Saturday, September 23, 2006

Good on Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart is finding ways to reduce costs that also benefit our environment. This reflects a general trend I've noticed whereby companies discover that thinking green is financially savvy as well.

US healthcare system doing very poorly

If you love our free market privatized health care system, just wait until our social security, schools and jails are privatized! Yippee, rampant capitalism!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Interesting investing opportunities

I saw two interesting articles courtesy CNNMoney's Disruptive Technologies.

The first is about a company called EEStor that has a novel, non-toxic mechanism for storing electrical energy that makes some very bold claims. I'm dubious in that I would expect a startup focusing on disruptive power storage technologies to take aim at existing markets such as (exploding) laptop batteries, cell phones, etc. What I find interesting is that they're located in Cedar Park, TX, a small exurb of Austin.

The other interesting article is about yet-another-social-networking site called Zopa that allows investors / lenders to be paired up with borrowers, with an average return of 7% with less that 0.05% rate of uncollectible debt, according to the article. It's not a bank and therefore has higher risk, but the management overhead is lower so they are able to offer higher yields directly to the lender. The thing I find most interesting about this is that it may supplement (or supplant!?) traditional Venture Capital by distributing the loan amongst a loose network of individual investors who are excited about the technology being developed. If they replace the "loan repayment" portion with issuing private stock shares or options then it may be a new model for pre-IPO fundraising. Imagine how much money YouTube could raise from individual "investors" contributing a week's salary to one of their favorite websites.

Agreed: "Okay, Seriously What the Fuck?"

I have to agree with the sentiment of "SuperWow!" at PinkDome, who posted this: "Okay, Seriously What the Fuck?" I've never fully trusted the media to show enough perspective of a situation to give you true insight, and instead they love to focus on sensational soundbites. But you simply can't spin the things those kids were saying! Wow.

A fun time at ACL

ACL Festival was terrific, and they made a lot of improvements from last year. It's still no Coachella, but it's getting there. I saw some great shows on Friday and Saturday, including the inimitable Willie Nelson! Standing to my left at that show was a burly bruiser who was dipping chewing tobacco. Cowboys and Hippies indeed!

But Sunday was the wildest day by far. Since it was my 5th consecutive night of live music (Thievery Corporation and John Digweed the two nights before ACL), I was exhausted. Mrs. Hippie joined me on Sunday, but since she was running a mild fever we decided to arrive late with the sole intention to get good spots for Tom Petty. After grabbing one water each we traipsed through the throng and found a decent spot for the pre-show, the Flaming Lips. We had no intention of leaving, neither for water nor for restroom breaks, and it appeared others were equally resolved. But when the Flaming Lips ended, many folks left to grab water and run to the bathroom one last time. We pushed forward.

When Tom Petty came on, it was phenomenal. I could see his effulgent smile from my spot only 50 feet away from the left speakers. Unfortunately the sound mixer crew had to crank up the output for the massive crowd of >50,000 viewers, and Mrs. Hippie and I succumbed to the nausea of the "Brown Note."

The brown note, according to an urban legend, is an infrasonic frequency that causes humans to lose control of their bowels due to resonance.
...
The note was tested on the television show MythBusters using Meyer Sound subwoofers on par in quantity and quality with those used at major rock concerts.[1] The experimenters on the show tried a series of frequencies between 5 and 10 Hz at 120–160 dBSPL, but they were unsuccessful in producing the rumored effects. They all reported some physical anxiety and shortness of breath, even a small amount of nausea, but this was dismissed by the participants, noting that sound at that frequency and intensity moves air rapidly in and out of one's lungs.
Heh, to debunk this they had to find volunteers willing to crap their pants! Well we certainly retained more dignity than that. But our night had peaked and it was time to go. It was far better to see two songs up close than to see the whole set from a half-mile away. And I had a nagging feeling about the storms rolling in.

We fought hard to push back out through the dense crowd, but it's amazing how fast folks will clear space for you when you say "she's feeling sick!" about the cute girl you have in tow. We raced ahead as the sea of people parted before us, and when we found some room we donned our rain ponchos just as the first large drops of rain burst upon us. My camping instincts warned that the rain would be fierce.

