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Meditations - ta eis heauton

Name:
Location: Austin, Texas, United States

I'm a software engineer / partner working for a young company in Austin, Texas, USA. I spend most of my free time hanging out with friends and family, eating out, and partying in the Warehouse District. I should spend more time working on my house....

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

His pet Goat

An Austin man was in violation of a city ordinance because his pet goat was too close to his neighbors house. So the Mayor changed the law for him. Although I don't think Nik the goat should have been forced away I think the Mayor should have amended the law so that all "livestock" less than say 40 lbs be allowed. After all, what about the guy down the street with the pet pig?

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Maybe God just hates George W. Bush?

I just finished reading this Pandagon post by fellow Austinite Amanda Marcotte about how some moronic anti-choice group decided that hurricane Katrina looked like a fetus and thus was an obvious sign from God that abortion was bad.

Using this same kind of logic, simpler actually, I have deduced that God hates George W. Bush and wants to punish him. Look at the evidence:

First, God doesn't give Bush a legitimate election win in 2000, forever tarnishing his presidency. Then WHAM 9/11 and God makes him look like a complete ass by having him sit their and read a children's book for like 20 minutes after learning it is going on. The stock bubble bursts and the country slides into recession which along with falling revenue (partially due to stupid tax cuts) leads the country into the worst fiscal state in decades. God keeps Bush's popularity high so that he can attack Iraq and come 2004 he just barely squeaks by with a win for re-election. Once the election is over BAM-BAM, his ratings tank to Watergate levels thanks to the total FUBAR going on in Iraq, high gas prices, and a pissed off Mom protesting him. Then, just to show who is in charge and making all of this shit go down God sends a bad-ass hurricane to create the Worst National Disaster in US history! And he/she/it does this while Bush is on VACATION.

I don't know what Georgie did to piss God off but I sincerely hope God decides to forgive and be merciful soon or the whole damn country may be destroyed by earthquakes, tornados, flooding and probably locusts.

Please donate to the Red Cross. Maybe God will spare the rest of us for being charitable.

P.S. Being an atheist I have no idea what "God" thinks. But since I don't believe any God exists I don't believe anyone else knows more about it than me.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Atrios is right

This Washington Post article is one of the stupidest things I have ever read. I am going to give Ms. Jenkins the benefit of the doubt, since she has written some intelligent articles before, but she clearly doesn't know what she is talking about when it comes to intelligent design.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

It took an Editorial to do it...

...but the Sunday NY Times finally has a decent article about Intelligent Design that basically calls it out for what it is, religion confused for science. The editorial is spread over a couple of pages so that all of the points can be laid out. One nice paragraph:
Yes, eyes are for seeing, but these and all the other purposes in the natural world can be generated by processes that are themselves without purposes and without intelligence. This is hard to understand, but so is the idea that colored objects in the world are composed of atoms that are not themselves colored, and that heat is not made of tiny hot things.

And another:
In short, no science. Indeed, no intelligent design hypothesis has even been ventured as a rival explanation of any biological phenomenon. This might seem surprising to people who think that intelligent design competes directly with the hypothesis of non-intelligent design by natural selection. But saying, as intelligent design proponents do, "You haven't explained everything yet," is not a competing hypothesis. Evolutionary biology certainly hasn't explained everything that perplexes biologists. But intelligent design hasn't yet tried to explain anything.

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Another interesting comment by Justice Stevens

I was reading through the text of the speech that Justice John Paul Stevens delivered to the American Bar Association and came upon this excellent paragraph:
When gerrymandering tactics are successful, instead of having the voters choose their representatives, the legislators choose their constituents. In my judgment the ever-increasing use of such tactics has had an insidious effect on the quality of the legislative process, making primary elections more important than general elections, favoring extremists over moderates in both parties, and generally making confrontation seem more acceptable than compromise. I remain convinced that the Supreme Court was not faithful to the principles that produced the decisions in Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v. Sims when it perversely concluded that political gerrymandering, unlike racial gerrymandering, is nonjusticiable. In the long run, however, the most effective response to gerrymandering must be provided by voters, and by candidates like Abner Mikva.

