Monthly Archives: January 2008

The fat lady sings

[Cross-posted at DailyKos.]

John Edwards has ended his presidential run.

I would like to jump straight to the final of Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief, “acceptance,” but it’s probably unhealthy to skip right over the other stages, so please bear with me as I race through:

  1. Denial. Edwards has obviously made a deal with one or both remaining Democrats to be the VP nominee, so at least some of his agenda still has a chance of moving the country forward.
  2. Anger. Welcome to America, here’s your shit sandwich. Enjoy your next media-conglomerate-approved president, be it the warmonger, the religious nut, the focus-tested corporatist machine politician, or the kumbaya guy who talks a great game but has yet to exhibit a single actual act of courage.
  3. Bargaining. Edwards supporters, let’s band together and make Obama promise to adopt some of John’s most important policies before we throw our support to him!
  4. Depression. Only Edwards’ plans were bold enough to fix America’s problems in less than a generation. Now it’s going to take a lifetime — my kids’ lifetime! — of excessively cautious half-measures to straighten out Bush’s mess.

There, OK. Now I can do acceptance.

In truth, either Obama or Clinton could get the job done, but as I’ve written before (and as others have written, and I’ve highlighted): it’s not just the person, it’s the narrative. America urgently needs to turn the page on its recent past and make a fresh start. Hillary may have the best intentions, but rightly or wrongly she’s still an indelible symbolic link to the past. Only Obama represents real change, and the world needs to see real change in America.

On the bright side: even if nothing else progressive happens in the next administration, we still have the fact that the handsome, rich white guy couldn’t compete with a black guy and a woman. We’ve come a long way, baby.

Fence funny

My sister unearthed this old cartoon by me among our mom’s papers. I don’t remember drawing it, but hey, it’s kinda clever. Thanks for scanning and mailing it, sis!

How I wonder what you are

Often when I’m gazing at the night sky I will focus on a very dim star and marvel at its ability to shine steadily. No matter how long I look, and no matter whether I move a few inches to the left or right, it keeps right on shining. (It may twinkle a bit, but as you probably know, that’s due to our fluid, shifting atmosphere causing the starlight to refract slightly differently from one moment to the next, not due to anything about the star.) Photons emitted by that star hundreds of years ago poured out in such numbers that, even as they fanned out across unimaginable distances, there are still enough of them landing continuously in the tiny target of my eyes that the star remains a constant point of light.

Knowing the distances involved, it seems implausible that enough photons would be headed in my exact direction — of all the other places in the universe they could have gone! How implausible? Let’s figure it out.

We’ll start by estimating that the area of my dilated, night-sky-gazing pupils is about one square centimeter, or (to keep all measurements using the same units) one ten-thousandth of a square meter.

Thanks to Wikipedia I know that a single photon of visible light carries about 4×10-19 joules of energy which is just enough to excite a photoreceptor in my eye. How many must arrive each second for me to perceive a continuous image? I know that movies, projected at 24 frames per second, are good enough to trigger the persistence-of-vision effect. Since a distant star has far less detail than a frame of movie film, I’m guessing that it can appear steady at even fewer than 24 “frames” per second. Let’s guess 10 photons per second must arrive in my eyes to perceive a steadily shining star. 10 photons delivering 4×10-19 joules every second is 4×10-18 watts (because one watt is equal to one joule per second).

Now, how far is that star? A bit of googling reveals that a typical faintly visible star is 200 light years away (though many are much closer and many are much farther). 200 light years is 1.89×1018 meters.

From the perspective of that star, what fraction of its “sky” is taken up by my eyes? If you imagine a gigantic spherical shell centered on and surrounding that star, with a radius of 200 light years and my eyes on the inner surface, then the total area of that inner surface — the star’s “sky” — is 4×π×200light-years2, which is 503,000 square light-years, which is 4.5×1037 square meters. My pupils, one ten-thousandth of a square meter, comprise 1/2.22×1042 of that “sky.” That’s two millionths of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth — not like that’s going to make my big ego feel small or anything.

So if 4×10-18 watts of visible light is delivered to 1/2.22×1042 of the star’s sky, then the total power delivered to its full sky is that first number divided by that second, which is 1.8×1024 watts, or 1.8 trillion terawatts. Is that a plausible number?

