Sunday, January 31, 2010

A New Emancipation Proclamation

By the President of the United States of America:

A Proclamation.

I, Barack Obama, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States in time of war, declare that all corporations within the confines of the United States are legally not persons and have no rights granted them by virtue of their alleged personhood. The rights of corporations are those specified by law and not any of those specified in the US Constitution.

All corporations shall mean each and every corporate entity which meets at least one of the following criteria:

  • is headquartered within the territory of the United States;
  • does business within the territory of the United States;
  • has bank accounts of any kind at any banking institution with a branch within the territory of the United States;
  • contributes to any political organization, PAC, political campaign, or other organization which spends money to influence elections or voting within the territory of the United States or of any corporation specified herein;
  • owns any real or intellectual property within the territory of the United States or registered with the US Government offices tasked with registering intellectual property;
  • owns any portion of any corporate entity described above

By virtue of their incorporeality, all corporations are not persons within the definitions of the Constitution and US Federal Law, and the rights of such corporations shall be limited to those specified by law explicitly describing their effect upon corporate entities and not physical human entities. Constitutional rights do not apply to corporations.

Upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity and in defense of our democratic form of government, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this first day of February, in the year of our Lord two thousand and ten, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred thirty-fourth.

By the President: BARACK OBAMA

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Fujitsu's IPAD is Apple Canada's EasyPay

(Photo: Fujitsu IPAD, Wall Street Journal, Apple Tablet Draws Jeers, Legal Rumblings Over iPad Name)

Apple's iPad device is getting a certain amount of attention just because of the name. Not only does iPad sound like a feminine hygiene product, Apple is actively attempting to recover Fujitsu's "abandoned" trademark in the US.

It turns out that there's a closer relationship between Apple and Fujitsu's IPAD than has been generally acknowledged. The Wall Street Journal provides the pieces:

The two companies could agree to share the trademark, with Apple potentially paying money in the settlement, legal experts say.

Apple has until late February to file an opposition to Fujitsu's trademark application at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The agency awards trademark registrations, which put other parties on notice that a company has claimed trademark rights. Even if Fujitsu succeeds in getting a trademark registration, it won't necessarily help the company prevail in a potential future court battle with Apple over the name, legal experts say.

And the article includes the above picture of the Fujitsu IPAD.

The Fujitsu IPAD is instantly recognizable to anyone who visits an Apple Store here in Canada as an EasyPay POS (Point of Sale) terminal -- used by Apple Store employees to scan product barcodes and process credit card payments.

(Originally posted at my personal blog: Mischievous Ramblings II)

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R.I.P. Sun Microsystems: 1982 - 2010

(h/t James Gosling, Inventor of Java)

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Don't You Talk About Gilligan's Island! Don't!

Joseph H. Johnson was charged with intimidating an aircraft flight crew member by writing a comment card rambling about the possibilities of the plane crashing and the passengers being trapped on Gilligan's Island with only Lovey Howell for female companionship.

The comment card read (apparently in full):
"I thought I was going to die, we were so high up, I thought to myself: I hope we don't crash and burn or worse yet, landing in the ocean, living through it, only to be eaten by sharks, or worse yet end up on someplace like Gilligan's Island, stranded, or worse yet, be eaten by a tribe of headhunters, speaking of headhunters, why do they just eat outsiders and not the family members? strange... and what if the plane ripped apart in mid-flight and we plumited (sic) to earth, landed on Gilligan's Island and then lived through it and the only woman there was Mrs. Thurston Howell III? No Mary anne (my favorite) no ginger, just lovey! If it were just her, I think I'd opt for the sharks, maybe the headhunters."

I understand that the feedback mechanisms promote this (the aircrew would be castigated if they ignored a possible threat, while there is no sanction for treating every little potential problem as if it were a bona fide danger to life and limb), but isn't this just a little overboard?

Most of my family is attending the 2010 William C. Shaw Lecture on 17 February. Airline "security" is one reason I'm not going.
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Thursday, January 28, 2010

"Dr." Wakefield, vax hack, showed "callous disregard"

Britain's Dr. Andrew Wakefield, already infamous for fixing the data to demonstrate a non-existent link between autism and vaccination, has been called "irresponsible and dishonest" by the General Medical Council:

The doctor who caused a national controversy by linking children's triple MMR vaccine to autism acted unethically and dishonestly and had failed in his duties as a responsible consultant, a disciplinary panel ruled on Thursday.

