Monthly Archives: November 2003

contemplation/square

A friend of mine used to say that I could consider myself an old geezer once I turned 25. Now that I’m here, I’d like to say: Damn kids! Get off my lawn!

Further contributing to my geezerhood is that this is the last time my parents’ ages will be an integer multiple of mine. As a corollary, when they were my age they were already hauling some obnoxious screaming baby around. I’m starting to get the impression that they feel I’m behind schedule. Well, I’ll consider it as soon as the ban on human cloning research is lifted. Hard to improve on perfection, you know?

Anyway, as productive as all this navel gazing is, I’m going to go back to watching[*] Cal implement their innovative Big Game strategy consisting of just giving the ball to Stanford. Update: Happily, the Bears abandoned this strategy in the second half.

[*] On TV; while I wouldn’t be surprised if Stanford Stadium does have wireless internet, the tickets were too expensive.

dream/combat

Had a dream this morning that I was fighting a robot. “Cyborg” may be a more accurate term, actually: it had a human body, with two metallic components – an electronic brain and some sort of mechanical power core in place of a heart. It was hand-to-hand combat, since neither of us had any weapons. (I actually had a double-barrel shotgun, but no ammunition.) Fortunately I did have some assistance; there was a group of people (I think they were supposed to be the Lunatics) helping me fight. Even so, it became clear that the battle was a stalemate. Just before I woke to my alarm clock, I had the thought of getting my katana to hack off the robot’s limbs, thereby neutralizing it.

I offer the following interpretations:

The Obvious: The overall man vs. machine theme clearly points to my struggles in lab over the past week with a computer simulation. I’ve had a somewhat torturous time getting the program to give me any answer at all, as opposed to just eating up all my RAM and crashing, and when I do get an answer it’s a physically impossible one. Under this interpretation the group assisting me would be my coworkers, although only one of them is actually working on the same problem. I have decided to follow the strategy I came up with at the end of the dream and hack out parts of the input to see if I can get it to work with a simpler scenario (and thereby find out what’s breaking the program).

The Internal: The mechanical heart and brain can be a metaphor for cold analytic reasoning without an emotional component. One could interpret the fight as representing a conflict between my logical side and my emotional side over some issue. What issue would that be? You’ll have to speak up, Mr. Subconscious; I can’t hear you.

The Political: It is possibly no coincidence that that famous on-screen android, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was inaugurated as California governor this week. Perhaps the dream represents my part in the struggle against cold, heartless Republicans over the future of America.

The Too Many Movies: The katana? Kill Bill. The shotgun? Once Upon a Time in Mexico. The robot? Terminator 3.

As usual, pick your favorite.

reaction/solutions

Earlier today the Massachusetts Supreme Court gave its expected ruling that a same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. This is being discussed on both sides as a victory for gay rights but I’m not so sure; the court didn’t legalize same-sex marriage in MA, instead ordering the legislature to “find a solution” within 180 days. One solution would be to legalize same-sex marriage, but another would be to amend the constitution to include the ban (which is Governor Mitt Romney’s preference). If the state opts to change the constitution this court decision can hardly be construed as a civil rights victory.

On the other hand, I know very little about what is required to change the Massachusetts constitution, so maybe this possibility is highly unlikely. All I know is that it’s far too easy to change the California constitution, which is why we have all kinds of stupid shit in there now. (CA’s constitution forbids same-sex marriage; there was a ballot initiative in 2000, the sole effect of which was to make the language of this clause stronger. It passed. That, by the way, was the first time I voted; I voted against that proposition and for Bill Bradley in the Democratic primary, making it one of the more futile ballots I’ve cast.)

Also of concern is a possible amendment to the federal constitution; Bill Frist et al. are undoubtedly going to step up the demand for such a thing. Sadly, public opinion is against same-sex marriage so the backlash from this decision could be significant.

