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Monday, August 31, 2009

People against health care reform are nuts

Boy, am I sick of this stupid conversation. If you have a legitimate point to make, then by all means, make it. But stop hiding behind these inane falsehoods. The arguments against health care reform that annoy me the most:

"The government does nothing well." But don't mess with Medicare! You can't have it both ways - you can't rely on the things you like at the same time that you're dismissing things you don't want. You can say "I got mine and screw you." But you can't say "the government can't manage this" because it's just not true.

"It will lead to rationing." Because health insurance companies never deny claims or limit choices in any way.

The only argument that I think has any credibility is that it will cost too much. But of course sticking with the system we have will be expensive too.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Rocky planet

I always love planetary news. My dad is smiling about this, wherever he is.

First 'Solid' Planet Found Outside Solar System
by The Associated Press

Astronomers have finally found a place outside our solar system where there's a firm place to stand — if only it weren't so broiling hot.

As scientists search the skies for life elsewhere, they have found more than 300 planets outside our solar system. But they all have been gas balls or can't be proven to be solid. Now a team of European astronomers has confirmed the first rocky extrasolar planet.

Scientists have long figured that if life begins on a planet, it needs a solid surface to rest on, so finding one elsewhere is a big deal.

"We basically live on a rock ourselves," said co-discoverer Artie Hartzes, director of the Thuringer observatory in Germany. "It's as close to something like the Earth that we've found so far. It's just a little too close to its sun."

So close that its surface temperature is more than 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit, too toasty to sustain life. It circles its star in just 20 hours, zipping around at 466,000 mph. By comparison, Mercury, the planet nearest our sun, completes its solar orbit in 88 days. "It's hot, they're calling it the lava planet," Hartzes said.

This is a major discovery in the field of trying to find life elsewhere in the universe, said outside expert Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution. It was the buzz of a conference on finding an Earth-like planet outside our solar system, held in Barcelona, Spain, where the discovery was presented Wednesday morning. The find is also being published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

The planet is called Corot-7b. It was first discovered earlier this year. European scientists then watched it dozens of times to measure its density to prove that it is rocky like Earth. It's in our general neighborhood, circling a star in the winter sky about 500 light-years away. Each light-year is about 6 trillion miles.

Four planets in our solar system are rocky: Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars.

In addition, the planet is about as close to Earth in size as any other planet found outside our solar system. Its radius is only one-and-a-half times bigger than Earth's and it has a mass about five times the Earth's.

Now that another rocky planet has been found so close to its own star, it gives scientists more confidence that they'll find more Earth-like planets farther away, where the conditions could be more favorable to life, Boss said.

"The evidence is becoming overwhelming that we live in a crowded universe," Boss said.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Rendition to continue

When a friend told me about this, I said, "That can't be true." I am so disappointed in Obama! If you don't want them tortured then why are you sending them to another country? I feel sick.

NY Times
August 25, 2009

U.S. Says Rendition to Continue, but With More Oversight
by David Johnston

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration will continue the Bush administration’s practice of sending terrorism suspects to third countries for detention and interrogation, but pledges to closely monitor their treatment to ensure that they are not tortured, administration officials said Monday.

. . . as a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama had strongly suggested he might end the practice. In an article in Foreign Affairs in the summer of 2007, Mr. Obama wrote, “To build a better, freer world, we must first behave in ways that reflect the decency and aspirations of the American people. This means ending the practices of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, of detaining thousands without charge or trial, of maintaining a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of the law.”


Friday, August 28, 2009

Noah's toxicology report

Basically, we still don't know for sure. This is from Jerry:

We heard yesterday from the pathologist who did the autopsy. She said that Noah had microvascular disease affecting his heart, liver and kidneys. His blood creatinine (a measure of kidney function) was 12mg/Dl when it should only be 1mg/Dl. So he was already in kidney failure. No wonder he was terribly skinny. WHY couldn't he have cried for help sooner? We can only remember the good things about him.

