Saturday, May 29, 2010

Politics: No on Prop 15

Props 13 (yes) and 16 (no) were fairly easy for me to decide.

I generally lean "no" as a default position. In the case of Prop 15, I was leaning that way and upon further reflection, I remain a "no" vote.

Prop 15 provides for public financing and campaign spending limits for the next two elections of the Secretary of State. However, it appears the agenda of the proposition is to eventually open the door to public financing for other races became clear in this KPCC Air Talk segment featuring both sides.

I believe the best way to finance campaigns is for people who support the candidate to donate money to the candidate. The idea of public financing goes against this basic premise. Even though tax payer dollars aren’t involved in this proposal because the matching fund is supported by registration fees on lobbyists, the idea of candidates receiving funds only from the people who support them is violated.

Campaign spending limits in exchange for public financing in the abstract sounds good but in higher profile races they are meaningless. If a candidate knows they can raise more money, they will opt out of the spending limits. Candidate Obama initially said he would abide by spending limits for the 2008 campaign. However, when he realized he could raise more money, he opted out.

Additionally, there is also a point of diminishing returns with campaign spending. For instance, are there going to be people who will NOT vote for Meg Whitman because she has spent so much money on the governor's race? Certainly, it is always better to have more money than less. However, at some point, if a candidate spends too much, there is voter backlash as some will feel that the candidate is trying to buy the office.

In smaller races, almost all candidates would opt for public financing because they could never raise enough money on their own such that opting out is in their campaign's interest. I think the decisive question is whether the voters want public financing of political campaigns. The theory is that the candidates would be less beholden to donors (special interests) who support their campaigns and races could be more competitive. Would this be actually true in practice?

I suspect that minimizing gerrymandered districts would have a greater impact on the competitiveness of elections.

As for being beholden to special interests, just how "blank a slate" is a politician? I think anyone who would go through the hoops needed to run for office have fairly formed views on the issues they will face. If you like their views, you vote for them. If you don't like their views, you think they are beholden to special interests and won't vote for them.

No on Prop 15.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Politics: No on Prop 16

Prop 16 provides that if a government (city or county level) wants to enter into the electricity business, a 2/3 vote of the affected populations would be needed to approve the plan.

In California, residents get their electricity through investor-owned utilities like PG&E (the major backer of this proposition), city owned utilities like DWP or electrical service providers which I believe are companies that buy electricity off the market from various generators and provide it for their customers.

Some city and county governments are looking into running their own versions of electrical service providers called community choice aggregations.

PG&E, the largest utility in California, recognizes that they could lose business to these government run entities and have placed this measure on the ballot to make it more difficult for such entities to be formed.

As a general rule, I prefer investor-owned companies because theoretically, even in highly regulated industries like electricity, they make their decisions on financial considerations and market forces yielding a price that matches the product while government run entities are subject to political pressures.

However, PG&E has hurt the positive case (giving the public the right to vote on government entry into the electric business) for this initiative by making the barrier so high (2/3 vote) and other restrictions that this goes beyond giving the people the right to vote to using the ballot box to defend their market share. PG&E should win more business by offering superior service at a good price not by stiff-arming competition at the ballot box.

No on Prop 16.

Politics: Yes on 13

Will get the easy one out of the way first!

Prop 13 makes an adjustment to property tax rules to make it easier to do earthquake retrofitting. This passed the California Legislature without objection, there is no organized opposition to this proposition and most newspapers and organizations are supporting it.

Yes on Prop 13.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Politics: Cal Ballot Measures - the Endorsements

Los Angeles Times
Mercury News
San Francisco Chronicle:
Yes on 13, 14, 15
No on 16, 17

Orange County Register
Yes on 13, 16, 17
No on 14, 15

Sacramento Bee
Yes on 13, 14
No on 15, 16, 17

California Libertarian Party
Yes 13, 17
No 14, 15

California Green Party
Yes 15
No 14, 16, 17

California Democratic Party
Yes 13, 15
No 14, 16, 17

California Republican Party
Yes 13, 16, 17
No 14, 15

A Google search yielded this handy table summarizing the endorsements of newspapers and organizations in California.

Between endorsements and my reading of the voter book, I hope to make votes in the next few days.

RR recommends:
Yes on 13
No on 16
No on 15
Yes on 17
Yes on 14

What are your thoughts?

Politics: Arizona Law and 1200 More National Guard Troops

To be surprised that politicians play "politics" with issues is to be shocked that gambling is taking place in Las Vegas.