Yes it is. Our own sun has a visible-light output of 3.8×1026 watts. Which means, incidentally, that (using my guesses from above) it would be visible as a steadily shining star to a distance of 2.7×1019 meters, or about 2,900 light-years. Future criminals exiled from our galaxy will lose sight of their home star while barely a thousandth of the way to their new home in Andromeda.

300


Tonight we blog in hell!
(The tumbling figures are the
victims of my withering rhetoric.)

This post marks two big gee bobg milestones: the 300th post and the first day with more than 200 pageviews — and that’s after subtracting all the hits from bots, spiders, and my own obsessive checking and rechecking of my content.

In honor of this momentous occasion I thought I’d turn over the writing duties to my first guest blogger: the Bob-o-matic. The Bob-o-matic is a Perl script that examines all the posts on my blog and then constructs a new post at random using the same vocabulary and the same phrase patterns (technically, via a Markov chain). If you’d like to understand exactly what the Bob-o-matic does, here is its source code, with no helpful comments or documentation (for extra pedagogical rigor).

Without further ado, the first gee bobg post by the Bob-o-matic!


Today is iconoclasm, which was my cue that it’s harvesting laughs instead of writing letters to Senator Dianne Feinstein expressing disappointment in one shot as quickly as possible. I bought some rope and, for better or worse, he shouted, pee! By the AP and appeared far and wide in the shadow of Primadonna’s wonderful hearty food and jovial, though I understood a little media savvy can recognize TV’s propaganda and soothing pap for what it goes on to a willing patron and would not stop the car overheated and we still don’t know exactly why this might be. Tell me. There’s my street, Tom said out of my head into his hotel. That’s when they saw us run from the Star Wars a couple of hours on the Millennium Falcon is sidetracked into an intelligent, multilayered byplay that gets its point across indirectly. Take this scene are Atia’s that is far preferable to hearing nine months of 1986 were a hit the crowd getting into the story better than most? In short, if elected, to the seas to be sexually active when you can imagine we are deeply disappointed with the peroxide and a wide variety of capes, masks, and those who did the exact same thing goes for sushi… If the President deems them hostile to U.S. Senator in a boxing ring notably body and the structure of the weather yesterday, as there was David, Julie, and he throws a tantrum? None of us found Greg crashed out on a wide selection of vintage candy from yesteryear, and exhibit a journalistic integrity that they included him in happier times? July 1999. Mr. Spock Uhura Uhura uniform 60 Star Trek Technical Manual. Bless her, never over the years I have not been true at all those southern dialects myself, what could George Bailey, who doesn’t like tits? That means there is not a place full of them. I forget what it looks like a beggar he couldn’t bag ‘er for want of a web page I created with this system it was time to time. Dozens of feet it’s a smell, smell world after all it’s a way to explain the observable world without invoking God.

Bob the Dad knows his b’s and d’s

I’m pleased to report that after a brief plateau, Jonah’s reading skills are burgeoning beyond our best expectations. It’s amazing to see him power through his reading each week, mentally correlating (ever more quickly) the occasional unfamiliar printed word with its familiar spoken counterpart.

However, he still occasionally mixes up his lower-case b’s and d’s, and who can blame him? So to help him, I devised this little mnemonic.

I’m all set with a mnemonic for lower-case q’s and p’s if he should need it, though it doesn’t seem like he does:

Q and U are friends, so the stem on the q wants to be close to the u: qu. But P and U? Pee-yoo!

I’ll be concept, you be execution

I need someone to do the guerilla-art installation project that I dreamed up a few years ago:

All around the country, put up speed-limit signs that look just like the real ones but give speeds in crazy units. For example, 55 miles per hour is:

  • 7.3 furlongs per minute
  • 13.4 fathoms per second
  • 0.2 light-seconds per lunar month
  • 478 stadia per hour
  • 9.2×1041 planck lengths per week
  • 29,740 kilometers per fortnight

Are you in?

Do the abortion math

It’s the thirty-fifth anniversary of the famous Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade that affirmed the legality of abortion.

