Assorted Links 12/15/09

VIDEO: Australian Transport Accident Commission celebrates 20 years of disturbing commercials
Slow down. Don’t drink and drive. Stay at least 2 seconds behind the vehicle in front of you. Do not stop on the side of a busy road, get off before getting out of your car.

William Shatner and Sarah Palin
“Good to finally see those two together.” Conan O’Brien

  • Word Workshop: Writing for Government and Business: Critical Thinking and Writing , January 28, 2010
  • Update on The 111th Congress, 2010, January 29, 2010
  • Congress in a Nutshell: Understanding Congress, February 10, 2010
  • Congressional Dynamics and the Legislative Process, February 11, 2010
  • Strategies for Working with Congress: Effective Communication and Advocacy on Capitol Hill, February 18, 2010
  • The President’s Budget, February 23, 2010
  • The Defense Budget, February 26, 2010
  • Capitol Hill Workshop, March 3-5, 2010
  • Government Losses from the Bailout – “And who didn’t see this coming?”
  • Study Sheds Light on Students Leaving College Early – “In the popular image of college, there’s dorm life, full-time classes, football games, parties, maybe a part-time job — and then, four years later, a degree.

    But for most students, it doesn’t work out that way. About 2.8 million students enroll in some form of higher education each year. But finishing what they start is a different matter: Only one in five of the students who enroll in two-year institutions graduate within three years. And even at four-year colleges, only two in five complete their degrees within six years. ”

  • The New Bubble in the Barbarous Relic that Is Gold – “An analysis of the facts suggests that a good part of this rise in gold prices is driven by a bubble.”
  • The Enemy Within – “No, it’s not the latest crewe of knuckleheads crossing the seas to wage war on their countrymen. They are a blip lost in the noise band of extremism, and at least they were romantic and foolish enough to eschew domestic terror to fight in the field. If they hadn’t gotten swept up by the Pakistani authorities before they could wage jihad, they would very probably have been treated more or less respectfully by the graves registration detail before being shipped home in caskets.”
  • Are Democrats Sunk? – “I was talking to a libertarian friend yesterday who is a professor in the midwest, and we were marvelling at just how delusional many Obama voters seem to have been about what he was going to accomplish. Don’t get me wrong–I certainly don’t approve of everything Obama has done. But the guy got elected to be president of the United States, not Prime Minister of Sweden. Anyone who seriously entertained the notion that the procedural obstacles to enacting legislation in the United States would suddenly fall away–along with the essentially center-right politics of the American voter–is probably not mature enough to be driving.”
  • Bill ‘Reforms’ Constitution – “The Democrats’ health-care overhaul asserts for Congress a power that the framers of the Constitution never envisioned: the power to force Americans to purchase unwanted goods or services.

    With all the hype, one might think the “public option” is the linchpin of the Democratic health plan. Yet Congress has created entitlements in the past, and enrollment in a public option would not be mandatory (at least not initially).

    The legislation’s centerpiece is really the “individual mandate” – an unprecedented legal requirement that Americans purchase health insurance under penalty of law. The mandate is nearly universal, and without it, as President Obama admitted to a joint session of Congress, the legislation would fall apart.
    . . .
    The individual mandate would extend the dominion of the federal government to virtually all manner of human conduct – including the non-conduct of not buying health insurance – by establishing a federal police power that is authorized nowhere in the Constitution. Democrats will have legislated a new quasi-crime, and perhaps the sole offense in our history that can be committed only by people of a certain income, since those below the poverty line would be exempt from the mandate.