Tom Petty finished his fourth song by the time the rain came, but we were just out of earshot. A friend later told me he stopped playing at that point while everyone stood in the rain; I think he picked back up again but I'm not sure. Mrs. Hippie and I were wet, but not soaked, by the time we made it under the Mopac bridge. The storm had subsided enough when we crossed the river that we decided to chill at Magnolia's and grab a bite to eat. Cabs were hard to find. Finally we made our way on foot back to the car, about two miles away from ACL.

ACL is never worth attending for the big names unless you're willing to battle the crowd for a good view. But as usual I found a great selection of new bands, some of them local, that made the whole experience worthwhile.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Lame!

Lame! But I do wonder if they can take a picture of the president that doesn't make him look like a chimpanzee.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Let's give them something to talk about

A lot of the blogs I read typically speak of Texas with disdain and don't feel that it has much to offer to progressive politics in America. On the contrary, I think that if we can make any inroads in education, health care, green energy, and socially liberal policies then it will be a sign that the pendulum is swinging away from the Republicans' dog-eat-dog version of capitalism.

People still fondly remember that Texas used to be a Democratic state, and I don't think it would take much for others to forgive Texas for its pollution, greedy energy companies, and worthless governor-cum-president. These blemishes came about from a handful cunning, cynically manipulative people (Karl Rove cut his teeth on dirty politics here), and I hope now that everyone sees how masterful these unpatriotic bastards have been at manipulating the system they have a bit more pity and patience with our state's slow progress.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Crazy fundies everywhere

Some say money is the root of all evil. Others believe ironically that religion is the root of all evil. Some prefer to direct their disdain at commies, islamo-fascists, eco-terrorists, illegal immigrants, capitalist pigs, lazy freeloaders, ... name any belief system or sociopolitical class and there's somebody who hates it.

But the problem isn't so much with belief systems as it is the fundamentalists within that invariably make the most noise, attracting negative attention with their unbending embrace of their "de-facto" supreme ideology.

The entire political spectrum is full of fundies, and the liberal/progressive sphere certainly has its share. But I sincerely doubt the possibility of a fundamentalist progressive movement as successful as the neoconservative rise to power.

Still it's important to keep a watch out for intense, undirected passion because it can transform into this: "US animal rights activists sentenced to 4 to 6 yrs"

Similarly, organizations like PETA don't have my support because of things like this:

They sound more like Ann Coulter than a well-reasoned institution devoted to improving quality of life instead of obsessing over each animal's death.

Manic Depression is a frustrating mess

(Lyrics from Jimi Hendrix's Manic Depression)

My college roommate from freshman year once described his mom's severe bipolar disorder. When manic, she is phenomenally productive, creative and brilliant. When depressed she is unbearable, and unfortunately untreatable because her extremely sensitive brain chemistry would have a fatal reaction to existing treatments to bipolar disorder.

He informed me that he too had inherited this trait, which had already begun to reveal itself but would fully set in later in life. I think he may have been hiding behind this Jekyll persona to excuse his behavior as a stereotypical pre-med jackass. Jackass.

My manic-depression is more subtle, affecting my productivity and motivation more than my emotional state. It's a mostly self-induced problem resulting from my ADD and occasional inability to self-motivate, compounded by severe information overload. As a result I had cut back on posting temporarily until I found the right adjustments. But since this blog is an important outlet for me I will certainly continue to update it.

To make more time for posting I've cut back on my information intake from news/blog feeds. My 52 subscriptions generate around 250 posts per day (200 posts about 9/11 in the past week alone, and I'm sick of it). At 30 seconds per post it requires over two hours to read them all, giving me such a superficial scraping of the news that it's become a worthless investment of time. I'll let someone else separate the wheat from the chaff on sites like the Huffington Post, giving me more time to observe the weirder corners of the internet and bring my findings to you.

Friday, September 08, 2006

My new favorite Thanksgiving song

ADD warning: long song ahead

You can get the best of the web at mathowie's community blog.

