend to educate in a different fashion than many other nations (more emphasis on understanding rather than memorization). On the other hand, politically, we have one major party that has become far more hostile to science than can be found anywhere else.

One problem with determining science education, is that it is particularly hard to assess early on (and 15 really is early on). You can't really learn physics until you learn calculus and most US students don't learn calc until they are 17-19 (and too many never do). Bio without chemistry is mostly an exercise in memorization, which doesn't mean understanding, and is not, in my opinion, a good indication of quality education, but is the only real measure that can be used for 15 year olds.

I've commented on some of this before, so that's enough for now (unless I feel like adding later). The more peculiar part of the article was when it is proposed that a possible remedy is to pay science/math teachers more. The National Education Association (NEA) disagrees saying, "Simply being a teacher of a hard-to-staff subject does not equate with effective instruction, and therefore, should not be rewarded in-and-of-itself through a salary differential."

I understand why the NEA would take that position. The idea that one teacher is worth more than another simply because of the subject they teach does seem a bit offensive. Unfortunately it is the way that the world, and particularly the US works. By and large, science majors have far more, and far more lucrative options available to them than do history, English or language majors. Ignoring the quality or significance of a subject, the simple competition would mean that science/math majors can expect more money for their degree, and if teaching refuses that, then they will get disproportionately fewer and poorer science/math teachers.

There are certainly plenty of highly capable and qualified people who go into teaching despite it's rather pathetic compensation, but they are the exception, and not sufficient to fill the ranks of teachers, especially in areas where good paying jobs are more prevalent (like science).

Now, I think that almost all teachers should be paid more, and I would love it if art teachers got the same compensation as biology, but, really, that is not fair. If we don't start paying science and math teachers more than we do now, then schools will continue to be understaffed in those departments.


This started after seeing this as a statement about the death penalty and the emotion that keeps it in existence, then it got really serious, so I reworked it... A couple months later, and now Sen Kennedy has died and it again seems apropos so I'll go ahead and post it. It is not complete but is sufficient for now.

Life and death is always a heavy topic. On a pulled back, big picture view of things, no one person makes a sufficiently significant impact that their absence would create a vacuum. To look to individuals who have made large impacts in our history is somewhat misleading, as we cannot see the world as it could have been without them, and while it is possible if not likely that no other would have filled the role, it would not, as we would know it, matter.

But we do not judge life in such a grand view fashion. We judge life as the value of those closest to us--that is, we say life is invaluable. We react with horror to the deaths of complete strangers because we put ourselves in the situation. We imagine if a friend, lover, parent, or child had suffered such a fate and we empathize. The more easily we can imagine a particular tragic event, the more strongly we will associate. Most Americans will not ever know the suffering that comes from being unable to get drinking water, and so the millions of lives lost to that are foreign. Hunger is similar in our inability to relate. On the other end most Americans either have flown or had a close friend or family member fly, so when a plane goes down we are more involved, we want to know what happened so we can feel safe from something that could happen to us.

This goes a long way to explaining why billions of dollars are spent in making air travel safer, but only a handful of us send a few bucks a year to help provide clean water to others in the world.

Death is part of life. We are curious and terrified. We wish to see it but be hidden and protected from it.

Friday, August 21, 2009

I Really Don't Like Politics

It is insanely frustrating for anyone who actually thinks. Republicans have turned themselves into the party of idiot rule. Democrats have for some time been the party of terrified lemmings.

I had hoped that large majorities in congress and the first president who could truly claim a mandate in about 20 years might change some things. It hasn't happened, and that is becoming more frustrating than anything. For a fair synopsis of what is fucked up about how the Democrats running things right now read Greenwald.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


John Ensign is the Nevada Republican Senator who was having an affair with a staff member (who, with her husband was even sharing the house with John and his wife). He seems to think that his affair, and the $96k payoff to his mistress and all the other crap is not nearly as bad as Clinton's blowjob, and that's because, as he says: "I haven't done anything legally wrong."

Apparently in the point of view of the values police (i.e. much of the GOP) legally wrong is the greater evil. Therefore it is much more acceptable to cheat on your spouse and maybe ruin a marriage or two than it is to drive over the speed limit.

