Saturday, January 05, 2008

BillO's Ego

"No one on this earth is going block a shot on the O’Reilly Factor. It is not going to happen". Straight from the mouth of major bloviator Bill O'Reilly. Apparently, BillO got into a little scuffle with an Obama aide. Bill gave the guy a shove and called him an SOB. The secret service rushed to flank BillO. BillO will have his version of what happened on "The Factor" Monday night.

UPDATE: Here is the Obama staffer's version of what happened.

John Dickerson has an amusing piece on O'Reilly at a NH rally here. It's really worth a read. People were not treating BillO with the respect I'm sure BillO thinks he deserves.
When the popular Fox News entertainer arrived at the Obama event in Nashua, people turned to him but not always approvingly. "Hey O'Reilly," yelled a man. When O'Reilly turned he got a single-finger salute. A few people approached Bill to shake his hand but the overwhelming sentiment was unfavorable. "O'Reilly hatemonger," yelled a woman. A few other people gave him the bird. "I hate you Bill," yelled a man. "You can't stop us Bill," yelled another. I thought someone might brain him with one of those Obama "Hope" signs.
Dickerson also says the word "falafel" was yelled out quite a bit.

O'Reilly must be a really strong man. You'd have to be strong to carry around the ego BillO has. Did you hear about the recent incident where BillO was corrected by a young girl?
O'REILLY: And finally tonight, the mail -- plenty of letters from kids over the holiday; lots of questions about Kids Are Americans Too, which turned out to be a very hot Christmas gift this season.


O'REILLY: Courtney Yong, San Francisco: "Mr. O'Reilly, I really enjoyed 'Kids Are Americans Too' but in the first sentence of Chapter Three you say the Constitution guarantees 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.' Isn't that from the Declaration of Independence?"

Another excellent question, Courtney. The reason the Constitution was forged was to assure new American citizens the right to free life and access to pursue happiness in his or her own way. The Declaration was the statement; the Constitution, the instrument.

You really need to hear the video to understand the how patronizing BillO can be. Excellent question, Courtney (but I'm not wrong kid, you are). It's completely beyond me how anyone can stand to listen to this guy for more than 30 seconds.

Wyoming Republican Caucus Today

Did you know there was a Republican caucus being held today? Yep, in Wyoming....but it's a caucus that is not sanctioned by the RNC so the State will be punished by giving up half of their Republican delegates to the convention. It's predicted that Mike Huckabee may win the Wyoming Republican Primary.

UPDATE: It's a caucus, not a primary. Predictions are thus far wrong - so far it's Romney all the way.

H. Res. 888

At least it wasn't H.R. 666. Here is the title of this bill:
Affirming the rich spiritual and religious history of our Nation's founding and subsequent history and expressing support for designation of the first week in May as "American Religious History Week" for the appreciation of and education on America's history of religious faith.
Right away I'm suspicious of this resolution because it is cosponsored by "Mean Jean" Schmidt of Ohio, Patrick T. McHenry of N. Carolina., John T. Doolittle of California and Tom Feeney of Florida (you can check out the last two of these guys here.

You have to ask yourself "what exactly is the purpose of this resolution"? It appears to be a resolution that gets the "fact" that we are a Christian Nation into the Congressional Record and then into the history books. I don't know if we were founded as a Christian nation or not. I agree that the majority of people living in the USA are Christians....but does that make us a "Christian Nation"? Don't these guys have anything better to do?

Electronic Voting Machines

The is an extensive article in todays New York Times about electronic voting machines. The title of the article is "Can You Count On These Machines"?
America voted on paper in the 19th century, until ballot-box stuffing — and inept poll workers who lost bags of votes — led many to abandon that system. Some elections officials next adopted lever machines, which record each vote mechanically. But lever machines have problems of their own, not least that they make meaningful recounts impossible because they do not preserve each individual vote. Beginning in the 1960s they were widely replaced by punch-card systems, in which voters knock holes in ballots, and the ballots can be stored for a recount. Punch cards worked for decades without controversy
(except for those minor "hanging chads").
So I guess there are potential problems with every method of casting and counting votes. But it appears that "touchscreen" voting has more than it's share of problems. This confuses me. I've used automated teller machines for about 25 years now and I've yet to find a mistake in any of my accounts. I've used credit cards even longer than that and also (knock on wood) have never had a problem. How come the financial systems seems to be able to process transactions via computer but we can seem to find a way to do a simple vote count using computers?