This is from Leo:

I called the ME this morning and the ME, Mark, who I talked to on the night of Noah's death told me that the report didn't show anything specific, and they were putting the cause of death at complications of diabetes miletus (ph). I asked him a couple of questions and he didn't mention kidney failure. I'll call him back tomorrow. I'm very curious about this. In any case the toxicology didn't show any illegal drugs or anything like that.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cash for Clunkers - final numbers

My friend Russ sent me this NY Times article. I don't know whether to laugh or cry:

In a very telling news release, the Transportation Department revealed that the Ford Explorer topped the list of most traded-in clunkers, while the Toyota Corolla was the most popular car purchased through the program, followed by the Honda Civic. The top 10 traded-in vehicles were American brands and 8 of the top 10 purchased vehicles were foreign brands.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy, RIP

It feels deeply ironic to me that Ted Kennedy died last night, considering that health care reform is in its own death throes as we speak.

I happened to read Matt Taibbi's column on health care reform in Rolling Stone last night and I'm thoroughly depressed now. He notes, among other things, that big Pharma's and the insurance companies' interests are protected, that any employer mandate will be minimal via loopholes and grandfather clauses, and the main outcome is likely to be an individual mandate (requiring us all to buy health insurance) without any provision for a reasonably priced option (whether a govt program or even subsidized group care). As usual, the average citizen will not benefit and the big political donors will. And there is virtually nothing in any of the current bills that genuinely cuts costs.

Fareed Zakaria also notes in his most recent Newsweek column that we are doing nothing meaningful on this important topic:

It's not as if the problems aren't apparent to everyone, whatever your political persuasion. Costs are rising so fast that every day, more than 10,000 Americans lose their insurance coverage. In 1993, 61 percent of small businesses provided health insurance for their employees. Now that number is down to 38 percent. Larger firms face greater and greater health-care costs. And yet, Americans do worse on almost every health measure than most advanced industrial countries, which spend about half as much on health care per person and have proportionately more elderly people.

The political debate that is taking place is unreal, with conservatives suggesting that Obama is endorsing euthanasia and murder boards, and turning America into Russia. (I guess they haven't noticed that Russia isn't communist anymore.) The lack of serious discussion is a tragedy, because the Democrats' proposals leave much to be desired. They include only a few, vague measures to rein in costs, and the chief one—a medical board—assumes (improbably) that Congress will cede massive powers to five unelected people who would have the power to deny people treatments and drugs. The likely scenario is that expanded coverage and new benefits will be enacted, while the cuts and curbs will be pushed off to be tackled another day.

Health care is the nation's most serious long-term problem. But think of Social Security, government pension liabilities, state--government deficits, and energy dependence, and you face the same issue. Each one of these problems is getting worse by the day, and yet the political system seems unable to take them on and make major reforms. On these very important issues, America is caught in a downward spiral. It makes you wish for a crisis.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Good news on torture

Big news today. The FBI has established a special team for "high value" interrogations, which will follow very specific rules. We should all be very happy about this! And Eric Holder has appointed a special prosecutor to investigate inappropriate interrogations that happened during the past few years. I know this will probably get mired in politics, and it will probably turn into a witch hunt, punishing a few scapegoats while the true venality is never addressed, but I still think it's good news - we have to hold ourselves accountable. HOW we do things is just as important as WHAT we accomplish. Repugs can insist that the only standard by which we should judge is "what works" (as Joe Scarborough said about 50 times this morning), but techniques like threating to rape a detainee's mother are just not acceptable. What separates us from those we abhor???

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Monday, August 24, 2009

MM lovers unite!

Stumbled on a fabulous fan site for Mad Men produced by the Lipp sisters (Roberta and Deborah) and called "Basket of Kisses" (no explanation required for those who watch the show). The rabid fans who haunt the site call themselves Basketcases! This is brainy stuff - tons of fascinating analysis by people who understand the symbolism and the cultural references. I could waste a LOT of time here!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Movie weekend

Saw two movies this weekend (in the theater as God intended!) Both were a bit disappointing actually.

