Thursday, December 24, 2009

Is Roxy finally over her "separation anxiety"?

Yesterday, I recorded Roxy at home alone, to check on her behavior in this situation. Earlier, she used to scratch and paw at the front door for over 45 minutes. Of late, though, she has shown an independent streak, where she runs away outside the off-leash area (when I used to let her off-leash), and returns after 20-30 minutes. As Laurie put it, a confident dog like that doesn't have separation anxiety.
On the other hand, as a fellow dog-owner Katy said yesterday, when Roxy runs away, it is her choice, but when I leave her at home, it is not.

Apart from an occasional paw at the door, Roxy leaves the door alone. I had reprimanded her on a couple occasions when I caught her scratching at the door, so that could be discouraging her. But she quickly settles down on the couch, which tells me that discouragement is not the case (I'd expect her to wait by the door, otherwise.) Finally, Roxy does seem to want to return to the crate, where her water and a beef tendon spiral are. I did leave some water in her food bowl outside the crate, so the lack of water is not an issue (she finds it and drinks out of it.) Next time, I will try leaving the crate open.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Meeting the Dog Whisperer!

Last week, Roxy got in trouble at the doggy day care. Apparently, she would sneak up on two dogs playing with each other, nip one of them in the ankle, and then run away! "Time-outs" (a minute or so in the kennel) didn't work. There was also an incident with a food-aggressive dog - the dog barked as Roxy was walking by, and Roxy barked back - but didn't stop even after the doggy day care person told her to stop. So Ben at the Dog Spot told me to talk to Laurie Buffington, "the state expert" on ankle-biting dogs...

I had a session with Laurie this morning, and it was quite interesting. Laurie observed that Roxy was a very social dog, but also a very confident, dominant dog (which I figured out earlier), and maybe has some pit or other "bully dog." So she's ready to take all comers... including a big, 100-lb wolf mix ("Quinn") Laurie has! Laurie had Roxy initially play with 1-yr-old Aussie shepherd. Then she let out 3 dogs, including a pit/Border Collie bitch and Quinn - and Roxy went straight at Quinn, with her paws up on his shoulders ("he's the leader, I will show him I am boss!") Thankfully, Quinn is extremely accustomed to strange dogs, so he just didn't show any reaction (aka "what, me worry?"!)

Laurie said the dominant trait also makes Roxy think she has to keep other dogs in their place, hence her bark-fest with the food-aggressive dog.

Laurie observed that Roxy had a spinal-hackles-raised (forget the exact term), with the hair along her entire spine raised most of the time she was playing with the Aussie. This is apparently a state of high arousal, not aggression, but can quickly turn into a fight. At day care, this state persists for hours on end, so she's never turned OFF, even at home.

Also, I walk or run loose-leash with Roxy, which gives her a lot more freedom than she should have *now*, and allows her to chase squirrels or lunge at other dogs, unmindful of what I am doing, even across me.

Laurie gave me a few leadership articles, and recommended I run or walk Roxy on a short leash, till she walks by me - she essentially has to learn that I am pack leader, and she has to ask me for permission to greet other dogs (or do anything at all.) Also, Laurie recommended I keep Roxy in the crate, using it (or "tethering") to keep her calm, and also get her used to the crate as a fact of life. She suggested that Roxy doesn't scratch and maul the door because of separation anxiety, but because she wants to get out and do her thing. On walks, make Roxy remain calm when she sees other dogs (which will also help tire her out mentally.) And maybe use a vinegar/water spray (especially at day care) or time-outs to dissuade her if she even thinks of any bad behavior.

Lots of work ahead... Thankfully, Roxy was prevented from ankle-biting this week at the Dog Spot - the handlers put her in time-out if she even appeared to be thinking about it.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

On dogs meeting each other

I am leaning toward keeping Roxy, but in the mean time, thought I would jot down a few thoughts on dogs meeting each other. Keep in mind that I am no dog expert, and I could be wrong - I welcome rational, polite comments.
Roxy is generally playful, and plays rough, according to the doggy daycare folks. But she usually gets along great with dogs of her size or bigger; they keep her away from small dogs as she has a tendency to chase them.
The last few days she has not been at day care everyday, because I am trying to reduce her time there (gets too expensive; see my previous blog post.) I did leave her at another daycare for a couple hours on Tuesday. My being sick means I don't run with her either - just long (30-45 minute) walks. The cold weather also means there are fewer dogs around the nearby lakes, and I don't let her off-leash because if she runs off (as she has done earlier), it's too cold and I am too sick to chase her around.
So today, on an afternoon walk, there were a few other dogs. The first was a German Shepherd, also on a leash (in the on-leash section). Roxy was excited to meet another dog, but the German Shepherd remained calm. Both dogs sniffed each other, and moved on.
The second "meeting" was in the off-leash lake, with a pair of black, furry, big dogs (not sure which breed). They were off-leash; Roxy was on-leash. Roxy tried to play with them, as they were chasing a ball thrown by their owner. One dog reacted badly - growling and baring his teeth. Removed Roxy from the scene, and walked on.
Circling the lake in opposite directions, we ran into the black dogs again. Knowing the earlier meeting, I kept Roxy on-leash, though I was tempted to let her off earlier (this was a section of the lake with good fencing.) Unfortunately, too close - Roxy again tried to approach one of the dogs, maybe the same dog. Same reaction. Roxy starts growling as well.
Second owner says: "Why do let him go at him if you know that's going to happen?" Slight back-and-forth, as I defend Roxy, but she isn't helping my case by trying to free herself of her new "easy walk harness", jumping and rolling on the ground.

Here's my take. In an off-leash park, dogs will approach each other. In an ideal world, each dog will be polite and walk quietly. But this is the real world, and Roxy's still a puppy (just over a year old). So she tries to play with every other dog, and doesn't always approach other dogs calmly; that is something I have to teach her.
If the other dog is mature, or well-socialized, the reaction is positive; as in the German Shepherd's case. If not - the black dog's reaction is what we get. So here's what I say: If your dog reacts badly to other dogs approaching him or her, then maybe your dog should not be off-leash, especially in an off-leash park.
Of course, one could say I should not take her to the off-leash park either; but at the least, I keep her on leash. And now on, I will keep her far away from unknown dogs, even if she fights me trying to get closer.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sink or swim week in my adoption experience

I adopted a Labrador retriever/Siberian Husky mix from the Humane Society almost two months ago, called Roxy. Roxy's a pretty good dog - housebroken, great with kids, reasonably smart. But she has separation anxiety, and I have been working with the Humane Society trainers on that; in addition, I've had her on anti-anxiety medication (Clomipramine/Clamiprazole). But the past week hasn't been good, and this is an e-mail I sent earlier today to the HSBV trainer:

It's been a while since we spoke about my HSBV adoptee, Roxy. Mainly because work has been hectic, so I have to some extent put off the problem of separation anxiety with doggy day care five days/week. I have got Roxy up to about 5-6 minutes of separation, though I haven't tested longer durations. A couple of times she displayed some anxiety even during those five minutes - she was standing up in her crate as I walked out the door, and whined throughout. On a later try, though, she was initially anxious, but then settled down. I suppose the Clamiprazole (spelling?) should be kicking in about now, which should help.

I was writing mainly to give you a heads-up and ask for any advice you have. This week, Roxy has not been visibly happy to see me - I use her tailwagging as a marker, but one can tell even otherwise. She seems happy to meet random strangers on the road during her walks, or when she enters the Dog Spot and greets Shannon or Ann. But when I go to pick her up, she's less enthused; earlier she used to try and jump on me, but these days it's more a "meh!" attitude. When I try to pet her at home, she's very reluctant to come over, and just turns over and lets me rub her belly or whatever - what I interpret as "let's get this over with." At the same time, if I get up and move around, she keeps an eye on me, which tells me she isn't over her separation anxiety.

