Later On

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

Archive for October 7th, 2010

Why does GOP hate passenger rail service?

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Is it just part of their generalized hatred of everything, or is there some reason? Michael Cooper reports in the NY Times:

Republicans running for governor in a handful of states could block, or significantly delay, one of President Obama’s signature initiatives: his plan to expand the passenger rail system and to develop the nation’s first bullet-train service.

In his State of the Union address this year, the president called for building high-speed rail, and backed up his words with $8 billion in stimulus money, distributed to various states, for rail projects.

But Republican candidates for governor in some of the states that won the biggest stimulus rail awards are reaching for the emergency brake.

In Wisconsin, which got more than $810 million in federal stimulus money to build a train line between Milwaukee and Madison, Scott Walker, the Milwaukee County executive and Republican candidate for governor, has made his opposition to the project central to his campaign.

Mr. Walker, who worries that the state could be required to spend $7 million to $10 million a year to operate the trains once the line is built, started a Web site, NoTrain.com, and has run a television advertisement in which he calls the rail project a boondoggle. “I’m Scott Walker,” he says in the advertisement, “and if I’m elected as your next governor, we’ll stop this train.”

Similar concerns are threatening to stall many of the nation’s biggest train projects. In Ohio, the Republican candidate for governor, John Kasich, is vowing to kill a $400 million federal stimulus project to link Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati by rail. In Florida, Rick Scott, the Republican candidate for governor, has questioned whether the state should invest in the planned rail line from Orlando to Tampa. The state got $1.25 billion in federal stimulus money for the project, but it will cost at least twice that much to complete.

And the nation’s most ambitious high-speed rail project, California’s $45 billion plan to link Los Angeles and San Francisco with trains that would go up to 220 miles per hour, could be delayed if Meg Whitman, a Republican, is elected governor. “In the face of the state’s current fiscal crisis, Meg doesn’t believe we can afford the costs associated with new high-speed rail at this time,” said Tucker Bounds, a campaign spokesman.

Ms. Whitman’s desire to delay the project, which has already received $2.25 billion in stimulus money, drew a rebuke from the administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican who champions high-speed rail. “To say ‘now is not the time’ shows a very narrow vision,” said Matt David, the governor’s communications director.

The state-level opposition is a reminder of the challenge of building a national transportation project in the United States: while the federal government can set priorities, the construction is up to the states…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 October 2010 at 3:03 pm

Posted in GOP, Government

Only we can torture

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Ed Brayton:

For the true devotee of irony, the New York Times reported last week:

The Obama administration stepped up pressure against Iran’s government on Wednesday, slapping financial and travel sanctions on eight Iranian officials and accusing them of taking part in rampant human rights abuses.

Under an executive order signed this week by President Barack Obama, the State and Treasury departments jointly announced the sanctions that target Iranians who “share responsibility for the sustained and severe violation of human rights in Iran,” notably after last year’s disputed presidential elections.

Gee, whatever happened to that “looking forward, not back” thing? Oh yeah, that only applies when it’s our government engaging in torture, not when other governments do it. When other governments do it, it’s evil and must be stopped. I think the Iranians should double down on the irony and just invoke the State Secrets Privilege.

“On these officials’ watch or under their command, Iranian citizens have been arbitrarily arrested, beaten, tortured, raped, blackmailed and killed,” Clinton said. “Yet the Iranian government has ignored repeated calls from the international community to end these abuses.”

Yep, just like Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld arrested U.S. citizen Jose Padilla and had him beaten and tortured. And just like the U.S. government has ignored repeated calls from the international community to punish those who authorized that torture — you know, like we promised to do when we signed the U.N. Convention on Torture.

Glenn Greenwald responds with all due sarcasm:

Numerous detainees in American custody were also beaten, tortured and killed. The photos Obama caused to be suppressed — even after two federal courts ordered them disclosed — depicted multiple acts of detainee rape. Thousands were arbitrarily arrested and detained by the U.S. without due process, and continue to be. None of that resulted in a smidgen of accountability for the high-level government officials responsible for all of that, because the Obama administration formally took the position that they should be immunized. Somehow, though, the same Obama officials manage with a straight face to stand up in public and impose penalties on Iranians for the same conduct. Note, too, how freely the Associated Press uses the word “torture” to describe what the Iranians did, in contrast to the American media’s refusal to use that term for what Americans did.

Can you believe those crazy, paranoid Muslims and Arabs who claim that the U.S. maintains completely different standards for itself and the rest of the world? Such deranged, conspiratorial thoughts can mean only one thing: They Hate Us For Our Freedom.

I think I’m figuring out what all the wingnuts mean when they use the phrase “American exceptionalism” — we get exceptions from all the laws we demand be followed by others.

Written by Leisureguy

7 October 2010 at 1:14 pm

Alternatives to customer-centered development

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Customer-centered development is when the focus of developing the software/procedure/machine/whatever is the customer: every aspect of the new creation is examined through a customer lens: what is the customer wanting to achieve? how does the customer use the current system/device? what things would help the customer (that the customer might not even know about)? And so on.

There’s another approach that developers sometimes discover as they try to introduce improvements: “No one’s ever complained about the way it works.” This is the sign of complaint-centered development in which nothing is done proactively and any customer complaint is resolved in a way easiest for the developers (if it is addressed at all: quite a few businesses follow the model of not recording any complaints until they have a similar complaint already on record).

Complaint-centered development (aka “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”) is more common than you would think and is particularly appealing to uncreative and lazy developers—or, to be charitable, developers who work in a situation structured by a hyper-capitalistic approach that has trimmed costs so efficiently that the developers face a hopeless task: under-resourced and overloaded.