Arizona passed a law pertaining to illegal immigrants that was widely criticized.

The problem with the law is that it will undermine the relationship between people in the community and law enforcement: people who are here legally would be questioned wrongly and illegals would be hesitant to report crimes for fear of deportation.

Nonetheless, perhaps, as a result of the law, the Feds have sent in additional troops to the border.

Would this have happened without the uproar caused by the Arizona law?

Is it an admission that the Feds haven't done enough about the borders which is one of the major complaints that led to the Arizona law?

Interestingly, the article reports that as of a month ago, the administration believed they have control over the borders. Excerpt:
The move comes a month after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told a Senate committee that the U.S.-Mexico border "is as secure as it has ever been" and pointed out that crime rates on the U.S. side had declined, despite a spate of drug-related violence on the Mexico side.

Arizona Senator McCain, however, thinks that 1200 isn't enough to make a difference. Excerpt:
"It's simply not enough. We need 6,000," McCain said Tuesday on the Senate floor. "The situation on the border [has] greatly deteriorated during the last 18 months."

If the Administration has now concluded the borders aren't under control, they would have sent more?

Thus, since their stated view is that the borders are under control, they are sending the 1200 to give the appearance of being responsive to the Arizona concerns?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Non-Profit of the Month: May 2010 - California State Parks Foundation

In the era of tight budgets, the role of non-profits that support our parks have truly stepped up.

Please consider supporting the Parks Foundation for you state.

As for me, I've become a member of the California State Parks Foundation.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Christianity 101: Part II, In the beginning God ...

The incredibly obvious place to start, of course, is at the beginning! 8-)

Genesis 1:1
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
The world view options are: there is a god and there is no god.

Within the "no god perspective" there is the stronger claim (atheism) and the weaker claim (agnosticism).

Within the "there is a god perspective," one could broadly designate those who believe god is in the creation (pantheism) and those who believe god is separate from the creation (theism).

Genesis One tells us that God approached creating in a fairly systematic way and is separate from it.

There is a long running argument about whether aspects of evolution are compatible with Genesis. I think trying to read Genesis One as a scientific textbook is not necessary and not the original intent. I think of the creation account of Genesis as an impressionist painting. There are limits to using analogies but I do find the idea of this analogy helpful.

image source:

One could have a photograph of the same scene. But in the case of the painting, the details are important only up to a certain point; there are enough details for the viewer to know what the scene is about in a general sense. But beyond those details, the painting hints at mood, emotion, beauty and narrative ... various, if you will, pun intended, "impressions" about the scene.

And so one impression we can pick up from Genesis One is that God is orderly as each day something happens.

There is a current mode of thinking that places science and religion on opposing sides. However, upon reflection, the theological premise of God creating the physical world in an orderly manner may have driven the rise of science. This idea is explored in one of sociologist Rodney Stark's best selling books.

The other idea we can gain from Genesis One is that the physical world is good from the refrain (verses 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31) "God saw that it was good."

Whenever I get the chance to stop and contemplate the wonders of the natural world ...

hearing birds sing
observing the color of flowers
reflecting on the ginormousness of whales
marveling at the intricacy of the molecular biology and biochemistry happening in each cell
enjoying the taste of fruits
add your own favorite experiences here ...

I recognize the goodness of God and the power of God in the extravagant beauty in the creation of the physical world.

Finally, we find out from Genesis 1:27 that humans have a special relationship to God.
So God created human beings in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
The restoration of this special bond runs as a thread throughout the story of the Scriptures and is the heart of the Christian faith. This bond was broken in Genesis Three. The various dramatic stories of the Bible thereafter are about the efforts of God to reconcile us to himself.

Technology: Over the air digital TV - International Ice Hockey

International Ice Hockey Federation championships are underway. With OTA digital TV through Universal Sports TV, I'm watching live coverage of the Russia vs. Germany semi-final. After one period, Germany 1 Russia 0.

If you are in Los Angeles:
Charter 305
Cox 805
Time Warner 226
Verizon FIOS 464
NBC over-the-air 4.4

I'm using old school rabbit ears with a signal amplifier to watch the event!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Food: My pet microbes, Part II

I tried once before. The thing started smelling funny so I tossed it.

Am trying again. So far it still smells normal.

I've also attempted the Pineapple Juice Solution described by Debra Wink.

If the yeasties look pretty active when I check them tonight, it might be time to see if they can rise some bread!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Politics: How much an impact on our lives?

Came across this interesting interview with NYT's David Brooks.

