moldybluecheesecurds 2

Monday, November 24, 2008

Recycling and bottled water

This is a great essay on the challenge of reconciling the environment with convenience, how policies have been created to discourage Americans from simply tossing (or littering) their 215 billion beverage containers per year.  Some highlights:
  • Should states provide an incentive to recycle, often via a "bottle bill" that provides a cash return for recycling?
  • If so, should the deposit be indexed to inflation?
  • How do we balance convenience and cleanliness?
  • What happens when scavengers simply empty curbside bins of recyclables?
 Get more on bottled water, from its environmental impacts to price mark ups, here.

MAPlight: connecting money with politics

Ever hear of a bill passing and wonder how much your senator or representative got paid to vote for it?  Now you can find out.  I think the interface is clunky, but if you watch the tutorial video, you can pretty quickly get a sense of how folks voted, who was lobbying them, and how much they were paying. 

I used MAPlight to critique the FISA bill vote in June.

A beautiful short film

If you have a bit of time on a lunch break, I recommend this. It defies further explanation.

Torture was endorsed by Bush

Some of us are giddy about change, but also resolved that there will be justice.  Torture, once spurned by Americans to demonstrate our commitment to higher ideals, was embraced by the Bush administration for the War on Terror, despite it being ineffective.

A new, formerly secret memo to the CIA, written in the summer of 2004, expressly permitted torture by agents.  Of course, the secret is really just to change the definition of torture

Maybe we can change the definition of executive privilege.  Here's one vote for Bush to stand trial in international court after he leaves office.

As seen on TV: Teen sex

The Washington Post summary says it best:
Teenagers who watch a lot of television featuring flirting, necking, discussion of sex and sex scenes are much more likely than their peers to get pregnant or get a partner pregnant, according to the first study to directly link steamy programming to teen pregnancy...The researchers took into account other factors such as having only one parent, wanting to have a baby and engaging in other risky behaviors.
When most of pop culture is peddling sex, we need comprehensive sex education [it works] so teens at least have an idea of how to be safe.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Challenged ballots: judge well, but consider this

State statute may affect some of your choices.  From the statute:

You may not be able to count ballot #4 or #7 by this rule:
  • Subd. 3.Votes for too many candidates.

    If a voter places a mark (X) beside the names of more candidates for an office than are to be elected or nominated, the ballot is defective with respect only to that office. No vote shall be counted for any candidate for that office, but the rest of the ballot shall be counted if possible. At a primary, if a voter has not indicated a party preference and places a mark (X) beside the names of candidates of more than one party on the partisan ballot, the ballot is totally defective and no votes on it shall be counted. If a voter has indicated a party preference at a primary, only votes cast for candidates of that party shall be counted. [emphasis mine]

According to this section, ballot #5 may be technically an overvote, and subject to the above rule.
  • Subd. 4.Name written in proper place.
    If a voter has written the name of an individual in the proper place on a general or special election ballot a vote shall be counted for that individual whether or not the voter makes a mark (X) in the square opposite the blank.
Other rules for thought:
  • Subd. 6.Mark out of place.
    If a mark (X) is made out of its proper place, but so near a name or space as to indicate clearly the voter's intent, the vote shall be counted.

Challenged ballots: you be the judge

Minnesota Public Radio is giving the average citizen a chance to see what the canvassing board will be deciding - what was the voter's intent.  Click on to see challenged ballots in the Minnesota Senate race and to see if you can determine the voter's intention.

Hat tip to GM for the link (via email).

Update (after the quiz)
  • I can't believe people would give ballot #1 to Franken.  I voted Coleman, but I'd rather discard it that accept it.  It's an arrow, away from Franken!
  • On #7, it's a hard one.  I'd argue that the voter started the wrong bubble and then went for their true choice - Coleman.
  • #11 is not an underline, it's a strikethrough.  I gave it to Coleman.

Netflix kicks ass v2

In January I gushed about the many virtues of Netflix.  In order to keep you posted on its many advantages, I give you this update:
  • Movies watched since March 2007: 57
  • Average price per movie: $2.48
And did I mention I don't have to leave home to get them?

Identify this famous person

My concern has been the atrocities there in Darfur and the relevance to me with that issue as we spoke about Africa and some of the countries there that were kind of the people succumbing to the dictators and the corruption of some collapsed governments on the continent, the relevance was [the] investment in Darfur with some of our [fund] dollars.
Disclosure: the brackets are where I excised a couple words that make it a dead giveaway.

Read on for the answer, another perspective on this famous person, and a chance to read the phrase "sizzling loins" on a page with the NY Times header.

