SocraticGadfly: 1/31/10 - 2/7/10

February 06, 2010

The human brain, simulated?

In Switzerland, a neuroscientist is hoping to use an IBM supercomputer much more powerful than Deep Blue to do just that.

That's interesting enough. The real thing is that Henry Markram says we (mainly, his professional colleagues being referenced) need to ditch many of their scientific preconceptions about how individual neurons, neuron groups and areas of the brain work.

The story describes how he is modeling the simulation on actual "slices" of mouse neocortex.

What's Markram's take on consciousness? Well, he's definitely an anti-mysterian, but believes it is an emergent property, so he's not a Dennett-style greedy reductionist. Sounds like he's right in the groove with his thoughts on that matter, which leads me to give him credence on looking at junking some current ideas about neuron operation.

Toyota problems just got worse

Those balky Prius brakes? They're now the focus of a Canadian class-action lawsuit.

Apparently, it's not the first lawsuit, but, it's the first to get this much attention. That said, I'm sure it won't be the last, either to be filed, or to get the publicity.

Given what Toyota appeared to know, and when, it should probably already start budgeting lots of legal fees against future earnings.

John Cornyn, afraid of Barack Obama

The Texas Senator, who heads the National Republican Senatorial Chamber, says the GOP in the upper house absolutely will not debate on-camera with President Barack Obama, unlike their House colleagues.
"I can see why he and his handlers would want to replicate that,” Cornyn said. "I think we’re more interested in serious public policy issues rather than providing another photo-opportunity for the president.”

No surprise, coming from Whack-job John.

But, John's lying about Obama's meeting with the House GOP. House Republicans DID present what they claim are serious public policy issues ... and wound up looking like doofuses.

Toyota will never be the same

Why not? Basically, because the mask has been removed, as this column notes well.

A progressive manifesto

Here's a list of eight (for now) progressive items of important President Obama and Congressional Democratic leaders should be doing. (But aren't, really.)

1. Reinstate the broad parameters of Glass-Steagall, updating the new legislation for hedge funds, various derivatives, etc.
2. Revise the minimum wage again, above all by making a COLA, a cost of living adjustment, part of it. (I begged Congressional Democrats to do this in 2007.)
3. Pass a federal "guaranteed vacation time" law.
4. You want to reform education? How about a 200-day school year, and not just at charter schools? States won't be anxious to unilaterally extend their school years, so the federal carrot and stick will be needed.
5. Reform the tax code to tax capital gains — indexed for inflation — as straight income.
6. Ditto on hedge fund management fees, etc.
7. Provide serious funding for vocational training and adult re-education. That's more needed than getting even more kids, who don't all need to, to go to college.
8. Along with that, if you want to give tax credits, look at business tax credits for funding re-education for their employees. And target smaller businesses.
9. Cut the defense budget. Don't just slow its rate of growth. Cut it. If you stop putting troops in the Middle East, in Latin America and elsewhere, this is easy.
10. Related to that, stop using the "war on terror" as an excuse to intervene in more and more countries' domestic affairs.

February 05, 2010

Texas governor's ad watch, Feb. 5

The Rick Perry ads, claiming how much he's cut taxes? Conveniently overlooked the expansion of the business franchise to fund lessening local school district property taxes. Overlooked how much state "fees" have grown in the last decade. Slamming Hutchison on earmarks? Overlooks any credit Perry may claim for them.

Hutchison's Nolan Ryan ad? Great feel-good ad. But, if she's trailing by very much, doesn't she need to "go negative" and soon?

On the Dem side, Bill White's first TV ad that I've seen is clearly aimed at the general election. Rightly so; Shami's not going break single digits, probably.

February 04, 2010

Schadenfreude alert: Toyota

Can you blame not only the American Big Three, or elected politicians, but other people if they feel a little pleasure at the stumbles of Toyota, acting more and more like GM all the time recently?

That's doubly so when it appears Toyota was doing secret fixes to the brakes of current-generation Priuses as they came off the assembly line even while poo-poohing owner complaints about break fade.

More than one-third of Americans are up with socialism

Even 17 percent of Republicans and 20 percent of self-described conservatives have a positive image of the term, according to Gallup.

So, Obama, don't flinch so much at the word!

February 03, 2010

Smokey Joe Barton hits new ethical low

The Dallas-area Congressman is busted for buying gas wells from a lobbyist.

Given that he's the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, it doesn't look good:
"If you are elected as a public servant to try to do what is right for the public generally and then you use that position to help bring in material wealth, I think it's unethical," said James Thurber, a distinguished professor of government at American University.

That's an understatement!

Mark Cuban calls Google a 'vampire' – and he's right

He's also right that newspapers — and, even more, press organizations like AP — largely continue to be run by people who are too inept, timid, and "old thinking" as well as old media in dealing with this.

Cuban has cojones, if nothing else. He made his comments at an online media conference, and as the keynoter, no less.

