Last week's quote (Our speedometer has melted and as a result it's very hard to see with any degree of accuracy exactly how fast we were going.) was from the classic Thanksgiving movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. New one is difficulty: Severe, 6 points.
Closing old comment threads has been very successful in curtailing spam; I only received 3 spam comments in the last four weeks after implementing the policy. So I'll be continuing to close threads that are 10 days old.
I am not dead, but my computer is seriously ill, a fact that contributed to the empty space here over the vacation. Now I'm back, but I have yet to catch up on the news, so I don't have anything to post about yet. I'll post a new open thread after work, and hope to be posting more regularly after that.
In the future, maybe I should get people to guest-blog when I go out of town...
Since I'll be travelling all day today, and therefore not blogging, I'm posting some filler. Back in August when I moved, pictures of my new place were requested, but I never came through with them because the place was not clean enough to be photographed. Until now! Click below for a glimpse at the exciting Gazebo lifestyle.Continue reading "Cribs"
Someday I will have time to write full blog posts again. In the meantime, here are some links.
A column in the Washington Post decries Michael Powell's tenure as FCC chair.
Ever the voice of reason, Chad Orzel points out that the recent evolution poll is not necessarily evidence of Americans clinging to religious dogma, but probably just Americans being really dumb about science. From that link, here are things that half of Americans don't know:
Since I mentioned the JFK assassination earlier, I am now compelled to point out that this event has been made into a video game. You already know this, because pretty much everyone has been linking to it today.
Last week's quote ("I am going to suggest that you think about biological warfare in terms of a TV show called “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”) comes from a policy paper entitled Biological Warfare and the 'Buffy Paradigm' (pdf), which I found on Slacktivist. The paper is entirely serious, and uses Buffy to illustrate the flaws in the current US approach to bioterrorism.
The new quote is on the other end of the difficulty scale: Trival; 0.5 points.
Weekend notes: I cleaned the apartment, went to lab, played D&D, and finished System of the World. (This did not leave me time to watch Stanford get crushed like a bug.) I was a bit dubious when I picked up Quicksilver back in January, but the whole Baroque Cycle quite exceeded expectations, and I enjoyed it more than Cryptonomicon. (Comparisons to Snow Crash are a bit harder to make.) Neal Stephenson should be commended for actually bothering to write an ending this time, since he usually stops immediately after the climax. Anyway, it was a good series. Next up: China Mieville's Perdido Street Station
Today is the 41st anniversary of the Kennedy assassination.
A new Gallup evolution poll is out. 45% of Americans believe that humans were created by God within the last 10,000 years. Holy crap.
Now that I have more time, I want to follow up on one of the links from this morning's post, the survey of faculty party identification at Berkeley and Stanford. The New York Times article on this study points out that some (e.g. David Horowitz) see this as evidence of hiring bias in academia. I don't buy it—maybe in the humanities, where a person's political views are more evident in their work, but I have a hard time believing that the physics department has information about applicants' party affiliation, or for that matter even cares. (Anyone who's applied for a tenure-track physics job would be better able to confirm or disconfirm this.) The D/R ratio observed was as bad or worse in physics than in other fields, but there are a number of non-malicious factors that would explain this:
Here's the CNN/Money ranking of state-local tax burdens. Note that California and Massachusetts, despite common perceptions, are below both the national average and median on this list. Via Decembrist, who talks about the tax reform being considered by the White House.
Scientific American on National Missile Defense. "[D]espite the more than $80 billion spent by the U.S. on missile defense since 1985, this system will not provide significant protection for many years, if ever." Via Chris Mooney.
Josh Marshall is finding out which Republican congressmen (start there and scroll up) will admit to having voted for or against the "DeLay Rule", which allows Tom DeLay to continue to be majority leader if he is indicted for ethics violations related to the Texas gerrymander. Those who took a stand against this move are being dubbed the "Shays Handful"; those readers who are current or (like myself) former constituents of Rep. Shays (R-CT) may be pleased to know this. If you're represented by a Republican, see if he's on the list!
From a voter registration study I learn that Democrats outnumber Republicans among Berkeley physics faculty in a ratio of 14:1. In UCB hard sciences as a group, the ratio is 10:1. (Departmental breakdown is in the pdf.) Via Tyler Cowen at The Volokh Conspiracy.
Via Crooked Timber, an article in The Guardian on "near-epidemic levels of stress" in British academia. Many of the issues raised apply in the United States as well (from what I've observed). I thought this was an interesting take on it:
"Every job comes with its own internal psychological contract," Kinman says. "The deal that most academics make with themselves when they enter the profession is that they will be trading a lower salary for greater autonomy and flexibility.
"When they discover that not only are the pressures as intense - if not more so - than in other professions, but that much of their workload has been reduced to bureaucracy, they feel cheated that the contract has been violated. They are in effect mourning the loss of the job they thought they had."
