Monthly Archives: December 2012

Sperm donor, or father?

Topekan William Marotta sought only to become a sperm donor — but now the state of Kansas is trying to have him declared a father.

Nearly four years ago, Marotta donated sperm in a plastic cup to a lesbian couple after responding to an ad they had placed on Craigslist.

Marotta and the women, Topekans Angela Bauer and Jennifer Schreiner, signed an agreement holding him harmless for support of the child, a daughter Schreiner bore after being artificially inseminated.

But the Kansas Department for Children and Families is now trying to have Marotta declared the 3-year-old girl’s father and forced to pay child support. The case is scheduled for a Jan. 8 hearing in Shawnee County District Court.

Hannah Schroller, the attorney defending Marotta, said the case has intriguing social and reproductive rights implications.

She said Marotta, a mechanic who has taken care of foster children with his wife, Kimberly, answered a Craigslist ad placed by Bauer and Schreiner seeking a sperm donor in March 2009.

The law in the only state in which I am familiar with the law is that it all depends on marital status. A donor who is married to the mother automatically becomes the father, but a donor who is not married to the mother has to adopt the child if he wants any parental rights and the concomitant obligations.

That strikes me as a much better criteria than the one that Kansas is apparently using (though I think all such contracts should be enforceable). Though I do understand the state’s interest here, this sort of thing is toxic to the extent that we want to encourage alternative paths to pregnancy. I’ve commented in the past that one of the main reason I would never become a donor – including an anonymous one with a clinic – is that some judge somewhere will come to the decision that such arrangements are not in the best interest of the child. This isn’t that, but it would still put me ill-at-ease. (more…)

Category: Statehouse

Why presidents are less effective than prime ministers. I’d kind of thought this was obvious: Presidents control an office or a branch, while Prime Ministers control executive and legislative. Our presidents would be much more effective if their election assured a congressional majority (or coalition to a majority) (assuming no filibuster). [Northwestern]

We hate each other because the stakes are so small. Of course, we don’t think the stakes are so small because we exaggerate. [Pacific Standard] [Mother Jones]

Technology against technology. How super glasses may fight the deleterious effects of LCD screens. [Forbes]

Relatedly, a Russian phone company is coming to the rescue, with eInk on one side and an LCD on the other. This is the sort of product I might consider buying for my wife down the road. Meanwhile, Brazil is getting an iphone that runs Android. [Mashable] [The Verge]

Women’s ideal traits in a man change dramatically as they age. I’d be more interested in the results for men. [Yahoo!]

It may be true that states that spend and tax less also grow more, but there are a lot of confounding factors here. A lot of red states are starting at a lower base point, from which growth is easier. A lot of high-productivity states like Washington and Texas can afford lower taxes in a way that Idaho, for example, can’t. [TaxProf]

Ravi Shankar was apparently less than comfortable with hippies. [Telegraph]

Dilbert’s Scott Adams buys a car. [Dilbert Blog]

The costs of moving from Wisconsin to Alabama: $676.32. I don’t think we’ll be moving in town for that little. This would be a contributor to the North Dakota Problem. [Billfold]

Really, there’s no good reason for the presidential line of succession to go through the legislative branch at all. [Slate]

Our advances in manufacturing may be overrated. [Conversable Economist]

Relevant to me: 13 Things Babies Are Secretly Trying To Tell You. [Buzzfeed]

Category: Newsroom

From Ross Douthat:

It wasn’t so much that LaPierre’s performance made no concession whatsoever on gun restrictions or gun safety — that was to be expected. It was that he launched into a rambling diatribe against an absurdly wide array of targets, blaming everything from media sensationalism to “gun-free schools” signs to ’90s-vintage nihilism like “Natural Born Killers” for the Newtown tragedy. Then he proposed, as an alternative to the liberal heavy-handedness of gun control, something equally heavy-handed — a cop in every school, to be paid for by that right-wing old reliable, cuts to foreign aid.

Unfortunately for our country, the Bloomberg versus LaPierre contrast is basically all of American politics today. Our society is divided between an ascendant center-left that’s far too confident in its own rigor and righteousness and a conservatism that’s marched into an ideological cul-de-sac and is currently battering its head against the wall.

The entire Obama era has been shaped by this conflict, and not for the good. On issue after issue, debate after debate, there is a near-unified establishment view of what the government should do, and then a furious right-wing reaction to this consensus that offers no real policy alternative at all.

I don’t agree with the entire piece, but it broadly explains my discontent quite well. Less about the gun debate specifically, more about the larger dynamic.