Not just that, he called newspapers cowards for being afraid to let go of Google traffic even as they remain clueless, in his words, about how to monetize said traffic.

Salon, as part of its own take on his comments, highlights the pull quote:
“Show some balls,” he said. “If you turn your neck to a vampire, they are [going to] bite. But at some point the vampires run out of people’s blood to suck.”

The problem lies not so much with individual papers (though those with their own news services, like NYT, McClatchy, etc., fall under the following finger-pointing) as it does with AP (and Reuters and AFP, to the degree my solution could dodge collusion issues).

AP is not charging Google, MSNBC et al enough.

Pure and simple. If AP would increase its contract charges about six-fold — YES, as in 600 percent — and could do a work-around on the collusion stuff, not only with Reuters, but NYT News Service, MCT, etc., it might be enough to force Google to paywall.

And, yes, I think AP could write its contracts in a way as to do a work-around on the collusion issue while leaving the door open for Reuters et al to cut similar deals.

That said, AP's chairman of the board, Dean Singleton, is so effing clueless about this that he ran his own newspaper company, MediaNews, into the ground of Chapter 11, so what should we really expect?

If nothing else, maybe more newspaper chains will reverse cutting back on DC bureaus, and rebuild them — with money they save from canceling AP contracts.

Calling Jay Rosen and Google's chief ass-kisser Jeff Jarvis. Have you already started attacking Cuban?

February 02, 2010

Is China sitting on a mountain of natural gas?

Quite possibly, if U.S.-style fracking of shale moves there. Try about 15 times the proven reserves of the United States.

Cheaper energy, possibly, than America, will keep manufacturing cheap and the burgeoning Chinese middle class happy.

Why America needs parliamentary government, Lesson No. 102

James Fallows details how the permanently dominant GOP minority, party self-identification and more, have crushed real governance, and how a parliamentary system simply doesn't have all of that.

Why bipartisanship won't work

With a highly illustrative sidebar into parliamentary government, James Fallows details how the permanently dominant GOP minority, party self-identification and more, have crushed the idea.

GOP pollster Frank Luntz then gives a concrete illustration.

Obama's regulatory reform - how much a positive

John Judis says progressives who are souring on Barack Obama's presidency should look at how much he's doing to beef up regulatory agencies.

All that may well be true, but Judis ignores the fact that Obama's about as limp, ultimately, as many Congressional Democrats — or he was, at least — on financial system reforms. (It remains to be seen whether unmuzzling Paul Volcker is a sign of real, ongoing commitment or not.)

Obama, foreign policy and American limits

Ed Cohen is waiting for Obama to face reality on the fact that the 21st century America simply faces some limits in the world abroad.

Ed, you'll be waiting a while. I've become convinced Obama has a large core of "conciliator," beyond the usual politician's version of this. He simply won't give the American people any such message.

To really reform education...

I've said Obama should push for a longer school day.

An education professor says we need to move beyond teaching to tests in elementary school, and instead, let our teaching be informed by developmental psychology. A very good idea, one that replaces "teaching to the test" with something positive.

February 01, 2010

Justice Dept. clears Yoo, Bybee

Justice's original report on John Yoo and Jay Bybee's support for torture has been "softened," says Newsweek. Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey sent the original report back for ... further work.

But, the Obama DOJ isn't distancing itself from the softening of the findings. (Not that that surprises me.)

Too big not to be better regulated

Paul Krugman notes Canadian banking is largely controlled by just five companies, but doesn't have the problems the U.S. system does. He says we have some things to learn from the Canadian system.

Spot on on sex-ed money

Ross Douthat says both social conservatives and social liberals should remove the sex ed fight from Washington, with the feds distributing money to local governments with no strings attached. One of his best columns ever, not just on this, but the larger picture.

January 31, 2010

SOTU: Comatose or unstable?

From a domestic perspective, and a political spinelessness perspective, Frank Rich offers up "comatose."

From the reactions of foreigners, Tom Friedman weighs in with "unstable."

They're both right, overall.

That said, I disagree with Rich that Obama did not enter into Clinton-like bite-sized programs. As I blogged last week, the way he parceled out light rail money certainly looks that way, and looks like it has a political angle to it, too. (It seems Rich is indulging in a bit of long-past Clinton-bashing through the judo of Obama-boosting.)

Friedman errs in thinking anybody from the GOP wants to be non-obstructionist. He salutes Lindsey Graham and Judd Gregg by name AFTER every Republican senator voted against reinstating pay-go legislation. (Friedman's Washington political world is apparently "flat," too.)

Both Rich and Friedman are worth a read. Just don't get into the fine print too much.

Paul Volcker actually gets to speak?

Hmm, maybe for a moment right now, President Obama is serious about a harder line on financial system reform than the Bobbsey Twins of Geithner and Summers have been. Paul Volcker doesn't go into too many details, but trumpets the general case for new regulation.