The General Medical Council (GMC) also said that Andrew Wakefield had shown a "callous disregard" for the suffering of children and had brought the medical profession "into disrepute."
Ninety pages of charges were brought against Dr. Wakefield, and the GMC will further consider "whether Wakefield's behaviour amounts to serious professional misconduct, which could lead to him being struck off the medical register".

We can only hope.
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iPad, therefore i...Read?

(in my mind, at Adobe, 1998)
A tablet-type device, 8"x10" (that's a 12-13" diagonal screen) or so, capable of displaying PDF, would be worth $1000. As this is pre-widespread wireless network, no thought of connectivity enters into the picture.

(in my mind, last week)
I don't know what the mythical Apple Tablet is going to be, but I would be happy with a device twice the size of the iPhone, which screen would be about 4x6, so long as I can:
  1. read Kindle books and PDFs on it;
  2. attach a keyboard in order to be able to type;
  3. run some large subset of either iPhone or Mac apps, or perhaps both
I would consider paying $800, possibly $1000 for such a device, depending upon battery life, CPU power, connectivity, etc.

But that would be a very prosaic device to be shipped by Apple as a paradigm shifting device. I find it difficult to believe that Apple would do something that ... straightforward.

(San Francisco, 2010.01.27)
Apple introduced a new computing device today, the Apple iPad. It is an attempt to find a sweet spot as "a third device" between the smartphone and a notebook. Since the smartphone itself is really an Apple invention (that is, the iPhone is the standard by which other smartphones are judged, as evidenced by the fact that every new iPhone is an "iPhone killer"), this is Apple attempting to extend their portable device domination* up the computer power ladder toward notebook computers.

I will start by saying that I find the name "iPad" completely uninspiring. As has been pointed out, it sounds like a feminine hygiene product. It's also easily confusable with iPod, and it's owned by Fujitsu in the USA.

7.5" x 9.5" x .5"
16, 32, or 64 GB of flash memory
WiFi and optional 3G connectivity, Bluetooth 2.1
1.5 - 1.6 pounds
1024 x 768 pixel display @ 132 ppi IPS (in-plane switching) Multi-Touch Screen
1 GHz Apple A4 custom SOC (system on a chip)
Accelerometer, Ambient Light Sensor, Digital Compass, GPS
Microphone, Speakers, Headphone Jack
On-screen keyboard
Dock for charging, optional video out, optional physical keyboard
iPhone OS 3.2 (currently in Beta)
10h Claimed Battery Capacity

Notably Missing:
Cellular Voice capability
Camera & Flash
SDHC slot for expanded memory
Front-facing Camera for Video Conferencing
Multitasking (apparently)
RAM capacity unannounced so far as I can tell, but I assume 256MB or above.

Support Structure:
iBooks store

WiFi Only: $500 - $700
WiFi + 3G: $630 - $830

The Obvious
The basic specs are nice, although IMO the jury is still out on the 1GHz SOC CPU/GPU combination. No one seems to have much of a grip on just how powerful this chip is compared to what's in the iPhone 3G or 3GS, although it is presumably at least 2/3 faster than the 3GS chip (which runs at 600 Mhz). This is an iPhone on steroids, less the cellular voice capability (it would appear to retain at least the potential for VOIP via WiFi and/or 3G), minus the camera. Alternately, it's an iPod Touch on steroids, plus optional 3G data capability.

The Price
Personally, I found the price surprisingly low, and the suggested data plans very reasonable. I would have paid more for this system, but I'm not Apple's target market. I think at $500 this is a very attractive alternative to a netbook, assuming the text input system works well. With a top end of $830 for the 64GB WiFi+3G model (plus another assumed $100 for the keyboard doc and keyboard or a dock and Bluetooth keyboard combination) you have a new, cheaper, lighter, more portable way to have the elegance of an Apple product as your primary portable computing system.**

Books are the new Music?
Apple also announced a reader application called iBook and the new iBook store. Partnering with five major publishing houses (HarperCollins, Penguin, Simon & Shuster, Macmillian, and Hachette Book Group), books will be presented in the ePub format, an existing open standard for publishing based upon XML. The iBook app looks a lot like Delicious Library and will connect directly to the IBook store. There is brief mention of a partnership with Amazon [@ 10:54], but no details, so I don't know if that is correct or not.

Regardless of their relationship with Amazon, I think it perfectly likely that the Kindle app will continue to work on iPad, making it even more possible for people to buy Kindle books from Amazon. ePub does support optional DRM, making it possible for iBooks to be difficult to copy and opening the door for Kindle to support iBooks and possibly for iBook to support Kindle volumes.