Of course abortion remains a fantastically polarizing subject. It seems like the country is divided fairly evenly in favor of choice and opposed to it (and not necessarily along traditional party or ideological lines); and that most opinions are strongly held.

I for one believe that Bill Clinton got it exactly right when he said that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare,” but why do I believe that? No opinion is worth having if it can’t be examined, challenged, and defended, so here is my defense.

First we must determine whether it’s possible to attack or defend abortion dispassionately, without appeal to emotion. Most people who oppose abortion do so because they believe that it is murder, a naturally emotional subject. We could try to remove or distort the emotional component (e.g., by confining ourselves to a discussion of costs and benefits — as routinely happens in cases of state-sponsored murder such as executions and wars), but I think there’s another way that sidesteps the question of murder altogether.

Whether or not abortion is murder depends on whether or not a life exists to terminate. Indeed that’s what it came down to in the Roe v. Wade decision:

We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.

Nearly everyone agrees that life does not exist prior to conception. Nearly everyone agrees that life does exist upon birth. So where, in between those two events, is the switch flipped? We don’t need medicine, philosophy, or theology to decide; just simple math.

Life may not exist the entire time, but what does exist is an ever-increasing probability of life — more precisely, a probability of being born alive. The appearance of a fetal heartbeat at about eight weeks after conception improves the odds. “Viability” (a minimal ability to survive outside the womb) at about 22 weeks improves it some more. The chances of being born alive continue slowly to climb as the fetus develops, until finally it reaches 100% at the moment the baby takes its first breath.

Can we scientifically choose a probability threshold before which we say abortion is OK and after which we say it isn’t? Sort of. A threshold very close to 100% would be unacceptable to most people, even pro-choice advocates, for emotional reasons (although this has not been true at all times or in all cultures, some of which routinely disposed of unwanted infants simply by exposing them to the elements). It makes no sense to talk about a threshold of 0% as some extreme anti-abortionists might prefer it, because the probability is higher than zero even before conception — especially if Barry White is playing and the lights are turned low. Any other choice between 0% and 100% would be arbitrary, so the best we can do is to choose the least arbitrary number in that interval: 50%. As it happens, in modern America a 50% chance of a live birth appears to be reached, on average, between the 22nd and 28th week of pregnancy.

So that’s my position: abortion should be legal (and safe and rare) before about 22 weeks, and illegal (with the usual pragmatic exceptions — rape, incest, health of the mother) otherwise. Your emotions aside, I think I’ve shown that no other position on this subject is more rational than that one.

The conscience of the race

An excerpt from The moment that put John Edwards back in the game:

Last night, while Barack Obama was going Wal-Mart on Hillary Clinton, and while Hillary was going Rezko on Obama, and while they were both looking for more ammunition to use in yet another personal attack, John Edwards did something extraordinary.

John Edwards stepped up and showed some leadership. He reminded his opponents that this campaign isn’t about their personal lives; it’s about the future of our country, and what we should do to make it a better place.

Edwards talked about the issues, and in the process he took a debate that was descending into meaninglessness and made it meaningful.

[…]

At the very least, voting for Edwards will help him stay in the race, not only keeping the race focused on issues, but also earning enough delegates to exert considerable sway over the the nomination process and allowing him to keep progressive issues at the center of the debate.

At best, he could win the nomination. Just because the pundits say it’s impossible doesn’t mean it can’t happen. There are still 47 states left to go.

You be the judge: who is exhibiting leadership? Watch:

If you build it, I will come

I have been commuting between Marin County and Silicon Valley for more than six years now, at least an hour each way. To make the time pass, lots of good listening material is essential. The local radio stations served for a while, but they weren’t up to the task for the long haul (especially as the Bush administration wore on and I became less and less able to tolerate NPR and its constant reporting and commentary on depressing developments). I realized long ago an ordinary CD player wouldn’t do the job either. An ordinary CD can hold only ten or twenty songs and only a fraction of an audiobook. I needed something that could play CD-ROM’s with 200 MP3’s apiece.

I experimented with a portable MP3-CD player connected to a tiny FM transmitter for receiving and playing my songs on my car’s stereo, but the batteries in the transmitter needed changing every couple of days and there was no one frequency that was empty enough for me to use all the way from one end of my drive to the other, so I was constantly fiddling with the tuning on the transmitter and on my in-dash receiver.

