Ramblings

Usually drunken.

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Update

Jan 19, 2011, 11:43 am by Paul Stiverson

Howdy everybody, I’m sure my tiny group of readers has dwindled since it has been so damned long since I’ve posted anything. Sorry about that, just ran out of stuff to talk about I guess. Anyhow I’ll post a little update about life right now, and I think I’ve some things to say again so expect upcoming updates.

To begin things, I finished my Master’s Degree many moons ago (I’m a master of science. Take that, Bitches). I had posted that I wanted to work on a Ph.D., but I’ve abandoned that plan due to lack of research interests. I’ve been filling my days with tutoring, and my evenings with dancing. I’m going out on a limb and focusing my efforts on being a professional ballroom dancer. My teacher has taken me under her wing, and has been formally grooming me to teach and dance as a career. I’m happy to announce that I’m now available to teach as an associate of Susan’s Ballroom Dance, if you want some lessons you can get in touch and we can schedule a lesson.

As a happy result of focusing so intently on dancing I lost 75 pounds in the last year. I still have a bit to go before I start building a permanent wardrobe, but I’m extremely happy with my results thus far.

In other news, I was arrested for aggravated gardening. I’ll probably tell the story more completely in the near future. The case has been resolved: my charge was pled down to a misdemeanor and I’m serving 2 years of probation, paying $2000 in fines, and serving 200 hours of community service. Justice served. For community service I’m going to try to start a dance program at a local community center, barring that I’ll do whatever they ask of me. If you are sympathetic to the cause then you can donate to my fines and legal defense fund, I’ll choreograph you a dance in return. I’ll probably have a series of posts relating to the joys of community supervision. One of the terms of probation is that I cannot consume alcohol, or enter the premises of any establishment that profits primarily from the sale of alcohol (What alcohol has to do with pot is beyond me, but I’m hardly in a position to dictate the rules). The upside being that I now have a good reason for turning down invitations to bars, sorry folks I never liked them anyway save for the dancing.

Barring any major catastrophe my probation will end December 17, 2012.

A vote for Cornyn is a vote for Rape!!

Oct 18, 2009, 12:57 pm by Paul Stiverson

My beloved senator, John Cornyn, bravely stepped forward in support of rape.

John Cornyn is a Texan who knows the truth: If you want recourse for rape, you better be born without a vagina or you better not work for a government contractor (women should all be in the kitchen anyway, amirite!). Although it isn’t one of the issues listed on his site (and he strangely didn’t issue a press release, but he knows how to best represent our interests: keep big liberal government out of protecting citizens from rape by the hands of the very people it is paying.

Seriously though, it is time to get this guy out of office. 2014 can not come soon enough.

P.S. Here is a list of the other 29 senators who voted for rape.

Stop the War!

Sep 19, 2009, 11:55 am by Paul Stiverson

I’ve been thinking about making this post for a while, but when I read why that Iraqi reporter threw his shoe at George Bush it sealed it. What he wrote fully cemented my pro-peace sentiments. We are, thankfully, on our way out of Iraq but we are ramping up forces in Afghanistan so this post is still very relevant.

If you want to know how people are able to commit such unthinkable acts as occurred on 9/11 then you really need look no further than why the shoe was thrown. It is a perfect snapshot of the (probable) feelings of millions in Iraq right now who are upset at seeing their homeland turned to Swiss cheese for the last 6 years. Millions of people who have witnessed their neighbors, friends, and relatives burnt, dying, dead, or rounded up for questioning; and not all of them have the luxury of throwing their shoe at the person most directly responsible. It is entirely plausible that some clever Iraqi will find a more harrowing way to lash out at those who invaded his homeland, and it is a complete certainty that organized terrorist groups are gaining recruits as direct result of our invasion of Iraq.

But wait, our invasion of Iraq was to remove Saddam Hussein, we were liberating Iraq from an oppressive regime! Those ungrateful bastards were supposed to greet us as liberators! Well, here in reality people don’t like it when uninvited foreigners tell them how they should be living, their disdain for outsiders meddling is increased with proximity. We have a ready example here at home, just look at the vitriol and hatred coming from the right about a perceived outsider—not an actual outsider, just somebody from a different party—meddling with their government. There are preachers praying for Obama’s death, and he is our duly elected president. Imagine for a moment that there were direct evidence that Obama hailed from a different country, not just tenuous rumors that he was born in another country, but imagine that he was wearing another nation’s flag on his shoulder every day as he administered our government and “kept peace” with an army of jack-booted thugs likewise from another country. Imagine the hatred that would emanate from nearly every American in that situation. That is the sort of thing you don’t soon forget.

But wait, Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, and he was hell-bent on using them on Americans! Our strike was a pre-emptive one! LOL.

The simple fact is that we had no right to go into Iraq, and that our presence has not been universally well recieved. Our intensions might have been noble (I don’t believe that they were), but we put our big dick in the sand of somebody else’s desert and it is going to have consequences. Hopefully those consequences will be mostly shoe-throwing related, and not involve explosive ordinance.

But wait, Afghanistan is different, those people attacked us! We deserve our revenge need to make the world safe from terrorism! Fifteen of the nineteen hijackers were from SAUDI ARABIA, in fact not one of the hijackers was from Afghanistan. To be fair, the central planning did go down in Afghanistan, but that doesn’t change the fact that a large-scale invasion is not the appropriate way to combat organized or decentralized terrorism. Counter-intelligence and public relations are effective ways to fight terrorism. Public relations to prevent people from hating us enough to attack, and counter-intelligence to thwart those who would attack us. It is the case that 9/11 could have been prevented by following up on data known at the time.