A clear view of the Russia-Georgia conflict

Kristof has a brief essay on why the U.S. should not be inviting the country of Georgia into NATO, and how their recent encounter with the Russian military was entirely their fault.  A quick read to get you up on your Asian foreign policy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Breaking the taboo of prostate cancer

An excellent real-life account of an experience with prostate cancer, dealing with the treatment that essentially suppresses a man's testosterone.  In other words, trying to face prostate cancer "like a man" while no longer feeling much like one.

Obama: turning the tide in the war on brains?

Nicholas Kristof opines on the impact of having an "out of the closet, practicing intellectual" as our president-elect. 
An intellectual is a person interested in ideas and comfortable with complexity. Intellectuals read the classics, even when no one is looking, because they appreciate the lessons of Sophocles and Shakespeare that the world abounds in uncertainties and contradictions, and — President Bush, lend me your ears — that leaders self-destruct when they become too rigid and too intoxicated with the fumes of moral clarity. Mr. Obama goes to Washington, I’m hopeful that his fertile mind will set a new tone for our country. Maybe someday soon our leaders no longer will have to shuffle in shame when they’re caught with brains in their heads.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Counting the vote: totals always change

Some camaigns like to suggest that the change in vote totals after election night and prior to vote certification is some sort of shady, underhanded practice (usually when their margin of victory is declining).  Fact is, it happens all the time (see pic, which I received via email):

Alaska update 2: turnout may break record

It seems that turnout is just fine in the nation's largest state, it just takes a while to get all the ballots in.  Something may not be rotten after all, contrary to my first post on the subject.

Thoughts on the GM bailout proposal

This essay goes in favor of a bailout, on a few principles:
  • It's a loan.  The Chrysler bailout in the 1980s was paid back.
  • The credit crisis means that GM could probably not do Chapter 11 (reorganization bankruptcy) and would instead have to do Chapter 7 (liquidation).  
    • That means as many as a million jobs lost in manufacturing and supplier stores.  And these are good jobs with health benefits.
  • The Big 3 are retooling and learning the lessons, improving efficiency, renegotiating with unions, and building more fuel efficient cars.
A bailout isn't the worst idea ever, but there should be some fairly strong guarantees about the direction the industry goes if they get a handout.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

After the Imperial Presidency

An excellent magazine piece by Jonathan Mahler examines whether a Democratic Congress has made any strides in reasserting Congressional authority over the executive (not much) and what the implications are.  From the summary:
Will Congress simply insist on being asked for its blessing before empowering the president to do whatever he sees fit? And if so, what will it take for what the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. identified as democracy’s greatest virtue — “its capacity for self-correction” — to kick in and restore the constitutional balance?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Curmudgeon one-upmanship

As seen on Slashdot today:
No toys here. Christmas was watching commercials and then kids at school brag about their presents. I had this one rather long branch, though, that I found incredibly straight. It was a sword, a rifle, a baseball bat, and so many other things. I would look forward to playing with my stick and using my ingenuity to find further roles for it to play.
Then, one day, I came home from school to find that my dad had refrained from getting high/drunk that day and cleaned up the back yard. I couldn't find my stick until I went to the dumpster and found that he had snapped it in four so it could fit easier into a trash bag.
A stick? Luxury.

We had to make jump rope from our own eyebrows. The only way to play hop scotch was to break our own leg, then trace the court on the ground with our protruding bone. When our dad came home and found out we broke our own legs and marked up the drive way, he used to drag us through a cactus patch with our own jump rope tied round our necks.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Detroit: needs a restructure, not a bailout

President-elect Obama has proposed a bailout for Detroit auto firms, but this proposal reeks of political favor rather than rational economic policy.  From Tom Friedman's column on the proposed bailout:
Bob Lutz, G.M.’s vice chairman...has been quoted as saying that hybrids like the Toyota Prius “make no economic sense.” And, in February, D Magazine of Dallas quoted him as saying that global warming “is a total crock of [expletive].”
Is there any question as to why an industry led by these idiots is sinking in a down economy with gas prices having been higher?  Oh, there's the health care thing, but Friedman has a thought on that:
please, spare me the alligator tears about G.M.’s health care costs. Sure, they are outrageous. “But then why did G.M. refuse to lift a finger to support a national health care program when Hillary Clinton was pushing for it?” asks Dan Becker, a top environmental lobbyist.
It's not just the car companies themselves, their Congressional representatives have done them an ill turn, as well.
The blame for this travesty not only belongs to the auto executives, but must be shared equally with the entire Michigan delegation in the House and Senate, virtually all of whom, year after year, voted however the Detroit automakers and unions instructed them to vote. That shielded General Motors, Ford and Chrysler from environmental concerns, mileage concerns and the full impact of global competition that could have forced Detroit to adapt long ago.
 In other words, we should finally show them the tough love, or we'll be doing this all over again. 
“In return for any direct government aid,” he wrote, “the board and the management [of G.M.] should go. Shareholders should lose their paltry remaining equity. And a government-appointed receiver — someone hard-nosed and nonpolitical — should have broad power to revamp G.M. with a viable business plan and return it to a private operation as soon as possible. That will mean tearing up existing contracts with unions, dealers and suppliers, closing some operations and selling others and downsizing the company ... Giving G.M. a blank check — which the company and the United Auto Workers union badly want, and which Washington will be tempted to grant — would be an enormous mistake.”
Given this advice, I think the companies (and unions) are likely to go for bankruptcy instead.  That's lousy, too, because either way there are a lot of good, union jobs going down the toilet.  But I'm not convinced there's any way to save the car companies from themselves, in a fashion that would prevent this kind of bailout again.

