aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Sunday, April 17, 2005
The robot catastrophe
Federal Appeals Court Judge Richard A. Posner has a new book out, Catastrophe: Risk and Response. One of the catastrophes he foresees (#7, in the “Scientific Accidents” category) is intelligent robots:
There may some day (decades, not centuries, hence), be robots with human and eventually (but decades, not centuries, later) more than human intelligence. It wasn’t long ago that people thought a chess machine could never beat a grand master. With improvements in voice- and face-recognition software, neuroscience, robotics, communications, digitization, and artificial intelligence, there are now robot soccer teams, albeit the players are only the size
of coffee cans and move on wheels. Of greater portent, electrodes planted in monkeys’ brains enable the animals to control robotic arms, connected by wire to the electrodes, by sheer thought. Similar electrodes in human brains, connected wirelessly to robots, would open up new vistas in warfare. The next step would be to replace the human brain with an equally intelligent robot’s brain.
Really? That’s the next step? I keep saying I’d rather port my brain over to a robot’s body, given that this one’s 50 and not nearly as spry as it once was. Or augment this body and keep the brain. Heck, after years of education, therapy and plain old hard-earned experience, I’ve pretty much got this brain to where I want it. I don’t think I’d want to replace it with a robot brain. But maybe…
Dr.Doug, in addition to his other activities, is a church organist and a fan of pipe organs. This Lego church organ is for him and his friends. I’m sure they’ll also enjoy the full Lego church photo gallery. You will too.
Doug just ordered two of these, one for him and one for his mother.
What about me?
But I’m trying to figure out how to convert .tivo files into .avi so I can put last night’s Saturday Night Live Tom Brady’s Falafel City skit on my blog.
Saturday, April 16, 2005
College Republican campus recruiting
From the sidewalks on campus this week:
“Phil Kent on The dark side of liberalism: unchaining the truth”
“How to become a millionaire: saving and investing”
College Republicans aren’t the biggest group on campus but they are up there. (The Baptist Student Union is the largest, then there’s also the Diverse Body of Christ.) The Architect (a past chairman, defeating Terry Dolan) would be proud. I walk across this every day at work. So much for the liberal academy.
Cox not Washington Post’s new gossip columnist
I don’t listen to Imus, so I missed it.
Washington’s cell phones and chat lines were on fire Wednesday with the news from Don Imus’s show that Ana Marie Cox, aka Wonkette, had been named the Washington Post’s new gossip columnist.
Gossip aficionados were not surprised. As soon as Reliable Source author Rich Leiby quit last month, Cox was mentioned as a possible successor. Her Wonkette blog is a guilty pleasure most days, often newsy and usually frothy and funny.
But news of Cox’s hire turned out to be idle gossip-and dead wrong, the product of muddy conversation on a radio show taken as fact.
Friday, April 15, 2005
Pain and the lethal injection
Brew at I’m Just Waiting for the Robot Invasion points to the Houston Chronicle report on Inadequate anesthesia in lethal injection for execution (pdf), a study published this week in The Lancet:
Death penalty opponents have often pointed out that most states’ lethal injection procedures - which generally include an anesthetic, followed by a paralytic agent, then the actual lethal agent- may simply keep witnesses from noticing any suffering than actually prevent it.
The study indicates that executioners may not be using enough anesthetic in the procedures. As physicians cannot participate - killing, even in the name of the state, being a violation of their oaths - the personnel are often not trained in the medical portions of the procedures.
An editorial (pdf) accompanying the study worries that “ethically prohibited or not, many doctors are willing to participate in putting people to death.” It calls on doctors to stay away and notes:
It seems clinical and clean. However...those being executed may have been awake. Of course, because they were paralysed, no one could tell. It would be a cruel way to die: awake, paralyzed, unable to move, to breathe, while potassium burned through your veins.”
We’ve already learned of innocent people released from death row, now we know that those who remain stand a good chance of suffering a slow and painful death.
RELATED: Why is Texas #1 in executions.
DeLay’s house of scandal
The DCCC has put together a handy site for tracking the DeLay goings on. It’s called Tom DeLay’s House of Scandal.
