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Journal of No. 118


September 26th, 2016

Debate notes @ 08:07 pm

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I assume this was in the plan, but there was some perfect needling by Clinton that hit Trump at just the wrong time (from my perspective -- hopefully, from everyone's). Basically, encouraging Trump to boast.

Trump says it was good business to buy cheap property after the financial crisis.
5 million people lost their homes.

Trump (reportedly) owes $650 million. "That's not a lot of money."

In some years (where he had to report his taxes) Trump paid zero federal taxes.
"It was smart."

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After Trump gibbered and attacked Lester Holt about whether he did or didn't support the invasion of Iraq, for him to move immediately to "I have a better temperament" was the height of absurdity.

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Trump's answer on the race issue was completely tone-deaf. 80% law & order, stop & frisk. 20% black and brown people have it bad. (No shit.)

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If I had been Clinton, one wonky thing I would have hit him with is that Japan cannot have an army, per se, because of the outfall of WWII and the treaty with the US. They have a self defense force. And we are, by treaty, obligated to handle external threats to Japan.

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Trump (re)declaring war on Rosie O'Donnell added a nice touch.
 

September 22nd, 2016

Must be fall @ 06:25 am

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I was wearing





when I ran into a guy wearing

 

September 19th, 2016

California Propositions 2016 @ 07:31 pm


Assuming you remember what phonebooks are, my fellow Californicators will be getting one for the ballot initiatives soon. Here's my regular dose of opinions to help influence the votes of people who don't want to do the research, thus magnifying my democratic power. Remarkably, I'm split exactly 50/50 on Yes/No, with one strong Maybe.

51 - SCHOOL BONDS. FUNDING FOR K–12 SCHOOL AND COMMUNITY COLLEGE FACILITIES. INITIATIVE STATUTE.

$9 billion in bonds for schools. Bonds are not a great way to fund anything. This plan does not seem to be very focused. There's no doubt there's a need, but I don't like this solution. Neither does Governor Moonbeam. Nope.

52 - MEDI‐CAL HOSPITAL FEE PROGRAM. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT AND STATUTE.

Seems like a messy shell game to get hospitals to pay fees to the state that are given back to the hospitals with matching federal funds. But it seems to work, and the NO argument (that this money is going straight to the fatcat CEOs) is just baloney. So if ain't broke, fix it in place permanently. Yes.

53 - REVENUE BONDS. STATEWIDE VOTER APPROVAL. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT.

"Under the California Constitution, state general obligation bonds need voter approval before the state can use them to pay for a project. State revenue bonds do not need voter approval under existing state law." This prop would change the latter so that revenue bonds (over $2 billion) would need voter approval. While I'm tempted to have another way to partially veto the Monorail high speed rail, I don't see this additional oversight being helpful. Nope.

54 - LEGISLATURE. LEGISLATION AND PROCEEDINGS. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT AND STATUTE.

Aren't there enough roadblocks to getting things done? Adding a 'waiting period' for legislation seems unnecessary. I mean, best case scenario, evil law is proposed, and in 72 hours, someone's change.org petition gets a bajillion signatures, convincing the legislature to not pass it. Anything that wicked will get erased off the books under the present system. Worst case scenario, legislators (and their shadowy funders) will add amendment after amendment to bills, each one taking an additional 72 hours of waiting before a vote ever takes place. Nope.

55 - TAX EXTENSION TO FUND EDUCATION AND HEALTHCARE. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT.

Extends 'temporary' extra income tax on $250K+ taxpayers (Prop 30 in 2012) for another 12 years. Ooh, I'm really torn. If we could extend it maybe 6 years, I'd feel better. We could use some extra juice for the rainy day fund, and to really make use of the budget surplus to eliminate debt. I favored the more balanced prop 38 that would have raised everyone's taxes temporarily. Ummm. Eat the rich! Strong Maybe!

56 - CIGARETTE TAX TO FUND HEALTHCARE, TOBACCO USE PREVENTION, RESEARCH, AND LAW ENFORCEMENT. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT AND STATUTE.

