31 March 2004

Meta-gaming

Roleplaying game designer John Tynes has created a meta-game called POWER KILL. It's less a playable game than a disturbing question in the form of a game, intended to get you thinking about why roleplaying games are the way they are, and why we enjoy them.

POWER KILL is a roleplaying metagame. It is not a game unto itself — it is instead a layer of “game” that you add to whatever Normal Roleplaying Game (NRG) you are currently playing. POWER KILL has no particular rules system unto itself; just use the regular rules of the NRG you're playing as normal. POWER KILL only comes into play at the beginning and ending of each Regular Game Session (RGS).

POWER KILL works hand-in-hand with your favorite NRG. Whether you play Vampire: The Masquerade® or Advanced Dungeons & Dragons®, POWER KILL is there for you to use, seamlessly integrated with your usual play.

The intent of POWER KILL is to add an additional level of Fun And Excitement (FAE) to your NRG sessions. You'll play your NRG as always, but the addition of POWER KILL mini-sessions at the beginning and ending of your normal session will add a lot to your gaming experience. It'll give you all the entertainment you've always sought from RPGs, only now it's stripped down to the bare essentials with no distracting genres to get in the way. POWER KILL is a pure distillation of the roleplaying hobby — one hundred percent pure fun!

Who would win in a fight?

Reaching deep into geekkultur today!

Undoubtedly, Grontar the Frutang must know Trogdor the Burninator. Are they friends, or enemies?

I think they are obvious candidates for a grudge match.

30 March 2004

My favorite genre

If you have seen Office Space then the political satire Oval Office Space will make you die laughing. Go read the whole thing: the first line from Condi Rice alone will kill ya.

If you haven't seen Office Space, what's wrong with you? Mike Judge is a genius! Go rent it now!

SCENE 1:
INT. WEST WING OFFICE — DAY

RICHARD CLARKE is working at an anonymous cubicle deep within the bowels of the West Wing, poring over papers, when his boss, GEORGE W. BUSH, stops by, cup of coffee in hand.

BUSH: Heeeey Clarke. Whaaaat’s happening.

CLARKE: Uh, hi, Mr. President.

BUSH: We need to talk about your WMD reports. Yeeeeah…we’re really trying to punch up our Iraq intelligence. Did you get a copy of that memo?

CLARKE: Uh, yeah, I got it, right here. I’m sorry. I was going over all the intelligence and I just couldn’t find anything indicating that Iraq had any weapons of mass destruction … but I promise I’ll do better next time.

BUSH: Yeeeeah. It’s just that we’re really trying to make it clear that the U.S. was in imminent danger from Saddam Hussein and everything, and he might have had a connection to al-Qaeda ... so if you could just start putting that in your WMD reports, that’d be great.

CLARKE: But I don't think that —

BUSH: And I’ll make sure you get another copy of that memo, m’kay? Thanks a bunch.

BUSH walks off as CLARKE, shaking his head, returns to his paperwork. Within seconds, DICK CHENEY arrives.

CHENEY: Richard, we need to talk about your WMD reports.

CLARKE: Yeah. I know. I know. The President just came around and told me, and I promised him I’d …

CHENEY: It’s just that we’re trying to make it clear to everyone there was a ''smoking gun'' forcing us to invade Iraq and everything instead of focus on al-Qaeda, so if you could ''punch it up'' a little with those reports, that’d be super. OK?

CHENEY gives CLARKE an overly chummy punch on the shoulder, from which CLARKE recoils.

CHENEY: … And I’ll make sure you get another copy of that memo.

Hairsplitting

This guide to electronic music genres is cool on so many levels. If, like me, you're getting old and can't tell your deep house from your acid house from your acid techno, it can help. Plus it may turn you on to some cool stuff you don't know about. Plus the two-dimensional array of branching genres is a pretty spiffy example of information design.

Faith-based foreign policy

Via Atrios, this post from the Daily Howler quotes Woodward's hagiography Bush at War.
I believe Iraq was involved, but I’m not going to strike them now. I don’t have the evidence at this point.