Good Mac, bad Apple
Apple...reported a Q2 profit of $290 million, on revenues of $3.24 billion—the highest March revenue and net income in Apple’s history. Oppenheimer cited “strong sales” of both Macs and iPods, resulting in a 530 percent increase in net income year-over-year. Apple’s Mac business generated 62 percent of revenues, with over one million Macs shipped. Oppenheimer said this was the highest number of Macs shipped for any quarter in four years. The number of Mac sold was up 43 percent from the year-ago quarter.
I may be a fanatical Mac user—my house has four Macs and three iPods floating around—but Apple really fucked up by going after bloggers publishing product leaks. A California trial court ruled that Apple could force these bloggers to reveal their sources, a decision that is now on appeal. I have signed on to an amicus brief (PDF) on behalf of the bloggers…
R MN gay state senator on outing
The backstory of Republican Minnesota state senator Paul Koering coming out is really quite interesting. In a topsy turvy turn of events, SoVo Blog chides him:
Some have hailed Koering as a “hero” for coming out, an unusual adjective for a gay politician who supports banning gay marriage and who only came out when outing seemed inevitable.
More interesting...is the telephone call I had with a Republican member of a state legislature the other day. The call, which lasted over an hour, was one of the most fascinating since I’ve begun this work. As the legislator and I talked it became more and more clear the me that this individual was one of the many examples of a gay member of the GOP who should not be reported on.
So what does Senator Koering have to say on outing:
“I do believe it is appropriate when you have a politician who is a hypocrite,” the senator says. “Somebody who is possibly in the closet and uses their bully pulpit or their position to bash gay people or to make gay people’s lives difficult in their position and are in essence leading a double life-people like that need to be exposed for the hypocrite that they are.”
Criminally venal Bankruptcy Bill may be signed today
The bankruptcy bill has passed the House 302 to 126. 73 Democrats voted for it. See the final vote roll here.
We expect President Bush to sign the bill tomorrow. It becomes law 180 days afterwards.
The clickthrough includes a guest blog entry from John Edwards on bankruptcy.
Here’s an interactive listing of the Bankruptcy Bill vote roll call, sortable by caucus, vote, party and Representative, as well as by the median household income of their districts.
Thursday, April 14, 2005
Movement on the religious left
We desperately need an active, vocal religious left in this country. I am exhausted by the visibility of those who proclaim that both the Constitution and our bodies must become subservient to a theocratic state. That is not how I was raised, and that will never be how I understand the teachings of Christ.
He points to this from Glenn Smith at DriveDemocracy.org:
Those on the left who are waiting for progressive religious leaders to add their voices to the national political debate need wait no longer. A powerful assembly of religious leaders from a variety of traditions gathered at Riverside Church in New York on April 4. Their message was loud and clear: the militarism of Bush, the widening divide between rich and poor, the failure to provide families with health care, education, safe neighborhoods, even food, demands a revolution.
I’m glad to see it. The person I most associate with the call for a religious left is Amy Sullivan. She caused quite a ruckus this week and took a good deal of criticism, including the gratuitous swipe that “it’s bad enough she has to wave religion in our faces like we’re heathens.” (More here and here.)
I’m a post-atheist agnostic myself. Organized religion is not my cup of tea, but I have a Christian partner and I’ve seen him take flak for it. I’ve had the evils of religious intolerance, persecution and war quoted to me time and again. Those same people, mainly left-leaning friends, find it hard to acknowledge a history of protest and acts of leftist resistance rooted in principled religious commitment.
For me it’s clear that history and those principles add up to a valuable contribution to any winning liberal strategy.
The other day Michael BÃƒÂ©rubÃƒÂ© told of his experience with the American healthcare system:
You know how it goes: you call to make an appointment in September, and you get an appointment first thing February. And then, to make matters worse, it turned out that I had an MLA meeting that very day in February, and had to ask to reschedule. So I got pushed back to April 11. It’s a good thing I don’t live in one of those leftist countries where people have to wait in long lines because of all that socialized medicine! That would suck.
Michael lucked out. His procedure has been put off for five years; mine’s next month. (I started scheduling it last summer.) He did point me to James Wolcott though, who promises it won’t be as bad as it sounds, “...like jury duty for your butt.”
