Archive for January 28th, 2010
Fallows was a speechwriter for Jimmy Carter. His annotated STOU.
In his State of the Union address last night, President Obama urged the Senate to adopt pay-as-you-go rules (PAYGO), which essentially stipulate that all spending increases will be offset by either cuts elsewhere or tax increases. “When the vote comes tomorrow, the Senate should restore the pay-as-you-go law that was a big reason for why we had record surpluses in the 1990s,” Obama said.
Today, the Senate followed through, and considering all of the deficit fearmongering that has been going on in Congress, you’d think that it would have passed by a fairly wide margin. But no. Instead, the rules passed on a party line vote of 60-40.
And the blanket Republican opposition is particularly interesting considering that some Senate Republicans used to support PAYGO, even when it was opposed by their own party. For instance, in 2004, three current Senate Republicans — Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) — joined 47 Democrats in adopting PAYGO, against the majority Republicans’ wishes (although the rule was ultimately scuttled when Congress failed to pass a budget). The next year, the same three senators were joined by Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) in a failed attempt to implement the rule.
Yet all four of them opposed the rule today. Here’s what they’ve had to say in favor of PAYGO in the past:
VOINOVICH: I just don’t understand how we can continue to go this way.We’re living in a dream world. This deficit continues to grow.
COLLINS: [PAYGO is] much-needed restraint for members of Congress as we wrestle with fiscal decisions.
SNOWE: I believe now is the time for both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to commit to pay-as-you-go rules for both revenues and spending.
Just last year, Snowe approved of Obama’s advocating for PAYGO. And in the last few weeks, all of these Republicans have voiced concerns about the deficit and spending. So what changed? And why did all the supposed deficit hawks in the Senate — like Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) — vote against it as well? Could it be that they’re actually deficit peacocks, who “like to preen and call attention to themselves, but are not sincerely interested” in addressing deficits?
In last night’s address, Obama chided Senate Republicans, saying that “just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions. So let’s show the American people that we can do it together.” They’re not off to a good start.
A post by an associate professor of medieval literature (who will probably like the iPad because it can accurately display pages from an illuminated book whereas the Kindle cannot). From Dan Colman’s Open Culture:
Today we have a guest post by William Rankin, director of educational innovation, associate professor of medieval literature, and Apple Distinguished Educator, Abilene Christian University. ACU was the first university in the world to announce a comprehensive one-to-one initiative based on iPhones and iPod touches designed to explore the impact of mobility in education. For the past year, they have been considering the future of the textbook. Rankin, who made a brief appearance on NBC Nightly News last night, does a great job here of putting the new Apple iPad in historical context and suggesting why it may solve the great informational problems of our age.
It may seem strange in the wake of a major tech announcement to turn to the past—570 years in the past and beyond — but to consider the role of eBooks and specifically of Apple’s new iPad, I think such a diversion is necessary. Plus, as regular readers of Open Culture know, technology is at its best not when it sets us off on some isolated yet sparkling digital future, but when it connects us more fully to our humanity — to our history, our interrelatedness, and our culture. I want to take a moment, therefore, to look back before I look forward, considering the similarities between Gutenberg’s revolution and recent developments in eBook technologies and offering some basic criteria we can borrow from history to assess whether these new technologies — including Apple’s iPad — are ready to propel us into information’s third age.
In the world before Gutenberg’s press — the first age — information was transmitted primarily in a one-to-one fashion. If I wanted to learn something from a person, I typically had to go to that person to learn it. This created an information culture that was highly personal and relational, a characteristic evidenced in apprenticeships and in the teacher/student relationships of the early universities. This relational characteristic was true even for textual information. The manual technology behind the production and copying of books and the immense associated costs meant that it was difficult for books to proliferate. To see a book — if I couldn’t afford to have my own copy hand-made, a proposition requiring the expenditure of a lifetime’s worth of wages for the average person — meant that I had to go visit the library that owned it. Even then, I might not be allowed to see it if I didn’t have a privileged relationship with its owners. So while the first age was rich in information (a truth that has nothing to do with my personal bias as a medievalist), its primary challenge involved access.