The voting machines seem to be built with important redundant mechanisms in place.
Inside each machine there is a computer roughly as powerful and flexible as a modern hand-held organizer. It runs Windows CE as its operating system, and Diebold has installed its own specialized voting software to run on top of Windows. When the voters tap the screen to indicate their choices, the computer records each choice on a flash-memory card that fits in a slot on the machine, much as a flash card stores pictures on your digital camera. At the end of the election night, these cards are taken to the county’s election headquarters and tallied by the GEMS server. In case a memory card is accidentally lost or destroyed, the computer also stores each vote on a different chip inside the machine; election officials can open the voting machine and remove the chip in an emergency.

The machines’ lack of a recountable, verifiable paper trail has sparked controversy, and some elections officials are rushing to phase them back out of use, as has been done in Sarasota, Fla.

Booths for paper ballots in Cleveland. Paper is subject to poor design and ambiguous markup, but many elections observers believe optical-scanning systems still provide the best way to ensure public confidence in the voting process.
But there is also a third place the vote is recorded. Next to each machine’s LCD screen, there is a printer much like one on a cash register. Each time a voter picks a candidate on screen, the printer types up the selections, in small, eight-point letters. Before the voter pushes “vote,” she’s supposed to peer down at the ribbon of paper — which sits beneath a layer of see-through plastic, to prevent tampering — and verify that the machine has, in fact, correctly recorded her choices. (She can’t take the paper vote with her as proof; the spool of paper remains locked inside the machine until the end of the day.)

Yet servers fail, printers jam, memory cards are lost or misplaced, poorly trained poll-workers are confused and the problems are still there. But here is the biggest problem:
But the truth is that it’s hard for computer scientists to figure out just how well or poorly the machines are made, because the vendors who make them keep the details of their manufacture tightly held. Like most software firms, they regard their “source code” — the computer programs that run on their machines — as a trade secret. The public is not allowed to see the code, so computer experts who wish to assess it for flaws and reliability can’t get access to it. Felten and voter rights groups argue that this “black box” culture of secrecy is the biggest single problem with voting machines. Because the machines are not transparent, their reliability cannot be trusted.

Naturally the vendors disagree. They point out that the machines are tested by the government and are certified to work properly. But if this is the case, how come the machines still have so many problems? Obviously the testing isn't rigorous enough. Besides that, testing is not mandatory. And, government officials are a bit too cozy with the vendors. Do we really want private companies to be involved with our voting?
“The types of malfunctions we’re seeing would be caught in a first-year computer science course,” says Lillie Coney, an associate director with the Electronic Privacy Information Commission, which is releasing a study later this month critical of the federal tests.

I've only discussed half of this ten page article. If you are a concerned voter you should take the time to read the entire article. Vote counts in the last two elections, at least in Florida and Ohio, have been way to close for us to allow any slack in properly recording votes.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Bush to Stimulate US Economy

G.W. is concerned that the "little guy" is being hurt economically by rising health care costs and gasoline prices. So G.W. is working on an economic stimulus package. I wonder what he will propose?
But it is a safe bet that tax cuts, long a centerpiece of the Bush domestic agenda, would be a feature of any administration initiative. And it is an equally safe bet that Democrats, who are contemplating their own economic stimulus package, would object, saying further tax cuts are unaffordable.

I'm willing to bet that any proposed new tax cuts will not be targeted towards those who need them most. Nosir, the taxcuts will go to the same people that have benefited all along....the wealthy. The "little guy" will have to gather what "trickles down".

But potential presidential candidate Mike Huckabee sees things a bit differently.
Huckabee is the one Republican candidate in the race who has talked often about working class and middle class Americans and the anxieties they have even in an economy that by the numbers looks pretty good. In an interview aboard the Huckabus, the candidate once again discussed the economic situation of "people at the lower ends of the economic scale," who because of rising energy, health care, and education prices "don't have the same level of disposable income they had this time a year ago."

Huckabee wants to help the "Sam's Club Republicans" not the "country club least that is what he claims.
Huckabee has yet to fashion economic policies that might appeal to middle and working class voters--"Sam's Club Republicans," as they have been called, in contrast to the old "country club Republicans." But at some point his campaign presumably will have to offer policies to match his rhetoric.

That's why Huckabee has the Republican establishment so upset with him. It will be interesting to see how they attack Huckabee in order to save their favorite candidate Willard Romney.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

It's Obama and Huckabee in Iowa

I called it. At least in my own mind. I was pretty sure Huckabee would win and I was really hoping that Obama would win. Obama took 37% of the vote with Edwards and Clinton basically tying with 29% (Edwards a few tenths of a point ahead of Clinton). The number of Democrats that turned out to caucus was almost twice what it was in 2004. Democrats are on the move.

Huckabee took 34% of the vote with Romney at 25%. I doubt Huckabee will get much further in the race. The establishment wants Romney. So the race is on.

