Friday, February 27, 2009

Culture: Star Trek - The Original Series in HD

I wonder if they are going to re-master all 79 episodes?

At the moment, I've seen Where No Man Has Gone Before as well as The Corbomite Maneuver in the new crisp HD via streaming video!

As of today, there are 16 episodes in the new format!

I wonder how much is it costing them to clean up the old episodes?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sports: UCLA 76 Stanford 71

UCLA is struggling this year.

They lost some big time players to the NBA and the freshman class hasn't lived up to its billing.

I was initially worried that their inside game would be very weak with the loss of Kevin Love but Alfred Aboya has really stepped up. He is no Kevin Love but he isn't a potted plant either.

The big problem has been the team speed covering shooters. Howland likes defensive pressure which can force turnovers. But sometimes people get left open and the team can't seem to recover quickly to cover. The most telling stat has been the shooting percentage of the opponents.

The team needs to win out in the regular season and make a serious run in the Pac10 tournament. Otherwise, they are going to wind up a 7 or 8 seed with a tough round one game against a 9 or 10 seed and then a 1 or 2 seed in round two.

Economics: A trillion here and a trillion there ...

The saying used to be "a billion here and a billion there and before you know it you are talking about some real money."

A 10-year US government budget was announced today.

There are things the government should do. But one wonders if they are doing too much.

Do you ever get that nagging feeling that maybe the solution to the problems is sometimes what is causing them?

Part of how they are funding this budget is "soaking the rich."

As someone who is NOT rich, I benefit from that kind of thinking.

But that approach is being used in California and the result is that when the rich are really doing well in good economic times the government gets lots of money which it spends and when the economy falters the revenue from the rich falls, the government cries, we can't cut the programs we started!

UPDATE: See the pdf of the budget.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Science: We are number 6!

Seen on Yahoo! main page on Wednesday, Feb 25, 2008 at 1:25 PM PST.

Vitamin D was the #6 in Today's Searches at Yahoo!

Culture: Oscars 2009 - Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway Opening Act

Loved it!

Mixing in all the big movies and poking a bit of fun was great!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Politics: President Obama's Address to Congress

The transcript.

Without a doubt, he speaks well. His acknowledgement of what the people are going through will continue to win him some good will. Excerpt:
I know that for many Americans watching right now, the state of our economy is a concern that rises above all others. And rightly so. If you haven't been personally affected by this recession, you probably know someone who has -- a friend; a neighbor; a member of your family. You don't need to hear another list of statistics to know that our economy is in crisis, because you live it every day. It's the worry you wake up with and the source of sleepless nights. It's the job you thought you'd retire from but now have lost; the business you built your dreams upon that's now hanging by a thread; the college acceptance letter your child had to put back in the envelope. The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere.
So on that front, definitely an A speech.

However, what I'll try to do below is look at the policy aspects.

The President cited only part of the reason for the economic crisis:
Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn't afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway.
All true.

Bob Brinker on his radio show this weekend said one of the big errors in deregulation leading to the crisis was the 1999 repeal of important aspects of the Glass-Steagall Act.

Obama left out the responsibility the Federal Government had in causing the crisis. Home buyers and lenders leaped off a cliff with a push from the government. It was national policy to encourage home ownership through Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae which are government sponsored entities. They shoveled bad loans into mortgage backed securities and sold them to everyone. Now, these securities are toxic assets crippling financial institutions around the world.

Good words here:
So, I ask this Congress to join me in doing whatever proves necessary. Because we cannot consign our nation to an open-ended recession. And to ensure that a crisis of this magnitude never happens again, I ask Congress to move quickly on legislation that will finally reform our outdated regulatory system. It is time to put in place tough, new common-sense rules of the road so that our financial market rewards drive and innovation, and punishes shortcuts and abuse.
But of course, details remain to be seen.

UPDATE: Team Obama is estimating it will take about $250 billion more to get the financial industry back on its feet.

The President made the case that the government has had on some occasions a positive role in the economy:
For history tells a different story. History reminds us that at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas. In the midst of civil war, we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry. From the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came a system of public high schools that prepared our citizens for a new age. In the wake of war and depression, the GI Bill sent a generation to college and created the largest middle-class in history. And a twilight struggle for freedom led to a nation of highways, an American on the moon, and an explosion of technology that still shapes our world.
True enough. Government does have a role but one has to beware of over-reach.

