Friday, October 23, 2009

Netflix Killed the Video Store

Jane's kid made a trip to Blockbuster recently... I didn't even know those stores were still around.

Turns out there must be a few, as the company is still publicly traded. Unfortunately for anyone that owns that stock, it has lost 80% of its value just since the beginning of 2007.

And that's not from the recession, Netflix stock has jumped nearly 90% over the same period.

Anyone remember back when Blockbuster was the new kid on the block, "changing all the rules" of home entertainment, and eating the lunch of all the small video rental stores? Guess karma can be a bitch even for corporations.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Facade Fail

The GOP realizes the demographic of old, white, men is getting smaller, and they are desperately trying to not promote that image of their party. Earlier this year they elected the first black RNC chairman, a great first step were it not for the fact that they nearly mutinied a month later on him.

This week they updated their website to show "GOP faces", as C&L pointed out, those faces seem to look more like a Democratic gathering. I grabbed screenshots of all the faces and it really does look like an inclusive party.

Now to good stuff, comparing this with the exit polls of voters for John McCain.

So white males are being downplayed and African Americans are being trumpeted. I'm not really surprised, just humored.

I'm betting the best part is still to come though, I'll give you 2-to-1 odds that this is going to piss off their base.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Science fail

Primary reason the GOP has annoyed me for the past decade - scientific ignorance. It's like a whole class of people that never took a science class past the 8th grade.

Note to Republican Party:
  • Algebra is not the same as Calculus
  • Physics is not the same as Biology
  • Climatology is not the same as Meteorology

No wonder only 6% of scientists consider themselves Republicans.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Racists in the Republican Party

Saying the entire Republican party is racist is, as most generalizations are, completely unfair.

In truth, racists only comprise about 58% of the party.


Friday, July 31, 2009

The Rangers Suck: part II

But they don't suck that bad this year. As promised, an update at the 100 game mark.

The string of losses near mid-season that we expect in a teaser year has not materialized...yet. Right now they are 3 games out of the division lead and 1-1/2 games out of the wild card slot. Here is this season compared with the other two best seasons of this decade.

Not the horrendous dropoff of a "Teaser" season, and they are making changes unlike a "Mediocre" season. Just 62 games left, can they hold it together (for once)?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sports & Steroids

Your opinion, how much of baseball is shooting steroids into their arms (or legs, or butts, etc.)?

In most debates I take the low side, most people seem to think the number over half, and some argue that it's "everybody". Clearly something seems to be driving up the numbers of the "long ball" over the past decade or so, but how much is steroids responsible for it?

Plenty of other factors could provide the same statistical boost. Better training, changes to rules, new ballparks that are much more friendly to hitters, etc. Most of these should affect all players equally though, so I've made a couple of assumptions to take a look at the numbers.

Assumption 1: The top long ball hitters in the league will be doping at a different rate than the rest of the league.
The dramatic performance increase of the upper echelon (Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, etc.) in recent years is what brought about most of the talk of steroids' role in baseball. On the other hand there is the argument that it's the lower ranked players that need it more and are thus more likely to dope. Either of these is possible, as long as one is true we should see an effect if we compare the two. If we see no effect then we'll know this is a bad assumption.

Assumption 2: The "steroid effect" outweighs other factors.
This is much harder to justify. I began using this assumption solely due to the common perception that steroids were the driving factor behind the home run rates increasing so significantly. Once the data was in though, this assumption was partially justified.

Here is how the slugging numbers compare between the top 10 hitters (averaged) and the entire league since 1986.

Note that both groups increased their slugging percentage through the past two decades, but the "top 10" did so at a much faster pace. If our assumptions are correct we could say that the upper echelon of baseball is definitely doping at a higher rate (or at least is more effective with it's usage).

More interesting though is the recent drop-off that the top players have shown while the league average has leveled off. This provides some support for our second assumption, as the league crackdown on drugs would be expected to reduce usage, particularly within the high-profile players since they draw the most scrutiny and have the most to lose.

How far has it dropped? We'll divide the two values to get Harx's Baseball Doping Index.

This shows that the top echelon is now in relation to the league average at about the same point it was in the late-1980's (considered very early in or before the steroids era). This doesn't mean that steroids are out of baseball, just that it is no longer providing the same distinct advantage to the top players.

