29 August 2007

funny line

funny line

(TMQ proposes that henceforth, environmental hypocrisy be measured in Hummer Years.)

I can live with that I suppose. He was describing the celebrities arriving in their private jets for a concert on conservation and anti-greenhouse gases. Such jets generate pollutants equal to the average miles driving of a Hummer for one year. Hypocrisy in all this is basically an unchartable function of unintentional comedy.

"Four thousand years' worth of Hummer emissions for an event demanding conservation!"

"Sting's wife recently charted a helicopter to fly her to an environmental meeting." Ahh good times. I hate celebrities who have a message. Shut up and do what we pay you for until you make enough sense to say something important without sounding like an idiot. (the SC beauty queen comes to mind here).

25 August 2007

rays of hope for despairing nerds


WARNING: atypically long rant follows. Read the article instead if you're not up for it.
As the picture indicates, people who can balance books on their heads are super smart.

Getting the picture more readily, successful schools should be set up to push the intelligent as well as provide something for the more mundane basics we all need. I've argued with people all over the place about this, but the point of fact is a school set up to teach to a test is going to fail. Not because assimilating the knowledge from that test will fail, but because the best and brightest will grow bored with academic pursuits, seeing them only as a putrid series of regurgitations. In any society I suspect it's more important in the long term for that society to worry more about failing it's best than failing it's worst. It's worst can and should be attended to. That can be done, often with difficulty or resistance. It's important too, don't get me wrong because the worst are often numerous and can cause a tremendous drain on society without some resources invested for self-sufficiency. But without it's best, society slowly freezes and dies. Anyone familiar with history knows the line that a society is not conquered from without until it has been conquered from within. We're fast approaching that critical mass point and it starts to become clear that this failure emanates from this particular failing above any others.

"The school is a rejection of the thoroughly American notion that if most just try hard enough, we could all be talented". This is indeed truly an American notion, and a throughly idiotic one at that. Talent can be developed yes, but it also must be discovered. Not everyone has some sort of educational gift, be it music, math, or writing, waiting to be tapped and start to shine. This doesn't imply everyone else is worthless (human worth seems to be independent of intellect anyway, many of the Nazis at Nuremberg were of high intelligence for example). But it does mean we're not doing very well by those that do have the intellect. IQ tests are a semi-measure but they have their own flaws. I'm mostly referring to anyone with a gift and a real hunger for learning, not simply those people who happen to score well on particular tests. People following sports often hear about 'upside' during drafts for example. Brainiacs have the same upside in need of development to put to work those rare gifts in the real world.

"If so, is the answer to segregate the brightest kids?". My experience says yes. I saw about the same 20-30 people my last two years of high school in every class. In college, the brightest kids will tend to pick harder classes or at least actually complete them (in part because they'll tend to skip/test past the fluff courses that are 'required'). They're also going to keep moving through to pursue advanced degrees. I'm not saying the rest of the 'commoners' are a corruption. Some of them are actually fairly smart themselves, just as neglected by a system that shelters the weak and ignores the power that can be created and fostered otherwise. And there's sometimes use in associating with people who're normal but tolerate the weirdo habits of a 'nerd'. Most kids do not, in fact they're actually pretty cruel about it. "The academy provides a home for them and also functions to check their self-regard since they finally compete day to day with kids who are just as bright". That's why I stuck to the higher path so much, I went where the competition was because I couldn't have cared less about having the trolls like me.

"But since at least the mid-1980s, schools have often forced gifted students to stay in age-assigned grades--even though a 160-IQ kid trying to learn at the pace of average, 100-IQ kids is akin to an average girl trying to learn at the pace of a retarded girl with an IQ of 40." If we want anything useful, it makes no sense to educate a genius in the same way one educates an imbecile. We don't have a system in place to make this work, but it sounds like someone wants to try. Kudos to them. I might suggest very small classes. Like no bigger than 15. This can be achieved in middle or high school anyway if we cut down on the chaff by realizing most of the 'required' education we impart is supposed to be done by elementary schools.

"Currently, gifted programs too often admit marginal, hardworking kids and then mostly assign field trips and extra essays". I knew a lot of these kids in high school. They appeared smart through hard work and study. There's a difference though between someone who's able to ace test after test and someone who's really smart and only someone who's really smart notices it. I don't remember getting field trips (at least not until I did some jeopardy style extracurricular stuff), but the extra essays were ok by me. I hated homework assignments and multiple choice tests simply because they were boring. I would have liked to bring a pillow on some days and in college, I'd simply show up late or leave early (throwing down a gauntlet by being done with the first test in less than 10 minutes and still acing it tended to get the professors to stop arguing with me really fast). So essays made sense because they require some levels of intellectual processing and allow for creative license. But they're not for everyone.

"Advocates for gifted kids consider one of the most pernicious results to be "cooperative learning" arrangements in which high-ability students are paired with struggling kids on projects." I always hated these. Just because people are smarter does not mean they want to teach. They end up doing all the work themselves and nothing is accomplished. I wouldn't mind doing some teaching now (partly why I'm trying to work in the field I am, it's like teaching but with better pay), but certainly not as a social inept child or teenager.

"Truly gifted kids are almost always autodidacts". This is true. That insatiable thirst for knowledge and thought almost requires that intelligence be fed, or exercised as it were. That does not mean that a school cannot give it direction or fields of exploration. I seriously doubt I would have bothered to investigate the fields of biology or chemistry on my own as my tastes were more of the other trees of learning. I can't say I enjoyed it (or that I have much use for it otherwise), but at least I was exploring different places than my mind was comfortable with. Exposure to a different type of learning is something a mind needs as a form of exercise. One cannot add more muscle by benching the same amount of weight the same amount of times every day. I was also annoyed though that a school tried to take credit for the achievements of its students. I had an English teacher who was smart enough to realize that when scores came back on proficiency tests that she didn't take any credit for my score. She knew that was mostly me. The overall scores try to attach themselves like parasites to the successes of their 'children' as though they crafted a work of art themselves.

