Monday, December 31, 2007

Chinese Dog Ownership

I took pictures of people walking dogs in Shanghai, because I knew that in my grandfather's day, pets were unthinkable. People were starving, so giving food to an animal that didn't work was wasteful.

Now I find out that there are still rules. You can't have a dog taller than 14 inches, and only one dog per family.

Since I don't like dogs, I'm totally ok with those rules. But I can see why people would want freedom. And I can see why the nation with a population problem would restrict dog population, too.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Publicly funded research made public

The president just signed a law that requires that all NIH funded research be made publicly available on a website. I think this is good news. I'd like to be able to read about the latest in science without having to pay enormous fees to a journal.

I can see that journals need to cover the cost of existing, and the cost of peer review. And so universities and scholars pay enormous fees to have access to the journals. It just seems like those fees could go down, especially as online access reduces many of the costs of running a journal.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I think the public domain has withered far too much, and I'm glad to see it expand in any direction.
Maybe publicly funded TV shows will be next to enter the public domain...

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Pretty TV ads

Yes, these are ads for TVs. But they're really PRETTY ads.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Precious Moments Crucifixion

It took me too long to find this picture. It's of a cartoon crucifixion, of the cutest dead Jesus ever.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


I'm not the first person to think of this, but if President W. Bush is going to refer to the "Democrat" party, I'd like to start talking about the Republican't party. They can't protect us from disease, poisoned toys or hurricanes. They can't stop terrorists without listening to our phone calls and reading our mail.

I contemplated "Reprivatean", but it's not necessarily an attack. They'd like the sound of it. That's why it only has 1 hit on Google, vs the 42,000 for Republican't.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Modern Discrimination

In reading various defenses of Senator Clinton's campaign for president, I have become aware of some particularly disgusting attacks on her, suggesting she should be barefoot and pregnant, etc.

It occurs to me that today it is more acceptable to be sexist than racist. Any hint of a suggestion that a black person should go play basketball instead of be a senator would be shouted down from all corners. Liberals and conservatives across the spectrum would agree that the color of your skin should not determine your destiny.

But it is still a mainstream, politically tenable position to believe that women should be mothers and not leaders, homebound and nurturing, not workers who change the world. You can claim with a straight face that the topology of your genitals affects your talents.

Others have pointed out that there may BE more racism than sexism, even while racism is less acceptable. And this may be true. The racism today may be covert, hiding beneath other stories, while the sexism is explicit.

It's fascinating that the idea that women are human beings is still controversial. I think there are differences between men and women; I think they learn differently, are motivated differently, and there are real medical differences. But those facts, to me, support integration not segregation. That most women aren't interested in computers means we need women designing computers so that they are useful to women.

In related news, should you call Senator Clinton "Hillary", or Mrs. Clinton, or what?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Immigrant Children

Mike Huckabee recently suggested we shouldn't criminalize the children of illegal immigrants, saying "We're a better country than to punish children for what their parents did."

I think he has an excellent point. It seems unfair to penalize a child for being carried on their father's back into a new country. Denying them the same opportunities other children who grow up here and make good choices is unjust to the children.

And yet, I can see that giving subsidized college tuition, healthcare and schooling to all the kids involved is very expensive to the states burdened with that. And it would be foolish to create an incentive for more people to smuggle their children into the country.

The only solution I can see is to somehow create vast prosperity in Mexico. Which isn't exactly our responsibility.

I also believe that if we're going to crack down on immigration, we should be penalizing employers who violate the law by hiring people, more than we punish the people who come here to work. If we eliminate the demand for immigrants who work for sub-minimum wage and without benefits, the supply of people crossing the border should abate.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Bourne Ultimatum

This movie is awesome. So well done. Tightly directed and edited, well acted, subtly written. Better written than the book, which would have made a good movie, but didn't resonate with all our issues in politics today.

The act 5 car chase is terrifying, with cars shedding shards of red reflectors like people shed blood.

I wonder how long this movie will last, and how much greater Matt Damon will become.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Twelve Days of Christmas

I enjoy the first 2 minutes of this more than the ending, but that's style preference, not skill or talent.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Harry Potter and Spiderman

I really enjoyed this year's sequels really quite a bit. I thought I would appreciate Harry Potter, and I was right. Each book got better, and the movies seem to continually improve as well.