I do think that stopping terrorism is a noble cause, but I do not think that fighting a war is the right way to do it. “For not by hatred is hatred appeased, hatred is appeased by non-hatred only.” Bin Laden is heart set on attacking us, and that cannot be denied—we have the evidence—but let us not forget that we are the ones that elevated Bin Laden to his current status by employing him to fight the Soviets. Going into Afghanistan to kill thousands isn’t going to heal any wounds, it is only going to create new ones and facilitate future hatred. Let us do the right thing, turn the other cheek and put this old hatred to bed (and pay attention to future security briefings, and follow up on good intelligence).

If you say I descended from a monkey I’ll throw my poop at you.

Sep 1, 2009, 3:25 pm by Paul Stiverson

I just finished watching an interview (it is about 67 minutes long split into 7 parts), wherein Richard Dawkins interviews Wendy Wright (perhaps a mismatching of wits). Dawkins puts her on the ropes pretty quickly, but in one of her jabs back at Dawkins, Wright asks, “Why is it so important to you that everyone believe in evolution?” She goes on “You seem to almost feel like it is dangerous for people to believe that human beings were created individually and with a distinctness, and created by a creator.” I would reply to Wright that it is absolutely not the case that it is dangerous for people to believe in a creator, but that it cannot be viewed as anything but dangerous for so many people to be able to deny the mountain of evidence supporting evolution. It isn’t dangerous in the sense that evolution might get mad and destroy us all, but instead that lacking the critical and abstract thinking skills required to process and potentially rebut the evidence presented is the danger. I am referring to the ability of Wright to ignore any evidence given by saying that it is insignificant in validating macro-evolution (evolution from one species to another).

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by the willing and gleeful ignorance of the deeply religious, within the first two pages of the bible god damned man for finding knowledge that he (god) did not impart. Genesis 2:16–17 says “And the lord god commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.’” We all know the story: serpent convinces Eve to try a bit, Eve convinces Adam to try a bit, both are then ashamed of their nudity (neither dies that day, thus god is a liar), and the jig is up when god tootles back and casts the two from Eden (also god invents labor pains, and thorny bushes, and introduces a bunch of anti-feminist sentiment into the world… yayy god.). Given the troubles that the tree of knowledge caused for mankind, I can see why Christians are so apt to avoid seeking new knowledge when it comes to the creation story.

When presented with the various steps between ape an man which are present in the fossil record, Wendy claimed that the evidence is not material. As though the only way to “prove” evolution is to witness one species being born of another, this is as absurd as the “If man evolved from monkeys then why are there still monkeys?” argument. She claimed that if evolution were true then there would be an abundance of evolutionary evidence from pond scum up to humans, showing each discreet step in-between. Such a stance shows a lack of understanding in the scientific process and in the nature of scientific research. Despite her scientific shortcomings she insists that teachers should be allowed to “Teach the Controversy” of evolution, and present the shortcomings of Darwinism as well as present the evidence of intelligent design. I really do question the origin (and existence) of any evidence of intelligent design (considering it is purely a matter of faith). It is true that the picture painted by evolutionary scientists is incomplete, and there is still much work to be done to reach the absolute fact of our evolution, but to my knowledge there is very little evidence of a divine creator (please, before you comment, the bible doesn’t qualify as scientific evidence).

Perhaps I’m being too rough on Mrs. Wright. She claims to respect us (by virtue of being evolutionists) and just wants the same from us, “I don't think that there should be as much dissension between our camps, that we can come to respect one another—in fact we do, we respect evolutionists for their beliefs—we would hope that there would be as much respect on the evolutionists part toward us.” It is difficult for me to feign respect for people who challenge widely accepted principles on faith and without evidence. I do appreciate skepticism of evidence because it is essential to the expansion of knowledge, but I refuse to show respect to the ignorant simply because they believe they are right. When Dawkins essentially called her (and her colleagues) ignorant, Wright replied, “It probably would be helpful to the dialog if the evolutionists were not so demeaning and degrading to others.” Which is true, but there really isn’t much of a dialog occurring when one side says “Here’s some dang ol’ evidence”, and the other side covers their ears.

When you hear Mrs. Wright’s reasoning behind rejecting Darwinism you find that it has nothing at all to do with science: “A philosophy that is drawn out of Darwinism would be extremely brutal, and in fact has been… Recognizing that there is a loving creator helps to build a society that is more than just livable but pleasant.” She is right and Dawkins acknowledges that, noting that if our societal structure was built entirely on constant competition for the scarce resources we require then it wouldn’t make for a very pleasant existence. However, the fact of the matter is that the sort of society we would like to live in today has little bearing on how we as a species came into existence. Further, to say that we should stop seeking the facts of our creation (be it through evolution or otherwise) because of the societal implications of those facts is ludicrous.

If you want to believe that we humans were created by god, or even that a duck shat us all out into our mothers’ tummies, then you are welcome to do so. I have no call to stop you, nor would I care to stop you. However, I do have a problem with people who attempt to undermine scientific fact to protect whatever mental illusions they wish to maintain.

It’s time I expressed some outrage

Aug 8, 2009, 3:49 pm by Paul Stiverson

That’s right, folks, it’s that time again. Those who know me best know that I am a full-on supporter of a single payer health-care system (something like every other industrialized country in the world employs), and I find it incredibly vulgar to profit off of somebody else’s health or lack thereof. Not only is it vulgar, it is morally bankrupt to disrupt a person’s access to health care after they have specifically and loyally paid for the guarantee of access to health care. Such practices are commonplace in the for-profit health insurance racket: allow somebody to pay ever increasing premiums until they actually need care, then pull the rug out and let them settle for substandard care. Never-mind what the patient and doctor have decided is the best course of action, it is too expensive so fuck you.

