Sunday, June 18, 2006

The L.A. Times profiles several "Senior Judges" in Nevada. Apparently, the Nevada Supreme Court invented the title without input from the legislature, and the position has become a refuge for disgraced and corrupt judges. Just one more example of what an exemplary judicial system gambling taxes can purchase.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

School is all but over, I'm happy to say. Instruction concluded, I just have to navigate a few finals, and then it's smooth sailing to summer. School's kept me busy the last two weeks or so, especially with some group projects for my information technology class. But that's history, and now I can move on to a nice relaxing summer. No summer school this year, but I do have some projects I've been working on, which I'll finally have the time to complete.

While school was in session, I of course tried to cut down on distractions that might hinder my studies. That's why I purchased Guitar Hero. Guitar Hero is basically a toy guitar that plugs into the Playstation 2, and lets you participate in an activity vaguely resembling "rocking out." I played an in-store demo and decided that this was something I needed to have. The irony was not lost on me that I could have purchased a real guitar at Target for almost the same price (though how good is a Target guitar on sale for $88 gonna be?). I haven't had a whole lot of time to play it, but it's pretty fun so far. Difficult, but not frustratingly hard, and decent song selection.

But that wasn't my biggest purchase of the week. I was reading Runner's World, and they were discussing websites like Bones in Motion and Motion Based, where you can upload GPS data you gather while running and trace your runs on a map and extract data to improve your training. Reading about these sites, it was obvious that GPS has evolved a bit since I last bought a GPS unit, the Timex Speed and Distance Monitor, a few years back. My system doesn't even store actual latitude/longitude data, so the whole mapping thing wouldn't work without an upgrade. The latest Timex system does track such data, but while the components are sold seperately, I would have still had to upgrade all my equipment save the heart rate monitor. Which meant it wasn't economically unfeasible to switch over to Garmin. Their Forerunner series is well-reviewed, especially the newest models. The main difficulty was in choosing a model, as the older models are still available, and the price difference between them is substantial. I ultimatly decided on the Forerunner 305, which is the most expensive of the models, but includes everything, and is rather compact. I've only used it once so far, but was very satisfied with the hardware. Found a signal on the first use in just about a minute, and had no signal problems. It does seem designed to be worn on the left arm, as much righties would, but I wear my watch on my right hand. But that's not a major problem, it just means I have to turn my wrist slightly to read the display (it also means the satelite antanna is pointed towards the ground, but it still seems to work fine). I was actually surprised, after looking at it online, when I went over to REI and actually saw just how small the unit is. Larger than a wristwatch, certainly, but not by all that much. Of course, the question remains how well the much cheaper 301 would have served me. But I've gotten burned quite a few times, buying the cheapest model just to have to upgrade to the deluxe model eventually anyways. So I decided to go for the best product currently available, and hope that will serve me well for years to come. And by purchasing a new fancy toy, it will encourage me to run more regularly (that's why I originally got a GPS distance monitor, and the plan worked that time).

As for the websites that help you track your data, Bones In Motion seems like the best choice. Only drawback (not a minor one): Bones In Motion doesn't collect data from your heart rate monitor. Motion Based does, but seems a little clunky overall, and doesn't offer much. Even some real basic features, like mile splits, are unavailable unless you subscribe. Which is aggravating both because the website is owned by Garmin, and after giving them over $300, they should be giving me this stuff for free. But I could get over that, if a subscription was priced reasonably, but $11/month is outrageous for what you get. I'll be sticking to Bones In Motion, and most likely just use the software that came with the GPS to track heart rate, though I might use the free options on Motion Based for that.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Antiguan lawyer excited by U.S. crackdown. It is beautiful to watch the U.S. try to snatch defeat from the arms of victory. The WTO's decision in the Antiguan online gambling case was really a victory for the U.S. The court ruled for Antigua, but only to the extent that U.S. law needed a tweak. An online gambling ban was upheld, as long as it was applied without regard to international borders. In other words, if it was necessary to block internet gambling for the public good, then laws couldn't permit online horse wagers from domestic operators. But rather than make the necessary adjustments (and kick the domestic track industry while they're already down), the U.S. is ignoring the WTO decision, showing again this administration's contempt for international law, and meanwhile indicting the operators of offshore businesses for running casinos outside its jurisdiction, for accepting wagers from the United States. It should be a simple matter to prove in court the U.S. has done literally nothing to move towards compliance with the WTO's decision.