It seems clear that Apple is attempting to disrupt the print publishing world in more or less the same way they disrupted the music publishing world with the iTunes Music Store. Despite Steve Jobs' famous assertion that "people don't read anymore", the iPad and iBook ecosystem is clearly intended to make reading paper a thing of the past if at all possible. Given that 3-5% of the books published today are eBooks, there's clearly a lot of room for growth. Since a lot of the cost of a book is the physical medium on which it's delivered, there's clearly a lot of room for cost savings in the publishing pipeline by switching to lower-cost digital media.

Which raises the question: what do print publishers bring to the party? In an effort to cut costs, book publishers have all but abandoned the secondary services they used to provide authors: copy editing, proofing, and type and layout design. They have become merely infrastructure to turn digital files into physical books, distribute those books, collect money for them, and arrange for the disposal of the excess volumes. Most of those steps are unnecessary in a digital world, and it will be interesting to see how book publishers morph in the face of a potential industry-wide disruption of this scale. When you and I can publish simply by creating a digital manuscript and offering it to the iBook store (or the Kindle store), the major publishers become nothing more than marketing machines and will have to reinvent themselves as such or face increasing irrelevancy. Amazon and Kindle started the process. If the iPad and iBook ecosystem becomes as popular as the iPhone, Apple and iPad may finish it.

The Missing
Let's reprise that list of things "Notably Missing" from the iPad:
  1. Cellular Voice capability
  2. Camera & Flash
  3. SDHC slot for expanded memory
  4. Front-facing Camera for Video Conferencing
  5. Multitasking (apparently)
1. Cellular Voice: I don't think this is a big deal one way or the other. VOIP will be an option (at least over WiFi, and possibly over 3G depending up carrier -- Apple will not be able to claim that VOIP apps are impinging upon the base phone capability in this device). Using a Bluetooth headset is increasingly required by law when driving, so using a hands-free device with the iPad doesn't seem like a big stretch, so the argument that "you can't put a device that big up to your ear to make a phone call" falls by the wayside. That said, adding voice capability might have increased the cost of the device and would have definitely increased the complexity of the pricing.

2. Camera and flash: I am a heretic in this matter -- I believe in carrying dedicated cameras for specific purposes. I do use the camera in my iPhone on occasion because it is the only camera I carry all the time. When I expect to be doing casual photography, I carry one of two different small point-and-shoot digital cameras, and when I expect to do serious photography, I carry a digital SLR and way too much glass. The iPad is not appropriately sized to use as a camera, even casually, and I don't see the point of saddling it with camera circuitry, battery draining flash, and the software to deal with them for the minor gain of having an inferior photography experience.

3. SDHC (or other removable media) for expansion: 64GB ought to be enough for anybody :-). With reasonably constant network access and USB 2.0 connectivity, I don't feel that expanded capacity is that big a deal -- it hasn't been for the iPhone, hasn't been for the (much more limited) Kindle 2, and I don't see why this should be different. The Macbook Air has less capacity and is doing just fine.
That said, I would have appreciated a CF or SDHC slot for photographic media, like I have in my MacBook Pro. I anticipate an add-on reader and accept that my needs may not match the needs of the majority.

4. Front Facing Camera for Video Conferencing: I think this is a matter of positioning more than anything else. The iPad is clearly intended as a media device, playing music, video, and text. If it were positioned as a business device I think the lack of a front facing camera would be much more egregious.

5. Multitasking: depending upon the power of the CPU/GPU this may be a temporary omission. I think Apple has decided that the simplicity and robustness of a (largely) single-app-at-a-time OS trumps multitasking. It simplifies the user experience, simplifies the programming experience, and makes the system more reliable in a resource limited platform. As a geek, I do rather miss multitasking, but I don't think most users will. At all. Especially if switching between apps is a fast as it can be with a faster CPU with more RAM.

Ultimately, the feeding frenzy of rumours inflated the expectations of a lot of people. A device with all the bells and whistles suggested by the rumourmongers (some of them, I'm sure, planted by Apple deliberately) would have been the hardware equivalent of Microsoft Word: big, slow, expensive, and full of features that few people want. It's a truism that most users use 10% of available features, and it's the overlap of those 10%s which create monsters like Word. Apple is as much about paring down features to the required elegant minimum as they are about discovering new critical features which no one else imagined.

I think the iPad sounds like a good balance. Depending upon its power (which is a bit of a mystery) and its battery life (which must always be seen in context of a specific use profile) and its text input capabilities (and I think I trust that Apple nailed this one -- one way or another), it may create that "third device" category Jobs talked about during the unveiling. Does it have the potential to be a world-changer (like the iPhone)? I believe it does. Might it be the second coming of Newton? It could be, but I doubt it. If it is, I think I will be one of those people still using it a decade or more later, just because it's so cool.