This song is called mathowie's community blog, and it's about mathowie, and the community blog, but mathowie's community blog is not the name of the community blog, that's just the name of the song.

A stupid bumper sticker

Mrs. Hippie saw a bumper sticker this morning that said "If Mary were pro-choice, there'd be no Christmas." I feel the need to address this ignorance because apparently not everyone understands what it means to be pro-choice. Some pro-lifers seem to believe that a pro-choice woman is quite simply a selfish slut, an embryo death chamber on high heels. But abortions are risky, physically invasive and painful to the women who have them (hence the crude irony in this discontinued print from T-shirt Hell). It's obviously physically invasive to the embryo as well, however:

An embryo does not have the fundamental neurological capacity for sensory perception or self awareness, and cannot physically be considered a human being any more than an individual egg or spermatozoa could. Associating abortions with murder is a comparison that can only be made on a spiritual level, because the embryo is not deprived of consciousness, only the potential for such. Spirituality is not something that has been measured and determined scientifically. It therefore remains a belief which one must take on faith.

To posit the immorality of terminating an abstract spiritual entity is to assert the preeminent moral authority of your belief system. Such certainty is not innate, but is a product of our environment. A healthy human brain functions extremely well at making sense of our surroundings based on an existential understanding of our experiences. It does not however function well in an information vacuum. Our brains are sophisticated pattern-matching machines, and the only abstract, ideological frameworks we can successfully express to others are still observable and therefore falsifiable - even mathematics. Personal a priori frameworks such as abstract philosophy, spirituality and morality cannot be shared with others without the recipients' willful mental disengagement of potential incongruities therein. This is known as faith, and requires an unassailable belief of certain truths by the indoctrinated. There is therefore no impartial method for measuring the strengths or adjudicating the differences between various internal frameworks. Spiritually-derived moral authority is a contradiction in terms.

Now let me dispel the myth that pro-choicers are eager to have abortions. It is certainly true that abortions destroy the potential for life. So does the natural occurrence of menstruation and nocturnal emission. But once an embryo forms, many women report subtle sensations of the change in their body. Sometimes the sensations are not subtle at all. A biochemical association with the embryo occurs because of the major changes occurring throughout the body. A sociological attachment occurs for many women as well, with an understanding of the importance of motherhood to our own existence. It therefore requires extreme deliberation mentally, physically and emotionally for most women who choose to have an abortion. It takes a very difficult decision to confront these barriers, a decision to which most of us can never relate; hopefully we will ever have to.

We pro-choicers respect the independent, internalized spirituality that comes with self-awareness. Spirituality is a personal construct, and a priori deductions of morality cannot be applied beyond one's own actions. Humankind may never know the ultimate fate of an aborted embryo, and this uncertainty makes the decision even harder. But a personal decision such as this can only be made consistent within a personal framework, and qualified judgement is exclusively internal. I hope never to be exposed to such a difficult decision, but we must allow others the freedom to make their own moral judgements. And we can all hope they never have to.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

My letter to ABC/Disney about 9/11 docu-drama

ABC/Disney recently completed its "docu-drama" about 9/11 and has been pre-screening it almost exclusively to conservative pundits for the past couple of weeks. This smacks of an agenda. Recent analysis has revealed numerous inaccuracies, some that directly conflict with the 9/11 Commission Report. Congressman John Conyers has been leading the charge to demand that ABC address these issues, lest it be seen as leveraging national sympathy for a partisan ulterior motive. Here's my letter to the Walt Disney CEO, submitted through this site:

Robert A. Iger
President and CEO, The Walt Disney Company

Dear Mr. Iger:

I'm writing a personal letter instead of using a template because I want to voice my strong concern about the way this topic is being approached. The simple fact that the 9/11 report was previewed exclusively by conservatives - especially highly-partisan recipients such as Rush Limbaugh - is enough to concern me a great deal about the message and factual content of this show. Further analysis by those who are also concerned has revealed several inaccurate dramatizations, including some which are inconsistent with the 9/11 Commission Report. Combined with the exclusivity of those selected to preview the show leads me to believe that these inaccuracies were intentional, and that ABC is intending to push a partisan message about the 9/11 tragedy. Not only is this irresponsible, it is very inappropriate to leverage national mourning of the 9/11 tragedy for an underhanded purpose.