So to the question, how many players dope? At the peak there was about a 50% disparity between the two classes, while during "pre-steroids baseball" the rate was closer to 40%. That doesn't tell us much as far as number of players, but it does tell us that around 10% of the performance of top players (at the peak) was due to doping.

So though I can't answer my original question, I can at least say that it appears the league's efforts to contain the problem have been effective. A better answer than I had originally hoped for.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Rangers Suck

I don't follow local sports teams. I'm not sure if this makes me an eccentric, an irritation to the locals, or just a fan so loyal to the teams that I do follow that distance is no barrier.

The one exception is in Baseball, where my favorite team is the Rangers. This is a horrible move on my part as the Rangers suck. Though I never realized how bad that they actually sucked until a few days ago when I looked at their record through this decade. It's bad...oh so bad.

It's not that they are horrible at playing baseball. They keep a fairly sturdy offense year to year and they put up plenty of wins, but they never have a chance of a playoff bid. All of Dallas knows it. And we all know it at the beginning of the season. This is why they are so hard to watch. If they would lose consistently we could give up hope early. If they could win with any consistency they would have an easy run to the playoffs. But they do neither, the Rangers are the purgatory of baseball.

Here are some ways that they break our heart from year to year.

The Teaser Year
They start off fairly weak but they make a nice run towards mid-season. Baseball being baseball ("it's a marathon, not a sprint") it doesn't last. They will get above .500 somewhere early during the season, but by the end of it they will be back into losing territory.

The Teaser Year is probably the most disheartening way to go. They are horrible through the first month, so when they first start winning nobody really notices. About the time that we realize their season is turning around and start paying attention is when they get back to losing.

This strategy allows them to keep the maximum number of people interested right at the points in time when they are losing most of their games. As a fan it's like buying high and selling low in the stock market, it feels right at the time but you're just hurting yourself in the end.

The Mediocre Year
Most years the Rangers start out doing not incredibly poorly, but not well enough to make the playoffs. Then they stagnate. Sometimes they start in winning territory, but by the end of the season they are still just as far from the postseason.

During these years all of Dallas watches patiently, waiting for any slight improvement that might get the team headed towards some sort of playoff bid. The Rangers are never out of the running but they make no effort, and they finish the season almost exactly where they started it, in mediocrity.

The Disaster
Straight out of the gates they start losing games as quickly as possible. It doesn't really matter what they do later in the season, as they won't be able to dig out of this hole. During these seasons we can rule out a pennant by June.

The first half of the season looks much like the record of any other team that sucks. The 'Ranger Difference' is that they then start winning games. This way all of the Ranger fans can sit around in September thinking to ourselves "we would be in the playoffs if we just didn't lose so many games in May!"

Note the one winning season in 2004, but finishing at .550 that year still gave us no chance of making the playoffs in the American League. That is one winning season this entire decade. This is how bad my favorite baseball team is.

So how about this year? Right now it is nearly identical to 2005 (a Teaser), I'll let you know at 100-games.

(Charts were made using records at May 1st, June 1st, 100-games into the season, and the finish.)

Delayed Reaction

Please excuse the long delay between postings. In the latest postings my opinion has become more and more prevalent, and I know that none of you are interested in reading my (sometimes antisocial) opinions, so I've tried to just keep it to myself.

I know also that few of you are particularly interested in seeing charts and graphs either, but that at least interests me.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Socialism is not Fascism (duh.)

For a bit of entertainment, this video provides a compendium of silliness from the RNC convention discussing their proposal to rename the Democratic party to the "Democrat Socialist party".

Full of lulz for sure, but a comment from an interviewee about 40 seconds in annoyed me with a historical misconception that I see all too often in the Republican ranks.
"One point of view is that calling them a Socialist party isn't quite accurate, they're more like a National Socialist party the way the Nazis were."
Uhm... yeah. The party we refer to as the Nazi party was officially called the National Socialist Party, but they were not socialists. They were Fascists. Fascists, in the left-right political spectrum, are the opposite of Socialists.

Brief historical reminder, Fascism versus Socialism was a common theme stemming from the Spanish Civil war (and before) and carried over to WWII. In that war the United States was allied with the USSR (and for the record, they were actually Socialists) fighting against Hitler and Mussolini, Fascists.