"The curriculums are individualized and fluid--some students take college-prep English but core-level math.". I like the idea of getting rid of grade levels. They didn't really have them before when everyone's kids were at the same schoolhouse regardless of age (that must have been hell on the teacher though). It's also important to allow people to do what they excel in at a level they can excel at it. So I love the idea of fluid curriculum. One of the major problems with college has been the 'required' coursework. Gen ed classes are usually a waste of time for intelligent people, especially very directed and driven people. A biologist doesn't really need to take political history in college. They can if they want to. But it's hardly a requirement.

"You know, I would love to be equal to Michael Jordan in my basketball talents, but somehow I never will be". I agree there's a problem with any system that wants people to be equal in result. I suspect that Davidson didn't think it through enough to wonder why a system would even want people to be equal in result. Because that might be problem one on the list of things to do.

"Some successfully traverse society's pitfalls (for instance, Albert Einstein); others are less successful (for instance, Theodore Kaczynski)". GWH made this analogy several years back. I'm somewhere in the middle in case anyone has noticed. I haven't made any pipe bombs yet. I'm hoping my madness is simply a side effect of high intelligence.

"Today most of the 33 students who were not allowed to skip grades have jaded views of education, and at least three are dropouts". Maybe that is my problem with schools.

One other note from all this. The lead girl in the story, her parents (well her mom) moved just so she could go to school. That's school choice. In other countries, school choice works in something like this. Money follows the student around and the students can go to better schools instead of whatever was available in their local area. In America this happens instead by the wealthy either sending their children to private academies or moving to better school districts (in this case over 1700 miles). Nobody else has a choice in the matter. That's the kind of inequality we shouldn't want. Inherited opportunity is fine because parents want their children to succeed, but simply because someone wins the genetic lottery and is born to wealthy parents does not entitle such a person to grander things. They must be earned on some merit of their own making. People who are poor can be clever and bright too, but the star never quite makes any shine when it's in a black hole of the suffering clods of our society. That sort of inequality is something to be dealt with. Making everyone the same by educating them same, not so much. Offering everyone a decent and meaningful education, that's fine by me.

I'll agree IQ isn't the best determinant for all this. It's an indicator, but it's not totally reliable. It's a test just like any other. Some people simply aren't good at tests (these would be the people I mocked before a test, I can hope it helped). I've seen studies where simply by identifying a person's race prior to taking a test can influence the scores, perhaps explaining some of why blacks historically trail on IQ scores. The tests themselves tend to emphasize spatial reasoning, something I've not known many women to excel at. They're not terrible at it either, but to get off the charts high (like say Mensa2 high), one has to be pretty damn clever at anything the test throws at them. Many child prodigies seem to be pattern learners, ie,math and music. Again, math has been a field dominated by men historically (this is changing, but the stereotype has its own powerful inhibitor effects). I've known some very smart women, but I seriously doubt they'd have outscored me on an IQ test simply because the test is on things I do very, very well. They had me beat on other things. I knew they were smarter, but the tests wouldn't. A system has to be in place to recognize and foster intellectual growth, regardless of whether a test picks up on it or not. This is a start.

24 August 2007


I introduce a few tidbits of 'wisdom' or at least amusing perspectives on the place of people.


"It is a good viewpoint to see the world as a dream. When you have something like a nightmare, you will wake up and tell yourself that it was only a dream. It is said that the world we live in is not a bit different from this."

I like that one. People constantly confuse perspective with reality.

The Way

"It is bad when one thing becomes two. One should not look for anything else in the Way of the Samurai. It is the same for anything that is called a Way. If one understands things in this manner, he should be able to hear about all ways and be more and more in accord with his own."

This has a basis in truth, though I find myself hacking apart ideologies and taking what works from each of them, disregarding the rest and crafting from that my own way. I've heard it often that this is not proper, but I find any 'way' taken to its fullest margins is a recipe for disaster.


"Among the maxims on Lord Naoshige's wall, there was this one: "Matters of great concern should be treated lightly." Master Ittei commented, "Matters of small concern should be treated seriously." "

This is wisdom as it is often those matters of smallest notice that detract from our daily lives. It is those small things that add up and defy our ability to achieve greater things. Greater things are like dreams, the work of a lifetime or generations of lifetimes. They should be treated as something fulfilling, but not as something crucial as we cannot satisfy them in a single day. Only through the amassing of many days and nights of effort can we see the mountain moving.


"There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything."

I am greatly amused by people running in the rain. I walk as purposefully as I would at any other time, receiving the same soaking as fools in the rain. The resolve that natural annoyances will come and that we should be blissful in the 'winds and rains' makes perfect sense to me.

Do Not Hesitate

"When one has made a decision to kill a person, even if it will be very difficult to succeed by advancing straight ahead, it will not do to think about doing it in a long, roundabout way. One's heart may slacken, he may miss his chance, and by and large there will be no success. The Way of the Samurai is one of immediacy, and it is best to dash in headlong."

Killing people is one thing. Doing things is another. Decisions when made without rage or emotion must be made with immediacy or nothing happens. Decisions flowing from rage or emotion tend to be corruptible and foolish, but the same is true of doing nothing when reasons commands otherwise.

End of the World

"It is said that what is called "the spirit of an age" is something to which one cannot return. That this spirit gradually dissipates is due to the world's coming to an end. In the same way, a single year does not have just spring or summer. A single day, too, is the same. For this reason, although one would like to change today's world back to the spirit of one hundred years or more ago, it cannot be done. Thus it is important to make the best out of every generation."

This is a world that has failed its generations. I have hope that this can change because it's seasons are changing, but it's still too cold to call it spring.

a musing on the parity of religion and self-doubt


CNN has been doing a bunch of things dealing with religious extremism. This was somewhat more moderate, but did deal with religious questions, so it caught my eyes. The extremist interviews themselves are quite odd, ie asking a Iranian woman in a burka repeatedly why it was ok in any religion to stone a teenage girl to death. I actually semi-accepted her reply, paraphrased, that latching onto some extreme behavior was a bit silly, but didn't accept that as an answer. Merely that pointing out the wackiness of an ideology makes anything seem pretty insane. In other words, the interviewer should have asked more useful questions dealing with the status of women in Iran rather than deal with something relatively minor (only 4 stonings this year?, phessh).