I keep thinking of reasons - I am the fun Nazi who doesn't allow her to chase cats/squirrels/hares, takes her away from doggy daycare where she plays; or she's just tired/burnt out from day care that when she gets home, she just wants to curl up and sleep. The only time I see a slow wag is if I have a treat or am taking her out for a walk.

Obviously, I am not too thrilled with the situation, and it's not a good time, given that if I want to have her at doggy day care next week, I'll have to pony up more $$$ (and at $480 for a month...). So I will work with her more over the weekend, and next week it will be sink-or-swim time for Roxy and me. I plan on leaving her at home while I go to work, and if she's OK staying alone, fine. Otherwise - if she's happier with other people, we don't seem to be bonding, and she just "needs" me but doesn't "want" me, I don't see why I should keep pouring my time and money into her. It's like a bad marriage...

Any advice/tips would be appreciated. I'd be happy to come in and talk, if that would help - I really want this to work. She's a great dog otherwise - housebroken, a reasonably good learner, good with my friends' kids.

Sink or swim. [Though as a friend pointed out, since I am already looking at HSBV cats, I might have made up my mind. OTOH, I have also been looking at HSBV dogs for a companion to Roxy if required, so I don't know... She also says that maybe I am just not a dog person, and Roxy senses that. Who knows?!]

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

My (current) take on healthcare reform

Some folks on the left are saying "public option or bust" - no healthcare reform without the public option. I am not so sure this is the right way to go, or even if the public option is such a great deal. Some thoughts on current proposals:

1. Healthcare reform can include a condition of "no pre-existing conditions". This in itself would be a huge improvement over the current state of affairs.
2. #1 necessitates a universal mandate to be "fair" to the insurance companies; if they have to take the sick, they should have adequate "pay-in"s from healthy people.
3. #2 implies federal subsidies for those who can't afford to pay insurance premiums, including expansion of Medicaid.
4. #3 means the money has to come from somewhere - possibly efficiencies in Medicare, including getting rid of "Medicare Advantage" - which would be a loss for insurance companies, but better use of our tax dollars.
5. Removal of annual/lifetime caps on out-of-pocket expenses would be great (what's that about half of current bankruptcies occurring due to medical bills?)

All of these five objectives seem pretty good to me.

Now, #3 can also be taken to mean "we need a public option" to avoid insurance companies increasing premiums/denying care to increase their profits (which already happens). But how will a public option work? Say it can't deny care as freely as private for-profits. That means insurance premiums will likely rise each year (or else we get rationing of care*). Otherwise, the public option operates at a loss, which means subsidies are needed from the federal government to keep the public option solvent. Which means private companies could be driven out of business, and we eventually get to single-payer (if you are a liberal)/a government take0ver of healthcare (if you are a conservative).

* Unlike what Tom Coburn says, a non-profit public option will be less likely to ration care than a for-profit private insurance company for the same premiums.

Couple of other thoughts:
1. If you really want single-payer, say that and work for it - don't be try to force a backdoor entry with the public option.
2. One alternative I like is a universal, minimum-benefits/catastrophic insurance public option. Private companies can offer this level of service, as well as better coverage for higher premiums.
3. If I understand correctly, the public option and other reforms don't even come into effect till 2013 (coincidentally, *after* POTUS election.) So if a triggered-public-option is offered that also comes into effect in 2013 if insurance companies don't clean up their act - why not? One answer offered is that the trigger may be too hard to press (Senator Ben Nelson has already said "we don't want a hair-trigger." We don't want an inoperative trigger either.) So the devil's in the details - the language of the trigger has to be very clear - and impose stringent rules on private insurers.
4. I think the "fees on insurance companies' "Cadillac" plans" is a chicken-s*** way of raising individual taxes, and I am annoyed that liberals like Schumer/Rockefeller and Max Baucus are proposing this. These fees *will* be passed on to the consumer, and likely to *all* consumers. This is a backdoor tax, and I'd rather see a tax on individuals with these Cadillac plans; "if you want this gold-plated option, you gotta pay for it."

I'd love to hear President Obama say #2 in today's speech; it seems similar to what some proposals say, but the message coming out of DC is way too complex and doesn't state this as clearly as I think I have.
As for #3 - I'd be open to setting up non-profit co-ops *now*, and evaluating their performance in 5 years - if they don't work, amalgamate the co-ops into a public option in 2013.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Healthcare reform debate on Larry King Live

This post was too long for a Tweet, hence the rare foray back into (non-micro) blogging!
Just happened to catch a Larry King show with Elizabeth Edwards (yes, her!) and Tommy Thompson. The few minutes I was able to bear went something like this:

Thompson: Everybody can be covered with tax credits. Competition between private insurers will bring costs down.
Edwards: Well, the last time Republicans had the chance to reform anything in healthcare, they didn't allow the federal government to negotiate prices for prescription drugs, protecting the private companies at the cost of consumers.
Thompson: Republicans want to protect consumers, Democrats want to destroy the healthcare system.
Larry King: You both are wonderful.

Dumbass. I switched instantly.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Switching media...

As I have mentioned earlier, I am also on Twitter. But these days, I rarely blog, and instead just Tweet my thoughts. Of course, this means there aren't any long(-winded?) analyses of news/events, just whatever fits into 140 characters! And it tends to be transient - I am likely just one of many Twits you follow, so it's easy to miss my thoughts.
But that's OK - it's not like many folks read me regularly anyway. Might as well face the truth.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Never tell me things can't get worse!

As the title says.  Back at IIT-B, one of my seniors said, "don't worry, Professor X never gives lower than a BB."  Guess what I got?  A BC.  Story of my life - breaking barriers no-one should!

Today was another one of those days.  Started off with a severe cramp in one leg, which got worse through the day, and is only now easing off.  Still, I doubt I will hit the gym tomorrow.
Next, I hear from my landlady about extending my lease.  These days, I am trying to buy a condo, but haven't had much success.  Figured I'd try to get a month-to-month lease.  But my landlady's position was that she couldn't let me stay beyond my current lease, which ends June 30, for two reasons: (a) it's hard to rent the apartment in the middle of the school year (fair enough); and (b) she wants to refurbish the apartment in between my departure and arrival of the new tenant.  I managed to talk her into letting me stay till July 10.  This means I have to find a condo by the first week of June, close on July 1 or 2, and move in the week after that.  Do-able...
Except - I might be in North Carolina the end of June/beginning of July for experiments at the EPA!  So that's going to be an especially joyous time... Might have to live at an extended-stay hotel for a couple weeks while I find another place, unless things fall into place in June.
Things then got even better.  A new policy at work - everybody's documents will be moved to the server, ostensibly for easier back-ups both on- and off-site.  This might be OK for most people who just work with M$ Office and kb-sized documents.  But I work with data - and GOBS of it.  Even with Gigabit Ethernet, I am not sure I trust running my >500 MB Igor experiments, which access GB-sized data files, off the server over the network.  [This is not like running experiments on a supercomputer/mainframe - my local CPU will still be running the processes, just transferring *data*, not commands, to-and-from the server.]  In addition, if automated, regular back-up was the purpose of this move, I haven't seen anything implemented yet for the TBs of data I have on my desktop and numerous external hard-drives (more like a few hundred GBs, backed up on different hard-drives - I know my s***!)  Ended up copying My Documents back to my local computer.  Given the slow network speeds, that was a frustrating 3 hours I didn't want to spend today.

Things can't get worse, right?  D-oh!  I finally get a review on my recent submission, and it seems a nasty one.  Though the paper was reviewed internally by 4 other PhDs (including 3 senior scientists/faculty members) before submission, apparently the paper lacks clarity and organization.  The reviewer stopped short of rejecting the paper, but at the end of this day, s/he might as well have.