Gutenberg’s revolution, ushering in the second age, solved that problem. Driven by one of the first machines to enable mass-production, information could proliferate for the first time. Multiple copies of books could be produced quickly and relatively cheaply — Gutenberg’s Bible was available at a cost of only three years’ wages for the average clerk — and this meant that books took on a new role in culture. This was the birth of mass media. Libraries exploded from having tens or perhaps a few hundred books to having thousands. Or tens of thousands. Or millions. And this abundance led to three distinct revolutions in culture. Though the university initially fought its introduction, the printed textbook provided broad access to information that, for the first time, promised the possibility of universal education. Widespread access to bibles and theological texts fueled significant transformations in religion across the Western Hemisphere. And access to information, philosophy, and news led to the dismantling of old political hierarchies and some of the first experiments with democracy (have you ever stopped to notice how many of the American revolutionaries were involved in printing and publishing?).
But the proliferation of information had a dark side as well, creating a new …
Last week, “all five of the [Supreme] Court’s conservatives joined together…to invalidate a sixty-three year-old ban on corporate money in federal elections,” a move that Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) said “opens the floodgates for the purchases and sale of the law” by big corporations. While progressives were outraged by the court’s judicial activism, many Republican politicians applauded the decision, with RNC Chairman Michael Steele even calling the ruling nothing more than “an affirmation of the constitutional rights provided to Americans under the first amendment.”
The progressive PR firm Murray Hill Inc. has announced that it plans to satirically run for Congress in the Republican primary in Maryland’s 8th congressional district to protest the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision. A press release on its website says that the company wants to “eliminate the middle man” and run for Congress directly, rather than influencing it with corporate dollars:
“Until now,” Murray Hill Inc. said in a statement, “corporate interests had to rely on campaign contributions and influence peddling to achieve their goals in Washington. But thanks to an enlightened Supreme Court, now we can eliminate the middle-man and run for office ourselves.”
“The strength of America,” Murray Hill Inc. says, “is in the boardrooms, country clubs and Lear jets of America’s great corporations. We’re saying to Wal-Mart, AIG and Pfizer, if not you, who? If not now, when?” [...]
Campaign Manager William Klein promises an aggressive, historic campaign that “puts people second” or even third. “The business of America is business, as we all know,” Klein says. “But now, it’s the business of democracy too.” Klein plans to use automated robo-calls, “Astroturf” lobbying and computer-generated avatars to get out the vote.
Murray Hill Inc. plans on spending “top dollar” to protect its investment. “It’s our democracy,” Murray Hill Inc. says, “We bought it, we paid for it, and we’re going to keep it.”
Murray Hill Inc. released its first campaign video Monday. A narrator in the video explains, “The way we see it, corporate America has been the driving force behind Congress for years. But now it’s time we got behind the wheel ourselves.” Watch it:
UPDATE Radio host Thom Hartmann interviewed Murray Hill Inc’s spokesman Eric Hansel yesterday on his radio show. Hansel explained to Hartmann that his company chose to run in the Republican primary because the GOP is more sympathetic to corporations. Watch it:
Mr. B from Columbus points out this article by Ben Elowitz in the Washington Post:
Editor’s note: Ever since yesterday’s debut of Apple‘s iPad, the debate has been raging about what it means for Amazon’s Kindle. Will it kill it? Will it not? Is comparing the two like comparing a computer to a typewriter? To add fuel to the fire and, well, because we love top 10 lists, we present this guest post from Ben Elowitz, who comes down very firmly on the Kindle-is-kaput side of the debate. Ben is co-founder and CEO of Wetpaint, a media company with an audience of 10 million monthly unique users; and author of the Digital Quarters blog. Prior to Wetpaint, he co-founded Blue Nile (NILE), the largest online retailer of fine jewelry.
