Monday, July 21, 2014
With my recent posts on politics prompted by the latest Texas GOP platform (see the entry, The 2014 Texas Republican Platform, and the Follow-Up), I've spent a little time looking at political party platforms.
I pulled a few planks from two different platforms for a comparison. Below is a table comparing them. See if you can guess who the parties are.
|Party A||Party B|
|We support this and his further offer of United States participation in an international fund for economic development financed from the savings brought by true disarmament.||We support United States withdrawal from the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, and the World Bank.|
|To meet the immense demands of our expanding economy, we have initiated the largest highway, air and maritime programs in history, each soundly financed.||We call for all transportation and fuel taxes collected to be used for road construction, improvement, and maintenance only. We resolve that tax revenue derived from gasoline taxes and all other taxes/fees on our vehicles (including vehicle sales tax) should only be used for highway construction, and not be diverted to any other use, including mass transit, rail, and bicycle paths.|
|We shall continue vigorously to support the United Nations.||We support the withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations and the removal of United Nations headquarters from United States soil.|
|Clarify and strengthen the eight-hour laws for the benefit of workers who are subject to federal wage standards on Federal and Federally-assisted construction, and maintain and continue the vigorous administration of the Federal prevailing minimum wage law for public supply contracts;||We urge Congress to repeal the Prevailing Wage Law and the Davis Bacon Act.|
|Extend the protection of the Federal minimum wage laws to as many more workers as is possible and practicable;||We believe the Minimum Wage Law should be repealed.|
It's actually a bit of a trick question. Party A is the 1956 national Republican Party (avaiable at The American Presidency Project). Party B is the 2014 Texas Republican Party (available at TexasGOP.org). Man, what a difference 58 years can make.
I've pulled a few more highlights out below the fold, if anyone's interested in reading them. By and large, it's a platform that I wouldn't mind supporting. Sure, there are some areas of disagreement, but it's a rational platform with reasonable approaches to addressing issues. It's nothing like the current Texas GOP platform, which as I described in another entry, "seems like the type of ranting you'd hear from your crazy uncle at family reunions, not the official platform of what's supposed to be a respected political party."
Man do I wish the Republicans would return to something like what this 1956 platform represents, so that there could be sensible discussions on politics, and that elements like the Tea Party would retreat back to the fringes where they belong.
Friday, July 18, 2014
I'd originally posted my entry on the latest Texas GOP platform based on a draft version of the platform. Now that the official platform has been released, I went and updated a few of the quotes to match the final version, and tweaked a bit of my own commentary. If you want to read this updated version, you can find it at the same place as before, The 2014 Texas Republican Platform.
To add a bit more to this post to make it somewhat worthwhile, I did some word counts on the platform to see how often religious themes came up, since it seemed like quite a bit when I was reading it. The count was nothing fancy - just typing a word into the search box in Adobe Reader and counting how many times Adobe found it. And for comparison, I did the same thing with the Democratic Party platform. Below is the table of how often each term appeared. For reference, there are 37-38 pages of content in the Republican platform (depending on if you consolidate the pages that were only half full), and 61 pages of content in the Democratic platform.
|# Appearances of Terms in Party Platforms|
For the Republicans, that's an awful lot of religion squeezed into a political party's platform for what's supposed to be a secular government with separation of church and state. The Democratic Party platform has much less overtly religious language, which is an even starker contrast considering their platform is 1.7 times longer. And the context was different, as well. The Democrats mostly wanted to protect religious freedom, while keeping government and religion separate. The vast majority of the references in the Democratic platform were in the section, 'Religious Freedom', where you'd expect them to be, not interspersed throughout the platform in unrelated sections like foreign policy.
I've come across a few good articles from other sources addressing this platform. They're much shorter that what I wrote, which is probably a good thing since they're the right length to keep people interested. Having reviewed the platform myself, I can say that the selection of planks in those articles isn't cherry picking, but representative of the overall craziness and extremism. So, if you think my post is overwhelmingly long, or you want to see what other people have to say, here are the links. The first one from the New Yorker is my favorite.
