Wednesday, August 26, 2009

5 steps ahead

I'm a chess player. Ok, let me rephrase: I sometimes try to play chess and usually end up losing. To toddlers. It's quite sad, really. I think my greatest weakness there is the inability to think more than about two moves ahead. Maybe I don't have the smarts, or maybe it's a lack of patience and foc...

Hey - look over there!

Just kidding.

I've always been impressed with those who can think three or four moves down the road and the few who can go beyond that appear to dabble in nothing short of wizardry.

When Barack Obama took office six months ago he said there wouldn't be an investigation into what is looking more and more like the previous administration's despicable use of torture and other illegal actions. I was disappointed and thought maybe he didn't have the stomach for it. Or perhaps he was willing to sweep it under the rug and really did want to bury the hatchet to try to build a new bipartisanship, despite the GOP's strenuous efforts to thwart any such offer.

Two days ago Attorney General Eric Holder appointed an investigator to look into "enhanced interrogation" techniques. Of course the Bushies, especially the former VP, went ballistic claiming partisanship and that Holder is clearly Obama's puppet. I guess they think that all Presidents do as their did and hand pick an AG with more allegiance to the executive branch than the judicial, job description notwithstanding. It was a long time coming.

Those of us in "we're a country of laws not men" land are left with two possibilities: President Obama is unhappy about the special investigation and just hasn't said so; or he saw this coming six+ months ago and decided that by speaking out against investigations early he could reinforce the firewall between the branches of government and give Holder the space to do what has to be done.

Maybe he's 5 steps ahead of the rest of us. Or more.

It's a Jedi thing and I clearly wouldn't understand.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Let's take a break from the serious and check out something absurdly cool. This animation was done by two guys over about 1,500 hours. If you like nostalgia, old-school video games, legos or just need an amazing way to spend 4 minutes check it out.

And now back to your regularly scheduled political ranting, already in progress.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Seth's tricky math

For those of you not acquainted with Seth Godin I highly recommend his blog if you want to read the musings of a really smart guy and pick up some knowledge nuggets along the way. Take his latest post, for example, on how bad we humans tend to be a math unless we train ourselves to be otherwise. Go ahead - read it, then come back here for the reveal.

----------- [intermission]----------

Welcome back.

If you still don't quite see why he's right and don't want to do the math, I've done it for you here. Don't worry: it's not hard, and there's no test later. No doctor will call. Operators are standing by.

The first point to consider is that it doesn't matter whether we're talking about a thousand cars or a single car, so in this example we'll assume one of each vehicle that drives 10,000 miles in a given year.

At 10mpg the stock Suburban will require 1,000 gallons of gas (10000 / 10). Improving its mileage from 10 to 13 mpg means it will only need ~769 gallons for that same distance, so that small improvement will mean a savings of about 231 gallons of gas.

The Prius, at 50mpg, will need 200 gallons of gas to drive those 10000 miles (10000 / 50).

Doubling the mileage of the Prius to 100mpg will mean it only needs 100 gallons to drive 10,000 miles (10000 / 1000) for a savings of 100 gallons of gas.

231 is much more than 100. So, as you can see improving the efficiency of a Suburban from 10mpg to 13mpg yields more than twice the savings (in gas, money and emissions) of doubling the mileage of a much-more-efficient Prius. You just can't escape the law of diminishing returns. As the great philosopher Barbie put it "Math is Tough".

Friday, August 21, 2009

80 votes??

There's nothing earth-shattering here that you haven't heard before in various pieces. I just like to think that I manage to pull the pieces together well. It's my blog. I can do that.

As a political junkie I've been following the health care reform debate (I bet you couldn't have guessed that from my other posts) pretty closely. The latest word from the GOP now is that the Democrats will need 75-80 votes to pass legislation. WTF? Where is that law written? Did someone amend the constitution when I had my back turned? As Rachel Maddow pointed out on Thursday the 20th that's moving the goal posts, raising the basket, filling in the cup, stepping on the scale. It's cheating and it's dishonest. And it simply isn't the law, even taking the filibuster into consideration. (Speaking of the filibuster I say that the Democrats should force the GOP to actually go through with a real, standing-there-all-night, no-break, no-bathroom, coffee-fueled filibuster rather than cowering from the mere threat. Hey, I have an idea for a new blog post!) It's absolute nonsense.

