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Thursday, March 31, 2005

 

Tax Reform

I still need to write up
something longish on social security, but there's a dissertation in the way.

In the mean time, consider this article by George Will on John Linder's consumption tax plan. The basic idea is to 1) eliminate the income tax, 2) eliminate the separate collection of social security and medicare taxes, and 3) fold it all into a single sales tax.

To maintain progressivity in the tax code, every household would get a check each month equal to the amount of taxes that would be taken on the purchase of basic goods (e.g., food & clothes) necessary to live at the poverty line.

The text of the bill under discussion is here.

Linder claims this approach will have the following effects:


I add the following effects:

My inner libertarian also likes the idea because I get greater flexibility with my money (I could save or I could spend the extra take home money) (ok, my outer libertarian would like the idea for the same reason).

Now there's three decent questions about the plan that I know of. 1) Will a 23% sales tax really cover all that? 2) How will this affect charitable giving? 3) What about the housing market and the interest rate deduction?

My short answers to those concerns are the following:

1) Maybe 23% is too low. Maybe it's too high. I'm open to debate as to what the exact number should be. However, due the increased efficiencies that will gained and the stimulative effect that this should have on the economy, I fully expect that the percentage should be significantly less than the 45% (30 + 15.3) or so that comes out of my income now.

On 2 and 3, the worry is that without the tax deduction for home interest and giving, the demand for charitable giving and housing will go down.

However, that deduction is still effectively there. Interest payments and gifts do not represent a sale. So as you make your monthly home payment or your gift to charity, those transactions are not taxed (though the initial value of the house would presumably be taxed). So the fraction of your income going to these two activities are excluded from taxation. This is exactly the same effect as if you were deducting these items from your income when computing your income tax.

However, you would be getting this deduction without having to fill out a 1040.

The same deduction reasoning applies to IRAs, cept that now there's no cap on the deduction nor a government penalty for early withdrawal!

And the same deduction reasoning applies to medical care, cept now there's initial hurdle to clear before you start taking the deduction!

Anyways, leave a comment as to what you think of the idea of a national consumption tax replacing the taxes that are taken out of your paycheck.

Update

Here's a FAQ on the fair tax.

Spakkadi has thoughts on the fair tax as well.

Update2

In the comments, Matt asks a good question - he's just paying 15% in taxes now, wouldn't this be a tax hike on people like him?

Well there's three parts to the answer.

First, 15% is your income tax rate. The consumption tax replaces the collection of all payroll taxes - income, social security, and medicare. 15% + 7.65% (social security + medicare) = 22.65%. So it'll be like you got an immediate raise of 22.65% on which you would be paying a consumption tax of 23%. But wait, there's more! (Social security and medicare are still there, the means of revenue collection are changed to be a part of that 23% consumption tax)

Second, you'll also get a check each month (as would everyone) offseting the taxes you're paying for necessities. While I don't know what the exact number would be, according to the the Fair Tax FAQ for spending of $28,808 (I think that's equivalent to the same income), that works out to an effective tax rate of 17.3%.

Third, that 7.65% that employers are saving on social security and medicare would eventually work their way into a combination of lower real prices and higher salaries due to market forces. This would happen almost immediately at Walmart (prices more likely than salaries), slower elsewhere. Likewise the same effect will happen on corporate taxes which go away. This effect is further heightened by the savings that each company will have in tax code compliance (sales taxes are much simpler than the mess of loopholes that is corporate tax code).

So even ignoring the combination of effects in my third point, you'll have an immediate tax savings of 22.65-17.3=5.35%. If you include the third point, then you save at least another 7.65 points for a total of 13.00%. So your federal tax bill would be cut by 13.00/22.65 = 57%!.

(Note some numbers were adjusted above cause I f'd up my arithmetic. This caused a reduction in the bottom line savings from 59% to 57%.)

Update 3
Above, Matt lists some more objections. My response to his response to my response to his response (aren't blogs great for debate?) are in the comments to that same post.


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GoBotification

As I believe I recall from the movie (which I saw like 20 years ago), "Challenge of the GoBots," the GoBot race arose as a race of humanoids replaced worn out organs with their mechanical equivalents. Eventually, all of their organs were replaced, and they became out and out robots. (For those of you who are curious, the history of the Transformers in painstaking detail is here. They were created by the One Spark via Primus, or Hasbro. I have trouble telling the two apart).

Today via Drudge I read of a major step in the GoBotification of the human race:
The pioneering surgery at New England Sinai Hospital, Massachusetts, last summer means [Matt Nagle] can now control everyday objects by thought alone. The brain chip reads his mind and sends the thoughts to a computer to decipher. He can think his TV on and off, change channels and alter the volume thanks to the technology and software linked to devices in his home....Mr Nagle has also been able to use thought to move a prosthetic hand and robotic arm to grab sweets from one person's hand and place them into another.
Nagle, however, is merely the latest in a series of steps in the Gobotification process which I think begins with Barney Clark who survived for 112 hours on a Jarvik-7.

But is the GoBotification of the human race something we should be striving for? After all, are we not committing ourselves to a lifetime of battle against Cy-Kill and the rest of the Renegades? Are we not committing ourselves to a lifetime of being sold by Tonka? (Or at least until Tonka is bought by Hasbro and GoBots become to Transformers what Duplos are to Legos) Are we prepared to be attacked by flying coffee beans when we come to the aid of the Rock Lords?

On the other hand, who wouldn't want to be a "Mighty Robot, Mighty Vehicle?"

I think this ethical dilemma deserves serious discussion. Perhaps even as much as that classic ethical dilemma, "How many 5 year olds could you take in a fight?"

Update
A different ethical dilemma at Catallarchy. But this one is a bit more serious than GoBotification or "5's for fighting."

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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

 

New Criterion Contraption

Summertime, now at The Criterion Contraption.

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Don't Do It Code Blue!

I'd rather not step into the legal/ethical morass that is the Terry Schiavo case, but I have to for a moment, cause a blogger is about to lose a bunch of money unless he wises up and backs out of a wager...

Via Michelle Malkin, I see where the radiologist who is running Code Blue Blog has put forth the following wager:

To prove my point I am offering $100,000 on a $25,000 wager for ANY neurologist (and $125,000 for any neurologist/bioethicist) involved in Terri Schiavo's case--including all the neurologists reviewed on television and in the newspapers who can accurately single out PVS patients from functioning patients with better than 60% accuracy on CT scans.

I will provide 100 single cuts from 100 different patient's brain CT's. All the neurologist has to do is say which ones represent patients with PVS and which do not.

If the neurologist can be right 6 out of 10 times he wins the $100,000.

So let's analyze this gambling situation. If the neurologist guesses 60 or more cases correctly as either PVS or not PVS, the the neurologist quadruples his/her money (maybe 5 times - I'm not certain what distinction code blue is drawing on neurologist/bioethicist).