Hey! That’s too much information.
But what about that wait for socialized medicine that we’ve all been told is true? Today Kash at Angry Bear looks into it:
Let me leave aside the point that waiting lists exist in abundance in the US for elective procedures - it’s just that when people are waiting in the US, they are waiting for a miraculous windfall of money to be able to afford the procedure, rather than waiting a few months until their number is called. No, right now I want to focus on the myth that government-financed health care necessarily entails waiting lists for elective procedures.
The data shows that many countries with “nationalized” health care systems have little or no waits for elective medical procedures. A 2003 OECD working paper entitled “Explaining Waiting Times Variations for Elective Surgery across OECD Countries” by Luigi Siciliani and Jeremy Hurst provides some survey evidence of actual waiting times in various OECD countries....many of them have no waits for common elective procedures. Clearly government financing of health care does not, in and of itself, cause waiting lists for medical procedures.
The study also looks at out-of-pocket expenses in countries with government-financed health care (negligible) and who makes the decision about whether an individual should receive the service (doctors).
Compare this to the case of the US, which is somewhat different in both dimensions. What would an American expect to pay out-of-pocket for elective hip replacement, and how many hoops would they expect to have to jump through to get approval from their HMO?
So the next time you hear that the US health care system is better than those of other countries because Americans don’t have to wait for their health care, recognize this argument for the myth that it is.
UPDATE: Kevin Drum has more on healthcare around the world.
Angry Bear’s Health Care wrap up: the real crisis, what we spend, what we spend on, what we get for what we spend, performance, & waiting.
NPR: the news medium of choice
In an article that first surveys the state of television news, concluding:
Thus, more than 50 years into the television era, television news is at a strikingly low ebb. The medium that defined the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War, and the first human steps on the moon has become an outlet for the elderly and the lonely. Yet broadcast news is actually as healthy as it’s ever been. It’s just that it’s gone low-tech.
The Boston Phoenix proclaims the present belongs to NPR:
EVERY WEEK, somewhere between 23 million and 29 million Americans tune in to National Public Radio. In the apples-and-oranges world of television and radio ratings, it’s hard to know precisely how to compare TV’s daily numbers with radio’s weekly audiences. But there seems to be little question that NPR is now the second-largest broadcast news source in the United States, still trailing the network newscasts, but catching up rapidly - and far ahead of the cable news shows upon which media critics regularly dump barrels of ink.
NPR’s audience has at least doubled in the past decade. The only radio program with a larger audience than NPR’s two drive-time newscasts - Morning Edition and All Things Considered - is Rush Limbaugh’s talk show. The NPR audience tends more toward middle age than youth...but that’s still a lot younger than the network news audience. And whereas the television news audience is shrinking because it defies cultural trends, the public-radio audience is growing along with those trends.
The cost of the estate tax repeal
Even many of my middle class friends have supported the repeal of the estate tax, hoping no doubt, for their own windfall. My expectations are more in line with Charles C. Mann, who predicts that in the future there will be much less to pass on as seniors spend instead on expensive life sustaining/extending treatments:
In the past, twenty- and thirty-year-olds had the chance of sudden windfalls in the form of inheritances. Some economists believe that bequests from previous generations have provided as much as a quarter of the start-up capital for each new one-money for college tuitions, new houses, new businesses. But the image of an ingÃƒÂ©nue’s getting a leg up through a sudden bequest from Aunt Tilly will soon be a relic of late-millennium romances. Instead of helping their juniors begin careers and families, tomorrow’s rich oldsters will be expending their disposable income to enhance their memories, senses, and immune systems. Refashioning their flesh to ever higher levels of performance, they will adjust their metabolisms on computers, install artificial organs that synthesize smart drugs, and swallow genetically tailored bacteria and viruses that clean out arteries, fine-tune neurons, and repair broken genes.
But here in the present, as Angry Bear explains, what the House has really done is voted to raise income taxes:
Let me simply point out that the repeal of the estate tax means that future income taxes will rise by some $40 or $50 bn per year (since the CBO estimates a cost of $30-$35bn per year starting in 2006, and the future tax hike surely won’t happen during the first few years), depending on exactly when financial markets and/or the US’s political leaders decide that endless massive deficits are not sustainable. To put that in very specific terms, today’s action will therefore cost an average-ish upper-middle income family (earning a net of about $70,000 per year) an extra $500 per year or so in taxes.
