Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for November 2nd, 2008

Movie thoughts

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Last night I was watching the first Indiana Jones movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Since I’ve seen it, I was able to watch more of the technique used in the movie—an early Steven Spielberg (1981, thus the year before ET). The fades, cuts, and other stuff was very interesting in themselves, and I could easily back up the DVD to study a transition.

It occurred to me that the next generation of filmmakers, who grew up with DVDs (which allow close study of technique and repeated viewing) and with good quality but inexpensive digital video cameras and computers running video editing programs and able to burn files to DVD)—these new filmmakers are going to be astonishing in their mastery of technique. A motivated high-school student can readily produce a full-length feature at home. The quality may not be as good as holiday, but the resulting DVD can readily be viewed by family and friends and allow the novice filmmaker to get feedback and experience. Amazing.

UPDATE. Two additional thoughts, the first one is that I suddenly remembered: the DVDs include commentaries from directors, writers, actors, and so on: a detailed class about the making of a particular movie. Plus even a small-town film student can study both foreign and domestic movies on DVD.

Second is the obvious home for this effort: the Theater Arts class in high school (or even jr high): first semester devoted to preproduction; second semester: shooting, postproduction, and distribution of the DVD to parents and sale of DVD to students and locals. The goal each year is to make a feature movie.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 November 2008 at 12:55 pm

US Rx costs

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I am hoping that with a more progressive element in Washington, the US can finally move to a rational (and national) healthcare system. We use a medical flex account (setting aside pre-tax funds to pay for medical expenses), but that runs out around the end of October each year, and then we’re paying cash (for co-pays). And we have insurance (Blue Shield through The Wife’s employer). Today I picked up some subscriptions and got an inkling of what the approximately 48 million who lack health insurance face.

Take two of my prescriptions, for example. Flomax is a prescription to shrink the prostage for old guys whose prostate wants to enlarge itself (and thus closing off the urinary bladder by squishing the urethra closed). With Blue Shield, the co-pay is $25. If I were uninsured, I’d have to pay $202.49 per month. Actos is one of the drugs I take in connection with type 2 diabetes. With Blue Shield, the co-pay is $25. If I were uninsured, I’d have to pay $244.49 per month. I could not afford those, and were I uninsured, I’d simply have to go without.

The US needs to get a good healthcare system. The US is a wealthy country compared to many countries whose healthcare systems are markedly superior.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 November 2008 at 12:49 pm

Crooked Representatives and Senators find succor

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We need to change the law, I’d say. Look at this:

A constitutional clause designed to protect members of Congress from abusive or harassing lawsuits is increasingly being used by lawmakers as a shield in public corruption investigations, frustrating investigators even as the FBI attempts to police wrongdoing at a pace not seen since the Watergate scandal.

Under a constitutional provision known as the “speech or debate clause,” lawmakers have wide protections that cover their work on Capitol Hill. That means legislation, floor speeches, and wiretaps that capture information related to votes and strategy are often out of bounds in developing a criminal case.

The latest lawmaker to seize on the controversial legal argument is Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.), who is citing the wiretaps of his Verizon Wireless BlackBerry in trying to persuade a court to throw out charges of fraud, extortion and conspiracy against him.

For four weeks surrounding the 2006 midterm elections, FBI agents secretly listened as Renzi and fellow House members traded phone calls to gossip about congressional leadership races and fret over the future of the Republican Party. The conversations also revealed intrigue and favor-trading among House members and their aides.

Earlier this week, Renzi received a boost when the House leadership, both Republicans and Democrats, asked the judge in his case for permission to file a friend-of-the-court brief in support of at least some of Renzi’s arguments.

With 3,500 open cases across state, local and federal government, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III has called targeting corrupt officials the bureau’s “top criminal priority.”

But critics say Congress members suspected of using their offices for personal gain are using the law as a shield.

“It’s the biggest issue in federal corruption prosecutions,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a former federal prosecutor. “If courts continue to expand the breadth of the clause, we are likely to see more bribery and other illegal conduct by legislators go unpunished.”

Recent examples of the constitutional tug of war abound:  …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 November 2008 at 10:47 am

More on the weirdness of black holes

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One thing I didn’t realize: black holes have an upper limit on their size. They can get only so big, and no bigger. So what happens when they reach the maximum size? If you throw a ball into the black hole, does it just bounce off? Here’s part of an extremely interesting article by Charles Petit in Science News:

… A basic picture of black hole growth had been worked out in the 1970s and 1980s by Bohdan Paczynski of Warsaw University (and later Princeton) and others. When Paczynski died in 2007, his obituaries all mentioned Polish doughnuts. That was his name for the fat rings of gas that ought to form in any gas-rich region around a large black hole. These torus-shaped rings would feed a steady stream of matter into a hot, brilliantly glowing flat disk of plasma spiraling down—the inner accretion disk. Most of the matter spirals down to its doom, while some gets ejected as powerful polar jets—gouts of radiation.

The result can be a quasar that shines from a region smaller than Earth’s orbit of the sun with a brilliance 100 times that of the rest of the quasar’s host galaxy. To achieve such power, the quasar must be bumping up against a barrier called the Eddington Limit. The limit’s namesake, English astronomer Arthur Stanley Eddington, in the early 20th century worked out how brightly a star can shine before its radiation pressure starts blowing its outer layers into space. Turned around and applied to black holes, that limit is the brightness at which a black hole’s accretion disk is so great that it stops more gas from falling in. And to reach that, a quasar of a million solar masses must nearly triple its mass every 10 million to 100 million years. By the time it reaches a billion solar masses, it consumes 20 suns’ worth of gas every year.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

2 November 2008 at 10:26 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Another instance of GOP voter suppression

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In Wired, a report by Kim Zetter, which begins:

Just hours after Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman reached an agreement in a lawsuit filed against him for allegedly illegally purging voters from the state’s voter roll, Coffman purged an additional 146 voter records from the list.

