Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Violin-Harpsichord Recital at UCLA this Friday

My brother-in-law Eric will once again be performing live on the harpsichord, this time in concert with his classmate Lindsey Strand-Polyak on the violin. The show is this Friday, Leap Day, February 29, at 8:00 P.M. under the rotunda at the Powell Library on the UCLA campus. The featured attraction this time will be selections from Heinrich Biber's Rosary Sonatas, a 17th-century cycle of 15 sonatas, each one a meditation on one of the Mysteries of the Rosary, and each one involving a different tuning of the violin.

Admission is free, and the program will last about 90 minutes. The UCLA Events listing for this concert is here. Parking is $8. The closest parking lots to Powell Library are Lots 4, 2, or 5. Powell Library is located directly across from Royce Hall. For maps and more detailed instructions, see here.

Friday, February 22, 2008

In the news

1. A 16-year-old Argentine girl has given birth to triplets... after first doing so last year, following another child the year before that. She turns 17 on Monday and has seven children.

2. Republicans in the California State Assembly blocked a bill that would have closed a loophole allowing buyers of yachts, airplanes, and luxury RVs to avoid paying sales tax if they keep their newly purchased vessels out of state for 90 days. Now, obviously, passing a bill like this wouldn't have solved the state's budget crisis, but this seems like a blatant case of the rich just gaming the tax system to their advantage, and a bunch of Republicans thumbing their nose at the public good to help their rich friends.

More detail here. The bill was SBX3 8; you can look up the text or see the names of the guilty parties who voted against it here.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Skandies 2007

The full results of the 2007 Skander J. Halim Memorial Memorial Movie Survey* have now been posted. With the good showing of There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men, this year's Skandies bore a much closer resemblance to the Oscars than in previous years. Mike D'Angelo, who runs the Skandies, has, over the course of the last few weeks, been counting down the results one ranking at a time from #20 on down to #1, sharing information on past performance of winners and also including video clips of the winning Best Scenes.

You can see my own Skandie ballot here. Regrettably, I only managed to see half of the Skandie top ten this year. The top three finishers (There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, and Zodiac) also finished high on my own list, but unfortunately, I thought the other two films on the top ten list that I'd seen (Grindhouse and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) were downright poor. Or, more accurately, I thought that Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof segment of Grindhouse, which most of the rest of the group thought was the bee's knees, was mind-searingly awful, ruining the mostly-pretty-good nature of the rest of the movie. My own number one film of the year, Ang Lee's underrated Lust, Caution, only placed at #26; only three other Skandie voters listed it. Lead Actress Tang Wei did manage to make it to #3, though.

You can see last year's results here, and results from some previous years here. I'm not sure if the complete listings for the 2002-2005 are publicly available anywhere.*Skander is not actually dead. He is alive and well.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Mao Zedong: "Take my wife, please."

Here is a very short news article on how Mao Zedong apparently made an offer to Henry Kissinger to send 10 million Chinese women to the United States. What the hell?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Blast from the Past, Obama-style

I just came across this 2005 post from Barack Obama warning against the enforcement of an orthodox party line and why we shouldn't vilify allies who hold different positions from us on a few issues. Specifically, it's about how even though he voted against John Roberts' confirmation, he was dismayed at the tone some leftists had taken against Democrats who did vote for Roberts. It's a great little opinion piece that eloquently differentiates his brand of constructive dialogue from the take-no-prisoners partisanship a lot of political arguments fall into these days.

Man, I hope this guy becomes President.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

R.I.P., Steve Gerber

Aww, man... Steve Gerber died. If you're not familiar with Steve, he was one of the best comic book writers out there, best known for his offbeat work for Marvel in the 1970s, most notably for creating Howard the Duck. Mark Evanier, of course, has a lot of nice things to say over on his blog, and has been facilitating things on Steve's own blog since his death. I didn't even know Gerber was sick. I'll just say that I happen to be midway through reading The Essential Man-Thing right now, and it's great stuff.

Animals on the Loose, Grazing

Curbed L.A. reports on two bulls, two horses, and a goat who escaped from a home in Sylmar and proceeded to brazenly eat their neighbor's lawn. The L.A. Fire Department helpfully posted several photos on Flickr.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Voting Meets Frankenstein's Monster

At a site called Election Inspection, they've gone into a detailed analysis of the Texas state senate districts, which is how they divvy things up in their weird primary-caucus hybrid. The upshot of the whole thing is that they predict that Clinton will win the popular vote by about a five-point margin, but Obama narrowly taking the delegates 98-95. Maybe they're right, and maybe they aren't.

I should note, though, that the press tends to overemphasize the popular vote, treating the results of the primaries and caucuses the way they do the winner-take-all electoral votes in the November general election. I remember on Super Tuesday CNN had some fantastic graphics, yet on both the GOP and Democratic sides they colored in states with solid single colors according to which candidate won the plurality of the popular vote, and when they went in for more detail, what we saw were not the congressional districts that actually decide the delegate allocation, but the plurality winner by county, which was kind of interesting but didn't have a direct bearing on the outcome of the contest.

