Thursday, August 24, 2006

Random Quotations

This seems harmless. I've seen it done on a couple of blogs, so I'll play, too.
The rules: "Go here and look through random quotes until you find 5 that you think reflect who you are or what you believe."
My first five (You have to stop when you find five; otherwise, it's endless!):
  1. "Examine what is said, not him who speaks." Arab Proverb
  2. "Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity." Unknown, Hanlon's Razor
  3. "You don't stop laughing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop laughing." Michael Pritchard
  4. "I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it." Voltaire (1694 - 1778)
  5. "I base my fashion taste on what doesn't itch." Gilda Radner (1946 - 1989)
Not an awesome collection, but not bad, either. Your turn....

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Haven't Been Doing My Share

Been busy. Thought this site was cute, though.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


You know, I like trivia. I like trivia a lot. My head is amazingly full of truly useless and unimportant information, and some of it bubbles to the surface at odd moments. (For example, recently at a party, someone was trying to recall who recorded the song "War" -- you know, "War...HUH...What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!" -- and I knew that it was Edwin Starr.)

But I also understand the difference between trivia and important facts, and I try to make a point of learning the latter, even at the expense of the former. That seems perfectly rational to me.

And then I run into something like this (at tip to Bob Harris):
Three-quarters of Americans can correctly identify two of Snow White's seven dwarfs while only a quarter can name two Supreme Court justices, according to a poll on pop culture.
Perhaps the only shocking part of that is that 25% could not name even two of the dwarfs, but still.... Some of the other findings are equally disturbing. On the other hand, they do explain a lot of the attitudes and opinions held by the masses. If you can't be bothered to learn about the world around you, don't be surprised if the world isn't quite what you want.

Oh, and the ironic bit about learning of this from the aforementioned Bob Harris is that Harris was a frequent participant (and sometimes winner) on Jeopardy!, a TV game show featuring trivia. I believe Mr. Harris understands the distinction between the trivial and the important. Apparently he has also written a book about (among other things) his appearances on Jeopardy!. Sounds like fun reading.

Oh, and for the record, I can name all seven of the dwarfs and just named eight of the nine current Supreme Court justices off the top of my head (I forgot Justice Souter).

Monday, August 14, 2006

Gratuitous Plug For Some Friends

Being older than a certain age, I come a little late to the online music party. That is, I have listened to various streaming services over the years (especially Radio Margaritaville), but most just haven't interested me that much. I used to listen to a favorite radio station from my Santa Cruz days, KPIG, but they went to some weird, proprietary Windows software, and I gave up on them.

Then a couple of years ago, a friend pointed me to a beta test of some music technology his company was working on, and I thought it was kind of cool. Now it's been a real service for a year or so, and it's still very interesting.

They're called Pandora, and their shtick is that they have analyzed the heck out of a lot of music, and if you give them a starting point, they'll stream a bunch of music that's related to what you liked. And the results are quite good: they've opted for high-quality audio, which is refreshing.

They've also added an option called "Backstage," where you can get more info on artists, songs, and albums, and search for similar stuff. That's more like what they were doing when I first looked at their technology. It's all based on something they call the Music Genome Project, which is an attempt to break down music into some of it's component characteristics, and then do some fancy matching to figure out what's similar.

Based on my use, they've done a nice job. You can define a number of different "stations" in your profile to suit different moods. It's pretty cool. Go. Try it. It's free (at least for now). They have paid options, too, but if you're willing to put up with a little advertising, you can just listen.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

Yesterday, driving my five-year-old daughter to school, she mentioned that she had recently taken one of her favorite books to sharing day at school. She is currently hooked on the Magic Tree House series, and the book in question was the one on the Civil War (Civil War on Sunday). Her teachers told her she could share, but she would have to share a part of it that wasn't about the war, because it might scare some of the younger children. And she did. She got that.

So today we're driving to school, and she says "I'm not afraid of war anymore." Oh? "I'm old enough now that I'm not afraid of war." Now, this is a conversation I've been dreading. As one who follows current events pretty closely, I know there are a lot of wars, conflicts, police actions, and so on. I would rather she not have to think about such things (although a little historical perspective is useful).

