For those that want to keep track of all things Congress, the site opencongress.org
seems about as good as any. They have RSS feeds for senators (in blogs, in news, etc, etc) as well as their voting histories and other interesting juicyness. Now go out and keep track of those rat bastards!
Say what you will about the supposed "graduated tax" that we Americans pay. The reality is a 40% marginal rate
In a study for the National Bureau of Economic Research, Boston University economists Laurence J. Kotlikoff and David Rapson have found that our all-in marginal tax rate is 40%, give or take a bit. Yes, you read that right: 40%..
.. The average marginal tax rate on incomes between $20,000 and $500,000 is 40.3%, the median tax rate is 41.8%, and the standard deviation of all of those rates is 5.3 percentage points. Basically, most of us pay about 40%, plus or minus 5.3 percentage points.
The article goes on to argue that we should all ask our representatives and senators if they are aware of this. If they are not, they should not be in office.
I'd argue something completely different. If you aren't, as a politician, aware of the basics of the tax law, then you should be fined for every "fact" you try to dispell to the people. Call it the accountability tax
They shouldn't be able to give themselves raises, either.
Whoa, that's a tall bridge
In other news, Volvo steps up to provide the world with much needed
personal safety.. like, you know, a highly-demanded heartbeat monitor for your car
that tells you if there is an intruder lurking in the back seat before you even get in.
[Volvo] incorporated a heartbeat sensor inside the new S80 sedan that alerts your wireless key fob if there's a criminal-type lying in wait for you as you approach.
Just knowing that the ne'er-do-wells out there now know that Volvo knows that the ne'er-do-wells are out there.. well, it makes me safe just thinking about it.
YADHKGSCS: Yet another dumb-humans-kill-giant-sea-creature story. This one, a colossal
[The giant squid,] weighing an estimated 450kg (990lb), took two hours to land in Antarctic waters.
Super. Lucky for all of us it has been brought to New Zealand for "scientific examination".
We've seen this before but here is another set of poll results. There are a number of things to say about it but I imagine it has all been said before. Though I will comment that I find it surprising that a 72 year old is considered almost as ill-suited for the presidency as a homosexual.
On my brief trip south this last weekend I made it to the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Contemporary art museum
and looked at paint and neon tubing and various other mediums affixed to white walls with security guards in white uniforms standing in corners telling you to face forward on your way down the escalator. I've seen a few contemporary art installments that were entertaining but this one was just plain bland
. Don't get me wrong, I certainly feel bad for saying that. I also feel bad for feeling like a national museum in the capitol of one of the greatest nations in the world should, I dunno, actually have some cool art in it.
Once I got over the feelings of feeling inadequate for not appreciating what others, apparently, appreciated enough to put up on white walls in a national museum, I got the hell out of there and went to look at some planes instead. The Air and Space Museum, while perhaps dated, is still just what is advertised: stuff from air and space. Right on.
Australia may become the first country to outlaw traditional lightbulbs
(incandescents) in favour of compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs):
"If the whole world switches to these bulbs today, we would reduce our consumption of electricity by an amount equal to five times Australia's annual consumption of electricity," [Australian Environment Minister] Turnbull said..
.. US energy policy think-tank the Rocky Mountain Institute estimates that replacing a 75-watt incandescent light bulb with a 20-watt compact fluorescent saves 1,300 pounds (590 kilograms) of carbon dioxide over the life of the bulb.
Five times Australia's electricity consumption is only about 7% of the world's consumption
, but one step at a time, right? It is true that CFLs are pretty dandy, with much longer life spans and lower electricity usage
The CFL, therefore, will save $36.00 in electricity (compared to the incandescent bulb) during its rated life. Some American discount stores sell packages of CFLs for about $2.75 per CFL and incandescent bulbs for about $0.50 each, a $2.25 difference. The estimated payback period for buying the CFL instead of the incandescent bulb is, therefore, 500 hours, which is 100 days at 5 hours per evening. Two additional advantages of the CFL are that the majority of these bulbs never get beyond touch-warm, making them significantly safer for children and the elderly, and providing a reduced risk of fire in homes and offices.
Sweet. But perhaps in taking this forward-thinking step, they aren't jumping far enough? Why fluorescents when you can jump straight to LEDs
LEDs have an extremely long life span when conservatively run: upwards of 100,000 hours, twice as long as the best fluorescent bulbs and twenty times longer than the best incandescent bulbs.