The truth of the matter is that insurance companies are not compelled to pay for expensive care because it hurts their profits, they are primarily responsible to the share-holders, not the policy-holders. The facts are pretty clear that this is the case, if you file a large claim then your odds of being covered are the same as throwing tails in a coin toss. It would be a different story if the company were to offer a refund of all the money that the policy-holder had ever paid to the insurance company in the case of a defaulted policy, but instead the policy as well as the money go straight into the corporate memory-hole. Imagine if a bank pulled the same stunt: you studiously deposit thousands of dollars per year into a savings account until you decide to retire, only to find your account emptied when you start to withdraw.

But what about socialism? Won’t Obamacare turn us into Soviet Russia? Why do you hate America? Why do you hate freedom? What are you, a terrorist? Shut the fuck up. If caring about my fellow citizens enough to prevent them from being defrauded in the name of the GDP is socialist then pass me that vodka, comrade. And oh by the way, we already have a system of socialized medicine in this country. It is called Medicaid, and it works pretty well if you are poor enough. In case you are unfamiliar, when you are on Medicaid you walk into a doctor’s office and you get treatment, the doctor doesn’t need to get pre-approved to offer care, the patient doesn’t need to be pre-approved for the visit. The patient walks in, the doctor treats them, the patient walks out, the doctor gets paid. If I could qualify for Medicaid I would apply today, because it is vastly better than the no-insurance I have now.

Also, let us not forget that the health care reform being discussed in congress could hardly be characterized as “Socialized”. It is not a government sanctioned monopoly like AT&T was back in the day, but instead an option that would allow people to opt out of private health insurance while still maintaining access to doctors. People enrolled in a public option would still be paying for their own health care, but they would be provided with some guarantee that their insurance would not be cancelled over a misspelled word on an application. The notion is that by ensuring that everybody has ready access to a doctor (insurance) many systemic problems can be alleviated: Improved focus on preventative care leads to less expense in catastrophic care, the free-rider problem which artificially inflates our health-care costs will be mitigated to a large degree. It will also push the doctor and staff focus back to caring for patients rather than ensuring that the patient can pay.

The thing that bothers me the most is the degree to which people are fighting against their own best interests. The system as it stands does not serve the individuals’ interests (unless they are stock-holders of any number of insurance companies), and by fighting to keep it they are permitting the potential for future dismissal of their own insurance policy. I do not wish to forcibly stop them from protesting, the First Amendment allows them to speak their mind, no matter how closed or ignorant it happens to be. I will say that the “Rabble Rabble” approach to protest does little to promote the effective operation of our Republic, but that is just one man’s opinion. Also, this.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by this tactic, Limbaugh said from the get-go that he, “hopes Obama fails”. He doesn’t want conservative policies to succeed, he just wants liberal policies to fail. If he can’t enforce his sick and twisted viewpoint on America then he wants to burn it to the ground. It is sick (and unamerican), but it is telling. He and other conservative hucksters have no interest in the greater good, they are only on the lookout for themselves and those who wash their backs. What’s worse is they are more than happy to use fear to get ‘the unwashed masses’ to back their agenda. I just hope that people come to their senses before one of them hauls off and kills somebody.

At the end of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Ben Franklin was asked what form of government America would have, he replied “A Republic, if you can keep it.” I submit that this fear-baiting is absolutely not the way to keep it.

preview

Aug 6, 2009, 2:05 pm by Lew

I am preparing a rebuttal to the following. Professor Cress covered this and I will try to not step on his toes. I am still doing some reading to build my argument. In the mean time I wanted to post these so y'all could mull them over.

What follows are a series of slides, presented in order, from a lecture on science and belief that Dr. Collins gave at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2008:
Slide 1: “Almighty God, who is not limited in space or time, created a universe 13.7 billion years ago with its parameters precisely tuned to allow the development of complexity over long periods of time.”
Slide 2: “God’s plan included the mechanism of evolution to create the marvelous diversity of living things on our planet. Most especially, that creative plan included human beings.”
Slide 3: “After evolution had prepared a sufficiently advanced ‘house’ (the human brain), God gifted humanity with the knowledge of good and evil (the moral law), with free will, and with an immortal soul.”
Slide 4: “We humans used our free will to break the moral law, leading to our estrangement from God. For Christians, Jesus is the solution to that estrangement.”
Slide 5: “If the moral law is just a side effect of evolution, then there is no such thing as good or evil. It’s all an illusion. We’ve been hoodwinked. Are any of us, especially the strong atheists, really prepared to live our lives within that worldview?”

baseball stadium tour

Aug 5, 2009, 9:55 am by John

http://www.eric-snow.com/i/images/stories/mlb-logolast year was the final year for yankee stadium. the house that ruth built. the stadium where every great player to date has played at some point. the home of babe ruth, lou gehrig, joe dimaggio, mickey mantle, and roger maris and i never got to see a game there. this makes me slightly angry so i have vowed not to let a piece of american and baseball history slip through my fingers again. i have set a goal to watch every major league baseball team play in their home stadium.

the plan is to visit every major league baseball team's ballpark starting with the oldest and working my way up. this way i won't fall victim to the yankee stadium dilemma. even though i don't think the next 2 on the list of oldest stadiums, wrigley (chicago cubs) and fenway (boston), are even close to being shut down, i don't want to risk it.

now, of course, i'm excited about visiting all of these stadiums but i am equally excited about visiting all of these cities that i haven't gotten to visit yet. to date i have not been to any of the cities north of washington dc or any of the cities on the west coast. i am looking forward to seeing what these cities have to offer as far as culture, food, history, etc.

it has already been brought to my attention that i could get multiple cities in during one trip. for example, washington dc, baltimore, and philidelphia are very close together and could be visited in one weekend. however, this would defeat the purpose of visiting the city. therefore, i have decided that i will only visit multiple stadiums in a weekend if they are in the same city (chicago, los angeles, and new york).

the only thing i have to figure out is what piece of memorabilia i will be picking up from each location. the only thing i can think of, that you can not buy online, is the souvenir programs that are made and dated for each series. other than that, everything is available through the internet, to my knowledge.

i have slated my trip to start next year, since i don't have any more vacation days left, so get prepared for a lot more posts as i wind my way through the country.

