Sunday, November 30, 2008

Outlook Recap: Healthcare Myths and Torture

Here are a couple gems from recent editions of The Washington Post's Outlook section:

5 Myths About Our Ailing Health-Care System
is a very concise list of misconceptions about the US healthcare system. It foreshadowed this longer article. Our healthcare system is terrible. Too many people are not covered and we don't do a good enough job preventing problems. As a country, we spend more money on healthcare than any other country, but we don't get the return on investment we should be getting. I don't think we need to spend more. I actually think we could pay less and get more. The system is broken.

I'm Still Tortured by What I Saw in Iraq is by a former US military interrogator (writing under a pseudonym). This made me think back to one of my earlier posts: Mixed Feelings About Omar Khadr's Gitmo Interrogation and some articles I have read on the topic of torture's efficacy. Torture is bad. It isn't just bad because it's morally reprehensible. Many people who are tortured don't deserve to be treated nicely. Many of them are bad, dangerous people. When I condemn torture, I am not saying that these people deserve better treatment; I condemn torture because it is ineffective. Worse, I agree with the author of the Post article: Torture helps create enemies.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Best Slashdot Sigs, Volume 1

I am an unabashed and total geek. Actually, this site says I am 81% geek, while this site has a quiz that is too long, but at some point, I should try it out.

I have attended and taught at two of the geekiest places on earth. When I was a freshman in college, I had a T-shirt with Maxwell's equations just like this one (but in yellow). Most people have never heard of my favorite number (e). While at the beach this summer, I read a book about the number pi.

My Linux distro of choice is Ubuntu for my home computer. I own (and often use) a couple graphing calculators. When in grad school, I had an HP 11c calculator that used RPN. It was a great calculator, but the best part was that it was totally unusable by almost everyone I knew.

I own at least 13 boxes of comic books (though I haven't collected since the early-nineties), and I'm pretty sure I still have my old D&D and Traveller characters in a drawer somewhere in my basement.

Two of my favorite web sites are xkcd and Slashdot.

Anyway, the original point of this entry was not to enumerate all the ways in which I am a geek. The point is to say that people who post comments on Slashdot often have amusing signatures on their messages; here is a small sampling:
  • There are 10 kinds of people in the world... those who understand binary and those who don't.
  • Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak...
  • The ratio of cake to people is too big
  • Fascism starts when the efficiency of the government becomes more important than the rights of the people.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Soapbox: Pro-Life Often Means Pro-Some Lives

In this blog, I have generally avoided really controversial issues. One exception is my stand against the death penalty, but generally I have tried to avoid most of the big social controversies. Now to reveal my true crotchety nature. I'm sorry if this means that I will alienate people, but what can I say: I gotta be me. If you disagree with me or see a hole in one of my arguments, then please point it out. I am a fan of the dialectic.

Something about the abortion and death penalty debates has always bugged me.

There are people who call themselves pro-life, but still are pro-death penalty and many of those are also pro-war. OK, I know that few people are really "pro-war", but many people are fans of our military going around the world and killing in the name of freedom or oppression. Note that the Republican party platform is explicitly pro-life and pro-death penalty. Here are a couple quotes from the Republican Party Platform:
  • Courts must have the option of imposing the death penalty in capital murder cases and other instances of heinous crime.
  • Faithful to the first guarantee of the Declaration of Independence, we assert the inherent dignity and sanctity of all human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.
So, here is my problem: How can anyone who fights abortion because of "the sanctity of all human life" turn around and defend having the government kill people? My guess: The difference is that the unborn are potential converts, while killers and "evil" people in other countries are not people they want to convert. If all human life has sanctity, then that's it. It shouldn't matter whose life we are talking about.

I know that some will say that those who kill have given up their right to life, but if that right is sacred, then I submit that no human can decide that it has been given up. Note also that I think any Christian will agree that we are all sinful. As I recall, that's kinda the point of Jesus, baptism, and confession. So, there is no question about whether people are sinful; we all are, but I don't really want to go down that particular rabbit hole unless someone drags me there.