Written by Leisureguy

7 October 2010 at 9:55 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Trip notes

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I realized during the trip that I lived through and experienced the Golden Age of air travel: a time when airlines were regulated so that all airlines charged the same fares, so that airlines had to compete based on services and amenities. Those were glorious days to travel: the late 60’s and early 70’s, and I actually looked forward to those flights. Prices were perhaps higher then than now, but my company paid for my travel.

Airports were uncrowded, no real security screening—initially, just making sure you had ticket or, initially, just the ticket envelope on with the person at the counter and given you, marked with flight and destination. (They dropped this practice when they found that some were picking up the discarded envelope and using it as a ticket.)

Seats fully reclined—not a problem in those days before laptops and with rows substantially farther apart than now. Food was excellent and often served on a tray with a little tablecloth, cloth napkins, china, and stainless flatware (coach) or silverplate (first class).

Now it seems that we live in an era of hyper-capitalism with enormous databases that collect information on everything that allows the airline companies to trim costs and trim them further and trim them more until they have trimmed away everything that made air travel pleasant and the customers now have a dreadful experience. (Full disclosure: yesterday I got up at 5:30 a.m. to make my flight in San Jose, then my flight out of Philly was delayed for 2-3 hours. We finally left after midnight, arriving at our destination around 2:00 a.m.)

Of course, the TSA contributes to the unpleasantness. San Jose has the new scanners that allow the TSA agents to look through your clothing, so now you have to remove not only your shoes, but also your belt (so that you can’t commit suicide when you are fully beat down by the experience) and take EVERYTHING out of your pockets. I was still thinking of the x-ray days and left my wallet and little pack of business cards in my back pockets and my plastic vial of evening meds in my front pocket. Mistake: the agent had to see them (and he looked through my wallet to see how much money I was carrying) and then had to feel my buttocks. He kindly told me that he would feel with the back of his hands, which of course made this totally okay.

I also had to pay $25 to check one bag. The result of this new charge is that passengers REALLY don’t want to check their bags, so everyone brings their carry-ons to the gate—and some of those “carry-ons” are quite large, but soft sided so that they can be crammed into the overhead compartment. Naturally, most people care little about the convenience of their fellow travelers, so they will put their carry-on in the first empty overhead bin they encounter and then go on to the back of the plane to their seat, so that those boarding later find all the overhead bins full until they get toward the back of the plane: these people then must wait for everyone else to deplane before they can go back and get their bags. And on flights that are 100% filled—not unusual with the constant trimming of costs—there is simply not room for their luggage. Not the airlines’ problem, of course.

And the seats are crammed close together, with the “recline” limited to about 2″. I dropped some foam earplugs—and anything you drop is lost unless you wait until the plane is empty and then crawl under the seats to find it. You certainly cannot retrieve anything from the floor in flight: seats are too close together.

Some things are inexplicable: all seating, in the airplane and in the airport, seems designed for discomfort. Is comfortable seating that costly? or do the airlines feel that they can’t be arsed with that? And though people get tired during a long day of travel while waiting from 7:45 p.m. to after midnight, but the benches are carefully designed to prevent anyone lying down—that would be awful, and if they really MUST lie down, they can lie on the floor.

In other words, nothing—nothing—is done except for the purpose of cutting costs, and the comfort and convenience of the traveler doesn’t show up in the bottom line—especially with ALL airlines taking the same steps to cut costs. And they keep outwitting us: I took an empty 1-liter bottle through security, filled it from a water fountain, and felt quite good until I got to LA and took the shuttle from the remote terminal to the main terminal, where we were left outside the secure area so had to go through security once more: there went the water. At least LA doesn’t have the scanners that allow the TSA to view your naked body, just the now-usual routine.

And, thanks to technological progress, the airport is now filled with people talking loudly to themselves—something one wants to avoid even after spotting the bluetooth device in their ear. (Note to crazy people: Get an old bluetooth earpiece and wear it; then people won’t be so distressed by your on-going conversation with demons.)

I realize that this diatribe makes me sound like an old curmudgeon. So be it.

Written by Leisureguy

7 October 2010 at 9:48 am

I’m here: Feather and Prairie Creations

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No photo this time. I used my Muhle travel brush and the Prairie Creations shave stick and got a wonderful lather—very soft water where I’m staying, so the lather was exceptionally nice. Then three smooth passes of the Feather Premium razor with a new Feather blade: total smoothness. A splash of Royal Danish aftershave and I’m ready to go.

Written by Leisureguy

7 October 2010 at 9:20 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

Zoom into Italian Masterpieces

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Dan Colman at Open Culture:

This past week, an Italian web site (Haltadefinizione) placed online six masterpieces from the famous Uffizi Gallery in Florence, all in super high resolution. Each image is packed with close to 28 billion pixels, a resolution 3,000 times greater than your normal digital photo. And this gives art connoisseurs everywhere the ability to zoom in and explore these paintings in exquisitely fine detail – to see strokes and details not normally seen even by visitors to the Uffizi. The paintings featured here include Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus; Leonardo da Vinci’s Annunciation and The Last Supper;The Baptism of Christ by Verrocchio and da Vinci; Caravaggio’s Bacchus; and the Portrait of Eleonora of Toledo by Bronzino. These masterpieces will remain online for free until January 29. For more details on the project, look here. Thanks Claudia for the great heads up.

Written by Leisureguy

7 October 2010 at 8:34 am

Posted in Art, Technology

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