Now if the neurologist was an untrained monkey, there would be a fifty-fifty chance of getting each diagnosis correct and the odds of getting 60 or more correct would be approximately 2.8%. Quadruple the return, and you have an expectation of getting 11.2% of your wager back. Those are indeed bad odds. However, that's for monkeys.

We're talking humans here, neurologists to be precise. If they only have a probability of just 56.13%, then they'll break even. Any higher and they'll make money.

Now cause I'm a dork, I plotted the probability of guessing right for 60 or more scans versus the probability of guessing any one scan correctly. As I show below, the neurologists need to only be able to guess right a little better than 56% of the time to come out ahead.

However, we can be more precise as to exactly how well the neurologists will have to do.

From the Journal of Neurology, we know that the occurence of misdiagnosis of PVS has been measured at 37% (that's disturbingly high which is what I think is Code Blue's motivation).

But that's just the probability of false alarm (the probability of diagnosing PVS when not PVS). We also have to factor in the probability of a miss (the probability of not diagnosing PVS when the patient really does have PVS).

Given that the break even point for Code Blue is when the neurologists guess right 56% of the time, we can figure out what the probability of a miss will have to be for code blue to make money (assuming that horrendous 37% false alarm rate is maintained). This miss probability can be found by solving the following equation:

p[correct]=0.5613=1-p[PVS]x(p[miss])-p[not PVS]x(p[False Alarm])

For the sake of argument, let's assume that Code Blue chooses his samples so that half are PVS and half are not. Then that expression above becomes:

0.5613 = 1- 0.5 x p([miss]) - 0.5 x 0.37

So assuming with this half and half assumption and with the assumption that the neurologists will continue with a 37% false alarm rate (saying it's PVS when it's not), then when the neurologists say the scan isn't PVS, at least 50.7% ot the time the neurologists would have to be wrong for Code Blue to make money.

Bottom Line:
Code Blue makes excellent points 1) that radiologists are the ones trained to take first looks at the scans, not neurologists and 2) that PVS is misdiagnosed ALOT.

But if Code Blue wants to hang onto his money, he shouldn't make this wager...

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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

 

Scifi Roundup

The Big Stuff
If you're a regular reader, these links will interest you.

Technicon 22
Technicon 22 is this weekend in Blacksburg at the Ramada. I don't think I'll be attending as the $20 registration fee is more than I'm willing to pay. If you're looking for more than just the run-of-the-mill scifi, fantasy, anime Technicon will also have sessions on polyamory, BSM, and bellydancing (shudder... most scifi afficianados don't look like this) . As an aside, Andrew of Logomancy is on the staff of Technicon-22.

Hugo Award Nominations
The Hugo nominees have been announced. The full list is here.

Star Wars
Just cause I haven't seen a Star Wars link I didn't like...

Star Wars in 3-D
All the Star Wars films are going to be released in 3-D starting in 2007.

Batman vs Darth Vader
In a Maxim-esque comparison, Mister Snitch compares the men in black (capes). (Batman wins)

M&M's Chocolate Mpire
M&M looks to capitalize on the Revenge of the Sith phenomenon as they have their own faux Revenge of the Sith Trailer. (h/t SFSignal)

StarWars Font
Ever want to have your text appear as StarWars characters? Probably not, but if you did, this is the site for you. (h/t Big Dumb Object)

Star Wars Clone Wars The Cartoon
Airs on the Cartoon Network. (h/t Christiana)

Random Links
I couldn't find a good classification for these links, but they're still interesting.

Overused Scifi Cliches
A humongous list of overused scifi cliches. I actually like most of the ones marked by the piggy symbol...

SF Cliche Contest
Subterranean magazine is having accepting entries for "original" science fiction stories that are chock-full of scifi cliches - the more the better. With that previous link in hand, you should have everything you need.

Leonard Nimoy - photographer
Via email from Roger, I see where Leonard Nimoy is branching out into photography. Spock also has some rather naughty photos (some pics in the gallery are not work safe)...

Iron Man's Game
Orson Scott Card is writing a series of five comic books on Iron Man. Scifiwire has the interview.

University of Kansas Science Fiction Center
Has a very cool science fiction website - lots of essays and educational material. (h/t scifiwire)

Alien Bounty
Find an an alien and bring it to the LoanPros, and you'll get one meeelion dollars.

John Scalzi
Scalzi has a polyscifi like site (science fiction and politics) called Whatever.

Update
How could I leave this one out?
Dalek attacks Parliament. (h/t Chaos Manor which doesn't do permalinks) Here's a picture of a Dalek.

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NCAA Pickem League Standings

As we head into the final weekend of the NCAA tournament, I decided it would
be nice to post an update on the status of the Polyscifi pickem league.

With four teams left, there's just eight ways in which the remaining three games can play out. Assuming those eight scenarios are equiprobable, then "A Picker Darkly" and "nope" have the greatest probability of winning with 3 winning scenarios a piece. "Coin Flippers" and "Bubblicious" each have a scenario by which they can win.

If you're interested in seeing the specific scenarios by which each of these entries can win and the current point standings, click through.

Current Standings
Team...............Score.....Winning Scenarios
A Picker Darkly....85........3
Bubblicious........78........1
Nope...............70........3
NIT Wannabes.......68........0
kimberly...........66........0
Inverted Triangles.66........0
Coin Flippers......63........1
Cracked Nut........55........0


Winning Scenarios
League Winner....Semi 1.......Semi 2.......Champion
A Picker Darkly..Louisville...UNC..........Louisville
Bubblicious......Louisville...UNC..........UNC
A Picker Darkly..Louisville...Mich. State..Louisville
A Picker Darkly..Louisville...Mich. State..Mich. State
Nope.............Illinois.....UNC..........Illinois
Coin Flippers....Illinois.....UNC..........UNC
Nope.............Illinois.....Mich. State..Illinois
Nope.............Illinois.....Mich. State..Mich State

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The New Libertarian

The neolibertarian network (or more accurately, Jon, Dale, and McQ) has put out its first edition of The New Libertarian - the flagship magazine for the neolibertarian movement.

It's available for free download (pdf) here. It's a good read, and not just because this Polyscifi post is included in the "Around the 'Sphere" section.

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Ray Mummert: Intelligently Designed.

Apparently evolution is selecting for humans born with their feet in their mouths. Here's Ray Mummert, of Dover, Pennsylvania, describing why Creationism is so controversial:

"We've been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture."

Now that is a problem, Ray. There's always been a pretty strong undercurrent of anti-intellectualism in American culture. And as Neal Stephenson points out, intellectuals turned the twentieth century into an abbatoir. But geez, "intelligent" and "educated" as pejoratives? That's a little much, no?

Here's the story. H/T Wonkette.