Campaign finance reform

Barack Obama spent a lot getting elected president, around $600 million.  In comparison, a candidate who accepts federal matching funds is required to spend no more than $84 million during the general election campaign.  Clearly, the system is no longer competitive with unlimited fundraising and spending. 

The president of Democracy 21 has proposed a fix:
  • A 4-to-1 match for contributions up to $200 and nothing for contributions above that.
  • Realistic spending limits: $250 million for the primary and another $250 million for the general, up from $50 million and $84 million, respectively.
  • A lower individual contribution limit than $2300
  • Close loopholes for joint fundraising with the party
I like options (1) and (2) for sure.  What a great way to lock in the importance of smaller donors. 

The lower contribution limit, (3), may dissuade candidates from going with public financing. 

Cutting off funds for parties through joint fundraising (4) is a mixed bag.  Consider: party fundraising is the money the Obama campaign used for get-out-the-vote and voter registration.  It's what is activating people in politics.  It can also be spent on dirty ads against the opponent.  We have to be careful not to toss the baby with the bathwater.  The dramatic increase in participation by Americans is one of the best things to happen from this wild spending.   

What think?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Advice to Obama on energy

I don't necessarily always agree with Robert Rapier, but he's one of the most cogent and comprehensive thinkers on U.S. energy policy and he has an open letter to President-elect Obama on his energy plan.  The highlights:

A 4-point program
1). Minimizing per capita energy usage
2). Finding sustainable, affordable alternatives
3). Managing the down side of the production peak such that severe shortages are avoided.
4). Communicating to the public the nature of the problem, and explaining why sacrifice is needed.

Rapier's criticisms of Obama:
  • We will need more domestic fossil fuel production in the near term to bridge the gap between fossil fuel and renewables (windfall profits taxes will kill exploration)
  • Prices must rise to constrain consumption [YES]
  • Reliance on ethanol to supplant oil means long-term unsustainability - corn farming depletes soil nutrition, fertilizer comes from natural gas, and irrigation (and ethanol production) deplete aquifers [true, we need a next-generation biofuel, but mostly we need plug-in hybrid cars]
  • We need nuclear to help bridge between coal-fired electricity and (capital-intensive and often rural) renewable electricity [NO - for what nuclear costs, we could probably build enough renewables with battery storage]
Rapier's agreement with Obama
  • Plug-in hybrids
  • Incentives for wind, solar, geothermal,
  • Weatherizing homes

Alaska update: more ballots uncounted

My original post covers the strange drop in turnout in Alaska, and the strong skew toward Republicans compared to election week polls.

But there are new developments:

Elections officials now report that uncounted ballots number closer to 100,000 than 50,000, so turnout is a much more reasonable 63%, with time enough for a few thousand more ballots to arrive before counting begins later this week.

Alaska has a large vote-by-mail population, so it may be that ballots were simply delayed. It will be interesting to see if the vote-by-mail folks break heavily Democratic, making the polls more accurate than previously thought.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Numbers nerd crunches Franken-Coleman Senate race (MN)

I've read a few posts at, but never knew it was the website of a stats geek who decided to apply his gift to politics.  Anyway, he's got an article on the odds of Franken winning the MN Senate race after the recount, using terms like "Correctable Error Rate (CER)."  If that sounds sexy, click the link.

Hat tip to SK for the story.