I'm a little late with the quote post; last night I expected today's workload to be x; when I read my e-mail in the morning I revised my estimate to 2x, and by midafternoon it had been upgraded to 3x. Since I got it all done, I'm hoping tomorrow will be better.
Last week's quote (If some idiot politician, some power player, tries to execute policies that harm you or those you care about, take it personally. Get angry.) was from the Harlan's World revolutionary Quellcrist Falconer in Richard K. Morgan's novel Altered Carbon. This comes from a longer passage which I am too lazy to type in; just read the book anyway, because it's really good.
The new quote is difficulty: Insane; 9 points. Although people who read the same blogs I do may know where to find it.
My dreams the last few days have been unusually vivid. In idle moments I find myself reviewing them, like an archaeologist attempting to assemble disparate artifacts into a single coherent picture.
I should be doing work, so no long write-up, but here are some interesting links I've run across this morning:
The Poor Man is in top form mocking people who don't know the Bible as well as they think they do.
Mark Schmitt makes the very interesting speculation that Bush polarizes the electorate on purpose, aiming for a 51% victory as a mandate for a maximally conservative agenda.
Brad DeLong looks into the historical origins of a line from "The Wire": "If you come at the king, you best not miss." I first encountered this idea from Cersei Lannister: "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die."
Chris Bowers posts an article by Brad Carson on Carson's experiences running for Senate in Oklahoma.
A news item: The Dover, PA school board has become the first in the country to mandate the teaching of "intelligent design".
But the specific problems that they cite aren't really problems inherent in PowerPoint. The complete-sentences-on-slides thing is something that I've seen done with overhead transparencies as well, and in one memorable instance, with Microsoft Word. You don't see it with chalk, because it takes too long to write out complete sentences on a chalkboard, but I've certainly sat in classes that were the spiritual ancestor of the "just read the slides" school of lecturing, where the professor pretty much read his or her notes without much deviation.
In fact, I tend to think that the focus on technology is obscuring the fact that "PowerPoint abuse" is just a special case of a larger problem: bad lecturing. Or, to turn it around a bit, I would say that "Chalkboard Abuse" is (or at least was) just as rampant as its more technological cousin.
Phillip Carter in Slate collects the arguments against Alberto Gonzales replacing John Ashcroft. These have been appearing in various blogs, so it's good to have them all in one place. The issue most disturbing to me is this:
One of the "torture memos," produced in this period by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel for Gonzales, argued that the president had the extra-constitutional power to nullify both the Geneva Conventions and the federal war crimes statute when he deemed it necessary, based on his inherent authority as commander in chief of the armed forces.
A number of people on- and off-line have been alleging that the mismatch between exit polls and vote tallies in various swing states (especially Florida) was due to rigging of electronic voting machines. I have been withholding judgement until some definite evidence comes in one way or the other; now the Caltech-MIT Voting Project has provided a convincing report debunking this theory. We'll have to face the depressing fact that all those people really did want four more years of George W. Bush.
I just noticed that Salon has a Wednesday Morning Download feature (you have to watch an ad to read it) which reviews songs that are freely available on the web. (I haven't listened to their selection yet, but I can attest that the songs by Postal Service are quite good—observant readers may have noticed that album on the sidebar recently.)
Anyway, this reminded me that I have heard good things about mp3 blogs in general, but I don't actually read any. Anyone here read mp3 blogs, and have recommendations?
It can be tough to find reasons to laugh these days, but there's always The Onion.
U.S. To Send 30,000 Mall Security Guards To Iraq
WASHINGTON, DC—Pressed for additional troops to police the Iraqi general elections scheduled for January, the Pentagon announced Monday that it will dispatch 30,000 U.S. shopping-mall security guards to the troubled Sunni Triangle region.
"A force of security guards trained to protect retail stores across America will be deployed to the Persian Gulf region," said Maj. Peter Archibald, a spokesman for Central Command. "Once in Iraq, security teams will fortify ground forces and assist them in keeping the peace and quelling any horseplay."
Last week's quote (Shall I also help you forget to vote, by kicking your ass?) was from this election day edition of My New Fighting Technique Is Unstoppable. The author, who also writes Get Your War On, has a message for despondent liberals on his main page.
Having gay-bashed his way to a stunning 1% popular mandate, Karl Rove brings news that Bush will pursue a constitutional same-sex marriage ban in his second term. Hence the new quote (difficulty: Formidable, 4 points). I think what disgusts me most about this administration is their willingness to stir up hate and bigotry in order to maintain their grip on power. Well, that or the torture of prisoners. It's hard to decide.
Oh yeah, I'm angry.