.. the average commercial [LED] currently outputs 32 lumens per watt (lm/W), and new technologies promise to deliver up to 80 lm/W..
Incandescent bulbs are much less expensive but also less efficient, generating from about 16 lm/W for a domestic tungsten bulb to 22 lm/W for a halogen bulb.
With CFLs in the 60 lm/W range, LEDs might not be the cheapest at this moment in time
but it seems fairly obvious that they will become the cheapest solution by the time any country manages to actually outlaw incandescents.
Meanwhile, California is on the bandwagon
The "How Many Legislators Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb Act" would ban incandescent lightbulbs by 2012 in favor of energy-saving compact fluorescent lightbulbs.
I am grouchy. As per, here I am to complain after weeks of basically ignoring the fact that I once had a blog in which I once wrote semi-personal stuff and waxed philosophical about abstracted conciousness. No longer, it seems. Dead are the leaves on the trees and so, too, is my will to produce - or share - or bleed - or share the experience of bleeding. Does a bear shit in the woods? If nobody is there to hear him, does he make a sound? Somewhere, out there - maybe even right now - is a bear working away at a little nugget of a butt plug? Toiling through some sweat-inducing labour, moving fiberous stool through his lower bits like atlas carried that big 'ol globe on his back: slowly. Does he groan? Grimace? Grunt in pain?
Are animals somehow distracted or abstracted from this, one of life's many unpleasantries, because they do not "think" or "solve problems"? Surely, if you cut a bear then he bleeds. Does he not know, too, the pain of excessive taxation of extreme constipation?
I feel like a bear. I think inwardly, separated from my own experiences like a carbon sheet, pulled away from reality and torn off at the dotted line. It's the same here, but everything is black and white with an odd hue and strange smudges. It all seems so.. farcical.
The winter does this to me and I suppose it does it to the bears, too. Nobody wants a natural butt plug to grow up in there. It's bad enough when you don't expect it but to have to think, throughout the rest of the four seasons, that in a short time your body will, once again, develop it's own butt plug on purpose
.. well, that's not pleasant. Winter can be not pleasant, too.
It isn't that I hate winter outright - in fact, I love it. The cold. The wind. The snow. The frozen ice. All of it. I like to ski, I like to romp in the snow, sled down hills, and do donuts in empty parking lots late at night. Something about the buffer of snow makes me comfortable, in fact. Driving in a car the bumps are smoother and less jarring. Falling out of a tree doesn't hurt quite as bad. And then throwing snowballs doesn't hurt nearly as much as stones, either.
But winter has a way of complicating even the most basic things. Air travel. Car repair. Bikini watching.
Truth be told, I've spent an inordinate amount of time indoors lately and the things that get me out
of doors are far and few between. Once again it isn't because I dislike being outside.. but it is
cold. Give me a valid reason to be outside, and I'm there, but I'm not going to make up excuses to be there. Look, even the bears stay in with the shades drawn.
So this weekend, when it was a balmy 25 degrees out and sunny and snow was dripping from the roof tops with solar-powered efficiency I snuck out onto my back porch with a cup of tea and sat in the sun for what was almost a full thirty minutes. I probably haven't gotten that much direct sunlight in the last three weeks combined. And there I sat, brimming over with those jittery new-born feelings you have waking up in the morning - especially on a Sunday (that feeling of getting up but not needing to get up, those first few stretches of the limbs that feel as though you have never stretched them before). I felt like an atomic nucleus, bombarded with neutrons, Vitamin-D smashing into me and energy coming out.
That energy was just enough to shake my mental butt plug loose and I've been enjoying this frozen feb. week more than I might have without that jolt of photons. But it's still a trudge through the snow. Things still break. Life still floats off, tiny bits of you effervescing, particles undocking from their giant body-ship, black soot flaking off of a carbon copy. Alpha, beta, gamma.. they're all rays of hope, the merest yet dearest the universe has to offer, somewhere between a handshake and a healthy poke in the gut: "Who do you think you
There is no particular freedom in any of it - a model exists out there, as boring as a flow-chart - but the gamble, the random chance of it all.. that is particulate freedom
. Not knowing, in the end, is the greatest serendipity of all. Understanding the universe down to the level of nuts and bolts, gear ratios, and nano-calibrations only stifles the belief that we matter, someone made us, or we were choosen as anything but more particles and more butt plugs.