This had some jewels of 'observation'. Since it centers on a largely respectable and respected woman of serious religious piety, I'll ignore that element of the story and leave whatever individual opinions people have on saints and such where they belong. To me, the introduction of doubt into a person, even of strong religious sentiment, seems entirely natural and even necessary. Someone who puts stock in god is bound to put less in themselves or their work (by work I mean to imply that which defines them, not merely their job). Moving on.

"But to the U.S.'s increasingly assertive cadre of atheists". I'm not sure where Time is going and seeing these people. Outside of a few ACLU lawyers (who occasionally do useful things, mostly pissing off theocratic conservatives or other fascists), I don't know of an 'assertive cadre of atheists'. In fact, most sensible atheists (myself included) tend to be rather silent on the topics of religion and faith unless the argument is brought directly to them. I do not myself directly challenge people's convictions largely because I cannot appeal to reason when someone is basing a belief. It's a waste of time and intellectual resources on my part. Sometimes I'll bring up radically different religious substances to confuse the issue like Taoism or Confucianism. But for the most part, I stay in my little fort, perfectly contented with my conclusions and able to tackle various religious affronts to my personal structure. It seems perfectly reasonable to me to let this be a personal matter so long as others let me do the same. So in my view, sensible atheists have learned to tolerate some elements of religious behavior. It is the strong cross-over into political elements, mostly with abortion and holy war advocates that bothers me, not the commeration of Christmas with lights and trees. If I get free stuff for Christmas, I can't see why it's in my best interest to shut that down. Otherwise I might have to go shopping for clothes once in a while. So with that, I don't see these assertive people Time was talking about.

Part of the core problem with people who've aggressively attacked piety and religion, not that I mind or find fault with the realizations that are brought to bear, is that the central arguments used tend to lump the ideology all together with its failures and thus declare it a pointless and useless invention of man, as with any other ideological system we've created and endowed ourselves with. Indeed, there are a great many failures of religions all over the world. But there are moments where this devotion to some higher order serves some useful purposes. In fomenting even subconscious fear and doubt into more self-serving and base behaviors many would happily enjoy there is a conjecture toward morality. This of course lends credence in the opposite direction; that religion brings morality, when it does not appear to have any direct correlation, let alone any requirement. In observing people, it seems clear that most are unprepared for hazy judgments of truth in the foggy middle ground. I suspect there are a great many religious people who by their extremist beliefs will never accept rational behavior as a basis for morality, but I suspect there are a good many atheists who cannot abide religion as having any basis in moral behavior either. I found a happy medium where I have no use for religion personally , preferring a steady diet of logic, but I can tolerate those who do as it seems clear not everyone is as evolved as I am. A great many of my personal influences emphasize personal efficacy and self-reliance. I have no doubt that these are good influences (when I am capable of following their precepts). But without these internal demands I suspect I would be more prone to demand some explanations for the seemingly random sequences of events that at turns plague and amuse me. Most people are not so fortunate as to have considered the idea that the world around them is big and complicated because it's in motion. And that the things that happen to us are the result of us either not moving or trying to move in each other's way. It's inevitable, those conflicts and sorrows. I say deal with it. Most people appear to hope someone else is. As long as they can do that and not bother me with their bumper stickers I'll be fine.

Religions principal ability, much as philosophy or even science serves for those of a higher order of intelligence, is to raise some questions about the world around us. By and large these are the same types of questions, and religion unfortunately has the distasteful element of truthiness rather than dialectic involved, but at least it can start the brain working (this assumes one has a brain capable of working still, perhaps a hopeful measure on my part). The problem comes in when it starts organizing and raising money and ordering holy quests of death and rails against 'moral decay' and so forth. (I suspect Gandhi's line here is somewhat applicable "I like your Christ, it is your Christians I cannot abide", sounds about right). It seems to me that if religion exists, it's proper order is as a personal question and by extension, personal direction. It is entirely right to simply ignore these questions as irrelevant, which they are, once someone finds something more practicable to focus their time and energy into personal developments. I could care less if atheists were an assertive minority in this country, but I suspect we could do with a less assertive religious majority. In fact in my conclusions in theological study, that's what people are supposed to be anyway, private and humble in their ministrations. Why some skip over those passages and try to bother me with their savior or holy words must have something to do with the money.

phase two of my internal musings for the day
"Psychologists have long recognized that people of a certain personality type are conflicted about their high achievement and find ways to punish themselves". This has often occurred to me as a problematic habit. It takes a good deal for me to recognize any excellence as I rarely place much importance on the measures most standardly employed (ie, grades for school, money for work, points in sports). I display it often in arrogant ramblings that I am aware I have some specific significance and ability above that of most other mortals. Yet I am consistently amazed that in the company of such people I am somehow distinguishable. I consider myself undistinguished and unaccomplished. So I would have to wonder whether this holds any water. It's also possible I have through my various weaknesses and inappetites developed an inability for success by giving it no discernible definition. I'm not sure. More likely it's that I'm still basically a kid and this section of ranting was self-indulgent nonsense.

I'm not concerned about my 'feelings' in relation to god or country. That is not a place in mind that causes pain and doubt or disconcertation, or actually anything at all because I have no time or effort to expend on useless metaphysical disturbances. Besides I have other things that manage quite well at causing me pain and privation without piety. But there are aspects of people, even those who have strangely devoted themselves to a holy order or quest, that demand respect or attention. "The tendency in our spiritual life but also in our more general attitude toward love is that our feelings are all that is going on," he says. "And so to us the totality of love is what we feel. But to really love someone requires commitment, fidelity and vulnerability." That whole segment means a good deal at this point because I could be arguably among the least emotional people I know so it confuses greatly everyone personally around me. I cannot and do not apologize for my lack of enthusiastic expressionism most of the time. But I suspect those people who've known me longest are aware of my other failings and blindnesses toward them.

iphone's free now


That only took about a month. Good job people.

censorship is a funny thing


Granted the film's title probably warrants nc-17 in American culture, but I say American culture should lighten up. Sex, even in rather aggressive or non-traditional manners, is sometimes a part of the story.