I'm stunned by how many people around Berkeley are talking excitedly about a Hillary Clinton presidential candidacy in 2008. I've already had one or two occasions to explain why I think this is a terrible idea, but henceforth I can just direct people to today's post from Josh Marshall, which absolutely nails it.
I've generally cited the pragmatic argument against Clinton '08, but I'm glad I'm not the only one deeply troubled by this:
I don't like the idea of the presidency becoming the private preserve of a few chosen families. It's bad for democracy, even if a given individual might have much to recommend him or her as a candidate.
Since many are now talking up the possibility of Jeb Bush running for president in 2008, that opens up at least the theoretical possibility that one family could hold the White House for most of a 28 year period (1989-2017). Whether you're a Republican or Democratic, Bush-lover or Bush-hater, that can't be good for republican government in the United States.
The outcome of this election has me wanting to retreat to the mountains and spend a year undergoing brutal martial arts training or something. Sparring with bears, carrying buckets of water up steep paths, quiet meditation by a waterfall... an anime training montage would be just what I need. Except that after a couple days I'd be wanting to check my e-mail, and, failing to find a coffeeshop with wireless internet in the wilderness, I'd have to give up my training.
Of course it would be irresponsible for me to run off like that, as victorious religious conservatives begin the transformation of America into Jesusland. For example, here's the latest out of Texas:
Health Textbooks in Texas to Change Wording About Marriage
On Thursday, a board member said that proposed new books ran counter to a Texas law banning the recognition of gay civil unions because the texts used terms like "married partners" instead of "husband and wife."
After hearing the debate on Thursday, one publisher, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, agreed to include a definition of marriage as a "lifelong union between a husband and a wife." The definition, which was added to middle school textbooks, was already in Holt's high school editions, Rick Blake, a company spokesman, said.
The other publisher, Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, changed phrases like "when two people marry" and "partners" to "when a man and a woman marry" and "husbands and wives."
Frodo: I wish none of this had happened.John Kerry has conceded the election; George W. Bush has won his second term.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.
The phrase I can't get out of my head is "one-party rule". With control of all three branches of government and a popular mandate, the Republican Party over the next four years will have very few obstacles to implementing their policies. I fear what America will look like in 2008. But the fight would not have been over had Kerry won, and his loss only means we must fight harder.
Bush and DeLay can only be stopped by an organized and united opposition; it is up to us to change the Democratic Party and make it more effective. The great advantage that we have, as the reality-based community, is that we can look at what went wrong, and fix it. The Republicans brought debt, war, and unemployment, and ran on a platform of fear and gay-bashing, and still over half of Americans decided that they were the better choice. We have four years to figure out how to reach that half, how to convince them that better options exist.
Let's rebuild the party, and then we'll rebuild America.
I went to vote around 9:15. The line was about 15 deep, but no one was waiting by the time I finished, so maybe I came at the end of the morning rush. I was offered a choice between a paper or electronic ballot, and my curiosity about the latter overcame my suspicion of it. So I put the access card in the machine and right away I get an error; the poll worker hadn't reset the card properly. Once I got this straightened out, I was able to vote without much trouble. I did notice that it's really easy to select the wrong option on these touch-screens; it's not hard to change it, but I expect this kind of voter error is pretty high. That combined with the technical wrinkles (in addition to my card problem, one of the machines had to be rebooted while I was there) makes me think that this technology isn't worth it.
The best part about voting in California is the "I voted" stickers:
Of course I had a sweater on over that shirt while at the polling place.
Last week's quote (If you never return it / Will it break your wings?) was from Blonde Redhead's beautiful and sad song "Elephant Woman" on Misery is a Butterfly. I featured this album on the sidebar a while ago, and it's become one of my favorites.
The new quote is difficulty: Excessive; 6 points. Of course, I don't actually want anyone to forget to vote, so Arcane Gazebo is proud to present a public service announcement from Spider Jerusalem:
You want to know about voting. I'm here to tell you about voting. Imagine you're locked in a huge underground nightclub filled with sinners, whores, freaks, and unnameable things that rape pit bulls for fun. And you ain't allowed out until you all vote on what you're going to do tonight. You like to put your feet up and watch "Republican Party Reservation." They like to have sex with normal people using knives, guns, and brand-new sexual organs that you did not know existed. So you vote for television, and everyone else, as far as your eye can see, votes to fuck you with switchblades. That's voting. You're welcome.
Please share any interesting voting experiences in the comments! I may be blogging in the evening about election returns, depending on where I am.
I have returned from four Internet-deprived days! As predicted, I did not have time to compose an election endorsements post before I left; I will provide a shorter version of what I had in mind here, although I'm sure everyone will read it after going to the polls.
