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American children are well-prepared for the Industrial Age

I just ran across this old presentation by Scott Mcleod addressing the NEA. It's on target except for the idea that the NEA can disappear like other companies and industries. The way children are primarily made to learn today should have been obselete 50 years ago.


American Idol '10

I like watching the early rounds of American Idol, not to laugh at crazy tryouts, but because that's when you get to see the raw talent of the singers - just a mic in Hollywood, and not even that during the first round auditions. As soon as the field narrows to the final twelve, the singers get a massive band to accompany them, along with light shows and a supportive audience. The result is an over-produced sound. Chris Daughtry has put out a lot of crappy music since his Idol days, but what I remember most are the raw, imperfect vocals of his audition.

The one that sticks out so far is Didi Benami.

Tyler Grady has a Chuck-like thing going and had a nice initial audition but they didn't show what he did in Hollywood (though he did move on).


Thinking out loud about weather

I grew up in central Virginia about two hours south of DC. My high school years were some of the best of my life as I had a great group of friends. One of the things we planned from an early age was The Great Snowball Fight. Inspired by the success of The Great Watergun Fight which involved careful planning, splitting the group into teams, establishing rules for appropriate ammunition, automatic water guns, crates of water balloons, etc. So spectacular was TGWF, which took place during the summer before 10th grade, we made our grand plans for TGSF. It was going to be epic.

Central Virginia was usually good for one good snowstorm of 6 inches or so per winter. We waited that winter, but the snow never came. We waited the next winter, but the snow never came. We waited yet another winter, but the snow never came. We graduated, went off the college, and went on with the rest of our lives. The Great Snowball Fight never took place.

Those were 3 straight years without a significant snowstorm. Yet this year, like DC, central Virginia has been hit hard with snow, the fourth storm being forecast for next week. Though the memory of my childhood is hazy, there were a couple of winters where we had multiple heavy snowstorms like this year, though not as severe. These anecdotes point to a conjecture: snowfall is chaotic. I'm not a mathematician but this pattern is "chaotic" as I grok the term.

One explanation for this chaotic pattern might be at the "meta" level. It's not so much the nature of snowstorms that we should look at, but the set of higher-level conditions that give rise to snowstorms. For example, during the winters with repeat snowstorms, I seem to recall the weatherman saying that the jet stream had dipped down to right over the mid-Atlantic states. This brings south the cold air from north of the jet stream allowing it to mix with warm moist air from the Atlantic resulting in precipitation, which if it's cold enough, will result in snow. As long as the jet stream stayed that far south, conditions were ripe for snow rather than rain. The meta-condition (the position of the jet stream) would explain the chaotic nature of snowstorms. In the rare event that the jet stream was located more South than usual, central Virginia was hit with multiple heavy snowstorms. If the jet stream was in its usual position, snowstorms were rare.

One implication comes from the fact that I don't think people understand chaotic systems well. This is why any seemingly abnormal weather brings out a search for a greater meaning which doesn't exist when taken in context of a long term view.


When did "teabagger" become acceptable discourse in polite company?

As I've said, I wasn't really following politics closely until Brown's victory in Massachusetts. I posted soon after that about Keith Olbermann's ridiculous criticism of Brown. Part of that tirade involved calling him a "teabagger".

I was shocked that he used that term on national TV. As Urban Dictionary states, teabagging is "Dipping your testicles into the open mouth of another person. Kind of like dipping a tea bag in and out of a cup of water." I have only heard of it as a prank pulled by fraternity brothers on new pledges once they're passed out from drinking.

A couple of years ago, Virginia Tech forward Deron Washington jumped over Duke guard Greg Paulus on the way to a layup. Note the position of Washington's crotch relative to Paulus' face.

In later games, Virginia Tech fans began chanting "Teabag Paulus" in mockery.

This turned into a contentious issue among VT fans--whether the chant was okay, whether it was classless, whether it demeans the University, etc.

So I was shocked that Olbermann used that term on TV. Then I heard Rachel Maddow use the term, and she still uses it. It's pretty much everywhere among the leftist punditry.

When did this become okay? Are we soon going to be hearing about country "blumpkins"?


Saints Win

I'm not a fan of any professional sports team, so I watch professional football only as a fan of the game. I did, however, want to see the Saints win this one. Though I've never been there, I'm a fan of the culture of Louisiana and the city of New Orleans--the bayou, cajuns, bourbon street, jazz, the blues, A Confederacy of Dunces, etc. Forty years is a long time to wait.

Unlike most professional sports teams, their nickname actually has something to do with the city, having its origin in the song "When the Saints go Marching in". They once had a basketball team with a similarly awesome name, the New Orleans Jazz, but that team moved to Utah, and now the land of Mormons has a basketball team nicknamed "the Jazz".

The player on the field with the most Cajun sounding name, Pierre Garçon, was wearing blue and white. He's of Haitian ancestry, not Cajun. (Note: yelling out "Garçon!!" in a French accent when he makes a catch will elicit guffaws every single time.) Former Virginia Tech standout Pierson Prioleau, now a Saints backup comes close, as does running back Pierre Thomas.