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Monday, March 28, 2005

 

Maybe Henry VIII Knew Something

Razib has a post up at Gene Expression in which he notes a paper (if you're a Tech student, you can get access through the electronic journal interface) that claims that couples that have male brains (systematizing, e.g., engineers, mathematicians) tend to have sons and that couples couples that have female brains (empathizing, e.g., nurses) tend to have daughters.

The authors believe that the sex hormones of both parents strongly influence the sex of their offspring and back up their theory with data from the 1994 US General Social Survey.

So maybe ole Henry was right and his wives were too empathetic and a more systematizing wife was needed to increase the probability of male progeny.

Or maybe Henry would've been better suited for a different line of work...


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New Criterion Contraption

Salò, now at The Criterion Contraption.

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Sunday, March 27, 2005

 

Frusion Breakfast Brawl

Get ready to experience the most amazing breakfast-related boxing game mankind has ever seen.
H/T Screenhead.

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Friday, March 25, 2005

 

Major Major for the Blind and/or Lazy

Adam from Trickeration contracted Stephen Hawking to make an audio recording of my wildly popular book, "I am the very Model of a Modern Major Major, Yossarian," and has posted the recording for free download here.

I don't think any of the other Pulitzer Prize for Fiction nominees will have a reading from the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics.

So I'm like so in there.

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Thursday, March 24, 2005

 

But is it Art?

Tired of waiting for the establishment to recognize your outsider art? Why not take matters into your own hands, like this guy did?

H/T Screenhead.

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Chile con Carnival at Wendy's

Via email from Preethi, I learn that Wendy's held a Chile con Carnival yesterday. (story):
SAN FRANCISCO, California (Reuters) -- A diner at a Wendy's fast food restaurant in San Jose, California, found a human finger in a bowl of chili prepared by the chain, local officials said Wednesday.

"This individual apparently did take a spoonful, did have a finger in their mouth and then, you know, spit it out and recognized it," said Ben Gale, director of the department of environmental health for Santa Clara County. "Then they had some kind of emotional reaction and vomited."
There's no word yet if either a pony or a Radiohead showed up for the Chile con Carnival. And while the police are still trying to determine where the finger came from, I think they should first check the Tenorman household.

Update
The diner has dropped the claim and has been arrested. See this post.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

 

Letter from a Hokie on the Arabian Peninsula

is posted on Nanothoughts. An excerpt:
The food here at the mess hall is on par with the Dietrick Hall Dining Facility (aka Die Quick) from VA Tech. My fellow Hokies alumni will know what I am talking about. For those who didn’t have the opportunity to attend such a fine college, the food is acceptable but the menu does not offer enough variety. The main difference between the Dietrick food and the mess hall here is that it doesn’t give me any heartburns.
I never got heartburn from Dietrick, but I always had to take the Dietrick poop immediately afterwards. I hope he's not experiencing that aspect of Dietrick style food in the desert.

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In Terrace View

they mean it when they say, "Don't let the bedbugs bite." This is the same Terrace View where my wife lived (girlfriend at the time), where many of my friends still live and where a balcony collapsed in 1996.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

 

Life Imitates Weekly World News

Earlier, we had noted the impending toilet paper crisis cited in Weekly World News. Well, now that shortage appears to be hitting home. Government workers in Buffalo are now being asked to bring their own toilet paper to work. At the same time legislators in Florida are considering adding a tax to each roll which will encourage toilet paper conservation (not the ostentatious reason, but we know what's going on).

Maybe the government does know something about an impending toilet paper crisis that we don't.

Previous Life Imitates Weekly World News Post
Gay Bomb

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For the Blacksburg Readers

101.7 FM is back on the air. Mmmm... Glenn Beck and Big Dog Sports Talk....

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Monday, March 21, 2005

 

Are You Inquiring about a Challenge?

Presumably, if you're reading this blog, you've run into Homestar Runner before. And if you haven't, browse around this site immediately. Anyway, occasionally they'll feature a flash video game that's a spot-on replica of a vintage console or computer game: witness Peasant's Quest (which is actually about as long a game as the original King's Quest). If you're my age, hearing the theme song for Peasant's Quest play through a computer speaker evokes an entire era. An era of staying up all night trying to beat computer games.

Anyway, point is, today Homestar Runner has a new game up, a spot-on recreation of Megaman. If you don't know the site, this link explains the characters in the game. And here's the game. Brings back all kinds of memories. Memories of staring at a television while my youth passed me by.

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Replicators on the way?

That's what went through my mind when I read this article. (h/t Marginal Revolution)

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New Criterion Contraption.

Hard Boiled, now at The Criterion Contraption.

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Saturday, March 19, 2005

 

Volokh Vengeance

Click the image for the back story.

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Dude.... You're Getting a Compaq?

Spakkadi's back blogging again and she's discovered how Dell could have award winning service - they're competing in the Customer Service Special Olympics. Her service experience was so bad it caused her to drop the f-bomb. Fortunately, she didn't use this word.

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Friday, March 18, 2005

 

On the science side...

The inventor of plastic injection molding has died.

Injection molding gives us everything from car and computer parts, to action figures and Legos.

Update
Post edited (URL put in storyline) by Jody.

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Harry Shearer at Talking Points Memo

For what it's worth, Harry Shearer (of Simpsons and Spinal Tap fame) is the guest blogger at Talking Points Memo for a week, while Josh Marshall gets married. Expect hilarity.

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SciFi Roundup

It's been a little bit since I last did this, so there's quite a bit of science fiction that deserves some attention...

Trailers
Star Wars - Revenge of the Sith
I know I behind on this one, but you can see the Revenge of the Sith trailer here. Somehow, I sill prefer this trailer (h/t Christiana)

Star Wars - Revelations
Revelations is a major fan flick coming out on April 16. (what better way to unwind after Tax Day?) Its timeline appears to occur between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. Here's a link to its trailer. The special effects actually look pretty good, though the actors are definitely not Hollywood actors. (h/t slashdot)

War of the Worlds
Coming out this June. (Official site here. It's horribly slow, so consider yourself forewarned.)

Fantastic Four
It's going to be a great summer with yet another SciFi Movie. (h/t Drezner)

New Hitchhiker's Trailer
A new trailer (quite amusing too) is available here.

Old TV Shows Made New
Battlestar Galactica
If you've missed out on the show so far, you can at least see the entire first episode here.

Dr Who
The first episode of the new Dr Who apparently leaked out onto the net. The BBC isn't happy about this and are looking into threatening downloaders with copyright laws. I think they could learn something from the SciFi Channel's treatment of Battlestar Galactica. Capt Xerox thinks the leak was done intentionally so the BBC's posturing my all be for show.

Legos and Scifi
What do legos have to do with SciFi? Ask Stephen Green.

Spiderman vs Doc Ock
In LEGOs in a yahoo quicktime movie.

Batman in Legos
On this site in another LEGO quicktime movie. It has actually has some amazing voice talent for an online movie (like Adam West as Batman). (h/t SFSignal)

Lego Starwars Demo
The Lego Starwars game mentioned in the previous roundup, now has a demo that you can download. (h/t SFSignal)

Fantasy
Technically not scifi, but why not?