There's a lot more to say, but I think this is enough for now. The iPad obviously has huge potential for vertical markets (especially healthcare) and the ease of programming it (presumably) inherits from the iPhone makes it a more nimble platform than anything Windows based. These (and more) are subjects for a different time.

*Yes, iPhones comprise only 30% of the smartphone market, and smartphones are only a bit over 10% of the worldwide market, making iPhones total penetration a mere 3%. But that 3% is making Apple more money than Nokia's 40% market penetration, and is absorbing 50% of the portable network bandwidth.

** Ultimately, this configuration is cheaper than either a subsidized or unsubsidized iPhone. With the larger display and faster CPU/GPU, it is very probably a more capable computing platform.
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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

PSA: The Semicolon

From The Oatmeal:

The most common way to use a semicolon is to connect two independent clauses. For example:
"The ice cream truck man drove by my house today; he had big hairy knuckles."

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The Quality of Meter

(Splash photo by Paul Hoksenar)

One of my most prized possessions is a complete collection of Shakespeare that was given to my mother as her high school valedictorian present by her book-loving father, the year before he died. It was printed as World War II raged, and hence it demonstrates the paper and ink rationing of the times: The pages are tisue-thin, the print reduced, the margins scant. But it is still elegant and compleat, and Mama found room to underline or make comments in her copperplate handwriting, using peacock-blue fountain pen ink in delicate lines.

I began reading from it every night when I turned 12 and we moved to Brasil, with no TV and either the volumes on our shelves or a few English-language murder mysteries in the bibliotecas all we had as print material. Long after my parents were asleep, I'd lie in the tropical swelter of my room, watching the geckoes in each corner who kept mosquitoes at bay, flipping between lines of iambic pentameter to footnotes and glossary, trying to suck out all the meaning he packed into each phrase. A good way to cope with hormones hitting my bloodstream like galloping mares.

I once heard that the average English sentence produced in everyday conversation by a native speaker tends to run ten syllables in alternating beats. In other words, iambic pentameter sounds like "ordinary talk" to us -- overlay metaphor and epic ideas, and you've got poetry no one can forget because it settles into the grooves of our brains.

I wonder if that's still true any more.

The ratio of allowable Twitter characters to allowable Facebook characters is 1:3. There is no poetry in that decision. The only way around mathematically brutal elision is to cheat by adding a picture or link -- fodder for the ADD crowd who will actually go to prominent writers' blogs and complain about having to read "paragraphs."

So Mama's generation understood how to retain the entirety of a thing while avoiding waste. How would we now reduce the following to a FB friendly discrete chunk -- and what feverish possibilities would be thus lost for a future pubescent looking for doorways to the world?

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
But mercy is above this sceptered sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings.
It is an attribute of God himself;
And earthly power doth then show like God's
When mercy seasons justice.
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God's Rottweiler infallibly signals end of Internet as we know it

Pope Benedict XVI urged Catholic priests to "...proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources" in a message titled "The priest and pastoral ministry in a digital world: new media at the service of the Word", prepared for the World Day of Communications.

Monsignor Claudio Maria Celli (known online as CountClaudio1942*) head of the Vatican's social communication office, said that priests "who have a certain age will struggle a bit more", but young priests should have no trouble following the papal message.

This strikes me as one of those "Hell froze over" moments.

*that was a joke. I have no idea what Monsignor Celli's facebook handle is.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Consider the Source II

This is the second in what is likely a long ongoing series of posts exhorting readers to evaluate what they read. Here's the first article.

According to, Thousands of Americans died from H1N1 even after receiving vaccine shots (free registration required for full article):
(NaturalNews) The CDC is engaged in a very clever, statistically devious spin campaign, and nearly every journalist in the mainstream media has fallen for its ploy. No one has yet reported what I'm about to reveal here.

It all started with the CDC's recent release of new statistics about swine flu fatalities, infection rates and vaccination rates. According to the CDC:

• 61 million Americans were vaccinated against swine flu (about 20% of the U.S. population). The CDC calls this a "success" even though it means 4 out of 5 people rejected the vaccines.

• 55 million people "became ill" from swine flu infections.

• 246,000 Americans were hospitalized due to swine flu infections.

• 11,160 Americans died from the swine flu.

Base on these statistics, the CDC is now desperately urging people to get vaccinated because they claim the pandemic might come back and vaccines are the best defense.

But here's the part you're NOT being told.