On Francis Collins

Jul 29, 2009, 9:44 pm by Zach

Francis Collins, Director NIHPaul sent me a link to this NY Times article about Obama's pick for national director of the NIH, Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. Most non-scientists are probably pretty in the dark about the NIH, but it's a Very Big Deal. They head up lots of biomedical research and are responsible for giving out lots of grant money to scientists across the US.

Collins is a Christian and a scientist. Without knowing much about him, I'm sure most liberals would roll their eyes and consider this a step backwards. Collins is actually pretty good about separating religion from science. In fact, I'd say he's a great model for demonstrating how the two need not be mutually exclusive. He doesn't promote "intelligent design" and his CV is pretty impressive. He headed up the National Human Genome Research Institute, which will prove to be an invaluable tool for treating genetic diseases. I actually met him once at a lecture at SMU when I was in high school and he was a great speaker.

However, as outlined in the NY Times article, he has said some things that make people like me cringe--that at some point in our evolution, god inserted a soul. Of course, no science can prove this. The nature of science is to answer how, when and what, but never why. Collins has said, however, “science offers no answers to the most pressing questions of human existence”, which any scientist would agree with.

The question remains as to whether or not someone who is religious can ever be a truly good scientist. To say not would be as intolerant as the religious right is known to be. Logically, science and religion answer different questions (or different sides of similar questions), and a truly great scientist's work would never be swayed by their spiritual beliefs. Historically, this is almost never true. Lots of us hope that Collins is level-headed enough and will make a great director of the NIH, but part of us worries that NIH funding might change directions and support scientists who hold his religious beliefs. I personally don't think this will happen. I think he will end up doing a great job. Your thoughts?

One thing we can all agree on, though, is homeboy needs a new haircut. Do he and Bill Gates see the same barber? Damn!

Jury Rights, or The disappearance of the Jury Veto

Jul 27, 2009, 9:37 am by Paul Stiverson

Jury duty is arguably the only civic duty that any American is still obligated or compelled to perform. Despite the enormous privilege of a system which ensures the right to a trial by jury, people dread jury duty. I can fully appreciate why, who wants to take a day off of work to hear the gory, or worse the mundane, details of somebody else’s alleged wrongdoings. (There are better things anybody could be doing, like watching that marathon of CSI: Miami) They make you sit in an uncomfortable chair, the lunch they feed you isn’t going to come from the deli you like and will probably have Mayo on it despite your explicit instructions. Typically the result of whatever trial you are hearing will not affect you, your family, or society as a whole, in the least. To top it all off you have to pay attention ALL DAY, and they aren’t even going to pay you a fair wage for your day of work.

I understand not wanting the burden of jury duty, because as a juror you are typically not asked to actually weigh in on the case, you are given the evidence and asked to determine who is telling the truth. In most criminal trials there is a pretty strict guideline as to the decisions of the jury. The judge, or some other authority, tells you the letter of the law that should be adhered to. He says, “There are three criteria which need to be met for the defendant to be guilty, if these three criteria are met in your estimation then you must deliver a guilty verdict.” There is no room for their opinion on whether delivering a guilty verdict is actually delivering justice to the defendant. The jury is restricted to judging the facts, not the law, or so they think.

It is actually well within the rights of the jury to offer their opinion on the law itself.1 It is the juries’ unique right to say, in spite of the evidence of crime, that the accused is not guilty. Not guilty because the law itself is not fair. The jury is legally protected in their decisions, they cannot be punished for not executing the letter of the law. When this awesome responsibility is re-integrated2 into jury duty, then it will cease being a boring obligation that deserves to be unquestionably shirked. It will once again become a obligation that should be honored, because it could allow you to issue a referendum on the laws we live by.

Before you pass off this idea as ridiculous please consider the following hypothetical. You are asked to serve on a jury for a prostitution case, and throughout the trial it is made completely clear that the defendant did sell sexual favors thus roundly violated the law. It also becomes clear that the defendant was sold into slavery to pay off a family debt, and if the defendant refused her “Owners’” command to work the streets then she and her family would surely face bodily harm, however the law doesn’t regard coercion as justification. As a juror, do you think that convicting the defendant would be just?

The ‘Jury Veto’ is an extremely useful tool for jurors to offer a dissenting opinion on the law itself, and while their veto doesn’t actually remove or revise the law it does provide justice in the case they are hearing. The fact is that public opinion can be gauged based on these jury vetoes, and the legislature can change the law to reflect the will of the people (see prohibition, some 60% of cases involving alcohol during prohibition showed evidence of a jury veto).

Notes:

  1. State of Georgia v. Brailsford (U.S. Supreme Court, 1794), Sparf and Hansen v. U. S (U.S. Supreme Court, 1895), Also protected under the Constitution of the state of Texas.
  2. It never actually left, however it is not discussed in the courtroom. If jurors don’t know about their rights then they cannot be exercised.

Jimmy Carter, Fuck Yeah!

Jul 24, 2009, 9:36 am by Paul Stiverson

I happened across an article that I found interesting and I want to share it with you all.

Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States of America, has always been a man of extraordinary character. He recently decided to speak out in protest against the Southern Baptist Church for their passive mistreatment of women, saying the following:

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

He is bravely making the connection between the global mistreatment of women to patriarchy within his own social circle. I, for one, am extremely glad to see somebody in the public eye that is willing to execute this necessary criticism; I am especially glad to see that it was executed by the recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize. Perhaps his bravery will embolden others to say what needs to be said.

How to Make Public Transit More Appealing

Jul 13, 2009, 8:36 pm by Paul Stiverson

In the Bay Area there is a pretty reasonable system of public transit which consists of several independently operated, yet inter-connected, systems. These systems consist of trains, busses, electric bus lines, a high-speed rubber on concrete rail-type of thing (BART), and a subway in San Francisco. They connect the Bay Area nearly completely, effectively connecting each city that comprises the Bay Area. Despite the connectivity public transit is (in general) not a feasible means of travel because it can take a prohibitively long time to travel between two points. The problem is exacerbated by the independence of each system, they are pretty well coordinated, but there is always a small layover when changing systems. Let’s look at an example: traveling from where I am staying to the San Francisco Airport.

To make this trip I will board the Caltrain in Mountain View, the station is less than a mile from my residence so walking is not a problem. I will ride northbound until I reach the Millbrae Station where I will transfer to the BART which I will ride to San Bruno, and change trams to finally reach SFO. By all rights this is a pretty easy system to use, only changing rides twice during the 25 mile journey. The problem is that it will take nearly an hour and a half to make the trip (with transfer times). The longest leg of the journey is on Caltrain, it is 24 miles, and it could take up to 50 minutes. The reason that it could take so long is not that the train is slow—it moves at a respectable pace—but that there are 11 stops to make along the way. There are morning and evening commuter runs that skip most of the stops cutting the transit time to just under 30 minutes, so options are available to speed up the trip, but in general there will be a great deal of time wasted stopping and starting.

The long trip duration generally makes public transit a less attractive option than driving.

Presently plans are in the works to build a high speed rail (~200MPH!) connecting all of California with a primary line between Los Angeles and Sacramento, and I can’t help but think that—despite the speeds—the trips could still take quite a long time because of all the stops. Reducing the number of stops would make the trip faster and therefore better, but it reduces connectivity and thus would make the system overall less appealing for the taxpayer who is paying for the initial investment. It is possible to run a skip-stop schedule, wherein certain stops are skipped at certain parts of the day, but that makes the schedule complicated and limits the robustness of the system.

The solution to this problem is not to skip stops, but instead to prevent everybody from stopping at every stop. Instead of making the entire train stop at every station, let a specified number of cars stop. Imagine the following scenario: There is a train line running between Houston and San Antonio1, along the route it passes through College Station and Austin (~300 miles). The train leaves Houston with six cars and a primary engine, as the train approaches College Station the last car will separate and switch onto a deceleration track that intersects with the station. Somewhat before this a single car will depart from the College Station station on an acceleration track which will intersect with the main track. The car that left College Station will become the lead car of the main train. Likewise, as the train nears Austin two cars will separate and enter a deceleration track. Only those passengers who wish to debark need to stop, the rest of the train can keep a-rolling on down to San Antone’.2,3

This method of operation alleviates several problems other than wasted passenger time. First it saves energy since most of the train is not stopping and starting. Second it will reduce congestion and confusion in each station, all the people who are departing will be on a train car before the people arriving from Houston even enter the station. The system will remove the need for stop-skipping and therefore reduce the number of trains that will need to be run per day. Each car will be parked at a station for some period of time during the day, and thus can easily be cleaned by a janitorial crew without having to work at night or inconvenience any travelers. Also, the train at large will not need to pass through each city along the way, thus the primary route can be optimized. Further, adding stops to the trip could be done without requiring a significant change to the overall infrastructure.

With proper engineering the cars themselves can be completely passive (with the exception of a fail-safe braking system), the track can slow the car and collect the energy of stopping with some regenerative system, that energy can then be used for accelerating the next car that will depart. A certain amount of energy will (of course) need to be added to the system to account for inefficiencies, but overall energy will be conserved. Along the primary route the engine will be able to maintain a relatively constant speed and thus its operation can be optimized as well.

This system will have its difficulties in timing and general execution, but it seems that the benefits could out-weigh the challenges. The scale of the system is really not a concern, meaning that a similar tactic could be used for area-wide transit at lower speeds so long as people have sufficient time to travel between cars to make their stop.

I welcome your comments and criticisms of the proposed.

Notes:

  1. I’m going to use Texas because more of my readers know the geography of Texas than California.
  2. Travelling at 200mph by train the trip from Houston to San Antonio would take a little over one and a half hours (accounting for acceleration and deceleration) even with the ‘stops’ in College Station and Austin, by car on I-10 the same trip would easily take an hour more than that.
  3. I bet there’s rich folks eating in a fancy dining car!

Religion in Iowa Schools

Jul 12, 2009, 2:38 am by Paul Stiverson

There has been a recent proposal in an Iowa school district proposing to allow prayer as an option in commencement exercises, it would also call for the creation of two new elective courses: “The Bible in History and Literature,” and “Critique of Darwinism, A Scientific Approach.” The proposal would also permit teachers to answer questions about their religious beliefs, as well as allowing students to distribute religious materials. The stated purpose of the proposal is to educate about religious faith, and to promote dialog. I cannot say that I am completely opposed to such a measure, if it were enacted it could actually benefit students by allowing for real and diverse religious expression. The proposal clearly states that “[The] School will not discriminate against private religious expression,” so if there are teachers of varying religious backgrounds then it could elucidate the fact that not everybody is a Christian, and it could give refuge to students who are exploring or questioning their own religious beliefs. The proposal would also allow distribution of dissenting literature thus allowing students to inform their classmates about other religions.