The Hobbit
It appears to be in the works, but perhaps 3-4 years off according to this article.

LOTR - the Musical
is opening in Toronto next March.

Legend of Zelda Trailer
Yes, you read that right. A video game has its own trailer. (h/t Christiana)

Fantasy Bedtime Hour
The only thing better than fantasy? Having fantasy novels read to you by a couple chicks in bed it's the Fantasy Bedtime Hour. (h/t gnxp science fiction)

Some cool links I found via SFSignal
If you're not reading SFSignal daily for your SciFi fix, you should be.

The Physics of Science Fiction
Is discussed in this presentation interspersed with a transcription of the original speech. There's a lot of detailed discussion of the physics and stability of Ringworld. (SFSignal article)

George Takei Soundbourd
A very large collection of George Takei (Capt Sulu) is available here. (SFSignal article)

The Differences Between SciFi and Science Fiction
is discussed in this article. In short, the author posits that SciFi (cinematic Science Fiction) is concerned with stories where the characters are fighting to stop/avoid an event that will change the status quo (think Armegeddon or Deep Impact) whereas in Science Fiction (literary Science Fiction), the story follows the characters' attempts to adjust to the event (think Lucifer's Hammer). (SFSignal article)

Random Stuff
I couldn't find a good categorization for this stuff, but I thought you would like to see it nonetheless.

A Scifi role playing game
that you write as you go along on this site (h/t Nute)

Scifi for [fill in the blank] lists
For liberals (h/t The Mumpsimus)
For socialists
For just about everyone else. Though I think the list of "Science Fiction for people who think supreme executive power should be lodged in the candidate who possesses the memories of previous leaders" is lacking as it doesn't include the Serpentor series.

X-Files 2
Appears to be in the works according to Duchovny. However, it won't have anything to do with the alien storyline.

Andre Norton
The author of the Witch World series has died. (h/t Instapundit)

Wonder Woman Movie
Appears to be in the works.

Latex Costumes
You know you want one. (h/t boingboing)

Learn to Draw Boba Fett
You know you wanna.

Revenge of the Sith will be like the Titanic?
So says Lucas - "I describe it as a 'Titanic' in space. It's a real tearjerker, and it will be received in a way that none of us can expect."

Silly me, I was expecting bad ass light saber fights. Maybe when Vader kills Mace Windu, he'll exclaim, "I'm King of the World!!"

Polyscifi
H.P. LoveCraft in the WSJ
You know an author has finally been mainstreamed when he appears in a WSJ article.

Economics as Psychohistory
After noting an article by Kevin Drum which highlighted an economic study by econophysicists, Jon of QandO analogized the situation to Asimov's psychohistory.

Lucas - Idiot or Savant?
Over the past week there was a lengthy debate in the Corner on the Star Wars franchise and Lucas. This one is rather lengthy, so click through if you want to read the exchange.

It all started with Jonah's innocent note that Revenge of the Sith may be too scary for kids...

Rick, no fan of Lucas (or Spielberg - too much SouthPark methinks), chimed in with "[George Lucas] and Steven Spielberg are two of the most disastrous pop cultural figures of the last thirty years. They converted an entire medium to childishness--scary sharks, space men, Indiana Jones. Star Wars is bits of plastic put together with Scotch tape. There were clever moments here and there, and more often cheap thrills. But anything adult was banished."

Rick then added: "George Lucas made a hugely successful piece of rubbish. Steven Spielberg, in his wittier way, has made many more. And we have all suffered." and trashed John Williams ability as a composer noting that the man actually managed to rip himself off.

At this point, Jonathon Adler noted that Jason Apuzzo had hopped in to defend Lucas on Libertas as a follow up to Apuzzo's prior post. While the defense was all well and good, Apuzzo also insisted that Jonah, Last and others had no place criticizing Lucas as they weren't sufficiently learned in the art of movie making. Needless to say, this pissed off Jonah. I know I felt the same way in this thread though Apuzzo at least argued a point.

However, all this was ignored for a while as Jonah dropped the ball.

Finally, on Monday, someone emailed Jonah Apuzzo's second post, and Jonah went off. Jonah then got official approval to pontificiate froma an emailer here. The Derb weighed in wishing for more intelligent SciFi.

Jonah finally got back to Rick's original argument here listing several craptastic movies that came out before Lucas and Spielberg would've had a chance to ruin Hollywood. Then Jonah offered an email supporting his position an contra Rick's Speilberg Nazi position (they're silly) and defended Williams in the process.

Rick weighed back in here expressing an appreciation forScifi kitsch. And then added a comment in praise of Kubrick's choice of music in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Rick and Jonah adjourned to Atlanta with Jonah challenging Rick to a light saber duel.

Rick rejoined his Spielberg Nazi criticism here.

Apuzzo then got around to responding to Jonah, which Jonah noted here promising more. I suggest (for what that's worth) that both sides drop it and stop the unproductive portion of the Lucas debate.

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Uniform Pricing

In a comment to this post, Jody linked to this discussion of movie prices. It's interesting enough, but I think is based on a flawed understanding of how studios and theater chains make money. There's a pretty good, if very basic, discussion of distribution at How Stuff Works, here. Here's the problem in a nutshell:
Note that I don't know what the print deals were on either of these movies; it's possible that as My Big Fat Greek Wedding expanded, theaters paid opening weekend profit-sharing the first weekend they got it (and it took a full six months to expand to a 2,000 screen weekend). But in general, that's how it works. So the studios don't have the same economic interest the theater chains do. And studios know how to market their films. If it's something like The Hulk, where they will only be making money until word-of-mouth makes the movie undesireable, they put all their might into that first weekend, and then leave theater chains out to dry after that. With My Big Fat Greek Wedding, they don't put a lot of money into prints and advertising up-front, but hope that word-of-mouth will eventually have theater owners fighting to get to screen it.

Which brings me to my main point: theater chains are not really rational actors in this market. Or, they are, but not in the way you'd think; they don't always show a movie because they think people will see it--they make all kinds of strange deals with studios, because the fact is, the studios don't have to sell them product. So they'll say things like, you want an exclusive engagement in Knoxville of The Matrix Reloaded for its opening weekend? Well, then you have to guarantee me you'll give me two screens of a revival screening of Battlefield Earth for a full month, so that word-of-mouth will bring kids in (an optimistic plan, to say the least). And there are people who'll see whatever movie has seats available, even if it's John Travolta with dreadlocks; and by making this kind of deal, Warner Brothers gets that extra money, and more importantly, denies another studio the same screen.

Say a hypothetical theater owner decided that Battlefield Earth tickets were only worth $1, not $7.50. And as a result, sent $0.50 to the studio for everyone who saw it, not $3.75. Warner Brothers distributed that movie. Guess which theater isn't even going to get to bid on showing The Matrix, Batman Begins, Million Dollar Baby, or anything else they might want?

