The Phantom City

Notes from our travels across a mysterious world.

Author: Shane (page 4 of 70)

The Face of Political Budget Balancing

GOP holds up NJ governor’s record as a model

With bipartisan backing, Christie plugged the budget hole largely by cutting aid to schools, suspending property tax rebates and skipping a $3 billion payment to the state’s pension system. He imposed a 2 percent cap on increases to local property taxes and fought frequently with the state’s teachers and other public employee unions.

Wow, so plugging the budget hole is defined as moving all of your expenses to next year? It’d be interesting to see the credit ratings for Coulter, Barbour, and AEI, if they think the Christie model is any better than what states have been doing for decades. I’m surprised he’s not talking more about running in 2012, given he’ll need to flee the state soon after.

Can’t say I’m disappointed in CPAC, because I didn’t have high expectations in the first place, but at what point do we acknowledge that the wheels have come off our two-party, win-at-all-costs-damn-the-responsibility system?

Ron Paul’s Questions on Wikileaks

In a speech on the House floor, Republican Representative Ron Paul of Texas asked nine questions in regards to the ongoing kerfuffle about Wikileaks:

Number 1: Do the America People deserve know the truth regarding the ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen?

Number 2: Could a larger question be how can an army private access so much secret information?

Number 3: Why is the hostility directed at Assange, the publisher, and not at our governments failure to protect classified information?

Number 4: Are we getting our moneys worth of the 80 Billion dollars per year spent on intelligence gathering?

Number 5: Which has resulted in the greatest number of deaths: lying us into war or Wikileaks revelations or the release of the Pentagon Papers?

Number 6: If Assange can be convicted of a crime for publishing information that he did not steal, what does this say about the future of the first amendment and the independence of the internet?

Number 7: Could it be that the real reason for the near universal attacks on Wikileaks is more about secretly maintaining a seriously flawed foreign policy of empire than it is about national security?

Number 8: Is there not a huge difference between releasing secret information to help the enemy in a time of declared war, which is treason, and the releasing of information to expose our government lies that promote secret wars, death and corruption?

Number 9: Was it not once considered patriotic to stand up to our government when it is wrong?

Courtesy of Mediaite.

But which part of Tony Stark would I want to be?

Not the liver, obviously…I know, the brain…or whatever Tony Stark uses for thinking.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word – Nothingness
Colbert Report Full Episodes 2010 Election March to Keep Fear Alive

The Two Sides of Politics

NPR: Prison Economics Help Drive Ariz. Immigration Law

It’s a membership organization of state legislators and powerful corporations and associations, such as the tobacco company Reynolds American Inc., ExxonMobil and the National Rifle Association. Another member is the billion-dollar Corrections Corporation of America — the largest private prison company in the country.

It was there that Pearce’s idea took shape.

“I did a presentation,” Pearce said. “I went through the facts. I went through the impacts and they said, ‘Yeah.'”

In the conference room, the group decided they would turn the immigration idea into a model bill. They discussed and debated language. Then, they voted on it.

“There were no ‘no’ votes,” Pearce said. “I never had one person speak up in objection to this model legislation.”

Four months later, that model legislation became, almost word for word, Arizona’s immigration law.

Hough works for ALEC, but he’s also running for state delegate in Maryland, and if elected says he plans to support a similar bill to Arizona’s law.

Asked if the private companies usually get to write model bills for the legislators, Hough said, “Yeah, that’s the way it’s set up. It’s a public-private partnership. We believe both sides, businesses and lawmakers should be at the same table, together.”

Nice to be reminded that, in politics as usual, we get to hear from “both sides.”

Nice one, Apple

I was thinking about updating my Macbook Pro in a few months. Now I have to wait to see if Oracle is going to take up the slack on maintaining a JVM for Mac OS X, and whether Apple will let them.

Add that to the announcement of a Mac App Store, and I get to wait till post-Lion in 2011 to see if Apple is thinking about turning their laptops into iPads with keyboards.

