Month: May 2008

The Phoenix has Landed

Good news for NASA, the Phoenix lander has successfully touched down on Mars.

This is quite an accomplishment for NASA since they haven’t been able to do a soft landing on Mars for 32 years. Last time they did it was the Viking landers in 1976.

I know, I know. What about the twin rovers, Spirit and Opportunity which at current reckoning are still going even though they were only supposed to last for 90 days. They used a cushioned balloon system to get the landers on the ground whereas Phoenix used rocket packs to slow the descent to a comfy 5MPH at landing.

One other little fact emerged. The Phoenix program cost $420 Million to design, build and launch. The Mars Rovers cost $820 Million, which is $410 Million per rover. I’d say we got our $820 Million out of the rovers, and I think we’ll get the same out of the Phoenix. In essence, the rovers have proven that there was once free flowing water at or near the surface of Mars. Now Phoenix gets to look for the precursors to life as we know it.

The article was keen to point out that the instruments on Phoenix wouldn’t find alien life. But then who knows what alien life really looks like.

Yes I know that the total cost for just those two programs is $1.23 Billion, but it’s money well spent. Because if there was life on Mars there’s a good possibility that it may have spread from there to here. Mars was once a vibrant planet. What happened to it?

For all we know, we might really be Martians.

Take the Bus

I came across this on Yahoo’s news titled “High gas prices? Take the bus instead”.

RIPTA is the dominant carrier her in Rhode Island. But one thing they’re getting killed by is fuel costs. So much so that a monthly pass is going to $55 from $45, regular one way fare is going to $1.75 from $1.50 as well as increases on most fare products.

One of the primary problems that RIPTA has is that the fare paying public is only 10% of their riders. The other 90% get subsidies, freebies, etc. For example, college students at universities enrolled in the uPass program can present their student ID and not have to pay a fare. The schools chip in for this but you can be sure it’s not full fare.

RIPTA walks a fine line with fare structure. They know that if they increase too much people will simply walk or bike or drop out of the transportation game all together. But they’ve seen enormous gains in number of riders over the past few years, mostly the years of [dripping sarcasm mode on]President Bush’s great economy[dripping sarcasm mode off]

Another big part of RIPTA’s budget is provided by a few cents of the state take of the gasoline taxes. But as consumption of gasoline goes down, so too do RIPTA’s revenues. There is talk of eliminating the fixed tax on gasoline and going to a percentage basis.

That way as the cost of gas rises so to does the tax collected. As it stands now Rhode Island takes 32 cents of that per gallon cost. Actually if they did a percentage basis and used the 7% state sales tax they’d remove the 32 cents in tax so that gallon becomes $3.68 and then apply the tax to that which would bring the per gallon tax to 28 cents. Let’s say gas is $4.50 a gallon before tax, that’d net the state about 32 cents.

In reality a percentage tax is a losing proposition for the state and would have to be much higher than the state sales tax rate.

Let’s try the same experiment at 12%. The $3.68 gallon would net the state 44 cents in tax, and if gas rose to $4.50 it’d be 54 cents.

So if we do change the funding scheme for RIPTA expect to pay a lot more for gasoline. That’ll further depress gasoline usage. It’s a vicious circle.

McSame/McBush on Ellen

So I wonder, is McCain trying to court the gay vote? I only say this because he appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show.

The article and clip of the show can be found here.

If you wish to see just the video, watch below:

Legal agreements huh? Explain that to the gentleman here in RI who when his partner of many years died in their home, the gentleman in question was handcuffed, not allowed to plan the funeral, etc. Even the estate went to the deceased partners family, not his partner. Legal agreements didn’t protect them.

Or the hoops we have to jump through for health care coverage. Walk into most places with a ring on your finger and it’s automatically assumed that you’re married, but it isn’t so if you’re gay.

Ellen makes the point rather well at the end of the video.

Funny new Australian Program

It’s called “The Librarians” and is produced by the Australian Broadcasting Company.

The show features a cast of characters that would fit into any of the libraries I frequent. You’ve got your OGT character, your budding poet whose work is a little sex obsessed, the second in command is disabled and I’ll let you figure out WHY she’s disabled.

But the prime character is the head librarian whom they’ve given the name of Frances O’Brien, and let me just say she’s a very tightly wrapped character. I think that’s part of the charm of the show, she’s completely manic. Too funny.

Even the intro is interesting, by the time she gets to her desk she’s hyperventilating and does the old paper bag trick.

Not to mention that the jazz tune used for the intro music is very nice.