The CDC statistics lie by omission. They do not reveal the single most important piece of information about H1N1 vaccines: How many of the people who died from the swine flu had already been vaccinated?

Many who died had already been vaccinated

The CDC is intentionally not tracking how many of the dead were previously vaccinated. They want you (and mainstream media journalists) to mistakenly believe that ZERO deaths occurred in those who were vaccinated. But this is blatantly false. Being vaccinated against H1N1 swine flu offers absolutely no reduction in mortality from swine flu infections. [1]

And that means roughly 20% of the 11,160 Americans who died from the swine flu were probably already vaccinated against swine flu. That comes to around 2,200 deaths in people who were vaccinated! [2]

How do I know that swine flu vaccines don't reduce infection mortality? Because I've looked through all the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials that have ever been conducted on H1N1 vaccines. It didn't take me very long, because the number of such clinical trials is ZERO. [3]

That's right: There is not a single shred of evidence in existence today that scientifically supports the myth that H1N1 vaccines reduce mortality from H1N1 infections. The best evidence I can find on vaccines that target seasonal flu indicates a maximum mortality reduction effect of somewhere around 1% of those who are vaccinated. The other 99% have the same mortality rate as people who were not vaccinated. [4]

So let's give the recent H1N1 vaccines the benefit of the doubt and let's imagine that they work just as well as other flu vaccines. That means they would reduce the mortality rate by 1%. So out of the 2,200 deaths that took place in 2009 in people who were already vaccinated, the vaccine potentially may have saved 22 people. [5]

Sources for this story include:

Washington Post

[1] Strong assertions require strong evidence. As we see, there will be no such evidence provided.

[2] Numbers follow from the assertions above, but those assertions are still baseless.

[3] Concluding that there is no effect because he has read no studies (or even because no studies exist) falls under the category of "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

[4] Wikipedia summary on effectiveness of flu vaccines. I am not qualified to judge the relative goodness of scientific studies, but I note that this article cites peer-reviewed work from The Journal of Infectious Diseases, Vaccine, JAMA, and The Lancet. Against an unsupported assertion that studies show, at most, a 1% reduction in mortality, I'll take the peer-reviewed journals, or even the New York Times. For example:
In a new study reported at Wednesday’s meeting, Dr. David K. Shay, who led a team from the C.D.C. and eight state health departments, found that full immunization against flu provided about a 75 percent effectiveness rate in preventing hospitalizations from influenza complications in the 2005-6 and 2006-7 influenza seasons. (The 75 percent rate could range, according to a standard statistical measure known as confidence intervals, from 41 percent to 91 percent.)
The assertion of a 1% reduction in mortality is not necessarily orthogonal to a 41-91% reduction in hospitalizations. The claim of 1% (mortality reduction) is intended to say "vaccination is not useful". The claim of 41-91% (hospitalization reduction) would invalidate that.

[5] The math is fine. The assumptions, as listed above, are suspect, at least.

I could go on. The gist of it is that this inflammatory article sets up straw men, assumes a lot (everything, it seems), draws conclusions based upon assertions which appear to be in conflict with peer-reviewed research, asserts intention behind acts of omission or commission, and generally ignores science, statistics, and logic in favor of repetition, unsupported assertion, straw men, passion, inflammatory statements, and righteousness.

I love this quote:
Through its release of misleading statistics, the CDC wants everyone to believe that all of the people who died from H1N1 never received the H1N1 vaccine. That's the implied mythology behind the release of their statistics. And yet they never come right out and say it, do they? They never say, "None of these deaths occurred in patients who had been vaccinated against H1N1."
Of course they don't say that. Nobody in the scientific community would ever claim that vaccination is 100% protection. Vaccination is a way of engaging the immune system, bolstering our natural ability to resist disease. Ideally, vaccination is a way of engaging the immune system of the population, so that the disease does not become epidemic.

Followed up with:
So they just gloss over the point and imply that vaccines offer absolute protection against H1N1 infections. But even the CDC's own scientists know that's complete bunk. Outright quackery. No vaccine is 100% effective. In fact, when it comes to influenza, no vaccine is even 10% effective at reducing mortality. There's not even a vaccine that's 5% effective. And there's never been a single shred of credible scientific information that says a flu vaccine is even 1% effective.
A wonderful straw man argument: they don't claim 100% effectiveness, so it's suspicious that they don't achieve it! Alongside assertions about lack of effectiveness in reducing mortality, ignoring the peer-reviewed evidence that flu vaccines provide a great deal of reduction in hospitalization -- clearly a benefit, and likely indicative of a reduction in mortality (unless everyone who dies of the flu does so outside the hospital).