    Congress’ attempt to punish a non-act that harms no one is an intolerable affront to the Constitution, liberty, and personal autonomy. That shameful fact cannot be altered by calling it health-care reform”

  • Beyond Pleasantville – “Permissiveness is not the same thing as liberty. Permissiveness suggests a master loosening a leash, not an individual charting his own course.”
  • “Don’t send a man to the grocery store!” – Jeanne Robertson
  • Ask The Best And Brightest: Can Minivans Make A Comeback? – “And few automotive examples prove the inconstancy of market trends like the minivan. On paper they just plain make sense, creating a huge amount of flexible interior room out of high-volume sedan platforms, making them relatively cheap, capable and efficient. But if consumer decisions were made based on such rational considerations, turtlenecks would be long overdue for a huge comeback. In short, the ‘image thing’ killed minivans, with more than a little help from the marketing efforts of the very companies that profited off their (relatively) brief time in the sun. ”
  • Yes, Obama is Getting Serious About Banks. He is Now Calling Them Bad Names! – “Today, the Wall Street Journal is promoting the curious fiction that a few harsh words from Obama to the banksters has any significance aside from its hopeful PR value.

    Recall that Timothy Geithner once ventured early on to actually use ‘currency manipulator’ and “China” in the same sentence. China threw its usual temper tantrum and the US backed down pronto. Here, Obama’s popularity ratings are falling, so the president has stepped up the rhetoric.

    But who does he think he is fooling? The UK is imposing a 50% bonus supertax to encourage banks to retain earnings rather than pay them out. Financial services is a larger percentage of GDP in the UK than the US, so it is even more important for them not to mess up banking than it is for us, and they clearly believe that curbing banker pay is a positive and necessary move, and in lieu of having a worked out policy, a stopgap measure is a good place to start. Do we see anything approaching the same resolve here? Of course not, ‘resolve’ is an empty word as far as Obama is concerned.”

Christmas Music: I Saw Three Ships, Sting

  • Wireless Brain-to-Computer Connection Synthesizes Speech – “A system that turns brain waves into FM radio signals and decodes them as sound is the first totally wireless brain-computer interface.

    For now, 26-year-old Erik Ramsey, left almost entirely paralyzed by a horrific car accident 10 years ago, can only express vowel sounds with the system. That’s less than can be accomplished with wired brain-computer interfaces. But it’s still a promising step.
    . . .
    In the last decade, brain-computer interfaces, or BCIs, have made the jump from speculation to preliminary medical reality. Since Wired reported on quadriplegic BCI pioneer Matthew Nagle four years ago (‘He’s playing Pong with his thoughts alone’), the interfaces have been used to steer wheelchairs, send text messages and even to Tweet. They’re so advanced that some researchers now worry about BCI ethics — what happens when healthy people get them? And they’re concerned about the threat posed by hackers.” ht MedGadget

  • Top 10 Homemade Versions of Things We Love – “9. Pizza Ovens. There’s an entire realm of new restaurants opening on the premise that pizza baked in wood-fired ovens tastes great, and is worth the extra time and money over your favorite napkin-soaking corner joint. We’re of the mind that you shouldn’t have to drop a C-note to feed a family with great pizza. We started our obsession with a temporary bricks-in-oven setup, then moved on to a small but efficient backyard model. We hit our apex with stomachs growling by glimpsing at a backyard, concrete-seated pompeii oven, and then brought it all back home with an oven you can build in one afternoon.”
  • Open source hardware 2009 – The definitive guide to open source hardware projects in 2009 – “Welcome to definitive guide to open source hardware projects in 2009. First up – What is open source hardware? These are projects in which the creators have decided to completely publish all the source, schematics, firmware, software, bill of materials, parts list, drawings and “board” files to recreate the hardware – they also allow any use, including commercial. Similar to open source software like Linux, but this hardware centric.

    Each year we do a guide to all open source hardware and this year there are over 125 unique projects/kits in 19 categories, up from about 60 in 2008, more than doubling the projects out there! – it’s incredible! Many are familiar with Arduino (shipping over 100,000 units, estimated) but there are many other projects just as exciting and filled with amazing communities – we think we’ve captured nearly all of them in this list. Some of these projects and kits are available from MAKE others from the makers themselves or other hardware manufacturers – but since it’s open source hardware you can make any of these yourself, start a business, everything is available, that’s the point.”