Triples the state tobacco tax (and adds equivalent tax to e-cigs). Most of the funding goes to healthcare or the existing programs funded by cigarette taxes. My favorite negative effect of the prop: "state and local governments would experience future health care and social services costs that otherwise would not have occurred as a result of individuals who avoid tobacco‐related diseases living longer." A pretty punitive tax, but I really hate that cluster of millennials smoking on the sidewalk when I walk by at lunch time. Yes.

57 - CRIMINAL SENTENCES. PAROLE. JUVENILE CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS AND SENTENCING. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT AND STATUTE.

Allows parole hearings a bit sooner for certain 'non violent' felons than is currently the case. Despite the doom and gloom of the NO argument, all of these people will get parole hearings, and the parole board will decide whether it's safe to let them out, and when. I don't see any legitimate drawbacks here. Yes.

58 - ENGLISH PROFICIENCY. MULTILINGUAL EDUCATION. INITIATIVE STATUTE.

Provides schools with more flexibility in establishing bilingual education programs, erasing some of prop 227. The goal is still to get students proficient in English. Schools should have more flexibility in order to find out what works. Yes.

59 - CORPORATIONS. POLITICAL SPENDING. FEDERAL CONSTITUTIONAL PROTECTIONS. LEGISLATIVE ADVISORY QUESTION.

A grandstanding advisory vote calling on California officials to work to undo Citizens United through Constitutional Amendment. Entirely futile, but yes.

60 - ADULT FILMS. CONDOMS. HEALTH REQUIREMENTS. INITIATIVE STATUTE.

"Cal/OSHA Already Requires Adult Film Condom Use" (Not that compliance is 100%)
"Allows Individuals to Bring Lawsuits on Regulatory Violations."
I'll join Dan Savage in voting no.

61 - STATE PRESCRIPTION DRUG PURCHASES. PRICING STANDARDS. INITIATIVE STATUTE.

"would require all prescription drugs purchased by the State of California to be priced at or below the price paid for the same drug by the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, which pays by far the lowest price of any federal agency. "

This is why you see tearful veterans on the commercials urging a no vote, followed by the tenth of second summary of major contributors like Pfizer and Merck.

On the other hand, the drug companies don't have to sell us discount drugs. And yes, they could decide to raise prices on vets. Because of all the moving parts, and inevitable squabbling and lawsuits, I'm leaning towards No. I don't think this is the solution to the prescription drug price problem.

62 - DEATH PENALTY. INITIATIVE STATUTE.

Eliminates the death penalty (and resentences current death row inmates to life without possibility of parole). "These reduced costs would likely be around $150 million annually within a few years." Yes.

63 - FIREARMS. AMMUNITION SALES. INITIATIVE STATUTE.

"Requires individuals to obtain a four-year permit from DOJ to buy ammunition ... Allows DOJ to charge each person applying for a four-year permit a fee of up to $50"

Really? I'm sure the laudable intent is to stop bad guys with stolen guns from getting ammunition, but as much as I'd like better gun laws, I don't think I can go this far. The legislature acted in July: "Specifically, under the legislation: (1) ammunition dealers would be required to check with DOJ that individuals seeking to buy ammunition are not prohibited persons at the time of purchase and (2) DOJ could generally charge such individuals up to $1 per transaction." That seems far more reasonable than what the proposition is calling for; and it is already law. No.

64 - MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION. INITIATIVE STATUTE.

I don't like smoking (see 56), but it's definitely time to end our reefer madness. The bigger tax base and the effect on 'crime' are icing on the cake.

65 - CARRYOUT BAGS. CHARGES. INITIATIVE STATUTE.