I watched The Time Traveler's Wife with friends on Saturday night, which was affecting, but not very romantic and not very much about the wife for that matter (I didn't read the book, but the title implies that you will get her perspective and you mostly get his). I found the movie quite dark - much sadder than I had expected. Much more about mortality than about love. It reminded me of BBM - you spend very little time watching this couple fall in love, instead you spend most of the movie watching them struggle and be miserable. But Eric Bana was terrific and it's worth seeing for his nuanced performance. Rachel McAdams, however, was miscast I think - they needed someone with more gravitas to really pull off the role. But the movie was not a waste of time.

District 9, on the other hand, which I saw on Sunday night with Matt and Larry, was not my cup of tea at all - way too many exploding heads and way too little dialogue and exposition. I expected something much more substantial than this - more commentary on the social situation and fewer battles and bloodshed. Not a bad movie, but not what I what I like to watch. A good lesson in doing my research before I waste a precious evening out on a movie that really had nothing to say to me.

At least I got to come home and watch Don Draper self destruct in 52 inches of tortured glory.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Zombies and math

I thought this was hilarious - applied math, so fun!

Researchers: When Zombies Attack
By Mark Memmott

There apparently is a serious reason for this research. Something about learning how to fight new, highly infectious diseases.

But who cares about that!? The real story is that researchers in Canada have used math to figure out what us living folks need to do when the zombies come out.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Barney Frank and the healthcare debate

My friend Stessa sent me a link to part of this town hall meeting. I hadn't seen the full video before - his response to a woman who asked why he was supporting this Nazi style healthcare plan is all over the news, but it's only the first part (where he asks what planet she lives on) and the last part (where he talks about a dining room table), but they never show the part in the middle where he notes how offensive and uninformed she is. It comes across very differently when you see the whole thing.

This debate is infuriating and bizarre. I saw CNBC's Maria Bartiromo on Morning Joe this morning say something like "The American people have made it clear that they don't want the government taking over healthcare." And I thought, "Huh?" She's a respected business journalist, but what the hell? We haven't even had a conversation about that. We've talked about a lot of things that aren't a part of this legislation, like euthanasia, and "the American people" seem pretty opposed to that. But we sure haven't had any rational discussion of the pros and cons of the actual proposed reforms. Every day it just gets more surreal.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Minyan for Noah

Tonight Rabbi Fellman came over to my house for a shiva minyan. Almost 20 people showed up, which I thought was pretty remarkable since several people who wanted to come couldn't make it. The rabbi conducted a short service and I spoke for a few minutes about Noah. Larry said there wasn't a dry eye in the house. As I was getting ready over the last couple of days, I was wondering if this was really a good idea, but in the end, I'm really glad we did it - it was meaningful for me and I think it was meaningful for the people who came, even if they had never met Noah. (It was a side of me that a lot of people have never seen; Bernice said she was impressed with my "honesty.") I was really touched by everyone's kindness, especially people I don't know as well, like Mike and Barb and Jim.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bumper sticker

"Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight.”
- Albert Schweitzer

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Mad Men, Season 3

Not quite what I had hoped, but it's still better than anything else on T.V. A slow start (Larry left the room after 20 minutes, bored and surprised that this is my favorite show). But I'm still tuning in. There's only 13 episodes per season, so I plan to savor every minute (this run ends in early November, and then we presumably have to wait another 9 months for the next installment).