Eventually I discovered a Sony-made in-dash MP3-CD player and bought it. It was great! But burning new CD-ROM’s every week or two started to become a drag. Then I found a JVC model that had a USB socket on the front panel where I could plug in a thumb drive full of music. It was really great! But it was stolen. I replaced it and am now on my third MP3-capable in-dash receiver (another Sony).

None of them has been perfect. If you build one that has none of the following flaws (each found in one or more of my previous players), I will immediately buy it:

  • Cannot navigate 1,000+ songs other than “nexting” through them one at a time
  • Cannot simultaneously display title, album, and artist
  • Display unreadable in direct sunlight
  • No clock display when switched off
  • Control buttons smaller than those on a smartphone
  • Clock display fails to update while a song is playing
  • Cannot display folder or filename of the current song
  • Forgets position in song/folder/playlist when car is turned off
  • Cannot adjust volume without disrupting the momentary display of some song details
  • Cannot disable the annoying “you forgot to detach the detachable faceplate” beep when turning off the car

Whose election is it anyway?

If I hadn’t already canceled my cable TV subscription, learning about the media shenanigans described below would make me do it in a heartbeat. (And you should consider it too. Do these assholes deserve hundreds of your dollars every year? Believe me, after a short couple of weeks of withdrawal symptoms you’ll never want to go back.)

Also, if I weren’t already going to vote for John Edwards, the way corporate America is trying to shape my opinion would make me vote for him just for spite.

Please contribute whatever you can to the Edwards campaign on Friday, January 18th, when we’ll be trying to raise a record-breaking $7 million in one day.

Mainstream Media Continues Blackout of John Edwards

John Edwards was the Democratic Vice Presidential Nominee in 2004, a former United States Senator, an accomplished businessman, a great father and husband, and a very well credentialed candidate for President on paper. […]

But despite the apparent three way horserace, the Washington Corporate Media Cocktail Party Elitists has deliberately removed John Edwards from your TV screen for many months. And it happened again today when right wing CNN and ultra right wing Faux Noise showed clips of speeches from Clinton and Obama while not showing clips of speeches from Edwards. […]

Why would the corporate media knowingly freeze out a candidate from national coverage when on paper, the candidate is credentialed, credible, and clearly one of the top three nominees of a major political party?

The answer I believe is as follows: John Edwards is 100% dead serious about destroying the corrupt corporate power structure that has been destroying the American middle class for decades. It’s a structure that is killing the American middle class’s wallets and pocketbooks, schools, health care, ability to own a home, etc… And who owns the Washington Post, the New York Times, 90% of talk radio, NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN […]

Voters in Democratic primaries could give a big middle finger to the national media if they make John Edwards the Democratic nominee for President. An Edwards nomination would be a punch in the gut to the Broders, Russerts, Courics, and other talking head shills in the corporate media. It could be the start of rendering these people utterly powerless.

These corporate shills think they have the power to decide who voters in both parties can select and not select.

U.S. corporate elite fear candidate Edwards

Ask corporate lobbyists which presidential contender is most feared by their clients and the answer is almost always the same — Democrat John Edwards. […]

Open attacks on the business elite are seldom heard from mainstream White House candidates in America, despite skyrocketing CEO pay, rising income inequality, and a torrent of scandals in corporate boardrooms and on Wall Street. […]

“I think Hillary is approachable. She knows where a lot of her funding has come from, to be blunt,” said Greg Valliere, chief political strategist at Stanford Group Co., a market and policy analysis group.

Unbelievable! CNN narrows the Field of Candidates!

Once again in the Corporate Media makes an “Executive Decision” about who America should see as their Viable Choices:

Hillary Clinton
Barack Obama
John McCain
Rudy Giuliani
Mike Huckabee
Mitt Romney

Only these Candidates were the Focus of the latest CNN Poll

Where is John Edwards in this Poll?

(for that matter where is Ron Paul?)

[Edwards has done better than Giuliani, by a long shot!]

[…]

Could it be that CNN did not quite like the Results, when Edwards was included in their last Poll?