DB: I would guess there’s a lot of juice in the system right now. You know, I spend my life analyzing politics, so I don’t totally want to disagree with it. But let’s fact it, in terms of how we actually live, what happens in our families is just way more important. I mean, the thing that set me off there was that you had a demographic of Asian-Americans living in New Jersey, live 26 years longer on average than Native Americans living in South Dakota. Now there is no public policy short of war that creates that kind of difference in how we live and how long we live. So that what happens in culture and sociology and religion is just way more important than what happens in politics.

HH: That was remarkable, especially opening up with the Swedes who are here and the Swedes who stayed in Sweden, and the fact is that their life expectancy simply doesn’t have a statistically significant difference is an eye-opener. But then when you get to the Asian-American statistics, you may want to review them for people. They’re just stunning how much longer they live.

DB: Yeah, Asian-Americans live like 80-odd years, and Indians in South Dakota live like 50. And you know, if you look at the different ethnic groups, there was no overlap. Even the worse off Asian-American groups do better than the best off African-American groups, or even the best off white groups. So there’s just differences in culture that are really important.

HH: Quoting, “Asian-Americans have a life expectancy of 87 years compared with 79 years for whites, and 73 years for African-Americans. But now, we get to the nub. What is it in public policy that would affect those? And we’re going to take it as a given that it’s a good thing to live longer. That’s a pro-life position. But what is it in public policy that most dramatically impacts those gaps, David Brooks, just off the top of your head?

DB: Well, I mean, the biggest impact on those gaps is relationships. If you’ve got a lot of friends and a good family structure, you’re going to live a lot longer than people without those things. So the question is what policies affect that. And some policies that create good communities and good values, stable families, that’s going to help you live longer and have a better life, more happiness altogether. So I would say tax policies, even, that affect whether you’re going to stay together, that’s going to reward marriage, but even then, that’s on the margin. People who stay together do so because they have good values, and that’s taught by parents, by teachers, by ministers, et cetera.

HH: Don’t you expect most lefties would say it’s the health care system, and the inaccessibility, and that the incomes of Asian-Americans generally are higher, and thus, with greater access to basic preventative care, African-Americans and especially reservation Native Americans don’t, and that therefore, you’re seeing a lack of inputs leading to a lack of years lived?

DB: Yeah, I think, you know, there’s some impact there, but again, I don’t think public policy’s the key. And in that column, I mention Sweden. Fifty years ago, Swedes on average lived 2.7 years longer than Americans. So the Swedes built a big welfare state, big, national health care service. We didn’t. We went a different direction. And what was the result after fifty years? Swedes lived 2.7 years longer than the average American. No difference at all.
Quite striking, eh?

I wonder if anyone has done a multi-factoral study on disparity of longevity.

In any case, blowing a gasket over politics isn't worth it. I need to remember that!

Will still blog about politics here but this item says we all need to chill out and put politics in perspective because in the grand scheme of what really makes the biggest difference in our lives, politics isn't the biggest.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Christianity 101: Part I, Is defining Christianity possible?

image source:

How does one define Christianity or being a Christian?

Someone might self-describe themselves as a Christian. And for some people, self-attribution is enough to substantiate the claim.

But does that make sense?

For example, if I claim to be a Dodger fan but never go to see them play, don't listen to them on the radio, can't name any of the players on the team and fail to check their scores in the sports page, is it a reasonable claim for me to say I'm a Dodger fan?

Thus, is it possible to define Christianity and who is a Christian?

Jesus will certainly know and won't be fooled!

However, for the sake of discussion, I think for anyone to claim a certain designation, in particular, a religious one, there are some things that should be in place in order for that claim to be a reasonable one.

Religions have some body of beliefs, a code of ethics, common practices and a community of the like-minded.

Thus, what are they for Christians?

I realize there isn't going to be 100% agreement on each element. However, in order for this enterprise to be meaningful, I would suggest a starting point would be to identify where there is substantial agreement with those practicing the faith today and consistency with prior generations of believers.

What I hope to do with this series of posts is to explore the Christian faith. I admit it is from my perspective with the limitations that imposes. Thus, other voices are welcomed to chime in to express their thoughts. We may have disagreements but at least we could aim for clarity and civility!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Politics: What experience makes for a good judge?

I think all of the current Supreme Court judges have been lower Federal court judges at some point in their lives.

The current nominee has not served in this capacity.

One theory is that the best qualification to be a judge is to have been a judge.

Another theory says that having worked in the executive branch, legislative branch and/or in the private sector means the prospective judge has seen the implications of legal matters and is good preparation for SCOTUS.