As someone in the basic research business, I do benefit from some of the President's spending ideas:
We have also made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history -- an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in medicine, science, and technology.
Energy is clearly a big issue for America and Obama got it partially right here:
But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America. And to support that innovation, we will invest $15 billion a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.
"Market-based cap on carbon pollution" is the fancy way to say "carbon tax." The idea is to discourage the usage of energy sources that produce CO2 by making it more costly. Whether that is actually a good idea is a whole separate debate but let us at least be honest about what it means.

Update: The "carbon tax" will be about $645 billion.

More wind, solar and biofuels is perfectly reasonable but its contribution to the US energy picture is limited and is being oversold.

The US has to look at nuclear power. Sweden gets 50% of its power from nuclear. They were thinking of taking the plants offline but are now looking to keep them and add more capacity to existing sites. If they can do it, so can we.

Regarding health care, fine sounding words:
This budget builds on these reforms. It includes an historic commitment to comprehensive health care reform -- a down-payment on the principle that we must have quality, affordable health care for every American. It's a commitment that's paid for in part by efficiencies in our system that are long overdue.
Now, there will be many different opinions and ideas about how to achieve reform, and that is why I'm bringing together businesses and workers, doctors and health care providers, Democrats and Republicans to begin work on this issue next week.

I suffer no illusions that this will be an easy process. It will be hard. But I also know that nearly a century after Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform, the cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and the conscience of our nation long enough. So let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year.
Should be done but no details provided here.

Update: $634 billion is the estimated price tag from the Obama Administration.

The debate in health care reform is how do you balance access, quality and cost. Controlling costs means some sacrifice in quality or access. High quality costs lots of money and giving it to everybody will break the bank. Full access means some sacrifice in quality and costs money. We got to balance all three somehow and I'm looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

In terms of education, Obama said this:
But we know that our schools don't just need more resources. They need more reform. That is why this budget creates new incentives for teacher performance; pathways for advancement, and rewards for success. We'll invest in innovative programs that are already helping schools meet high standards and close achievement gaps. And we will expand our commitment to charter schools.
Do I dare say it?

Sounds a lot like what President George W. Bush said!

Speaking of channeling W, Obama said this:
And we must also begin a conversation on how to do the same for Social Security, while creating tax-free universal savings accounts for all Americans.
Bush 43 tried to get something going on Social Security reform in 2005 and was shouted down by the Democrats. Perhaps fixing Social Security will have to be done by Democrats in a "only Nixon could go to China" moment of political will.

The final policy portion of the speech (a mere 10 short paragraphs) was devoted to foreign policy and national defense. His tone was the right one though at times a bit "boilerplate." But partisanship ends at the water's edge and I would imagine sitting at the WH desk getting the daily briefings has been sobering for him.

All in all a wide ranging speech with big issues.

Now, we await the details.

All the best, Mr. President.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Non-profit of the Month: February 2009 - Los Angeles Regional Food Bank

With these tough economic times, it is not surprising that food assistance is on the rise in Los Angeles.

That is why I'm making a contribution to The Los Angeles Regional Foodbank.

The Foodbank collects food from donations from the food industry, USDA supplies, donations from the public through food drives and purchasing food at a discount. 900 agencies and charities in the greater Los Angeles area can obtain supplies from the LA Foodbank to help people in need in the areas they serve.

Click here to see their informational video about the work going on in Los Angeles Regional Foodbank.

Please consider supporting the LA Foodbank or some comparable organization in your area.

@ the Movies: Frost/Nixon

Thumbs up for Frost/Nixon.

This film follows how David Frost, on the downside of his career, went all in to snag an interview with the disgraced Nixon.

Nixon agreed to the open ended extended interviews for money and an opportunity to recast his presidency to the public.

Frost was considered a lightweight by many in the media at the time was not given much chance to produce an interesting interview. But in a shocker, he peppered Nixon with facts on the Watergate coverup in such a way leading to the closest thing to a confession the public every obtained from Nixon.

Claudia Puig of USA Today gave it high marks and from her review I learned that the film is an adaptation of a stage play of the same name. The actors MIchael Sheen (Frost) and Frank Langella (Nixon) reprised their roles from the stage play.

Like The Class, this is a talky movie and you need to be in the right mood to follow fast flowing conversation.

Its worth it to see two actors on the top of their game!

