21 November 2008

No stake, no political death

OK, sorry, one more —

The word on the street is that Senator Hillary Clinton has accepted the position of Secretary of State for the Obama Administration. Tammy Bruce is upset about this because

She officially surrenders her independent political power and will officially carry the water for a misogynist who bullied her out of the race in the first place.

Personally, I read it differently. Who is going to be the White House Chief of Staff, the guy who routes people around and decides who sees the President? Why, Representative Rahm Emmanuel, one of former President Clintons top political operatives and hatchet man. Who is filling the rest of the Obama Administration? Mostly Clinton retreads. So, you’ll have President Obama, who made a career of being a sock puppet, surrounded by and his access controlled by a crew made of Clintonites who play hard ball politics at a level way beyond Obama.

I suspect that HRC views this as a way of being in on that action without being close enough (officially) to get splashed too much from the fallout that’s inevitable over the next four years. You go, girl.

Where has the Navy fun gone?

One last hit before I head off for vacation (where I will likely have network access but no time to use it) —

I saw this article on the Indian Navy blowing away some Somali pirates via Brothers Judd and it just left me thinking two things —

First, Go India!

Second, why is it left to India to do this? Why aren’t we reading stories of the US and British Navies dropping some superpower hurt on punks with boats and AK-47s? Is not pirate hunting something every civilized nation and person can get behind 100%? Didn’t the US Navy start out as a pirate hunting organization? Even beyond the pure joy of sport of supressing piracy, wouldn’t it be a great way to do some live fire exercises? I am disappointed that our leaders are not trying to one-up India on dealing with a threat to deep water trade that our own economy depends on.

Still, kudos to India for taking the pirate by the neck.


The words “flammable” and “imflammable” “inflammable” are the most commonly used to demonstrate some of the syntactic problems with with English language, in that despite the “im” prefix’s normal meaning, those two words are synonymns. I haven’t, however, seen other examples used. But as I was driving around this morning, trying to get the globe to warm up, I realized that while not quite as close, “impregnate” and “impregnable” are a good example as well. A naive reader might well think that “impregnable” meant “easy to impregnate” but of course it means the opposite. It’s too bad “pregnate” isn’t a word.

20 November 2008

Shipping Policy

I ran in to this article on how the Obama Administration was going to pick Penny Pritzker as Secretary of Commerce. Pritzker, of course, was a player in the subprime crisis with a failing bank and all.

The interesting part is that this story went out last night, ran in to a wall of criticism, and has now been scrubbed off the Inter-Tubes. Just like the required community service for high school and college was changed after it was mocked.

So maybe the Obama Administration will be something new, the Beta Government. That would operate by slamming some policy together, shipping it out, and when the customers voters don’t like it just declare it a “beta version” that shouldn’t have shipped then put out an improved policy with bug fixes. Maybe getting a reputation for being one of the most leak prone White Houses in recent history is a feature, not a bug.

Wealth Elevators

I heard a report on NPR this morning about the International Space Station celebrating its 10th year and $100B spent. I remember Skipper arguing that no nation would build an orbital elevator that wasn’t economically viable because it might well cost $100B. I just had to laugh.

19 November 2008

Yes, I am obsessing but not about what you think

I have been quite caught up in learning some new code slinging technologies these last few weeks. I am in the midst of upgrading my Movable Type plugins to version 4.2 because we’re using that in another project and I figured it was about time to look at upgrading (I’m still running 3.3X here). There was also this one plugin that had been creaking along in a barely usable state since 2.64 that I thought would be a perfect vehicle for also learning Javascript and doing cool Web 2.0 stuff. Ah, what a time sink that simple upgrade turned out to be!

For the geeks out there, I eventually settled on jQuery as my base Javascript library. I actually liked MooTools better in terms of programming but all of the projects I forsee for my Javascript mad skillz involve running in already Javascripty environments and MooTools doesn’t play well with others1. jQuery, on the other hand, does. It’s still a reasonably good library although I spent this evening fighting with a bug that I consider a design flaw in the library but I am feeling much better now (I was almost driven to uttering profanities).

But here’s my favorite thing about Javascript that I have learned this week:

This is valid Javascript —

 return { opacity: 0.5
        , helper: 'clone'
        , distance: 4

This is not —

    { opacity: 0.5
    , helper: 'clone'
    , distance: 4

Why, since white space is supposed to be just white space? I have no idea. What’s even funnier is that this code is valid —

 var zreturn =
        { opacity: 0.5
        , helper: 'clone'
        , distance: 4
 return zreturn;

When you figure that out, let me know.