It is unquestionable that our lives, ever intertwined with the cosmos, are collections and our bodies are particles. These induce change on other bodies and so, like even the smallest subatomic iota, we are simply pushing and shoving to effect what we can around us. Even one another. Especially one another.
The difference between prospecting
is that prospecting is the implied exploration for wealth whereas investing is the implied guarantee of wealth. Investing is betting on 20 with the dealer showing a 3. Prospecting is betting all your money on double zeros, watching the ball roll round-and-round in dizzying circles and then, *poof*, walking away from the table as half of yourself, a small part of you having been left behind - not just the money - and feeling carbon-thin and light on your feet.
Are animals dumb because they walk through life like a child in a museum, inspecting each exhibit intently but not once reading a single plaque or pamphlet? Or are they cosmically smart because the gamble is all about seeing and feeling
and going for the gusto but very very little about actual high-level logic? Is a true explainable model a dead end? What of the species, when we collectively fill in that last blank letter in life's big crossword (smudged, various letters having been temporarily and sometimes open-endedly housed in the small box before)? When we exhale, together, a sigh of relief and set the paper down is there anything that needs to be done after that? Do the chores dry up? With no money to be won, do you buy a lottery ticket?
This anti-serendipity is the laxative for the butt plug we don't realize we need or want. The cruelest joke on the human mind is that we don't know the worst that is to come and yet we are actively seeking it out. A galactic setup, a colosal pun, and whammo- we the people are the butt of this universal jest. Actors in our own parody play. It is the search for these answers; life, the universe, everything, that keeps us going. Not the answers themselves.
You almost can't make this shit
up: A jury finds an Irvine, CA police officer not guilty
of three felony charges after he pulled over a female motorist and ejaculated on her sweater
Oy vay, another alarm clock. This one mimics a bomb
that must be diffused. Fail to connect the wires in time, and kablooey - an explosion is heard. How long before someone is yanked from an airport security line and bum-raped by a latex-bound homeland security type because they have this stuffed in their carryon?
: Yet another study showing that peer-to-peer filesharing is not
harming sales of music. This one says the effect is, in fact, "not statistically distinguishable from zero":
A new study in the Journal of Political Economy by Felix Oberholzer-Gee and Koleman Strumpf has found that illegal music downloads have had no noticeable effects on the sale of music, contrary to the claims of the recording industry.
America, greatest nation in the world!.. right? umm.. right?
Regardless, in some sectors, innovation is erroding around us. Japan has historically beaten us in the wireless race, with 3rd generation cell networks (3G) and now they are working on 4G
In field experiments, NTT DoCoMo, the largest mobile phone operator in Japan, achieved an approximate 5Gbps downlink data rate. That beats previous tests by a factor of two, as DoCoMo managed to achieve 2.5Gbps over a year ago in December 2005.
While these are only tests and adoption will be a long time coming, the US is still struggling in 2.5G land.. if you can call it that.
5Gbps = 5,000,000 bits per second
5,000,000 bits per second = 625,000 bytes per second
625,000 bytes per second = 610 megabytes per second
Or, in other words, the size of a well-compressed DivX movie. Per second. Scalabilty aside, the implications for mobile television and other (hopefully more productive) mobile services is huge.
So who cares? I've never been an early-adopter on the cellphone front and I still don't especially like having to carry one around, but I am but one man. The reality is that where innovation stagnates, economies are stifled.
What's worse is that the wireless carriers still have a stranglehold on consumers and they don't look like they want to let go. Law professor and Net Neutrality activist Tim Wu thinks things should be otherwise with four points
[Wireless carriers who offer data services are not held to these rules.]Consumer disclosure is a major problem in the wireless world, and better choices come from more information. Carriers should disclose, fully, prominently, and in plain English, the following information: Limits on bandwidth usage; Devices that are locked to a single network; and Important limitations placed on features.The industry should re-evaluate its “walled garden” approach to application development, and work together to create clear and unified standards to which developers can work. Application development for mobile devices is stalled, and it is in the carriers’ own interest to try and improve the development environment.
- .. Carriers exercise excessive control over what devices may be used on the public’s wireless spectrum. The carriers place strong controls over “foreign attachments,” like the AT&T of the 1950s. These controls continue to affect the innovation and development of new devices for wireless networks.