Category: Statehouse

Mark Leibovich learned at least 17 things from reading The Economist’s “The World in 2013” issue. Among them, employers in Japan face fines if employees fatten up. Could Japan’s KFC-Christmas connection be a part of the problem? [NYT] [Yahoo!]

According to Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, expectant mothers are seen as less competent and more irrational by their peers. I’m not sure this applies exclusively to pregnant women. [The Atlantic]

Speaking of Japan, the LDP is back in charge and China may be okay with that. [BBC]

Legos! They’re awesome, expensive, and popular. Here’s why. Honestly, I don’t really care for those product tie-ins. If the mentioned rival sheds that and the costs associated with that, I think we’ll go in that direction. [NPR]

Is correct grammar a form of privilege? Here’s the thing, we can correct grammar overtly and they can take or leave the correction, or we can decline to correct the grammar and know that they will be judged negatively for failing to adhere to standards we’re not overtly enforcing. There’s not a good answer here. [BoingBoing]

A look at Amazon and what makes it so great: Generous shareholders. I love Amazon, but their market position will become worrying at some point. [Slate]

I’m not big on truancy laws. But I am intrigued by the results of paying kids to do school work. So I’m a bit confounded by a principal paying students to show up to school. [NPR]

GoogleMaps is apparently better on the iPhone than it is on Android. The Android version on my phone does everything I want it to. My big complaint is the amount of resources it soaks up. The iPhone one looks prettier, which means it may be worse in that regard. [CNN]

Texas is looking at reforming occupational licensure. Yay! [Empower Texans]

I cringe a big at the top-downedness of stuff like this but I suppose it makes sense as a counterbalance in the ways that zoning so often keeps affordable units at bay. [Washington City Paper]

Solving traffic and rewarding good cab drivers with toll road freebies. [The Atlantic] [TheNational]

Category: Newsroom

Best drink commercial ever.

Category: Theater

HalfSigma writing about smartphones and tablets is catnip to the Trumwill. Here he argues that iPhones are the worst MP3 players ever. The comments about how MP3 playing isn’t what iPhones are for begs the question: why not? There really isn’t any good reason. And especially no good reason that this design mentality should be expanding to other devices:

Grafting the iPhone’s clever, customizable interface onto other products sounds like a universal win. Then again, try using that touchscreen Nano. With the proper dance of carefully aimed taps and flicks, it can do more than any Nano before it. But when it comes to what iPods were built to do—play audio files—the Nano has devolved. The physical playback buttons have vanished. As one Macword reviewer complained when the player was released in 2010, it’s harder than ever to pause or play a track: “You must pull out the Nano so you can see its screen, then wake up the iPod, then navigate to the appropriate screen.” What might have been a one-step operation on the pre-2010 Nano now requires a sequence of three or four actions. And aside from adjusting the volume, the Nano can’t really be operated blind, with one hand in your bag or pocket. A software update this past winter allows for customizing the wake button to perform one function when double-clicked, such as skipping or pausing. It’s an improvement, but not a true fix. Like the iPhone, it still demands your full attention: Both eyes and, in most cases, both hands.

Admittedly, this is a minor detail. But that’s where interface design lives and dies, in the tiny time-savings associated with the simplest operations. An outstanding interface separates the products you love from the ones you simply use. In the Nano’s case, the touchscreen works. There’s nothing broken about it. But it’s clumsy and ill-conceived, given the uses for which it’s supposedly designed. To put a touchscreen on a Nano presumes that a touchscreen can be a universal interface, and that all devices aspire to do all things. But people don’t buy a Nano because they want a mini-iPhone or a micro-iPad. They want something they can shove in their pocket or clip to their shorts when they take a walk or go for a run, a device for playing music on the move. In those scenarios, a touchscreen doesn’t help at all.

As far as smartphones go, there really isn’t any good reason I am aware of that they can’t have a sort of music-playing mode. Why you shouldn’t be able to use your volume keys for stop-start-nextrack-etc in addition to volume control (indeed, my desire to switch tracks or pause-play exceeds my ability to change volume. I mean, I want to be able to change the volume, but generally speaking once I get that right I can simply remove the device from my holster and deal with it manually.