As part of my attempt to hand with the cool Web 2.0 crowd, I have been working with JSON as a remote procedure call serialization. I have liked it for a while because it is extremely similar to my own design for an internal project at my former employer, but was rejected because another team couldn’t see the utility of it. Well, how the worm turns some times…2

I have also been struggling with a lot of computer hardware problems, which I am not yet at the end of. After fighting with 2 other boxes to get them working, I finally ordered a new chassis and CPU for a third failing box. I tried putting it together tonight and naturally the memory in the old box doesn’t fit in the new box. Sigh. At least memory is cheap these days. And graphics cards — the new chassis had on board better graphics hardware than the hot (when I ordered it) graphics card in the old box. That card will end up going to yet another box I am upgrading so the kids can game on it (Girl Three’s computer is literally older than she is and why should a four year old suffer from inferior computational hardware?3).

1 Many of the nice things about MooTools stem from this design decision, so it’s not a matter of finding some other library with what I like that does play well with others.

2 I learned a lot about type systems in those days and eventually decided that such things have a “deadly middle ground”. Any type system should either be very simple (like Perl, Javascript, or JSON) or very general and powerful (like C++ or CLOS). Inward from those extremes you end up paying for the complexity but not getting the key benefits. It’s like an inverse Laffer curve.

3 As I was typing that, she was running up from the basement calling out for help to get her computer fired up so she could play her Barbi / Horse / Princess game.

Who's the bigger Socialist?

Our Mr. Eagar wants to make a bet on whether President Bush or President-Elect Obama will end up nationalizing more of the economy. I think that’s an interesting wager and am happy to take him up on it.

However, we must be careful about what we mean by nationalizing. Mr. Eagar starts with a figure of $4T for Bush but doesn’t specify where this number comes from. Should we include the financial industry bailout? In general no, but we should probably count any stock purchases made. But that’s only $700B and I can’t think of what else would account for the rest. Support for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mack? Possibly, but I would lay that at the feet of the Democratic Party, not Bush, as the massive expansion that led to such debt was a creation of the Congressional leaders of that party.

Another issue is whether we count taxes, which one can argue are a de facto nationalization. If taxes go up as a percentage of GDP, does that count as nationalization?

Finally, are we counting only one side of the ledger, or do we consider counter vailing efforts? For instance, health insurance accounts. Or free trade agreements. I certainly won’t defend Bush as a leader for free markets, but his record is overall mixed. He at least made a pass at privatizing Social Security, which would have been the biggest de-nationalization in American history.

14 November 2008

Obama Tracks

For my own personal records, I am setting up this post to record the slow accumulation of bits and pieces of President-elect Obama. Feel free to pay no attention, as I don’t intend for this to add up to a full indictment for quite a while, but every bill of particulars starts with a single item.

I will start with four categories

Contra-Factuals:Things said or strongly implied by the Obama campaign that turned out to not correspond to reality. Sleaze:Corruption, malfesceance, graft, indecency, pettiness. Incompetence:Demonstrations of cluelessness. Luck:Things where Obama gets lucky and escapes problems that would sink any one else. Some of these are the result of Obama’s Old Media provided teflon coating, but others are Obama being in the right place at the right time. It also includes incompetence on the part of others that benefits Obama.

On with the show!


William Ayers
Turns out that he is in fact a family friend of the Obama’s despite the “just an English professor who lives in my neighborhood” story that was put out originally.


Biting the helping hand
Staffers in the Obama campaign leak details about his first meeting with President Bush which will will file under ungrateful pettiness.


No audit
The FEC demonstrates in own ineffectiveness by planning to not audit the Obama campaign because the campaign was so successful at raising money. Apparently only people who fail to cheat well need to be audited.
Hopeful Bombing
With the election of Obama, the AP now reports that bombings in Iraq are a sign of hope. Click through, the article has other examples of Old Media putting out pro-Obama propaganda. And why not? Chris Matthews admits that he considers it his job to make the Obama Adminstration a success.


More failure
Obama’s first round up of economic adivisors has a big helping of failures of the past. I actually have a bit of sympathy for Obama on this one, because the pool of Big Names who aren’t demonstrated failures is not a large list. Still, the first step in doing a good job is figuring out what’s beyond your ability or resources.
Luna Tech

I want to congratulate the nation of India for impacting a space probe on the Moon from the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft. Nicely done!