"unofficial rules, like the number of allowable pelvic thrusts". You know what, big deal.

23 August 2007

random thoughts on the vitality of sports and media


Anyone who's aware of basketball history, this is the fellow who choked his coach once. And there was previously an incident involving a gun or an assault on this yacht a few years back. My first thought at the first incident was hey, Spree has a yacht? Which was replied to with it must be called the SS Beeotch. Turns out that was incorrect. This is also the man who famously proclaimed that 'he had to feed his family' when turning down a 3yr/21 million dollar contract. For turning that down he was rewarded with, ahh yes, no contract at all. He hasn't played since. Apparently his family has starved because rather than sell his yacht, it was seized.


This was a more diverting topic, albeit rather fundamentally flawed research. I agree that sports/after school programs are not by themselves going to reduce crime. I'm not sure that they are supposed to, but rather to provide some people a more positive outlet alternatively to deciding on a life of crime. There are some for whom a positive outlet is practically useless. My experience with sports has been that it allows people to jettison hostility and energy, get exercise, and provides an understanding of things like roles or discipline (if one wants to improve and actually enjoy playing well, this is not to say that I do myself, but I do understand the mentality). I'm not sure that any of those things without a good direction entering the scheme ahead of time is going to happen. Someone playing without disciplined understanding regardless of the energy is probably not very good.

Consequently, the original article had a rather amusing conclusion that sports trains criminal minds and arms them with physical acumen to commit street atrocities. This to me is akin to saying that a karate class arms one with the physical ability to kill at will. It is true that a master of martial arts is a master of a deadly art, but the discipline and will to commit such acts is also restrained and controlled by the mastery of said arts. Sports, while training the body in a variety of potentially healthy but potentially criminally useful activities, must also be combined with an unhealthy will to commit such actions in the first place. I would have to argue that there is more that would need to be done to make a sports program help clean up a neighborhood of street thuggery, but I suspect the same could be said of rap music for example. Neither is by themselves a suspicious activity and (except perhaps extreme examples) is not a catalyst for violent activity. Declaring that sports cause violence is a rather cyclical argument. People cause violence. Playing sports involves violence because people are playing. Sports do not cause it. Tensions in a game do run high because the feeling of competitive value kicks in, and then violence becomes almost inherent in the system. But in every sport, violence is generally penalized, especially to excess. Good hits in football (the norte americano version) knock down a player or jar loose the ball, but they do not unnecessarily injure (ie, head or neck injuries). Good hits in basketball prevent baskets, but do not send someone to the emergency room. And a foul is still called anyway, a penalty. Being that basketball, or soccer (football) are the likely sports to be considered in France, this is particularly important. In fact, in watching international competition in either soccer or basketball, one sees a lot of people flopping around as though cut down by enemy fire when a 'foul' is committed. This tends to make the commission of violence rather cost-prohibitive.

In any case, all one really needs to do to find fault is point out that the author is from France. Apparently it never entered to study that the main purveyors of violent activity during France's riots were unemployed immigrants, specifically Algerian Muslims. People who the French tend to snob over and keep as unemployed by importing more of them and generally destroying the ability of free enterprise by founding new businesses (which are the same ones that stupid Americans attack when they see a Sikh with his head wrapped up, but at least the guy was able to start a business for us to vandalize). I suspect that keeps them rather pissed off, which if any of them have jihadist backgrounds is probably not the best idea. To my mind people who are willing to commit violent acts of aggression are going to find ways to do so. It is our calling to find ways to either divert this aggression more positively (which with luck may happen, but mostly not with this idea) or to prevent by taking measures to restrain aggressive behaviors. Ie, I do not walk around with a sword attacking people ninja style because I would end up in jail rather soon afterwards. This is an unpalatable outcome for me, so I don't do it. I'm not all that proficient a ninja or being a swordsman anyway, so I suspect people have little to fear. Besides, according to this frenchie, I wasn't in a midnight basketball program so I'll not kill anyone anyway.

(Introduction of breakfast programs made super strong criminals and midnight basketball just taught them how to function without sleep). Ahh good times the from uncertain future brought to mind by the all too gone past.

Back to a major story which I've avoided. Vick. I have a very small dog. So my bias is clear. I do think he'll play again, several years from now. I've regarded him as a jerk before, but lots of jerks in sports do quite well. Charles Barkley for example tended to do some stupid things, never to this extreme to be fair (a bar fight with someone going through a plate glass window is bad, but not you're going to jail bad), and with his various comments on anything at all, could be regarded as a jerk. There's a place for such people in athletics, or really anywhere. I tend to believe past co-workers might regard me as a jerk for example, but I looked at it as keeping people focused and in motion. Vick, the smallish issues off the field presented a building self-conception of one who is above the law. Some of these issues went almost unreported nationally. For example, one of his posse stole a watch from the security checkpoint at an Atlanta airport. The watch was returned to authorities when requested with a rather ambiguous story and then was not directly returned to its owner but was instead allowed to remain in Vick's custody upon the condition he return it expeditiously. An expensive watch being taken isn't exactly something people take so lightly. The water bottle with a secret compartment story, again a fishy cover story. Flipping off the fans, very smooth. And so on. The point here is that there is something to admire in athletes. The physical condition seems to be a part of being human and admiring people for their abilities (or appearance) in this area is only natural. But we also coddle such people and grant them unrestrained adoration for their actions when if we were in their shoes we should feel only unmitigated pain for our errors. Vick's mistakes (and even those of his younger brother) suggest a series of errors that started somewhere along the line when people started telling him he would be special. He was special, a gifted athlete. That's not the point. He became something else after hearing that over and over from the wrong type of people. To some of us, he'll be a monster. I'm not one of them because human history has far more brutal torments for animals in it. Romans used to tether up bears and let dogs at them until the bear is worn down, then kill the bears. But it tended to be rather hard on the dogs also so this sort of thing isn't new. But it should be very hard for us to accept him as a hero, a cult icon ever again. It's doubtful he'd get a chance actually, since he's now off to prison for a while and then followed by a suspension. I say good riddance for now. I suspect though we'll see him again. After all Tyson was convicted of sexual assault and was back fighting in the ring a few years later. Rape is quite a bit worse in my moral dictionary than killing and abusing animals, (shut it PETA it's true). To be sure, Vick was merely human. And perhaps that's what's so upsetting about all of this to many. That someone whose abilities stretched so far turned out to have fatal flaws worthy of Greek tragedy. It meant our hero was still irrevocably human. Sorry to disappoint, but that's the way it is.