Now, I understand the reasons for this. One reason is that that was probably all the information they had on election night. While the delegates might be assigned by congressional district, results would probably be reported by the counties. If you take a look at the totals for the Democrats, state-by-state, you can see that they still haven't figured out how to assign all the delegates in states like Washington and Colorado as late as a week later. But another reason is that it's just an easier way to report the news. Clinton won these states over here, Obama won these states over there, etc. Never mind the delegates, which were all that supposedly mattered. It's like if the weatherman spent all his time telling you the dewpoint but never told you the highs and lows.

Realistically, though, in a lot of the states where it was close, the actual vote leader didn't really matter so much; all we needed to know was that it was nearly tied and that we'd have to wait a while to figure out which candidate ended up with one more vote than the other. But Wolf Blitzer sure was frothing at the mouth to declare Obama the winner in Missouri, where he ran away with 36 delegates, and Hillary Clinton was left with only... the exact same number of delegates. So all he really won there were bragging rights.

But does that matter? After all, the rules are pretty clear: the first candidate with 2,025 delegates wins. I think it does matter. If Obama had lost Maine over the weekend but ended up with the same number of delegates by improving his victory margin in some other state, the headlines wouldn't be touting his weekend "sweep" and or his "momentum." Furthermore, the news and perceptions of momentum have an influence on the all-important superdelegates, who are elected officials or Democratic National Committee members who vote just like earned delegates do, yet are free to change their minds.

Looking ahead, the current delegate totals are practically tied, but Obama will probably pull away somewhat with wins likely today in Maryland, DC, and Virginia. The rest of February looks favorable to him, too. So that makes Texas and Ohio, voting on March 4, pretty much must-wins for Clinton. If everything goes according to the script in February (bear with me here), but Hillary wins the big states in early March, we could very well be back to where we are now with barely a difference between their delegate totals. Of course, maybe Obama's February steamroller will continue into March and everything will be settled, or maybe he'll falter somewhere along the way and Hillary Clinton will take a commanding lead.

It looks likely, though, that the both the superdelegates and the unresolved issue of the nullified delegates from Florida and Michigan will come into play. It would behoove the Democratic party to at least try to resolve the latter problem before the convention in Denver, which they could probably do by holding caucuses in those states, unless Hillary sticks by her fear of Obama's caucus wins and instead keeps hoping for her self-serving request to seat the delegates represented by the uncontested primaries they had in Florida and Michigan in January. *sigh*... if the Democrats screw this one up and lose in November, they'll only have themselves to blame.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Son of Voting

Somebody who goes by the moniker of "poblano" has run some multiple-variable regression on the demographics of the Democratic electorate and how the results have turned out for Obama vs. Hillary. As expected, Obama does better in states with caucuses, states with a lot of African-Americans, and states with a lot of young voters. But while we hear a lot about how Obama is the "upscale" candidate while Clinton attracts more working-class voters, what he's found is that if you control for level of education (which correlates positively with Obama), then higher incomes are either a wash or even slightly correlated with Clinton votes. He's also found that a better correlation than just "Latinos vote for Clinton" is that recent immigrants tend to vote for Clinton.

He did this analysis yesterday, before the results of the weekend races were known. He correctly predicted that Obama would sweep the weekend, but he was pretty far off on the margin of victory. He overestimated Obama's performance in Louisiana (he predicted a 35.8-percentage margin of victory in the two-way vote; the actual two-way vote share was 61.3 - 38.7 for a 22.6-point margin) and Nebraska (predicted 76-24, actual 68-32), and underestimated his victory margins in Washington (predicted 53.6 - 46.4, actual 68-31) and Maine (predicted 51.8 - 48.2, actual 59-40).

So obviously it's a pretty crude tool... I'd like to see what his calculated confidence levels are.

Caecilians are weird, weird amphibians

Check out this BBC article --- and video clip --- of a strange worm-like amphibian called a caecilian. The mother lets her babies eat a special part of her skin that she grows back every three days. There are some weird, weird things in the animal kingdom.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Still More Voting

Commenter Michael T Sweeney on Matthew Yglesias's blog draws comparisons between the Presidential candidates and the Best Picture nominees:
Obama - No Country for Old Men (highbrow critic's pick - Obama is not an "old man," the only film from the pack that promises excitement.)

Clinton - Atonement (the Middlebrow pick. Based on a best-selling novel means built in fan base. Not as action-packed or charming as opponents, but adaption of complex novel supports claims of greater substance)

McCain - There Will be Blood (title says it all. McCain will keep the troops in Iraq for 100 years and bomb Iran.)

Romney - Michael Clayton (boring and corporate, starring a guy who's suspiciously good-looking. People can't believe it's in the running for the highest honor)

Huckabee - Juno (scrappy underdog. Achieved great success without much money. Quirky and funny, but some have found it light on substance. Carries an anti-abortion message)

Personally, I haven't yet seen Michael Clayton, but this is the best crop of Best Picture nominees in a while... all four that I've seen have been somewhere in the very good to excellent range.