Supreme Opinion

Most people realize that the Supreme Court is important, but few people really recognize how amazing the power of the nine is. These individuals are nominated for life (or very close to it, resigning anywhere from a few years to mere months before death) leading to 30+ years terms for many of these individuals. In the Thursday NY Times there is an interesting article covering the speech made by Justice John Paul Stevens to the American Bar Association.

In the article they describe how Justice Stevens felt torn about some of the most recent opionions on wrote for the majority:
The outcomes were "unwise," he said, but "in each I was convinced that the law compelled a result that I would have opposed if I were a legislator."

In one, the eminent domain case that became the term's most controversial decision, he said that his majority opinion that upheld the government's "taking" of private homes for a commercial development in New London, Conn., brought about a result "entirely divorced from my judgment concerning the wisdom of the program" that was under constitutional attack.

His own view, Justice Stevens told the Clark County Bar Association, was that "the free play of market forces is more likely to produce acceptable results in the long run than the best-intentioned plans of public officials." But he said that the planned development fit the definition of "public use" that, in his view, the Constitution permitted for the exercise of eminent domain.

Justice Stevens said he also regretted having to rule in favor of the federal government's ability to enforce its narcotics laws and thus trump California's medical marijuana initiative. "I have no hesitation in telling you that I agree with the policy choice made by the millions of California voters," he said. But given the broader stakes for the power of Congress to regulate commerce, he added, "our duty to uphold the application of the federal statute was pellucidly clear."

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Religious Fanatics

How would the US respond if some Iranian cleric proposed assassinating President Bush? Not some random cleric either, one that had actually run for President! Well, Pat Robertson suggested the US should kill Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Sure he is a rough leftist populist who wields his country's oil like a stick, but at least he was properly ELECTED (unlike say the "President" Musharraf of Pakistan). I can only hope that this idiot's ideas are not followed in our government anywhere. The US assasination policy never did us much good and did a great deal of harm (see Iran for examples).

Monday, August 22, 2005

Libruls rule Conservatives drul

They finally posted the results from the study and it shows that Liberals are clearly far and away better than Conservatives. No doubt. Cheers!

Discovery Institute tool of Christian conservatives!

Not that this should shock anyone. The NY Times has a reasonably good investigative piece about the Discovery Institute. The Discovery Institute for those of you who don't know is the primary engine behind the idea of Intelligent Design. I have written about ID before here and here.

The article in the Times is pretty good, but doesn't do a good enough job of pointing out that they are basically promoting teaching religion instead of science. Intelligent design is not science. It is not science based. It has no scientific theories. It is philosophy. It makes false claims about what evolution is and what evidence exists for evolution. It is making people dumber, less analytical, and attacking real science. They may have good intentions (in their own minds), but they are hurting America.

Cops Iraqi style

I don't know much about the real situation on the ground in Iraq, but it is always nice to read something positive about the situation. This AP article about a "Cops" style program in Kirkuk makes you hopeful that some good things have come with the bad that has happened in Iraq over the last three years.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Intelligent Falling

As if the Evolution vs. Intelligent Design debate wasn't enough, now there is the debate between Gravity and Intelligent Falling! Where will it all end! ;-)

Friday, August 19, 2005

Krugman swings hard

In today's NYTimes columnist Paul Krugman swings hard at the Republican party. Specifically he argues that they have been and will continue to attempt to suppress Democratic voters during elections. He doesn't mention that the increasing pressure to use electronic voting machines without paper receipts will make this easier...

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

More Housing Buble

A few days ago I mentioned how I thought it was strange that the NYTimes mentioned Austin in an article about the impending bust of the housing bubble. Well, today CNN reported that the bubble continues to be frothy with "U.S. home prices rose at an annual rate of 13.6 percent, to a median price of $208,300." Additionally, they provide a list of over 150 metropolitan markets.