"Pro-Life" is an inaccurate label for anyone who is in favor of the death penalty or thinks that war is ever justified. I suggest that we use "Pro-Some Lives" or "Pro-Potential Convert" instead. Note that I have a similar issue with pro-choice people who say they are strict pacifists.

If there is ever a time when a life can be taken, then it makes sense to me that the battle between life and choice/freedom is one with some gray areas.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Remy Raps

GoRemy is hilarious.

Slow Jam: This made me laugh out loud

McDonald's: The Rap

Two Percent Milk: The Rap
best line: You pour yourself a bowl, then you drop in the deuce.

Other raps:

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Right Way to Warm Up Before Exercise

When I was a kid in P.E., we were taught to bounce as we stretched. Imagine a gym full of kids bent at the waist bobbing down trying to touch our toes like a bunch of drinking birds.

This was clearly stupid. It's amazing that none of us ever snapped a hamstring like a cold rubber band. When we started to just hold our stretches for a twelve or twenty count, we were clearly doing it right. Some of our favorite stretches were:
  • Hurdle stretch (lean forward, then lie back)
  • Neck rolls (all the way around)
  • Straight-leg toe-touches
  • Torso twists
Mmmmmm... feel the stretch.

OK, so then it turned out that all of these stretches were risky, so we stopped doing them. Frankly, it's a miracle that we didn't end up in traction after all that dangerous stretching. Some of these stretches were modified (don't lean back in the hurdle, don't roll your neck back, torso twist slowly), but we eventually ended up with a good list of safe stretches.

So then it turned out that starting out by stretching was just plain dumb. Who came up with that idiocy? Clearly, the right strategy is to do some warm-up (perhaps a short jog) before stretching. Stretching is clearly important, but you have to get the muscles warm before you can stretch them well. Finally, we had this stretching thing figured out: start with a warm up, and then perform safe stretches. Just hold them--no bouncing.

Now it turns out that static stretching isn't the best way to prepare to exercise. The New York Times broke the news in Stretching: The Truth. It turns out that dynamic stretching is the way to prepare for exercise. Static stretching is now relegated to your cool down after you have finished exercising.

To summarize: static stretching used to be the first thing you were supposed to do, then it was the second, but now it is the last. My how the mighty have fallen.

In another fifteen years, Boy Kid and Girl Kid will marvel at the fact that I was so stupid that I thought dynamic stretching was a good idea.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Soapbox: Marriage Should Not Be the Government's Business

I thought I had written about this before, but as I searched through past posts, I couldn't find any evidence of it. Perhaps I have talked about this topic so often that I have written about it in my mind.

California's Proposition 8 has effectively shut down gay marriage in the state. Many gay people are mad about it and I sympathize with their frustration over not having the same rights as heterosexual couples, but my solution to the problem is not the same one many people want to see.

I am against government recognizing gay marriage, but then again I am against the government recognizing heterosexual marriage. Marriage is not the government's business. I'd rather see us go to a European system where churches marry people, while the government only deals with civil unions. Note: I am not talking about civil unions for gays and marriage for straights. I'm talking about a complete separation for everyone.

Civil unions should be allowed for any committed couple. Whatever rights the government currently confers through marriage should instead be conferred through civil union and should not be subject to any religious interpretation or filter.

Marriage is a religious thing. If one religion decides that marriage can only be between two people of the opposite gender, while another decides that marriage is only between people of the same gender, while a third religion says marriage is only between sheep and Swingline staplers, then more power to them all. What do I care? I don't want the government telling religions what to do any more than I want religious views being put into our government. All committed couples should have the same rights before the law.

Note that my argument is essentially a semantic one. I truly believe that the biggest problem with gay marriage is that the word "marriage" means different things to different people. To many religious people, "marriage" is a sacrament. To others, "marriage" is an institution through which government and other non-religious institutions confer civil rights. Both groups are right, but are talking about different types of marriage. I think it would help if we referred to the latter as "civil union."