The hits just keep on coming. Go ahead and read the whole thing, if you must. I'd like to call out one more thing, though. The author proudly notes "Sources for this story include" CNN and the Washington Post. But neither of those articles has anything to say about vaccine effectiveness. The author is counting on you not following those links, but just assuming the authority of CNN and the WaPo to convince you that the views in the article are mainstream.

They're not.

I don't know anything about -- or at least I didn't until I read this article. Now I know that I'm not particularly interested in what they have to say.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Alternate View: Health Care Cost, Life Expectancy

From 538:

Andrew Gelman at says:
A somewhat misleading (in my opinion) presentation of these numbers has been floating around on the web recently, and so I wanted to post this cleaner graph. (The area of the circle for each country is proportional to the number of doctor visits per person; I don't know that this information is so crucial but I included it, as it was on the original graph that I've modified.)

I don't agree that the original image is "misleading", but I do agree that this one is cleaner and shows the relationships nicely. See that circle way out on the right, in the expensive section? That's the US. I tend to think that swapping the axes on this graph would make the point better, though.

I also note that there's a clear positive correlation (if you exclude the US) between health care spending per capita and life expectancy. Might be worth pulling the numbers off one of the images and re-plotting it....
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Revenge: Three Tales

While Revenge is not necessarily a topic I'd choose to write about, a number of stories that might be shoe-horned into it have leapt onto my browser in the last few days. I may be dense, but I recognize a trend when I see one, and so, here are three tales which might be described as having to do with...a dish best served cold.

Matt's Tale
D.C. Cops Nab Would-Be Extortionist in Farragut Square tells Matt DeLong's story of how he (and the DC police) recovered a laptop bag containing a MacBook and a new camera. Matt was too drunk to remember to grab the bag out of a cab or to remember any real details about the cab. While he was calling cab companies he got a call from a "Mr. Miller" who offered to return his gear for a $600 "reward".

Go read the rest. It's a wonderful story about how the system ought to work (but probably rarely does). The comments alone are worth the price of admission, because they range from (approximately) "DC Cops Rule!" through "They only helped because it was a media guy" to "You scum, you called the cops for that?".

Parker's Tale
Then I discovered Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale... and its sequel Humpty Dumpty is Back Together Again. These two blog entries detail Parker's experience with leaving a $4000 camera bag and contents at BWI (and, incidentally, his murse at the Hertz counter in Portland, ME).

Once again, phone contact is made between object-owner (and object-loser) and object-finder. Again, a request is made for a "reward" before one is offered. And again, police are contacted -- although the sequence is distinctly different from Matt's tale.

The end of the story is remarkably similar to Matt's tale, but with added uncertainty and spontaneity. Best quote: "You called the cops on me for THEFT?".

Alex's Tale
Finally, we have the anonymous (and to my ear, possibly invented) tale by Alex from Miami's Craigslist:
To the Thug Latino Guy With the Dumb Looking Mustache Who Tried to Mug Me in Downtown Miami night before last:

I can only hope that you somehow come across this rather important message.

I was the guy wearing the black Burberry jacket that you demanded that I hand over, shortly after you pulled the knife on me and my girlfriend, threatening our lives. You also asked for my girlfriend's purse and earrings.

First, I'd like to apologize for your embarrassment; I didn't expect you to actually crap in your pants when I drew my pistol after you took my jacket. ...

I know it probably wasn't fun walking back to wherever you'd come from with that brown sludge in your pants... I'm sure it was even worse walking bare-footed since I made you leave your shoes, cell phone, and wallet with me. ...

I gave your shoes to a homeless guy outside Vagabond, along with all the cash in your wallet. [That made his day!
Later, I called a bunch of phone sex numbers from your cell phone. ... I managed to get in two threatening phone calls to the DA's office and one to the FBI, while mentioning President Obama as my possible target.
In a way, perhaps I should apologize for not killing you ... But I feel this type of retribution is a far more appropriate punishment for your threatened crime.
Remember, next time you might not be so lucky.Have a good day!

Revenge? Or Justice? Or something else?
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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Way To Go Cindy McCain!

Cindy McCain Joins in Calling for Marriage Equality

The organizers of the No H8 campaign recently began publishing this picture of Cindy McCain. They represent the main force of funding to continue the fight against the first amendment to the California State Constitution which was expressly designed to deny rights to a group of our citizens. The organizers also said that it was Cindy McCain who initiated the contact and offered her help.

The case in Federal Court is progressing. But, given the recent Supreme Court decision which effectively handed over our election process to the extremely wealthy, anything can happen in court.