10 November 2008

Post-production maintenance

I was reading a science fiction story this morning which involved “uterine replicators” which are basically artificial wombs. Naturally most women think the technology is wonderful as they can have children without the physiological costs and medical risks of pregnancy. But it left me wondering — how are the babies fed afterwards? Lactation is triggered by pregnancy hormones which will not be present if all fetal development takes places externally. Should I just presume the existence of infant formula of sufficient quality, since if the technology can replicate a womb it can handle artificial lactation as well? Or presume hormone therapy to induce lactation? For all the time spent on discussing the moral and cultural implications of artificials wombs, that subject is not touched upon at all.

08 November 2008

Another world of politics

One interesting thing I heard recently was a group at the local university who are going out and recording insects. SWIPIAW took us all over to the local natural resources department for their 150th anniversary expo and that was in one of the booths.

I thought it was very cool. They’ve got decades of work to go but their claim is that insect sounds are as regionally and species distinctive as bird calls. The fact that we have excellent catalogs of bird calls means that ornithologists can create far more accurate maps of bird populations with microphones than traps. The insect listening guys want to be able to do the same thing with insects.

One interesting complications is that while insects use vibrations like birds, they don’t always use air to transmit those vibrations. Some drum on the plants they live on, other sent ripples over the surface of the water. That provides some discrimination right off the top.

The best technology was the laser eavesdropper. It was discovered a while back that you could listen in on people in a room by bouncing a laser beam off a window in the room and decoding the resulting modulations of the laser beam caused window vibrations which in turn were caused by sounds in the room. Now that technology is used to bounce a laser beam off the surface of ponds to listen to the insects chattering away.

05 November 2008

What difference an hour makes

I did find some humor in these two back to back posts at Brothers Judd

I think that, while McCain made numerous mistakes, and was fighting a very uphill battle, his biggest failing was his inability to articulate any coherence in his political stances. It was just a grab bag of things, and if you want that sort of mish-mash Obama said it a lot better.

Vacation from Reality

Well, that was a crushing night. That makes a clean sweep for my electoral contributions (in time and money) — every single cause I backed lost.

  • Two GOP primary candidates
  • The general election Presidential candidate
  • The income tax repeal in Massachusetts
  • The Illinois Constitutional Convention
  • Bill Russell (vs. Representative John Murtha)

This is why I almost never buy individual stocks and stick to index funds.

The Presidential results, while not a landslide, were definite (somewhat better than Bush vs. Kerry). Now, there are those who claim that winning the election is sufficient evidence that you are a skilled politician but I disagree. Given the overall political situation, Senator Obama’s enormous cash advantage1, the party organ media blitz, Senator McCain’s rather inept campaign, the final result does not to mean indicate any particular skill. Luck, certainly. Good speaking voice, definitely. But political skill? Mediocre. One need merely look back at the campaign at the enormous number of gaffes that would have sunk a candidate in normal circumstances. Think of him not short listing Clinton for VP, when just a little graciousness would have paid big dividends. Or the “bitter, clinging” remarks. Or his gaffe about not banning guns because he doesn’t have the votes in Congress. It’s quite the list.

I am also puzzled by the claims that Obama is a “decent man”. I saw no evidence of that, in fact the opposite. It seems the result of desperately wishing it were true, just like so much of Obama’s support. This little exercise in petty spite Obama’s taking advantage of sealed divorce records in his US Senate campaign is a classic example. Or having prominent supporters joke about his opponent wearing adult diapers. Or calling Palin ‘mayor’ when she’s a Governor. Decent men don’t do that kind of thing in public as political leaders. They have more respect for themselves, their opponent, and the public. Obama’s disdainful contempt for the rule of law does not bespeak much decency either. Or his acquiesence / support for the attacks on Governor Palin, Joe the Plumber, talk show hosts, and anyone else who got in his way. A decent man doesn’t support abuse of the race card, labeling political criticism as racism. A decent man doesn’t refer to the grandmother who took him and raised him as a “typical white person” with racist tendencies. Could someone point me to any actions by Obama that support this claim?

I do not see much of a silver lining. There is the standard claim that 2 or 4 years in the political wilderness will toughen and enlighten the GOP. But the last two years don’t seem to have had any effect, so why should the next two be different? The GOP leadership seems to be taking an extended vacation from history.

But so is the Democratic Party, which is gearing up to implement the policies that failed in the 1970s, and are failing now in Europe.

And the American Street as well, ignoring what little historical trail Obama has left. Or the 2006 Congress, for that matter.

Luckily I have enough money to survive the next four years, so I will just wait it out, hoping that the Clue By Four of Reality will slap some sense in to people. I expect the Obama Administration to combine the worst features of Carter, Grant, and Buchanan. That is, declinism, corruption, and ineffectualness.

P.S. A good post on the electioneering techniques of Obama.

1 Yeah, what happened to all that MAL whining about buying elections?