The mainstream media blackout of John Edwards: Some metrics

[T]he MSM is actively excluding Edwards from the national dialog […]

Of all the multi-candidate headlines on Google News, Edwards appears in just 8%, compared to 97% for Obama and 95% for Clinton.

In other words, out of 2,901 multi-candidate headlines, Edwards appeared in only 228. Obama appeared in 2,813. Hillary, 2,761.

This, my friends, is a f**king blackout.

Survey USA Drops Edwards Based on “Judgment”

I was perplexed by a recent poll done by Survey USA in conjunction with local Oregon news affiliate KATU News, where Edwards was left out of the polling. In case you didn’t know, Edwards has deep support here in Oregon. Oregonians gave more money to Edwards than they have to Clinton or Obama. […]

I asked the representative at Survey USA why they did not include John Edwards in their recent general election polling. He said that they included him in the primary polls, but when it comes to general election polling they make a judgment call on how viable a candidate is. I told him that didn’t make sense because they included Rudy Giuliani and he has less delegates than Edwards and is less viable as of right now. He said that they make a judgment based on how likely that candidate is to make it to the general election, and if a candidate is less viable they drop them, and if they’re more viable they include them. I reiterated that it still didn’t make sense, and that if that is how they did things, they shouldn’t include Giuliani, and if they did, they should include Edwards since he is more viable.

Corporate media and the Edwards unelectability myth

One of the biggest myths spread by the corporate media and corporate Democrats about the 2008 election is that John Edwards’ populist platform makes him the least electable Democrat. They claim that Edwards’ rhetoric is a fiery, divisive brand of class warfare, and that Americans want a uniter like Barack Obama, or an experienced insider like Hillary Clinton — not an “angry” outsider who will fight against the system.

This myth couldn’t be more false. […]

Since July 1, 2007, there have been ten public polls testing Edwards and McCain in a general election match-up. Edwards wins 7 of these, losing once and tying twice. His average margin of victory is 5.5 points.

No Democrat does better.

John Edwards defeated an incumbent Republican U.S. Senator in a red state.

Neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton has ever faced a tough Republican opponent. Ever.

[…]

CNN has stopped including John Edwards in its general election polls. In CNN’s most recent poll that actually included Edwards, Edwards beat McCain by by eight points. In that same poll, McCain beat Clinton by two points, and tied Obama.

Fox News has never once — not once, not a single time — done a general election poll featuring John Edwards, despite doing several with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

By now it should be obvious to you that the corporate media doesn’t want you or your neighbor to vote for John Edwards.

Are you going to follow their instructions?

The Polls You Won’t Hear Much About

[F]or all the hubbub over the New Hampshire pre-primary polls and how accurate or inaccurate they were, it’s rather interesting that some polls that may have more import have got comparatively minimal coverage.

I speak of the CNN and Rasmussen polls that provide national head-to-head match-ups of presidential candidates. […]

McCain is by far the GOP’s strongest candidate in the general election. […]

John Edwards is by far the Democrats’ strongest candidate in the general election. He is the only one who is not beaten outright by any Republican candidate […]

Hillary Clinton is the weakest Democratic candidate in the general election. She loses to every single Republican except Fred Thompson and Ron Paul […]

Barack Obama is in between Edwards and Hillary Clinton in strength in the general election.

Cheering For The Narrative More Than The Candidate

If Edwards wins, the narrative will be about progressivism and populism rising. If Obama wins, the narrative will be about partisanship and ideology declining. If Clinton wins, the narrative will probably be about political skill, or something. Whether or not these narratives are either fair or even accurate matters little right now, since there is precious little time to change them. As such, the apparent truth is that an Edwards victory […] will result in much better press for progressives than either a Clinton or Obama victory. Also, beyond the Democratic nomination narrative, consider the rhetoric Clinton, Edwards and Obama would choose in the general elections. As TocqueDeville has pointed out, if Edwards were to become the nominee, we can expect nine months of populist, anti-corporate, anti-elites rhetoric. For my money, that is far preferable to hearing nine months of rhetoric about experience and getting things done, or nine months of rhetoric about the start of a post-partisan, post-ideological age.

