When your campaign needs a plumber

They’ve got to be pretty desperate to put these people out there.

Joe Wurzelbacher twice agreed with a questioner who said that “a vote for Obama is a vote for the death to Israel.” Afterwards McCain’s campaign backed him up: “Joe has offered some penetrating and clear analysis that cuts to the core of many of the concerns that people have with Barack Obama’s statements and policies.” Fox News’ Shepard Smith was almost disgusted when Joe refused to rescind or explain the lie. Joe told him people should “go out and get informed”. After the interview (5 minutes into the video) Smith clears the record on Obama and states, almost shakenly, “the rest of it…man…it just gets frightening sometimes.”

Meanwhile, in her first policy speech Palin mocked fruit fly research as a “pet project” having “nothing to do with the public good”. The public and science, of course, might disagree due to breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s, birth defects, Huntington’s, autism, et.al. The irony: This was a speech promoting progress for autism. OK, maybe she read what they handed her; that’s leadership!

10/30 More on campaigning: The Economist’s endorsement of Obama is cautious, but expresses views which seem increasingly common:

… the Candidate McCain of the past six months has too often seemed the victim of political sorcery, his good features magically inverted, his bad ones exaggerated … Mr McCain made his most important appointment having met [Palin] just twice … this cannot be another election where the choice is based merely on fear.

I think he’s been reckless (putting Wurzelbacher on the road), fear mongering (just when the public is more aware what fear got us into), and really a danger to the nation (promising the possibility of a Palin presidency). I have my own doubts that Obama’s plans can turn around our economy (only we can really do that), but McCain gives me even less vision. I expected at some point that he would really attempt to educate people on the theory of trickle-down economics or why it would make more sense than Obama’s alternatives, but McCain seems content to dumb everything down to what would fit on Palin’s cue cards, or just draw naive comparisons to communism and happily let her run wild with these ideas. Basically, he’s giving a lot of reasons to doubt him if his campaign is any indication of how he would run the country. And the Economist on Obama:

There is no getting around the fact that Mr Obama’s résumé is thin for the world’s biggest job. But the exceptionally assured way in which he has run his campaign is a considerable comfort. It is not just that he has more than held his own against Mr McCain in the debates. A man who started with no money and few supporters has out-thought, out-organised and out-fought the two mightiest machines in American politics—the Clintons and the conservative right.

Political fire, far from rattling Mr Obama, seems to bring out the best in him: the furore about his (admittedly ghastly) preacher prompted one of the most thoughtful speeches of the campaign. On the financial crisis his performance has been as assured as Mr McCain’s has been febrile. He seems a quick learner and has built up an impressive team of advisers, drawing in seasoned hands like Paul Volcker, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers. Of course, Mr Obama will make mistakes; but this is a man who listens, learns and manages well.

… In terms of painting a brighter future for America and the world, Mr Obama has produced the more compelling and detailed portrait. He has campaigned with more style, intelligence and discipline than his opponent.

Bring on Skate 2

Before EA skate was on the horizon I started a post about how the THPS series was no longer cutting it, but I never got around to posting it.

While they’ve obviously done something right, THPS has never been about realism and I think there are plenty of players (probably mostly skaters) who’re looking for a more challenging simulation-like experience. The Project 8 trailer gave me some hope (tricks are done at more realistic heights, with more accurate board motion and foot placements), but the interviews seem to confirm that gameplay isn’t going to change much.

It didn’t, nor did THPG.

Grinds/slides should slow you down depending on the materials in contact; board slides on handrails should be quickening, grinds on an unwaxed concrete planter should slow you down quite a bit but still give a satisfying growl.

Landing tough tricks should be harder and depend more on your speed, energy, timing and the environment; rough, uneven, slick or wet surfaces should require more precise moves, and deep sidewalk cracks, metal gratings, handrail kinks should add a little risk of random board-stopping. You should get a real sense of accomplishment even landing a short run.

A spot shouldn’t be a collection of grinds/slides linked one after another for miles. You might have to maneuver around some tight corners while setting up for a handrail. Spots should be laid out naturally, but inspire creative lines instead of spelling them out. School 2 (THPS2) still stands out as a great level in this respect.

EA skate really pulled most of this off. It feels like real skateboarding (enough to give me that fix when you finally land a line after trying for hours) and has spots that look natural environments. After experiencing skate, THPG looks like a cartoon world where every surface was a quarter pipe. As for skate 2, the trailers still look like real skating and it seems they’ve only extended (not screwed with) the gameplay, but the city’s starting to look a little cartoonish.

Learning from the Free Market

When government regulation is completely removed from the picture, business thrives, and one industry has a particularly impressive success story. Its products are produced where costs are low and sold elsewhere with monumental margins. In fact these extraordinary profits help this industry overcome enormous hurdles of distribution; not even incredibly powerful organizations with endless supplies of arms, money and influence can prevent them from shipping on time to happy consumers all over the world. Without the interference of external regulations limiting product design, the resulting products are so effective that customer demand is virtually limitless.