This isn’t just an iPhone or an Apple thing. Everybody has been following their lead and Android still isn’t as good as Windows Mobile 2003 when it comes to this sort of thing (and Windows Mobile isn’t as good as the old fashioned Walkman, for that matter). The push towards fewer and fewer physical buttons is driving this (my old TyTn has almost 20 buttons, it’s successor has 8 or 12 depending on whether you count the directionals, its successor has 7 with no directionals though a zoom scale, and my current Android phone has 7 but all are hard-directed to particular tasks). Other than base aesthetics and a desire to control, I can think of no reason why you can’t have a protruding button (that you can feel through your pocket or holster) that is configurable.

Now, for MP3 playing specifically you can buy a cheaper device that is more specifically geared towards the basic tasks of listening to music, podcasts, or audiobooks. But it still leaves the question as to why this basic functionality should be outsourced from a powerful device to a much less powerful one. I have my Android phone acceptably doing these things, but only due to my willingness to limit my Bluetooth headsets to a very narrow selection (AVRCP-capable, but single-ear) and it’s unreliable and buggy.

Erik Sofge’s comments about automakers is particularly disconcerting. That’s where easy access to doing things can literally be a matter of life and death. My phone has a superior navigation application than my old Garmin GPS, but I end up using the latter simply because the complexity of using the phone would make me more accident-prone. And neither the GPS nor the phone has the embossed buttons that are easier for effortless control. My car radio does, but it’s not clear how much longer that’s going to be the case. I end up listening to audio from my phone in the car most of the time anyway, which I only have embossed physical buttons on my earpiece because of the great care I’ve taken in that regard. I’m not even listening through the earpiece most of the time (I hook it into the aux jack and listen through the car’s speakers), but still use the earpiece for the buttons that don’t exist on the phone itself.

I still refer to the ability to navigate music as The Walkman Test, even through the last iteration of Sony Walkman’s (Android devices) themselves couldn’t pass The Walkman Test.

Category: Theater

I can’t have one of these things without at least a couple of links on school shootings. I thought this article explained my discomfort at using high-profile shootings like Sandy Hook as a basis for gun control. [Pacific Standard]

Conor Friedersdort argues that we already had the conversation about guns and the pro-gun side won. I’ve found the notion that we haven’t had the discussion to be bizarre. It’s not a request for a first discussion, but rather a do-over. Recent events could lead to a different result, though. If they don’t here, I am pretty sure they never will. [The Atlantic]

The UN may be baffled, but good for President Obama and his European counterparts for walking out on efforts to turn the Internet over to the UN and ITU. [TechCrunch]

A look at modern language invention and evolution. [New Yorker]

Bobby Jindal’s support for making birth control OTC is actually pretty brilliant. A solid pro-freedom stance that doesn’t define freedom in terms of access rather than in terms of demanding that others provide for it. [Politico]

I have to agree with Matthew Yglesias that Obama’s assurances of sparing recreational users is pretty meaningless. First, we’ve heard this before. Second, it I always worry about selective prosecution in cases like this. [Slate]

And the marriage rate plummets. Almost forty percent of Americans view marriage as obsolete. I may disagree with conservatives on gay marriage, but it’s stuff like this that are why I am sympathetic to them on the subject of marriage more broadly. [Pew]

Anaheim coughs up $400,000 for arresting someone for opossum-cruelty before eventually discovering that residents are legally allowed to be as cruel to opossums as they choose. [Orange County Register]

Looking at Obama’s decision to kill Osama bin Laden. [The Atlantic]

Government spending tends to increase with term limits. This is considered odd, but it took less than a few years of term limits in local government in Colosse to figure out why: Term limits breed ambition for higher office. If it’s up-or-out, you have to make a name for yourself, which is expensive. [Marginal Revolution]

Might marijuana be a winning issue for the GOP? I dunno. It’s hard to get from here to there. Copyright law, on the other hand, is a shorter trek with little downside. Not that they care. [TNR] [EconomistsView]

Category: Newsroom

Oil wealth has changed the dynamics in Scandinavia. Swedes that used to look down on Norwegians (Who knew this? I did not know this.) are now having to emigrate for jobs. There are certain parallels to the United States. [Slate]

What we can learn from school choice in Sweden. As with so many other things, even though this corresponds with my political preferences, I think there are limits to what a large, heterogeneous country can learn from a relatively small homogenous one. [Forbes]

The French may abolish homework. Here is a good piece on the subject. [New Yorker]

How does your local school district rank against the rest of the world’s? My old district does reasonably well, in the 60-something percentile in both math and reading. Which is kind of scary, for our country and the world. [The Atlantic]

Michael McLaughlin claims, but doesn’t really back up, the notion that anti-meth ads featuring the ravaged faces of drug use, are ineffective. I express skepticism because this is precisely the sort of thing that would have worked on me when I was younger. It strikes at a crucial element of my younger identity: vanity. [HuffPo]

America, it would seem, needs Icebreakers. [Popular Mechanics]

Family values failure [Marginal Revolution]: Fewer children in the United States grow up with both biological parents than in any other affluent country for which data are available. Ashley McGuire thinks the GOP needs to woo women voters due to a War on Married Women. The problem is that a lot of solutions to these outlined problems are not necessarily conservative ones [Weekly Standard].

