Wednesday, October 29, 2008

2004 v 2008

electoral-vote.com is a cool way to track the wacko way our presidential votes are done in this country. They even let you view the electoral votes from this day in 2004, which is a neat feature, but they don't let you view today and 2004 side-by-side, so I made my own picture:

 

[caption id="attachment_171" align="aligncenter" width="400" caption="Electoral collage map: '04 vs '08"]Electoral collage map: '04 vs '08[/caption]

It's quite a difference! They also have a cool map that resizes the states in proportion with their electoral college votes:

 

[caption id="attachment_172" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Map with states resized in proportion to electoral college weight. Click for full size."]Map with states resized in proportion to electoral college weight. Click for full size.[/caption]

Note that this is not an unbiased representation of the American population, since it assumes each state is uniform, but it is a good visual representation of the electoral college vote, and in the election, that's what counts.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Did I Miss National Take Responsibility Day?

Forgive me for getting political, but it seems like the world is falling apart and for once some of the responsible parties are actually taking responsibility! As angry as I get at those folks, I would like to applaud them for admitting their boo-boos! (also forgive me if I'm writing too fast and not making sense...)

First, Alan Greenspan sort admitted that he doesn't understand capitalism, or at least how and why it might break down saying, "I don't fully understand why [the credit meltdown] happened." The truth is, this bust was exactly like any other bust, but what confused him is that, for so long, he has been able to blame problems on lack of free markets and this one is so clearly a result of free markets gone awry. I'm not saying free markets are necessarily all bad, but, lets face it, maybe the central pillars of our entire economy need a little oversite, no? Just a little. The bad news is that now Alan Greenspan, an intelligent man who's finally said something people really need to hear, has been discredited in most people's eyes in the space of a few sentences. But lets face the facts now, this was a typical boom/bust cycle: everyone went crazy, overvaluing their assets until suddenly they realized their assets weren't worth anything and the bottom fell out. It's more psychology than math and it happens every boom and bust cycle. Every boom there's some justification for why the boom will last forever. In the internet era we were supposedly in some kind of new economy where we didn't actually have to produce anything. Nonsense, but people believed it. This time, Greenspan and other geniuses told us that thanks to his deregulation, the markets were finally free to keep expanding and that people with subprime mortgages could refinance when the values of their houses went up (this was what he called "democratizing credit" as if that had something to do with our voting rights). Nonsense again, to believe that any market, even housing, would always go up, but people believed it. The housing market was already overvalued, when all this started and only became more overvalued because of those subprime mortgages. But since the banking industry was now deregulated thanks to Greenspan, they only had to police themselves, which they weren't interested in doing because they were all living in a fantasy land of ever increasing property values. It's hard to be sensible about this stuff when you're caught up in a culture of people making rationalizations, so a lot of smart people all made the same mistake. That's why there's no such thing as a safe investment, kids: it's all a gamble. Personally, I think an industry that is gambling with other people's money should be regulated, so that risk is minimized. Until recently, Greenspan disagreed, but now he agrees, and I think we should aplaud him.

Now, we find out that Bill Clinton "blew it", too! Mr. free-trade-solves-all-problems now admits maybe if it leads to starvation we should do things a bit differently. "Food is not a commodity like others," Clinton said. "We should go back to a policy of maximum food self-sufficiency. It is crazy for us to think we can develop countries around the world without increasing their ability to feed themselves." Actually, Mr. Clinton, you may not realize this, but the "free trade" rules regarding food are quite different from other free trade rules. Let me explain. Lets start with the basics of free trade. First off, so-called free trade agreements have very little to do with making trade free. If they did, as my friend Mike pointed out to me, they could be just a page or two long. Moreover, many economists talk about how, because of the law of comparative advantage, both countries automatically benefit from free trade. Even if we assume that the agreements have anything to do with free trade, the law of comparative advantage, is about moving goods, and these agreements have a lot to do with moving capitol, which negates the benefits of the law of comparative advantage.

But let's get back to food and why it's different from other things: the US has enormous farm subsidies and then wants other countries to engage in "free trade" with us, which essentially floods their economy with cheap food. Food that sells in their country for less than the price it takes to produce. That's not free trade. But it seems like a good thing because it means people of these other countries can get cheaper food. The problem is it's not good because it means these countries must now depend on foreign sources for food and no longer have the infrastructure to produce their own food. When international food prices fluctuate, this can destroy their economy from the bottom up: it starves their poorest people making them either dead or unable to work (never mind the fact that it immediately puts farmers out of work). Why would poor countries agree to this? Well it's true, they could veto the agreement, as they eventually did with the new round of trade talks but remember it's not the farmers who make these deals, and in the short run, cheap food sounds good. The other thing is, the poor countries want to have access to foreign capital and investment. In many cases, I think it's true that this aspect of globalization can be helpful to many poor countries, and many of them mistakenly think (or thought) that this would bring their economy up so much that they would become industrialized and not need to produce their own food. As far as I know, though, no major economy exists without the ability to produce it's own food, even if it means it has to subsidize its own crops. (Unfortunately, of course, free trade is often nothing more than an opportunity for rich countries to export their environmental and labor issues to poorer countries who are desperate for an influx of capital, which is bad for the poor and working people of all countries, not to mention the environment.) Clinton did not go so far as to back off from his entire free trade stance, of course, but he did acknowledge that at least some aspects of it are causing people around the world to starve, and I think he should be applauded for admitting this mistake.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Signs that your cat may have a drug or alcohol problem

[caption id="attachment_152" align="alignright" width="158" caption="Adorable behavior such as this may be a sign of something more sinister!"]Adorable behavior such as this may be a sign of something more sinister![/caption]

If your cat is using alcohol and drugs, it's a good bet they're doing everything possible to keep that activity hidden. The last thing they want is for their owners to give them a "hassle" about his newly-found "entertainment." But continued alcohol and drug use will affect your cat's behavior, attitudes and even choice of friends.