I hadn't realized how much buzz there was about the show, or about what a substantial audience the show had:

The Mad Men season premiere brought in roughly 2.8 million viewers according to the Nielsen ratings, and while that may not seem like a lot of viewers when compared to a show like American Idol, it is definitely a great ratings share for a cable show. Before the estimated 2.8 million viewers tuned in on Sunday, the highest ratings numbers for Mad Men was the Season 2 season premiere, where an estimated 2.1 million viewers tuned in to watch the show. That is an increase of about 34% in total viewers as estimated by the Nielsen ratings scale, and spells a lot of success for the producers and creators of Mad Men.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Health care reform

I'm baffled by how drastically this legislation has run off the rails. It's astonishing to me that Americans are still convinced that no reform is better than reform. The system we have is problematic in so many ways, and the reform being proposed is so minimal compared to what is really needed, and yet people are taking to the streets to oppose it. Of course, the cynical manipulation of voters isn't helping, but why are they so willing to accept that any change is bad? This is so discouraging, both in terms of not getting the reform we need, but even more in terms of the way the political process is working, or more accurately, not working. What's actually best for America is hardly even being discussed, because we're too busy talking about euthanesia and other completely irrelevant topics. A sad time.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

"Life Stories" in the Tucson newspaper

Moving profile of Noah in the Arizona Daily Star today by Kim Matas. I spoke to her on Tuesday and I'm quoted extensively in the story.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cash for Clunkers

So I got excited as I heard more and more about this program because my next car is definitely a hybrid and maybe I could take advantage of this. Not possible because here's the deal:

You're eligible for $4500 if your new car will get 10 miles more per gallon than your current car.
My new car will get about 25 miles more per gallon than my current car.
The trade-in value of your current car cannot exceed $4500.
I'd be lucky to get $2000
Your current car must be manufactured between 1985 and 2001.
Oops, my current car is from 2002.
Your current car has to get less than 22 miles to the gallon.
Oops, my current car is listed as getting 26.

I was disappointed, but I've also heard grumblings about how the dealers just deduct from your trade-in to account for the government payment (the money goes directly to the buyer, but still, they're wise to the psychology of it). I also found out through my research that the real name of the program is CARS - car allowance rebate system - so the money gets paid to you as a rebate the next time you file an income tax return. I was also a bit perturbed to realize that you can get a $3500 rebate for buying a car that get ONE mile more per gallon than the car you own now. I happen to think it's unfair to create an incentive for improving gas mileage by one mile per gallon, but I get nothing for doubling mine. Typical.

All in all, the truth is, and this isn't sour grapes, we can't afford a new car payment at this time, so it's just as well not to be tempted.

Note: The CARS program, a.k.a. Cash for Clunkers, has a cool website where you put in information about the car you have now and the car you want to buy, and it pops out an assessment of what you can get from the program.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Aaron Schock

I wonder if I'm related to this guy (up and coming Republican Congressman from Illinois) - my mother's maiden name is Schock. Meghan McCain calls him the "House Hottie" - he's best known for his poolside photo that went viral after appearing on TMZ.com (which can be seen in Meghan's Daily Beast post).


Thursday, August 06, 2009

Roger Ebert explains evolution

My friend Janet sent this movie review to me. It's all good, but I especially enjoyed this part:

. . . as every gambler knows, sometimes you do actually hit a number. You don't have to do it a trillion trillion trillion times to be a winner. You only have to do it once. This is explained by Darwin. If you are playing at a table with other gamblers and you win $100 and none of them do, you are just that much better able to outlast them as competitors. When the casino closes, one person at that table must have won more than any of the others. That's why casinos never close. Of course if you gamble long enough, you will eventually lose back more than the others. Your poor spouse tells you this. You know it is true.

But tonight you feel lucky. If you leave the table still holding your pot, you could become as rich as Warren Buffett. Somebody has to. Look at Warren Buffett. Evolution involves holding onto your winnings and investing them wisely. You don't even have to know to how to hold onto your winnings. Evolution does it for you; it is the bank in which useful genetic mutations deposit themselves. There is a very slow rate of return, but it's compounded. At the end of one eon, you get your bank statement and find your pittance has grown into an orangutan. At the end of the next eon, it has grown into Charles Darwin. Scientists, at least 99.875 percent of them, believe that in the long run only useful mutations deposit in this bank. Those mutations with no use, or a negative effect, squander their savings in a long-running bunko game, and die forgotten in the gutter.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