So I explained that I thought wars were pretty good things to be frightened of, and that they scare me. She changed the subject to something else.

*sigh* I want my daughter to be strong and fearless. I don't want her to worry needlessly about things that are very remote. And frankly, at her age, I don't want her to know just how horrible wars really are. But she needs to know that wars are bad things, and should be avoided. Of course, she has no way to understand the gruesome depths of humanity. And I'd like to keep it that way, at least for a while. But hey, there are newspapers lying about. There are televisions (though rarely turned on in our house). People talk.

Or you might just be sitting on an airplane, when someone gets the bad news.

Is it really possible that those who started this war and insist on "staying the course" don't feel the gut-wrench when faced with something like that? They must realize that some of us feel it, which is why they won't let us see the bodies being repatriated.

There's a word for people who can't feel the pain of others: sociopaths. And they have no place in high office. So many topics I don't want to discuss. Let's go back to "Dolphins at Daybreak," shall we?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Politics and Primary Elections

I guess I cant be the only one in the blogosphere who isn't writing about the primary election in Connecticut today. Clearly, I live on the opposite coast, so I don't have a horse in this race. I have neither contributed to nor otherwise endorsed a candidate in this election (not that it would matter to the few who actually read this). But my take on this is rather different from either what I see in the traditional press or in the blogs.

I come at this from a somewhat different perspective, having worked as a Congressional staffer many years ago, and having addressed the issue of primary elections in the context of a debate over redistricting.

I will cut to the chase here, and say up front that I think primary elections can be a great thing.

Now then, about that redistricting. The argument I often hear in favor of changing the way legislative districts are drawn is that they're too political, and that they tend to favor incumbents, or at least the party of incumbents, and few "competitive" elections. My response is that this is a good thing.

Let's take an example near to my heart: California. Let's just say for the sake of argument that half the voters in California are Republicans, and half are Democrats. If you craft the boundaries of the voting districts so that each district also has roughly half-and-half of each party, you should have "competitive" elections in all of them, with one candidate winning by a narrow margin in each district. That's very exciting if you work in the elections business, but from the perspective of those doing the voting, odds are roughly 50% that you will be disappointed in the results, no matter where you live, and roughly half the state will feel they are not properly represented.

Note that in that scenario, it doesn't actually matter which side wins a given election: just under half are unhappy, statewide. And although probability suggests that the overall outcome will be something close to half of the races going to each party, there is also the chance that due to exogenous factors (local weather conditions, scandal, national or international events, etc.), one party will win a disproportionate number of the races, meaning that the overall representation of the state is skewed, at least for that election cycle.

Now, take the other extreme. Suppose you could construct voting districts that were all pure, 100% voters of one party or the other. Half the state would unanimously elect Republicans, and the other half would unanimously elect Democrats, and in theory, everyone would feel they were being represented by someone they support. Heck, you would barely need to have elections at least, not general elections.

Because here's the thing: What becomes interesting in this "pure" district case is how each party chooses the candidate that will represent it. They don't have to fret over what happens if they re-elect a senile old geezer, fearing that voters will instead choose a competent member of an opposing party. They'd just have a primary and choose another, acceptable member of their preferred party and get on with it.

Or, suppose you have someone representing you that you really, really like, except now and then (s)he does something you find really offensive? You could find someone who agrees with that representative on all the important stuff--including whatever offends you about the incumbent--and run them in a primary. The voters get to decide which is more important to them, and either way, they get someone who agrees with them at least most of the time.

OK, so this leads me directly back to Connecticut. I hear the traditional press commenting and editorializing that Ned Lamont is trying to unseat Joe Lieberman in today's primary solely because of their disagreement over the handling of the war in Iraq. And they say this like it's a bad thing. Now, from my reading it's clear that there's a lot more involved. But even if it came down to that, I still don't see what's wrong with that. If the Democratic Party in Connecticut says they want a senator who is just like Joe Lieberman except for his stand on the war, why shouldn't they elect one in the primary? That's what primaries are for. That seems far more logical than expecting them to re-elect Lieberman without even considering such an alternative. It seems highly unlikely that the large number of Connecticut voters supporting Lieberman would choose to vote for a Republican candidate if given the choice of Lieberman or a Republican. So why not let them choose a more palatable Democrat?