George W. Bush, 17 September 2001

29 March 2004

Ruby-ruby-roo

In the comments to this little article about the mysterious success of the live action movie Scooby-Doo, a gem.
Movies don't get made simply because the money is right, especially when the people making them have other offers. They get made because somewhere there is a passion to make them -- a desire to work with these people again, to do this role again, to do a better job than in the first one, whatever ...

The centerpiece of the Scooby universe, for the potential adult audience, is Shaggy, and in Matthew Lillard's performance we have reached one of the transcendent moments of the contemporary Hollywood system. So often people are asked to perform opposite cartoons, to pretend that something that doesn't yet exist is there, is present. Now we have Lillard being asked to perform within a cartoon, to pretend that something that has seemingly always existed is newly discovered. His Kasem imitation yokes together Shaggy's pothead lucidity and Top 40's encyclopedic pop boosterism; his body language is a stoner rosetta stone.

These people made this movie to watch him become Shaggy again. There is more of the divine in his performance than in the whole of Gibson's The Passion; the Scooby Snack is the transubstantiated wafer of the pop cultural eucharist.

28 March 2004

Civility

There was this nasty incident Friday in which some protesters at a Bush fundraiser threatened and attacked some Bush supporters.

For the record, as a lefty blogger, let me say that this is not okay. Like a lot of lefties spooked by recent unwholesome political successes by the American right, I'm angry and feeling rhetorically confrontational these days, but violence is not the way to express it.

I bring this up, though, to point out a couple of very interesting posts by Philosoraptor, who reacted immediately with similar vigorous disapproval.

Yes, of course I undestand it's an isolated incident. Yes, I also understand that this is something that is more often associated with the right and the very far left than the liberal center. Blah, blah, blah. Frankly, I have no time for anyone who is inclined to make such arguments. We're the God-damned good guys -- or have we forgotten that? WE DO NOT DO THINGS LIKE THIS. We should have a lower tolerance for this sort of thing, especially in those with whom we associate politically.
Exactly what I might have said. But then, on reflection, he followed up at great length with some thoughts about an intemperate assumption lurking in that last post.
[1]
At one point I write that 'We're the ... good guys'. Matthew Cromer calls me on this point, and Anonymous backs him thusly:

''Let me amplify on Matthew Cromer's response (ROFLMAO.) I'm not laughing because the quoted item is so damned offensive. You could have said, 'I completely disagree with how we as a country should proceed', and that would be vigorous but fair disagreement. But no, you say very pointedly that your side is the good guys, and do you think we can't infer that it makes our side of the argument the bad guys? What do you want -- a frickin' civil war?

Please get a grip and lets discuss this as fellow-citizens, OK, and enough with the vilification? (Yes, some of us are adept enough to realize that backhand vilification is still vilification.)''

[2]
Well, when you're right, you're right, and when you're wrong, you're wrong. Matthew Cromer and Anonymous are right, and I was wrong.

Just so. I hope to be as intellectually honest as Philosoraptor.

He then takes this as a point of departure to talk lucidly about how this kind of honesty is both important and very difficult.

Excuse-making-by-comparison is, I believe, what led America to virtually lose its soul during the Cold War -- the Soviet government was evil (note to liberals: it really, really was), and, consequently, we tried to excuse even our most loathsome actions simply by pointing out that the Soviets were worse. And, of course, since our opponent really was so terrible, this strategy led us farther and farther down the path toward the Dark Side (note to conservatives: it really, really did).
...
On the other hand, to some extent my claim was an exhortation to liberals to remember -- as I now wish I'd put it -- that we're good guys. Not THE good guys, but good guys. (Well, many or most of us are, anyway.) We can't let ourselves slip into comparative excuse-making, because that's not what good guys do.

27 March 2004

The empire strikes back

Lefties like me have been keeping an eye on the Project for a New American Century, a right-wing organization which appears to be driving our current foreign policy of militarization and pre-emptive attacks on geopolitical rivals. As in ''axis of evil,'' as in Iraq.

These are folks who say the US should ''fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major-theater wars'' just to show we can. Not funny.