Some other folks have said that this proposal is a thinly veiled attempt at thrusting the Christian notion of god back at the fragile and impressionable minds of our youth, complaining that the district is not calling for the creation of any other “The [religious text] in History and Literature” classes. I do agree with them that the classes being added are somewhat one sided, but I don’t think that the critics have considered all aspects of the proposal. The proposal is very clear in its anti-discrimination verbiage, so—while there might not be any classes—there will be discussion of the spiritual alternatives to Christianity. If the proposal is intended as an endorsement of Christianity (I certainly believe this is the case), then it will backfire the first time a student hands out anti-Christian (or non pro-Christian) literature. Handing out this literature—or the refusal to allow it to be distributed—could spark a debate of a much larger scope than just the district. If this proposal is just an attempt to re-enroll god in Iowa schools (if it should pass) then it will quickly be found out and eradicated, but not without shining a national spotlight on how not-far we have come since Scopes. If the proposal’s intentions are true then it is a positive step.

I hope the proposal does pass, and I hope that there are non-Christians who are ready to walk through the flames—so to speak—to endorse their beliefs. If there are then the debate on religion in the public sphere might finally be coming to a head, and the public discourse on religion could get very interesting in the next few months.

Brilliant.

Jul 10, 2009, 1:17 pm by Lew

i want itI saw this and I thought of paul. this matters.

Texans for Kinky

Jul 9, 2009, 9:27 am by Paul Stiverson

Those of you who know me personally know that I was an ardent supporter of Kinky Friedman during his run for Governor of the great state of Texas in 2006. He was running as an independent, and he came in dead last. He has announced that he plans to run in the upcoming gubernatorial election, but this time as a Democrat, which I think is where he should be to offset some goober like Chris Bell from stepping in and not even trying to run a campaign against Rick Perry (as happened in ’06).

I believed then, as I do now, that our state needs somebody like Kinky in the Governor’s Mansion. We need Kinky because he is not from the political institution, and he can break up the cronyism that has plagued our government for the last decade. In these tough times we need somebody who will actually stand up for the working poor and offer them the support (not necessarily monetary) that they need. We need somebody who will place education in the forefront and pull us up from the bottom 5% in education quality. We need somebody who will re-instate funding for those who care for the mentally and physically handicapped. We need somebody who will speak for needs of every Texan. We need a rebel to bring back the international glory and mystique that Texas once held.

Don’t get me wrong, I think he was better as an Independent, but he can win as a Democrat. Afterall, it isn’t the label that is important, it is the man. And, friends, Kinky is the man for this time and place.

You’re out of time.

Jul 8, 2009, 9:34 am by Paul Stiverson

Unless you have been inhabiting a small crevasse under a large rock you have surely heard, over and over again, that Michael Jackson (a rather famous pop singer!) has died. Upon hearing the news I must say that I was not entirely surprised or grief-stricken, but I did fully expect to be bludgeoned from every media outlet for at least three days. Boy, was I wrong. For the last twelve days I have not been able to turn on a television without hearing at least some mention of the death of the king of pop. If not about the details surrounding his death, than about his links to other celebrities (or pseudo-celebrities), or his will and who will care for his children. Most recently MSNBC has pre-empted their evening programming to show the public memorial service from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. While I fully admit that Michael Jackson was an American pop-culture icon I cannot fathom that he should deserve to so fully dominate the news cycle. I can only think of one reason why he should, and it is quite… sinister.

I claim that the only way that MJ could so receive so much attention is if at least one major news outlet is in on a conspiracy to fake Michael Jackson’s death. The reason for this fakery is necessary is for a major comeback scheme that MJ himself masterminded over 25 years ago. That’s right, in about a month CNN or some other outlet will take a shortcut through the cemetery that holds Jackson’s grave, illustrating how many people are making the pilgrimage to see his final resting place when the unimaginable, nay, the impossible will happen.

ZOMBIE DANCE PARTY!

We are all fighting for our lives inside a killer thriller tonight. You will be missed, Michael.
Zombie Dance Party

Paul’s Psycho Theater (Part 2)

Jul 1, 2009, 8:38 am by Paul Stiverson

A bunch of other interns and I were wanting to go to this event, a speech of some sort honoring some guy. The speech was taking place down toward San Jose, about 12 miles away from where we all were. Despite the fact that I have a car we decided that it would be fun to “Borrow” the keynote speaker’s RV to get to the speech. We found it and broke in, but as soon as we started driving we were found out by the cops who started chasing us immediately. Thankfully we were better drivers than they (somehow we knew all the roads really well and traffic wasn’t a problem), and we made it to the event unscathed. Evading the cops was really way too easy, it was like running from the cops in GTA (1.5~2.5 star level), but their cars were slower than our RV. I’m not really sure what or where this event was, but it took place in a lecture hall sort of place, think Blocker 102, but longer. We were seated near the back, and inexplicably the speaker was seated back there as well, he was actually planning on delivering the speech from the back. It was a clever ruse, lets see if it works out for him.

The speech started with something of an introduction where the guy’s credentials were delivered, I remember clearly that he did his undergraduate work at Berkeley, and his graduate work at Stanford. Toward the end of the introduction I made some smart-ass remark, and the speaker—being seated the row behind me—heard and was taken aback. He decided to punish me by making me introduce him, I simply recited the previous introduction, but was tripped up on a few details. I was really trying very hard to remember all his bona fides (and make all the same jokes as the unseen speaker), but drew a blank on a few minor details. The speech ended pretty abruptly after that and we all headed outside.