That doesn't mean California hasn't discriminated before. It's just that the anti-Chinese laws were simple laws, not directly written into the constitution.

Thanks Cindy. It doesn't excuse the other odious positions you take. But, I understand that you're bucking your husband's position on this. (which, after all, doesn't take a lot of courage, it's your money honey)

I hope to see you keep on speaking out. The more folks stand up for things because it's the right thing to do, rather than because it is what Rush, Glenn Beck, O'Reilly, and that god drunk son of a bitch Pat Robertson say is what you should stand for.

Props to Meghan McCain too. Her stand on the issue is the same.

One of the arguments advanced in court today was that since California allows for domestic partnership that everything there is Okie-dokie. Plessy v. Ferguson demonstrated to us all that separate is never equal. The only thing that is equal is the same.

Same rights.
Same responsibilities.

It's only fair.

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You Will Know Them By Their Faces

From PLoS ONE, an interactive open-access journal for the communication of all peer-reviewed scientific and medical research, comes an interesting study, "Democrats And Republicans Can Be Differentiated By Their Faces". The abstract reads:

"In Study 1, perceivers were able to accurately distinguish whether U.S. Senate candidates were either Democrats or Republicans based on photos of their faces. Study 2 showed that these effects extended to Democrat and Republican college students, based on their senior yearbook photos. Study 3 then showed that these judgments were related to differences in perceived traits among the Democrat and Republican faces. Republicans were perceived as more powerful than Democrats. Moreover, as individual targets were perceived to be more powerful, they were more likely to be perceived as Republicans by others. Similarly, as individual targets were perceived to be warmer, they were more likely to be perceived as Democrats."

The study was conducted by Nicholas O. Rule and Nalini Ambady, Department of Psychology, Tufts University.

So, power or compassion, that seems to be the binary. No wonder we're in trouble.
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Health Care: Cost, Life Expectancy, and Usage

National Geographic presents a fantastic infographic showing the relationship between cost of health care (on a per capita basis), the rate of usage, and life expectancy.

It's a great graphic.

There is little clear relationship between cost, usage, and life expectancy. But there is one fantastically spectacular flyer: the United States.

In return for paying nearly $3000 more per capita than their nearest competitor (Switzerland, if you're counting out there), the US gets about 3.75 fewer years of life expectancy while visiting the doctor about the same number of times (less than 4) per year.

Compared to your neighbour to the North (and my present country of residence), Canada, you in the US are paying about $3400 more per capita while getting about 2.5 fewer years of life and fewer doctor visits (0-3 compared with 4-7).

Compared to a real success story like Japan, the US pays about $4700 more per capita, gets 4.5 fewer years of life, and 0-3 doctor visits instead of 12 or more.

Given that there is only one other country on the graphic without national health care of some kind (Mexico), and that Mexico has a very different relationship between cost, usage, and life expectancy, this infographic does not specifically indict the lack of national health care as the cause of the wild difference between US costs and the rest of the world. It does, however, demonstrate that national health care can and does provide effective health care (better care than the US gets) for less cost. Much less cost.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Disturbing the Peace -- and Democracy

I've been away, and I have to get back into the saddle with an easy one.

In April of 2009, a 48-year-old housewife from Wearside in England was "remanded in custody" for having "excessively noisy sex". In December, she pled guilty.

48-year-old Brit Catherine Cartwright ignored a court-ordered ban on her noisy sex, and has pleaded guilty to making love with sounds described as "murder," "unnatural," and capable of drowning out her neighbors' televisions.

Cartwright had been banned from her noisy romps after hundreds of complaints. Even her postman and a women who walked her child to school past Cartwright's house complained.

The Blair-ian (Tony, not Eric) mechanism by which Caroline Cartwright was thrown into durance vile is an "Anti-Social Behaviour Order" or ASBO/Asbo. In particular, Ms. Cartwright's ASBO prohibited her (under pain of arrest, apparently) from making "excessive noise during sex" anywhere in England.

ASBOs have been issued to prevent teenagers from:

  • wearing a single golf glove (allegedly the symbol of a gang);
  • uttering the word "grass" as a threat;
  • play football in the street;
  • joining a group of more than three other teens;
  • entering any "car park, school ground, or garden" without an invitation;
  • meeting their brother in public;
  • entering any subway;
  • wearing a hood or cap at night;
  • using the front door of his house;
  • riding on a motorcycle (as driver or passenger);
  • riding or pushing a bicycle.