Glad we're clear on that.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Why Science is Hard

Facts are fairly easy things (not for the MSM and Republicans, but eh...).

Science deals largely with facts.

Science is hard.

There are two primary reasons for this: lots of required background and complexity of interpretation of results.

As an initial aside: there is a largely philosophical [scientific] notion that facts are not so easy. This has to do at some level with uncertainty, but even beyond that, with the fact that most scientific facts are obtained under the premise that one or many established theories are correct. Scientists, by and large, do not have much of an issue with this, and aside from playing games, there is no reason to call obtained data something other than a fact. So I'll be pretty much ignoring this...

While there is quite a bit of science that is accessible to the masses, it is really mostly old. The latest science, and that which is most impacting our present/future in complex and highly debated fashion, is not. Climate change is a perfect example, and new energy tech is also here. It is difficult because you need to have a strong science background to understand it, and even then, if your background is outside of the area of expertise then you may be hard pressed. For example: I have a conceptual understanding of relativity, but I can not do the general and special relativity corrections necessary for GPS calculations.

Standing on the shoulders of giants sounds easy, but you have to climb up there first. That means education and most of the non-scientist population don't bother. There is a phenomenal amount of science out there. Some is interrelated, some is not, but everything that is happening today in science happens on top of a broad base, that is commonly understood within science but largely ignored outside of it. Let's have a quick look at how this works in energy tech and climate...

In energy tech, most if not all people have heard of solar cells, and most of those people understand that they produce electrical power from [sun]light. Only a very small number--possibly a majority of scientists, though not likely--really understand how they work, however, and only a very small subset of that group really understand the challenges of using solar as a major energy source, and within that group are many pockets working on ways to improve different aspects of solar energy collection who only have detailed knowledge of their own projects and a few others that are related.
Global climate history is gathered as detailed in tree rings, ice cores and geologic strata. There is a fair amount of understanding of climate history, but the cause and effect nature, the interrelation between different areas and aspects, and extrapolation to possible futures is an immensely complex problem. It is a problem which scientists have been engaging in and refining only in the past few decades. In large part this part of the work is recent because it was virtually impossible without computers. The nature of development in the field is such that current knowledge and understanding is orders of magnitude better than that of 20+ years ago. Despite this, many naysayers point to research from the 70's as a counter. Research done in the 70's is about as relevant to climate change as research done in the 1800's is to evolution (when Darwin was alive, but before we knew about DNA), that is, it is important, but too much was not yet understood. It could be that 10-30 years from now we will say the same thing about our current understanding, but we have to do with the best we know, and 70's climate research isn't that.

Those couple of examples represent quite a bit of science that is available but not commonly understood, yet they still don't even begin to demonstrate any expertise on either issue. Actual, expert scientific debate is incomprehensible to most and therefore boring and not TV worthy. As such, most of the public science debate in this country is between political pundits and/or crusaders who haven't got the background to be relevant, but who are making the noise and are picked up by the media. Unfortunately, since most of the public is also insufficiently well educated, it sounds to too many like real debate. It isn't.

The other point, and the reason that science is hard is that, even when one has the proper background, is that interpretation of results and extrapolation are not trivial problems. Multiple iterations, many different experimental comparisons are helpful, but even still, general consensus can be hard to come by, especially when multiple scientists are working the same problem from different angles. Ego--not in short supply among top scientists--makes resolving differences harder still.

Differences of opinion bordering on arguments between two scientists who are both terribly well educated and also likely leaders in a field, are not just beyond the understanding of the general public, but often beyond the understanding of the general scientific community. The notion of "teaching the debate" sounds nice, but as a PhD in the field is necessary just to understand the framework on which a scientific debate is held, it really is quite ludicrous. But these differences of opinion occur, and quite regularly.

Science is a constantly growing and shifting body of work and ideas. The generally poor science knowledge of the general public means that much important science has become an article of faith for many. When something is a question of belief rather than fact, then the boundaries become fuzzy and arguments and "ideas" that do not qualify can begin to seem as credible as real science to those who don't understand what science really is.