Far from being Socialists, these two were generally considered to be politically far-right and tended to whip crowds into frenzies with promises to wipe out the "godless communists". Sounds more like the modern day Republican party to me.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The NY Times needs better editors

From a New York Times article on the SPF values found on sunscreens (emphasis mine).
The difference in UVB protection between an SPF 100 and SPF 50 is marginal. Far from offering double the blockage, SPF 100 blocks 99 percent of UVB rays, while SPF 50 blocks 98 percent.
If SPF 100 blocks 99%, then 1% gets through.
If SPF 50 blocks 98%, then 2% gets through.

For those not so good with the math, 1% divided by 2% is one-half. Thus, SPF 100 has double the blockage of SPF 50.

Is it too much to ask that along the way to a degree in journalism at least one math class is taken?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Mass Panic

I find the panic around swine flu particularly amusing.

We're talking about the flu. A version which is sensitive to antiviral drugs. A version which has killed very few people that actually had access to health care. A version that isn't even spreading that rapidly as far as the flu goes. (If you are still worried this website can help.)

When friends and coworkers suggested that a change in plans in my vacation to Cozumel next month would be in order I responded only with a chuckle. Why would I cancel a vacation, losing money in the process, when my odds of catching the flu are likely as high in Dallas as in a tourist resort. Not only that, a good panic is good for scaring off all those other tourists that are going to otherwise crowd my beach.

My chuckle has paid off. Yesterday my travel agent called, I have been upgraded from a 4-star to a 5-star luxury resort due to vacancies.

Buy low, sell high. It's a concept that few people really understand, those that do make out like bandits.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

This is why Republicans aren't in charge anymore

In my post on the Republican complaints about the stimulus bill two months ago I pointed out that, at the time, Republicans seemed to take the attitude that any public health spending was wasteful. In that post I left out quite a few items for brevity, one of them was an op-ed written by Karl Rove.

Now I'm not so much on board with the Swine Flu panic that is so en vogue with politicians and the media right now, but I do find it funny that just two months ago Rove pointed out this piece of "waste" for us (sixth paragraph):
There's also $4 billion for health programs like obesity control and smoking cessation, $2 billion for the National Institutes of Health, $462 million for the Centers for Disease Control, and $900 million for pandemic flu preparations. Health care also added jobs last year.
Sometimes I almost believe that these guys can predict the future, figure out the right course of action, then argue to do the opposite.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Imbecility is not confined to the right wing.

One should always pick your battles, particularly in politics. It's all about maximizing your return while minimizing your investment. I find this concept is lost on much of the pro-gun-control community, and this particular blog entry is dedicated to them.

If you happen to be a member of this group I know one of the questions that confounds you daily is "how in the hell do the bunch of crazies at the NRA have so much political power?" This seems a perfectly valid question, their views are extreme, their spokesmen regularly come off as lunatics, and their base is composed primarily of rednecks.

The answer is simple - because you can't pick your battles.

Namely, I'm referring to the assault weapons ban that was passed under Clinton and expired this decade. You are focused on it, we know you are because that is all you can talk about. An editorial in today's NY Times holds a perfect example, the author spends the first 15 paragraphs laying out his case (in fine fashion, I might add) for increased gun control.

It's well written, very emotional and loaded with facts and relevant current events. The author has me buying in, I'm ready to write a letter to my congressman to take some action. But what to do?

The author then blows his wad on arguing for reinstatement of the assault weapons ban. Just to be clear, this is a ban affecting a hodgepodge of firearms related only in terms of appearance. Some of the arguments for the ban (and the simple counters):
  • Assault weapons are criminal's weapon of choice - they are used in less than 1% of gun crimes in this country
  • Fully automatic weapons are dangerous - irrelevant, fully automatic weapons are already illegal, the "assault weapons" discussed here fire at the same rate most other firearms
  • Their fire is deadly - the banned firearms fire bullets no larger, and with less power behind them, than most hunting rifles
  • They are designed to kill - I'm not sure how features like a bayonet stud or handle (two of the features that may cause a firearm to be banned) assist any criminal in doing any more damage than he already plans to do
I'm all for getting dangerous guns out of the hands of felons, crazies, postal workers, etc., but this ban doesn't do that. What it does do is allow the NRA to stoke up fear amongst the public by showing "a conspiracy" that wants to ban any and all firearms, regardless of their danger.