- The New Yorker - In Fever Dreams Begin Irresponsibilities, Texas Edition
- Think Progress - 16 Wacky Ideas In The Texas Republican Party's New Platform
- Texas Tribune - GOP Approves Hardline Immigration Stance in Party Platform
- Reuters - Texas Republicans adopt hard-line on immigration, gay rights
- RH Reality Check - Texas Republicans' New Anti-Gay, Anti-Immigrant, Anti-Abortion Platform
Updated 2014-07-18: Added the Democratic Party column to the table and the related commentary.
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Well, the Texas State Board of Education looks like it might be preparing for another foray into the culture wars rather than just focusing on sound education. According to a recent release from the Texas Freedom Network, SBOE Politics as Usual: Textbook Review Once Again Plagued by Lack of Expertise, a few of the board members have appointed idealogues to the Social Studies and economics textbook review panels, rather than qualified academics or historians. To quote from the release:
TFN analyzed panels assigned to review textbooks for courses such as U.S. and world history, geography and economics. Out of more than 140 individuals appointed to the panels, only three are current faculty members at Texas colleges and universities. TFN has identified more than a dozen other Texas academics including the chair of the History Department at Southern Methodist University as well as faculty at the University of Texas at Austin who applied to serve but did not get appointments to the panels.
But the TFN analysis found that political activists and individuals without social studies degrees or teaching experience got places on the panels. One reviewer, Mark Keough, a Republican nominee for the Texas House District 15 seat, got an appointment to a U.S. History panel after being nominated by SBOE chair Barbara Cargill. Keough, a pastor with degrees in theology, has no teaching experience listed on his application form. Keough recently told the Montgomery County Tea Party that he does not "believe that there is a separation of church and state in the Constitution."
Ugh. I hope that in the end it's no worse than the science textbook review process, where the idealogues only had minor influence in the process, and in the end, the textbook manufacturers didn't capitulate to unfounded objections. And the current SBOE isn't quite as crazy as it was a few years ago, so maybe that'll be the case, but their past performance still has me worried.
If you want to do something about this, you can go visit the TFN page to sign their petition, or of course, write your representative on the SBOE.
For background, and why I'm so worried about this news, here are my previous blog entries dealing with Texas education issues (in chronological order, with the newest at the top). Like I've probably said before, there are a lot of good things about Texas, but the politics can be infuriating sometimes.
- Texas Science Textbook Adoption & Reminder
- CSCOPE Conspiracy?, with follow-up & another follow-up
- 2012 Texas SBOE Election Results
- 2012 Texas SBOE Elections
- Texas Primary Results for SBOE
- Texas Education - Follow Up to the Follow Up to the Science Instructional Materials Debate
- Follow Up to Texas Education in the Budget Crisis
- Texas Education - Follow Up to Science Instructional Materials Debate
- Texas Education - Science Instructional Materials Debate
- Texas Education in the Budget Crisis
- McLeroy Out
- Texas Board of Education in NY Times Magazine (Social Studies standards)
- Strengths and Limitations (Science Standards)
- Texas Science Standards Review Panel
- Shenanigans in the Texas State Board of Education (English Language Arts and Reading curriculum standards)
- Texas Education Agency - Chris Comer
Thursday, July 10, 2014
I gave my home page a minor facelift, creating icon links to the major sections, and moving some of the text to the About page to make the home page cleaner. The previous version is still available for comparison, if you're interested. So, if you haven't seen it yet, go take a look:
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Well, with another month come and gone, it's time again to take a look to see what pages on this site were the most popular. Eight of the ten pages have made the list previously, but two were newcomers - Response to E-mail - Are America's Hunters the World's Largest Army? and Happy Fastnach Day 2014. I'm actually really happy to see fastnachts making the list (though my Fastnacht Recipe did make the list once before).
I've slightly changed one aspect of the way I do this list. Previously, I'd prefaced all blog entries with 'Blog - ', and just listed my static pages with their title. I'd started off that way because I used to think of my blog as a separate little side project for the site, and it was interesting to distinguish the few blog entries that made the list. But in recent years, the blog has come to dominate the site, both in terms of the effort I put in, and the amount of traffic it generates. It had gotten to the point where practically every entry in this top 10 list had the 'Blog - ' designation. So, I decided to just drop that distinction.