Directs 'fees' for paper bags at grocery stores to state environmental purposes. Currently these fees are just kept by the stores. Now, the bags cost the store something, so it's hardly fair to take all the money away from them. But then again, why do they benefit from our green awareness? If this is really a necessary source of revenue for retailers... they'll just raise prices on other things. And then this proposition is just a tax to support the environment. Which I guess is okay. Hmm. I really don't care all that much. I'm gonna just go with No, and whenever people point to California as being unfriendly to business, I'll point to how they get to freeload off our bag fees. See also 67.

66 - DEATH PENALTY. PROCEDURES. INITIATIVE STATUTE.

"In addition, the measure changes how attorneys are appointed for direct appeals under certain circumstances. Currently, the California Supreme Court appoints attorneys from a list of qualified attorneys it maintains. Under the measure, certain attorneys could also be appointed from the lists of attorneys maintained by the Courts of Appeal for non-death penalty cases. Specifically, those attorneys who (1) are qualified for appointment to the most serious non-death penalty appeals and (2) meet the qualifications adopted by the Judicial Council for appointment to death penalty cases would be required to accept appointment to direct appeals if they want to remain on the Courts of Appeal’s appointment lists."

Death penalty cases are not like other cases. This prop is trying to grease the wheels by appointing unqualified lawyers to 'defend' poor inmates (and they can't refuse). Just no.

67 - BAN ON SINGLE–USE PLASTIC BAGS. REFERENDUM.

Enacts a statewide ban on plastic bags (similar to that which already exists where I live). I think it's been a good thing on the whole. Make it so, statewide. Yes.
 

September 15th, 2016

Everybody hates Everybody more @ 04:36 pm


Some of the same researchers involved in the 2003 American Mosaic Survey have released results of the 2014 study.

There a really glaring result relating to when people were asked to agree/disagree with the following statement across a variety of demographics:

This group does not at all agree with my vision of American society

Atheists 39.6% 41.9%
Muslims 26.3% 45.5%
Homosexuals 22.6% 29.4%
Conservative Christians 13.5% 26.6%
Recent immigrants 12.5% 25.6%
Hispanics 7.6% 17.1%
Jews 7.4% 17.6%
Asian Americans 7.0% 16.4%
African Americans 4.6% 16.9%
Spiritual, but not religious — 12.0%
Whites 2.2% 10.2%


First number is from 2003.

All of the numbers have increased. Some by quite a lot. Even white people, who are totally awesome and chill, went from 2.2% to 10.2%. Disagreement with conservative Christians nearly doubled to 26.6%. The previous study was not long after 9/11, but disagreement with Muslims jumped from 26.3% to 45.5%. Immigrants doubled. Hispanics, Jews, Asians, African Americans... all jump from single digits to double digits.

This is what polarization and demonization look like.
 

Mrs. Poe, by Lynn Cullen @ 03:02 pm

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For contributing to Bryan's Poe bust project, I received a signed copy of Mrs. Poe, which probes into the relationship between Poe and poet Frances Osgood (and Poe's sickly wife, and Osgood's absent, philandering husband).

It's a very successful piece of historical fiction, although a few details stick out as gratuitous results of research rather than being intrinsic to the story. Told from Osgood's point of view, it provides an interesting look into her mindset as she deals with her changing feelings towards Poe, who charms and glowers his way through New York literary society like Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. Largely faithful to the actual history, the book is least successful in injecting a bit of a mystery into the action. And as a Poe lover it was very satisfying to see Griswold hatefully portrayed.
 

September 9th, 2016

Back to the battle of objective and subjective @ 05:10 pm


Deep context: my conviction that Sam Harris is an idiot, and his idea of finding an objective measure of wellbeing is misguided from the outset. Making morality objective is like trying to make aesthetics objective -- it's just a fake way of baking in your own subjective opinions and declaring them objective.

Pull-quote:

The simplest explanation for biased algorithms is that the humans who create them have their own deeply entrenched biases. That means that despite perceptions that algorithms are somehow neutral and uniquely objective, they can often reproduce and amplify existing prejudices.