The main reason I love this show is that I’ve always loved libraries and archives. One of the things I love is the vast collection of well organized information and knowledge. And increasingly, data is becoming a large part of libraries which dovetails nicely with my I.S. background. Matter of fact I’m considering enrolling in San Jose State Universities online Masters in Archives and Records Administration.

I’ve looked at the course listing and almost every single one of them touches on information science in one form or another. The nice thing is it’s a 3 year program and only $18,000. I had been looking at a Masters in Library Science at Drexel but that was $40,000!

But check out the show, it has its funny moments. I’m still trying to figure out if the character of Ky Lee is gay, I think he is. That’s the other thing I’ve noted about library and archive staff, there are a LOT of gay people in the field.

My favorite episode of The I.T. Crowd

The I.T. Crowd is a hilarious send up of what it’s like for the I.T. folks in a company.

But it does so without resorting to technical jargon. Those of us who are in the field notice things like the Sinclair ZX100 microcomputer, or the EFF stickers, etc. Those stickers pop up in lots of I.T. shops, particularly Open Source I.T. shops.

And we also resonate with the characters. Hell, in the last I.T. shop I worked in we had a very heavy hands on electronics and robotics contingent.

But this is my absolute favorite episode of the show, it’s called “The Haunting of Bill Crouse”

There are other memorable episodes, and I hear they’re developing the show for the U.S. market. I don’t know, like Coupling the British versions just seem to be funnier.

National Grid Raising Electric rates too

Not like we don’t pay what I consider to be obscene electric rates already, National grid who gets most of it’s energy from natural gas and coal, wants to raise electric rates AGAIN!

Currently when you factor in distribution, conservation and generation charges we are now paying 14.5 cents per kWh.

It’s ridiculous, the result of years of deregulation. They can charge whatever the fuck they want to charge and we’re powerless to stop them, our only avenue is to use less electricity. Right now I’ve got it pared down pretty far, lots of energy saving things in here.

But we’re still getting screwed. It’s time for the regulatory pendulum to swing back, time to put the clamps down on National Grid and give the Public Utilities Commission some serious teeth, all canines if possible.

Corporations and Politics

There’s an interesting operation and trial going on in Rhode Island right now. The operation is titled “Dollar Bill” and is being lead by the Federal Prosecutors office. Thus far they’ve gotten a conviction against Senator John Celona of North Providence and are actively investigating other politicians including the Senate President among others.

At the moment there is a trial going on against two CVS Vice Presidents who approved the payments for Celona who in turn shepherded CVS sponsored legislation through the chamber. Such legislation included opposition to pharmacy choice bills then in the chamber.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, all you need to do is go to the Lobbytracker page on the Secretary of State’s office web site and browse lobbying entities. For a good example, check out last years activity of one Bernard Healey aka Rev. Bernard Healey of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence.

Note that bill 5368, that was the Marriage Equality bill last year. Unfortunately the reports for this year haven’t been posted yet but I just know that they’ll oppose all things to do with gay marriage.

Anyhow the point I’m going after is summed up nicely in this paragraph from the Providence Journal article on the trial of the CVS employees:

Records from 2001 showed that Celona’s monthly “consultation fee” was paid from the same account as contributions to national political groups such as the Democratic Leadership Council, the House Senate Republican dinner, the House Majority Leader’s Fund (in connection with a dinner with then majority leader, U.S. Rep. Dick Armey of Texas), and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, a contribution that was made through Rhode Island U.S. Sen. Jack Reed.

In essence this tells you everything you need to know. Corporations are party blind in a sense. THey’ll give money to Democrats and Republicans alike. Their only criterion is will that politician do their bidding. You and I allegedly have no access to these people. But in a sense we do.

With just a small amount of effort we could make our elected representatives very uncomfortable about taking money from Political Action Committees, which are nothing but ways for corporations to influence the political sphere. Don’t get me wrong, there are some PAC’s that aren’t corporate puppets but they are few and far between.

I’ve once read that in European states the like Germany and France, the government is afraid of the people whereas here in the U.S. we are afraid of the government. We should turn that around, make our voice heard even if it means taking an hour a week to phone, email or write our representatives at the local, state and federal levels in order to make OUR will heard.

Of course the down side to that is something the fundamentalists have seized upon. There is power in numbers. But their numbers include those who only think about gay marriage and abortion. Some of them don’t realize that there are bigger problems facing us.