I know I’m not a typical consumer, but if I end up having to run a VM to use things as basic as Eclipse and SQL Developer, why do OS X at all? I like Apple’s build quality and the digital ergonomics only they seem to get right, but paying a premium to surf the Web in nice surroundings won’t cut it.

Hopefully we’ll hear more about Java and Apple’s commitment to producing user-modifiable computers in the near future.

Update: I should point out that my primary problem with this move isn’t that Apple should continue maintaining their own version of the JDK. That seems like a waste of time for them. However, if you’re going to stop supporting it, perhaps we should get some other information, like “Hey, Oracle’s going to take care of it!” Dropping it in the release notes just brings up memories of other changes Apple PR has tripped over in the past. (No third-party languages on iOS, anyone?)

Update 2: James Gosling and a Steve Jobs quote. Before reading the comments, I had completely forgotten that no JVM means no JVM-based languages. Haven’t gotten into those yet.

“I have no enemies, and no hatred”

Statement from Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, on December 23, 2009:

“June 1989 was the major turning point in my 50 years on life’s road. Before that, I was a member of the first group of students after restoration of the college entrance examination after the Cultural Revolution (1977); my career was a smooth ride, from undergraduate to grad student and through to PhD. After graduation I stayed on as a lecturer at Beijing Normal University. On the podium, I was a popular teacher, well received by students. I was also a public intellectual: in the 1980s I published articles and books that created an impact. I was frequently invited to speak in different places, and invited to go abroad to Europe and the US as a visiting scholar. What I required of myself was: to live with honesty, responsibility and dignity both as a person and in my writing.. Subsequently, because I had returned from the US to take part in the 1989 movement, I was imprisoned for “counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement to crime”, losing the platform I loved; I was never again allowed publish or speak in public in China. Simply for expressing divergent political views and taking part in a peaceful and democratic movement, a teacher lost his podium, a writer lost the right to publish, and a public intellectual lost the chance to speak publicly. This was a sad thing, both for myself as an individual, and, after three decades of reform and opening, for China.

“Thinking about it, my most dramatic experiences after June Fourth have all been linked with the courts; the two opportunities I had to speak in public have been provided by trials held in the People’s Intermediate Court in Beijing, one in January 1991 and one now. Although the charges on each occasion were different, they were in essence the same, both being crimes of expression.

“Twenty years on, the innocent souls of June Fourth are yet to rest in peace, and I, who had been drawn into the path of dissidence by the passions of June Fourth, after leaving the Qincheng Prison in 1991 lost the right to speak openly in my own country, and could only do so through overseas media, and hence was monitored for many years; placed under surveillance (May 1995 – January 1996); educated through labour (October 1996 – October 1999s), and now once again am thrust into the dock by enemies in the regime. But I still want to tell the regime that deprives me of my freedom, I stand by the belief I expressed twenty years ago in my “June Second hunger strike declaration”— I have no enemies, and no hatred. None of the police who monitored, arrested and interrogated me, the prosecutors who prosecuted me, or the judges who sentence me, are my enemies. While I’m unable to accept your surveillance, arrest, prosecution or sentencing, I respect your professions and personalities. This includes Zhang Rongge and Pan Xueqing who act for the prosecution at present: I was aware of your respect and sincerity in your interrogation of me on 3 December.

“For hatred is corrosive of a person’s wisdom and conscience; the mentality of enmity can poison a nation’s spirit, instigate brutal life and death struggles, destroy a society’s tolerance and humanity, and block a nation’s progress to freedom and democracy. I hope therefore to be able to transcend my personal vicissitudes in understanding the development of the state and changes in society, to counter the hostility of the regime with the best of intentions, and defuse hate with love.