Pat Robertson's Election Prediction

The Reverend Pat Robertson has been talking with God again. God told him who will become the next President of the USA. But Pat ain't tellin:
"He told me some things about the election, but I'm not going to say, because some old man on "60 Minutes" would make fun of me, so I'm not going to tell you who the winner's going to be," Robertson said, in apparent reference to CBS humorist Andy Rooney, who turns 89 on Jan. 14
Last year God told Robertson that a US city would be hit with a terrorist attack involving millions of deaths. It didn't happen, but Pat has an explanation:
"All I can think is that somehow the people of God prayed and God in his mercy spared us," Robertson said on "The 700 Club," a television show he hosts on the Christian Broadcasting Network, based in Virginia Beach.

I wonder why Pat Robertson doesn't ask God about something really important? Something like.....why is there air?

More New Books - Parasites - Evolution

I forgot that I had a gift card for Barnes and Noble sitting in my wallet. But I found it and used it to purchase a couple more books.

Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures by Carl Zimmer.

As a parasitologist, I doubt I'll learn much truly new from this book, but I think Carl Zimmer is a great science writer. I already know about parasites controlling the minds of their hosts (think Toxoplasma-infected mice). I also know that parasites can drink blood, eat tissue, block ducts, increase the size of your gonads to that of very large basketballs and chemically castrate you. Let's not enough talk about screwworms and other forms of myiasis. They can also masquerade as "self-tissue", change their antigenic coats, and generally fool the immune system into nonfunctionality.

I am sure that I will learn some really cool, and if I'm lucky, gross, examples of parasitic infections which may result in some revolting stories I can relate on my blog.

The second book is Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism by Philip Kitcher.

An interview with Dr. Kitcher can be found here. I bought this book because I don't own a book that discusses evolution vs creationism. I'm not sure this is the best book on the subject as it is 25 years old, but we will see. On the other hand, I'm sure I will not be surprised if the creationists are making the same arguments today that they made 25 years ago. Kitcher is a philosopher of science rather than a bench scientist and I think that will be good.

Common Sense Notions

Common sense is defined as what people in common agree upon, although Albert Einstein said "Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen." How about a few proverbs to guide your common sense-based decision making?

It's better to be safe than sorry, yet, nothing ventured nothing gained.

Two heads are better than one, yet, too many cooks spoil the broth.

Look before you leap, yet, he who hesitates is lost.

Opposites attract, yet, birds of a feather flock together.

Where there is smoke there is fire, yet, you can't tell a book by it's cover.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, yet, out of sight...out of mind.

These are examples of the kinds of sayings that "common sense" is based upon. So are they right or wrong? I think you can argue that much common sense isn't much sensible at all. So called common sense can often hinder logical thinking and common sense certainly does not always apply to science.....think quantum mechanics. You can take a "common sense" interactive quiz here.

December 2007 Weather Summary

It's a cold one this morning. The Petrova School weather station reports -14 degrees but WNBZ radio is reporting -18 degrees. I guess I should get a thermometer for my place. But it's a nice clear, blue-sky day, with the sun just now starting to shine on the top of Baker Mt. outside my window.

The high temperature for December was 38.9 degrees and the low temperature -2.6 degrees. We had 0.65 in. of precipitation, most of that falling between Dec. 28-30. The barometric pressure ranged from a high of 30.8 in. to a low of 29.22 in. Winds ranged from 2.8 mph to 27 mph.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Republicans Slime in South Carolina Again

The above is a "holiday" card, supposedly sent by Mitt Romney, to Republicans in South Carolina. Evidently the card had more to say:
"We have now clearly shown that God the father had a plurality of wives, one or more being eternity by whom he begat our spirits as well as the spirit of Jesus, his first born, and another being upon the earth by whom he begat the tabernacle of Jesus, as his only begotten in this world,"
God and his multiple wives? Did God have a wife asks the good Republicans of S.C.?

Romney spokesman Will Holley condemned the card.. The entire card can be seen in a pdf file if you click the link.

We know that Republicans are especially good at sliming Democrats. Just remember the Swift Boat Veterans for "Truth". Better yet, remind yourself about what the Bush campaign did to fellow Republican John McCain in 2000.

That's not to say there is actually anything wrong with the card. It shows a nice wintery scene of the Boston Commons and has a quote from The Book of Mormon. But then again, I don't claim to understand the mind of conservative South Carolinians.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Adirondack Snow - 2007

It's been a very snowy winter thus far. If this continues, the winter of 2007-2008 will be one to remember.

This bank is approaching 6 feet high. It will need to be pushed back soon.

I estimate there is 2.5-3 feet of snow on the ground here.