Assault weapons are bulky, thus they are hard to conceal, hard to transport, and hard to move around with. If more criminals used assault weapons instead of cheap handguns we would have far less crime, as you can't walk down the street with one of these stuck in your pocket.

If you really want to make a difference in the world, take an approach to gun-control with something that actually affects violence, like background checks. If you want to help inflate the political clout, bank accounts, and egos of the loonies at the NRA, keep pushing the assault weapons ban.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The gay agenda is coming for your children!

I'm on an email list that sends out regular notices discussing what rational, non-crazy humans are doing in Texas. Being a news/political junkie I enjoy these for their current-events value, but most of the time I just skim to the bottom where, every so often, they include copies of emails sent out by fundies. The lolz factor of these emails can range from an I'm-too-scared-to-laugh zero to a ten like the one I got today.

For a quick background, the Day of Silence is held by students every year to protest harassment and bullying of teh gheys in public schools. Simply put, kids that are participating will go to school, do their work, participate wherever possible, but they won't speak to anyone throughout that day. This is tolerated by many schools since, aside from the legal (and ethical) problems in attempting to punish a person for not speaking, harassment and bullying are things that are not generally helpful to learning in the first place.

Apparently, fundies hate this practice. Anyway, without further ado, I present to you a letter from the American Family Association:

Dear Friend,

The Day of Silence, which is sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), fast approaches. This year it will take place in most public schools on April 17. On this day, thousands of public high schools and increasing numbers of middle schools will allow students to remain silent throughout an entire day-even during instructional time-to promote GLSEN's socio-political goals and its controversial, unproven, and destructive theories on the nature and morality of homosexuality.

Parents must actively oppose this hijacking of the classroom for political purposes. Please join the national effort to restore to public education a proper understanding of the role of government-subsidized schools. You can help de-politicize the learning environment by calling your child out of school if your child's school allows students to remain silent during instructional time on the Day of Silence.

Parents should no longer passively countenance the political usurpation of public school classrooms through student silence.

If students will be permitted to remain silent, parents can express their opposition most effectively by calling their children out of school on the Day of Silence and sending letters of explanation to their administrators, their children’s teachers, and all school board members. One reason this is effective is that most school districts lose money for each student absence.

School administrators err when they allow the classroom to be disrupted and politicized by granting students permission to remain silent throughout an entire day.

I'm pretty sure this letter goes to the definition of homophobia. Hope you enjoyed the lulz.

p.s.-for a few added lulz, check out the first line of the Wiki page on the AFA, I'll let it speak for itself (emphasis mine):
"The American Family Association...promotes conservative Christian values as well as other public policy goals such as deregulation of the oil industry"

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

From Apes to Marathoners

Bipedalism, opposable thumbs, and a giant brain are the big three differences that separate us from the rest of the food chain. The benefits of the latter two for tool making, hunting, etc. are obvious, but the first isn't totally understood. Usually it is attributed to one of the myriad of benefits that is associated with walking, but there are some that believe running is the real evolutionary driver behind bipedalism.

This is an argument that has been around for a while but recently has gained some strength in scientific data, particularly with a recent article in the Journal of Experimental Biology showing the benefit of short toes (a trait specific to humans) for running. Specifically, while shorter toes provide no measurable reduction in energy usage during walking, they do cut it by 20% for running.

This efficiency wouldn't help much with pure speed, but it provides a great benefit for running endurance, a trait that humans are particularly well suited for. How would this help hunter-gatherers? One of the authors, Daniel Lieberman, points to persistence hunting.

Basically you chase an animal over dozens of miles, slowly wearing it down until it collapses either from exhaustion or overheating. No need for sprinting, just a long, steady, fast gait. This practice is rare now but it was one of the earliest forms of hunting (predating even simple tools like spears).

So contrary to what you people continue to tell me, it turns out that humans may be designed to run marathons after all.

some more running nerd lolz

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Perfect hindsight

The left wing in America, and much of everybody else, seems perfectly smitten with Jon Stewart over last week's skewering of Jim Cramer. It seems like populist issues are so easy to foresee it's a wonder that there isn't still a party with that name around.

Two problems though:
a) Jim Cramer is an entertainer. If you think he's something more than that you must be watching a different show than I am. It doesn't matter how CNBC bills it, if you take him as more than that you're going to do so at your own risk.

b) Jim Cramer is a stock analyst. He gets them right and wrong. As all good analysts do, he admits this. In the real world, a company that is about to break out into a record year for it's stock and a company that is about to fail tend to look about the same on paper, it's only hindsight that makes Bear Stearns "so easy to see coming."