Other bizarre ASBOs include prohibitions against:

  • jumping into rivers or canals;
  • sniffing petrol in Teesside (apparently it's OK elsewhere);
  • being seen wearing underwear at the window or in the garden (I'm assuming this means the underwear being visible, not having underwear on under the clothes);
  • climbing on any structure over 1 metre high without explicit permission;
  • making sarcastic remarks to the neighbors.

ASBOs are handled by civil courts. The standard of proof is allegedly indistinguishable from the criminal standard, but hearsay evidence is allowed (which means the defendant isn't allowed to cross-examine all witnesses). Defendants are also not allowed to compel testimony or the release of evidence held by applicants or others. The result is that the standard of proof is automatically lower than required for criminal conviction. And yet breach of an ASBO is a criminal offense bearing a potential 5 year prison sentence.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Total Devastation

Haiti suffered "massive and broad" destruction from the devastating earthquakes which may result in large number of casualties, including UN peacekeepers still unaccounted for, the UN mission in Haiti said Wednesday. Fifty to 100 UN staff remained unaccounted for a day after the earthquake, said Vicznezo Pugliese, spokesman for the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Separate reports say the dead included soldiers from Brazil, China and Jordan.- spokesperson from The UN from EarthTimes

The horrors of this mag.7 earthquake are going to be difficult to comprehend and get our heads around over the next week. This one was beyond bad and it hit a population already suffering. Our thoughts and sympathies go out to all the vicitims, their families, and all the people of Haiti. To send help you can read more at the White House homepage.
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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Cover Your Mouth and Nose!

PSA from the GNB...

Did you know that Sneezes travel far and fast. About 100 miles per hour and can transport your germs more than 150 ft. In this time of cold, flu etc. be caring of those around you, your family and friends, and even all those strangers. If you have to cough and sneeze- cover it!

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Health Care Deal Close, and Unicorns and Rainbows for Everyone!

Pelosi says that the senate and house are close to resolving and presenting a final bill. But she says just a few small things remain up for discussion including the public option and abortion provisions... yeah right... just those two teeny tiny issues that are so easy to agree on.

I have to admit I have completely lost hope for the public option. I don't get congress. 75% of americans wanted it. There was plenty of political support for it. But no. we can't seem to get anything that is just plain good for the american people. It was an OPTION folks. We were not asking to mandate a public plan, but offering to give people a chance to choose it and make the insurance companies actually compete for health care dollars. What a bad idea. feh. I am sick and tired of the whole thing.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Favorite Television Series - Drama

Cast of NBC's The West Wing. (Season 4.)

What Are Your Favorite Television Series - Dramatic?

No Movie's of the Week. No comedy series. Drama. We want drama.

Here are my favorite series, ever:

Mad Men may make the list. I like it lots so far. But I only judge a show once the entire series is complete and I can see the series start to finish, ideally a couple of times. If it isn't worth watching all the way through a few times then it isn't worth making this list (so far as I'm concerned.)

I've heard wonderful things about a few other shows such as The Sopranos, however I stopped watching after two seasons (same with Big Love; it just didn't hold me.) Perhaps at some point I'll go back and watch the entire series start to finish at which point my opinion will change. But for now... nada.

Dollhouse has been wonderful. As Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles was about half the time. But the impact both of them had on me and on television has been insufficient so far as I'm concerned -- and after all, it's my list. *laughs* -- for them to make my best dramatic series list of all time; the standards there are HIGH. Short version is, you screw up, you're out... EVERYTHING has to be shiny plus have that extra special something that is GREAT television, that CHANGES me and/or all of us, that means something to me in a special way, to make it to the list, while still not screwing anything up in any major way. (Which is why Buffy is at the bottom of the list with an asterisk. They REALLY blew the last two years of the series in multiple ways. But the series up till that point was SO good, and even with the damage they did it still mattered to me and to so many others, it ends up on the list.)

In contrast to Dollhouse and Sarah Connor Chronicles, the amazing My So-Called Life, even with only one season (and a short season at that) made such an enormous difference to me personally, and altered the teen drama on television for all who followed, as well as giving us Claire Danes, that to me my list would simply be incomplete without including the show.


This is my dramatic list. Six series. Yes, I could have reached back further to Hill Street Blues which really was appointment television for me in my early twenties. But it doesn't hold up today. None of the old shows that I've gone back and looked at hold up today. So they don't make my list.

What about you? What are your series (drama)? Your standards?

Who is on your list and why?
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Friday, January 1, 2010

2009 The Year in Social Media

cheers to 2010 and to Social Media- what a strange world we live in...

Happy New Year to all GNB`ers near and far.
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