Two-state solution? Try 8-State Solution. It sounds like an intriguing idea. [Jerusalem Post]

Maybe we’re not Bowling Alone. [Boston Review]

Category: Newsroom

I present to you a Tecmo Super Bowl video of Bo Jackson evading defenders for an entire quarter. Well, the quarters in TSB are five minutes long on a fast clock, but still.

I used to play Tecmo Super Bowl a lot. It was a groundbreaking game, for both good and ill. I played several teams, including the Los Angeles Raiders (Bo’s team) for a few seasons. The Bo Advantage really cannot be overstated. Just hand it to him, and you’re golden.

I never won the Super Bowl with Bo, however. I found it difficult to win with any team because it cheated. Hard. The better you were, the better your opponents would become. It would start injuring your players. You’d start fumbling incessantly. The opposing players would start knowing your playcalls. And they’d suddenly become really, really fast. Passes would be turned into interceptions. In the case of Bo Jackson, I threw the ball all of nine times all season. Eight of those times the passes were intercepted. And then Bo would get hurt.

And eventually you would have to play either the New York Giants or Buffalo Bills or some other impenetrable team.

There was a time when I would start the season just throwing games. Trying to lose or cut the magin of victory. But the early season – before it ramps up – is so incredibly easy that it’s simply no fun.

I finally gamed the system by simulating the first eight games and then choosing the worst team with the most potential. It turned out that was the Philadelphia Eagles, at 2-6. Randall Cunningham (known as “QB Eagles” in the game because he was one of the few players that didn’t sign over his name rights) was really all I needed.

Not that I could use Randall Cunningham, mind you. Because as soon as it got wind of how good it was, Cunningham would be hurt. So I went ahead and started Jim McMahon, the capable backup. So if someone was going to get hurt, it was going to be him (they never hurt all of the occupants of any position). They took out my runningback for a game. Which was a good reminder that I needed to play only backups.

Which I did, finishing out the season at 10-6. They must have known was I was trying to do, however, because they never injured any of my players once I put the backups in. In the second half of the Super Bowl, I finally decided that it was “now or never” with Cunningham and the rest of the started. Randall Cunningham was hurt within four plays and a runningback followed.

But I still won my first and only Super Bowl. I played the Eagles again for another season. I used the same tricks, but I still won too many games and couldn’t overcome the Giants at superspeed and lost before making it to the big game.

Category: Theater

Apparently, we’re about to release hundreds of thousands of genetically modified mosquitoes in Key West. [Blaze]

The subject of gun control and the gun culture has come up with regard to the Jevon Belcher shooting. It’s no surprise to me that athletes are more likely to own guns, but I am pretty surprised that three out of four do. I have to say that I find it particularly troubling to link events like this to gun control. The arguments for Loughner/Aurora-type shootings are smaller. Murder-suicides can occur with private possession of any gun at any time. [USA Today]

Americans, from a Russian perspective [NYT].

Above Singapore, will there be a green mega-city rising? A part of me is always skeptical of this sort of central planning, but I am always interesting in seeing and learning from the results. And I prefer them to be happening in some other country. [Guardian]

Even if the FCC thinks the in-flight ban of electronics is dumb. I’m increasingly concerned that the airlines themselves will be a roadblock as they make money selling you satellite TV that keep you entertained for take-off and landing. [CNN]

In the relative peace-time drawdown, the army is looking to cut loose people that are obese or overweight. Here is why that might be a bad idea. [WaPo] [Starting Strength]

Is 200,000 miles the new normal for cars? My second-to-last car went 200k. My last car may well make it there. As someone who believes in driving cars into the ground whenever possible, I think this is fantastic. [Allstate Blog]

Fortune has a glowing article on Subaru. I hadn’t realize that the shift towards being more affordable was recent. I am grateful, as it’s one of the primary reasons I own a Subaru. [Fortune]

In New Zealand, they’re teaching dogs to drive cars. [Daily Mail]

Category: Newsroom