Got back home, tried to watch TV... Can't get my mind off the review.  Ended up working on it, taking notes of what I need to do, and found most comments relatively easy to address, even though more data analysis is required.  Oh well.  At least I feel better now.  12yo Glenfiddich helps.
Maybe I will indeed get a pet soon - a King Charles spaniel, maybe, who loves me unconditionally (except for the food part, of course), irrespective of whether my submissions suck, and will always let me know I am a great guy, with no "but..."

Monday, May 4, 2009

National political environment assessment by GOP agency

Wilson Research Strategies, a Republican outfit, just released an assessment of the national political environment for May. (via @PatrickRuffini)  Mainly, they say while Obama remains personally popular, folks are not as supportive of his policies, which, they say, makes him like Carter and not Clinton.  Also, apparently Obama is not helping Congressional Democrats, which leaves them optimistic about the GOP's chances of regaining control of the House in 2010 - assuming the GOP develops an overarching response to the Obama administration, rather than a piecemeal approach.

A few questions and observations:
1. Slide 10 - "independents beginning to have doubts" - Obama's approval rating among Independents is relatively steady at ~60% (slide 9), so this statement isn't correct.
2. The "Obama is most polarizing President" meme - slide 11 - has been hashed over many-a-time.  In short, Obama is more popular among Democrats than any previous President, and the Republicans these days are just the hard Conservative core (e.g. the Arlen Specter party switch), so obviously they don't like anything Obama does.
3. Slide 14: Are Obama's ratings more like Carter or Clinton?  No comparables are provided.
4. Slide 16: Only 6% think negatively of Obama for "not reaching out to Republicans."  Clearly, Obama doesn't have to worry about appearing partisan!
5. Slide 17: WRS says support for Obama's economic policies is soft.  But only 21% oppose President Obama's economic policies!  The rest either support Obama and/or his policies (knowing or hoping they work), or support Obama for what he's trying to do, though they doubt his policies will work.  (And I thought teabaggers were a MAJORITY of the population! /snark)
6. Opposition to bailouts and impact of teaparties in slides 22-23: I sure would like to see non-Rasmussen polls for these questions.  Ras has a known house effect in favor of Republicans, even going so far as to pen an anti-Obama WSJ op-ed while claiming to be an independent pollster. [See Mark Blumenthal/Charles Franklin for a detailed explication of Rasmussen's WSJ claims.]

However, it is an interesting look at one Republican viewpoint, and it definitely is a way for Republicans to frame the debate so that they regain power.  Question is, will they be able to overcome, in particular, the Obama administration, which has proved very adept at communicating their policies with the public.  As proof, see #5/Slide 17.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Obama's 1st-100-days presser

Quick thoughts as I listen to the 100-day-presser:
1. First question on H1N1 swine flu - praises Bush administration for preparedness following bird flu! Self-identifies as part of a group of Congressmen who worked with Bush admin. for this.
2. "I'd like to get the US government out of the auto business as soon as possible!"  Seems to know what's happening at Chrysler, well-prepared.
3. On torture, recalls an article about ~200 prisoners in Britain during WWII, and Churchill apparently saying "we don't torture."  And did previous administration sanction torture? "Waterboarding was torture and prev. admin.'s reasonings were a mistake."
"Public reports that info was obtained through torture do not answer question whether info could be obtained without torture, and whether torture made us safer.  Will do whatever is needed to keep people safe, but without taking shortcuts that undermine who we are."
4. Chuck Todd wants to move to Pakistan?  No, just a question on Pak nuclear arsenal falling into Taliban hands.  POTUS more concerned about fragility of civilian government not able to deliver basic services.  Should move away from thinking of India as mortal threat, and focus on Taliban/Al-Qaeda militancy (agreed - RS.)  Not going to engage in hypotheticals about securing Pak nukes.
5. Specter!!  (But he just voted NO on budget!  What filibuster-proof majority?! - RS)  Congress is an equal branch of government, will have to compromise with opinionated Senators.  But bipartisanship does not mean accepting same failed principles of past eight years!
6. Abortion: moral+ethical issue. Not just about women's freedom!? Other factors as well, which women have to wrestle with on individual basis, they don't take it lightly, hence pro-choice.
7. Surprised by so many problems coming to head at same time, 7-8 big problems when typical POTUS has 2-3.  Troubled by slow pace of change in DC.  Enchanted!?  Service men and women - not enchanted, but proud and grateful [Would have expected servicemen/women mention for humbled - RS.]  Humbled by... missed it - POTUS has extraordinary power??  Ship of state is an oceanliner/battleship - takes a while to move.  Humbled by patience of American people [AHHH.... the other safe answer! - RS].
8. Immigration reform!  Illegal immigration means exploitation of Mexican workers crossing dangerous border even as they depress US wages.  Need to work with Gutierrez and McCain?  Get people out of the shadows.  Maybe no legislation this year, but process will get started.
9. Black male unemployment rate in NYC is 50%!?  POTUS: Every step we are taking is designed to help *all* people, but those who need most help will get most help? [Does Obama avoid answering in any way that might indicate favoritism toward Blacks?  Recall question from Black woman during primaries, about immigrants stealing jobs from minorities.  Typical White POTUS might have answered differently.]
10. State secrets doctrine criticized by candidate Obama but used by POTUS Obama's Justice.  Why?  Need to finesse that blunt instrument. [Not sure Dahlia Lithwick/Slate would agree... We need Open Government, right? - RS]
11. Like any shareholder, American taxpayers have right to see how money's being spent. If Japs can create hybrids, so can Americans, doggone it! [All too true! - RS]
12. "If I were given humming auto industry/banks, but have to deal with Iraq, Afghanistan, NKorea... and a pandemic, I'd take that deal!  I don't want to grow government, I want a lean government!"

Nicely done.  He was well-prepared, and used humor as appropriate.  Not as much follow-up questions, but took about 15 questions.  Yes, I definitely like this as a regular feature - screw Faux News if they don't want to broadcast it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Obama and the Bush torture memos

This week, the Government released 4 Bush-era "torture" memos - legal advice from the Justice Department lawyers authorizing torture techniques to be used on GWoT detainees.  President Obama apparently suggested a "forget and move on" policy, angering many on the Left.  Dahlia Lithwick, as always, has a great read on this issue.  Lithwick quotes President Obama:
This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America's ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence.
Emphasis added by me.  Lithwick also quotes Keith Olbermann:
This country has never 'moved forward with confidence' without first cleansing itself of its mistaken past. In point of fact, every effort to merely draw a line in the sand and declare the past dead has served only to keep the past alive and often to strengthen it.
Lithwick observes that the 3 memos that came out in 2005 "reinstated the torture regime Bradbury's predecessor, Jack Goldsmith, withdrew in 2004 for being "sloppily reasoned" and "legally flawed"" precisely because the earlier torture memo did not result in any penalty.

This take from Lithwick is precisely the reaction I had to President Obama's "forget and move on" suggestion.  The entire premise of law-and-order - penalizing people for crimes they commit - is not just punishment, but also deterrence of future criminal acts.  Not that it stops many criminals, but still.  So is President Obama saying we should not take criminals - of any kind, white collar lawyers, blue collar commoners - to task?  If someone kills 20 people, let's try to put it behind us and move on?