According to the Denver Post a federal judge angrily ordered Coffman Friday afternoon to stop purging names from the statewide voter registration list. U.S. District Court Judge John Kane said if Coffman didn’t stop the purges “he’ll be listening to me personally.”

Coffman was sued by Common Cause of Colorado and two other groups who claimed the state violated the National Voter Registration Act by illegally purging some 20,000 voters from its registration list within 90 days of the general election.  The plaintiffs wanted a preliminary injunction that would reinstate the purged voters and prevent the state from purging anyone else before the election.

The NVRA prohibits states from purging an already-registered voter from a list during that timeframe unless a voter has died or been declared unfit to vote or notifies officials that he has moved out of state.

Aside from those categories, and outside of the 90-day-timeframe, election officials must notify voters before they remove them from the voter list. Voters whose names are matched to death or convicted felon lists can be removed without notice. But voters who are suspected of having moved must be sent a notification that they may be dropped from the list. If the voter doesn’t respond, he may be moved to an inactive list but he can still vote and cannot be purged from the list until after he has not shown up to vote in two consecutive federal elections.

Coffman maintained that he followed the law for purging the names of convicted felons and people who died, moved, or had duplicate records on the list. He also said only duplicate records had been purged during the 90-day period.

But Linda Townsend Johnson and her husband, James Edward Johnson, testified at a hearing that they were removed erroneously within the 90-day period. After moving to Colorado in May and registering to vote, they had received confirmation of their registration as well as absentee ballots in the mail. But the state removed them from the voter list after two people signed voter registration applications in their names in September, using a different address.

When the county clerk’s office sent mail to the address registered by the two people in September, it was returned. Officials then removed the Johnsons from the voter roll, in violation of the NVRA. …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 November 2008 at 9:03 am

Objectivity and how to achieve it

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It’s sometimes argued that no one can be objective, yet we clearly recognize instances in which someone was clearly not objective and instances where someone was. Moreover, we generally have a clear idea of what it means to be objective (and not). Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison have written a book on objectivity, and Jan Golinski reviews it here. The review begins:

All scientists strive for objectivity; they congratulate themselves when they think they have attained it. But what exactly does ob­jectivity mean? Is it a matter of following the right procedures when doing an experiment or making an observation? Or is it an attribute of the person doing science, something like emotional detachment or freedom from personal bias? Or is it something to do with making contact with things “out there” in the world of reality? And what do these different possible meanings have to do with one another? Is there any guarantee that following the proper procedures or having the ability to suppress one’s emotions will disclose the truth about the way things really are?

There has been quite a lot of debate about objectivity in recent years, some of it polemical rather than illuminating. On the one hand, some scientists have flocked to the banner of objectivity, hoisting it alongside other banners labeled “truth,” “rationality” and “the scientific method” to defend against what they take to be attacks on science itself. On the other hand, there have been critics who declare that scientists’ claims to objectivity are a sham, that all purported facts reflect the partial perspectives of those who produce them, that there is no escaping the biases that are due to individuals’ interests, background, race and gender.

Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, two of today’s leading historians of science, believe that a historical perspective can cut through these tangled arguments to help us understand what objectivity is — or at least how it has worked in scientific practice. Their book Objectivity is deeply thoughtful, thoroughly researched and beautifully illustrated. It makes a persuasive case that the modern notion of objectivity emerged only in the mid-19th century. It was then that objectivity prevailed as what the authors call an “epistemic virtue” — that is to say, a moral attribute of the people who were recognized as makers of knowledge.

Even in a book as big as this one, it’s not possible to tell the whole of this story. Instead Daston and Galison approach the topic through examining a particular genre of scientific publication: the collections of images, called atlases, used in such sciences as anatomy, botany, astronomy, physiology, cartography and meteorology. These visual images, many of them beautifully reproduced in color in this volume, were used as reference standards for identifying plants and animals, classifying clouds or galaxies, and mapping the human body or the surface of the Earth. Daston and Galison read all these pictures for what they reveal about the epistemic virtues held by those who made them. Objectivity, on this account, emerged as a dominant scientific ideal with the spread of new techniques of mechanical image-making in the mid-19th century — especially, but not exclusively, photography.

Before the rise of this “mechanical objectivity,” the 18th century celebrated an ideal that Daston and Galison name “truth-to-nature.” Botanists and anatomists of the Enlightenment, for example, tried to bring out the fundamental uniformity of nature concealed beneath its apparent diversity. They ignored the idiosyncrasies of individual specimens of plants and animals in an attempt to discern their underlying plan. Doing this required a compound of philosophical acumen and aesthetic taste, abilities that were thought to come more easily to independent gentlemen than to women or members of the laboring classes. Working artists were therefore supposed to take direction from learned naturalists, whose ability to see truth-in-nature was supposed to guide the artist’s hand. The social hierarchy implied by this model was already being challenged in the late 18th century, but, as Daston and Galison note, the ideal of truth-to-nature continues to inform much scientific illustration to this day. Botanical or ornithological field guides show not a particular plant or bird, but rather a composite — an ideal member of each species. For the purposes of taxonomic identification, artists’ ability to display the underlying uniformity of nature is still valued.

With the arrival of photography, …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 November 2008 at 8:59 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

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