Finally, add to the equation that actors and directors get profit participation as well, and you can see why neither theater owners nor studios are anxious to price different movies differently. You don't want a star pissed off because people can see her latest flop for $1.25, while Hilary Swank gets $10.

And last, remember William Goldman's central rule about Hollywood:

Nobody knows anything.

Nobody knows what movie is going to be a hit ahead of time. Nobody knows what movie is going to strike a chord with audiences a particular week. Movies are tracked, and studios have some idea how they'll do, but they get surprised. It's not like other businesses, where past revenues give an idea about future returns; a studio markets and sells ten to twenty completely different products each year. Which will do well? Nobody knows anything!

Example: The Grudge tracked at $25 million for the first weekend (tracking is the studio's prediction of how it will do) and it made $40. They were nearly 100% off. (this info is from Tad Friend's excellent piece about Dave Wirtschafter (head agent at William Morris) in this week's New Yorker; the president of production at New Line makes an appearance. It's not online, but there's an interview with Friend here). Trying to further second-guess audiences by negotiating different ticket pricing deals for different movies is nothing theater owners want to get into (studios can't negotiate ticket prices). So this is an issue where I'm not sure the market (at least the market between studios and theater chains) is capable of making rational decisions.

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Thursday, March 17, 2005

 

Where did I put my keys?

I bet these guys never have that problem - they're competing for the title of Memory Grandmaster in the USA National Memory Championship. Now I have a pretty good memory (as do many of the readers and contributors to this site). If I choose to memorize something no matter how stupid, years later I can recall it. Assuming breadth of knowledge and speed of recall is the criteria for measuring memory (i.e., a casual interest in a lot of different subjects), I think I can hold my ground with anyone.

But these guys are doing crazy things like memorizing a deck of cards in 45 seconds and memorizing a 50 line poem in 2-3 minutes (by comparison that used to take me 30-40 minutes in Spanish class).

I am simply in awe of their short term memories.

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Know thy Poop

That's a line in this CNN article. As is "So you enjoy those honey-glazed doughnuts. You are actually enjoying food drizzled in bee barf."

I don't see how I could not post a link to such a brilliant article. Of course my judgement may be a little off from the mainstream as the article does say the reviewed exhibit is intended for 8-12 year old boys...

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Astroturfing Campaign Finance Reform

I've long thought that McCain-Feingold was an abomination and a massive abridgement of the first ammendment (isn't protecting political speech even more important than protecting religious speech or Hustler?), that signing a bill that he said he didn't think was Constitutional that Bush was derelict in his duties as President (that whole thing about swearing to uphold the Constitution), and that the Supreme Court's approval of the law demonstrated the rank stupidity that inevitably comes when you take a non-textual/living Constitution view of the Constitution. (If you're keeping track at home, I was/am still pissed off at all three branches of government over McCain-Feingold.)

Well, now you can add one more source of annoyance. It was astro-turfed.

Via QandO and Instapundit, I learned of this NY Post article by Ryan Sager. In it Sager levels the following charges based on videotaped conversations with Sean Treglia.
1) There was no public groundswell for campaign finance reform.
2) The appearance of a groundswell was orchestrated by a group of 8 organizations (lead by Pew Charitable Trusts - "Serving the public interest" - Ha!) and pliant members of the liberal media like American Prospect and NPR (if you don't think NPR can be bought, check out this Kaus post)
3) This was further advanced by buying "independent" groups such as the Center for Public Integrity (I like Sager's descriptor of Orwellian names)

None of this is illegal, mind you.

I'm just very much annoyed at the 4th estate (make it 4 for 4) which saw fit to publish a large expose' on the Swifties connections to Bush based on a shared consultant (Spaeth), but couldn't be bothered to follow the money in something that was clearly intended to dramatically limit political speech in America.

Ryan Sager's blog - Miscellaneous Objections - has documentary transcripts and videos.

On a tangential note, I think what Sager did with this story is exactly what the media should be doing with blogs/online content - publish the story in print and provide documenting evidence/background info online for those who want to know more.

Hopefully others will pick up this strategy.

Update
In the comments of QandO, shark suggests that it may be illegal due to the classification of Pew (and the other organizations) as charitable groups.

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News you can Use

Read the whole thing. That's all I'm going to say about that.

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I'm Spartacus! (or: Why I Can't Leave Los Angeles)

Just got out from seeing Spartacus at the Arclight. It's a magnificent movie; this was the first time I'd ever seen it. And I think I can honestly say that I had the best possible viewing experience (short of seeing a movie with Alanis Morrisette, if you see what I'm saying). They showed the restored version of the movie, in a pristine print sent over from Universal; I don't think the print they used had ever been projected before. I didn't see a single scratch (although some of the reel changes seemed to be spliced with a few missing frames--they were using a 70mm print, so I don't know if they have an actual switchover with film that big or if they still splice it all together--if it was switchover, that's to be expected).

Anyway, there's a Criterion DVD of the restored movie, and I recommend that. I also recommend that if you're in Los Angeles, you catch a movie at the Arclight. You pay for what you get there; my ticket tonight was $10, but a weekend night ticket is $14. But what you get:
Anyway. Over christmas, I saw The Life Acquatic at a local theater in Missouri. And not only was one reel completely out of focus, the projectionist had masked the film wrong, so the left and lower part of the frame was obscured. Which was obvious when there were dates and places superimposed on that part of the frame, and the letters were cut off. If that weren't bad enough, the movie was self-indulgent and boring. And I can't help but think the projectionist was somehow involved.

The larger point here is that this is an example of the market working, I guess; but most people won't pay for a better movie experience. Or at least won't do it consistently enough to have a multiplex that does it right. Which means, even if I weren't trying to write screenplays, I'd still want to live in Los Angeles, because there are enough people to support a place like the Arclight. And I don't mean support like the Tennessee Theater in Knoxville or other places that people give money to, like art museums. This theater makes money hand over fist. I'd love to think it's a business model that could be supported elsewhere on a smaller scale. So I put it to you guys: would you pay more for a perfect projection, print, sound system, &c, &c. All the time? For some movies? (my roommate will see epic things there but not smaller scale stuff) Never? Inquiring minds want to know.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

 

Alcohol Test

Via Christiana, comes a fun little test that will ... err ... test your knowledge of alcohol.

I'll just say I'm a little disappointed in my liquor result having an extremely large personal bar (50+ varieties of liquor) and all...
(Click here to see the test results)

Bacardi 151
Congratulations! You're 153 proof, with specific scores in beer (100) , wine (100), and liquor (121).
All right. No more messing around. Your knowledge of alcohol is so high
that you have drinking and getting plastered down to a science. Sure,
you could get wasted drinking beer, but who needs all those trips to
the bathroom? You head straight for the bar and pick up that which is
most efficient.