Obama: already spreading hope and faith in America

I received an email on Saturday about a person's experience abroad as the U.S. election came to a close and Obama won.  She's connected to me through family and a college professor I once knew.  Her story itself is inspiring, but a person on Daily Kos (who also got the email) made the story much more poignant by discussing her travel abroad experience from 2003 as a prelude:

In 2003, was beginning my round-the-world trip after having left my corporate publishing job in NYC. Just ten days prior, Bush had just shaken up the world by invading Iraq with the infamous "shock and awe" bombing of Bagdad. The anti-American feelings of confusion, anger and hate were reflected back to me so clearly during my trip.

My connecting flight took me into the heart of Asia and my first stop was the same Kuala Lumpur airport as the young traveler below describes.

In a restaurant at the KL airport, I noticed the young Muslim table-seater and waitresses, wearing light, flowing gowns and headresses, whispering and looking suspiciously at me. I ate my meal a little self-consciously and tried to be inconspicuous throughout.

As I paid my bill and started to leave, the young table-seater approached me and asked "Why is your country going to war against Muslims? Why does your country hate us?" I turned my eyes down, here it was, what I feared, right in my face. I paused, took in a deep breath, thinking, how could I possibly explain?

Finally, I looked up at her and said with my deepest sincerity and humility, "I'm so sorry about what my country has done. I don't agree with my government. There are many American who don't agree and don't like what our President has done in Iraq. The best thing we can do is love one another and pray for one another, because all people really want is peace."

She looked at me as if she understood. I stood there for a moment looking back into her dark eyes, eyes that were seeking to understand. I walked away feeling that I had no answers, no solution or resolution to what was happening. I held that thought of love and peace as I continued my travels and strangers questioned me or stared at me suspiciously whereever I was in that year -- Australia, Korea, Thailand, India, Germany, Italy and England. All the while the bombs, missiles and machine guns kept falling and firing.

So five years later, we finally have change and the hope of, at long last, a new, brighter day for everyone in the world:

November 4, 2008

My dear friends,

Today I have had to travel from the island of Borneo...from SABAH and the town of Kota Kinabalu.  Then to Kuala Lumpur where I had a 5 hour lay over and finally arriving very late at night in Bangkok.  The election has already begun....

Today, in honor of the election, I am wearing an Obama '08 button on my lapel.  If the treatment and reaction throughout my day is any indication of what our world might become....I am overwhelmed with optimism.  First, every single place I went, someone noticed the button and called out, "OBAMA!".  There were international administrators from across the region at the Hotel.  Many of them nodded and smiled, and even the non-Americans who reacted with huge enthusiasm.  One man from Australia stopped me to talk politics for 10 minutes.  The crew working behind the desk all gave a thumbs up...the taxi driver did not charge me for taking me to the airport.

I must explain that, once at the airport,  I am one  of very few Americans among Asians from all over this region.  I might possibly be the only blond in either airport I have been in so far today, and won't see many if any Americans until Bangkok.  I do not speak the language...thank goodness they speak English.

Upon seeing my button, everyone, without exception, smiles.  I have received preferential treatment all day long. They didn't make me pay extra for a heavy bag, they treated me in short, like royalty. The stewardess told the pilot, who stood up in the cock pit to give me a thumbs up.  Even the immigration official barely looked at my passport.  He was much more interested in knowing an Obama supporter and what I thought would happen today.

When I was buying dinner at a very American McDonalds (the only place to get something to eat), the entire crew behind the counter (not one American) came to say kind words to me.  The man who exchanged my money asked how I could do anything so far away from the USA.  I told him, with some amount of pride, that I had voted by absentee ballot.  He took my hand and said, "thank you so much for voting for Mr. Obama."  There were actual tears in his eyes.

While waiting at the airport in Kota Kinabalu and girl about 9 years old saw my button. She smiled broadly.  I said hello and she asked if I wanted Obama to win because she did and her whole family did and that that morning they said a prayer that he would.  I  told her that I thought Barack would like that a girl all the way in Kota Kinabalu said a prayer for him.  She asked could I tell him that they were praying for him and I said I would send an email to his headquarters.  She was so excited that she ran to tell her parents.  Her father came over and asked me if I knew Obama.  I told him I had seen him speak, but never met him.  He said that his whole community was praying for Obama and that he appreciated that I would write an email to tell him.  He took my hand and said, we are praying for all of the American people too.  This was the second stranger to take my hand today. It was my turn to have tears in my eyes, because this man, who I didn't know, was completely sincere.  I thanked him.  He said, "all of us, you understand?"  I said, "All of us together."  We parted...smiling!