The U.S. government certain has a right to outlaw internet gambling. They really shouldn't, due to the evident unenforcability of such a law, and the obvious demand for the services the casinos offer. But regulating gambling is certainly a valid role of government, just like regulating alcohol, tobacco, firearms, or anything else with potentially negative social costs. But the negative social cost of placing a bet on a horse with a intermediary based in Del Mar and one based in Antigua is the same. The only difference is the U.S. bears the social cost, while receiving no tax revenue or other positive effect. The choices are clear: Really outlaw internet gambling, domestic or foreign, or bring internet gambling on-shore. The present plan, showing contempt for international law while gambling on the web continues unabated, accomplishes nothing, neither for those pro or con. But the current plan in the Congress seems to be to ignore the WTO decision, and simply pass more draconian legeslation, that ignores the sole matter that makes the entire effort illegal. "I've said it before and I'll say it again: Democracy just doesn't work."

In a related story, well-to-do, well-educated young online gamblers entice U.S. casino operators. Among the claims of a new study,

Online gamblers are not the desperate or vulnerable loners they're often perceived to be. They tend to be younger, more affluent and better-educated than gamblers who frequent land-based casinos.
I'm offended. I'll have you know I am very much a desperate and vulnerable loner.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Yma Sumac has an official web page. I must admit, I stumbled upon this while verifying that she was still alive (I was pretty sure she was). But she seems in fine health, as the pictures from her recent trip to Peru verify. Hints a new album is not out of the question (but then again, Norma Desmond was ready to return to the silver screen any moment, too).

Friday, June 02, 2006

Busy week, with school and other stuff. And the election is only days away, so I decided it was time I decided who to vote for. I've been having trouble backing a horse in the gubernatorial primary (though apparently I'm not the only one), so I decided tonight was a good night to do some digging into the candidates. Wesley has chosen to attack Angelides primarily as being an anti-environmental land developer, so I decided to look into the veracity of those ads. After looking into those, the choice was a lot easier. Wesley's ads are completely misleading. The Sierra Club had endorsed both candidates, saying either candidate "would be the greenest governor California has ever had." (I'm sure Jerry Brown is offended...though I'm sure he'll feel better when he's our next attorney general) Yet even though the Sierra Club can't decide between the two, Wesley decided to run a series of ads claiming that only he cares about the environment. Angelides refutes all the smear ads on his web site, and while not all his explanations are completely convincing, once I learned that Phil Angelides real estate investment in a shady Tahoe deal was actually an 11-percent stake in a time share, whose developer got in some hot water, I had to conclude that Wesley is simply not being honest with the voters. (of course, this does raise a larger issue: Do we really want a governor who got conned into buying a timeshare? What'd they do, give him two free show tickets in Vegas? Could be a scandal; today's timeshare pusher is tomorrow's lobbyist) I also was concerned about comments of Wesley accusing Angelides of raising sales taxes. I am morally opposed to the regressive sales tax, and was uneasy with this claim (even though the substance of it, that sales tax would be applied to certain services, may actually shift a bit of the burden to the rich). No need to be anxious, though, as Angelides is not currently advocating such a tax increase. He did advocate it a few years ago, at the peak of the state's fiscal crisis. But as the Sacramento Bee observes, Wesley himself advocated expanding the sales tax at this time, to cover internet transactions, to which I am unalterably opposed.

So I decided to base my vote for governor on the fairness of Wesley's campaign ads, and that's why it's easy for me to say now that I heartily endore Phil Angelides. I was leaning slightly in that direction anyways, given that Wesley seems to fall into the category of candidates trying to buy the governorship, which isn't entirely fair, as he does have political experience, but which nevertheless made me nervous. Truth be told, I think either candidate will be a great governor, but I really hope Angelides wins out on Tuesday.

I was surprised by the rigorous debate going on over the various judgeships up for election. One poor judge is facing an election challenge from someone she ruled against in a child custody dispute. Don't worry, Judge Trapp, I don't think you have much to worry about. The other two judgeships are much more competitive, though I'd say Rod Shelton's an easy choice. The tough one is the Pfingst/Rubin race. I thought Pfingst got a bad rap when he got drummed out of the district attorney's office, and that Dumanis' campaign threw some low punches. And I think he'd be a good judge, but so would Rubin. It looks like a toss-up to me, I'm not sure who I'm voting for.

I am voting for Cruz Bustamante, even if I was stunned by the highly unflattering photo of himself on his campaign webpage. Turns out it's not a campaign webpage, but rather a chronicle of his weight-loss attempts. Apparently he wants to be the next Huckabee. Good luck, Cruz.

As for the propositions, it looks like "yes" votes across the board, almost the opposite of last election (thanks again for that one, Arnold).

To conclude, my endorsements for Tuesday:

California Governor
Phil Angelides
Secretary of State
Debra Bowen
Joe Dunn
Bill Lockyer
Attorney General
Jerry Brown
Insurance Commissioner
Cruz Bustamante
State Senate, 36th district
Mark Hanson
Superior Court Judge, Office No. 16
Randa Trapp
Superior Court Judge, Office No. 36
Rod Shelton
County Assessor
Gregory Smith
Proposition 81
Proposition 82
Proposition A
Proposition G