All this fulminating may well come to nought, however.  As Lithwick observes, it may not even be possible to prosecute either the lawyers who gave this bad "torture is legal" advice or the actual people who tortured - because the former did not torture, and the latter were assured by their superiors that what they were doing was legal!  And yet... as Lithwick reiterates: "the real risk of getting over it is the possibility that it happens all over again."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Focus of US troops in Afghanistan

Congressman Polis wrote a post about his recent trip to Afghanistan. He objects to the troop surge, since they apparently are not fighting Al-Qaeda. I am a little puzzled, hence this comment - which I was unable to post on his blog at

You probably have a better idea of what the US troops are expected to do in Afghanistan, but I didn't see that in this post. I thought they were supposed to fight Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and train Afghan troops - not occupy the country like Iraq. A bit hard to occupy Afghanistan with just 70k troops - half the deployment in Iraq, which has a similar population, and dare I say, friendlier terrain.
As an aside, till you get to go back and move freely, I'd recommend a neat Indian movie - Kabul Express. I would be glad to lend you my copy the next time you return to Boulder :-)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

On local media: The Deuce

Recently, KWGN/Ch2 rebranded itself The Deuce, and moved its programming around.  The local news is at 7.00 PM instead of 9.00 PM earlier (itself a head start on the usual 10.00 PM newshour.)  This meant I was quite confused last Thursday when I switched on the telly and didn't find Smallville - instead, talk about the Cutler saga.  So I was bummed for a while.

Some thoughts off the top of my head:
1. Maybe a 7.00 PM newshour is a good time - so I can watch something else at 7.00 PM and not miss my Ch2 shows.
- Gossip Girl!? vs The Big Bang Theory/How I Met Your Mother?  Still, I watch Two-and-a-Half Men at 8.00 PM - sorry, but CBS wins Monday nights.
- Still, I can come home late from work, before 8.00 PM, and not miss The Reaper or Smallville (though the latter should be pulled... Grow the frak up, Superman!)

2. On the other hand - just watched Daybreak on Deuce, the morning show.  What I liked was its focus on local stuff - where NBC has Today or CBS/ABC have their national morning shows, The Deuce appears to have a purely-local morning hour (maybe I am wrong.)  But I much prefer to hear from Denver Mayor Hickenlooper on the TV - I get my national news online, and much of the national morning shows are blather anyway.

3. If Ch2 wanted to pull me in for the 7.00 PM newshour - I'd like a focus on local issues, maybe coverage of local businesses or even better, the arts scene.  Maybe have one of the many local bands play, along with a brief interview, and tease it via Tweets all day long.  Maybe the 7.00 PM newshour does this anyway, but I don't know about it (hence, the Tweasers!)

Off to work!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

On climate change, and "The civil heretic" - Freeman Dyson

The NYT magazine has a long profile on Freeman Dyson, particularly his skepticism on the ill-effects and severity of climate change.  Dyson suggests engineering carbon-eating trees (consuming CO2 more than normal), apparently an idea he had a couple decades back.  Among other things, he suggests climate warming may be good (e.g. making Greenland more habitable), while solutions to reduce anthropogenic climate warming - moving away from carbon fuels, particularly coal - are disadvantageous to developing economies like China (and, presumably, India/Africa.)

Reading the article, a couple things struck me.  First, most climate scientists agree that anthropogenic climate change* is real and dangerous; hence the IPCC consensus report.  However, this perhaps makes certain scientists treat this consensus as orthodoxy to be rebeled against; certainly this appears to be one reason for Dyson's opposition. [There's perhaps also a romantic notion that science is really about one person with a good idea, as a colleague described Michael Crichton's opposition to anthropogenic climate change. What such folks don't realize is that this one person could also be dead wrong.]

Second, and again another reason for Dyson's opposition, is that the solution requires enormous changes in the current fossil fuel-based infrastructure (never mind Dyson's own idea for a massive energy-collecting shell orbiting a star - talk about enormous!)  Replacing the entire carbon infrastructure at one go is, indeed, a major task, which will frighten government bean counters and the public alike (though politicians do like huge solutions.)
What I would suggest, instead, is a combination of (a) carbon sequestration; (b) nuclear energy; and (c) decentralized/local energy solutions.  Carbon sequestration allows continued use of cheap coal and oil, while reducing or eliminating CO2 emissions (what I understand by "clean coal").  Second, nuclear energy is, in the long run, the only safe, large-scale energy source to provide for the aspirations of the billions living in China, India and Africa (clumping all African nations into one here, and why not?)  Third, distributed, decentralized energy sources like wind energy, geothermal, even solar, are probably more efficient than a central coal or nuclear energy plant that depends on a lossy transmission grid, while moving us toward a renewable energy structure that might perhaps be more comforting to opponents of nuclear energy.

Finally, there are good reasons to move to non-carbon energy outside of climate considerations. First, that fossil fuels are limited, and will run out - if not in the next 50 years, likely in a couple of centuries.  Second, and more immediate, national security - countries like the US and India cannot continue to depend on an unstable Middle East or Venezuela for their growing energy needs.  This last reason alone should be good enough to convince most right-wing skeptics (and folks like Dyson, who loves Obama and loathes Bush!) of the need for a non-carbon energy future.

*I am uncomfortable with the term "global warming" - because while the average temperature of the earth will increase, regional changes will be different due to the effects of aerosols and other factors.  Some places will get much hotter, others will get colder.  Hence, my insistence on climate change.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

For the good old days...

...yes, I am talking about The Wonder Years!  [Though I was probably 14-15 when it was shown in India.  Yes, even 14 or 15 would be better.]

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

President Obama's second prime-time press conference

Thoughts and observations from Obama's second prime-time press conference which just concluded: (This started as tweets!)

1. Obama giving people follow-up questions - good! But he still manages to avoid drawing lines - like not signing budget w/o cap-n-trade! [Except perhaps for #3 below?]
2. Bush used Tony Blair/Aussie ex-PM Howard to support his Iraq War. Obama used Aussie PM Kevin Rudd/ British PM Gordon Brown to support global stimulus spending!
3. Capping charitable deductions: Obama finally said it - tax deductions should not be the determining factor in giving! Also, 28% is still a good tax break!
4. Obama called on Major Garrett of Fox - and now, someone from the Wa Times! Ain't avoiding them, for sure...
5. On the Washington Times question, about stem cells: Obama struck a suitably grim tone, while explaining the use of embryos that would otherwise be discarded (not grown specifically to generate stem cells) to explore treatments for debilitating diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.  Also acknowledged progress with adult stem cells, and moral/ethical considerations in addition to scientific criteria.
6. Question about deficit rising after year 4-5 (by when - 2012! - it should be cut in half): That's because savings in entitlements (Medicare/Medicaid) won't be apparent till after 10-year window. But have to make investments in education, energy and health care to improve economy and ensure growth, which will reduce deficits. Otherwise will continue to have structural deficits such as entitlements without economic growth.
7. Ann Compton of ABC News was surprised to be called on - wonder why?  Because Obama had already asked "Jake" (Tapper!) a question?
8. Finished with a question from the AFP on the Israel-Palestine conflict with the new hardline Israeli government - "certainly hasn't made [a solution] easier!"  But said persistence is key.  Though - Obama appeared to use Geithner's toxic assets plan as an example of persistence!  Is that good or bad for Geithner?!

Overall, I am liking this more and more - I hope Obama does a monthly televised presser.  Just hope he moves on beyond now-cliched campaign talking points - "go line by line to eliminate waste" should be replaced with specific examples.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Meet and greet with Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO)

A couple days back I got an e-mail about Senator Bennet's visit to Boulder (Bennet wiki).  Bennet is the replacement for now-Secretary Ken Salazar, and will be up for election in 2010.
The gathering was at a South Boulder/Shanahan Ridge home, about 6 miles away.  Figured I'd ride my bike - unfortunately, it was uphill for a good bit, and the ride took me about 40 minutes.  At least it was a good day for a bike ride!

Senator Bennet gave a speech, and I got in toward the end.  Told a couple cute stories about his kids - he was head of the Denver public school system before his appointment to the Senate.  Then there was a Q&A session.