As far as overall traffic, June was down just a little bit compared to May, but still the third busiest month for the site as measured by unique visitors.
Anyway, here's the top 10 list for last month.
Top 10 for June 2014
- A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
- A Skeptical Look at Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement Therapy
- Obamacare Lives (A Discussion of the Individual Mandate)
- Response to E-mail - Are America's Hunters the World's Largest Army?
- Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
- Gamera II Human Powered Helicopter Sets New Record
- Happy Fastnach Day 2014
- Friday Bible Blogging - 2 Chronicles 31 to 2 Chronicles 36
- Running AutoCAD R14 in XP Pro 64
- Email Debunking - Tips on Pumping Gas
Friday, June 27, 2014
I like whiskey. I don't drink it nearly as often as beer or wine, but I enjoy it when I do. And I've been slowly accumulating a small collection of different types of whiskey - 9 bottles as of right now*. These range from Evan Williams Kentucky Bourbon at the low end, to 15 year old The Macallan Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky at the top end (price-wise, not necessarily taste-wise, as you're about to read - and yes, it's The Macallan).
With my daughter and I being the nerds we are, we decided to do a blind taste test to see how they all compared. Just how good were the more expensive whiskeys? Were they worth the price and reputation? Granted, these are different varieties of whiskey, so it's not really a straight comparison, but it's still interesting (plus a good excuse to sip on some whiskey).
We weren't super scientific in our methodology, but we tried to be fair. My daughter put a little bit of each whiskey into a shot glass while I was in the other room, writing down which whiskey was in each glass, and then I came back in and tasted them all and ranked them. It was only a little per glass and only taking sips, or else by the end of 9 full shots in a few minutes, I wouldn't have cared about rankings. We repeated the same routine a few nights later for comparison.
It's pretty obvious that all the different whiskeys have their own unique flavors, but it's hard to actually rank them in order of preference (maybe I just have an underdeveloped whiskey palate). There were basically three standouts that were my favorites, one that was a standout in the other direction that I didn't particularly like, and then the rest that were all good but that I had a hard time favoring any over the others.
My top three were Ledaig, Oban, and Evan Williams, in that order. The one I didn't like much at all was Jim Beam. And then in the middle were all the others. And even though my preferences weren't huge, I did my best to rank them in order - 12 year old Glenlivet, The Macallan, Black Velvet, Jack Daniel's Old No. 7, and Jim Beam Devil's Cut. Keep in mind that The Macallan was the most expensive bottle I had, and it ended up in that middle group. And the funny thing is, up till that point I'd been touting The Macallan as so much smoother than the normal whiskeys, and the Evan Williams as rubbing alcohol. It's amazing how much of an influence labels and expectations can have on our perceptions. Though somewhat in my defense, I'd said all along that the Oban and Ledaig were my favorites, so my non-blind perceptions weren't completely off base. But Ledaig and Oban both also have very distinct peaty flavors, so I wonder if they'd still be my favorites if I found cheaper peaty whiskeys.
Originally, this entry was going to stop with the above paragraph, but like I said, I'm a nerd. I couldn't just leave it at that, so I decided to plot up these results and see if there were any noticeable trends. So, here are three different graphs. First is each whiskey with the price per bottle, in the order that I ranked them. The three groups are distinguished by color.
Whiskey prices per 750 ml bottle, based on Spec's Texas Superstore - Red: My favorites, Blue: Still taste really good, but hard to rank compared to each other, Grey: Not so good
Next, I did a very simple plot of price vs. rank, and had Excel draw in a trend line.
Third, I broke it down by groupd described above, averaged the price per group, and had Excel draw a trend line for that. Group 1 were my 3 favorites. Group 2 included the whiskeys that I liked but didn't have too strong of a preference of any over the others, and Group 3 was really only one whiskey, not a group, the Jim Beam that I didn't particularly like.