The industry is, of course, the illegal drug market. Thanks to much of the world’s head-in-the-sand policies of prohibition, the resulting black market is free to act with brutal efficiency with no regard for human life. Nixon’s War on Drugs is a collosal failure in every respect, with the only mark of “success” being the criminalization of an enormous percentage of the population. Drug use is up in every age group and deadlier drugs are more commonplace. It’s easier for high schoolers to get marijuana than cigarettes or beer.

Just as the free market gives the illegal drug industry a huge advantage over all our efforts to reduce usage, a free market with reasonable regulation, or, indeed, no market (via direct governmental distribution), is the only solution to this epidemic. Many people throughout society have publicly recognized this to be true, and the evidence is overwhelmingly supportive, so what’s stopping us from wiping out this problem today?

You. And me. Reasonable people that recognize drug use as a public health issue rather than a criminal act; people that pretend there’s nothing that can be done about these laws and continue to quietly support politicians who tow these failing policies out of fear or ignorance.

What’s clear is that it’s ineffective to support third party candidates at the presidential level, as true candidate discourse at this level is long dead. We need to concentrate our efforts on letting Democrats and Republicans know that we recognize the absurdity and will  support dramatic reform on this issue. We also need to better inform the public about the harm directly caused by prohibition and the wisdom displayed in the 21st Amendment.

I linked to Law Enforcement Against Prohibition yesterday. You absolutely must read long-time narcotics officer Jack Cole’s story of his participation in the War on Drugs from 1969 to 1984, and its effect on everyone involved. It’s long, so at some point I may try to present this more succinctly.

Why the harping on this issue?

The more I learn about prohibition, the more I see it as an endless hidden war waged on ourselves due to policies we pretend don’t exist. It drags down the entire economy by moving wealth into the hands of kingpins and squandering tax dollars on enforcement, confinement, ER visits, and endless recidivism (thanks to our permanent labeling of suffering and innocent people as criminals). It allows the existence of international criminal organizations to feed demand and cause harm on a global scale.

I don’t see any other issue with such obvious signs of failure and such a clear path towards success.

Where’s the code?

Google’s free open source project hosting has been awesome for Minify, so when I was looking around for Subversion hosting for my personal code, I figured why not host it there? So here’s a bunch of my PHP and Javascript code. Hopefully some of it will be useful to people. A few PHP highlights:

  • HashUtils implements password hashing with a random salt, preventing the use of rainbow table cracks. It can also sign and verify the signature of string content.
  • StringDebug makes debugging strings with whitespace/non-printable/UTF-8 characters much less painful.
  • CookieStorage saves/fetches tamper-proof and optionally encrypted strings in cookies.
  • TimeZone simplifies the handling of date/times between timezones using an API you already know: strtotime() and date().
  • Utf8String is an immutable UTF-8 string class that aims to simplify the API of the phputf8 library and make behind-the-scene optimizations like using native functions whenever possible. Mostly a proof-of-concept, but it works.

I’ll get the examples of these online at some point, but if you export /trunk/php, all the lowercase-named files are demos/tests. There’s also an “oldies” branch (not necessarily goodies).

Hopefully this makes the political jibba jabba more forgivable.

A faulty argument for policing morality

Recently the Gainesville PD conducted a prostitution sting that busted a particularly vile couple who solicited sex in front of the woman’s six year old son. In addition to the prostitution charge, the woman was rightfully charged with child abuse. I heard about this on the radio, and the report included a quote, I’m guessing from GPD, stating that (I’m paraphrasing) “this shows that prostitution isn’t a victimless crime.”

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Right thinking on Healthcare

I see this as the bravest statement made in the 2nd Obama-McCain debate:

I think [healthcare] should be a right for every American. In a country as wealthy as ours, for us to have people who are going bankrupt because they can’t pay their medical bills—for my mother to die of cancer at the age of 53 and have to spend the last months of her life in the hospital room arguing with insurance companies because they’re saying that this may be a pre-existing condition and they don’t have to pay her treatment, there’s something fundamentally wrong about that.

Healthcare is something that no one truly wants any person to be without, but few politicians have the guts to declare it a right because of the fears surrounding the notion of “national healthcare” and the slippery slope towards socialism.

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Getting phpQuery running under XAMPP for Windows

While trying to run the initial test scripts included with phpQuery 0.9.4 RC1, I got the following warning:

Warning: domdocument::domdocument() expects at least 1 parameter, 0 given in C:\xampp\htdocs\phpQuery-0.9.4-rc1\phpQuery\phpQuery.php on line 280

This is strange because DOMDocument’s constructor has only optional arguments.

As it turns out, XAMPP for Windows ships PHP with the old PHP4 “domxml” extension enabled by default (appears as extension=php_domxml.dll in \xampp\apache\bin\php.ini). This deprecated extension has a somewhat less-documented OO API, with domxml_open_mem() being accessible via new DOMDocument(). I.e. domxml hijacks PHP5’s DOMDocument constructor.

Comment extension=php_domxml.dll out with a semicolon, restart Apache and phpQuery seems to work as designed.