A wide range of questions - climate change/cap-and-trade (he will vote for it), card check (undecided), school system reform (said existing system was not working except for some pockets - presumably, like Denver).  Someone asked about bank nationalization, and he said "at 80% owned by the federal government, it's pretty much nationalized!" [Talking about AIG; the US government owns 36% of Citi.]  But the fear of "socialism" keeps them from calling nationalization just that.  Talked about how he was considered for the Education Secretary's post that eventually went to Arne Duncan, and how Obama personally called him (Bennet) to tell him he was not selected.  Bennet was apparently one of the early supporters of Obama's presidential bid, so "nobody can try to separate me from Obama!"
A peace-nik asked him about President Obama's plans for Afghanistan - "war is not the answer!"  His response - there are dangerous elements in Afghanistan and along the border with Pakistan, so "you and I are probably not on the same page at this time."  Yay!

As expected, with a crowd of about 100, time ran out.  He remained for a few minutes, talking with people, and I got a chance to say hello.  Thanked him for his reply to the Afghanistan question - he said yes, we can't just up-and-leave. [Words to that effect.]
He asked me where I was from - "India." "Which part?" "Bombay." "I was born in Delhi!"  His father worked in the US Consulate in the 60s, so his parents lived there for 4 years, he was there for one.  He apparently visited India in the '90s; "I would love to go back!"  You should, Senator!

Definitely not a typical politician, but as he himself said, he won't be for a couple years (as people keep reminding him he was only appointed!)  Oh well (to his eventual conversion).  I like him, though, and who knows - maybe I might even campaign for him!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Academia: A Ponzi scheme?

An article in the NYT today talks about PhD scholars, typically in the humanities, not expecting a good faculty and even postdoc job market.  Important factors include:
1. The rough economy reducing funding for academic hires (this is true, from personal experience.)
2. With 401k values tanking with the stock market, older faculty members putting off retirement.
3. Reduced funding in general, and difficulty of raising external funding for certain fields such as the humanities.
An associate professor of English at Hope College, William Pannapacker, actually counsels students not to pursure graduate education in the humanities, unless they are independently wealthy or well-connected.  [Hey, I'd agree with that!]

A thought occurred to me - could academia be a ponzi scheme?  Each professor has 3-4 graduate students at any given time, getting a PhD.  Not all of them want faculty positions - seeing the workload of, particularly, tenure-track faculty has scared quite a few people off that idea.  I don't know what the fraction of the group does want a faculty position, either (if I did a little research, maybe I could find out... But this is a blog, not an education journal article!)  But if each existing faculty member in a research university graduates a faculty job-seeking PhD every 3-4 years, then there will be far more applicants than jobs.  After all, there are only so many universities with so many students - that need only a set number of faculty members.

This is something we see every day - 80-100 applicants or more for each opening; chemistry PhDs putting out 30 applications or more in hopes of getting 2-3 interviews and *maybe* one offer.

Even PhDs who don't want a faculty position will likely face a stagnant job market - there are only so many research labs.  Further, with a surplus supply and a reduced demand, wages will not be what PhDs might consider appropriate. [Even lower than "just" engineers?  Yes.]

And of course, the advisors don't reduce their graduate student intake - how could they, since they want to get research done?

When supply keeps outstripping demand, and the disparity only grows with time - does that resemble a ponzi scheme?  Admittedly, that is just the latest Madoff-inspired buzzword, but at the very least, it looks like a pyramid scheme.  Am I wrong?  Or did I just have another epiphany?

[This could just be sour grapes, of course.]
Update, 7/14/2016: Of course, someone has done the research (link), and come up with the metric "Ro", which is the number of PhDs each faculty member graduates. Ro=1 means that adviser will be replaced by her/his student. For environmental engineering, Ro = 19, though "Civil/Environmental Engineering" clocks in much lower at 2.5. Mechanical Engineering is 5.5.
Note that Ro = 1 means that either the graduate waits till his/her adviser retires before becoming faculty. So it would be best if the student graduated close to when the adviser retires. Obviously, this does not make sense for the adviser's research career.
Besides, other universities often expand their own research, so Ro = 1 is not sustainable, either. But maybe 19 is too damn high.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Buying a home in Boulder

Boulder is an expensive place to buy a home - a 3BR home normally goes for $400-500k.  Folks often live in nearby places like Louisville, where prices can be half that in Boulder (I think).

The recent housing crisis, as far as I could tell, hasn't affected the Boulder market - prices here stayed about the same.  Now there's definitive proof this is indeed the case: a local realtor, Neil Kearney, writes that Boulder ranks 17th nationally in APpreciation!  The annual home price appreciation is 2.99% in Boulder, compared to a nationwide DEpreciation of over 8%.  He even has a graph...

So if I want to keep living inside Boulder - I have to keep renting.  Oh well.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

On Twitter now!

So finally - after even my sister* signed up - I now Twitter.  The best line award, though, goes to SA in response to my saying so on FB: "Did you twitter that you were going to update your facebook status?"
Twitter seems better suited to quick thoughts... even more abbreviated than blogging!  Like my getting pissed at Senator Judd Gregg claiming POTUS is raising taxes on *everybody* - right after POTUS announces no raise for people earning less than $250k.  Same content, quicker, still not worth following...?

*My sister is no technophobe - but she only recently started blogging ;-)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Obama's State of the Nation address

Just watched Obama's first address to Congress.  Pretty good, I thought - and I went through two beers cheering him (even stopped drinking about 2/3-rds of the way through!)
Most important: "Get a high school diploma - for your country!"  Encouraging every American to get at least a year of education after, whether 4-year/community college, vocational training, etc.  And another push for his "tuition subsidy for community service" idea.  Asked Congress to get the Hatch-Kennedy bill to his desk (what is that about?)
Second - health care reform can't wait any more, not a hundred years after Teddy Roosevelt first said reform must occur (at least, I think the Teddy R reference was to health care reform!)
Third - renewable energy sources, with equipment made here in the US (not batteries from Korea).  Shame that China is apparently spending more on energy than anyone else (IIRC.)  I wonder if that will worry folks about protectionism...
Of course, talk about the economic stimulus plan, details for the housing and banking recovery plans.  Especially reducing yearly mortgages by $2000/average American family.  Mentioned that Minnesota has 57 police officers on the roads due to the ESP.
And reducing the federal deficit by half during this term - but emphasizing repeatedly that folks making less than $250,000/year would not see a tax raise (a campaign promise).

I liked the address, obviously!

Bobby Jindal's up.  Sounds weird, like an exaggerated American accent.  The usual Republican clap-trap.  Computers for the Feds - that provides more business for companies and their suppliers and workers!  And as the POTUS points out, Jindal's complaining about 1-2% of the ESP, and using that to paint the rest of the effort with a broad brush.
Jindal's talking about $4 gas - saying we need to improve energy efficiency, increase renewable energy, and "drill, baby, drill!"  Guess what - the ESP tries to do that, at least two of the three.  Too bad he won't admit it.
Jindal's spouting boiler-plate Republican theology ("he will raise taxes!" - nevermind what Obama said about the 250k limit, see above), without addressing the actual POTUS speech, clearly playing politics.  Sad.

Update: Here's the full SOTN address:

Politics in the guise of science?

John Tierney writes in the NYT about Roger Pielke's assertion that scientists pretend to be neutral experts, while pushing their own political agenda through their research.  The best example, of course, is climate change - where Tierney suggests members of the public have differing solutions due to "conflicting values about which sacrifices are worthwhile today."
One of Pielke's solutions, which he says is research not being funded, is to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, as an alternative to a proposed "cap-and-trade" system.  To quote from the NYT article:

"Yet research into this strategy has received little financing in past budgets or the new stimulus package because it doesn’t jibe with the agenda of either side in the global-warming debate. Greens don’t want this sort of “technological fix”; their opponents don’t want to admit there’s anything to fix. And neither side’s advocates will compromise as long as they think that science will prove them right."