Looking back on this story, I also found it strange that the media seemed quick to judge Vick not as guilty of his crimes, but to find excuses or fault in his guilt and judge him innocent. Then suddenly someone realized that these are serious charges and that he was undoubtedly guilty, from there snowballing until Vick was guilty of faking the Moon landings and the JFK assassination to boot, despite the inconvenient truth he wasn't even born then. It would be better if the media hadn't judged him at all and allowed us the precious ability to judge for ourselves. Presenting what facts as they were available and step back away from the hype. That's responsible journalism.

Much like the bridge story, we're left with an impossible mountain of useless data encouraging our discontent at a particular subject. To be fair, I'm quite pissed that it's easier to fund a new bad bridge than to fix up the old bad ones that someone else built. But I point the finger at us for that problem, not the governments. The governments are giving the masses what they want because the government's defining interest is to stay in power. That's it, simple. Granted the current federal government has done poorly at this mission, giving us almost nothing of what we want and plenty of what we don't. But in general, that's the idea. The media must operate on the same precepts, even more so as a competitive industry. We as a general public must want to be spoon fed shouted opinions and commentary and merely dabble in factual material to base these loud mouthing blathering fools' opinions on. It is high time this changes.

nutty scoreboards


I think someone forgot to tell them this was a baseball game, not football.

21 August 2007

disappearing fat tricks


Here's the odd part of this. My immediate reaction was not, wow that's some neat research (which it was an interesting use of stem cells come to think of it). It was, great now people will blame viruses for making them fat when getting fat is undoubtedly caused by a number of factors with diet and exercise being the two leading contributors.

In fact, what I found odd was that the first paragraph essentially included a disclaimer that this was still controversial research. I'm not entirely sure what was controversial (how it was done or what was concluded?), but I do believe we should perhaps be waiting for a study to be finished, reviewed and reproduced. In this case, it sounds like they're doing fine thus far, but I was a bit off put by the press campaign already. That the work is considered controversial means we should probably not being stocking up on fat vaccine companies just yet on Wall St. And that those people who're already fat should probably look for some other way to cure what ails them.

17 August 2007

government waste


There's a good line near the bottom here which high lites how government spending works. "While other questionable billing has been uncovered, nothing came close to C&D's, she said. The next-highest billing for questionable costs totaled $2 million"

$2 Million is not chump change for the cost of shipping replacement parts around the country. It is small compared to $20mil, but I think it should be noticed and likewise attacked. Second, it certainly points out the need for people, in any arena but especially government, to look at their billing statements. Someone should have noted these schemes years ago in their infancy. I for one am glad they have been charged and will spend many years in a nice federal prison. But we the taxpayers are out several millions dollars.

But I am rather annoyed that it took this long for anyone to notice. Even things which are auto-drafted should be noticed and observed by someone. Especially those things in fact because its not hard for someone to add a zero or misplace a decimal point in the accounting office where the bill is from and wham.

experiment in fascism


Play by play on experimentation with government subordination is going on right here in our very own hemisphere. In an oil baron nation no less. Actually his proclaimed agenda is more of a socialist mentality. But his personal activities are more in line with fascism. Suspending popular TV and news outlets which disagree, extending his power by removing his term limitations and extending the terms (meaning fewer 'elections'). Centralizing authority over private enterprises by seizing assets, and so forth. As with any system there are things which work, and things that don't. Socialism doesn't seem to work very well over the long haul because the people eventually stop working. There are reasons China's gone away from it, and in doing so has greatly expanded its power and influence. Why Chavez has gravitated toward a failing system I don't know. Popular support? Maybe. People do like their health care free and with extra chewy paid vacation time.

for the sciencephiles


Quantum tunneling. That is all.

15 August 2007

wiki dirty secrets


Great, pure entertainment. Watch as corporations (and churches) try to clean up their droppings by washing their public information listings of any wrongdoings or alternatively, by mudslinging their opposition. Joy and wonder at the puerile pranks of supposed professional organizations. Jerk. Good one NYT. Zinger that one was. I found some amusement with someone at WaMu clarifying a porn star's entry for example.

14 August 2007

my leg itches


That's one hard core biker. Or a Kill Bill victim.

bits of sawdust


Why Canada has so many detractors for this theory I don't know. Even the PM there flat out said it was bull, so I have to wonder. Maybe they educate better skeptics and scientists. Or maybe their population isn't being freaked out by a pattern of substantive news stories designed to create phony tax credits. Want to protect the environment? Plenty of ways to do it. But not that one.


Another good one. I'm in some agreement that people still receive some help from their families. In my case though, that 'help' was basically limited to co-signed loans because I had a thin file for credit. If a state wants to establish some money to be used in subsidizing first home purchases or college funding for foster kids, so be it. I'm not necessarily crazy about that idea, but I'd prefer that, an active and positive choice by the kid as they reach adulthood, to the alternative of continuing to baby the 'children'. Plenty of parents kick the kids out at or around this point, or at least ship them off to college. The modest trend of helicoptering is occasionally helpful, but annoying. It lacks a desire for self-efficacy. I agree real estate in SF is pretty nuts, so it's probably hard to find a place quick to live in. But still, go forth. Learn, expand, conquer, err, get a job. Do not depend on anyone but yourself as quickly as possible. (I was raised by wolves so trust no one either)

good news for debtors

Found some tidbits of info on the credit card war. The war I'm speaking of is the card companies versus their customers.