Just Imagine Hearing This on Your TV for the Next Year

“How long are we going to allow drug companies and insurance companies to run America? America doesn’t belong to them. It belongs to us.”

“For 25 years corporate greed has gotten its way in Washington, destroying American jobs and the middle class, while the establishment did nothing.”

“Corporate greed won’t be stopped without a president who fights for you. Saving the middle class will be an epic battle.”

“It’s time to tell the truth. These big corporations, and their greed, they are stealing your children’s future. We will never change this country unless we are willing to take these people on.”

When is the last time you heard “corporate greed” on your television? I can’t say it doesn’t happen. But when guests say such things on talk shows, they don’t get invited back.

The corporate controlled media has an unwritten rule – don’t bite the hand that feeds. So it’s incredibly rare that the much needed discussion about corporate power over our government is allowed to occur. This despite the fact that corporate power, and its instruments of control over our democracy, is the central issue of our time. […]

I really like Barack Obama. But as brilliant as Obama is, his message of some kind of undefined change, based on a new “tone”, is abstract and unconvincing.

It is as though Obama wants to usher in a new era of “change” without making any enemies. Do you really believe that you can get serious healthcare reform, which must inevitably cost insurance companies billions, without making them your enemy? People have killed for much less.

Do you really believe that the people who run Halliburton, and CIGNA, and Monsanto Inc. are otherwise good people who just haven’t been properly invited under the happy tent? Do you really think a new tone of bipartisanship is what we are missing?

Ok you Edwards supporters

I have had it with you guys.
I didn’t like your candidate.
I hate his vote on the war.
And you NEVER shut up about him. EVER.
Edwards this and EENR that.
In fact…..

Because of you…..

I am taking a second look at him.
Your positive diaries and upbeat outlook, more than anything else, has persuaded me.
So I am looking at his policies and looking beyond his war vote.

I am looking at who he is now. […]

I have gone back and listened to his speeches.
I watched him in the last debate.
I find myself agreeing with him more and more.

Edwards Campaign: The Race Has Just Begun and the Path to Victory

a new strategy memo from the Edwards campaign […]

Ultimately we expect the race to narrow to one of the celebrity candidates and us. And when that happens, we are confident that the remaining contests will break in our direction as voters are finally offered a choice the national media has ignored all year — the most progressive, most electable candidate in the race, John Edwards.

While the media has annointed two celebrity candidates, both are flawed. Senator Clinton has electability issues and stands squarely for the status quo. As for Senator Obama, we saw his weakness in New Hampshire. If he was thrown off by Senator Clinton’s attacks, think what will happen when the Republicans throw all they got at him. If Obama is too weak to stand up to the Republicans, and Clinton too corporate, then Democrats will look to another who both stands for change and is willing to fight for it. That one is John Edwards. […]

Facing two $100 million candidates, Edwards is only 7 delegates behind. Heavily outspent and out mediaed, he is right in the fight. […]

It is so early. 98% of voters have not been heard from.

John Edwards: $7 Million Dollars In One Day – Make It Happen

There’s been a lot of talk in these parts about how the media is shutting John Edwards out of the race. He has been excluded from polling. His campaign events have not been covered. Other candidates with less to show for themselves receive more attention. Etc.

All of the these things are true. And all of the solutions I’ve seen have merit. We definitely need to put pressure on the media to cover this election fairly. But the media is probably not going to alter course and suddenly exhibit a journalistic integrity that they haven’t even thought about since their freshman year of college. They need to be given a reason to change course; a reason that fits their definition of news.

So either Edwards could engage in a high speed police chase with Britney’s kids on his lap and a missing white girl in the trunk, or he could raise $7 million dollars in one day. […]

Ron Paul has managed to stir up respectable levels of exposure despite his low standings in most polls. […] Paul had validated himself in terms the media can understand — fund raising. Having drawn in a record $6 million dollars in one day went a long ways toward forcing the press to pay attention.

What I want to know is this: If Paul can do it, why can’t Edwards? Edwards has far more support than Paul and he ought to be able to mobilize his supporters to attempt to set a new fund raising record. […]

So I propose that we do so. I would like to suggest Friday, January 18, as the day to shatter both the record and the media’s tinted glass ceiling on coverage.