Two things:
(1) Removing CO2 from the atmosphere is inherently less efficient than controlling these emissions at the source.  That is the same reason that (I believe) solar energy will never provide the end-all solution to the energy crisis - there's lots of it, but too dilute to be effectively trapped.  I don't know what assumptions or methods Pielke used; I think I have mentioned this problem to Pielke at a seminar he gave at CU, and he might have acknowledged this fact.
(2) Trapping CO2 from the atmosphere - who pays?  I am not sure, but it could be everybody.  The French, who use a lot of nuclear energy (that doesn't emit CO2).  Or even people within the US, who use wind energy or other alternative energy sources that don't emit CO2.  At least with programs that prevent CO2 emissions in the first place, we know who pays - the emitter, and the users of that emitter's product.

Now, for all I know, Pielke might just be advocating that these alternative ideas are not being funded as (in his opinion) they should be (at worst, he could be complaining that his research isn't getting funded).  At the very least, they deserve to be looked into, for sure (including seemingly crackpot ideas like putting scattering aerosol into the atmosphere).  And some removal of CO2 from the atmosphere might well be essential; controlling future emissions may not be enough, as CO2 currently being emitted (or emitted in the past) sticks around for a 100 years.

The best solution is to prevent the problem from even occurring ("prevention is better than cure"), and hence reducing CO2 emissions at the source remains, as far as I am concerned, the main solution.  And as for the "values" debate - that is just a divide between people who believe this Earth is their God-given right to abuse as they please, and other, more sensible people.

That's not politics in the guise of science - it's plain common sense.

Friday, February 20, 2009

That cartoon...

The New York Post recently published a cartoon by Sean Delonas, showing cops shooting a chimp, and one of the cops saying "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill."
This has provoked outrage among many people, including musician John Legend, the National Urban League president Marc Morial, Barbara Ciara (president of the National Association of Black Journalists), and the Rev. Al Sharpton.  [All listed in the CNN story are African-American.]  Their point - the chimp represents President Obama (Blacks are often racially taunted by a comparison with apes), and the cartoon encourages his assassination.
The Post subsequently apologized - sort of.  To the people who were offended, but not to those who apparently are regularly opposed to the Post and were (according to the Post) just using the opportunity to beat the Post.  The cartoonist has claimed he was just trying to say that the economic stimulus bill was written by monkeys (who, apparently, are not intelligent.)

The first thing I thought of when I saw the cartoon (admittedly, through a story describing the protests) is that the chimp represented President Obama.  It's not just Blacks who are subject to the chimp comparison - so are aboriginals.  Indian spectators have taunted Australian cricketer Andrew Symonds with a monkey chant (local police tried to explain it away as "praying to the monkey god, Hanuman" - but the picture defeats this lame defense.)
Then again, I do not live in the northeast, and I am not consumed by the mauling-chimp story.

Still, in this day and age, where the Internet has made most local papers global, particularly a prominent rag like the NY Post... using such localized news to comment on an issue of national importance is, at best, plain stupid.  At worst...

On the other hand - does freedom of speech trump everything else?  Yes - but that won't stop me encouraging a boycott of the NY Post unless it apologizes without caveat.  That too, is freedom of expression.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The chutzpah of Republican Congressmen

Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate minority leader, on the economic stimulus package:
"This is not the smart approach... The taxpayers of today and tomorrow will be left to clean up the mess."
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) described the ESP as "generational theft." [link]

I will try to find Harry Reid's response during the stimulus conference between the House and the Senate on Wednesday, to similar allegations made by Republicans at the conference - it was just beautiful, and I don't like Reid all that much.

In short, and using more colorful language than Reid: Where the f*** were you the last eight years?

All together now: IRAQ WAR + BUSH TAX CUTS = GENERATIONAL THEFT.  So STFU, EVERYBODY (including Democrats), unless you have better ideas than just tax cuts (which failed to stimulate the economy last year; most people saved or paid off debt.)

[And I haven't even mentioned the $70 billion PORK pushed by REPUBLICAN Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in the form of the AMT patch - something the non-partisan CBO says will NOT stimulate the economy, and which has received the lowest grade of D- for stimulus effectiveness from the Tax Policy Center at the Brookings Institute. (via CJR)]

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Remove the AMT patch from the stimulus package!

This is a message I sent to Senator Bennet (D-CO); a similar message was sent to Senator Udall (D-CO) and Congressman Polis:
"I was a canvas captain in North Boulder for the Obama-Udall campaigns, and am glad we were able to win the election. I hope to work for your successful re-election in the future.
The compromise economic stimulus package includes a 1-year Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) patch. However, these short-term fixes to the AMT have been an annual feature for a while now. If the AMT patch was not included in the current, one-time, special stimulus package, the AMT patch would be passed by Congress later in the year anyway!
Including the AMT patch increases the cost of the stimulus package*, and has driven many worthy spending projects, particularly in education, out of the stimulus bill.
The AMT patch was forced in by Senator Grassley (R-IA), who isn't even voting for the stimulus bill!
I strongly urge you, Senator, to remove the AMT patch from the stimulus package, and avoid cuts in useful spending, particularly funding for NCLB, Head Start/Early Start, and Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service."

* Should have noted - by $69 billion!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Non-DC Republicans in support of the ESP

The Republican mayor of Carmel, IN, James Brainard, supports the stimulus package:

As does Governor Jim Douglas (R-VT).  I'd probably put Governor Douglas with Senators Snowe, Collins and Specter - GOP remnants in Blue states (IN barely went for Obama).  But it also reflects a sensible approach - try something, to paraphrase FDR.
Unlike inside-the-beltway-idiots Michael Steele and John McCain, who either want their bill (all tax cuts, gut SS/Medicare, with a token nod to infrastructure spending), or none at all.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and the AMT patch

One Republican Senator has actually added $69 billion to the House bill - Chuck Grassley (R-IA) got an "avoid Alternative Minimum Tax" line into the ESP, and the Obama administration has agreed to this.  But guess what - all these years, the AMT has been "patched" by Congress on an annual basis. [Wiki, CNN]
So why not just leave that AMT provision for another day, as has been done all through the Bush presidency?  That automatically brings the cost of the current, one-time ESP down by $69 billion!
Various cuts have been proposed by a bipartisan Senate group led by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Ben Nelson (D-NE) to bring the "cost" of the ESP down by ~$100 billion.  This includes $40 billion in aid to states for fiscal stabilization (which might help avoid laying off of state employees, possibly including teachers), $600 million for NCLB, $2 billion for "Health Information Technology", $1 billion for Head Start/Early Start, and $2 billion for broadband (Internet infrastructure - the roadways of the future).  So if the AMT patch was not included in the cost of the stimulus package, these items could have been retained without increasing the cost beyond $800 billion.
And the worst thing is, Senator Grassley has not announced his support for the current bill either - Collins, Snowe and Specter are the only Republicans to back it.  So - the Democrats should cut the AMT patch out of the ESP, and let these other worthies back in!

New Gingrich on the Obama approach to the ESP

Just watched one-time Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich on George Stephanopoulos/This Week.  Newt says the Obama administration could have either tried to be bipartisan and worked with the Republicans in making the ESP, or be partisan and say "we don't need the GOP" - but not the "zig-zagging" between the two.
First, I don't see where the Obama administration has zig-zagged its way between strategies.  Second, a bipartisan bill was what the Obama administration wanted - but it was the fault of Republicans that this didn't work out.  Republicans wanted the same old failed strategies of the past eight years - tax cuts and more tax cuts*.  It takes two to tango; intransigent Republicans didn't want a bipartisan bill, they wanted a Republican bill passed by a Democratic President.  The Obama administration had no choice but to face this reality, and accept it.