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Free Markets Run Amok

Eliot Spitzer wrote a piece for Sunday's Washington Post titled How to Ground The Street. It's a quick, but worthwhile read. Here is one (but certainly not the only) of his compelling points:
...unregulated competition drives corporate behavior and risk-taking to unacceptable levels.... A market is a product of laws, rules and enforcement. It needs transparency, capital requirements and fidelity to fiduciary duty. The alternative, as we are seeing, is anarchy.
As we move forward, Spitzer says:
  • ... we need better control of systemic risk...[because]... nobody can really understand the full risk facing the financial system.
  • ... investors must be protected with adequate, accurate information. Firms must offer transparency both to individual investors and to government regulators.
  • ... we have to step back from the current environment in which government has become a guarantor of all major risk. Only if private actors have to bear the real risks they incur will the market function properly. We are now perilously close to nationalizing risk.
In the same section of Sunday's paper, check out A Recession Can Clear The Air, in which Charles Morris makes an argument for letting the recession run its course without pumping tons of money into minimizing the short term pain (but ultimately extending and worsening it).

I hope that Obama is listening to really good financial people, but the perfect plan won't be enough. He'll also need to figure out how to sell the plan to the US public.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Music Monday: Political Tunes

These video smash-ups are funny.

George W. Bush: Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Bush: Imagine/Walk on the Wild Side

Tony Blair: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Year 1: Looking Back

A year ago, I started with a post titled Starting Off. It turns out that my list of topics was not entirely on target, but at least I have kept it going. I've enjoyed having a place to put my random thoughts.

I thought about looking for some of my favorite entries from the past year, but I really hate reading my own stuff. If anyone wants to suggest any favorites, then post them in the comments. If a few entries make it to the comments, I might compile them into a post next week.

Thanks to everyone who has commented on any of my posts (in person or online) over the past year. As I have said before, writing this is mostly therapy for me. Still, It's nice to know that I helped provide somebody with a new thought, a laugh, or a way to waste some time online.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Pirsig on Quality

When a senior in college, I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig (the book is available on PDF here) and it made quite an impression on me. I really felt I could relate to the lead character's philosophical journey.

I wrote out one quote from the book and kept it on my bulletin board for years and years. Here is a snippet from immediately before the quote I like so much:
The result [of skill devoid of Quality] is rather typical of modern technology, an overall dullness of appearance so depressing that it must be overlaid with a veneer of "style" to make it acceptable. And that, to anyone who is sensitive to romantic Quality, just makes it all the worse. Now it’s not just depressingly dull, it’s also phony.
I immediately picture McMansions when I think about this veneer of style. Cookie-cutter style with a long list of features ("veneer"). Pirsig continues...
It’s the style that gets you; technological ugliness syruped over with romantic phoniness in an effort to produce beauty and profit by people who, though stylish, don’t know where to start because no one has ever told them there’s such a thing as Quality in this world and it’s real, not style.
This isn't an indictment of style. It's an indictment of superficial, shiny style that is really just a thin cover over a lack of Quality. Finally, here is the big payoff. This is the quote that has stuck with me for years:
Quality isn’t something you lay on top of subjects and objects like tinsel on a Christmas tree. Real Quality must be the source of the subjects and objects, the cone from which the tree must start.
Amen, brother. It's gotta have "good bones." This way of thinking applies to many, many areas: companies, employees, software, homes, marriages, etc. Quality has to be there from the beginning.

Beers & Bone Marrow for Brez

A family friend's daughter was recently diagnosed with Leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant. Beers & Bone Marrow for Brez is an opportunity for you to find out if you are a bone marrow match for Michele.

I don't know Michele well, but her mother (Faye) is an incredible teacher and person. Twenty-six years later, I'm pretty sure I could still do pretty well on her final exam if I took it today. Faye kicked cancer's butt back in 1987 and now it's Michele's turn to do it, but she needs bone marrow to do it.

Just like everyone should give blood often, everyone should also get into the bone marrow registry. It only takes a quick cheek swab to test for a match.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Homey and Homeboys

In Living Color was a great show. They had some really memorable characters. Here are a couple of my favorites.

Homey the Clown was my favorite recurring character.

The Homeboy Shopping Network even inspired a movie (Mo' Money).