People believe in DNA because very few have seen or understand the evidence that proves its existence. The good news is that most people still have more faith in science and scientists than they do in financial service employees, or politicians. The bad news is that they have faith and not understanding, and it is being eroded.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Not Shopping at Whole Foods Anymore

I was a bit excited when I moved to my new place that there was a Trader Joe's and a Whole Foods in biking distance (~2 miles) from me. Won't be shopping at Whole Foods anymore.

I don't mind that their CEO is a false-talking-point-spewing, jackass conservative (lots of CEOs are) as much as I mind that he decided to use his position to show the entire company as holding the same view. The only reason that anyone gives a damn about what John Mackey thinks is because he is CEO of Whole Foods. You know, where all those (us) dirty fucking hippies shop.

Smart business to alienate the lion's share of your customers. Yes, I'm sure that plenty of conservatives--like those lords and masters of Wall Street--also shop there, but there's only so many over priced organic cucumbers they can go through in a week.

Quick point by point retort to big John's 8 reforms:

1. Stupid - high deductable insurance discurages people from doing things like routine checkups and serious problems are less likely to be caught early, when they are easier (cheaper) to fix. HSA's are an inadequate fix.

2. Stupid - tax breaks should be reduced or eliminated not compounded, particularly in such a way that companies will have less incentive to provide for their employees, the result would be fewer people without insurance.

3. Eh - sounds good but where these have been rolled back so far the result has been worse insurance for people, and less real competition, not more. Basically leads to mega insurance co.'s like AIG. Just think: more companies that are "too big to fail," we all know how swimmingly that worked.

4. Stupid - means more exceptions, and worse coverage...and more uninsured and more bankrupted and more government footing the bill.

5. Good idea...maybe - needs details, and really hard to figure out how to do fairly, but it could result in substantial savings.

6. Eh - what the hell good would this actually do? People don't have sufficient understanding of medicine or its costs to make an informed decision. e.g. Checkups are actually more profitable than insanely expensive MRI tests, because there is no $20+ million instrument to pay for.

7. Again, good idea but no details. Also, this is part of the total Obama plan, so for him to put it here as a counter is kind of, well, Stupid.

8. Stupid - Americans are charitable, but this is just an idiotic statement, to believe this you must first believe that charity has eliminated hunger and homelessness and oh, wait, nevermind...

So he makes lots of stupid (though likely quite profitable) points, a couple that are maybe not stupid, but neither are they good, one good point that is already part of Obama's plan (as stated) and finally one good point that is not part of Obama's plan (afaik), of course he doesn't actually have any meaningful insight to offer on it. And this ignores the rest of his heartless idiocy.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Asinine Deficit Argument

This is kind of a follow up to the last comment on the previous post. The popular excuse heard by those who howl about Obama, but say it has nothing to do with his being black, is just that they have been increasingly fed up with government [spending] for a long time and Obama is making it worse. The problem, of course, is that this is a BS statement.

Many of those who are barking mad about Obama voted for Bush (see chart, and this article) who is far more responsible for our deficit, and voted for McCain, who (based on his campaign promises of more irresponsible tax cuts and no meaningful spending cuts) would have made it worse than Obama has or will.

Our country is where it is--deficits, wasteful spending, energy issues--in very large part due to Bush and Republicans. Now that Democrats want to make sure the poor in this country can get adequate access to health care, and that no one will need to bankrupt themselves because of an illness, people are howling mad.

Ignore the war. Ignore the dumb-ass tax cuts. Ignore the Wall Street cronyism (which, to be fair, is being continued by the Obama administration). Ignore the oil and coal industries' dominance of energy policy. Yea, blame the black guy. Say he isn't American. Call him a closet Muslim. Say he is like the Nazis. Make up shit about death panels. Bark at the Moon.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

There is no Health Reform Debate

To say otherwise is nonsense. The right is shouting lies at town hall meetings. The left is being almost completely ignored (which is always the case on this issue) and the middle is actually dictating this bill, and pandering more to the slobbering mad insurance companies.

I read through the comments on this post recently. There is hardly more than a scrap of sense or reason shown by the more conservative posters, and the only more liberal statement that actually receives a semi-thoughtful counter response is one that hints at racism.

