Friday, October 03, 2008

I watched the vice-presidential debate a couple hours ago. I'd say it's good news, just because no news is good news.

Obama is calm and cool under pressure (see his debate), eloquent (see his nomination acceptance speech), and wonkish (see the policy focus in his debate and his acceptance speech.) Biden is competent and experienced (see this debate), albeit a bit... unfocused (see his gaffes). McCain is belligerent in both personality and policy, (temper problems, objecting to meeting with Zapetero), erratic (suspending his campaign or not), and all talk (maverickmaverickmaverick). Palin is a moron (see the Katie Couric interview). Unless something unpredictable happens, all of this will continue to become more clear and obvious as the campaign goes on over the coming month, which is good for Obama.

Thursday's debate, just like the one between Obama and McCain a week or so ago, contained few surprises. Neither candidate lost his or her temper on stage, neither candidate said something that was obviously ridiculous, etc. If the debate doesn't change anything significantly by itself, that leaves trends intact, and those trends are good these days. No news is good news.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

26,500 hits on Google for mccain "walk and chew gum" at the moment. It's only eight hours or so after the news broke that McCain would "suspend his campaign," whatever that means, and wouldn't show up at the debate scheduled for Friday. I guess this means that he's going to demonstrate selfless nobility by talking about how he's trying to rise above partisanship in this current economic crisis. McCain probably won't barge into the middle of a negotiation session on the bailout bill, but it won't be for lack of trying.

You know, try as I might, I just can't get pessimistic about this election. Don't count your chickens before they're hatched and no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public and all that, but still.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Stuff! Why do we have so much of it? Where does it come from? Well, it's obvious where almost any particular piece comes from, but you know, stuff in general? Or rather, why can't we get rid of it?

There's a well-established infrastructure of thrift shops and consignment and charity efforts for secondhand clothes and used bookstores and libraries for secondhand books, but what about secondhand coffee mugs or iPods? When the battery died, I was using the iPod more for recording interviews than for listening to music, so instead of getting a new battery I just replaced the whole thing with a voice recorder, so the iPod is practically useless. Yard sales, maybe? Hah. Instead of sorting, boxing and moving stuff I don't want once, from my apartment to the garbage or used book store or whatever, I would wind up sorting, boxing and moving each piece of stuff an average of 2.9 times - once to the attic to await the yard sale for another few months or years until there's a good day to hold a yard sale and a critical mass of stuff, a second time from the attic to the site of the yard sale, and about nine-tenths of another move, because I assume that's about the amount of stuff that wouldn't sell and would have to go back into the attic. Yard sales are great for community spirit, and they're great for fun if you like that kind of thing, but they aren't great for saving energy or getting rid of stuff.

So why not just throw stuff away - but are you kidding? Why be so wasteful? Sure, I can't use that now, but maybe I'll need it in a month, or 10 years. Even if I can't use it, maybe somebody else can. And all they'll have to do is get it out of my parent's attic.

This is on my mind because I've just moved to a new home. Last week I lived in an apartment I was renting on my own which was unfurnished when I got there, in the same town as my parent's home. Today I have three roommates at the moment, the house is fully furnished but my room wasn't, and it's a 10-hour drive home. I think this will be fun.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Editing the sport section went well today. That makes me nervous.

This week, it was my turn to put together the sport section for tomorrow's paper. I got started leisurely but not lazily - I got there 20 minutes or so later than I had said I would, but not something ridiculous like two hours; I read some blogs in the beginning while proofreading the articles, but worked steadily after that.

And just a little more than three hours later, I was done. It was relatively easy to begin with, with only two articles (not counting the scoreboard and the schedule) instead of the usual three or four articles and a brief or two. Two articles and six pictures, which I used all but one of, and only needed to resize one. Even so, it sort of offends my pessimism (which is erratic, it seems, but still exists) that the section apparently came out well and not only that but turned out to be easy. I would expect to have a hard time finding a file or to realize that I have 10 column-inches to make up, but it only turned out to be about three, and I can get that just by fiddling around with space between elements and changing the letting and stuff.

Also, it leaves me wondering what I missed. Some evenings when I can finish the section I have an idea of what wasn't that great, so I'm not surprised to hear about certain problems the following morning. "Yeah, I know that headline wasn't great, but I couldn't think of anything else that fit." "Huh, the text is pretty close to the picture, I moved that story around so many times I didn't notice that the last time." Now, though... nothing. If I didn't make mistakes like that, I'm left wondering if I did something really dumb like misspelling the name of the school in the lead headline or something.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Inspired by Unfogged, where the topic has been a running joke since before I started reading.

Monday, March 03, 2008

A lot of relatively little things like this are why I'm supporting Obama. He is far from perfect — I want a candidate who will halve our military budget, end the war on drugs, end DADT and support repealing DOMA, support the Kyoto protocol or something even more environmentally-friendly, reform the prison system and while I'm at it, give me a pony — he's just closer to it on almost every issue than any other serious politician I can think of.

How many billions of dollars are we spending on NASA again? Not as much as on Iraq, but still, an assload. Some of that makes sense, like launching and maintaining communications and research satellites. But what do we get with the rest, the manned missions every year or so and the planning and research for a moon station/space station/Mars expedition? Pork* for Texas and Florida. And when was the last time you heard any politician criticize pork — not just the practice in general, but a particular project that benefits people in their constituency, especially one that's fondly thought of around the country — right before a competitive election? Nothing comes to mind.