What we need is organizations of enlightened people. There is some activity on that front what with, ActBlue, People for the American Way, etc. They make it really easy to be politically active. But a large portion of the population has allowed their anger to be deflected and distorted. Instead they cling to sports competitions, guns, cars, etc. when the world around them is crumbling down.

The California Marriage Ruling

There’s great news from California. Their Supreme court invalidated the Defense of Marriage law there. I should email links from the numerous articles to Rep. Brien since he’s trying to sneak a DOMA law into Rhode Island.

What encourages me about this is that we now have two jurisdictions in which the courts have acted to protect a minority from a majority. The foes in California will certainly try to get a constitutional amendment put in place but people realize those for what they are, writing discrimination into a constitution.

But since there’s now case law we’re going to see other jurisdictions go the way of California and Massachusetts. One of those could very well be Rhode Island. My cousin Tom Seymour wrote a wonderful memorandum of support that includes all the citations for the RI Consitution, U.S. Constitution and relevant case law. That was submitted to the entire Judiciary Committee during the hearing on Marriage Equality/Divorce Equality last week.

It’s now common knowledge that we have the support necessary to clear the Judiciary Committee, but Speaker William Murphy is the brick wall.

So I’ll email the memo to him too. After all his next in charge is a gay man, and I happen to know the 3rd down is too. He’s got to understand that it’s rolling along and even his brick wall won’t stop it.

And here’s a video of the celebrations in San Francisco. What was most poignant was the fact when he asked the couple what they’d be doing differently tomorrow. Their answer was they’d been together 23 years, the only difference now being that their relationship would be validated and recognized.

Here in RI we already have ENDA protections, and most of the Fortune 1000 have domestic partner benefits. But we still need a federal ENDA, and I’d ultimately like to see federal marriage equality too.

Troppe informazioni martedì numeri di un centinaio di quattro e trenta (TMI #134)

1. Is there a TV show you HAVE to watch? If so, what is it?

I don’t necessarily have to watch anything as I don’t watch traditional television, be it standard definition or high definition. Net video on the other hand, I love the followings programs: Weeds, Torchwood, and Jericho.

2. What is you favorite drink if you are going to drink more than one?

Beer. I’m more a beer and wine guy than a spirits guy.

3. How long do you carry guilt around with you?

Guilt? What’s that? I’m an Italian-American who was brought up in the Catholic church yet I don’t have guilt at all. Go figure. If you don’t feel guilt there’s no need to carry it around with you.

4. Where is or would be your number one romantic get away spot?

Manhattan. Seriously, everything you could want whether you stay in or go out.

5. Have you ever seen a counselor?

Law or psych? In the case of law yes, twice in my life both for civil matters. If we’re talking about psych, there was a stretch when I was a rebellious teen. The shrink figured out most of it was due to having to suppress my sexuality at school and that splashed over into the home. Once we got that straightened out so to speak, things went much better.

Bonus (as in optional): Last summer the Archives of Sexual Behavior the 237 reasons people have sex and the Top 50 Reasons Men and Women Have Sex. What are your top 5 reasons?

All the guys are lying because the top reason is to bust a nut. Seriously. Coming up with other reasons would just be pure fiction on my part.

McSame || McBush won’t be good for us

If you’ve been a long time reader of this blog you’ve obviously read things I’ve written about Grover Norquist, he of the “I’d like to shrink government down to a size where it’s small enough to drown in the bathtub.” fame.

Well now Jared Bernstein of the Huffington Post lays out the reasons we should NOT elect John McCain as President of the United States. The thing is while equating him with Bush is a pretty obvious step, he’d be much worse in the long run.

Here’s the Tax Party analysis of how much his cuts will cost. The things that really concern me is that they’re going after Social Security and Medicare.

We need safety net programs like Social Security, Medicare, unemployment benefits for more than six months, universal healthcare, and more. But people like old Grover think that government is evil. That may be so but it’s inevitable that we have a government. For the longest time government was supposed to help the people, now it’s only there to fuck the people or at least it will be if people like Norquist get their way.

But McCain seems to support Norquists ultimate objective, no more taxes. Taxes are a necessary evil, maybe if we weren’t spending billions on military misadventure we wouldn’t be facing the current problems.

I’ve also posted a graph that shows the federal budget deficits or surpluses under the various administrations, and interestingly the only time of surplus in the last 25 years had been the eight years that Bill Clinton was president. Mind you, he wasn’t a perfect president and he helped exacerbate the economic problems we have now, what with outsourcing, the declining dollar, etc.

But he was a damned sight better than Bush and even more so than McCain.