The Fed Reserve finally got around to issuing new regulations and they're doozies.
1) Card companies must give 45 days notice before changing terms and conditions. This means in English that instead of the previous 15 days before jacking up an interest rate (to something in 30%+ range), they must give 45. That doesn't help much if you owe a pile of money, but if its possible to pay it down relatively fast or transfer it somewhere else, there's more time to escape. One extra month is huge for procrastinators (people who would have problems being on time with payments anyway)

2) Card companies must explain in English (instead of lawyerese in mice type) what the rewards are and how to attain them. And must also do so with penalties, such as late payments. In some manner which demands attention. In other words, not in mice type and not in vague suggestion, but in clear delineated form. Make a late payment and interest rate goes to__. That information is on the T&C sheet most of the time, but there is no mention of what the rate would be if a late payment or other error occurs.

3) This is the big one. With all the offers for transferring balances out there, the manner in which a card with a transferred balance (with its special rates) and a regular balance on the same card is paid out is important. Currently a payment is applied to the lowest balance rate. Which means that if there is a transfer balance rate, it goes toward that and not the much higher consumer rate. Which means that the card company makes more money and you the debtor must pay for a lot longer to get out of debt. The new regulations say the money goes to the highest interest balance first. Excellent news.

Now the bad news is this is merely a regulatory agency, the Federal Reserve. Credit companies are still fighting the regulations as well as seeking overturning legislation, so these are not official changes to date. But they do illuminate some processes that are going on beyond the curtain for most consumers out there so it was time to share.

By the by, if you're looking to get out of debt much faster, pay half payments in consistent amounts every two weeks. This is very easy if you get paid that often and it basically means that debt becomes a budgeted feature. The card company will begin lowering your minimum payments until they reach a floor figure to attempt to string out the debt, but if the payments remain basically the same, this is irrelevant. It also makes an extra monthly payment over the course of a year and applies some extra money each month to principal and not interest because of the way credit card interest charges are computed. If you're of the internet generation, this is usually extremely easy and doesn't cost extra money from stamps.

13 August 2007

lingo needs amendments

"Last year, Senator Specter went so far as to say that he hoped the courts would strike down as unconstitutional the bill he just voted for"

Here's a thought. Maybe if something isn't agreeable, isn't serviceable under the supreme law of the land, then perhaps it shouldn't be voted FOR. Unfortunately, the bill the Senator was describing was a surveillance bill, titularly attacking terrorism. There are several glaring problems with surveillance, and really all forms of intel we are gathering in this fight against global terrorist cells. Sadly, in the language of politics, voting against surveillance somehow supports terrorism, when in fact it merely undermines American liberty and does very little to oppose or support terrorism at all.

First, intelligence based on communications is nice. But a simple military war game several years ago showed that a clever enemy can communicate and coordinate forces just fine thank you without cell phones, email, and satellites (couriers and light signals, etc). Terrorists who are dumb don't accomplish anything because they get caught (or they're the ones with explosives on their backs). Terrorists who are smart, they learn. That's why the pawns go first, as they say. Systems of surveillance will always be beaten over time and newer ones will have to take their places because our enemy here is not an organized predictable foe, but a disjointed partially coordinated force.

One line here from Munich stands out, "you do what the terrorists do, you think they report back to base, they don't". Second point here. Once a trained killer is set loose, they don't have to receive instructions at all. No orders from on high, and even those orders can be via the blanket proclamations Osama or his followers issue. I'm very concerned that we believe watching our own populace or monitoring communications is going to catch people prior to their activities. A few yes, but not most. It's mostly useful after the fact in retracing steps and so forth, catching accomplices, etc. It is rarely useful as a preventative step, precisely because our opposition here doesn't need to do anything. A clever opponent doesn't stand out, appears as normal and undisposed to action as anyone else. The only difference is the will to act. Will is not something that can be manifestly seen without a lot of direct intel. Which brings me to point three.

Direct intel is really all that matters in a fight like this. Directly catching or observing the activities of a potential target, as they have been doing with us. That requires people on the ground. Overlooked in the budgets of intelligence agencies is our dependence on things like satellites and communications monitoring. This sort of intel is great for fighting wars. We don't fight wars anymore. Nobody is that stupid to take us on, even China uses diplomatic and economic pressures instead. Instead, the budgets have become bloated with analysts and administrative costs for various projects rather than expended on the most basic and generally substantive force of information, human intel.

As disturbing as it might be to consider that random people (meaning spies or FBI) out there might be gathering information on us by direct observation, its much more disturbing to picture the overall surveillance portrait of America taken by a creeping series of programs, cameras, and wiretaps. Already we have experienced serious problems with traffic cameras and fraudulent setups designed to illicit more public funding for example. Does anyone reasonably care to think that wiretaps and cameras and email searches aren't going to creep along into places that have no bearing on international crimes against humanity? A system of surveillance is useful in catching criminals after the fact. But a camera doesn't stop a 7-11 robbery anymore than it will stop people from running red lights. How exactly is it going to stop a determined jihadist from blowing up a building? I can answer that immediately, it won't. Zero attacks will be stopped by monitoring everything systematically, because obviously nobody cares what the punishment is for their crimes when they are willing to die in the commission of the act.

Could someone please explain how these are necessary steps in the fight against terrorism and not simply vast impediments to human liberty, that lost cause which we have supposedly championed in our invasions of sovereign nations?

10 August 2007

immigrate what?


What the fuck. Now we can come up with something meaningful? Where was this six months ago, or even 2 months ago?

Of the story itself, I saw one particular jewel of interest: "install by the end of the year an exit system so the departure of foreigners from the country can be recorded". If everyone was complaining that so much of the illegal immigrant problem had to do with people overstaying their visas, maybe it would have been helpful to have an organized method of exiting the country on those visas. But no, we didn't have one. We are just getting around to "installing" one. I can guarantee it's cheaper than building a damn fence around the country. Anybody notice those little sensors they have in stores that record people coming in and out? I didn't think so. That sort of technology linked up with a digital reader picking up on a visa with stored data on it would pretty much take care of it. Also if the visa has an expiration data it simply stops working unless it is replaced/updated by official reasonings. Like a credit card. Simple.

As far as the labor issues, there are a number of places where we punish the wrong people. Like with drugs, punish the enablers. It's the employers stupid. I don't care if people want to come here to get a job or education. Fine, good for them. I care if some yahoo knowingly or willfully employs people he knows to be illegal so he can skim off benefits or labor costs. That's the problem.