1) The multi-functional capability. Buy a Kindle and you get? a reader. Another dedicated device to carry. Buy an iPad, and you get a whole new companion that can do pretty much anything. Games, movies, browsing, documents, and more?all in one. And zillions of iPhone apps. It?s sooooo much more than a reader, it?s a whole-life device.
2) The screen. Full color, multi-touch screen, gestures, and more. It?s a pleasure to look at it ? and we all can rely on Steve Jobs? aesthetics to know that it?s a pleasure to hold as well.
3) The compatibility. iPad supports ePub out of the box, overcoming publishers? resistance to having to support a proprietary format such as Kindle?s; and creating compatibility with books sold through a leading standard format through any channel. (Something tells me Amazon will be making an announcement about ePub support real soon?)
4) The iBooks store. Apple has captured the magic of shopping. Once again, whereas Amazon does great with the functional needs of buying a book, Apple goes beyond to create an experience.
5) The …
Light blogging. The Wife took me out to breakfast at The Breakfast Club, then to the DMV for my driver’s license exam. Thanks to the LASIK, I no longer have the "corrective lenses" restriction—passed the vision test easily with my left eye. Right eye had to struggle, but apparently that doesn’t matter if I will ensure that any bug in the car flies into my right eye, not the left. (Actually, I do wear corrective lenses while driving anyway, but removing a restriction is good.)
I also missed 3 questions on the written test:
You must notify the DMV within 5 days if you… sell or transfer your vehicle (not "if you have an accident").
Smoking inside a vehicle when a person younger than 18 years of age is present is: illegal at all times (not "unrestricted by law").
When is it legal to use a cell phone without a hands-free device while driving? When making a call for emergency assistance (not "never").
Then we drove up to Santa Cruz to visit our optician and order new glasses for each of us (new prescriptions, old frame in my case starting to fall apart). Bad news: Takumi frames from Japan are no longer made in Japan: they’ve outsourced all manufacturing and the frames are now of poor quality. (In fact, the optician is no longer carrying them.) But I found a new make that looks as though it will work, and The Wife found a very attractive and lightweight frame (from Austria, I believe).
In moving to a new computer, I have to download and reinstall quite a few programs. I am doing this gradually, picking up only those programs I actually use. I think part of the problem with my old computer was that I was a bit too promiscuous is my downloading of software and along the line I picked up a bot. That’s my theory, anyway.
I gradually got quite a few programs through CNET’s download service. That’s a good way to go because you can be reasonably certain that the downloads are virus free and moreover, CNET will email you when a new version of the program becomes available. I’m using those emails to gradually reinstall the programs I want/need.
At the link (which goes to the Windows programs), you will find tabs for Mac, Mobile, and Webware.
James Fallows discovers that his preferred running style (a style I think of as sprinting: running on the balls of your feet) is the right way to go. His post begins:
For lo these many decades of several-times-per-week running, I have favored the "land on the front of your feet" policy. This is the way you naturally run if you’re sprinting — up on the balls of the feet — and it is the way that has always felt most comfortable to me. But it is at odds with prevailing "heel-strike" practice, and it makes me wonder about standard running shoes, with their enormous multi-inch layers of padding at the back, under the heel, where I need it least. My shoes typically wear out when the area at the front of the shoe, under the balls of my feet, is all abraded away, and the big, thick rear cushions still look new.
Now, science weighs in to say that I’ve been doing it right all along! Or, more specifically Nature weighs in, with a report today here saying that fore-foot running, which also turns out to be the way people naturally run if they’re barefoot, is fundamentally much easier on your joints and bones and therefore easier to bear over the years. There’s a six-minute video on the topic here, which has a variety of "actual scientific" stress-diagrams, like the ones below, showing how the decelerative shock of landing is buffered and spread out over time by fore-foot landings.