On the other hand, Atrios is kind enough to point out the Project for the New American Empire, which is funny.

The Project for the New American Empire is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to a few fundamental propositions: that American hegemony is good both for America and for America; that such hegemony requires military dominance, diplomatic stonewalling and commitment to corporate principle; and that too few political leaders today are making the case for American interests being the most interesting interests there are.

26 March 2004

Bookish

I don't ordinarily link this stuff, but I just got over a cold and consequently have been watching a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The Best Damn 'Buffy' Quiz Ever is charming and does correctly say that I am Giles. (''You should never be cowed by authority. Except, of course, in this instance, where I am clearly right and you are clearly wrong.'')

Duh.

25 March 2004

Kaiser George W. Bush

OK, I gave you people enough of a popkultur break. Time for some more politics.

Billmon at the Whiskey Bar has a terrific article which you should read in its entirety comparing the Bush administration and the Iraq quagmire to Kaiser Wilhelm II and WWI.

Under Kaiser Wilhelm I and his prime minister, Otto von Bismark, the Hohenzollerns went from strength to strength -- unifying the Reich, decisively defeating their ancient enemy, France, enjoying an industrial boom that made Germany the largest economy in Europe. Bismark's diplomatic skills promoted German influence while avoiding (after 1870) war.

Wilhelm II, however, was a different sort of emperor -- insecure and arrogant, inept as a strategist but intolerant of criticism or dissent. He quickly rid himself of Bismark, and embarked on a program of military expansion and aggressive, if erratic, diplomatic bluster.
...
Ever since it emerged as a global superpower in World War II, the United States has taken great pains to surround itself with allies and embed itself in a framework of collective security arrangements -- the better to both leverage and legitimize its power.

Since 9/11, however, the neocons and their masters (Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush) have attacked those same arrangements with a peculiar ferocity, apparently in the belief that America no longer needs, or can afford, to cloak its hegemony in the trappings of multilateralism.

But with the meltdown in Spain, it appears to have finally dawned on many conservatives that America really might be alone, or fast heading that way -- and that this might not be such a good thing after all.

Almost by definition, the war on terrorism is a joint venture, in which intelligence sharing, police cooperation, and quick responses are the critical factors, not who owns the most aircraft carriers. If the Europeans conclude the Bush administration isn't serious about fighting that kind of war, but would rather tilt at Middle Eastern windmills (or oil wells, as the case may be) they could decide their own national interests would be best served by moving to the sidelines, and letting the Americans and Al Qaeda have at it. And why not? When has the Bush administration ever shown any willingness to sacrifice any of its interests -- even the partisan political ones -- to maintain a united front?

Hope for fallen angels

Faithful readers may recall that I posted a while ago about Joss Whedon's anguish over the cancellation of his TV show Angel. It's not just Joss who's frustrated. It seems that E! Online / Yahoo! TV sponsors an annual ''Save One Show'' poll to identify a TV show that shouldn't be cancelled, and guess what show won by a landslide?
Not only have Angel supporters signed petitions (more than 75,000 on one site alone) and donated their own money for full-page ads in the Hollywood Reporter and Variety, they're taking positive action by sending flowers to WB executives such as Jordan Levin (who, in turn, has passed them along to children's hospitals), organizing rallies in Los Angeles and Hamburg, Germany -- and even holding a blood drive to keep Angel alive.

Strangely charming

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this little prank in which a humor website asked all 100 US Senators for their favorite joke. I'll spoil the best part, the site's description of Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado.
Without a doubt, Colorado has the coolest Senator: the only Native American in the Senate, a renowned jewelry designer, former member of the U.S. Olympic judo team, and an avid motorcycle enthusiast. Received the U.S. Capitol Police Service Award for coming to the aid of an officer struggling with a violent felon. You try to filibuster this guy, he'll filibust you up.

Senator Campbell's joke demonstrates the economy of words you'd expect from someone who's on his way out the door to a HOG convention. Plus, I mean, you've got to admire a Senator who sports a ponytail.