Unfortunately the Democrats are buying it lock, stock and barrel. (Who buys the lock and the stock but ignores the barrel?). And it's at their electoral peril. Just using myself as an example I was far more involved with the campaign of Barack Obama than any campaign in the past; I drove hundreds of miles to canvas for him. I donated as much money as I was allowed legally; I made phone calls; I handed out flyers; I posted door hangers; I left my wife and infant son at home over weekends to help this man win, so that he could change the way Washington worked. He had dreams. We had hopes.

Against what looked like overwhelming odds only six months earlier Barack Obama won and brought with him a huge majority in the House and eventually a supposedly filibuster-proof majority of 60 votes in the Senate. None of that is news.

What is news, though, is how weak those majorities are and how the brilliant campaigner is falling on his face as a leader. The Democrats are letting a few noise makers, corporate (read: profit) interests, and flagrant liars shape the debate. Take back the reins, Mr President. Take back the tone. Take back your mandate and USE IT.

When Bill Clinton's naivete cost him health care reform in 1992/1993 we liberals let it slide as a rookie mistake. Mr. Obama, we're not going to be that forgiving this time because you have that model to use as an example what not to do. If you fail to give us a solid piece of legislation with real reform (read: public option) I can say, with confidence, that those of us who fought so hard in 2008 will stay home in 2010 and 2012. Your political capital will never be stronger and there is likely not to be another cause that needs it as much as health care reform both for our physical health as well as the country's fiscal future.

Please don't let this slip through your fingers. If the GOP won't negotiate in good faith then don't invite them to the table. We don't need them. We need a real leader. We need the man we fought for and elected. We need you.

Anything else would be absurd.


(PS: Maybe I should have called this blog "Abundant parenthesis")

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The only thing we have to fear is...

I guess it's time for some political opinion. Lately I've found myself grumbling at the TV (ok, podcasts, but who's counting? Shut up, A.C Nielson) at the lunacy coming out of the right wing especially as it relates to the health care debate. I'm not going to rehash what many have already covered: the birthers, the deathers, etc. I'm more concerned with the underlying cause of the recent discord: Fear.

I'm not talking about fear of death panels, or fear of socialism, or fear or the latest bogeyman. I'm talking about the fear of being wrong. Republicans, at least the few smart ones, know that they're on the wrong side of history, yet again. Just as they were with civil rights, Medicare, Medicaid and as history will prove them wrong on climate change, gay rights, etc. Every other developed nation on Earth has some sort of universal health plan which costs them half as much per capita as the US pays and yields significantly better results. We're in the bottom of almost every scale of health measurement: life expectancy and infant mortality nicely cover both ends.

The reason the GOP is lobbing every bit of bull they can at the Democrats is that they know it's the right thing to do but if it gets through the Democrats and, more to the point, President Obama, will receive the credit now and in the history books. They are so incensed at the disaster of the last eight years that they're willing to do deliberate damage to this great country rather than see their names smeared. How's that for representing your constituents.

Those who get their news exclusively from Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News need to read other sources to learn what's real and what's not. Just because it came out of Sean Hannity's mouth does NOT make it true - in fact quite the contrary. You are being PLAYED, people. You're being manipulated and used as dummies - literally. The insurance companies and the GOP (but I repeat myself) are pulling your strings (aren't you glad I didn't continue the puppet analogy?), getting you to spout their lies, and letting you look like the fools. Wake up. Blocking health care reform will hurt you, not the lobbyists, not the ultra rich who own the GOP, you. Why in the hell would you work against your own interest?

Oh yeah, it's easier than thinking.

Absurd. Absolutely absurd.