Observe the sharp, vertical impact spike from a heel landing (straight-up line with two red circles): …
As I wrote at the time, I thought the condemnations of Rep. Joe Wilson’s heckling of Barack Obama during his September health care speech were histrionic and excessive. Wilson and Obama are both political actors, it occurred in the middle of a political speech about a highly political dispute, and while the outburst was indecorous and impolite, Obama is not entitled to be treated as royalty. That was all much ado about nothing. By contrast, the behavior of Justice Alito at last night’s State of the Union address — visibly shaking his head and mouthing the words "not true" when Obama warned of the dangers of the Court’s Citizens United ruling — was a serious and substantive breach of protocol that reflects very poorly on Alito and only further undermines the credibility of the Court. It has nothing to do with etiquette and everything to do with the Court’s ability to adhere to its intended function.
There’s a reason that Supreme Court Justices — along with the Joint Chiefs of Staff — never applaud or otherwise express any reaction at a State of the Union address. It’s vital — both as a matter of perception and reality — that those institutions remain apolitical, separate and detached from partisan wars. The Court’s pronouncements on (and resolutions of) the most inflammatory and passionate political disputes retain legitimacy only if they possess a credible claim to being objectively grounded in law and the Constitution, not political considerations. The Court’s credibility in this regard has — justifiably — declined substantially over the past decade, beginning with Bush v. Gore (where 5 conservative Justices issued a ruling ensuring the election of a Republican President), followed by countless 5-4 decisions in which conservative Justices rule in a way that promotes GOP political beliefs, while the more "liberal" Justices do to the reverse (Citizens United is but the latest example). Beyond that, the endless, deceitful sloganeering by right-wing lawyers about "judicial restraint" and "activism" — all while the judges they most revere cavalierly violate those "principles" over and over — exacerbates that problem further (the unnecessarily broad scope of Citizens United is the latest example of that, too, and John ‘balls and strikes" Roberts may be the greatest hypocrite ever to sit on the Supreme Court). All of that is destroying the ability of the judicial branch to be perceived — and to act — as one of the few truly apolitical and objective institutions.
Justice Alito’s flamboyantly insinuating himself into a pure political event, in a highly politicized manner, will only hasten that decline. On a night when both tradition and the Court’s role dictate that he sit silent and inexpressive, he instead turned himself into a partisan sideshow — a conservative Republican judge departing from protocol to openly criticize a Democratic President — with Republicans predictably defending him and Democrats doing the opposite. Alito is now a political (rather than judicial) hero to Republicans and a political enemy of Democrats, which is exactly the role a Supreme Court Justice should not occupy.
The Justices are seated at the very front of the chamber, and it was predictable in the extreme that the cameras would focus on them as Obama condemned their ruling. Seriously: what kind of an adult is incapable of restraining himself from visible gestures and verbal outbursts in the middle of someone’s speech, no matter how strongly one disagrees — let alone a robe-wearing Supreme Court Justice sitting in the U.S. Congress in the middle of a President’s State of the Union address? Recall all of the lip-pursed worrying from The New Republic‘s Jeffrey Rosen and his secret, nameless friends over the so-called "judicial temperament" of Sonia Sotomayor. Alito’s conduct is the precise antithesis of what "judicial temperament" is supposed to produce.
Right-wing criticisms — that it was Obama who acted inappropriately by using his SOTU address to condemn the Court’s decision — are just inane. Many of the Court’s rulings engender political passions and have substantial political consequences — few more so than a ruling that invalidated long-standing campaign finance laws. Obama is an elected politician in a political branch and has every right to express his views on such a significant court ruling. While the factual claims Obama made about the ruling are subject to reasonable dispute, they’re well within the realm of acceptable political rhetoric and are far from being "false" (e.g., though the ruling did not strike down the exact provision banning foreign corporations from electioneering speech, its rationale could plausibly lead to that; moreover, it’s certainly fair to argue, as Obama did, that the Court majority tossed aside a century of judicial precedent). Presidents have a long history of condemning Court rulings with which they disagree — Republican politicians, including Presidents, have certainly never shied away from condemning Roe v. Wade in the harshest of terms — and Obama’s comments last night were entirely consistent with that practice. While Presidents do not commonly criticize the Court in the SOTU address, it is far from unprecedented either. And, as usual, the disingenuousness levels are off the charts: imagine the reaction if Ruth Bader Ginsburg had done this at George Bush’s State of the Union address.