I'm not trying to defend Cramer here, I'm just pointing out that it's not his fault people lost money. I don't know his track record, but I'm betting neither do the people that listen to him and lose that money.

If your favorite analyst doesn't have a winning track record you shouldn't listen to him. If he does, you should listen to him with a grain of salt. This is financial common sense, do it any other way and you would do better off to take your cash to Vegas.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Texas Roadhouse Boycott

This weekend I once again pulled off a new half marathon personal record, it's been a good year for me. This time down in College Station I finally beat an 8 minute/mile pace, but not without some serious suffering along the way. Along with this being the coldest race that I've ever run, 33 degrees with 25 mph winds gusting to 35 mph, I made the mistake of eating at Texas Roadhouse the night before.

Turns out that Texas Roadhouse does not serve pasta. At all. I understand I was at a steakhouse, but how hard is it to throw a dab of spaghetti on the menu. Even I can cook spaghetti. Or maybe a veggie burger. Anything that isn't 90% fat and/or protein would have been acceptable, alas this was not a choice.

I asked the waitress if they could figure something out, she was very quick with a seemingly-prepared, negative response; apparently some runners had already come through that evening with the same questions. They did have some pasta on the children's menu, Mac & Cheese. A little unconventional I think to myself, but at least it has carbs.

I order two sides of this and a Caesar salad, and the arrival of these dishes is about where the wheels came off.

The salad was damn near inedible. Within the sea of Iceberg lettuce there was a tiny bit of Romaine, but that clearly was of the best-consumed-immediately, on-sale-special variety usually shrink-wrapped in a bin near the front of your local Kroger's and ignored by anyone that has ever eaten outside of McDonalds. Of course they made up for it by applying the dressing with a fire hose. How a steak restaurant can survive with poor salad skills is beyond me, but the hour wait to get a seat in the restaurant tells me that they are not having a lot of issues keeping business.

At least I have the Mac & Cheese to fall back on. The only problem was I felt like I was coating my throat in butter as I consumed it.

Me: (uncomfortable look) "This Mac & Cheese sure is...creamy..."

Waitress: (wide-eyed grin) "I know, isn't it great?!"

Me: (speechless, just stares)

In the end I finished nearly half of one of the sides of Mac & Cheese (ignoring the other) and some minority portion of the Caesar. Despite my lack of enthusiasm for either I still felt the butter in my gut all 13.1 miles the next morning.

So, regardless of the effort they expend to create that extraordinarily outlandish redneck environment, Texas Roadhouse is now under an official personal boycott due to the overall lameness of their food. It's rare that I ever boycott a place based on a single meal, but I'm making an exception in this case.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Clydesdale on the March

In runner slang, a Clydesdale is a big guy (or girl) that runs, usually over 200 pounds for men.

Like their namesake, Clydesdales are known neither for their speed nor their stamina. Accelerating a 200 lb. mass is much more difficult than a 130 lb. body, and the constant lifting and dropping of so much weight is notoriously bad for joints. This puts most Clydesdales, including yours truly, in the mid-range category, neither sprinters nor long-distance runners. You find us most often doing 10k (6.2 mile) runs or half marathons (13.1 miles), I'm rather addicted to the latter.

Nonetheless, I've gone off and signed up for a full marathon. Seattle, in June. It's just so painful looking at the map of a full marathon and then signing up for just half of it, this time I failed. There is still a great chance that I'll wimp out and just run the half, but for now, I'm scheduled to run the full.

A bit of positive news, I ran the Austin half yesterday and, for the second year in a row, got a new PR (personal record) there. This year I finished in 1:46:08, cutting a full 2 minutes off of last year's time. That I keep getting PRs there doesn't make much sense since Austin is all hills and that usually makes a race quite a bit slower. I do love hills, that could be part of it, or maybe I'm just stronger than usual this time of year.

I have 3 more halfs scheduled for this season as well as the full marathon in June, so time should tell.

Remaining schedule:
  • College Station Half- March 1
  • Big D (Dallas) Half - April 5
  • Nashville Half - April 25
  • Seattle Marathon - June 27

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Thoughts on a strike

Most people can point to a time when they were very young and say "that's where everything changed". Not that it really did, we just didn't understand hard times back then, a little bit of growing up changed all that. Rose-colored glasses are handed out for free your first few years of life.