So, there does appear to be a trend where I do like more expensive whiskey better than less expensive whiskey on average, but there's a lot of scatter in that plot. In fact, my third favorite whiskey, in my standout group (Group 1), was the second cheapest. Those rankings are also very subjective. I wouldn't be surprised if I did this test on another day and came out with slightly different results. Plus, it's not like a sample size of 9 is particularly big.
Like I said, I like whiskey, but I don't drink it a lot, so take these results for what they are. Still, I found it interesting that even if there was some correlation between cost and my personal preferences, how much variation there was around that trend.
*I always say that it's not people with large alcohol collections that you have to worry about, but rather the ones who drink it too fast to build up a collection.
This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). All headings are links to those Bible chapters.
I hate to do this, but I'm going to announce another hiatus on this series. But let me offer a bit more explanation this time. There are three main time sinks to write the normal Friday Bible Blogging entries:
- Reading the Bible
- Reading the footnotes in the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB)
- Writing the entry
The first of those isn't actually too bad. Ten Bible chapters are usually pretty short, and I can access the NRSV on my mobile phone from practically anywhere, so I can usually find the time to get that part done. The last two hiatus announcements were mostly about the third one of those. As the name implies, this blog is mostly written during my lunch breaks, and I was just so busy there for a while that I was working through lunch breaks. If you've been paying attention, you might have noticed that I've been posting other entries more regularly here recently, so it should be clear that I've gotten my lunch breaks back.
The problem now is that second item - finding time to read the footnotes in the NOAB. The NOAB's a pretty bulky book, so I don't carry it around with me like my phone. I pretty much have to read it at home. But we've tackled some huge renovation projects around the house, and we're having a get together in a little over a month, with family flying in from out of town, so we have to get the projects done. What had been my routine of reading the NOAB on weekend mornings before everybody else got up just doesn't work right now. We've all been getting up earlier, along with some local family members who've spent a few weekends helping out. And even if I do wake up before everybody else, I get right to work. There's no time for spending an hour or two reading Bible footnotes.
Anyway, the get together is in the beginning of August, so whether we're done or not, the pressure will be gone after that, and I'll be able to get back into my Bible reading routine and start these posts again.
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Not too long ago, I wrote an article titled Eben Alexander Misrepresenting Carl Sagan, where I described how Alexander had completely misrepresented one of Sagan's positions from his book, The Demon Haunted World. Like I wrote then, it's not just the fact that he made a mistake that was troubling, but that he did it with such supreme confidence, even citing the page number.
I just happened to notice that on Alexander's personal blog, in the comments to his post, Post Debate Reflections: The Sound of One Hand Clapping, somebody called him out for this misrepresentation. Here was Alexander's chance to admit his mistake and apologize, but instead he responded with this comment of his own.
Just an honest attempt to remember something I had recently read - I was actually surprised I remembered the page number perfectly. I remembered recently reading the quote and being quite astonished that Carl Sagan, in his opinion, stated that the evidence for reincarnation, based on young children remembering details of a previous life, deserves serious study. That is striking. Sorry I used the word "overwhelming," but if you stop to think about exactly what Carl Sagan said, it should impress you significantly (why split hairs over "overwhelming" vs "deserves serious study"?). Novella said "I've read that book a hundred times" (really? 100?), and "That is just not true." He told me backstage that he had read that book several times and that he did not remember that quote at all, yet the next day he posted on his blog that I was correct, that the statement was on page 302 as I had remembered (minus the word "overwhelming"). The evidence is more powerful now than that of which Sagan was aware - read Jim Tucker's 2013 book "Return to Life: Extraordinary Cases of Children who remember Past Lives." Extraordinary evidence supporting this reality -- to simply deny it outright is to be willfully ignorant.
This is no longer an oral debate relying solely on memory. Alexander can go look at Sagan's quote. He no longer has any excuse for misrepresenting Sagan, but he still does. If you don't feel like reading my old entry, here is just one portion of the Sagan passage that I quoted to remind you of his position.
I pick these claims not because I think they're likely to be valid (I don't), but as examples of contentions that might be true. The last three have at least some, although still dubious, experimental support.