I think the latter view makes sense, thus, having had no judge experience is not a disqualification.

In my opinion, the key question is whether this person has been wrestling with the Constitutional issues of our times in whatever capacity: as a judge handing down opinions, in the executive branch defending actions or determining how to carry out policies, in the legislature writing laws, or in the private sector at the receiving end of the laws of the land.

I think ideology is also fair ground up to a point. No judge would ever answer directly in confirmation hearings how they would rule in a specific matter. However, they should reveal something about the way they go about making decisions and what principles are part of their approach.

Finally, the prospective judge has to be above reproach in the way they have conducted their lives. Since SCOTUS is the highest court, we have to be confident that the judge will not be influenced by personal gain or serve some hidden agenda.

If the media is on the ball, they will try to find every bit of information about the nominee.

From what I hear so far, I think years in the WH (Clinton administration) and as current SG, she has had to deal with many Constitutional issues. Documents from those roles should be released just as in the Robert's confirmation hearings. Additionally, work product (lecture notes, speeches, invited articles and peer reviewed articles) in her roles as a law professor should be released.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Politics: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion

The Cross at the heart of the controversy in Mojave has been stolen.

My understanding of the 1st Amendment was the intent to prevent the formation of a "national church" which was very common in Europe and the problems that kind of entanglement yielded.

But it seems in the eyes of some, having a cross on public land is seen as "endorsement" of Christianity which they define as tantamount to "establishment" and thus unconstitutional.

I think there is a huge difference between having a state church where tax dollars fund the building and staffing of a specific denomination and having a cross that honors veterans or a plaque with the Ten Commandments that acknowledges the heritage of our legal and ethical codes.

In the spectrum of activities, establishing a state church is a clear no-no.

But is acknowledging religion that is part of our history and culture so objectionable?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Business: Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac = Black Holes for Tax Dollars?

The politically correct targets these days are: the bankers, the insurance companies, the oil drillers ... they are indeed blame-worthy.

But I came across this news item ...

Fannie Mae has again asked taxpayers for more money -- this time $8.4 billion -- after reporting another steep loss for the first quarter. The taxpayer bill for rescuing Fannie and its sibling Freddie Mac has grown to $145 billion -- and the final tally could be much higher.

The rescue of Fannie and Freddie is turning out to be one of the most expensive aftereffects of the financial meltdown, and Fannie Mae's first-quarter financial report on Monday made clear that there is no end in sight.

Where is the outrage here?

Could it be that because these two are GSE (government sponsored entities), they are getting a free pass because the paradigm of the political and media elites is "private business is evil and government is good?"

How big might the bailout get you ask?

Late last year, the Obama administration pledged to cover unlimited losses through 2012 for Fannie and Freddie, lifting an earlier cap of $400 billion.

I take this to mean, they think it could exceed $400 billion?

And to think, this bailout could be bigger than the bailout of a whole country!

From the last news item I saw, the Greece bailout is at $140 billion.

Am not an economist, but one wonders if there is an alternative to these massive bailouts?

Is there a template for handling bankruptcies of nations (Greece and other nations teetering on the edge) and massive government sponsored entities (Freddie and Fannie)?

More on Fannie and Freddy ...

NTY excerpt:
Peter J. Wallison, a fellow in financial policy at the American Enterprise Institute, said it was true that the government could do nothing to stem the losses in the short term, but that it was a mistake not to decide the companies' future as soon as possible.

"Right now we have a consensus that something needs to be done," Mr. Wallison said. "The sensible thing to do is to put Congress in a position where they have to act within a certain period of time."

Pushing the debate into the future, he said, created the risk that Congress would pass the present bill, congratulate itself on addressing the financial crisis, and lose its appetite for the difficult question of what do about Fannie and Freddie.

WaPo excerpt:
As the Senate resumed debate Monday on legislation to overhaul financial regulation, leading Republican lawmakers are pushing an amendment that would wind down the government-controlled mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The proposal by Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Richard C. Shelby (Ala.) and Judd Gregg (N.H.) calls for the government to end its control of the companies within two years. Under the amendment, Fannie and Freddie would have to reduce the size of their mortgage portfolios and begin paying state and local sales taxes.

Congressional aides say the amendment is unlikely to pass. But as Congress argues over what to do with Fannie and Freddie, the hole burns deeper at the companies. Fannie reported Monday that it lost $11.5 billion in the first three months of the year and needed $8.4 billion from taxpayers to stay afloat.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Faith: Northland Village Church

Dear Neighbors in Atwater Village,

Northland Village Church is delighted to be part of Atwater Village! We look forward to celebrating with everyone at the Atwater Village Centennial Street Festival on Sunday, June 13. We will have a booth there, so please feel free to stop by and visit.