“As we all know, reform and opening brought about development of the state and change in society. In my view, it began with abandoning “taking class struggle as the key link,” which had been the ruling principle of the Mao era. We committed ourselves instead to economic development and social harmony. The process of abandoning the “philosophy of struggle” was one of gradually diluting the mentality of enmity, eliminating the psychology of hatred, and pressing out the “wolf’s milk” in which our humanity had been steeped. It was this process that provided a relaxed environment for reform and opening at home and abroad, for the restoration of mutual love between people, and soft humane soil for the peaceful coexistence of different values and different interests. It provided the explosion of popular creativity and the rehabilitation of warm heartedness with incentives consistent with human nature. Externally abandoning “anti-imperialism and anti-revisionism”, and internally abandoning “class struggle” may be called the basic premise of the continuance of China’s reform and opening to this day. The market orientation of the economy; the cultural trend toward diversity; and the gradual change of order to the rule of law, all benefited from the dilution of this mentality. Even in the political field, where progress is slowest, dilution of the mentality of enmity also made political power ever more tolerant of diversity in society, the intensity persecution of dissidents has declined substantially, and characterization of the 1989 movement has changed from an “instigated rebellion” to a “political upheaval.”

“The dilution of the mentality of enmity made the political powers gradually accept the universality of human rights. In 1998, the Chinese government promised the world it would sign the two international human rights conventions of the UN, marking China’s recognition of universal human rights standards; in 2004, the National People’s Congress for the first time inscribed into the constitution that “the state respects and safeguards human rights”, signalling that human rights had become one of the fundamental principles of the rule of law. In the meantime, the present regime also proposed “putting people first” and “creating a harmonious society”, which signalled progress in the Party’s concept of rule.

“This macro-level progress was discernible as well in my own experiences since being arrested.

“While I insist on my innocence, and hold the accusations against me to be unconstitutional, in the year and more since I lost my freedom, I’ve experienced two places of detention, four pre-trial police officers, three prosecutors and two judges. In their handling of the case, there has been no lack of respect, no time overruns and no forced confessions. Their calm and rational attitude has over and again demonstrated goodwill. I was transferred on 23 June from the residential surveillance to Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau Detention Center No. 1, known as “Beikan.” I saw progress in surveillance in the six months I spent there.

“I spent time in the old Beikan (Banbuqiao) in 1996, and compared with the Beikan of a decade ago, there has been great improvement in the hardware of facilities and software of management.

“In particular, Beikan’s innovative humane management applies more flexible management of what the discipliners say and do, on the basis of respecting the rights and dignity of detainees. This management, embodied in the journals Warm Broadcast and Repentance, music played before meals and when waking up and going to sleep, gave detainees feelings of dignity and warmth, stimulating their consciousness of keeping order in their cells and countering the warders’ sense of themselves as lords of the jail. It not only provides detainees with a humanized living environment, but greatly improves the environment and mindset for their litigation. I had close contact with Liu Zhen, in charge of my cell. People feel warmed by his respect and care for detainees, reflected in the management of every detail, and permeating his every word and deed. Getting to know the sincere, honest, responsible, good-hearted Liu, really was a piece of good luck for me in Beikan.

“Political beliefs are based on such convictions and personal experiences; I firmly believe that China’s political progress will never stop, and I’m full of optimistic expectations of freedom coming to China in the future, because no force can block the human desire for freedom. China will eventually become a country of the rule of law in which human rights are supreme. I’m also looking forward to such progress being reflected in the trial of this case, and look forward to the full court’s just verdict ——one that can stand the test of history.

“Ask me what has been my most fortunate experience of the past two decades, and I’d say it was gaining the selfless love of my wife, Liu Xia. She cannot be present in the courtroom today, but I still want to tell you, my sweetheart, that I’m confident that your love for me will be as always. Over the years, in my non-free life, our love has contained bitterness imposed by the external environment, but is boundless in afterthought. I am sentenced to a visible prison while you are waiting in an invisible one. Your love is sunlight that transcends prison walls and bars, stroking every inch of my skin, warming my every cell, letting me maintain my inner calm, magnanimous and bright, so that every minute in prison is full of meaning. But my love for you is full of guilt and regret, sometimes heavy enough hobble my steps. I am a hard stone in the wilderness, putting up with the pummeling of raging storms, and too cold for anyone to dare touch. But my love is hard, sharp, and can penetrate any obstacles. Even if I am crushed into powder, I will embrace you with the ashes.