My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
You scored higher than 88% on proof
You scored higher than 93% on beer index
You scored higher than 95% on wine index
You scored higher than 98% on liquor index
Link: The Alcohol Knowledge Test written by hoppersplit on Ok Cupid

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Polyscifi joins the Neolibertarian Network

You may have noticed a little symbol in the bottom left of the blog. Polyscifi is a proud new member of the Neolibertarian Network. As defined by Dale of QandO, a neolibertarian chooses
While Polyscifi represent a broad range of political views, these are ideals that each of the contributors subscribes to even though we may express them in different ways with the expectation of different outcomes.

If you like reading blogs that subscribe to those principles, check out the members of the Neolibertarian Network. Of course Polyscifi remains your one stop blog for politics, science fiction, and stupid stuff.
The Neolibertarian Network

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Lid up or lid down?

Gil Milbauer on the Reasonable Man examines the math of whether it's more efficient to always leave the seat down or to adjust the seat as needed. His conclusion: adjust the seat as needed is the clear winner. Read the post for the math. (h/t agoraphillia)

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Smarch Madness reminder

The NCAA tourney kicks off tomorrow at noon Eastern. So if you want to participate in the Polyscifi Pickem NCAA tournament group, tonight's pretty much your last chance to sign up (it's free and there's a prize of sorts).

In case you forgot, the group number is "23853" and the password is "polyscifi".

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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

 

Ventura to speak at Tech tonight

Jesse Ventura will be speaking at Tech tonight at 7:00. I'm intent on attending and reporting back, but I didn't sleep much last night and might not make it. (story)

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How to serve Roo

It's March 15. Have you eaten an animal for PETA yet?

May I suggest one of the following lovely cuts of kangaroo as highlighted on this Aussie kangaroo industry site.




More info about that tasty, tasty animal we call kangaroo is available in this helpful guide (a rather large pdf, but a must on Eat an Animal for PETA day). Recipes for each of these cuts are available at this site.

Now, suppose your local McDonald's doesn't serve roo, but yet you still have a hankering for a roo burger or a roo filet. (That's not a McDonald's I care to contemplate. What's life without a good McRoo sandwich with a side of Koala?)

Well then, this company will ship roo straight to your house.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and eat an animal. They're literally asking you to eat them.



Update
Instead of Roo, I had this for breakfast/lunch. Mmm mmm good.

Yourish has a list of some other sites participating in Eat an Animal for Peta Day here.

Wizbang has a particularly nice pic of some BBQ and its chefs.

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What is the source of the success of Japan?

Is it their East Asian work ethic?

Is it being invaded by the US - ala the Mouse that Roared?

Did the Samurai code lead to good salarimen?

Is a natural outgrowth of MITI?

Are the Yakuza giving Japan a leg up?

Or is it subtle help from the Pokemons? [As an aside, whenever I see someone from Pi Kappa Alpha, I have an uncontrollabe urge to start saying, "Peeeka... Pikachooo."]

According to an article linked to by Rog on nanothoughts, it's the shape of the Japanese women's pubic hair that did it.

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Sunday, March 13, 2005

 

Possible Banner

I'm trying to soup up the appearance of the blog and am thinking of using this photoshop paint creation as the banner. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. I'm also working on the template to get it to display the banner correctly, so suggestions on that subject are also appreciated.


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No means no.

Josh Marshall has an excellent piece on Democratic strategy about Social Security reform. Basically, he doesn't think the Democrats should be putting an alternative plan on the table right now; they have nothing to gain from so doing at this point. As long as the President's plan is vague and unpopular, the smart move is to simply oppose it, and explain why. Money quote:

Another reason it makes no sense is that it buys into the essential dishonesty of the president's political argument -- namely, that we're now debating how to 'save' Social Security: He has a plan. So the Dems should have one too.

But, as we've argued repeatedly here, that's not what we're debating. As press commentary has belatedly but increasingly awakened to, what we're now debating is whether to keep Social Security or to replace it with private accounts.

I think this is dead on the money, and I think that if the Democrats can successfully frame the debate on these terms, this will be a big winner for them in 2006.

Read the whole thing.


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Saturday, March 12, 2005

 

Credit Card Woes

It's basically a done deal; if you're planning on filing bankruptcy, do it this month, before President Bush writes MBNA America a big fat check. I can't think of another more obvious giveaway to campaign contributors in recent memory. And what great campaign contributors: I honestly loathe every credit card company I've ever had dealings with. Credit card companies, like commercial banks, make the vast majority of their money from their worst customers; often from people they shouldn't be loaning money to in the first place. I understand the advantage of having all that loaned money out floating around, especially in an economy as consumer-driven as ours. But when things go truly sour for a family or individual (health problems, job loss, a failed business), bankruptcy is a necessary safety valve.

Allowing credit card companies to take even more from the people who can least afford it is going to encourage them to make even more bad decisions when it comes to loaning people money in the first place. The fact is, when you get to a certain financial point, you have very few options in terms of repaying credit card companies. If you'd like details, check out the Washington Post's report here (reg. required). And I have very little sympathy for an industry that preys on the weak.

The stupidity of this bill is legion; among other things, it makes bankruptcy lawyers liable for any assets their clients successfully hide from the courts. Newsflash: the bankruptcy lawyers don't necessarily know about those assets either. This is like sending a defense attorney to the gas chamber because his client was guilty.

Democracies have a right, even an obligation, to pass stupid bills if the majority wants them. But this bill has little or no support among the American populace. Glenn Reynolds and Paul Krugman agree about this bill; Glenn also thinks it's a dumb move for the Republicans. There's a lot of talk on KOS about penalizing the Democrats who voted for cloture. You can find a list of them on Josh Marshall's bankruptcy bill edition of his blog, here (click the "Bankruptcy Rolls" links on the right). I'm pleased to note that Boxer and Feinstein both voted against cloture. While I do agree that the Democrats on the list should suffer (I couldn't support a presidential bid from Biden in 2008, for instance), I think it's also worth noting, again and again and again, that every single Republican Senator voted for cloture.

It's too late to stop passage of this stupid, stupid bill. It's not too late to use it as a pointed reminder that Senators don't always serve their constituents (I'd propose an exception for the Senators from Delaware--they really are serving their constituents. Their evil, predatory constituents). A democracy that lets people buy legislation through campaign contributions is not a democracy at all; it's a plutocracy. And plutocracies inevitably become monotonous, incorrigible failures.

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Friday, March 11, 2005

 

Happy Birthday Dave

It's my brother's birthday today (11th - I got back home late from a trip to DC). He's 26. I'll be sure to post some embarrassing photo tomorrow once I get to a scanner...

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A Good Entry in the Abortion Debate

For a while now, I've believed that the abortion debate turns on a lack of an agreement on when (human) life begins as I think there is a broad consensus that human life trumps choice when the life of the mother is not in the balance. Accordingly, I've felt that offering up times when we could say that life has begun would be the most productive thing we could do with respect to the abortion debate.