If the Colts had won, Peyton Manning was on track to be considered perhaps the all-time best quarterback in NFL history. He would have had two Super Bowl wins, 4 NFL MVPs, and yearly league domination. However, now that title is probably permanently unreachable for him. His interception, even though it wasn't his fault, will forever taint his career compared to the perfect four Super Bowls of Joe Montana.

Drew Brees, on the other hand, has suddenly catapulted himself into elite company. He is now in the company of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger as one of the best quarterbacks of his generation. What a game, and what a playoff run.

I liked the song accompaniment to the Dante's Inferno commercial.

Instead of "Hell Awaits", the final scene was supposed to read "Go to Hell." However, that version didn't pass the CBS muster, and the ending was changed.

It seems like there is a Moore's Law of Super Bowl halftime bands: they become exponentially older every year.

When I was a kid, the Super Bowl was always a blowout. They've been great games the last few years.


Climate Strange

This is the Washington D.C. area's second two-foot snowstorm of the winter, something I doubt has happened in over 50 years.

**Insert joke about Federal Government being stalled**

**Insert joke about Climate Change**


Historical Precedent for Spending Cuts?

The resurgence of small-government populism has got me excited. I know tax cuts are viable because they've happened before. Top marginal rates have been in the 70s in my lifetime. A few European countries have adopted flat tax policies. Americans like the idea of tax cuts.

What I'm more pessimistic about is spending cuts. I don't think spending has been cut in a significant way in my lifetime. The last time major spending cuts were talked about (that I can remember) was after 1994, but that was short-lived as people freaked out about Newt Gingrich taking away their Social Security and Medicare.

This paints a mixed picture: tax cuts could potentially improve the economy and raise tax revenues provided we're to the right of the Laffer maximum. But at best, the result will be like the 1990s when the budget was (almost) briefly balanced under Clinton. Then some other crisis will cause spending to increase again.

Is there any historical precedent for large-scale spending cuts? Can we point to a time and place in the past and say, "That's our example of what should happen today"?


"Suck on that, Supremes!"

The Brown victory over Coakley has reignited an interest in politics for me; I don't know how long it will last. For the first time in many years, I watched the SOTU instead of American Idol.

One part that struck me was this surreal scene in which the POTUS shames the Supreme Court in front of the entire audience:

Edit: Here's Randy Barnett's take:

In the history of the State of the Union has any President ever called out the Supreme Court by name, and egged on the Congress to jeer a Supreme Court decision, while the Justices were seated politely before him surrounded by hundreds Congressmen? To call upon the Congress to countermand (somehow) by statute a constitutional decision, indeed a decision applying the First Amendment? What can this possibly accomplish besides alienating Justice Kennedy who wrote the opinion being attacked. Contrary to what we heard during the last administration, the Court may certainly be the object of presidential criticism without posing any threat to its independence. But this was a truly shocking lack of decorum and disrespect towards the Supreme Court for which an apology is in order. A new tone indeed.

When people begin to speak with, "No offense, but..." what they actually intend to say is offensive. When Obama says, "With all due deference to separation of powers...." what he actually means is, "Screw this separation of powers stuff."

Every time I listen to Obama, he speaks as if the Presidency is an Emperorship.


Code Blue on Health Care

I was amazed at Scott Brown's victory three nights ago; it sparked some interest in politics within me. I'm further amazed today at how quickly and thoroughly health care momentum has died in the preceding three days. Rachel Maddow said Tuesday night that the Democrats had to push the bill through despite what Brown's victory, and she kept insisting that the real story was how poorly Coakley ran the campaign, not any underlying anger from the "middle". She lost major credibility that night.

Since then, Obama's poll numbers have dropped (could be noise), Nancy Pelosi has said there aren't enough votes to push the House bill through, and a large majority of a poll wants Democrats to drop the current health care bill. Some Democrats want to "take a breather" from health care reform for the time being. Nobody other than Obama has come and said, full speed ahead, damn the torpedos.

If that happens, it's over. It'll be another 15 years before it appears again in the political discourse. I don't see any "re-packaged" bill, even with Republican input, passing.


Consequentialist arguments for UC vs FEC?

I get the free speech argument; I just don't think anyone left of center buys it. So let's make some consequentialist arguments. Here are some off the top of my head:

* Limiting a free market results not in no market, but rather a political market. All this does is drive market transactions underground. See Drug War, prostitution, ticket scalping, and college basketball recruiting. If we want more transparency, then we want a less restricted market.

* States that allow unlimited corporate funding of ads like Virginia aren't any more corrupt than those that don't.

Any others?


Keith Olbermann is a joke

Jon Stewart rightfully calls out Keith Olbermann for his amazingly ludicrous description of Scott Brown. Stewart tears up his convoluted reasoning.

Two points:

1) While on this rare occasion Stewart goes after a lefty, he does so with a grudging respect, with the underlying message of, "I used to think you were great. You can still be great!"