On another note: Black People Love Us: I'm sure Homey and the Homeboys would just love Sally and Johnny.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Hell-in-a-handbasket: Old Bands with New Lineups

I recognize that most bands can swap out their drummer or bass player without changing the essence of the group, but once you start replacing significant chunks of personnel, maybe you no longer have the original band.

Here are some rock bands that kept using their original name after some crucial pieces left:

Yes without Anderson, Wakeman, or Bruford
Last great album: Close to the Edge
Continuation story: Chris Squire owns the name, so they have kept on putting out albums through many, many different configurations.

Led Zeppelin without John Bonham (whose death precludes much touring) or Robert Plant (who is still alive)
Last album: In Through the Out Door
Continuation story: After Bonham died, Led Zep went a long time without playing together, but they have recently announced that they plan to tour without Robert Plant.

Pink Floyd without Roger Waters.
Last great album: The Wall
Continuation story: David Gilmour and Nick Mason put out a couple more albums without Waters.

The remaining people in these bands don't (or didn't) seem to understand the nature of their bands' success.

What other bands have I left off this list?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Music Monday: Some of My Favorite Symphonies

Franz Schubert's Italian Symphony is best known as the music that was used in the bicycling movie Breaking Away. It still makes me want to go out and start racing against trucks on big, flat roads in the midwest.

Camille Saint-Saens' 3rd Symphonie (The Organ Symphony) has a second movement that is absolutely sublime.

Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique has been a favorite of mine ever since my Freshman year in college when I took music appreciation with Lowell Lindgren (I have posted about this piece and this course before.) Symphonie Fantastique is a unique, fun, impressive piece that really tells an interesting story in a moving way. I'll always remember the snippet Professor Lindgren played for us to identify on the final (timecode 8:18-8:27).

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Quotes: Some Smart People's Thoughts on Government

Here are some things that really smart people have said about government.

Richard Feynman
The real question of government versus private enterprise is argued on too philosophical and abstract a basis. Theoretically, planning may be good. But nobody has ever figured out the cause of government stupidity -- and until they do (and find the cure), all ideal plans will fall into quicksand.
Bertrand Russell
There is no nonsense so errant that it cannot be made the creed of the vast majority by adequate governmental action.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Democracy becomes a government of bullies tempered by editors.
P.J. O'Rourke
Giving money and power to Government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Election Aftermath, Part 2

Here are some election limericks from

When engaged in a contest political
Running mate choice is most critical
Avoid giggles and winks
Pick a partner who thinks,
And possesses some skills analytical

"It's the economy, stupid" they say,
'Cept for McCain on that fateful Fall day.
Did it cost him the crown?
Or is Palin the clown,
Who cares - we enjoyed Tina Fey!

This limerick is written by Palin,
And I'm just gonna ignore your liberal media "gotcha" rules and requirements
About rhyming, which is also
A socialist agenda
So too and also in my experience
As a mayor of the buckets of job creation
I can see Russia from my house

Friday, November 7, 2008

Web Stuff Friday: Multicolor Calling Zima

Multicolor Search Lab is amazing. I could play with it for hours. It's a great way to discover photos and to explore color combinations you do and don't like. If I were an interior designer, I'd use this to show clients color schemes.

Hollywood Is Calling is funny. The best part is the walk down memory lane with some of these former celebrities.

The Greatest Chick Drinks of all Time includes an homage to the recently discontinued Zima.

More election fun:

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The GOP Lost Its Conservative Way

I heard an article on NPR's Fresh Air: The Future Of The Conservative Movement. It's an interview with Mickey Edwards, a former Republican Congressman who wrote Reclaiming Conservatism. He made great points about the trajectory of the Republican party over the past decade and a half.

Edwards is a true conservative. He was a GOP congressman from 1977-93. He is also co-founder of the Heritage Foundation (a conservative think tank). He was a policy director for the Reagan campaign in 1980. His conservative chops are indisputable.