What about the Austin-Round Rock market you ask? Well, according to the report we have a year-to-year increase of 5%, yeilding a median home value of $166,800. That is a nice rate, (I have read that 3-5% annually is about average) but nothing special. Particularly during a "boom" in the housing market. For comparison here the Texas Metropolitan Areas mentioned, in order of growth:


Metropolitan AreaGrowthMedian Price
El Paso13.4%$108,900
Amarillo11.4%$107,400
Corpus Christi10.3%$123,000
San Antonio7.5%$134,000
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington5.7%$149,100
Austin-Round Rock5.0%$166,800
Houston-Baytown-Sugar Land2.4%$142,500
Beaumont-Port Arthur0.6%96,500

By the way, yes Austin does have the highest median home price, but that has been true for almost a decade now and isn't really related to the boom (at least not this one).

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Iraq smackdown

Wow, Frank Rich provides W. with a smackdown on Iraq in his NY Times editorial today. Someone Tell the President the War is Over. This paragraph makes the most salient point in my view:

The endgame for American involvement in Iraq will be of a piece with the rest of this sorry history. "It makes no sense for the commander in chief to put out a timetable" for withdrawal, Mr. Bush declared on the same day that 14 of those Ohio troops were killed by a roadside bomb in Haditha. But even as he spoke, the war's actual commander, Gen. George Casey, had already publicly set a timetable for "some fairly substantial reductions" to start next spring. Officially this calendar is tied to the next round of Iraqi elections, but it's quite another election this administration has in mind. The priority now is less to save Jessica Lynch (or Iraqi democracy) than to save Rick Santorum and every other endangered Republican facing voters in November 2006.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Housing market bubble- Why mention Austin?

I find it strange that this article in the NYTimes mentions Austin as one of the markets where home price appreciation has slowed. Slowed? Austin hasn't had price appreciation like most of the other markets they mention since 2000. This article in the March 2, 2005 Austin American Statesman makes the point that the PMI group thinks there is only about a 16% chance of a significant decline in the Austin home price market (as compared to a 21% chance on average across the country). You can see this laid out in the PMI group's Economic and Real Estate Trends (ERET) from March. General info can be found here.

Best cities for Singles

I had an argument last night with some friends over whether Austin was a good city for singles or not. We all agree that Austin women are HOT, but I said unfortunately Austin isn't a great city for single guys since there are more of us than single women. My friends disagreed and said that Forbes magazine had ranked Austin #1 best city for singles. They were right.

Unfortunately, when you look at the methodology for the ranking you see this:
Singles: The number of singles is based on the percentage of a metro's population above the age of 15 that has never been married. Data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Nothing about male/female ratios which is where the problem in Austin comes in. Austin is a great town for single WOMEN. Because there are 30K more men! For men on the other hand I think NYC would be a better option where there are 420K more women. I'll grant that the census bureau factsheets don't breakdown the singles for you in any easy way. I would love to have the number of singles between the ages of 21-45 to compare. But just on raw numbers I am going to argue that NYC is a better bet for a single guy than Austin.

Heck even Spokane, Washington has 10K more females than males!

Iraq

There is a very disturbing article in Sunday NY Times about the state of affairs in Iraq. Scary stuff.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Texas a Majority Minority State

Another interesting article in the Times. This one about the changing demographic landscape of the US. The article is spurred by the fact that according to the most recent information from the US Census Bureau Texas has become a majority minority state (along with California, Hawaii and New Mexico). Hopefully this will have the effects that Democrats have been talking about for years and swell the number of Democrats in the country.

Internship in India

An interesting article in the NY Times about how MBA students are starting to take their summer internship (between the 1st and 2nd year) and go work for companies in India. This makes lots of sense (for reasons they outline in the article) and indeed is something I would like to do someday. My best friend is Indian so I already have a bit of comfort with the culture, but I'm sure there would be some interesting experiences.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

More ID commentary

Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog has a post up about some recent article on Intelligent Design. Kevin links to a long article in The New Republic that describes some of the history of ID and "Scientific" Creationism as well as modern context. It is very good. If you want to get behind the subscription wall I recommend going to BugMeNot.com.