- Today, the FCC has ordered broadband carriers to respect basic principles of network neutrality. Consumers have the basic right to use the applications of their choice and view the content of their choice.
To argue otherwise is dinosaurific. The Internet, while being a minefield of opposing standards and proprietary systems, has nevertheless become what it is despite
these problems - this is because of the standards that have managed to get a toehold such. This equals innovation, productivity, and economic growth.
From my own experiences, I can list off a number of immediate problems I myself have with the wireless industry.
- Phones tied to carriers (i.e. "locked phones")
- Phone packages including X amount of minutes, as opposed to reasonable per-minute usage
- New phone purchase requirements when signing up for a new service plan
- Restrictive service plans that tie consumers into year or longer contracts with astronomical cancellation fees
- Lack of interface standards with respect to phone systems including: typing interfaces, voicemail interfaces, and phone interfaces
- Successful attempts by the phone companies to dupe consumers (i.e. lack of proper disclosure). The sad fact of the matter is that, with over 200 million cellphone subscribers in the USA, a vast majority of them do not have the knowledge or information to properly understand the implications of the contracts they are signing
- Lack of Quality of Service (QoS). This might be okay in a fledgling industry such as the wireless market but throw us a bone. If I buy a cellphone which you assure me will receive quality coverage throughout the city and the two places I do not get any reception is my home and my office, consider giving a refund. If it is truly about giving the consumer the best service, consider that if you are unable to provide service in the two places the user is most likely to use their phone then perhaps your company is not the best to provide them with any service at all
Tim Wu goes on to say:
The historic parallel is instructive. Wired voice telephone networks had more or less reached their full potential under AT&T by the 1960s. To reach the next stage, the most important steps were not technological but deregulatory—destroying impediments created by AT&T that restricted innovation and competition. To reach the “next stage” in wireless communications, the most important step may be opening the networks to true competitive entry.
The Washington Post's take on the story
includes some input from the FCC:
For now, at least, [FCC Chairman] Martin said, the major wireless carriers are competing vigorously against each other, and he said would not favor FCC intervention unless there was evidence that innovation was beginning to suffer and prices were becoming unreasonable.
But that is exactly what is happening. Innovation is suffering and prices have and continue to be unreasonable. AT&T, which was so decent with us through the era of landline dominance, had this to say:
"This whole issue is a giant red herring," said AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel. "This is a fiercely competitive industry," which has grown "almost entirely through the force of competition in the marketplace, more innovative devices and services, and continually lower prices."
And, of course, we should believe them this time around.. right?
The worldpressphoto website has some amazing pictures
. The winner of the 2007 Portraits, Singles category is.. quietly wrenching
Admittedly, Sarah Silverman makes me giggle like a school girl.
From an Onion A.V. Club interview
Q: My girlfriend confessed recently to wanting to spread peanut butter in my armpit and lick it out. Being "normal," I'm totally grossed out at the prospect, but I'm really into this girl. But this thing of hers sorta really freaks me out. I should probably be writing to Dan Savage, but you're my girlfriend's fave. If you were me, what would you do?
Sarah Silverman: I would tell her that you just read Glamour magazine, and they said that balls are the new armpit. Then take it from there.
Q: Does size matter?
SS: Not at ALL. Only for sex. And sexual relationships.
Get on a bus, get lost for 25 years
. Beg for a living, get arrested, live in a homeless shelter, and get confused for a mute. Reunite with your family at the age of 76! Sounds like a blast. I wonder if Club Med offers something like this. Sign me up.
Wizardry at Harvard
In the new Harvard experiment, when the initial [light] pulse slammed into the first Bose-Einstein cloud - [super-cooled sodium atoms], the collision caused 50,000 to 100,000 of the sodium atoms to start spinning, almost like small tops, and pushed this small clump forward at less than a mile an hour.
Dr. Hau described the clump of atoms as a “metacopy” of the light pulse. Although it consisted of sodium atoms instead of particles of light, it exactly captured the characteristics of the light pulse.
The clump floated out from the rest of the cloud, traveled about two-tenths of a millimeter and burrowed into a second Bose-Einstein cloud. When a laser was shined on the second cloud, the atom clump transformed into a new pulse of light identical to the original pulse.