My glasses were taken away when I was 6 years old. My dad went on strike with PATCO and was summarily fired two days later along with over 11,000 other air traffic controllers. Add in the worst recession since WWII and the natural progression of things quickly led to repossession of our house, lots of fighting, some binge-drinking (not on my part), and divorce of my parents. My first introduction to conservative policies (in this case strike-breaking) was not a pleasant one.

After that strike, all of those 11k workers were permanently banned from government employment. A good old fashioned blacklisting, but this one was legal because the president did it.

All of this because they wanted to work less hours. Something that most would consider reasonable for a person in a high-stress job that had many lives depending on them staying focused. At the time it was not uncommon for an air traffic controller to work a 60-hour week.

For real.

These are the people responsible for the safety of several thousand people an hour (at a slow period), and they worked more hours than a Chinese launderer. I remember my dad leaving for days on end when they had staff shortages, he would sleep at the tower as he'd only have a few hours between shifts.

And this isn't a job that affords itself to lots of bullshitting around the water cooler. These are traffic cops staring at a screen or out a window, talking to people miles away from them, that are moving at 290 miles an hour, and trying to keep them from touching each other.

An article on the strike I ran into recently summed up the ridiculousness of the FAA in just a few words
In June [1981], the FAA made its final offer of a $2500 pay increase, a 15% increase in pay for night work, and a guaranteed thirty-minute lunch period.
They were even going to let the controllers eat lunch, that FAA is quite the generous bunch. I can't see why the union turned them down...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Arguing just to argue

The current stimulus bill is chock full of wasteful spending according to the GOP. Which is actually wasteful?

According to CNN some of these include:
  • $600 million to buy hybrid vehicles for federal employees.
The car companies are doing fine, why would we want to give them any business?
  • A $246 million tax break for Hollywood movie producers to buy motion picture film.
The film industry (as in camera film) has been dying slowly over the past decade, turns out everyone is going to digital cameras. Nonetheless, a lot of people are still employed in the field, and this is not a particularly good time for it to go under.
  • $400 million for the Centers for Disease Control to screen and prevent STD's.
WTF? Preventing STD's is wasteful?
  • $100 million for reducing the hazard of lead-based paint.
  • $88 million for renovating the headquarters of the Public Health Service.
  • $412 million for CDC buildings and property.
  • $500 million for building and repairing National Institutes of Health facilities in Bethesda, Maryland.
  • $75 million for "smoking cessation activities."
  • $25 million for tribal alcohol and substance abuse reduction.
I'm seeing a general trend of the attitude "public health spending is wasteful."
  • $1.4 billion for rural waste disposal programs.
  • $125 million for the Washington sewer system.
Why don't we just dump our trash in the yard like they do it in Kentucky?
  • $200 million for public computer centers at community colleges.
  • $150 million for Smithsonian museum facilities.
This would be education, which we all know Republicans oppose, but the vast majority of Americans do not, nor do they consider it wasteful.
  • $1 billion for the 2010 Census, which has a projected cost overrun of $3 billion.
How is it wasteful if it's money that would have to be spent anyway? Maybe because the 2010 Census is expected to shift power away from Republicans due to demographic changes over the last decade (e.g., what happened to Virginia and North Carolina in the last election).
  • $75 million for salaries of employees at the FBI.
Because laying off FBI agents is the best choice to handle the rising tide of corporate scandals (due primarily to the reassignment of financial investigators to Dubya's "war on terror").
  • $850 million for Amtrak.
Rail transport is, dollar for dollar, the cheapest method of land transportation available. By definition Amtrak is efficient.
  • $2 billion earmark to re-start FutureGen, a near-zero emissions coal power plant in Illinois that the Department of Energy defunded last year because it said the project was inefficient.
Near zero-emission coal, and the prototype is inefficient? Duh. This is why it needs research funding. This sort of project is a quick way to a) begin breaking our dependence on foreign oil, b) reduce our own greenhouse emissions, c) give the coal industry a fighting chance to survive another 50 years.
  • $5.5 million for "energy efficiency initiatives" at the Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration.
  • $6 billion to turn federal buildings into "green" buildings.
  • $200 million in funding for the lease of alternative energy vehicles for use on military installations.
If it helps the environment, I guess it must be wasteful.
  • $650 million for the digital television converter box coupon program.
Congress requiring all-digital was wasteful in the first place (thanks again outgoing Republicans), there have been several delays including just last month. Looks like they're killing two birds with one stone on this one.
  • $500 million for flood reduction projects on the Mississippi River.
  • $10 million to inspect canals in urban areas.
They didn't much care when Katrina hit, why start now.