It's not splitting hairs or just dropping the word 'overwhelming'. Sagan didn't think the evidence was at all strong for 'past life memories in children', but just barely worth further study on the off chance that it might be true. It was the general scientific mindset of always being open to new evidence.
Further, Alexander misrepresented what Novella wrote in the entry Alexander was referring to, After the Afterlife Debate. Whereas Alexander thinks, "yet the next day he posted on his blog that I was correct, that the statement was on page 302 as I had remembered (minus the word 'overwhelming').", Novella himself wrote of Alexander's interpretation of the quote, "That's pretty thin gruel on which Alexander is hanging his hat." Novella was calling out Alexander for misrepresenting Sagan, not admitting that Alexander was largely right.
At first, I thought Alexander's problem was a simple mistake coupled with over-confidence, which was bad enough. But now after reading this, it seems like the real problem might be integrity.
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Okay, it's only a small update, but I've embedded YouTube versions of all the videos in my old entry, Casio EX-F1 - First Impression of the High Speed Video. I added links to all the quicktime files so that readers could still see the original videos, but the YouTube versions make it easier to review. And if you're not really interested in purchasing the camera, I'd still recommend going to that page just to watch the videos, because slow motion is just cool.
I put a comment in my update note that I'll repeat here. I'm shocked that this camera is still the best option out there for budget high speed video 6 years after it was first introduced, and indeed, after it was discontinued by Casio. I would have thought that surely, somebody would have come out with a better $1000 camera by now, or a cheaper camera that does what this one does. But alas, Casio's new high speed options aren't even as good as this, and no other manufacturer has stepped up to the plate. You'd think the fact that people are paying full price and higher for used versions of this camera, or even up to $2500 for new ones still in the box, would be enough evidence of demand that some manufacturer somewhere would start making a camera with this capability.
Actually, to give a taste of what you'll find on that page, here's my favorite of the videos, lighting a match, recorded at 1200 frames per second, slowed down 40 times for playback.
Monday, June 16, 2014
I just read* the classic book, To Kill a Mockingbird, and I read it on my Kindle, but technically I had to break the law in order to do so. The author, Harper Lee, has refused to allow the book to be published in electronic format.
Now, I know I have a paperback version of the book stashed away somewhere in my house, but I was having a hard time finding it, and to be honest, I often times prefer reading on the Kindle, anyway. There are some aspects of old dead tree books that I like - the smell of the ink and the paper, the sound the pages make as you turn them, the way you can flip through the pages to re-read a section in light of something new you just read. But most of my reasons for liking print books are really just nostalgia. In general, the Kindle is a nicer form factor - easier to hold in bed, with one hand, or to lay on the table next to my plate while I'm eating.
But Harper Lee doesn't particularly like the idea of ebooks. In a letter to Oprah's magazine she wrote (among other things):
can you imagine curling up in bed to read a computer? Weeping for Anna Karenina and being terrified by Hannibal Lecter, entering the heart of darkness with Mistah Kurtz, having Holden Caulfield ring you up -- some things should happen on soft pages, not cold metal.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a masterpiece, so I won't complain too much about an old woman's eccentricities. But the magic of a book is in the content, not the medium. When I read, I get so caught up in the story that I'm no longer consciously aware that I'm reading. The story is in my mind, not on the page or screen in front of me.
Anyway, if you haven't yet read To Kill a Mockingbird, you really must do so. It's one of the best stories I've read. And if you prefer to read on an eReader like the Kindle, it's easy enough to find on Google. I'd recommend searching for a .mobi or .epub version rather than a .pdf so that the text can be resized. (As of right now, this link works and doesn't do anything crazy like install a download manager.) But don't just outright steal it. If I didn't already have the paperback somewhere in the house, I don't think I'd have downloaded the bootleg copy. So see if you can find a legit copy somewhere so that you at least own the content.
*To be honest, I didn't just read To Kill a Mockingbird. I finished it a few months ago and wrote this entry back then, but somehow forgot about it and left it languishing in my drafts folder for a little while. Oh well, it's not like this is breaking news. Better late than never, I guess.