Thursday, June 26, 2008

Congrats to the Formerly Gunless in DC!

The Supreme Court issued it's ruling on the DC v. Heller case this morning, affirming that the right to own weapons is a constitutional individual right. Well, that about wraps it up for the "militia" argument.

In celebration, I dedicate the following song to all the policy analysts, legal scholars, and political journalists who followed this case. Guys, you don't need to look for a girl with a gun anymore.

(Sorry, youtube says that "embedding is disabled by request.")

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Funniest Thing I Saw Today

I'm doing research for my job today, and I just happen to stumble upon this little gem:

Nod to

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Screw V-Day, I'm having my own good time.

I'm posting something that makes ME happy! And I could care less how many times you've already seen this.

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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Growing Up With 2 Mommies

Science scores another point over religion this week, as the Brits have figured out how to make a child out of three parents. Upon hearing the news, I could only think one thing: OMG how friggin' awesome is that?!

Briefly, the procedure involved implanting the nucleus of a fertilized zygote into a donor egg cell. The extra DNA from the 2nd mother can theoretically "overwrite" any inherited "bad" DNA. This technology has the potential to eliminate many genetic birth defects.

Sure, the news will doubtless have some bible-thumping, Huckabee-voting Americans proclaiming that Armageddon is at hand, but for the rest of the non-zealous world, technology has just made yet another giant leap towards improving our lives.

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Friday, February 1, 2008

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Social Security's "Trust Fund"

In the 1994 film "Dumb and Dumber," the film's protagonists, Harry and Lloyd (Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrrey), embark on a journey to return a mysterious locked Samsonite to a mysterious red-haired woman. Eventually, the lock on the suitcase breaks, and our heroes discover its contents: CA$H money. When they finally return the suitcase to its original owner (not the woman), the cash has all been spent. "That's as good as money, sir," says Lloyd, as the owner watches several little scraps of paper float to the floor. "Those are IOUs."

Think about this the next time you hear about Social Security's "Trust Fund."

Special thanks to "Icek" for the analogy.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008


J.J. Abrams' much-anticipated film Cloverfield arrived in theaters yesterday. Though I haven't seen any of his work beyond the 1st season of Lost, I appreciate a good viral marketing campaign, so I thought I'd check it out.

SPOILERS: Highlight text or hit CTRL+A to view.

Rather than discuss the entire movie, I'll just mention a few points:

1. Monster Design.
I thought the monster was frightening. I expected to see some kind of Godzilla-like bipedal lizard, but this giant, four-legged, buggy thing with a tail was much more original.

2. Predictable sequence of events.
Nothing is much of a surprise in this film. You know when the movie begins that the characters on camera are dead by the end. You identify the inconsequential characters (read: "monster food") pretty quickly. You can even hear the contrived, flowery dialogue between the leading man and his woman long before their reunion ("You came back for me," *love*).

3. Sci-Fi vs. Monster Movie.
I expected this film to be a science fiction film. I found out that it's a monster movie. It's a good monster movie, and it really pulls you into the survival mentality of the characters, but a viewer who expected answers about what the monster is and where it came from would be left wanting. The ending, while not surprising, is unsatisfying.

4. Hand-held camera perspective.
The first time I'd ever seen a low-budget Handycam film was 1999's The Blair Witch Project. Nine years ago, it was difficult to swallow the idea that a group of hysterical campers would continuously record their entire horrific ordeal (who in their right mind would grab the camera before running and screaming off into the darkness after some unknown entity attacked their tent in the middle of the night?!). However, with Cloverfield, it's not so far-fetched. Extras in the background are seen snapping pictures of the carnage with their iphones. News helicopters fly overhead, beaming the live disaster to 250 million homes.
"This is huge. People are gonna want to see this," is all the cameraman says, and in the age of YouTube and Web 2.0, I don't find that so unbelievable at all.

5. Capitalism 101: Product Placement.
I believe in capitalism, so I'm forgiving of product placement in films and TV. A display of Nokia phone batteries, or an Aquafina soda machine, fine. However, there's one scene where the placement couldn't be more glaringly obvious. Yes, the filmmakers tried to downplay it with a dutch-angle shot and intense red lights, but that Mountain Dew logo behind Marlena's head is clear as day and extremely distracting.

I didn't have high expectations for this film, and I wasn't disappointed. While I'm definitely not J.J. Abram's biggest fan,
Cloverfield is one hell of an adrenaline rush, and I still recommend it.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Natural Rights from a different perspective

Have you ever had one of those "golden moments" where something just clicks in your mind, and everything begins making obvious sense for the first time? Last week, I had such a moment. The concept of Natural Rights all came together for me. Throughout college I've been trained to be a scientist, not a philosopher, and I happened to stumble upon a way of understanding and explaining natural rights that made some sense to me. I was thinking about how the laws of physics can be described as "properties of matter," and it dawned on me - could natural rights be thought of as "properties of people?"

In its modern usage, the word "rights" connotes an authoritative relationship between two parties (regardless of the term's original meaning), where one "grants" or at least "recognizes" the rights of the other. This connotation has been the root of my incorrect thinking.

If you take rights to be nothing more than a property of a person (not to be confused with the person's property and property rights), or rather, an "attribute" of a rational, sentient intelligence, then the rest seems to fall into place nicely. Man, being rational, is capable of sustaining his life ("life"), is capable of making choices of how to act and think ("liberty"), and is capable of ownership ("property"). All people have these abilities.

From a computational/object-oriented paradigm:
A man (an object) whom we'll call "Sam" has identity, state, and behavior. His identity is himself, individual, one. His state is rational, sentient, self-aware. His behaviors include taking actions to sustain his life, making rational choices, and acquiring property, in addition to taking actions to defend his rights if they are ever threatened. The invariant of the system is that all men have these rights, which means that infringing on another's rights is nearly impossible to do without invoking that person to exercise and defend their rights. If a second man, "James," were to threaten the Sam's life, Sam is capable of defending himself, either physically or by some other means (firearms, hired thugs). If James were to threaten Sam's property, Sam again is capable of defending his property.

Coercion is the act of infringing upon another's rights to the point where they can no longer defend them, i.e. if James were to subdue and restrain Sam so that he could no longer defend himself, or if James were to shoot Sam in the back. This sucks for Sam and seems good for James in the short run, but in a dynamic system, it's likely that Susan, Joe, and Buck will hear about James' unreasonable and murderous tendencies, and will want to take precautionary measures to isolate the unreasonable (and therefore "inhuman," at least temporarily) James from their community until it appears he will no longer practice coercion.

I know this is very foggy and not at all rigorous - I'm by no means a logician. However, I think the implication of conceptualizing rights this way is important: it is very difficult for somebody to violate your rights without you surrendering them first.

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