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Drum on oil
Changes at CPB
Republican-friendly former F.C.C. chief operating officer W. Kenneth Ferree, whose primary legacy is his long-time lobbying to relax the rules regulating corporate media expansion, has been named interim CPB president and CEO, replacing Kathleen Cox after only nine months on the job:
Asked whether he shared the criticism by some conservative groups that public broadcasting is either out of touch or too liberal, Mr. Ferree said: “We can always do better in programming. We’re for balance. We want balanced programming.”
Uh oh. We well know know what balanced means.
Kos is a star
Q&A on Sunday; Wired news today. Kos is getting good attention. The Wired story is about his latest venture, SportsBlogs (of virtually no interest to a person like me). But the Q&A interview is my kind of media.
There are 871 seats in the federal judiciary. Over the last four and a half years, the Senate has confirmed George W. Bush’s nominees to sit in 204 of them.
Make that 205...It took the Senate six months to confirm Crotty, but not because of obstructionist tactics by the Democrats. As Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, explained last month, Democrats have been waiting for months to vote for Crotty and J. Michael Seabright, Bush’s nominee to serve on the U.S. District Court for Hawaii. Leahy said anonymous holds—placed on the nominations by Republican senators [B mine]—have kept either nominee from coming up for a vote until now. Crotty got his last night; Seabright is still waiting.
If and when the Republicans allow a vote on Seabright, Bush will get his 206th judge.
Bill Clinton on the Today Show yesterday:
COURIC: Let me ask you one political question, if I could, President Clinton. As you know, Howard Dean is now head of the DNC [Democratic National Committee]. Right now it seems the most effective thing that Democrats are doing on Capitol Hill is blocking various nominations, at least from their perspective. Like, you know, John Bolton, or—U.S. ambassador to the U.N.—or head of the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency], or the head of the FDA [Food and Drug Administration]. How can the Democratic Party retool itself so they’re not simply seen as obstructionist in terms of the president’s agenda?
CLINTON: Well, first of all, I don’t think that’s fair. I don’t think Mr. [John] Negroponte [nominee for national intelligence director] will be blocked. I’m not sure Mr. Bolton will be blocked. There are policy reasons on the environment and food safety for debates on the others. And on judges, that’s just a hoax. I mean, the Democrats blocked 10 out of over 200 judges. The Republicans wouldn’t even give a vote to 40 of my Court of Appeals judges—four times as many, just on the Court of Appeals, never mind all the others that they wouldn’t have voted. So, this image that, I’m sad to say, you know, you just perpetrated it, it’s ridiculous. The Democratic Senate has been nowhere near as obstructionist to President Bush on judges as the Republican Senate was to me. Not even close.
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Sharpton a crook?
I’m conflicted about Al Sharpton. He was so easy to despise in the late 80s; The Tawana Brawley behavior so deeply despicable.
But by the 90s I already believed he spoke for a disenfranchised, voiceless constituency. He could almost be forgiven. Almost. If only he’d come clean.
Then last year he was such firebrand fun to watch.
The FBI, as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into the Rev. Al Sharpton, secretly videotaped him pocketing campaign donations from two shady fund-raisers in a New York City hotel room and then asking for more, it was reported yesterday.
One of the donors was later recorded on a wiretap saying Sharpton may not have reported to the Federal Election Commission tens of thousands of dollars in campaign cash, as is required by the law, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
He says he broke no law. But it sure looks now like the chickens have come home to roost.
Videos counter accounts of Rep convention unrest
Dan Gillmore calls it “by turns infuriating and enlightening—infuriating because of the apparently unpunished official misconduct that it plainly suggests, and enlightening in its demonstration of citizen empowerment.” From the NYTimes today:
A sprawling body of visual evidence, made possible by inexpensive, lightweight cameras in the hands of private citizens, volunteer observers and the police themselves, has shifted the debate over precisely what happened on the streets during the week of the convention.