*Particularly, as Newt pointed out, cuts in Social Security and Medicare taxes, programs which the Republicans have wanted to gut forever.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Ron Paul on the ESP

Ron Paul, the lone anti-war GOP Presidential hopeful (but weirdly, anti-abortion rights for a libertarian), apparently thinks the economic stimulus package is "pure spending."  He is proud of the House Republicans for not voting for the ESP, and thinks Senators Collins (R-ME), Snowe (R-ME) and Specter (R-PA) "caved in and went with the Democrats" by agreeing to vote for the ESP.
To be fair, Paul says Republican actions over the past eight years are also to blame for the current economic crisis, and Republicans can't blame Democrats for it.
However, the problem is that Ron Paul is not in government and is not responsible for the consequences of his proposed actions - let the stimulus be provided by "market forces, by individuals, by businesses making proper decisions" and not by the federal government (which, presumably, should only concern itself with preventing women from having control over their own bodies.)
Besides, in case Paul forgets, the current economic crisis was caused by "market forces, by individuals, by businesses making [im]proper decisions" - and there's no guarantee that these verisame idiots have seen the error of their ways.  For instance, the $18 billion in bonuses to Wall St executives and junkets - (indirectly) paid for by tax payer bailout money.
Memo to Ron Paul: Either come up with a better, new idea, or STFU.

Pork in the ESP

Senator John McCain and other Republicans keep charging that the stimulus bill is packed with "pork" - presumably spending on Congressmen's pet projects in their different states/districts.  McCain et al. claim this is wasteful spending that increases the budget deficit (never mind that the same people supported the Bush tax cuts, which lead to the existing huge deficit in the first place).
Here's an idea - how about cutting out all portions of the bill that send such "pork" to the protesting legislator's district/state?  "No funds for Arizona!"
McCain presented an alternative plan that was composed mainly of tax cuts (defeated by the Senate), and Mitt Romney apparently claims that the ESP stimulates the government, not the economy (which, presumably, needs only tax cuts, and more tax cuts).  Memo to McCain (and Romney) - you LOST.  You put forth such plans and "pork" was the signature issue of your campaign, compared to the "not big or small government, but better goverment!" rhetoric of Obama.  And guess which path the American people chose?  That's right, NOT YOURS.  So stuff it!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Republicans adding CRAP to the ESP

Senate Republicans are delaying passage of the Obama administration's economic stimulus package.  Senators Lindsey Graham and John "I don't know much about the economy" McCain, among others, claim the government is spending too much, and have proposed alternatives more heavy on tax breaks.  Recent Republican proposals, perhaps sensing public support for the ESP, are proposing a somewhat populist "help for homeowners" provision.  Centrist Senators like Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Susan Collins (R-ME) are trying to whittle down spending in the current ESP. (NYT story)  I have written earlier about some silly expenses as well.

One Republican Senator has actually added $69 billion to the House bill - Charles Grassley (R-IA) got an "avoid Alternative Minimum Tax" line into the ESP, and the Obama administration has agreed to this.  But guess what - all these years, the AMT has been "patched" by Congress on an annual basis. [Wiki]
So why not just leave that AMT provision for another day, as has been done all through the Bush presidency?  That automatically brings the cost of the current, one-time ESP down by $69 billion!
UPDATE: Various cuts have been proposed by a bipartisan Senate group led by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Ben Nelson (D-NE) to bring the "cost" of the ESP down by ~$100 billion.  This includes $40 billion in aid to states for fiscal stabilization (which might help avoid laying off of state employees, possibly including teachers), $600 million for NCLB, $2 billion for "Health Information Technology", $1 billion for Head Start/Early Start, and $2 billion for broadband (Internet infrastructure - the roadways of the future).  So if the AMT patch was not included in the cost of the stimulus package, these items could have been retained without increasing the cost beyond $800 billion.
And the worst thing is, Senator Grassley has not announced his support for the current bill either - Collins, Snowe and Specter are the only Republicans to back it.  So - the Democrats should cut the AMT patch out of the ESP, and let these other worthies back in!

Sunday, February 1, 2009


After this morning's semi-disappointment - Federer losing to Nadal in the Australian Open - the day ended well with the Steelers' sixth Superbowl victory, beating the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 in a thriller.
The game was good, almost erasing memories of SB XL.  The Steeler defense held the vaunted Arizona offense in check for most of the first half, with James Harrison's 100-yd interception return for a touchdown the highlight.  The Arizona O-line held off the Pittsburgh blitzers almost all day, except for crucial plays - a couple holding calls, a sack, and a forced fumble to end the game.  Coach Grimm (ex-PIT) did a good job; ARI QB Kurt Warner also got rid of the ball quickly.   Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald did a great job in their second-half comeback; he will be a star for years to come.
But - the star was Ben Roethlisberger, PIT QB.  Even though he didn't shine like Warner, Big Ben came good when it counted - scrambling to avoid ARI defenders (the PIT O-line collapsed often, as expected) and making amazing throws.  Hines Ward made some good catches at the beginning (he was obviously still hurting from his injury in the AFC game two weeks back).  But slowly Santonio Holmes took over, and on the final drive, won MVP honors.  The best play of the game - over the Harrison INT-TD - was Big Ben's pin-point throw to Holmes over three Arizona defenders, a replica of the previous incomplete play, except at the opposite corner of the endzone.
At the end, it was good to hear Mr Rooney (a strong Obama supporter) thank President Obama and Steeler fans for their support - something to cheer da 'burgh in these desperate economic times.

The Pittsburgh Steelers.  The greatest franchise in football history, and we couldn't have better owners than the Rooneys.  Here's to more rings under 37-year-old Coach Mike Tomlin, a great pick by the Rooneys.

Blast those ESPN commentators!

Got up in the middle of last night, and got to watch the final three sets of the Australian Open between Federer and Nadal.  Nadal won, of course - an amazing feat after his epic semi-final.  I feel really sorry for Federer - he just doesn't seem to be able to beat Nadal these days.
But at the end, instead of showing the trophy ceremony, the ESPN commentators - I think Brad Gilbert, Darren something, and another guy - just kept talking and analyzing the match.  One of them even said "the ceremony is going on..." Why the heck would you not show it?  Frustrated, I switched off the TV.
Turns out, Federer broke down during the ceremony - he probably couldn't figure out how he lost (the fifth set was a complete disaster.)  A great champion showing his very human side - and I didn't see it because of the idiot commentators on ESPN.
I hate ESPN.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The new RNC chair

Michael Steele, one of the few African-American Republicans elected to public office, was today elected as the RNC Chairman.  He's from Maryland - a Blue state - and was apparently seen as a moderate.  But here's what he had to say to CNN earlier this month:
“I'm proud to say I'm a conservative, have been, always will be... So this notion that I’m a moderate is slightly overblown, and quite frankly a lie.”

So… being a moderate, like most of America (national exit polls for the 2008 POTUS election suggest 44% are moderate, 34% conservative and 22% liberal), is a slur to a Republican? No wonder the GOP is a regional party. Looks like Steele will continue that Grand Old Procession to Southern-party status.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The economic stimulus package

The ESP presented today apparently had some interesting inclusions:
1. The infamous $200 million for family planning, which has been taken out.
2. $650 million for digital TV converter-box coupons!!
3. $400 million for NASA climate change research.
[Washington Times link - yes, I know, WT, but still...]