“Given your love, my sweetheart, I would face my forthcoming trial calmly, with no regrets about my choice and looking forward to tomorrow optimistically. I look forward to my country being a land of free expression, where all citizens’ speeches are treated the same; where, different values, ideas, beliefs, political views… both compete with each other and coexist peacefully; where, majority and minority opinions will be given equal guarantees, in particular, political views different from those in power will be fully respected and protected; where, all political views will be spread in the sunlight for the people to choose; all citizens will be able to express their political views without fear, and will never be politically persecuted for voicing dissent; I hope to be the last victim of China’s endless literary inquisition, and that after this no one else will ever be jailed for their speech.

“Freedom of expression is the basis of human rights, the source of humanity and the mother of truth. To block freedom of speech is to trample on human rights, to strangle humanity and to suppress the truth.

“I do not feel guilty for following my constitutional right to freedom of expression, for fulfilling my social responsibility as a Chinese citizen. Even if accused of it, I would have no complaints. Thank you!”

Source: Chinese Law Prof Blog

Link courtesy of Reason.

Premature Optimization Considered Better than Smacking into the Moon

Ran across this story about the computer aboard Apollo 11, and a fortuitous 0.1-second difference.

LUMINARY was never completely bug free. Allan told me about a fascinating series of events that could have easily prevented the first moon landing and might have caused disaster. Allan was the principal designer of the LM’s descent guidance program which steered the LM by gimballing and throttling the descent engine. Whenever the computer commanded the engine to increase or decrease thrust, the engine (and LM) reacted after a short time lag. Allan’s descent program needed a routine to accurately estimate the new thrust level, which could be accomplished by reading the “delta-V” (change in velocity) measured by the LM’s accelerometers. He wrote a short routine that took into consideration, i.e., compensated for, the engine’s lag time, which TRW’s “interface control document”, full of useful information for the programmers, said was 0.3 seconds. It took 0.3 seconds for the LM’s descent engine to achieve whatever thrust level the computer might request. The final version of the thrust routine, which was put into the LM, was written by Allan’s friend Don Eyles. Eyles was sufficiently enthusiastic about the programming challenge that he found a way of writing it which required compensating for only 0.2 of the 0.3 seconds. The IBM 360 simulator showed Eyles’ program worked beautifully. His routine was aboard Apollos 11 and 12 which landed successfully. However, telemetry transmitted during the landings later showed something to be very wrong. The engines were surging up and down in thrust level, and were barely stable. A guy at Johnson Space Center called Allan and informed him that the LM’s engine was not a 0.3-second-lag engine after all. It had been improved some time before Apollo 11’s launch such as to lower the lag time to only 0.075 seconds. Correction of this item in the interface control document had simply been overlooked. Once this discrepancy was discovered, theIBM 360 simulator was reprogrammed to properly simulate the actual, faster engine. Running on the simulator, Don Eyle’s thrust program, with the 0.2-second compensation, exhibited the surging that had occurred on the real flights. But here’s the most interesting fact: the simulator also showed that had Allan Klumpp chose to “correct” Don Eyles’ program by compensating for the full 0.3 seconds that was printed in the document, the LM would have been unstable and Apollo 11 would never have been able to land. By pure luck, Don Eyles was creative enough to write the thrust routine in a way that kept the LM just inside the stability envelope and allowed successful landings!

Full post at’s archive.

What the %@$*&^!?