3 stars out of 4.

@ the Movies: The Class

Thumbs up to The Class. It is up for a Best Foreign Film Oscar.

An at times claustrophobic look at the life of one classroom in urban France.

Within a matter of minutes, I felt as if the movie could have been any major city in the USA where the challenge of ethnic mixes and difficult students and home life situations clash with the mission of an idealistic teacher who refuses to give up on his students.

Emotionally, it is discouraging to watch the difficulties but the occasional moments where things look up and lighten kept me watching and rooting for a good outcome.

Peter Travers of Rolling Stones gave it high praise and informed me that the lead actor was the author of the book that the film is based on and that the students in the classroom were real life students.

The LA Times reports that The Class won't win the Oscar because it was forced into the category by the powers that be to keep good PR with Cannes Film Festival where it shined.

Not having seen the other films in the category, I have no opinion on that issue.

As a film, it does require the audience to get with it. If you are in the mood for light fare, ditch The Class. But if you know a teacher, sit in on The Class and gain a new appreciation for the challenges and rewards of that profession.

3 stars out of 4.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Technology: "The Spy Factory" on PBS - NOVA

Fascinating documentary on the NSA, 9/11 and the challenges of trying to sift through the massive amounts of communication in the world to find information that may prevent a terrorist attack.

Culture: Will Star Trek's Newest Form Be Successful?

May 8, 2009 ... Star Trek returns.

If you want to revisit the original, go to this site where the shows from 1966-1969 can be found.

The Star Trek fan base is well known to be ardent. Some have gone so far as to make new stories of the show with no hope of getting any money for it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Culture: Civility on the Internet

Because there is a certain anonymity on the internet, blogs can generate well over the line commentary.

I welcome comments even ones that disagree with me.

However, I try to run a family friendly blog here and will delete comments that egregiously breach decorum as I find them.

Below is my comments policy based on Jon Weisman's Dodger Thoughts Blog.

So here are his rules with modifications for this blog:
Thank you for not ...
1) using profanity or any euphemisms for profanity
2) personally attacking other commenters
3) baiting other commenters
4) arguing for the sake of arguing
5) using hyperbole when something less will suffice
6) using sarcasm in a way that can be misinterpreted negatively
7) making the same point over and over again
8) being annoyed by the existence of this list
9) commenting under the obvious influence
10) claiming your opinion isn't allowed when it's just being disagreed with

Also, please note that sidebar ads are placed by and do not necessarily reflect the views of this blogger.

Culture: The Ad NBC Refused to Run During the Super Bowl

What do you think?

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Life: The story of Flight 1549 on 60 Minutes

60 Minutes devoted 2/3 of the broadcast tonight to the story of Flight 1549. Segment one was with the pilot Captain Sullenberger. Segment two was with the Captain and the 4 fellow crew members. Segment three was the reunion of the crew with a number of the passengers and their family.

Riveting television and incredibly moving.

Hats off to the crew and the first responders of New York City!

Friday, February 06, 2009

Politics: What if they "gave" away the $800 billion?

The Senate is closing in on a deal for a $811 billion "stimulus" package.

It is simplistic to ask, what if they just "gave" the money to the American people?

There are 300,000,000 or so Americans. $811 billion divided by 300 million equals $2703.33 per person.

Would that help our economy as much as, more than or less than the "stimulus" package?

I don't know, I'm just thinking aloud.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Politics: Tax troubles

Its easy to criticize the latest nominees with tax troubles.

But I have to give them a break.

There are two likely reasons people have tax problems:
(1) the tax laws are complicated and people make boo-boos
(2) they are engaging in tax evasion and got caught.

If the reason the nominees have tax issues is because of #1 then they should just apologize and pay up and get confirmed.

If it can be shown that it is reason #2 then they should be rejected and penalized.

My taxes aren't very complicated but when I go through the Turbo Tax program, I sometimes get this weird feeling ... am I making a mistake somewhere?

I still remember getting a stern letter from the IRS a few years back saying, I could be penalized for not paying estimated taxes! I'm still not clear what happened that year as to why the amount taken from my paycheck wasn't enough such that I had to pay owed taxes on April 15.

Since then I have tended to overpay and get a refund. Of course, if I was more savvy about taxes I'd avoid overpaying because overpaying is giving the government money that could be sitting in my bank earning interest!