We love connecting. As such, we are excited about participating in the life of Atwater Village and learning more about the needs of this community. Connecting people’s passions to the needs around them is how needs get met and lives changed. We would be honored to connect with you and together we can begin to meet the needs of our neighborhood and our world.

We meet every Sunday at 5 PM at the Glenfeliz Elementary School Auditorium and you are most welcomed to celebrate with us on any Sunday!

See you at the Centennial Festival, out and about in Atwater or at our Sunday celebrations!

The family of Northland Village Church

Sunday worship, 5pm (childcare available)
Glenfeliz Elementary School Auditorium

3955 Glenfeliz Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Pastor Nick Warnes

Friday, May 07, 2010

Non-profit of the month: April 2010 - Friends of Atwater Village

Neighborhoods take work to build up and to remain strong.

And it takes groups of energetic volunteers who take the bull by the horns and roll up their sleeves to make things happen.

One such group is Friends of Atwater Village.

The list of projects they have undertaken and completed is impressive!

Their current project is to produce an Atwater Village photographic history book for Arcadia Publishing's the Images of America series.

Poke around your neighborhood and find out if there is a group you could support to make your community a better place!

Devotional Thoughts: Stand fast

image source:

Winding up I Peter ...

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

Peter, guided by the Spirit, ended this letter with an admonition about the role of being a shepherd to the flock. This message would have had a great emotional connection to him.

One of the episodes in his life that undoubtedly seared Peter's heart was being told by Jesus that he would deny Jesus. Peter, of course, insisted, no way, no how, not going to happen. But, as Jesus had predicted, Peter when challenged, denied Jesus three times.

Later on, Jesus restored Peter in John 21. Excerpt:
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?"

"Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."

Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?"

He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."

The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep.
Peter wound up the letter with a few more quick hits on living life ...

Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older.

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Saint Peter then came back around to the topic he had been addressing in chapters three and four: suffering.

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Looks like the letter has ended!

But we get a bit of a postscript into the personal life of Peter ...

With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.

Some scholars speculated that Peter, the lowly fisherman, would have been unable to write in Greek and thus Silas may have helped draft this letter. Perhaps Silas was the secretary who wrote down what Peter said. Perhaps Silas had a larger role in composing the letter.

In a sense, speculation about Silas's role mirrors the discussion on the human role in God's inspiration of the Scriptures. Scholars debate what it actually means for the Scriptures to be inspired. Was God dictating the words to Peter, Paul, Moses, etc.? Or was it some kind of partnership where God implants the ideas but the words come from the personalities and experiences of the human participant?

Whatever the mechanism of inspiration, the key question for us is: do I take the Scriptures as as authoritative guide for living?

She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.

Babylon might be a symbol for Rome?

In the historic Jewish experience, Babylon was the dominating world power that conquered Jerusalem in 586 BCE. In Peter's time, Rome was the world power.

Mark is believed to be the Mark who wrote the Gospel of Mark.

And so ends, I Peter.

Lord, grant wisdom to those who are shepherds of churches today here in the USA and around the world. Give them courage to preach the truth of Jesus. Help us who want to follow you to take comfort in the story of Peter in how you worked in an ordinary fisherman and who had his share of blunders. Your grace is truly beyond our imaginings. Please work in you me today. Amen.

Technology: Agilent vs. Invitrogen SYBR Mix

Took the same set of samples and ran them with Agilent SYBR (catalog #600548) and Invitrogen SYBR (catalog 11762-100).

The results:
Agilent SYBR: Ave. Ct=15.57, SD=0.30
Invitrogen SYBR: Ave. Ct=18.23, SD=0.93
dCt=2.66, Fold=6.33, P=6.9e-09

In fairness to Invitrogen, the primers had been optimized in the past using the Agilent reagent and from the spec sheets for the Invitrogen product, they recommend different extension temperatures than the Agilent mix.

For my next test, will compare Invitrogen vs. Fermentas (catalog #K0251).

Invitrogen SYBR: Ave. Ct=17.45, SD=0.35
Fermentas SYBR: Ave. Ct=14.56, SD=0.25
dCt=2.89, Fold=7.41, P=5.0e-11

Disclaimer: merely reporting what happened; individual results may vary; all reagents were received at promotional pricing discounts; this blog post does not constitute any endorsement.