As we left the lecture hall (I remember talking to another intern about the speaker having done his undergrad at Berkeley and his graduate work at Stanford, but it took me 3 tries to say it right) I suggested that we distance ourselves from the quote-unquote Scene of the Crime, also known as the RV we had previously stolen. My cohorts looked over the area and decided that there were no cops about, despite the fact that stereotypical swat and surveillance vans were circling the area. I decided I wanted nothing to do with their foolishness and that I would find my own ride home rather than go to jail. As I walked away from them I saw them open the RV door and lo, cops come piling out arresting them all immediately. One of my fellow interns immediately cracks, and I see him point at me, I think to myself “Oh shit, I’m fucked” and start signaling to other people as if I know them. A cop walks up to me and asks me to step aside with him to answer some questions. At this point I realize that I am carrying a green army laundry bag over my shoulder and that I certainly look suspicious, I also realize that I need to crap really badly.

I asked the cops if they were going to detain me, they said no, I ask them if I’m free to go, and they say no. Seemed like a contradiction. I told them that I really had to poop, and that I remembered there being a public restroom nearby. The let me leave to crap on my promise to return immediately, I left my duffel bag with them because I really didn’t feel like carrying it anymore. As I walked away I told them, that is still my property, and it would still be a violation of my Fourth Amendment rights if you searched it without my permission—apparently I’m a lawyer in my sleep. I scampered in the direction of the bathroom. What I found was the weirdest part of my dream, and I someday have to build it. (If you are still reading then this next paragraph is your reward)

The bathroom that I found was really more like a locker-room for giants. It was about half the size of a city block, and it had all sorts of high-school locker room types of stuff, but at a ridiculous scale. I found the stalls, they were 15ft tall and blue, the bluest blue I had ever seen. Also the stalls were about 100ft long and 20ft wide, I opened the absurdly sized door and made my way down the long corridor to the most amazingly convoluted toilet I have ever conceived of. Let me see if I can adequately describe it: There was a big blue cube, it was taller than me, but when I jumped up I could see the hole (where the poop goes). From this blue cube two arms extended (toward the door), they were hinged to the cube, and they had an elbow in the middle. At the end of the arm there was a stainless steel seat (3ft, square), but notably there was no hole in the seat (for the poop to fall through). Below the seat there was a foot-rest, or perhaps it was a stirrup (where your feet would go while you poop). I think that you were supposed to sit on the seat (which would have been a feat considering it was at shoulder height), which then moved you into position over the toilet tank over which you poop. Bizarre design, but intriguing. (In case the description didn’t work for you there is a drawing below) [The more I think about it the more I think it was a trap. If I had sat on the seat it would have just dropped me into the shit-hole. I’m really glad I decided against it.]

Needless to say there was no way for me to poop anywhere in that bathroom, so I needed to venture further into the unknown to find a place to poop, I saw a mall down the street and headed for it. It is well past midnight at this point so there is nothing open, but I manage to get inside the mall and begin fruitlessly looking for a toilet. I’m not sure how long I wandered around the mall, but it was a while. When I finally exited I was carrying shopping bags: paper in my left hand, plastic in my right. There had to have been 50lbs of stuff in those bags, but I wasn’t really sure what that stuff might have been. I walked through the parking lot, still looking for a toilet, but slightly concerned that the cops would be looking for me by now and thinking that I should probably get back to where I had left them (so I could collect my duffel bag).

I saw a convertible driving toward me, in it were two ladies. When it pulled up beside me I realized that there were two more ladies crammed in behind the front row of seats. I asked them where the theater was (that is where the speech was held apparently), and they didn’t know. The did describe—in great detail—the political dealings of the area, about how the director of Ames was lobbying for blah, blah, blah. I asked them where I might find a bathroom and they prattled on about nothing useful or interesting (typical womanly behavior, am I right? HIGH FIVE!). I decided to take my leave of them, which my mind mistook for wanting to wake up. Lying in bed I realized that I really did have to (and still do need to) poop.

I’ll see you in the next installment of Paul’s Psycho Theater.
Strange Giant Toilet Trap

Interesting Dream

Jun 27, 2009, 9:49 pm by Paul Stiverson

This morning I had the most vivid and immersive dream of my life (It even had sub-plots).

My sister, Carin, and I were at a family reunion sort of thing that was taking place in a huge community center sort of place which had all sorts of amusements and large (grassy) open areas while still being indoors. All the extended family was there. At one point Carin, having been there before and knowing all the cool stuff about the building, suggested that we take this elevator to a different level of the facility. We hit the call button, waited, and got on. I expected the elevator to go straight up, what with having ridden in an elevator before, but after going up for a few seconds it started spiraling. The elevator was fully enclosed (no windowed wall) but we could feel the acceleration of it spinning and gyrating, after what seemed like a long time on the elevator—which had only two buttons on the inside, one for the first floor and one for the sixth—I realized that we hadn’t hit a the button for our desired floor which I assumed would have been six. I moved over to the buttons and started to press the only button other than the one representing the floor we had just left, but Carin moved in to stop me, saying that if we press it to early they won’t let us up there. We stood by the buttons for a while and all at once I knew the timing was right, she confirmed my hypothesis by shouting “NOW” as I pushed the button.

At the onset of the dream I was wearing what I thought was my grey suit with all the regular accoutrements (I spelled that right on the first try), as we were getting on the elevator I noticed that the cuff on my left suit sleeve was all fucked up and set out to try to fix it. After futzing with the cuff for what seemed like minutes I realized that this suit didn’t used to have cuffs at the arms and was suddenly quite confused, I looked at the other arm and realized that it had a cuff and was put at ease. Observing the other cuff allowed me to fold the left cuff the way it was supposed to be, but for some reason re-folding it caused the sleeve to cinch up and it became very tight around my wrist. This was when I realized the elevator button had not been pushed.