One good outcome is that we can watch and laugh as the wingnuts come out of the woodwork to make dumbass Santorum-esque comments. TBogg dares to gaze into the FreeRepublic abyss, while alicublog roundly mocks the discussion on NRO. What’s amazing to me is that these Freeper types feel so strongly about a decision that can’t possibly have any substantive effect on their lives.

Just to say a couple words on Vermont-style civil unions, which MA Gov. Romney would prefer to same-sex marriage: they’re obviously better than nothing, but didn’t we bury the “separate but equal” concept a few decades back? I would, however, support eliminating all government-sanctioned marriage and make everyone get civil unions. Or, even better: privatize marriage.

addendum/desecration

I was waiting in Jamba Juice while “Jingle Bells” played on the radio, when I had this thought: if we’re going to be restricting free speech, I think banning the playing of Christmas songs in November is a far more pressing need than a flag-burning ban.

contemplation/desecration

Wesley Clark is in favor of a Consitutional amendment outlawing flag “desecration”. (Joe Conason on the subject.)

I firmly believe that Clark’s stated position on this issue is the wrong one. The question I’m asking myself is how much I should care. The proposed amendment has something in common with “under God” in the Pledge: in principle it’s an affront to the liberties America is supposed to stand for, but in practice it doesn’t really matter. Implausible slippery-slope scenarios aside, a flag-burning ban would have a negligible effect on our ability to criticize the government. It may be a completely unjustifiable restriction of free speech, but in terms of actual damage to the country it’s not remotely comparable to, say, trillions of dollars in budget deficits, or millions of Americans without health care, or the disaster in Iraq.

On the other hand, if Clark really believes a flag-burning ban should be enacted, we can infer that he doesn’t completely understand the importance of free speech, and this could matter a lot more. There’s no way of knowing whether he actually believes what he’s saying or if he’s just pandering to pick up a few votes, but it’s a bit of a catch-22; in principle, we don’t like politicians who pander either. (In practice they all pander, and given that we want a politician whose pandering is predominantly on the harmless issues like this one.)

Ultimately, I can’t figure out how much I should care about this. In terms of deciding my vote in the primary, though, “principle” issues like this are clearly second-order at most (to slide into mathematical terminology), with the big issues like Iraq being first order and themselves dwarfed by the big zero-order question: which candidate is most likely to beat Bush? (I’m still not convinced Bush is at all beatable, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give it our best shot.)

addendum/donors

More on the campaign donation chart: an easy comparison is to a uniform distribution of donations over $0 to $2000, so that half the donors are in the $1000+ category and 10% are in the <$200. Then the numbers that go into the chart are:
<$200: 1%
$200-$1000: 11.5%
$1000-$2000: 87.5%

Comparing to the actual numbers (which can be found in non-graphical form here) the actual distribution in every case seems to be skewed toward the low end compared to a uniform distribution. (I would also guess that the $2000 cap creates a peak at the top since all the donors who would ordinarily give more are integrated into that amount. More bins in the data would be needed to confirm this.)

While we’re on the subject of presidential politics, I’d like to draw your attention to Dennis Kucinich’s search for a first lady.

“I certainly want a dynamic, outspoken woman who was fearless in her desire for peace in the world and for universal single-payer health care and a full employment economy,” the four-term congressman told the forum. “If you are out there call me.”

Any single women looking to make a “campaign contribution”?

briefly/donors

Interesting chart (via Atrios):

I’m uncertain how to interpret this data or what the dominant effects are. Important question: is the y-axis percentage of donors or of dollars? The net total row at the top implies the latter, but the former seems the more natural way to display the data.

Bush and five Democratic candidates have roughly the same distribution. What’s different about Braun, Clark, Dean, and Kucinich?

briefly/veto

The RNC now has veto power over the shows that run on CBS. Ok, that’s it. I don’t want to hear any more complaining from conservatives about the “liberal media”. If it’s still too liberal for them, it’s now their own damn fault for not pulling more shows they don’t like.

I can only assume an acceptable Reagan miniseries would be more along the lines of this photo of Bush.

(On the other hand, at least The Daily Show is beating the cable news channels, even the “Fair and Balanced” one.)