Even More Voting

I know it's 37 minutes until elections finish in this state, but it's worth reading Ryan Wu's detailed examination of why Barack Obama is the right choice and why Hillary Clinton is the wrong choice for the Democratic nomination.

The only other items on my ballot were the seven state propositions, and it gave me a certain feeling of satisfaction to reject every one of them.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

More Voting

If you're sick of politics, it's worth noting that voting is open for FHM's Sexiest Women of 2008 list. Unfortunately there are no write-in votes, and the photos are mostly red-carpet shots instead of glamour shots. But if everyone does their part, we can try to knock as many so-called supermodels off of this list in favor of actresses and singers who are actually sexy instead of just being rail-thin.
My ballot:
1. Jessica Alba
2. Eva Mendes
3. Scarlett Johansson
4. Christina Aguilera (who's the skank now, Britney?)
5. Hayden Panettiere
6. Monica Bellucci
7. Beyonce
8. Salma Hayek
9. Shakira
10. Kelly Clarkson

It was with great reluctance that I left off Angelina Jolie, who's just become too damn skinny these days (but who looked great in computer-animated form in Beowulf).

Super Tuesday

It's two short days to the closest thing we have to a national primary. Will someone on either side emerge from Tuesday as the nominee, or will things be just as confused as they've been after all the voting so far?


I think the Republicans have a much better chance of having a presumptive nominee on Wednesday. Romney may have won the minor Maine caucuses yesterday, but John McCain certainly seems like he has the momentum. That's particularly important on the Republican side because they have winner-take-all primaries in some of the biggest states, such as New York and New Jersey. Remember that a winner-take-all system is also a plurality-take-all system -- John McCain won Florida's entire delegation last week with only 36% of the vote. Even where they don't have winner-take-all primaries, the GOP systems generally favor the candidate who wins the plurality within a state or a congressional district, exaggerating the margin of victory.

So all McCain has to do is finish ahead of Romney and Huckabee in several big states and he should pretty much wrap things up. Huckabee's running 3rd place nationally, and if he dropped out it would consolidate the anti-McCain vote to Mitt Romney, but he's in this at least through Tuesday because a lot of Southern states will be voting then. He may even pick up more delegates than Romney on Tuesday. Romney may like his chances in a two-man race against McCain, but it's not a two-man race, and the way things are structured puts things very much in McCain's favor. Romney will need several big wins to stay alive; if he doesn't get them, it's over.


The Democratic side is likely to be indecisive after Tuesday because the party mandates proportional delegate allocation. That means that close wins really only mean a difference of relatively few delegates either way, and if different states break for different candidates, the delegate allocations are likely to balance each other out. I think the only way one Democratic candidate wakes up on Wednesday as the presumptive nominee is if they come out ahead in the vast majority of contested states on Tuesday. Not because they'd necessarily have enough delegates to push them past the post, but because it would mean they've won the rhetorical war, and the media would treat them as the winner.

Helpful sites

This AP article does a good job explaining the vagaries of the delegate allocation process, particularly the proportional- within- congressional district system on the Democratic side. Wikipedia can help you keep track of things on the Republican or Democratic sides. This website will help you keep track of just who these Democratic "superdelegates" are, and who they have or haven't endorsed.

Looking ahead to November

As to the implications of the results, I think that a Clinton-McCain matchup in November is probably the Democrats' worst-case scenario. Clinton hasn't shown much appeal beyond her party's base, and McCain has for his. Obama would bring more young voters to the polls and also attract more independents than Hillary.

Of course, the running mate also counts to a certain extent. If Hillary wins the nomination but she and Obama make nice and run together as a ticket, he might be able to retain some of his appeal to voters who wouldn't otherwise vote for Clinton.

If Obama wins the nomination, on the other hand, I don't see Hillary becoming his running mate. Who would he pick? Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius, who delivered the Democrats' response to the State of the Union Address, is considered a top candidate, since she's shown crossover appeal as a Democrat able to win in a "red state." John Edwards might help Obama pick up some white voters in the South. Bill Richardson has also been touted as a possibility, but his poor showing in the primaries show that he wouldn't be much of an asset on the campaign trail. Joe Biden would be good as an attack dog in the campaign, and would help get things done in Congress if he were elected. Any one of the above would also work as a Hillary Veep, too. Oh well, we'll see.

Republicans in November

I don't like McCain by any stretch of the imagination, but I suppose he'd be a lot better than the guy in office now. Being honest, though, the VP candidate matters a lot for a guy his age. Will the neocons have a conniption if he chooses Huckabee to shore up the Southern vote? Or will he choose Rudy "Il Duce" Giuliani, who looks worse and worse to the American people the more they see of him (and rightly so)?

And will Ron Paul run on the Libertarian ticket, siphoning off Republican votes the way Ralph Nader did to the Democrats in 2000? The danger there is that he might siphon off Democrats not enamored of Hillary, also, but overall a Paul third-party run would probably be a good thing for the Democrats.