I write this as I sit in the airport at Kuala Lumpur waiting for hours for the plane.  The women who guard the doors have on muslim headdresses , orange pants outfits and lime green jerseys.  They are shy and reserved, yet they give me the thumbs up, and quietly whisper, "Obama" as I walk by. There are Thai and Chinese, and Indonesians and Indians surrounding me...The languages, dress, foods are all interesting.  And sitting right next to me is a Buddhist monk, in just his orangish/yellow robes and shaved head.  He smiles broadly when I look at him.  He says frankly, "I like Obama."

The man behind the counter is Malaysian.  He asks if I voted and when I confirm I have he laughs really loud and says something to the other official sitting next to him.  This man laughs too.  They both look at me intently.  The one, fighting to find the right english begins, "This is (something in Malay).  I smile saying I don't understand.  He looks at his colleague and rattles something in Malay...The man says just a minute.  He gets out a book.  It is an english translation book.  He says something to the man and hands him the book...pointing to a line on the page.  The 1st man turns back to me and says..."this is fan/tas/a/ do you say?"  I tell him, yes, he is right "Fantastic".  They laugh again at their attempts.  I laugh too.  He stamps everything forcefully, "wham! wham! wham!"  And then he says something none of these officials ever take time to say,  "We hope you will come back and visit our country!"  "Of course," I say, "of course."  I don't quite know how to explain the full meaning of his invitation.  Americans haven't been at the top of the list for quite awhile and traveling around, it isn't hard to sense.

Our leaders reflect who we are as a country/nation.  I have always been proud of my family and Oregon.  I have not always been proud of our leaders and the choices they make.  Today I am proud...I am proud of our country and I was tearful watching a top French official trying to explain to the BBC reporter why the whole world is watching this election and praying that Obama will become our president.

Well, thank you for letting me share.  Tomorrow at 7am we head to the American Embassy gathering to watch the election results come in.  We are attending with world leaders and diplomats.  We are to dress 'smart casual.'  It should be quite the I hope brings new hope to our country and the world.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Something is rotten in the state of Alaska

Update 11/17/08:  
Turnout may actually break a record.

Update 11/11/08:

Elections officials now report that uncounted ballots number closer to 100,000 than 50,000, so turnout is a much more reasonable 63%, with time enough for a few thousand more ballots to arrive before counting begins later this week.

Alaska has a large vote-by-mail population, so it may be that ballots were simply delayed. It will be interesting to see if the vote-by-mail folks break heavily Democratic, making the polls more accurate than previously thought.


In a banner year for Democratic candidates from Obama on down, here's what happened in Alaska:
Here's a great summary graphic from illustrating the anomaly. The first column shows the latest polls, the second is the result. "Delta" is the difference:
How bad is that turnout figure? I did a quick comparison, pulling 2004 turnout data from here and then searching for newspaper reports of 2008 turnout. It's not exactly apples to apples, but Alaska clearly stands out.

The news on this is starting to spread. Let's hope there's a full-scale investigation.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Hey Norm, still willing to forgo a recount?

Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman is currently up by only 342 votes in his re-election campaign against DFLer Al Franken (the race keeps tightening as ballots are counted).  Yesterday, he declared victory and said that Franken should voluntarily forgo the state-required recount to promote unity.

Fun thought: if the final tally actually puts Franken ahead, will Coleman still be saying "no recount"?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The last 100 days - an agenda of destruction

While Barack Obama's victory is giving many Americans a vision of hope for his first 100 days, the Bush administration is busy trying to wreak as much havoc on civil liberties, the environment, abortion rights as it can.

A sample:
Last month, Attorney General Michael Mukasey rushed out new guidelines for the F.B.I. that permit agents to use chillingly intrusive techniques to collect information on Americans even where there is no evidence of wrongdoing.

In coming weeks, we expect the Environmental Protection Agency to issue a final rule that would weaken a program created by the Clean Air Act, which requires utilities to install modern pollution controls when they upgrade their plants to produce more power.

Soon after the election, Michael Leavitt, the secretary of health and human services, is expected to issue new regulations aimed at further limiting women’s access to abortion, contraceptives and information about their reproductive health care options.  Existing law allows doctors and nurses to refuse to participate in an abortion. These changes would extend the so-called right to refuse to a wide range of health care workers and activities including abortion referrals, unbiased counseling and provision of birth control pills or emergency contraception, even for rape victims. 
I suppose when your approval rating is already under 25%, you might as well just flip the bird to the 75%.    I can't wait to see who gets a pardon. 

Stretch before running? Think again.

Turns out static stretching beforehand is actually worse than doing nothing at all.  Try some active stretching or just a light warm-up, instead.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

We Won!

Our opponent gave one of the most gracious concession speeches.  I only wish his campaign had been as classy.

Thank you, Senator McCain, for trying to bring America together behind our new president-elect.