Some of Edwards' points:
  • The Bush administration has run rough shod over the constitution and it's been supported by the Republicans in Congress. The GOP used to be the party of individual freedoms, but now they have set them aside because it's convenient.
  • Some of this started when Newt Gingrich (initially as the party's Whip) said that the Republicans in Congress should fight Democrats at all times. It was all about non-stop political warfare. Standing for their principles and serving the public took a backseat to winning elections.
  • Under Gingrich, the GOP members in Congress were told to look to the President (Reagan, then Bush 41) as the leader of the party. This destroyed the separation of powers and the way the branches were supposed to interact.
  • Edwards supported (and voted for) Obama. He doesn't agree with most of Obama's political positions, but he likes Obama's temperament.
Edwards says:
I like the Republican party, but I care a lot more about my country than I care about my party. Somehow we [the Republican leadership] got that reversed.
Anyway, the people I find most interesting right now are the Republicans who are doing serious introspection. When Democrats rip apart the Republicans, it seems partisan to me. When Republicans rip themselves for their failings, I see hope. A strong, limited-government GOP would be an important voice in our government. I hope they can find their way back to being a party I respect and away from being a "...tool of southern-fried moralism."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election Aftermath

All I wanted to do all day today was pore over polling data and political analysis. I could have lived on news and political sites all day. Instead, I had a work deliverable and personal stuff to take care of, so there was no time for fun. Here are a few articles I think made some interesting points about the task that Obama is up against.

NY Times: For Obama, No Time for Laurels
Washington Post: Hard Choices And Challenges Follow Triumph
New York Post: Now Govern

For a preview of what Obama's cabinet might look like, give a listen to Chocolate City by Parliament Funkadelic:

WFMU played the song over and over again for at least an hour this morning.

The Onion: Black Man Given Nation's Worst Job

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Haikus

Tomorrow will probably be my day to analyze election results, so today is a day to think about voting, but not about candidates.

Ze Frank's readers wrote Election haikus. Many of them were partisan, but a few were not. Here are a few of my non-partisan favorites.

A classic cultural reference.
A campaign promise:
He likes big butts and can't lie.
Mix-A-Lot: '08.
Though the author might have had one candidate in mind, I think this could apply to either:
He's a terrorist:
Manchurian candidate.
My friends, believe me!
As a former teacher, I really like this one, but the author mixes his imagery ("gym" is a mismatch with "fish sticks")
Local middle school
Your gym holds our tomorrow
Yet smells like fish sticks
My rewrite #1:
Local school poll place
Vote in Cafeteria
I still smell fish sticks
My rewrite #2:
Local middle school
Your gym holds our tomorrow
Yet smells like sweat socks

Election Day Fun, Part 3: Very Mysterious

Here is a report about a magical voting booth.

Very mysterious....

Election Day Fun, Part 2: First Poll

Comedy Central brings us The First Exit Poll Is In.

Election Day Fun, Part 1

All hail DRE-700

Voting Machines Elect One Of Their Own As President

Monday, November 3, 2008

Election Predictions and Random Thoughts

Will White People Riot? is interesting, but I think it misses the point. The thing that would incite a riot is not that one person won or lost. The incitement to riot would be if it looks like the election was not fair and large numbers of people were disenfranchised. If that were to happen, I could imagine riots. If McCain wins after trailing in all the polls, many people will think things smell fishy.

Prediction: There will be big problems on voting day. Guaranteed. The only reasonable hope is that the vote is not close so that a 5% swing is not a big deal and re-counts are unnecessary. If it looks like 1% voter fraud, but the spread is 10%, then everything will be OK. On the other hand, if it looks like 2% voter fraud and a 1% spread, then things will turn ugly. I really hope it doesn't come down to a single state such as Ohio.

The Economist has endorsed Obama. Their article about the endorsement is called It's Time. They make several excellent points in the article. They bring up just about every one of my problems with Obama, but they also bring up all my problems with McCain. Here is one of my favorite quotes:
A spell in opposition seemed apt punishment for the incompetence, cronyism and extremism of the Bush presidency.... Somehow Ronald Reagan's party of western individualism and limited government has ended up not just increasing the size of the state but turning it into a tool of southern-fried moralism.
Anyway, It's an excellent read.