I tend to note that most Americans are overpaid in the global market. But that's largely because the global labor markets haven't caught up yet to the developed world. Our labor unions are busy trying to keep all sorts of overextended benefits programs and high-inflated wage structures, not to mention keeping employees on the job without demonstrating competence (hi teachers unions). What they should be doing instead is trying to get other countries as a measure of trade agreements to pay their workers fairer wages. Not necessarily our wages, but something better and comparable to the economic realities in SE Asia or China for example.

Or even Africa if it ever starts modernizing and isn't bogged down in corruption and genocidal conflicts. Come to think of it, if a person in Africa could get a decent wage paying job they liked, they probably wouldn't be trading a sack of grain for an AK-47. Guns are always cheaper than lives, but that's crazy cheap.



Missed this one last week. Feel compelled to come back to it. I'm not sure what the hubbub has been about regarding universal health care coverage. But since they seem resigned to force it upon us, or die trying here's the nuts and bolts of a program they have running. SCHIP is sort of a Medicare off shoot designed to insure children. As with Medicare, it maintains a relatively efficient process, but rapidly escalating costs. Hatch (R) maintained that insuring these children was worth every penny. That may be, but it's a lot more than pennies we're paying for it. Something always disregarded in these efforts to pass UHC is that there is cost associated with it. Someone is paying for it, even if no bill is sent to your home or private insurance company. That someone is the American taxpayers.

We are told the error of reason that we tax the rich for this. But I work every day with people who want to be rich, in one form or another. I can tell that people in America will want to be rich, if they know how and are willing to work for it. The reward for this conquest of economics is not adulation, but penalty. So part of my work, as any decent financial planner work involves, is finding ways that money can be made and later spent and enjoyed without earning taxes. As a result, anyone with a decent accountant or a sound financial plan (not just a place to put money into, cohesive planning is far more intense than that) can pay less in taxes (percentage wise over a lifetime) than a working class stiff does. It's not wrong, because everything is perfectly legal. But it's probably annoying and possibly even strangely unfair. Because people who are working class tend to do what they're told, and what we're told as a general public doesn't quite work in reality. In fact it often fails miserably. People with money or education learn this and act accordingly. Most people have neither.

Back to UHC then. If its taxed and we pay for it. Then we should know the bill. If we take a percentage of our income taxes as the percentage of the overall budget, then we could if we choose conclude that we are paying a certain amount of some hundreds or thousands per year in medical expenses. What people have failed to note is that regardless of whether the government or the private insurance company foots the bill, the costs are rising steadily. And while those costs are rising, Americans are becoming rapidly less healthy. I've yet to see any manner in which UHC addresses this paradox. In fact, I suspect it might even do the opposite of its intentions, though we would see some spikes in costs up and down over the next few years if it's adopted en mass. What I'd like to see is something less drastic and draconian than government insurance programs, replaced instead with a tidbit laced into the story. "federal excise tax on cigarettes would rise to $1 a pack under the Senate bill and to 84 cents a pack under the House measure, from 39 cents a pack.". I'm not a connoisseur of cigarettes, but $.39 doesn't sound like a harsh percentage. Even $1 is what? 50% of cheap cigarettes? Talk to me again when you reach 100%, and throw in a beer (booze in general, but beer is the dark master of health problems in the poor) tax, a pot tax (after they somehow become legally regulated), and a junk food tax (which is paradoxically cheaper than real food). Then you'd either see a drastic increase in available funds (which is probably bad given the spend! spend! spend! environment) or a drastic decrease in waistlines and health costs. Either way, we as a society win something, nothing is banned or forbidden, but the choices become harsher realities.

Right now, I'm not convinced this insure everyone magic (hello snake oil) is going to make us a stronger healthier nation. Which is really the point of practicing medicinal arts anyway. Make people healthier and generally happier with their state of being. I'm certainly not going to be happier paying to subsidize someone else's lung cancer or angioplasty. In fact I'm going to be pretty pissed off about it because it's generally their screwy choices that landed them in that predicament.

I'm also rather annoyed that a veto on it becomes a political issue, not because of the overall issue, but because it's painted as not caring about the children. Who cares about the children? It is the entire country we are meant to govern. And if they're all acting like spoiled brats who want everything handed to them, then they haven't learned anything important at all from their own childhoods. That's not my problem yet, but it's getting to be pretty annoying. To reverse the argument slightly, I'm rather perturbed this 'genius' in the White House is only now figuring out that spending our money on ineffective programs isn't the way to govern. NCLB, various war or military grants, arts, etc. And now it comes back to the children. A hard truth is that Americans are suckers for their kids. And we when we hear that our government isn't willing to take care of them, somehow this is bad news. Except that we as parents or even as a society are supposed to take care of the kids first. Skipped a step there didn't we. Must be that wonderful education government's been giving away for free.

08 August 2007


Sort of funny watching Bonds' critics and then seeing someone holding up a sign with 715*. Not to be too critical in response, but the record he just broke tonight was actually 756(*). If you must make a sign or banner, at least get the facts right. 715 was 33 years ago, when Barry was 10. I don't put an asterisk there myself, but that's mostly because cheating is pretty common in baseball anyway.

I figured I'd put it out here that anybody getting Celtics tickets anywhere next year in the Midwest, let me know (the schedules won't come out for a while, but still). I think they're playing 3v5 all year next year, given the roster. Somehow a team has both of my two favorite players. Last time that happened, it was impossible to get tickets for them without paying hundreds of dollars or waiting in hideous lines. I saw MJ with the Bulls once at the stadium. So this is nuts.

07 August 2007

money talks

In an interesting twist, a sudden correction in the market was blamed (by talking heads) on sub-prime mortgages. All due respect to the people involved in the news processing, the economy, even something as simplified as the Dow Jones, does not rise or fall on the strength/weakness of a single economic indicator. I always liken these crashes to the occasional random sales going on in the retail or other sales worlds. But then, most people don't have my stomach for roller coasters.