Please come clean on this film, and repair the factual holes or withdraw the movie entirely.
You may send your opinions here, even if you simply register your agreement using a template letter. I'm not an eager signatory of petitions to Congress, but unlike Congress it seems that ABC may be receptive to public opinion. If you're tired of how our country is cynically manipulated and lied to, please voice your concerns.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Thoughts on Health Care

Schwarzenegger plans to veto the health care coverage expansion for California. To contrast, here are some interesting articles on the economics of universal health care:

Competing for last place

Please encourage your female friends to vote this fall. Our state needs their vote.

A land where women are treated as property...

Sharia law is a miserable abomination, a strict perversion of everything great about humanity that distinguishes us from animals, including: compassion, equality and freedom. Recent grunting from thuggish oafs in Pakistan is once again bringing light to the grounds for which no Sharia-governed country can be trusted or respected in international relations. Unfortunately when it comes to human rights violations, the US can't be trusted either thanks to Bush and his neocon cabal.

But back to Pakistan: it is very disconcerting that we must rely so heavily on Pakistan as a major ally in the war on terror. The current president, General Pervez Musharraf, took control via a bloodless but nasty coup d'etat and he is not entirely popular with his countrymen. He is a moderate Muslim, and his alliances with the US are not well regarded by many in his country, especially those who still support the Taliban. His hold on power therefore seems very tenuous, bolstered only by strongarming the legal system to retroactively support his rise to power. And although he has a general 2/3 approval rating, there's tremendous risk if his government ever collapses. From the Next Hurrah:

I'm going to ask the Iran question, but I'm going to get at it sideways. You said that Iran is the biggest WMD threat out there. But Pakistan is a tremendously unstable country right now. And if Musharraf fell, Al Qaeda could get the bomb within 6 weeks. And al-Baradei has just said that Iran does not now have the bomb. So why is Iran the biggest threat? [emphasis mine]
A more detailed analysis of the Pakistan risk is discussed in this followup piece on the Next Hurrah.

But fear not, we can rely on Bush's presidential hand-holding skills to assure the people of Pakistan that he hates freedom, equality and prosperity too.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Making bad comparisons

There's a lot of chatter about how this midterm election cycle is a lot like 1994. The Democrats are poised to take over the House, and possibly even the Senate. But I don't like the comparisons being made to the voter unhappiness that brought the GOP into control of the House in 1994, because that plays into a powerful GOP narrative: "If you think we're fuck-ups, just wait until Democrats take control!"

That's really the narrative they're pushing, when you consider that they still accuse Dems as being weak on terrorism. In contrast, almost everything that the GOP has done - especially the war in Iraq - has undermined our nation's security and prosperity. But the message they peddle will still get voters to make decisions from the gut.

By the way, liberal "elitists" don't think they're smarter than conservatives. They just think they're smarter than conservatives' uninformed, unintelligent beliefs derived from emotion instead of intellect.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Coal power in Texas?

Texas is attempting to approve the construction of several new coal power plants. But our state has no emissions controls on carbon dioxide. This is likely why our state produces more carbon dioxide than Canada or the UK.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Plan B

Here's a link to commentary from a reader at Bitch, Ph.D about how difficult it has been to get emergency contraceptive, even as a prescription from her own doctor. Plan B should help prevent unwanted conception, which in turn will hopefully lower abortion rates. I predict that more attention will be given to the "sanctity of viable embryos," followed by the evils of menstruation and the sin of masturbation. Invariably the discussion will be strongly associated with religious doctrine. And the most vocal detractors of responsible family planning will be those with the most fundamental religious beliefs. Fundamentalism of any kind breeds violence and terrorism. People who support the agenda of divisive, intolerant attacks on personal moral choices are helping drive a personal hatred towards those with different beliefs. Intolerance is not what makes America great, and is not the mark of true Patriots because it is such a destructive force.