As such I was happy to see (via Jane Galt) this post by Doug on Catallarchy which proposes what I think is a neat conceptual definition of when life begins - the same definition we apply to determine when life ends. Specifically, Doug proposes that we use the same definition we apply to determine if someone is alive/dead even when on life support - the absence or presence of brain activity.

According to Doug's link, this occurs towards the end of the 9th week, though I have also seen the 6th week cited as well. I like this definition of the beginning of life (whether week 6 or week 9/10), particularly because of its symmetry with the end of life.

I'm not particularly interested in a discussion of the morality of abortion in this post, because once we get rhetoric out of the way, I think most people - even those ardently pro-life or pro-choice - have a similar moral interpretation of abortion. If you want to debate the morality of abortion, go post it on Jacqueline's site. She seems to like that discussion.

However, I am interested in a discussion of definitions, in particular the "the presence of brain activity" definition for the beginning of life. So if you like this definition or would like to suggest a different one, leave a comment.

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Smarch Madness

As a combination of rain and snow falls outside (Lousy Smarch weather) and as my Hokies go down to a crushing defeat to the Yellow Jackets, thoughts naturally turn to the NCAA tournament (not my thoughts - ed... quiet you).

Of course without a team in the tourney, it's only fun to watch(I like to watch - ed...) if you're in a basketball bracket. So this year Polyscifi has put together its first annual yahoo (read as free) tournament pick'em league.

To play, you'll need a yahoo id (which is free), the group number - 23853, and the group password - polyscifi.

The winner of the league will receive a signed copy of the polyscifi artwork of their choice (So you think others prize your "art?" -ed Hey, we're a low budget site, and it's all we have.)

It's good fun, relatively low maintenance, and if you're not playing along in the polyscifi group, it'll be harder to follow the gratuitous smack talk which tends to accompany these low zero stakes contests...

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No TP for my bung hole?

Forget Hubbert's Peak. We should really be worrying about the impending collapse of the world's supply of toilet paper.
In what could be the most serious crisis in the history of butt wiping, the world's supply of toilet paper may soon plummet to zero!
Soon we may only be able to read about toilet paper in special toilet paper museums.

However, all is not lost. Just as there are alternatives to oil, there are also alternatives to toilet paper:
"There are plenty of substitutes for toilet paper... such as parking tickets, credit card bills, and wedding invitations. Remember, lots of cultures have never even heard of toilet paper -- take the French, for instance."
So plan ahead and start identifying your own toilet paper alternatives like this man. (If that link doesn't work, try this one.)

Update
Shameless link whoring on Wizbang 'cause this story is just too important to not be read...

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St Brendan's

I see where the Journal is advocating that we raise our glasses to St Brendan this St Patrick's Day (Thursday) as St Brendan is rumored to have visited the US in the 5th Century.

Personally, I'll be drinking this to toast St Brendan in addition to my green beer for St Patrick.

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Thursday, March 10, 2005

 

Superhero Roundup

Superheros have been popping up everywhere on the blogs. The following is a collection of superhero links I've run across the past two weeks.

Superman is a Dick
Via INDC and my brother, comes this link - a collection of comic book covers where Superman is a dick.

This Place Sucks (Office Space and the Super Friends)
This Place Sucks recreates scenes from Office Space with the Super Friends. Robin as Samir and Aquaman as Drew is pure genius. (h/t Milk and Cookies) (If you click on nothing else in this roundup, click on this link.)

Out of Context Comic Book Frames
This site collects frames of superhero comics, which when taken out of context, are quite amusing. (h/t BoingBoing)

Spiderman in Biblical History
Who knew that Spidey played such a key role in Biblical history? This Portland Mercury cartoonist, that's who. (h/t BoingBoing)

Spidey Goes to India
Not satisfied with just helping out thos of a Judeo-Christian background, Spidey is going to India to help the Hindus (ok about 20% of India is Muslim or Christian, but I thought it made for a nice transition). Here's the official press release, an article in the Weekly Standard (h/t Oxblog) on the universal values of Spiderman, and here's some initial cover art.

Superheros in Egypt
They've now got superheros in Egypt - AK Comics is putting out an Arabic collection of comic books. Clearly this is a Popish Zionist Neocon plot to export Western values to the Middle East. (h/t mindbleed)

Superheros in Saudi Arabis (Update)
Via the comments of this post on Dean's World (which also notes AK Comics), we learn of Qkids, an English language comic book series published out of Sweden and edited in Saudi Arabia.

Superhero Sues Yourish (Update2)
In the comments, Mr Snitch points out his post in which the Hulk sues Yourish. So be careful what you say about the green guy - he's got counsel.

Update
I have no idea why there was the double internal post, but it should be fixed now.

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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

 

Speeding Ticket for Roger

Continuing a proud VTACO tradition, Roger picked up a speeding ticket this weekend.

There's no word if trivia was involved.

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Caption Contest Results

We had a caption contest a while back for this photo from this article.


We got three, count em, three entries.
Thason:
"How the Democratic Party plans to court the black vote in the 21st century"

Derek:
"Some Union Head"

Roger (channeling Marv Albert?):
"Tonight at the Alamodome, he gets Happy-Go-Jackie on the big white guy like a donkey eating a waffle! Sweet Sassy Molassey! Get out the checkbook and pay grandma for the rubdown as the Spurs beat the Heat, 86-79! Thason!"

I think Thason's the clear winner here. So later this week, he'll be receiving a signed copy of "The Bill Gates."

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Cat Huntin'

In the Corner Rich Lowry notes this article where a Wisconsin man is proposing that they start hunting feral cats.

Seems to me that it's only fair judging by this picture on Xrlq.

Update
Today, I see where cats are now hunting us with 9mm guns. Eventually, they'll wise up and start using rifles, so we should pass this vital legislation now. This legislation is made all the more important as I fully expect the cat population to stand in the way of my dream of a mouse butler.

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Sunday, March 06, 2005

 

Uplifting Mice

In David Brin's Uplift Saga (sample chapters of Sundiver available here), all spacefaring species in the universe were "uplifted" by some other species, except for humans which somehow did it on their own. When a species is uplifted, its intelligence is greatly enhanced and it is given the technology for traveling to the stars. As a tradeoff for this benefit, the uplifted species has to serve in indentured servitude for an extended period of time.

In this universe, a species' social rank in the universe is determined primarily by the number of other species that it has uplifted. So when aliens finally come across humans, they are confused by 1) where our parent species are 2) how we managed to advance on our own to become a space faring species. However, since we've already uplifted chimps and dolphins, we're grudgingly accepted into the universe's society.

Today, via Futurepundit, I see where we're now implanting human brain cells in mice. Uplift in process?