To me, the thing that's striking about this particular race is not that it's an unreasonable sort of race, but rather that such races are so rare? Who represents you in the legislature is incredibly important, too important to just settle for someone with the right general leanings or the right party label. Voters should find the candidate who most closely mirrors their views and whose judgment they trust, and elect that person. And if that means treading on the toes of an incumbent, so be it.

OK, enough rambling. It's just fun to see a real election now and then, instead of a race where people find themselves forced to choose for the least of the evils presented to them. Connecticut could do worse than to re-elect Joe Lieberman. But they can also do better, and I have a feeling they will.

Friday, August 04, 2006

You're a Mammal: Get Over It

Odd juxtaposition of stories on Yahoo's most e-mailed news list today. The top of the list is a story that says children who were breastfed have fewer anxieties as they grow up. The third story on the list is about people agitated because a parenting magazine's cover picture is of a baby nursing. (The #2 story is about a woman getting stuck to a toilet seat in a mall...really.)

Now, I realize that I not only live here on the Left Coast, but also right near the breastfeeding capital of the country, if not the world. So my reaction is not likely to be typical. I also come from a long line of breastfeeders. My sister and I were born at a time when breastfeeding was out of vogue. My favorite story is that when my mother was in the hospital after giving birth to my sister, the nurses refused to bring the baby to mom to nurse! So she checked out and took my sister home and nursed her there.

Anyway, here's my point. We're mammals. One of the defining characteristics of a mammal (and indeed, the one that gave us our name), is that we have mammary glands so that we can feed our offspring before they can feed themselves. That's what breasts are for.

I can appreciate that people may not want to watch others breastfeed. There are plenty of other bodily functions that we generally choose to do privately. Of course, in most cases, we provide facilities for people to do those things in private. If you don't want to watch, don't look. If you really don't want to have to look away, provide places for people to go out of your sight. But don't condemn people for doing something natural and necessary.

Now, as for the picture, here's the thing: it's not a picture of a breast. It's a picture of a baby. It's a really cute, happy baby. There happens to be part of a breast in the picture, too, but that's really not the focus. I think it says a lot about those objecting to the picture that they tend to characterize it as a picture of a breast.

By the way, the picture link there is to a really interesting site called BAGnewsnotes, which does interesting analyses of visual images, generally those in the news. Quite fascinating.

This Explains SO Much!

I've been musing for some time about the level of civility in online discourse. It's been well documented that when people communicate electronically instead of face-to-face that it's easier to degenerate into personal attacks and such. People write things in e-mails and blog posts that they would never say face-to-face.

And it bothers me that some people seem to revel in this.

But yesterday I finally read an explanation that makes more sense (via Atrios): psychotic gnomes and leprechauns control the blogosphere!

I think we can all rest better now.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Kings, Deposed

I suppose it's only fair that I follow up on my last baseball post. Following the Giants' season-best five-game winning streak, they hit the road to play two last-place teams. So naturally, they lost all six games on that road trip.

They came home, and promptly lost two more to one of those same teams. The losing streak currently stands at 9 games, the team's longest such in roughly ten years. The mood at the ballpark has turned ugly.

But the Giants marketing department is running in high gear: Today I got an e-mail from them, extolling the wonders of traveling to St. Louis, Missouri, to watch the Giants play (read: lose) to the Cardinals in their new stadium. They call it a "dream vacation." Seriously.

Whoever thought anyone could put the phrases "dream vacation" and "St. Louis" in the same sentence? Nothing against the city, but those must be some weird dreams.

Updates in the World of E-Voting

And as you might expect, it's not good news. Now, I've been in technology a long time, and one thing I'm sure of, you don't want to hear phrases like "worst flaw ever" bandied about with regard to your product. Or your elections, either.

I'm becoming more and more of a voting Luddite. Paper ballots. Count them by hand. With real, live people. It's worth the time and effort.

But there are at least people who seem to think that there are viable, open solutions to electronic voting.

I hope they're right, since this stuff seems to be here to stay.