As the elevator dinged and screeched to a stop Carin told me that we would have to run or else they would kick us out. When the doors opened we sprung into action and ran like hell, I was following Carin because I had no idea where we were or where we were going. I did hear shouts of people saying “You’re not supposed to be here,” who quickly followed in chase. We were running very fast, like five times faster then I could possibly run in real life, but the girl who was chasing us was moving about two times faster than us. The girl that caught us was wearing a cocktail dress and three inch heels, I was embarrassed to be caught by a girl in heels, but incredibly impressed that she could run so quickly in those shoes. Two other scantily-clad girls moved in to surround us. They scolded us saying “Only famous scientists and literates are allowed up here, do you fit that category?” As I looked around I realized that there were a bunch of professor-looking types with suede sleeved jackets milling around talking about non-sense. We protested as they lead us toward the exit, which was the trippiest staircase I had ever seen.

This staircase was our punishment in a way, it was like a spaghetti bowl maze of spiraling staircases different noodles that split off, combined, dead-ended, submerged in water, and did all sorts of crazy things. The stairs were also not limited to going just downward, they would swoop up and down at different areas, it truly was a three dimensional maze (also, I someday have to build one of these). We began descending the stairs and after a while of trying to find our way we got separated on two different stairwells, but both had the same idea to escape back up to the sixth floor, we started jumping rails onto different stairwells that we had observed might lead us back up there. The three girls, who had been watching us descend, quickly caught on to our plan and began to chase us again. During the chase I was dead-ended by a watery stairwell and had to jump from handrail to handrail to get to a different set of stairs, but I slipped. Thankfully I caught myself, but my shoes had gotten water-logged. The chase continued. I approached another watery part but this time realized that if I crab-walked on the handrails that I could make it without getting too wet, so I did, but alas I slipped again and my whole backside got wet. I made it through, but the girls with their superior speed and knowledge of the layout caught us both and forced us back up the stairs to the sixth level. They didn’t say where they were taking us, but it seemed sinister. Two of the pretty guard girls had somewhere to be, but they said they would catch up to us and help with the escort, thus leaving us alone with only one of the guards. We all walked to our common unknown destination, and along the way we got to talking.

During the walk I looked down to assess the damage to my clothing, nothing serious. I did notice that my suit was not the grey suit I thought it was, but instead a bluish-grey thing with light green trim, it was a bad-ass leisure-suit from the ’70s.

After a while of walking we bonded with our captor and she eventually passed us a flask after she took a swig. She wasn’t carrying a purse, and I was confused about where she had pulled that flask from, but thought it best not to ask. When I looked at the surroundings for potential escape routes I realized that we had entered a sort of suburban neighborhood with quaint little fenced-in houses (still indoors mind you). Carin and I had the same idea and escaped to one of the fenced-in areas, and the guard followed us, but wasn’t chasing us… she had joined our band and was going to help us evade the other guards who were surely fast approaching. They were, and they caught us quickly, but not before I could wake up and realize that it was all an incredibly bizarre dream.

obama and the gays

Jun 24, 2009, 1:15 am by Lew

i am a bit bothered by obama's reluctance to take up equal rights for homosexuals. he recently asked the supreme court to not take up a case challenging "don't ask don't tell." he has not been an activist on gay rights in these first months of his administation. he made some effort by expanding rights to gay federal workers within the limits of current legislation. i am guessing/hoping he is biding his time and not avoiding gay issues. i am thinking that he knows how contentious gay rights legislation is going to be and he isn't going to risk other important issues like health care by taking up gay rights now. i don't like it but i think that is what he is doing and he is probably right. he is smart and i still trust him, but he is losing the faith of his glbt supporters.

    Twitter Kills

    Jun 19, 2009, 9:31 am by Paul Stiverson

    There is an epidemic, nay a pandemic, spreading like wildfire across the globe, I speak of twitter: the blue menace.

    “But Paul, why do you hate Twitter so much? You, yourself, keep a blog (as is evidenced by this bullshit post), how could you be so vehemently opposed to the notion of rapid-fire short and essentially meaningless online communication?”

    Well, gentle reader, I’m glad you ask. The reason Twitter’s proliferation offends me so is because it perpetuates and even necessitates the bastardization of our language. Or to put it differently: “bcuz it kills r words”. With their 140 character limit they make it impossible to formulate and convey a coherent thought, to even try requires a loose understanding of phonics. There are those who claim that spelling, grammar, and usage are unimportant so long as the reader understands the central meaning of the text. If that were the case then why did we, as a species, progress past grunting and pointing at our genitals? (I suppose not all of us have, looking at you Long Island) Could it be because simple communication lacks the nuance that allows us to express complex or abstract ideas?

    It was perfectly acceptable when this mode of communication was primarily employed by teenybopper girls and potheads who think they are blowing their readers’ minds, but when legitimate news outlets (the legitimacy of CNN is sadly dwindling at the speed of light) are using Twitter as a means of news gathering then it has gone too far, it is too mainstream. It must be stopped before irreparable damage is done to our common language.

    b.s.

    Jun 13, 2009, 11:58 pm by Lew

    this post is about bullshit. i may have written about this before. i [try] to prefer honesty and sincerity in place of b.s.. i have three particular examples that are really bugging me. gun lovers who try to make the issue about constitutional rights and potheads who make the issue about fibers. if you love guns or pot it is fine enjoy your guns and weed. don't talk about the right to bare arms if you aren't going to shout from the roof every time there is a slight against the constitution. and if you love paper and rope so much there are probably fibers even better than hemp. just be honest. say you love guns and weed or whatever. don't b.s. me.

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