For Mr. Kyne and 400 others arrested that week, video recordings provided evidence that they had not committed a crime or that the charges against them could not be proved, according to defense lawyers and prosecutors.
Among them was Alexander Dunlop, who said he was arrested while going to pick up sushi.
Last week, he discovered that there were two versions of the same police tape: the one that was to be used as evidence in his trial had been edited at two spots, removing images that showed Mr. Dunlop behaving peacefully. When a volunteer film archivist found a more complete version of the tape and gave it to Mr. Dunlop’s lawyer, prosecutors immediately dropped the charges and said that a technician had cut the material by mistake.
Ruy Teixeira at Donkey Rising has this from Gallup:
....Right now, Gallup’s economic data suggest that a collapse of consumer spending is a much higher probability than many economists within and outside of the Fed seem willing to acknowledge.
Consumers’ optimism about their personal credit situations fell sharply in April, declining 18 points to 82 from the baseline of 100 established in March. The decline was most pronounced in the Future Situation Index, which declined 13 points—from 59 to 46. Compared to March, consumers showed less confidence in their ability to continue to make their monthly payments, less optimism that they will be able to borrow in the future if they need to do so, and a reduced likelihood that they will be able to pay down their debt.
If they get in trouble they face the consequences of the criminally venal bankruptcy bill recently passed in the Senate.
Robots are scary and cool
Jonathan Sullings has a CNET interview with computer scientist and theologian (!) Anne Foerst, author of, “God in the Machine: What Robots Teach Us About Humanity and God.”
What does it take for robots to be like us, to make a robot that functions like a human being?
Foerst: I think the robot would have to have the capability to interact, to form meaningful relationships and to understand the value of those relationships, to understand the difference between me and other, to have empathy. Those would be the things I would describe as most crucial, and I do believe that we can build something like that. But I also do believe that if we cannot build it already ready-made, we have to build them in the way that they, like human babies, go through a process of social learning, and probably for the first critter to be built, that social process will take years and years and years, much longer than for a human baby.
Are we really ready for humanoid robots, to have something that’s not us, it’s not what we’ve known for centuries, living with us?
Foerst: I do not think so and that is why I wrote my book now. I really didn’t expect that, but when I started on my first chapter and suddenly started talking about war, I realized that we are not even capable to assign each other personhood--we are lousy at that. I think as long as we are not capable of assigning (all) humans personhood, we obviously will not be capable of assigning robots personhood. But I think the whole question about whether or not we should helps us then to consider the question of human personhood.
I married a doctor
Doug successfully defended his dissertation at Temple Universtiy in Philadelphia yesterday. He is the first PhD in Music Therapy made in America. (His was the first PhD program in Music Therapy in the states; he’s its first graduate.)
That’s him, with our dogs, in front of his new alma mater.
Monday, April 11, 2005
There are liberals in the academy
Then last week Media Matters took it on:
Over the past week, The Washington Times ran one news report and columns by Suzanne Fields and Cal Thomas about a recent study indicating that more self-identified liberals than conservatives are serving as professors at U.S. colleges and universities, a conclusion reached by comparing data from faculty surveys taken in 1984 and 1999. Two of the articles repeat the claim that the study demonstrates a profound “ideological shift to the left among college faculty” and a pervasive anti-conservative bias in hiring and tenure decisions. In fact, neither conclusion is warranted based on the study itself.
The 1984 data was from 5,000 respondents at a broad range of schools; the 1999 data is from 1,643 respondents from a much narrower range of schools. One survey was multiple choice; one was choose from a ten-point scale.
Oh, and it was funded “by the Randolph Foundation, a private philanthropy that funds many conservative organizations, such as Americans for Tax Reform, the Independent Women’s Forum, and right-wing pundit David Horowitz’s Center for the Study of Popular Culture.”
The Supreme Court & the Klan
Josh Marshall notes, in “Genuine, certified nutcase,” that James Dobson today compared the “men in white robes, the Ku Klux Klan” to the “black-robed men” on the Supreme Court. (Listen here, go to timestamp 22:52).
Nathan Newman says, remember that the Court did historically protect mass murder by the Klan. (Nathan made the argument last week. And I argued with him. And lost.)
Media Matters says Dobson relied on false and misleading statements on his April 4 show.