I'm rather inclined to agree with Patrick on the whole, including his three points as to why the insanity, though I think he would be better off not mentioning them due to the reactionary (somewhat reasonably so) response to insinuating that a fair amount of dissent to this health care reform is due to it coming from a black president.

I don't think that a lot of the people who don't want health care reform give two shakes what color our president is. I do think, however, that the howling raging protesters, with nazi signs and the like would not be present if our pinko-liberal president also happened to be white.

There is a whole mess of crazy that is getting too much press coverage, that is very different from what we saw when Clinton (who received a much smaller fraction of the popular vote) was in office. Obama's policies are not very liberal, no matter his personal views, so the most reasonable conclusion to the vitriol is that it is because he is black.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Distopia >> Utopia

Of course it makes sense that a dystopian future is better for books and movies than a utopian one, afterall, books and movies need to be interesting.

But a dystopia is better for us in real life than a utopia would be. If reality were ever to achieve a state of perfection then there would be nothing left for us to strive for or against. There would be no need for creativity or development or wonder. Nothing left to achieve or learn. Perfection would invite death from wasting away.

No, give me dystopia. A future society of 10 billion that cannot be sustained and leads to (human) catastrophe. A global event (disease, comet, hunger) that would leave survivors in a position to prove themselves. To rise above, to keep their minds and hearts against the savage vagaries of the life laid bare before them.

Odds are I will not live to see that, and that even were I to be able to I would not be one to survive that which would bring it about. But make no mistake, it is coming. It could be hundreds or even thousands of years off, but the future is not our present, and no matter what greatness lies in wait, it must come as a result of or lead to turmoil.

And that's my happy thought for the weekend.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Binary Thought

I'm a geek and I have great appreciation for the alacrity of binary logic. Every response is a 1 or a 0, yes or no, true or false, right or wrong. Unfortunately for the real world life is not binary. Infinity exists between 0 and 1, and "maybe" can answer more questions more completely than all of the other one-word responses above combined.

As a people, however, we prefer binary. We use almost exclusively. This is not for appreciation of the Socratic method which employed binary logic to deliberately yield absurd results (like valor is evil), but for ignorance of its demonstration of binary logic's fallacy.

Considering how old this logical constraint is, I am tempted to say that it is part of human nature. We seek to explain things by reducing even complex problems to a series of binary questions and answers. Binary thinking does remarkably well in fields like science: "What happens if I do the same thing but raise the temperature by 10 degrees C?" It isn't so good when it comes to things like health care reform, which seems to play out as free market or socialism, no matter what the actual reform proposed is or what the status quo is.

Testing is [almost] always binary. Multiple choice is no less binary than true/false, it just has different probabilities of a random choice being correct. Even less inherently binary testing like short answer or essay often boil down to a series of binary responses: you get 2 points for including this bit, 3 for this other, 5 for the big one, and maybe another point for spelling/grammar/complete sentences.

Binary thought is not necessarily simple. It's root is to hold on to one thought and compare another. The better answer between those two is then compared with a third and so on. Awareness of complexity means that after checking and finding '[a < b < c]' we would have to check a vs c and if we find that c < a we have a problem. The continuation is to determine the quality of the various less and greater than's in similar one to one comparison. This is the equivalent of making a list of advantages and disadvantages. The length of the list is important, but there is quality assigned to each as well. All of this can produce very complex logic, that is binary in its base nature.

It seems to me that things are too often reduced from the complex expanded binary problem to the simple binary question. This is particularly true in politics and on television where sensationalism and soundbites are the standard operating practice. I don't know that our attention spans have actually shortened as much as it has been that the arrival of abbreviated media, specifically computers and the internet, that has made it easier for us to demand quick definite responses. I don't deny that science has played a part in this. People expect answers to questions, particularly science questions e.g. those concerning global warming. We believe that there is an answer to anything and when that answer is less than clear, then many people become frustrated to the point that they can even believe false answers (global warming doesn't exist), or at least believe that people are hiding the real answers for some devious reason.