Asking for a "thorough review" merely because "some of these programs may not be moving in the right direction" and spending could be "a little more coherent than it has been" is far from ideal, while at the same time being far better than anyone else I can think of.

* To the extent that there is an official definition of "pork barrel spending," much of NASA's budget might not count. But I think that the official definition is either too restrictive or not restrictive enough. If meeting only one of those seven criteria is enough to officially be considered pork, it seems it must include a ton of items, and many of them would be good ideas. "Greatly exceeds the President’s budget request or the previous year’s funding"? "Serves only a local or special interest"? Those could describe the FY 2007 funding for FEMA branch offices in Louisiana. But this vigilant watchdog group could only identify $29 billion of pork? I think they're missing something. Well, the point of this footnote is, either the idea of wasteful spending is subjective or the current objective definition of it is very flawed.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I've always been a little curious about traits that are useful, but only as long as they are rare. It makes total sense that such things could exist, and how and why they are useful is interesting, but it sort of flies in the face of the simplified version of evolution people normally picture. The example that seems really well-known to me is sickle-cell anemia. If someone has a certain gene on one of the two chromosomes where it can occur, they are resistant to malaria. If they have that gene on both of those chromosomes, though, they have sickle-cell anemia. So if only a few people in a certain population have that gene, it might have no effect or a positive effect, but if a lot of people have that gene, you're going to get children and grandchildren with a very nasty congenital disorder.

Another example I'm familiar with is left-handedness. In any kind of close combat, a left-handed person will be attacking and defending from an angle that the opponent isn't familiar with. I noticed this in Tae Kwon Do; I was usually punching or blocking just a little more easily with my left side than my opponent was. (Although, oddly enough, I think I actually preferred kicking with my right foot.) In real life this is usually outweighed by luck and speed and physical size and other factors, but it's still an advantage. I was amused and pleasantly surprised one time when I read something related to it in a much more serious context than sparring for sport. I medieval castles, spiral staircases always spiraled clockwise going up. The reason was that someone defending the place would be higher up the stairs than an attacker. A right-handed person would have plenty of room to use a sword if they're coming down the stairs, but going up the stairs their reach would be hampered on the right side by the pillar down the middle of the stairs. A left-handed person, though, would have much less of a problem.

I was just reminded of it when I followed some links earlier today and learned that the same might be true with certain other disabilities as well. My father is red-green colorblind (partially, at least), and the family has always thought of it as a clear, if minor, disadvantage. Especially when he was driving on French roads, where the order of traffic lights isn't always the same as it is here. We never got in any accidents because there are plenty other cues to rely on, but I seem to remember we did have one or two close calls. But it's interesting to read that a different visual range, even if it's only different by being more limited, can be an advantage for pattern recognition and noticing camouflage and stuff.

And speaking of left-handedness, it has been on my mind for another reason as well.
20th - James A. Garfield (1831-1881)
31st - Herbert Hoover (1874-1964)
33rd - Harry S. Truman (1884-1972)
38th - Gerald Ford (1913-2006)
40th - Ronald Reagan (1911 - 2004)
41st - George H.W. Bush (1924- )
42nd - Bill Clinton (1946- )
As you can see four of our last six presidents were left-handed.
2008 Presidential Campaign
Barack Obama (D) - Left-handed
Hillary Clinton (D) - Right-handed
John McCain (R) - Left-handed

Seven presidents out of 43 have been left-handed, and four of them were in the past 35 years. Sure, in the past lefties were trained to switch at an early age, but it's still interesting to see so many in recent decades, and the odds are good that the next president will be left-handed as well.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Via here, I thought this was interesting.

Why campaign coverage sucks
But the biggest advantage of horse-race journalism is that it permits reporters and pundits to "play up their detachment." Focusing on the race advertises the political innocence of the press because "who's gonna win?" is not an ideological question. By asking it you reaffirm that yours is not an ideological profession.

I have the strong impression that the rest of what that Salon article says about political media is correct, but that's based more on opinions I find reliable or just believable rather than firsthand experience (that is, I very rarely watch any kind of news talk show or whatever, and yet I feel free to criticize their hosts and complain about horse-race coverage of campaigns.) But that part jumped out at me because it's something I experience. I've mentioned I go to Drinking Liberally? Last week, the Young Democrats of Vermont or something had their meeting just before Drinking Liberally, so there were a lot of new faces. Some woman who works for the state Democratic Party asked me who I support in the presidential primaries. I demurred at first because, of course, supposed to be neutral, but when she pressed I gave my answer. I turned the question around on her, and she had to say the same thing because of her job.

Oddly enough, considering how I follow politics, I've never liked talking about the subject much. I talk about it more than I did, say, four years ago, but still less than I talk about my other interests with people who share them. It's partly because I tend to be non-confrontational, and I think in a way it's actually caused by the fact that I follow politics: you can't get exact quotes or statistics or double-check what you have a vague impression is correct if you aren't at a computer.

I've occasionally read left-wingers praising the European press which they see as more openly and honestly ideological by comparison to America's mainstream media, with its infotainment and its idolization of balance to the point of absurdity. I'm not sure if the European model is exactly what I'd want — I'm also not sure how accurate is my impression of it — but really, an ideology of detachment to the extreme that the American media takes it makes extremely little sense for any profession, and especially for one so closely connected to politics.