Here are some signs to look for, if you think that your cat may be using:

Mood Swings
    Most cats go through normal mood swings. But look for extreme changes -- one minute happy and giddy followed by withdrawal, or fits of clawing at the furniture more than usual. Is your cat both aloof and prone to acting out? These are possible signs of drug and alcohol abuse. 

New Friends? 
    If you cat is using, chances are they will begin hanging out with other cats with similar interests. Has your cat suddenly turned away from their old friends? Are they hanging out with an older (driving age) group or with those that you suspect are using drugs? 

Physical Health 
    Have you noticed a change in appetite? Is your cat extremely finicky about the food they eat? Does your your cat have strange or inexplicable sleeping patterns? 

"Evidence"
    Have you notice anything missing lately? Alcoholic beverages? Maybe some really neat sounding pill bottles? 

Attitude 
    Has your cat suddenly developed a complete disregard for others? Does your cat get in your way or have a "bad attitude"? Is your cat evasive or troublesome, perhaps hiding when they know they've done something bad?

Little Things 
    Have you noticed a change in hairstyle or "fashion" choices? Are they suddenly using breath mints consistently? Is your cat suddenly very secretive? 

Overt Signals 
    Has anyone ever told you your cat is drinking or using drugs? Do you know that they have "experimented." Have they suddenly developed the need for additional money, for vague or unexplained reasons? Have you ever seen them stagger? Or have you noticed any slurred speech? Changes in the pupils of their eyes, or redness or bloodshot eyes? 

Again, many of these changes could be attributed to normal cat behavior. But if you have noticed a pattern of several of these "signals" your cat may be using alcohol or drugs.

 

thanks to alcoholism.about.com for.... virtually all of this text.

Friday, October 17, 2008

New Use for an Old Tool

[caption id="attachment_157" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="That's what I've been trying to tell you!"]That's what I've been trying to tell you![/caption]

Oh, yeh, people have been using homing Pigeons to catch people who can control electricity for, like, hundreds of years, now. Isn't that how they caught magneto, too?

Friday, October 3, 2008

My Wikipedia Entry for Gossip Girl

While everyone else is obsessed with the idea of teens getting it on (OMG! Teenagers having Sex! Can it be?) I couldn't help but notice something else about the show based on a school affiliated my own snotty-a#$@ed childhood alma-matter, so I wrote my own wiki entry...

Gossip Girl (TV Series)


Jessica Szohr. In the eugenically sterilized world of Gossip Girls, black people have been improved: their new eye color is blue!In addition to lots of hot white characters, Gossip Girl also features a hot non-white character who plays Dan's BFF. (She even looks less white in other pictures!) If you believe she grew up in a scary part of Brooklyn, I'll sell you a bridge to that borough.

Gossip Girl is an American television teen drama based on the popular novel series of the same name written by Cecily von Ziegesar. Gossip Girl revolves around the lives of socialite young adults growing up on New York's least exciting neighborhood, the Upper East Side. The characters attend elite academic institutions while dealing with sex, drugs, jealousy, and other issues faced by today's rich white kids (oh, right, and Dan's BFF, what's-her-name1. She has to deal with pretending not to fit in, despite being from scary Brooklyn). Issues not addressed in detail include: depression, college admission, school work, money, medical problems, emotional problems, etc. (fortunately, that TV unfriendly stuff doesn't happen to these kids, even, surprisingly, anorexia).

Despite the appearance of non-wasp characters a non-wasp character, the audience is able to fantasize themselves into an all-white world (just like Groton's founder Endicott Peabody dreamed of, too!) because that character at least has blue eyes and is really hot and has a "normal" job working in a cafe (off-camera she's a model).

Apparently, the writers attended New York City private schools either in 1947, or in the South, because several of the episodes depict things like coming out cotillions (I know the characters are too old for bar/bat mitzvahs, but cotillions? WTF? How about the Gold and Silver Ball next season?).2

Anyway relax, this show is totally race-sanitized: no major Asian characters or Black characters (unless they have blue eyes, exotic sounding names and can pass for children of characters from the '90's hit show Friends), and definitely no Jews. Not the Upper East Side I remember from my high school days, but it's definitely the Upper East Side many of my friends' parents probably dreamed about. It's sort of like a eugenics project, only it's not real, so you can feel good about that, too, because some of those schools really are eugenics projects and that's more than a little creepy.

Criticism


The show's critics allege that the show raises some adult themes. What exactly constitutes an adult theme? According to Bill Waterson, it's things like doing paperwork, filing, etc. Indeed, the show has that: Nate becomes involved in the family business and so on, so I advise parents caution when allowing their children to watch this show.

Season 2


Rumor has it that more adult themes are in store next season. Perhaps they'll be doing taxes, or learning right from wrong or even drinking adult drinks like cosmos? Perhaps the smarter ones will grow up properly and turn into chicktellectuals.

Discussion Questions



  • Wasn't there an Asian chick with no lines in the pilot?

  • What's more boring, a blog about a TV show or a TV show about a blog?

  • If you were going to have a bitchy argument synchronized to a song, which song would it be?

  • In what way is Jessica Szohr's character not white?3


Notes


1 It's hard to remember the character's name when she's missing from more episodes than any other character. I wonder why that is.
2 Okay, truth be told, there were a few cotillions, but nobody got excited about them except the young ladies' mothers.
3 We're looking for either everyone talks about how great she is in order to feel accepting of her, or she provides advice and, you might say, spiritual guidance the real other characters.