Headline: A beauty contest was judged by AI and the robots didn't like dark skin

Article also has a relevant link to a related story:

"To take just one example, judges, police forces and parole officers across the US are now using a computer program to decide whether a criminal defendant is likely to reoffend or not. ... If you’re black, the chances of being judged a potential reoffender are significantly higher than if you’re white. And yet those algorithmic predictions are not borne out by evidence.
...
The big puzzle is how the bias creeps into the algorithm. We might be able to understand how if we could examine it. But most of these algorithms are proprietary and secret, so they are effectively “black boxes” – virtual machines whose workings are opaque. Yet the software inside them was written by human beings, most of whom were probably unaware that their work now has an important moral dimension."
 

September 5th, 2016

The Intuitionist, by Colson Whitehead @ 11:20 am


I was intrigued by the idea -- an alternate earth where the guild of elevator repairmen is a big deal, and a story that (I was told) would shed light on race in America. But it just didn't quite deliver for me. Set in a nameless NYC-esque city in a roughly 1930s or 1940s era. Lila Mae Watson is the first black female elevator inspector (and one of very few black inspectors) and then something goes terribly wrong on a brand new elevator that passed her inspection. She investigates on her own and gets involved in internal politics, and the mysteries surrounding the founding of the Intuitionist school of elevator repair. I liked the loopy-but-recognizable alternate earth, and certainly the story felt accurate in what the black experience might have been like in such a place and time, but I don't really think it had much to say, and much of the ultimate resolution was unsatisfying. The book has drawn comparisons to Ellison's The Invisible Man, which I can see. Course, I didn't like that, either.
 

September 3rd, 2016

Buy my shit on ebay @ 01:06 pm


Stuff on ebay

Kinda interesting that the four books (from an estate sale a while back) are from four different specialty science fiction presses: Gnome Press, Fantasy Press, Prime Press, and Shasta Publishing.
 

Brea on the frontlines of Church & State @ 08:18 am

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"Club Monarch, an afterschool bible club, was run in part by teachers and routinely given preferential treatment at Mariposa Elementary School in Brea, Calif. The club was mentioned in the weekly newsletter and listed in the school calendar. The newsletter announcements asked students to "Stop by the office to sign up." There were posters around the school exclusively advertising the club. At a back-to-school night, the principal effusively praised and recommended the club. And the club was allowed to begin its meetings a mere five minutes after the school day ended.
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The school was distributing Club Monarch registration forms to its students and coordinating registration, instructing parents to return the forms to the school office or to their child's teacher. Records showed that school staff members were routinely planning and coordinating Club Monarch meetings via their school email accounts, often during the school day. Superintendent Mason actually spoke at a Club Monarch meeting in February, "sharing ... the heart of Jesus with the children," according to the club's Facebook page."

Now, after school religious clubs (indeed 'worship clubs') are allowed (so sayeth the Supreme Court) if schools open their doors to any and all comers, but the context has been for outside groups coming in, and without any support from the school: "the children required their parents' permission to attend the Club's activities; they were not permitted to "loiter outside classrooms after the schoolday has ended". The Club was using space on the school grounds into which elementary school children did not typically venture during school hours, and ... The instructors are not schoolteachers."

In this case, it was very much an inside job, and with plenty of support from the school and its employees. I bet the meeting between the district lawyers and the super was interesting. Perhaps in an overdose of CYA -- though indeed this is what the FFRF called for -- the final decision was to disband the club entirely.

(* I went to high school in Brea)
 

August 28th, 2016

Guillermo del Toro @ LACMA @ 11:02 am

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del Toro LACMA

Really nice collection, organized into little themed areas.

Most of the items are from del Toro's collection, but there are a few from LACMA itself:

del Toro LACMA

As creepy as the many life-size life-like statues are, I did like the Ray Harryhausen tribute:

del Toro LACMA

There were also a small number of metal sculptures Ray himself had made.

del Toro LACMA

Speaking of statuary, got to see Bryan's work -- someday I'll get to the other big bust in Providence:

del Toro LACMA

Arthur Rackham original!

del Toro LACMA
 

Journal of No. 118