Is it me, or does it seem like they are arguing just to argue. It's like they are still12 years old and the Democrats are telling them to brush their teeth before going to bed. They know they'll have to do it anyway, and it's for their own good, but they would rather fight about it first.

Monday, February 2, 2009

There's a new sheriff in town

Irrelevant as the GOP seems right now, they'll be back looking for blood in two years, and after Obama's job in four. If history is any indicator, their relevance at either of those points is likely to be higher than it is now. The party in power has a tendency to be held responsible for hard economic times whether or not the responsibility lies with them.

And of course opposing everything the majority puts out is the quickest way to lay the groundwork for this sort of comeback. You can almost hear the arguments now, "that stimulus bill was nothing but pork, of course it didn't work, we told you so." And with every Republican member of the House voting against it they'll be able to make their case.

What I didn't see coming was Michael Steele winning the chairman of the RNC. One of the few African-Americans in the Republican party to have success running for office (though in a blue state), he's pro-choice (he describes himself as pro-life, but believes Rove vs. Wade should stand), supports affirmative action, and is a proponent of renewable energy.

He's not for gay marriage but previous comments seem to imply that he'd rather avoid the issue altogether, and scenes such as those found at Palin rallies of late October are much less likely with a black man at the helm (though revolt from the Southern Strategy branch of the GOP could be a problem). Thus, though he's not going to start stealing Democratic voters away, he will make the Republican party quite a bit less "scary" to voters in the middle.

Since the bulk of the job will consist of refuting President Obama on TV, and there were only two African-Americans running for the position, there were not many sensible options for the party best known most recently for it's old, angry, white men. Still, it seems like the smartest move the Republicans have made in years. Maybe it's just a fluke, or maybe the party is serious about remaking itself.

There is a new man in charge of running their Grand Ole Party, if he is able to moderate the party's base I would expect it to expand and win some seats back in 2010. If not, well, he can't do any more harm.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Retaking the moral high ground

Of all the disasters and embarrassments of the Dubya years, the worst will be rolled back within the year. With the sweep of a pen President Obama has ordered the Guantanamo Bay prison, as well as all of the CIA secret prisons, closed within that time.

And more importantly, all interrogations are now to conform with the US Army Field Manual, ending the use of torture of any kind. Thus we begin the long, slow climb back to the moral high ground.

Friday, January 16, 2009

I never thought it would happen

No, I'm not on the topic of Dubya finally leaving office next week (though it seemed that day would never come either), but rather a successful water landing of an airliner.

By successful I mean virtually everyone on board doesn't die. But yesterday it happened and not only were there zero deaths, but apparently only one serious injury.

Big kudos to that pilot.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Thoughts on my football thoughts

My last post looked at the NFL playoff teams in light of the strength of their schedule through the regular season. After posting the AFC chart I made up a similar one for the NFC teams out of curiosity. This weekend they both seem to have been more accurate than I initially expected.

The charts (stronger teams sit on "higher" lines):


That gives a nice visual representation of who should win, a bit of statistics can give us a level of confidence as well. Graphically, this model predicted for the four games of this past weekend:

It got it right in three out of four. No real surprise since only one game was an upset, but interesting. Note that the only prediction to fall short was the Indianapolis-San Diego game, but that was also the smallest confidence level (56% Colts vs. 44% Chargers).

Had I placed bets according to this model I would have won three and lost one (all point-lines were covered), for a payout of 190% after juice. Not bad, but again it was probably more luck than anything else.

Either way, that was too much fun, so I'm going to take a look at this week's games as well.

If we take a hint from last week we ignore the Giants-Eagles game since it is so close. It will be interesting to see if the other three games go as predicted, since they all seem very favorable at over 75% confidence (i.e. 3:1 odds or better).

This is particularly true for the Ravens' game since, along with having the highest confidence level, when the betting lines come out for this week it will probably be the only "upset" of the bunch.