However, the folks at the National Academy of Science don't see this as an uplifting process. As quoted by Randall, Professor Henry T. Greely, director of the Center for Law and the Biosciences, said:
"We concluded that if we see any signs of human brain structures . . . or if the mouse shows human-like behaviors, like improved memory or problem-solving, it's time to stop.''
For the time being, I'll ignore the considerable weird uncomfortable ethical questions this raises (in my gut, I'm against chimeras), and merely note a) it's about time we started working our way up the alien social ladder and b) I'm looking forward to having my own mouse butler.

As an interesting little aside, Brin has a polyscifi like site here. (politics + science fiction, but without our stupid stuff)

Update
Why do I care so much about the mouse butler? Because once we've figured out how to make a mouse butler, it's only a short while until we have monkey butlers.

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Saturday, March 05, 2005

 

For the fellas

Remember this link the next time she says she has a headache and isn't interested, remind her that sex is good for a headache.

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Friday, March 04, 2005

 

Polyscifi on Dean's World

Today Dean writes in his post, The Genesis of Rights, about the origin of "rights" and social contract theory while using Niven's and Pournelle's Lucifer's Hammer as inspiration.

After describing the backstory to the line: "You only have any rights because the rest of us pretty much agree that you have them." Dean goes on to conclude that: "Your rights do not exist unless your fellow men agree that they exist."

Fundamentally, Dean is correct as "a right is a claim, on other persons, that is acknowledged and reciprocated among the principals associated with that claim" and if they don't agree, then you don't have that right.

So go read the post and this comment which adds another example of the social contract origin of rights from Lucifer's Hammer.

Update
QandO continues the discussion.

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Thursday, March 03, 2005

 

Copywrong!

I suppose that missing out new translations of the last three volumes of Remembrance of Things Past, or (In Search of Lost Time for the purists) is more of a theoretical loss than a pain you feel daily. Myself, I never made it past the second volume; like everyone else I know who has the whole thing, the first book (of the three-book Vintage edition) is ragged and beat-up, and the last two are chock full of uncut pages. But still, I'm outraged, outraged that the Sony Bono Copyright Extension Act means I can't get any of the later volumes in a new translation. Slate has the details here.

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Brandon Bird

One of the thinks I like about my job is I get to see movie flotsam & jetsam floating around the building. One of the executives has a bookshelf filled with Kevin Spacey's notebooks from Se7en (as well as a big, rusty can of spaghetti from the same movie); there are plenty of Lord of the Rings swords floating around, and another guy has several fake porno VHS cases from Boogie Nights (which are very disconcerting until you realize they're props and not lost early works from Julianne Moore). My absolute favorite thing, though, is a copy of Newsweek from the upcoming (and by all accounts great) The Wedding Crashers. It has Christopher Walken on the cover, above the headline "Our Next President?"

Anyway, that's a roundabout way of saying that I think Christopher Walken is inherently funny; even the idea of Christopher Walken makes me laugh. So a Norman Rockwell-style painting of Christopher Walken building a robot in his garage? Yeah, I'm a fan. So if you're a connoisseur of fine art (and who isn't?), I'd highly recommend the paintings of Brandon Bird. You can find his site here (but also at http://painteroflight.com (!)) . A few highlights:

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A Possibly Impolitic Idea

Here's an idea I had bouncing around in my head for a few days...

Wouldn't it be nice if you could specify the fraction of your income tax that went to each department? The levels of taxation would still presumably be set by Congress.
Say you're a big antiwar "Not in my name" protestor. Then the war really wouldn't be in your name if you didn't fund the defense department.

Say you're flat out against abortion. Cut your funding to the HHS department.

Say you want more law enforcement - increase your percentage to Justice.

Say you want more money for the national parks - increase your percentage to the Interior.
Giving a more formal description of this idea, when you fill out your taxes, you would specify what percentage of your taxes go to each of the 15 Cabinet level departments and to a general fund. Each department would have complete control over how they spend the money they receive with typical Congressional oversight. The general fund would be allocated by Congress among the departments and any top level agencies that aren't part of a cabinet level department (like NASA). Congress would still be responsible for passing the laws and setting taxation levels.

If your allocation does not add up to 100% (whether from a math error, intention, or simply forgetting to do the breakdown), any unallocated tax dollars will go to the general fund. If you erroneous choose a breakdown that adds up to greater than 100% your percentage allocation would be normalized by the sum of allocations.

Here's the upsides and downsides to this proposal as I see it (I'm advocating a position here, so I've probably not giving a fair treatment to the downsides. That's where you, the reader, can show me the error of my way in the comments).

Upsides

  1. No one can complain about the government spending their dollars on something they wouldn't approve of.
  2. Hopefully by removing personal responsibility for aspects of government that people findd distasteful, the civility of political debate will improve.
  3. The functions of the government will more closely reflect the will of the people If people across the board don't like something, it's funding will be harder to come by. If people really like something, then it will be rolling in dough.
  4. If you subscribe to theory propounded by The Wisdom of Crowds, then more intelligent allocations of tax money would be made when 200 million people instead of 535 people are making the allocation decisions.
  5. I've never really liked the aspect of democracy where you can vote yourself other people's money. Government enabled theft is what that is. This would limit, though not completely eliminate, this negative aspect of democracy.
  6. It'll encourage many people to pay closer attention to the sausage making of government.
  7. It strokes my inner libertarian. [ed - what's up with you and the penis jokes - sausage followed up by stroking?. - Hey, it works for Wonkette]
  8. I've long felt, like Boortz, that if you pay more taxes, you should have a greater say in how the government spends its money - like being a bigger stockholder in the company.
  9. Also like Boortz, I think it would be a good thing if smarter people got a greater say in government than stupid people. Since I buy that there's a correlation between intelligence and income, this proposal seems to achieve this objective.
  10. Since the public is approving the funding, I think we can limit the "spend-it-or-lose-it" mentality the infects so many agencies of government, particularly as there would be some motivation to save money from year to year as a Department could never be certain how much money it was actually going to receive the next year. Hopefully this will hold down the growth of government.
Of course there's some potential drawbacks.

Downsides

  1. It is possible that instead of acting like a crowd, the public will act like a mob and choose the allocations poorly and underfund something important. That's where the general fund and Congress comes in which presumably most people will contribute to as we're generally fat, lazy, and contented. I would point out that Congress makes many many stupid allocations so perhaps the people couldn't do that much worse.
  2. Being a conservative libertarian, I recognize that there may be many unforseen problems with this plan so we should be careful. Perhaps this would be best implemented on the state level first, perhaps by the Free State Project.
  3. There could be an outcry about the inequality of the power of allocating tax moneys. To which I respond, a) Voting rights would not be changed. b) We're not French. We founded our nation on the concepts of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and not liberty, equality, and fraternity. c) Why should other people be allowed to determine how to spend my money in the name of equality? Is my name Harrison Bergeron or John Galt?
Anyways, consider the idea and let me know what you think...

Update
The commenters at Tacitus have some criticisms.

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