What's most creepy about Armed America
, a site with potraits of Americans in their homes showing off their firearms, is that people seem to feel the need to stick their toddlers and/or pets in there too. Weird.
I've been avoiding this weeks DRM issue du jour because I know my readers probably don't care, but I can't hold out anymore. Apple's FairPlay DRM - the software that "protects" music sold on the iTunes Music Store - is closed source. Steve Jobs wrote in an open letter
published Tuesday on the Apple website titled "Thoughts on Music" that, to paraphrase, "the existence and use of DRM is completely driven by the music companies.
" He went on to say that if music companies would allow DRM-free music then "Apple would embrace this wholeheartedly.
This may be postering for the European community which has been stepping up their attacks
on Apple's iPod-FairPlay juggernaut. Norway has previously demanded a change in Apple's policy and now France and Germany are jumping on the bandwagon.
However, let us all remember that Jobs has less of an interest in DRM than he does in selling more iPods. We'd like to believe that he is all for a free market:
The second alternative is for Apple to license its FairPlay DRM technology to current and future competitors with the goal of achieving interoperability between different company’s players and music stores. On the surface, this seems like a good idea since it might offer customers increased choice now and in the future.
But let's be honest, he just wants more iPods in more hands more often. Anti-DRM sentiments don't make a whole lot of sense for Apple. Firstly, only in their darkest moments did the company decide to license Macintosh clones (back in the 90's) and that didn't last very long. Apple has, historically, been a closed and secret fort - in goes your money, out comes shiny toys. For Jobs, unless he truly believes in Apple's ability to remain squarely in the forefront of the portable media player spotlight with the iPod, there is no incentive for him to open up the music.
Finally, depending on how you measure things, Jobs' claim that "So far we have met our commitments to the music companies to protect their music, and we have given users the most liberal usage rights available in the industry for legally downloaded music.
" is patently wrong. Most liberal usage rights my ass! "Where are the DRM-free music downloads of indie bands
willing to sell their music anyway they can?" asks DVD Jon. Probably not there because of a clause in the contract which reads something like: "You can't sell other music than ours - especially DRM-free - are we fuck
you. We fuck
you, Lebowski!" I'm not blaming Apple outright as it is clearly the music companies that are the paranoid androids but does it matter in the end?
The Economist seems to think that Jobs' stance is right
, albeit self-serving.
But at the end of the day this is all as transparent as a rock stars girlfriend. Jobs, in the all-important final paragraph, writes:
For Europeans, two and a half of the big four music companies are located right in their backyard. The largest, Universal, is 100% owned by Vivendi, a French company. EMI is a British company, and Sony BMG is 50% owned by Bertelsmann, a German company. Convincing them to license their music to Apple and others DRM-free will create a truly interoperable music marketplace. Apple will embrace this wholeheartedly.
If this isn't a blatant attempt to get Europeans to shut up about the interoperability issue and go attack the music companies instead, than I don't know what it is.
Cham-peen of the consumer, defender of freedom my ass.
It seems I'm pigeonholing myself as an alarm clock journalist, but what can you do? This one is for you heavy sleepers
, with a "bed-shaker" and a ear-bleeding 113 decibel audible alarm. For reference, 113 is about twice as loud as a chainsaw. Ouch.
Ha! Take that
Tremblay. Although I am no longer in Montreal, I was around for the hub-bub that was the cities attempt at renaming Parc Avenue to Robert Bourassa. Robert was some Quebec premier, apparently. Whatever. I signed a petition on the street (yes, it was Parc) and I sent an email to anyone who I thought might be offended by the change, as well. Apparently it paid off
Mayor Gerald Tremblay says the proposal to change the name of Park Avenue has been withdrawn and added his intention was never to generate controversy.
The decision to rename the street triggered angry street protests and prompted some 30,000 people to sign a petition against the move..
.. The mayor said Tuesday that he still wants to find a way that suits everyone to honour the former premier, and added Mr. Bourassa's family didn't want any controversy over changing the name of Park Avenue.
Oh, I dunno.. how about renaming Ruelle Lavers
Missed the Superbowl? That's okay, it wasn't that great anyway. It was the first time it rained during a S'bowl and the play was sloppy. Not surprisingly, everyone seemed to know the outcome before the game started too (see a few posts below). Regardless, if you still feel like you missed out, you can catch up in about 3 minutes