One of the more interesting paragraphs in the New Republic article is this one explaining the definition of a scientific theory is:
It is important to realize at the outset that evolution is not "just a theory." It is, again, a theory and a fact. Although non-scientists often equate "theory" with "hunch" or "wild guess," the Oxford English Dictionary defines a scientific theory as "a scheme or system of ideas or statements held as an explanation or account of a group of facts or phenomena; a hypothesis that has been confirmed or established by observation or experiment, and is propounded or accepted as accounting for the known facts." In science, a theory is a convincing explanation for a diversity of data from nature. Thus scientists speak of "atomic theory" and "gravitational theory" as explanations for the properties of matter and the mutual attraction of physical bodies. It makes as little sense to doubt the factuality of evolution as to doubt the factuality of gravity.


Maybe, due to the linguistic disadvantage that "theory" produces, people should simply stop referring to "Evolutionary Theory" and refer instead to the "Evolutionary Model". That removes the weak term theory, while retaining all of the important intellectual components. Additionally it allows for the use of the question, "Do you have a better model than evolution for explaining all the facts in genetics, geology and biogeography?" ID has no honest answer to that question.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Journalism: not just what you want to hear, what you need to know

There is an interesting post at the Statesman's editors blog about the role of the newspaper and coverage of the war in Iraq.

Of course I couldn't stop myself from posting a comment.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Can You Believe in God and Evolution?

I came across this article in this week's Time magazine about the Evolution Wars The article quotes four different authority figures, each with a different answer to the question "Can You Believe in God and Evolution?".

This is typical of the he said/she said crap you see about most complex issues nowadays, but this is an opinion piece and I can't read the cover story due to the subscription wall so maybe they did a better job there. This type of article simply allows readers to confirm their own bias by associating it with an authority figure. So here is my bias, I liked this one by Steven Pinker, Psychology professor, Harvard University:

It's natural to think that living things must be the handiwork of a designer. But it was also natural to think that the sun went around the earth. Overcoming naive impressions to figure out how things really work is one of humanity's highest callings.

Our own bodies are riddled with quirks that no competent engineer would have planned but that disclose a history of trial-and-error tinkering: a retina installed backward, a seminal duct that hooks over the ureter like a garden hose snagged on a tree, goose bumps that uselessly try to warm us by fluffing up long-gone fur.

The moral design of nature is as bungled as its engineering design. What twisted sadist would have invented a parasite that blinds millions of people or a gene that covers babies with excruciating blisters? To adapt a Yiddish expression about God: If an intelligent designer lived on Earth, people would break his windows.

The theory of natural selection explains life as we find it, with all its quirks and tragedies. We can prove mathematically that it is capable of producing adaptive life forms and track it in computer simulations, lab experiments and real ecosystems. It doesn't pretend to solve one mystery (the origin of complex life) by slipping in another (the origin of a complex designer).

Many people who accept evolution still feel that a belief in God is necessary to give life meaning and to justify morality. But that is exactly backward. In practice, religion has given us stonings, inquisitions and 9/11. Morality comes from a commitment to treat others as we wish to be treated, which follows from the realization that none of us is the sole occupant of the universe. Like physical evolution, it does not require a white-coated technician in the sky.

The Time coverage does include this well written opinion piece by Dr. Charles Krauthammer that points out how Intelligent Design is NOT science.

For a scientific view of the Intelligent Design questions: Read this article at Panda's Thumb. This entry at the Skeptic's dictionary. And check out the TalkDesign and TalkOrigins websites.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

What's next an internship with Nike?

Read this fluff story on CNN about two young Massachusetts boys who were reported to police for not having a vendors license to sell lemonade. Apparently a worker at a nearby sausage and lemonade vendor reported them and the police were forced to shut them down for lack of a vendor's license. The mayor steps in for the Public Relations coup and gets the owner of the business to allow the boys to work as subcontractors on his vending license.

It is a cute story, but it makes me wonder. IANAL (I am not a lawyer), but what about child labor laws? What about the owner's liability if one of his "subcontractors" is hurt on the job, or a customer gets ill. It seems to me this thing opens all kind of ugly legal windows. Of course, the Mayor comes out clean as a whistle and the vendor had to do something to restore his name in the community (for the sake of his business).