And so if I have made "mistakes" in my taxes and my financial situation is uncomplicated, I'm inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to these folks.

UPDATE: Daschle has withdrawn. Geithner survived while Kellifer and Daschle have withdrawn. I'm not sure on substance how different were their various tax problems. Perhaps some issues were worse than others. And perhaps there were other political dynamics that were contentious that caused two of these three to pull out.

UPDATE: Heard on that the amount of taxes bumbled by Kellifer was relatively small but she felt she had to pull out. With that in play, Daschle whose tax problems involved much larger sums of money had no choice but to pull out too. Additionally, there were concerns about some of Daschle's lobbying activities post-Senate life.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Politics: What is really in the stimulus package?

An NPR audio report interview with Clinton OMB director Alice Rivlin.

Her take is that the package merges both short-term stimulus and long-term projects.

It sounds to me that there is some mixing of long-term projects in the guise of a short-term emergency stimulus package.

Sounds like the Senate might add more $$$ to the package.

If one actually wants to plow through the thing, check If their pie charts are accurate, 79% of the money will kick in 2010 and beyond. This does give the feeling that there is a certain amount of political payoff to Democrat interest groups after 8 years of being shut out of power

Amity Shlaes who has written a best-seller about the Depression posed the thesis that the New Deal wasn't all that helpful in solving the Depression.

In the end, it was WW2 that really got the engine of the American economy moving.

Does that mean we should have defense spending? Or will any old spending do? Or is it just a matter of time before the recovery occurs?

Economics would seem to be an inexact science.

Perhaps, a more basic question should be asked: is a stimulus package really needed?

Is it possible to make it too big such that any short-term benefit gets outweighed by long-term deficits?

Is it possible to make it too small that nothing happens.

I suppose a stimulus of some sort is needed if only for a psychological boast without crossing over into wasteful spending?

But that is easier said than done.

Since I'm not president, and just a blogger sitting in my pajamas, I can say anything I want. I'd look at a package that included the following:

(1) Extend unemployment benefits to help people stay afloat while they look for work
(2) Tax breaks to small businesses to help struggling businesses keep their employees at work. What is the definition of a small business? Is it a certain number of employees and below? Is it a certain dollar amount in annual revenue and below?
(3) Income tax breaks to the middle class and below ... would you say a household earning $100,000 or less is "middle class?" Or maybe let's define the middle class as the median household income and below? I wonder what $$$ amount that is?
(4) One year cut in payroll tax for those below say $50,000?

To be honest, I think any other kind of spending would really NOT be short-term and should be debated on their own merit apart from an emergency stimulus package.

An infrastructure project takes a long time to get going. You don't build a bridge or a highway in a matter of months. You don't build wind farms and nuclear plants in just a year or two.

Thus, to be fair to the proper use of language, there are short and long-term aspects to the current package. It may be politically expedient to lump them together but it is not honest.

UPDATE: Even the left-leaning Los Angeles Times, has expressed concerns. Excerpt:
Because any legislative effort to boost employment and end the recession will take months, if not years, to deliver its full benefits, it's important that the psychic benefits are felt immediately. If people and businesses believe that the effort will improve job security and increase the demand for goods and services, they'll be more likely to spend more and take more risks. But if they see the stimulus package as just another boondoggle for special interests, they'll continue the miserliness that is exacerbating the downturn.
... right now, the country is looking for leadership on one thing: the economy. Obama and his allies on Capitol Hill will have plenty of opportunities to advance their views on education, healthcare, poverty and other social issues. But those are battles for another day. They shouldn't use the stimulus package as a way to circumvent those debates.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Non-profit of the Month: January 2009 - Forest Home Camps

The church I go to isn't big enough to run its own camps for the youth. So we send them to Forest Home. In fact, this past weekend, our middle school students went up there. I look forward to hearing about how it went!

Forest Home's mission statement:
"To provide a place, away from the distractions of the world, where you can hear the Word of God and encounter Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit."

Aside from the camps for youth, they also offer these kinds of events:
Mother & Daughter
Mother & Son
Father & Son
Men's Conference
Women's Retreat
Memorial Family Camp
Couples Conferences
Father & Daughter
Holiday Family Camp
Single Parent Family Camp
College Briefing

Please consider supporting them or some other camp in your area that helps provide opportunities to people to get away from the distractions of the world, where you can hear the Word of God and encounter Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.