What’s most disturbing here is .…
MakeUseOf.com’s Ryan Dube has a useful post:
I’m not really the type of person that sends faxes all that often. There may be an occasion or two when I have to forward information to my insurance company or the Human Resources department at work, but those times are very few and far between. However, since I don’t fax very often, whenever I do have a need to send a fax I used to scramble to find an available fax machine. After I started writing for MakeUseOf, I decided to reassess this occasional need and come up with a solution that would make use of available free online technologies and resources. I started looking for an answer to the question, “Can I send an email to a fax machine?”
And so began my quest into the world of free online faxing. The only requirement that I set when I started this search was that the resource must be free, it must allow, at a minimum, a full textual document to be sent over the Internet. The ability to send formatted documents would be a plus, but since most of the time I just need to send over information, the ability to send an text email to a fax machine is really all I usually need…
Continue reading to see his comments on the 5 services he identified that can do this.
Last weekend, London’s Sunday Mail quoted the lead author of a chapter in a purportedly authoritative 2007 climate-change assessment as saying that he deliberately used unsubstantiated sources for conclusions about the rate of glacier melting in the Himalayas. After two days, I finally reached the scientist in question — Murari Lal — in Ghaziabad, India, where he chairs the Climate, Energy and Sustainable Development Analysis Centre. Lal doesn’t dispute that mistakes were made in the inclusion of some numbers in his chapter of the report — ones that likely exaggerated projections of glacier melting. But he strenuously challenges the newspaper’s charge that those mistakes were politically motivated.
In that newspaper story, the Mail’s David Rose quoted Lal as saying about the Himalayan glacier melt projection: “We thought that if we can highlight it, it will impact policy makers and politicians and encourage them to take some concrete action.”
But Lal counters that he never said that. He’s not saying he was quoted out of context. He flatly denies ever uttering those words. He similarly denies several of the other quotes attributed to him in that article. And he points out that the newspaper misidentified his field of study as glaciology. He is, in fact, a climatologist.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which issued the report in which the disputed Himalayan glacier data appeared, has called the use of a non-peer-reviewed source — in this case a report by the World Wildlife Fund — a mistake.
I asked Lal how he happened to rely on that WWF material.
None of the IPCC chapter’s authors were glaciologists, he said, so “we entirely trusted the findings reported in the WWF 2005 Report and the underlying references as scientifically sound and relevant in the context of climate change impacts in the region.” Those underlying references, he says, cited projections by a renowned Indian glaciologist. So Lal says his team deferred to what appeared to be that scientist’s assessments (projections that have apparently since been retracted).
“As authors,” he says, “we had to report only the best available science inclusive of a select few (non-peer-reviewed sources) which is ‘policy-relevant and yet policy-neutral’ — and that’s what we collectively did while writing the Asia Chapter.”
Keep in mind, Lal argues, the 2035 figure contained in his chapter — as a date at which Himalayan glaciers might disappear — was not a prediction, but a projection. IPCC authors are prohibited from making their own predictions, he said. And, he argues, his team didn’t. Indeed, he maintains, “We did not violate the existing IPCC procedures in any manner.”
So, what is his current assessment of the Himalayan melt situation? …
If you’ve ever driven a long commute for any length of time, you’ve probably experienced driving while lost in thought, then on looking around you don’t realize quite where you are. This morning’s shave was a bit like that. I finished a pass, and I didn’t really know whether it was the first pass or the second. So I did either a 2-pass shave or a 3-pass shave—and in any event, it’s quite a nice shave.
The Omega “Colors” brush is a fine brush and it did a great job with Vintage Blade’s Herbal Citrus shaving cream. Then the Apollo Mikron with a much-used Swedish Gillette shaved so smoothly and easily I lost track of the passes.
A splash of Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet was a perfect finish.