  • Wheat Ridge High School Class of 1970 – “The reonion committee is working away planning the 40th reunion the weekend of August 13-15, 2010. Wheat Ridge, Colorado”
  • Manolo the Columnist – “Dear Manolo,
    My dear husband fancies himself an outdoorsman, and although he did plenty of hiking and hunting when he was younger, these days he mostly confines his outdoor activities to raking the leaves and long walks in the park. What can you recommend as a Christmas gift that will flatter his self-image without seeming ridiculously woodsy?
  • Don’t Fence Me In – “Empires are normally associated with great cities, monumental buildings and vast tramping armies. Less well known, but perhaps as important is the phenomenon of the nomadic empire: the largest of all. By many measures the Mongol Empire utterly dwarfed Rome.
    . . .
    The fundamental requirement of nomadic governance was to manage problems asynchronously. To do that, the nomads created a kind of federal structure that every American would instantly recognize. Susan Alock, in her book Empires: perspectives from archaeology and history, argues that the need to manage tribal collisions, disputes over livestock and manage relationships with the settled empires, the nomads created a three tier system. At the top of the pyramid was an imperial leadership, which arbitrated tribal disputes and handled common strategy and foreign affairs; one level down were the governorships, which performed the same tribal management and strategic function at regional levels. Lastly, there were the tribes themselves: maintained with the traditional leadership and customs intact. Intuitively recognizing the principle of subsidiarity the nomads had assigned to central authority only those functions which could not be performed locally. In some ways the nomadic empires operated under the aegis of a “distributed program” in which autonomous nodes interact with each other to pursue a common goal.”
  • Lucas wanted David Lynch to direct Return of the Jedi – “So, he took me upstairs and he showed me these things called Wookiees. And now this headache is getting stronger.”
  • Why Southern Universities Are Not World Class – “I like the South, and American universities in the south have improved relative to national norms a lot over the decades. So the heading on this blog is a bit unfair, a gross generalization. But it is true that the very best top flight institutions of higher learning are underrepresented in the South, although I think Virginia, along with California, has the best quality public universities in the United States.
    . . .
    Meanwhile, at my university, which had a reasonably decent football team (9 and 4), the grown ups (trustees, alums, etc.) are all excited that we made some third rate bowl in that garden spot of America, Detroit, playing the second best school in West Virginia. We will receive a few hundred thousand dollars in revenue, and spend far more than that in bribing students and others to attend the game so attendance is not embarrassingly low. We spend roughly $15 million a year subsidizing intercollegiate athletics, probably more than we spend on some of our academic colleges. This is not unique.”
  • NYT suggests AT&T is taking the heat for iPhone’s shortcomings – from the comments: “EVERY ATT customer I know in Chicago, DC, NYC and SF (and I know a lot, using a variety of Blackberries, iPhones and dumbphones) has HORRID reception (voice and data). I dropped over 10 calls a call some days (client calls, to boot… that was fun…).”

Senator Hatch & Stuart Taylor on the Constitutionality of an Individual Health Insurance Mandate

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original.”
“Have you ever thought of Shakespeare being 7? He was 7 at some point. He was in somebody’s English class wasn’t he? How annoying would that be.”
Ken Robinson, TED, February 2006

  • Samak Sundaravej, celebrity chef and prime minister of Thailand, died on November 24th, aged 74 – “He was forced from power last September, by a court judgment, on the constitutional technicality that he had continued to host his cookery programme. Mr Samak hit back, of course, especially pointing out that he had been paid a mere 80,000 baht ($2,400) for doing four shows. His protests were dismissed. Much of his career had been built on hell-raising, wounding remarks. But he was deposed for saying ‘Add coconut milk,’ and ‘Simmer for at least three hours.'”
  • MSI Wind U123 now shipping with Windows 7 – “MSI has released its first netbook with Windows 7, and it’s the Wind U123. In other words, it’s the exact same netbook that MSI has been pushing for the last few months, except it now comes with Windows 7 Starter Edition instead of Windows XP.”
  • ‘Nexus One’ Is Google’s Android Phone For Consumers – “The device will be available directly from Google online, and buyers will have to provide their own cellular service. It will be sold unlocked, so that users can choose the network on which to use it. Whether those will be CDMA-based (Sprint, Verizon) or GSM-based (AT&T, T-Mobile) is unclear, though it is more likely that the device will be GSM-based to give it a wider base of possible users.”

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