My sample ballot is four pages long, overrun by state and local ballot measures. As I read through the corresponding materials, I became more and more convinced that California's brand of direct democracy is a Bad Idea. On many of these initiatives a complex policy analysis would be required to come to the correct decision; I don't feel entirely comfortable voting on these with my limited understanding, and I'm relatively well-informed compared to a typical California voter. I'll avoid discussing those measures that I don't feel confident about; anyone who is more informed is encouraged to post a comment.
Since I need to do things like eat dinner and sleep, I haven't provided links to document some of the arguments I make below. You've probably seen some of them in previous posts, so I'm hoping this is ok. Feel free to challenge me and I'll see what I can come up with tomorrow.
On to the endorsements:
President and Vice President: John Kerry and John Edwards
Regular readers have heard many of the reasons for my choice already. I think the best summation was provided, ironically, by a White House senior aide in a recent article by Ron Suskind in the New York Times Magazine, who remarked that opponents of Bush don't like him because they (the opponents) belong to the "reality-based community". Bush, he said (approvingly!), does not study reality and make policies based on this; instead he wields his policies to create a new reality.
We've seen already in Iraq the disastrous results of ignoring the reality on the ground. I fear a similar disaster may yet be ahead with the federal budget, as Bush's irresponsible spending drives deficits higher and higher. Science may be the ultimate reality-based community, and I know I am not the only one appalled at the administration's disregard for scientists' findings, preferring instead the baseless claims of ideologues, religious fundamentalists, and corporate interests.
I am convinced that John Kerry is a member of the reality-based community. What his opponents deride as "flip-flopping" is, when not merely a distortion of his record, a reflection of his willingness to examine the facts and adjust policy as appropriate. Kerry's performance in the debates showed that he has a deep and informed understanding of issues, something that cannot be said of Bush, who proudly claims that he does not even read the newspapers.
One consequence of Bush's adherence to ideology over reality is that his administration does not hold itself accountable for its mistakes. Education Secretary Rod Paige retains his position even after his "Houston Miracle", the model for No Child Left Behind, was shown to be an Enron-style bookkeeping fraud in which huge numbers of drop-outs were simply swept under the rug. Condaleeza Rice still serves as National Security Advisor despite the vast amounts of bogus intelligence on Iraq that passed through her office. Donald Rumsfeld remains Defense Secretary after the abuses at Abu Ghraib destroyed the last remaining shreds of America's international reputation. No one was fired after 9/11, arguably the worst intelligence failure in American history. On the other hand, Bush does not hesitate to show the door to those subordinates who make true statements that contradict the party line. Paul O'Niell on the budget, Richard Clarke on counter-terrorism, Eric Shinseki on Iraq. No one loses his job in the Bush administration for incompetence; only for disloyalty.
Fortunately, Bush isn't the only one with the power to fire this bumbling crew. We, the American people, have the authority to send these guys packing. I encourage all of my readers to give Bush the pink slip tomorrow, and hire a member of the reality-based community for the position. Arcane Gazebo enthusiastically endorses John Kerry.
United States Senator from California: Barbara Boxer
When an important vote takes place in the Senate, I can look at the roll-call with the confidence that Senator Boxer will have voted the way I prefer. She's the rare politician whose views are close to mine, and I would endorse her over almost any opponent, certainly over the right-wing Bill Jones.
United States Representative (California 9): Barbara Lee
Congresswoman Lee is just what one would expect of Berkeley's representative; she is a bit too liberal even for Arcane Gazebo. However, as long as the corrupt, theocratic thug Tom DeLay runs the House, I will not vote for a Republican for Congress. The most important vote Barbara Lee will cast is for Majority Leader Pelosi, and that is a vote I can approve of wholeheartedly.
California Proposition 62: No
This proposition would eliminate primaries for state elections, and institute a plurality-with-runoff system. This has some advantages, but in the end I've decided it's a bad idea. This diminishes the coalition-building value of political parties, and removes any mechanism for Democrats to choose the candidate we think will best represent our party. The need to appeal to moderates in the first phase of the election will generate more bland choices like Gray Davis, and more celebrity novelty candidates like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
California Proposition 71: Yes
This allocates state funding for stem-cell research. California gets cutting-edge science, cures for debilitating diseases are potentially found, and it's a giant middle finger raised at the Bush administration and their anti-science policies. What's not to like?
Berkeley Measure Q: Yes
This takes a symbolic stand in favor of legalizing prostitution, and sets enforcement of prostitution laws at "the lowest priority". I support this on social libertarian grounds. (I'm not yet desparate enough to support it on self-interest grounds.)
Berkeley Measure S: No
This measure creates a 13-18 member Tree Board with up to two full-time staff. That's right, a Tree Board. Come on, do we really need 20 people to set the city's tree policy? One or even three people I might almost consider, but this is just ridiculous. Berkeley, this is why people make fun of
Rebuttals, detailed policy analyses, and commentary/endorsements on other races or ballot initiatives in the comments are encouraged.