I was pleasantly surprised with Spiderman 3. The acting and directing were really quite excellent. I thought Thomas Haden Church did an excellent job making his villain morally ambiguous and helping us empathize with him. I thought the writing was a bit shallow, and elements were ocassionally forced, but I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.

Monday, December 10, 2007


The critics were right that Sicko is Michael Moore's best movie. There are very few unfair stunts, and lots of first person stories that tell the larger story about how bad our medical system is compared to other nations.

He does go to Cuba, and you wonder how accurate the picture painted is, given how likely the Cuban government is to have created a rosy scenario that isn't typical for cuban citizens.

But the main thought I have coming out of the movie is that it makes no sense to make medicine for profit. That leads to money being more important than people in life or death situations. Which leads to people dying so share prices can go up.

I support a single-payer system. I realize there are flaws in Canada and the UK. I understand that France's generous social benefits have drawbacks. But when Medicare's overhead is 2% and Blue Cross's is 13%, it seems that eliminating the profit motive is good. I really like the UK's incentives, where doctors get paid more if their patients have lower cholesterol, or quit smoking. Bonuses for healthy patients. Profit seeking hospitals give bonuses to doctors who don't treat patients. That's wack.

The only alternative I can imagine to government run health care is non-profit healthcare. If Blue cross or Kaiser or any other system were privately run, but not-for-profit, they could be ethical. By taking the financial incentive away, so you don't get paid for killing, you could create a medical system that would be significantly more ethical.

I'm not a tax lawyer, so there may be reasons that doesn't work. Maybe the government lets for-profit hospitals reject patients with pre-existing conditions, while non-profits have to take everyone. This too is wack. We've got to get everyone in the same financial pool, so the lucky can pay for the unlucky. So if you end up unlucky, you don't have to go bankrupt for medical bills.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The boundary between religion and law

A recent blog post at the New York Times talks about when it's acceptable to ban a religious practice. Whether it's polygamy, animal sacrifice, or lighting candles.

Turns out my homeboy John Locke pretty well sorted this out back in the day. If you're not banning something BECAUSE it's religious, the ban is ok. Otherwise, people should be free to worship as they desire. If the ban on killing goats is because of a goat plague, then no goats may be killed, no matter what your religion. If the only goats involved are religious, and there's no reason to ban it except I hate dirty satanist goat-sacrificers, we should allow it.

What I wonder about it cases where it's not clear. Does anyone use peyote for non-religious purposes? How can you prove the government's banning it just because they don't like drugs, not because it stops native religious practices?

I can't think of a religious practice of mine that could be banned, but I would rather make sure it doesn't get close to that.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Chimps smarter?

This is pretty cool. Some chimpanzee does better on a memory test than people. Although it's a pretty abstract test. But it reveals a place in our evolution where our two species went in different directions.

Although apparently human children may do better than adults at this skill. Young chimps are better than older chimps.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Lake Mead

The Times has an amazing story about Lake Mead. There's a major drought, and the sides of the lake are ringed with calcium that's dried up on the lakeside. There's an amazing picture or three.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


I loved the movie. Great characters, a wonderful plot. Driven by a simple, elegant, strong conflict. A rat who wants to be a chef. All the humans think that's gross, all the rats think it's stupid.

And animation lets the camera do a rocking job of showing perspective. We see the kitchen of a great French restaurant, both from the perspective of the human cooks, and from the point of view of the rat. It was a great amplification and follow up of the kitchen explosion sequence in Fight Club, which I recently discovered was created using Pixar's software. As was 41 of the last movies to get a visual effects Oscar nomination. Steve Jobs is the man. And so is Andrew Lasseter.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Chuck Norris

Mike Huckabee's tv ad from Iowa is funny. And interesting.

My latest favorite "Chuck Norris Fact"?

"Chuck Norris does not love Raymond."

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Jerk is awesome

I just saw The Jerk. It's a great movie. A worthy ancestor of Bubble Boy.

Nothing like strong characters and commited actors to make comedy work. Add in a story that's an absurdist version of The Odyssey, and you get a great movie.

Steve Martin is a great writer and actor.