Binary thinking is perfectly acceptable so long as people are aware of the underlying complexity. Expecting simple answers to complex questions/problems is bad, and has become more apparent if not more common.

Regina Spektor

I think she's a cutie...maybe a bit unconventionally so, and it could be largely due to her voice, but still. Anyway, I don't have the new album, but heard this on the radio yesterday evening:

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Uh, oh...

I know I've said similar things here before, but now it's in a Time article. So, you know, it must be true.

It is actually fairly detailed, and pulls in references to several different areas of research that show the same thing (most of them items that have been in the news in the past year). Short and long is: weight (fat) loss is when total calories consumed is less than the total burned. Exercise makes us hungry, so we eat more. It is noted in the article that people eat more than strictly necessary to offset the calories burned, and that, moreover, the exercise may depress other activity throughout the day.

I would guess that the former phenomenon is due to speed: when we are hungry we tend to eat faster, which can lead to eating more as we outrun the signals that would say we've been sated. The latter, I'm not entirely sure I buy. I suppose it depends on how extreme the exercise is. I do sit more still when I have done a hard workout, but I also move more briskly the next day. I am more bouncy when I have exercised the evening before, rather than less, and I feel better rested as well. This could mean that I have had a more restful sleep that was more still than normal and burned fewer calories, or it could be because the increased metabolism is showing itself, or it could be mental: exercise leads to less guilt which makes me feel brighter and more energetic.

Really, though, there is a reason that it is DIET and exercise. That first word is important. You can lose weight (fat) without exercise, but not without diet. No matter how much one exercises it is possible to eat more to offset. The body must burn calories to survive, however, so an appropriate diet can always lead to consuming less than the body burns.

It is hard to know how many calories we actually burn or how many calories we really eat. Friday breakfast at work means I may eat a couple donuts, half a muffin and a bagel with cream cheese. My normal breakfast is a bowl of cereal with some fruit or a pb&j on toast. I've no idea what the calorie difference is, but I know that if I take an extra long walk with my dog and do half an hour of weights it will offset some portion of that.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Hate Crime Laws

Richard Cohen doesn't seem to think them a good idea. Of course he is using specific examples to argue against a broad law. Kind of like saying that teaching kids "i before e..." is useless by pointing out the word "weird." I may not entirely disagree, but specifics are a bad way to determine the efficacy of a general rule/law.

In terms of killings and assault/battery, hate crimes probably don't do a whole hell of a lot. But think about someone burning a cross or painting a racial epithet on someone's sidewalk/door. That, in the absence of its terror inducing effect on a particular group of people, is a rather mild crime (provided the fire doesn't get out of hand). It's vandalism, maybe trespassing, and may not cause any noteworthy physical damage...and it is terrifying. Of course this is a specific as well. So let's back out.

We have freedom of speech (and of thought) even when that speech is hateful. But we also have a grant of fundamental rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. When any action (including speech) infringes upon another's fundamental rights, it becomes illegal. Hate crimes that are confined in such a way so that the crime cannot be expected to have a broad affect on other's fundamental rights, should not be prosecuted as such.

There are actions, however, that do not break any laws yet which by their nature are intended to deny (generally through fear) others' their right to the pursuit of happiness if not their right to liberty. This is true of various white supremacist groups along with others, like anti-abortion protesters.

The conflict between freedom of speech and all Americans' fundamental rights is not so easy to overcome as to hurl out an example or two and say that they show how bad an idea hate crime laws are.

Monday, August 03, 2009

OMFG: Green Energy: Not Entirely Green!

While I think that it's pretty damned obvious that no matter how "green" any energy tech is it won't be (can't be) perfect, it is news to CNN.

The entire of green energy is really about which is better. And if the grouse community believes that mining and burning coal for power in Wyoming is better than windmills, then they should push back against wind farms, but I think they are out of their minds.

Of course, they are really no different than me on at least one regard: looking for something to complain about in a presented solution rather than actually having a solution.

(Well, I guess I'm complaining about their complaining rather than about a proposed solution, and I do tend to offer my own preferences/solutions when I do complain about a proposed one, but that all requires understanding nuance and that's hard.)