I just ran across this little requirement in signing up for a service that I’m now nervous about using:

Username: 3+ lowercase letters and numbers, starting with a letter.
Password: 8+ Alpha Numeric characters & must include – 1 uppercase, 1 lowercase, and a number.
Special Characters are not accepted!

No special characters?!? I haven’t been this annoyed since I figured out my database IDE couldn’t handle a schema password with an @ in the name.

More evidence of the coming Mouse Revolution

Testing to see if glial progenitor cells — the early form of neurons and glia in the brain — can be integrated into human brains that are missing these vital building blocks, scientists have injected human progenitor cells into mouse brains.

The human progenitor cells went to the correct locations and performed the correct function in the mouse brains…but then this happened:

The human progenitor cells are larger, more complex, and have more staying power than mouse progenitor cells in the brains of mice. Which means that over time, the brains of mice injected with these cells are becoming more…human. Goldman’s collaborator (and spouse) Maiken Nedergaard and her team at the Center for Translational Neuromedicine, also at U Rochester, has tested these mice to see if their humanised brains make them smarter. The hu-mice do seem to condition more quickly, and show signs at the molecular level of differences in synaptic connections that suggest they might be cognitively different.

Anyone else shuddering at the concept of “hu-mice?”

Courtesy of In The Field, at

Poor America

…killed by a health care reform bill, pronounced dead at the age of 233. Who knew democracy was so fragile? Who knew our great American traditions of relatively non-violent political change would be so easily broken. All by one bill.

Goodbye, America…killed by a piece of government legislation, passed by a majority of the House and Senate, two bodies that we have the opportunity to radically change every two years simply by voting…not even a Constitutional amendment….

I’ll miss you, but I’ll fondly remember how you survived such challenges and changes as the income tax, driver licenses, and the 1980’s military buildup…

…going to war on the basis of government deception, losing our right to question law enforcement, hippies, sexual immorality, AIDS…

…the first $5 trillion in national debt, the stock market crashing, subversive communism, the arms race, over-population, race riots…

…Nazis, immigration, a Civil War, electing Democrats/Republicans/Whigs/etc., Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, Islamic secular terrorists…

…Anarchists, polio, Appalachian poverty, unions, nuclear war, anthrax in the mail, Communist terrorists, militias, oil crises…

You have been truly magnificent. I apologize for the weakness of my generation: Our inability to accept change, our flair for dramatic hyperbole, our inability to think about the future, our lack of strategic thought, our lack of faith in you, ourselves, our institutions, and our humanity.

We’ve let you down, and now you’ll die, because we no longer believe in anything but ourselves, our complaints, and our fame.

What we can hope is that you ignore our lack of faith, our ingratitude, and our lack of inner fiber long enough for us to realize that rhetoric is not reality, that we still have power through the franchise of the vote, and that America is not so easily destroyed or forsaken. Remind us it’s morning in America whenever we damn well say it is, and that no piece of legislation, no political party, no court ruling is the end, no matter whether we like it or not. Keep holding out for us, and maybe we, or another generation, will grow up and be worthy of your ideals.

Now, this part breaks the flow of the post, but it needs to be said: I don’t care what your opinion about health care reform, socialism, religion, or right and wrong is, as long as you state it reasonably. But lately, I’ve heard people talking about civil war, and I want to state one thing: Cut back the hyperbole, because if you’re serious, if you decide to take up arms against America, I and the rest of the unfortunately quiet majority will resist you, and you will fall into the dustbin of history.

I might not be a fan of everything we do in America, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about its enemies, about the people who hate us. There are far more people who hate America inside our country than out, and most define themselves as the True Americans. Wrong. If you were, you’d already be in power. The rest of us…we’re actually pretty proud of our country, our political system, and our beliefs, even if we don’t agree with something that feels absolutely vital.

Anyway, I’ve just been disgusted by the rhetoric. I’ve lived here for forty years, almost, and I know we’re always a dramatic people, but it’s time to shut up so we can actually listen and think.

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