#2 - are you freakin' kidding me?  On second thoughts, folks probably don't want to spend money on these boxes right now, with the economy in the toilet.  So what do they do - not watch TV?  The House today defeated a motion (actually, it didn't get the 2/3-rds majority required) delaying the transition to digital TV - Republicans opposed the delay.  Either Democrats strip the $650 million earmark and Republicans help pass the delay-bill; or the opposite happens.  Republicans can't oppose both; Democrats can't have both.
#3 - this could be a conflict of interest, but I suppose it could put some scientists back to work, and keep others (maybe including me?!) employed.  Still, I can understand Republicans not voting for the bill, alleging that Democrats are simply trying to advance a partisan agenda (though it is rather unfortunate that Republicans and idiots like Michael Crichton have politicized climate change research.)  Some of these inclusions need to be stripped from the bill.

Overall, though, the ESP has good spending - infrastructure, energy, digitizing hospital health records; hopefully this money will be spent soon.  As just reported on CNN/AC360, the non-partisan CBO says 64% of the spending will be over the next eighteen months.  Timothy Noah writes in that FDR's plan in the 1930s put 4 million people back to work in just two months - that's what Obama's plan has to live up to.

Update: On #1, Katha Pollitt writes in The Nation that birth control is health care, and if other health care provisions remain in the ESP, so should money allotted to Medicaid-provided contraception.  I might agree with that.
But she also goes on to quote a report in the NYT that according to the CBO, spending $550 million over ten years would save $200 million over five years.  She also states that birth control is an economic activity, and so should be helped (looking at what is being helped - wooden arrows from Oregon!? - this might even be a valid point!)  Two things.  Spend $550 million over ten years to save $200 million over five?  The Government saves more by not spending the $550 million in the first place!  Second, do birth rates go down (the point of contraception) in a Depression because the Government provides addition contraceptive aids?  As Pollitt herself writes, the answer is - because "People. Have. No. Money."  Then why should the Government provide extra funds for what will happen naturally?  Finally, wouldn't people having kids actually lead to greater economic activity than birth control?  So the government should really be subsidizing maternal and child care!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bill Kristol's last op-ed in the NYT (?)

Apparently, this is Bill Kristol's last column in the NYT.  Maybe since the President is not a Republican, the Gray Lady doesn't need a token Conservative any more?
Kristol expounds on his usual "Conservatism is better and more successful than Liberalism" trope.  Apparently, we are now at the end of an era of Conservatism, sayeth Kristol, but whether Liberalism will succeed depends on how President Obama performs.  Like Reagan to the "new" Conservatism in the '80s...

Two things.  I prefer the Libertarian, old Barry Goldwater-style Conservatism that said "you don't have to be straight to be in the Army, you just have to shoot straight!"  The one that said keep your Church out of my State.  The one that said keep the Government out of the private lives of the citizenry.  Not the "Government will decide whether Terry Schiavo lives or dies, whether two consenting adults can have sex, whether two loving adults can be married, whether a woman/girl can have an abortion, whether evolution is a fact"-type Christian Conservatism of Reagan/Bush/Gingrich/Bush and (apparently) Kristol.

Second, Kristol says "Conservative policies have on the whole worked — insofar as any set of policies can be said to “work” in the real world."  Well, the last eight years have seen that stubbornly sticking to tax cuts even in the face of two expensive wars doesn't do anybody any good.  The recent Wall Street crash - aided by Phil "nation of whiners" Gramm and DLC-er President Clinton, among others - has shown that The Market, unfettered, leads to excess and disaster.  And does Kristol really believe l'affaire Terry Schiavo, teaching "intelligent" design in science class, and denying aid to agencies in overpopulated, poor countries which don't have a puritanical streak just because they disseminate information about abortion or provide such services, is Good Government?  And I haven't even touched upon the Iraq War, pushed through by Chicken-Hawk Conservatives Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz.

Goodbye, Kristol.  You will not be missed.  [Actually, sometimes that can also be said for the rest of the Iraq War-cheerleading, Vicki Iseman-touting NYT.  Oh well.]

Hillary Clinton's replacement in the US Senate

Governor David Paterson (D-NY) this week appointed Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand ("D"-NY) as the replacement for ex-Senator Clinton.  Gillibrand is a Blue Dog Dem - she opposed the bank bailout last year and was actually endorsed by the NRA over her Republican opponent.  But she's also apparently pro-choice, and supports stem-cell research.  On LGBT issues, she was initially only in favor of civil unions and voted against allowing same-sex partners of US citizens/permanent residents the same immigration status as married heterosexual couples, but now apparently supports same-sex marriage. [Wiki]
Fortunately or unfortunately, this left Caroline Kennedy out in the cold.  Though she withdrew earlier in the week citing personal reasons, I think it is likely she figured out the writing on the wall and decided to exit as gracefully as she could.  If Paterson wanted Kennedy, he could have announced her appointment weeks ago.
A point Maureen Dowd makes in her NYT column struck me - Gillibrand's appointment means President Obama's economic stimulus package faces a tougher road in the Senate.  In the House, the package can pass without significant Republican support if required.  However, the Democrats do not have a filibuster-proof 60 seats in the Senate, and in any case, with Democratic Senators like Gillibrand and wackjob "independent Democrat" Lieberman, the Democrats may not vote 100% for the economic stimulus plan.

I wonder if Governor Paterson, in appointing a woman from upstate NY to help himself get elected, has cost President Obama his [Obama's] first big achievement.  Probably not (1), but Paterson hasn't helped Obama, that's for sure.

(1) Some might point to President Obama's executive order closing Gitmo within a year, but (a) Gitmo is still open; and (b) as MSNBC's FirstRead and the NYT (via FR) (among others) point out, will certain "special interrogation techniques" be retained and even written into the Army field manual, even as the President pledges not to torture?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Billy Joel

I do like Billy Joel.

Maybe you will laugh at my naivete; how can anyone like Joel's "contemptible crap"?  That is the view of Ron Rosenbaum, who calls Billy Joel the "worst pop singer ever."  Apparently, people "can't stand [Billy Joel] because of your music; because of your stupid, smug attitude; because of the way you ripped off your betters to produce music that rarely reaches the level even of mediocrity."

Boo, Rosenbaum!  You may not like Billy Joel, preferring Bob Dylan or someone else apparently so-superior to Billy Joel.  Good for you.  But I don't put you down for your musical tastes, do I?  Just because you are from Long Island, a la Billy Joel, doesn't give you the right to criticize Billy like a schoolyard Bully.  If you think Long Island gets a bad rap because of Billy Joel, well, maybe it should produce a Dylan.  Maybe you'd care to try?
[Must admire Rosenbaum's chutzpah - in the article, he accuses Jeff Jarvis of attempting a "snotty put-down" of another writer.]

I like Billy Joel.  I grew up with his music, which might explain why I like it (and why I have very little of Dylan).  Rosenbaum seems to have grown up with Dylan and early Springsteen; little wonder he can't name any other songsters for a comparison to Billy Joel.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hail to the Chief! [President Barack Hussein Obama!]

Just watched the Inauguration.  I am really glad President Obama used his full name, even though the usher announced him as Barack H. Obama.
Chief Justice Roberts sped through the first few words of the Oath, which caused Obama to stumble for a bit.  A little levity lightens the occasion!
Obama's speech was sombre, listing the challenges we face, but he also made it clear that America was ready to lead - foreign leaders and entities opposed to freedom and democracy beware!  It wasn't a great speech - not quite his race speech or the DNC-2004 keynote or his speech after the NH primary - but the occasion was momentous in itself, and Obama didn't need to add to it.

The Inaugural poem by Elizabeth Alexander left me a little underwhelmed... The closing prayer by founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Rev. Joseph Lowry, was quite good toward the end - "We ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to give back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man, and when white will embrace what is right."  I wish I could find C-Span's HD transmission - watched the Inauguration on CBS-HD, but the voice-over commentary by Katie Couric et al. was annoying (less so than CNN, I must note.)

A historic day, a new beginning.