Now I agree though these loans are terribly bad news. But I also blame the people taking them. Making a purchase as large as a house or even a car is a purchase that should be made with a modicum of educated decision making. Very few people can go out and purchase a house on a whim. And it's a long and involved process (as some of us have seen lately). There are plenty of opportunities to know or at least gain insights into what someone is walking into. Asking questions, no no, just sign here on the dotted line. Its much too complicated for a simple person to understand.

Maybe so, but its done deliberately. Making something easy to understand isn't in the lingo of the trade, but in the wake of events like this (and taken in the idea that maybe docs have the same problem), maybe it would be better if more people in my profession tried to speak and put things into regular terms instead of something more arcane and purposefully confusing.

critique of critical thinking via the news

I had to wonder why a mine collapse was the lead story everywhere. It always works out that way whenever a mine collapses. This one seems a bit different because it sounds like something approaching corporate negligence. That's generally bad, but it gets rather worse when someone is working in such a way that they are consistently in danger and associating themselves with various potentially mortal health risks on any given day. We'll have to see how this plays out.

Bridges being defective isn't exactly news either. I read that it is much easier to acquire funds to build new bridges than it is to repair old ones, even ones we know to be defective in some manner. Hmm. That poses some interesting questions. For example, why are we building all these things that we know require maintanence and then barely (never) conduct any on them. That seems rather strange. Until one looks at the general trends of American culture and consumerism. Ahh, now the light of reason sheds more clearly. We aren't concerned about conducting maintanence on all these bridges and such because that's the next generation's problem. Certainly no business of ours because when the bridge reaches a critical level, we'll be dead or moved on anyway. Our entire culture system seems based on the present existence only, without one ounce of consideration toward the future. This would be fine if we had a perfect world where our unceasing interactions always created decent or desirable outcomes. But last time I checked, threesomes still have undesirable psychological effects, not to mention possible diseases (not that I do this sort of checking often). Probably not a perfect world. Maybe we ought to start learning how to think or at least react more effectively to the world around us instead of staring at the TV screen as it bombards us with superficial messages.

In my various readings, it has occurred to me that the rational of 'look before you leap' is a bit too complex for the average person. Engaging ourselves in a rational cost-benefit analysis is too tedious to proceed along every single decision. In fact, most of our decisions are made without this process, in a quick and unconscious manner. So wouldn't it be a good idea to train people how to become somewhat aware of these unconscious leanings and understand why they do some of the things they do. Perhaps those things that seem without thought or care for example. Maybe then we'd stop building useless bridges to nowhere (everywhere, not just in Alaska) and start making some sense of our lack of interest in politics.

Missed this one


Behold the power of the Swiss army and their glorious knives!

Wait, never mind, they accidentally wandered into a country with no military of any kind. That's how invasions are done people. Crush them while they're weak.. wait, they went back home you say? Hmm. So I guess they're just silly.

But Vaduz is home to a more secure and discrete banking system than the Swiss have. Luxemborg is where the world bank is, so virtually everyone over there has sophisicated and secure bank systems, Switzerland just happens not to be prone to invasion by hostile Huns or Napoleonic conquests. I'm guessing they just didn't like the competition and its not like the Swiss could accidentally invade the Cayman Islands.

Nasty, white, pointy teeth


If we built a wooden badger...

Seriously people, badgers? I like the idea of mobilizing furry creatures that do our dirty unspoken bidding by attacking and terrorizing the populace as much as any bloke, but come on. Actually, it seems quite insane to postulate that a country with a powerful military already deployed in an area would need wild beasts roaming in packs and nibbling on people to create mass panic. Funny, but still insane.

Too early to start mocking these people?

Given the relative heat and humidity out there, I can't imagine spending most of my day outside waiting. Running around doing something or getting paid to work, I'd think about it. But standing around in line just to get on national TV? Not so much. Well apparently my opinion isn't the common one. Dallas TX had the privilege of being the latest site to audition for a rather popular TV show, yet another one I've never bothered watching. I believe it has a British critic, a washed up dance choreographer and someone else working in music on it. So you know the one I mean. Well there was something of a turn out to wait in line to audition for this show. 15,000 of them. In 100+ heat and high humidity? Apparently most of the people on this show are functionally retarded. I would however submit that setting up a booth selling bottled tap water at $3 a bottle or something similarly outrageous would be a good idea here. Obviously if these people are that stupid, they'd pay anything for ice cream, tap water, getting sprayed by a hose, etc.

03 August 2007


I had no idea this was so common. On my trip we went to the UP in Michigan via the Mackinac Bridge. For those that are unfamiliar, its a massive suspension bridge across the straits connecting Lake Michigan with Lake Huron. It's fairly tall (~200 ft over the water) and its really long (5 miles). And for most of the time you the driver are in a car on what is basically a grate laying over the bridge surface, with a wicked fast cross breeze to boot. So for me, lots of fun things to observe. I'm told however that there are people who will get into your car to drive you across. Now I have no real objection to this if it relates to being able to do more sightseeing, but it actually correlates to people freaking out while driving across it. As this might tend to result in someone stopping in the midst of a busy roadway and thus freaking out more people, this is perhaps a wise and prudent decision on the part of Mdot or whoever called this shot.

But seriously people. How many unreasonable fears do we need to have? Is it reasonable to be somewhat frightened at a high height, or of a carnivorous fish, or a cyclonic tower of wind and debris? Sure. Do these things kill or cause harm frequently. Not at all. Sharks are so unlikely to kill or even maim a person that you're better off being afraid of terrorists. And that's a pretty extreme claim. I'm not here to make light of our ridiculous behavior. It just needs to be put back into perspective when we are bombarded over the next few days with images of a massive bridge failure in Minnesota. (Keep in mind I went over the Mackinac bridge the day after this happened, so naturally I must be tempting fate). We cannot develop these unreasonable fears and let them govern us without seeking a solution to this problem. What we are presented with instead by our servants in the media is a paranoid vision of our impending doom. Now if that psychic cat that kills old people is sitting on a bridge, maybe I'll wait. But otherwise, move on to another story please. Tragedy makes for good plays or movies, but its not newsworthy. Accidents of this sort happen. We learn what we can (if there is anything to learn), mourn the dead and help the injured and suffering, and then move on. That's life.