400th anniversary of 1st moon map

I generally hate the "StarDate" segment on NPR, mostly because of the dorky, distracting New Age music that plays throughout. But occasionally they cover something really interesting, as they did today. My dad would have loved this momentous anniversary. And by the by, Thomas Harriot is now believed to have beaten Galileo by at least several months:

As you look at the full Moon tonight, it's easy to make out its dark volcanic plains and its brighter highlands, plus a crater or two. But to see anything more than that, you need a telescope.

The first person to draw the Moon as seen through a telescope was Englishman Thomas Harriot, a part-time scientist and full-time friend of the British rich and famous. His first map of the Moon was based on observations he made 400 years ago tonight.

Harriot was around 50 years old. Decades earlier, he'd tutored Sir Walter Ralegh, and traveled to Virginia on an expedition that Ralegh organized. Back in England, he dabbled in optics, mathematics, and other fields. And in early 1609, he bought a telescope.

He turned it toward the Moon that summer, and drew several maps. But Harriot never published his drawings. The first person to publish a telescopic view of the Moon was Galileo Galilei, who did so the following year. Harriot's drawings weren't published until the 20th century. So Galileo gets the credit for drafting the first drawings of the Moon based on the view through a telescope.

Incidentally, Harriot's first map is dated July 26th, 1609. But at the time, England was using a different calendar system. So under today's calendar, the date was August 5th -- 400 years ago tonight.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Fear and loathing in Hollywood

As usual, Digby at Hullabaloo is right on:

It strikes me as a bit odd that the infotainment complex is hitting the fear button so hard right now. I was always told that during the depression Hollywood made a lot of fantasy and upbeat comedy because people wanted an escape. I'm not sure that isn't true now. I don't watch a whole lot of TV for relaxation, but when I do I certainly don't want to watch something that's going to make me feel more fear and anxiety than I already do.

But the humiliation rituals on reality TV and the violence in the movies right now are just mind-boggling --- I watched a Mamet flick the other night that just about made me sick. I don't know about you, but I feel as if our society is in a sour, sour place right now --- and justifiably so. It doesn't seem like pumping up the anxiety and fear can be good for people who are already stressed out beyond belief.

But hey, I'm old so maybe it's just Driving Miss Daisy time for me. Far be it for me to become one of those scolds telling the kids they shouldn't listen to that "yeah yeah" music. But it kind of creeps me out.

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Monday, August 03, 2009

Noah's photos - black & white

This one is so gorgeous, it makes me ill that he's gone.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Noah's photos - color

Thanks to Rachel Bash for sending these to me!

He called this one "Dead Man."

This is probably Ramcat.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Post mortem

It's the wee hours of Sunday morning - I just got home from the airport. My flight was late, and then the luggage was delayed and I had to hang around the airport. So I should be in bed, but I'm irritated and need to wind down.

The memorial service was lovely and I think it was meaningful for all who were there. We filled up the small amphitheater in Madera Canyon, and the weather was perfect - cool and dry. A glowing gibbous moon (waxing) had risen and watched over us as we sprinkled a few ashes off the nearby bridge at the end of the service.

It went so well, not just the service, but the whole weekend. Everyone was civil and cooperative. It was so nice to get reqcquainted with Jerry's kids, who I haven't seen in years. It was especially great to hang with Ian, who I've always seen so fleetingly during our rare visits. And of course Diane was my consolation prize, literally and figuratively. She took such good care of me and it's just calming to spend time with her.

But overall, it still feels so wrong & so untrue - he can't be gone. Even as I held his ashes in my hand, I couldn't believe that was all that was left of him. The universe is just off-kilter, even now. Even walking in my front door and seeing the photos I mentioned in my short eulogy, I still can't shake the surreal sense that it's all been a weird, bad dream that I will scratch my head over, once I wake up.