The bank on the left is almost 7 ft high. The banks up the driveway well over 5 ft high. There is still plenty of room for snow on the driveway.

Happy New Year - 2008

Hopefully, it will be a happy New Year for most of us. It probably won't be so good for a few Bush administration people however. There is a detailed list at TPM of these people but here is an abreviated list.
Indicted / Convicted/ Pled Guilty

Eric G. Andell - deputy undersecretary in charge of the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools
Claude Allen - Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy
Lester Crawford - Commissioner, FDA
Brian Doyle - Deputy Press Secretary, Department of Homeland Security
Steven Griles - Deputy Secretary at the Interior Department
John T. Korsmo – Chairman of the Federal Housing Finance Board
Scooter Libby - Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff
David Safavian - Office of Federal Procurement Policy
Robert Stein - comptroller and funding officer Coalition Provisional Authority
Roger Stillwell - desk officer, Interior Department
The above list does not include the many who "resigned due to investigations, pending investigations or allegations of impropriety" or whose "nomination failed due to scandel" or who are still underinvestigation. A total of another 32 individuals including Kyle Dustin “Dusty” Foggo, Alberto Gonzales, Monica Goodling, Richard Perle, Kyle Sampson, Paul Wolfowitz, Linda Chavez, and Bernard Kerik (some of the better known individuals).

The list is partly to remind conservatives that the Bush Administration has not been corruption free as some seem to think.
Bush's administration has been nearly corruption free by historical standards. I may be missing someone, but the only high-profile administration offical I can think of who has faced criminal charges or had to resign in the face of scandal is Scooter Libby
Remember G.W.'s promise to restore integrity to the White House?
"We will ask not only what is legal, but what is right; not what the lawyers allow, but what the public deserves.
We got what was legal because under Bush whatever G.W. said was by definition legal (in his mind at least). We definitely got what we deserved. Afterall, we did elect him for a second term of office.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Bed Bug Outbreak in NYC

Here is an article in the New York Daily News about the outbreak of a bed bug infestation in the city. Bed bugs are members of the family Cimicidae and are primarily parasites of birds and bats. But two species are known to feed on man: Cimex lectularius and C. rotundatus although these two species will also feed on other animals. The bedbug found in NYC is most likely C. lectularius which is common in temperate and coastal regions.

Bed bugs feed on blood, but they do not appear to transmit disease in nature. They have been shown to transmit disease in the laboratory setting however, so the potential is there.

Female bed bugs lay eggs, at the rate of 2-3 a day, after they have taken a bloodmeal. The eggs are typically found in cracks and crevices in the floor, walls, furniture etc. The incubation period of the egg is dependent on temperature. Typically the eggs will hatch ~9-10 days after they are laid. However, at lower temperatures it may take as long as a month for the eggs to hatch. The eggs give rise to colorless larvae that are about 1.5 mm long. This baby bug must undergo 5 molts prior to becoming a sexually mature adult bug. Each molt requires that the bug take a bloodmeal. Although bed bugs tend to feed every few days, they can go for months without a bloodmeal.

You can find more than you want to know about bed bugs at this Harvard University website, this Cornell University website or this NYC health website.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Free Will vs Determinism

Do we have free will or not?

I was watching a lecture on quantum mechanics and the subject of free will came up. It's a subject I had not thought alot about since about 10th grade religion class. It's also a subject that can give you a pretty good head ache if you think about it enough. Anyone got any good websites on the subject of free will to recommend? I've just started exploring, but the fact that it is a dot com worries me somewhat.

Here is a paragraph from an article published in the New Scientist last year.
"When you choose to eat the chocolate cake or the plain one, are you really free to decide?" asks Conway. In other words, could someone who has been tracking all the particle interactions in the universe predict with perfect accuracy the cake you will pick? The answer, it seems, depends on whether quantum mechanics' inherent uncertainty is the correct description of reality or 't Hooft is right in saying that beneath that uncertainty there is a deterministic order.

Looking further into the subject there is the Skeptics Dictionary but that site doesn't seem to provide any easy answers either. The internet encyclopedia of philosophy will require some study but I'm guessing I won't find an answer there either.

Maybe it's just not worth worrying about.

Heath's Auto Repair, Saranac Lake, NY

Located at 91 Broadway ((518) 891-5106), across from the Fire Department. Owned by a certified master mechanic and all round nice guy Tim Heath. Highly recommended if you have any sort of problem with your car. Work will be done in the promised timeframe and at a very fair price.

Front disk brake job estimate for my daughters Vibe in Boston - $600. Heath's did it for $280 which included an oil and filter change, checking the rear brakes and a computer scan. I've also had very satisfactory work done on both of our Honda CRV's.