2) I've always thought Olbermann was awful, but he's gone completely off the deep end. He's downright hateful these days. This is a trend that's all too common for evening political show hosts. They start out with a semblance of respectability but over time, they become more and more polarized. Same thing happened with O'Reilly and Beck. I can't watch any of the 3. Maddow's on her way as well.


American Ideology

I thought this piece in the WSJ nailed it:

The Democratic party's problems, crystallized in the last-ditch scramble to save Ted Kennedy's Massachusetts Senate seat in a special election Tuesday, can be traced to a simple mistake: Many in the party misread voters' desire to switch parties in recent years as an ideological shift to the left.

In fact, there is little sign that Americans' ideological tendencies changed much at all, even as voters gave control of Congress to Democrats in 2006 and handed President Barack Obama and the rest of his party a massive victory in 2008. Ideologically, the country remained throughout this period what it was at the outset: a center to center-right nation.

My amateur analysis of why Obama won the election, which is based on talking to friends and co-workers, is as follows:

* The "middle" was unhappy with Bush's policies, especially the War and spending.
* Fashion. Obama is much cooler than Bush, especially if you're a hipster.
* White guilt.

It had nothing to do with changing attitudes about the role of government. We're not Europe, and we're not going to be Europe anytime soon.


Voter Rage

In what is perhaps the most interesting political story of recent months, Democrat Martha Coakley is currently trailing Republican Scott Brown 53-46 with 69% precincts reporting per CNN, and this includes half of Boston reporting. Even an apolitical rube like me knows what the implications are should Brown hold on for the win:

* Democrats would lose a key vote in the Senate and make healthcare reform less likely.
* Democrats are in deep, deep trouble in 2010.
* The best phrase I've heard to describe this result is "voter rage". People in the bluest of the blue states are angry as hell at Washington DC.
* I don't care what any internet pundit says, the heart and soul of the American is libertarian. That doesn't mean they're raving minarchists (obviously), but they're deeply skeptical of government power and prefer divided government.
* I don't care what anyone television pundit says, this is about healthcare. A corollary to the prior point is that Americans have always and will always reject government-run health care. They may be okay with government doing many things, but when it comes to the government being responsible for their health, they will always say no. If I may quote myself:

Based on the people I talk to every day including patients, the tide is turning. The warm-and-fuzzy glow has worn off and we're now at the "hold on just a minute, let's think this through" stage. And the fight against health care reform has barely begun. The black box hasn't even been opened yet. If you were to ask the average Joe what's in the various proposals under consideration, he would have no answer. The more reform gets delayed, the worse it gets for Obamacare's chances. When the black box is fully opened, Obama better pray that the Democratic majority is enough to override the public sentiment.

If the black box is fully opened--if the public fully understands what reform actually entails--Americans will revolt against it just like they did under Bill Clinton, FDR, and Teddy Roosevelt.


Glow-in-the-Dark Planet

I've often wondered if there's a limit to video technology. As you jam more and more pixels on a screen, do you reach a certain point beyond which it makes no difference to the viewer? As you increase the framerate, what good does it do if the human eye can't discern the effect of more hertz? Are we fast approaching the point at which video is as good as it gets? Or can video actually be better than real life? Is there such a thing as enhanced reality?

Avatar is the first movie I've seen that's better than reality. Part of it is due to the special effects, part is due to realistic 3-D, and part of it is the artistic vision involved in creating the world of Pandora. Pandora is, in a word, stunning, especially at night. So it's not surprising to me that something called "Post-Avatar Depression" exists. Clearly some sufferers are simply fanbois and fangirls who want to signal their attachment to the movie by accepting this diagnosis. But I do think there's something real about it for a few people.

I don't want to make this a full review, so I'll simply say that aside from the visuals, everything else--the characters, storyline, dialogue, cliches--was terrible. Despite that, it was an overall enjoyable experience.

One of the supposedly attractive aspects of Pandora is the harmony with which the natives interact with nature. They live in the forest, but do their best not to alter it. They only kill an animal if absolutely necessary and say a prayer when they do. Giant birds are their primary means of long-distance transport.

While I can understand the appeal of such a world, I wouldn't trade it for the current one in which we live. I'd be bored out of my mind. Sure, singing songs, hunting, flying atop giant birds, and lounging around would be fun for a while, but where's the intellectual stimulation? I'm of a particular personality that I suspect is quite common in the blogosphere. I need to learn new things all the time or else I get bored. No internet? You can keep your glow-in-the-dark trees.

Whenever I watch stories about man living in harmony with nature, harmony is implicity and intimately tied to stasis. People live now the same way their ancestors did. Is there such a thing as progress on Pandora?

On another note, living in giant trees seems to resonate with some part of our psyche. Before Pandora, there was the Ewok Village. And before that was the Green Sky trilogy by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Some of you might remember the mid-80s computer game "Below the Root" that was based on that series of books.


Riots in Knoxville

University of Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin announced he's leaving to be the new head coach at USC. I couldn't find any mention on Google News at this time, but lots of tweets are being sent out that civil unrest is bubbling over in Knoxville.

Is Twitter the best news engine?