24 March 2004

Federation economic policy

Matthew Yglesias says with charming directness something that has been my sentiment about what we should do about this high growth / low employment paradox in the current US economy.
I would say the answer is socialism -- have the government capture a larger share of the GDP and use that wealth to employ people. The obvious candidates here would be the hardy liberal perennials of health care and education -- sectors which, not coincidentally, are largely immune to our technology-driven productivity growth. My other proposal would be to spend more on infrastructure. Infrastructure in this country is all crappy -- if you go outside a gated community or major business district where the private sector is (at least partially) financing basic things like keeping the streets clean and non-broken and trimming the goddamn tree branches, everything is all messed up.

It doesn't need to be like that. You know those science fiction movies where everything is all shiny and clean everywhere? It's not because they developed some special technology that makes everything shiny. On the contrary, technological improvements led to productivity growth, led to the creation of wealthy societies and the government decided to harness much of that wealth toward paying people to clean and fix things. Just like in early 21st century Finland. We could do it to and I, for one, would welcome a world in which stuff wasn't broken and dirty all the time.

But I gotta ask: does that mean that the crew of the Enterprise really consists largely of janitors? I do wonder what all of those folks wandering the corridors are supposed to be doing.

23 March 2004

Ammunition

Next time someone tells you that the Bible says homosexuality is an abomination, remember:

Strange brain tricks

Just when you think you've seen 'em all, Volokh points out this novel optical illusion.

22 March 2004

Questions

In the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, there is a sequence in which the two practice asking questions before going to talk to Hamlet. In the dialogue, they keep score of who is not asking relevant questions.

It turns out that this is a (barely!) playable game. It's much harder than it looks, but a lot of fun.


Rules

  1. No statements: Each player must speak in the form of questions.
  2. No hesitation: The game must proceed at a converstational pace.
  3. No non-sequiters: Each player's question must follow reasonably from the other player's most recent question.
  4. No repetition: A player may not repeat a question in the course of a game.
  5. No rhetoric: A player may not use an all-purpose question without a meaningful answer.

In the film adaptation, scoring is charmingly done like tennis: love — fifteen — thirty — forty — game.


Example of play

A: Shall we play questions?
B: Are we already playing?
A: What do you think?
B: Why do you ask?
A: Does that count as 'rhetoric'?
B: What do you think?
A: Repetition! Fifteen-love. Your serve.
B: Was that fair?
A: Was what fair?
B: Aren't you begging the question?
A: Rhetoric! Thirty-love. Your serve ...

20 March 2004

More depressing thoughts about race in America

Digby has an incisive long post about how American resistance to a social insurance state is tangled up in racism. It's one of those it's even worse than I thought kinds of things. It's also one of those white people need to get with the program kinds of things.
This ancient attachment to racism in this country is going to finally bring us down if we do not force it out of the body politic once and for all. The need is urgent, not just on a moral basis --- the moral case is always urgent --- but on a pragmatic, survival basis as well. The American frontier is closed, our total dominance of the world economy is rapidly diminishing and globalization and technology are pressuring the middle and working classes of this country in ways that we are only now beginning to see. This path of ever lower taxes and higher deficits in service of a nonsensical insistence on the ruination of public schools, a refusal to endow universal health care, a systematic destruction of social security and the combined devastation of rolling back workplace regulations while destroying unions is based on a theological belief in unfettered capitalism and American ''individualism.'' This romantic notion manifests itself as modern Republicanism but, in fact, it is nothing more than the same phony excuse for opportunism and racism that has existed since the founding.

19 March 2004

Patrick Farley

Some time ago I posted links to two stories, one of which was Patrick Farley's web graphic novel The Guy I Almost Was.

Farley's site Electric Sheep is full of terrific web comics. Let me encourage you to check out my favorites.

Overheard at the rave

A gem. In about thirty panels, we get life, family, meloncholy, humor, the Boom-X generation gap, two vivid characters, why raves are good when they're good. Plus it addresses an intractable subject (which I will not name, to keep from spoiling the story) and artfully shows why that is good when it's good, too. Plus it takes perfect advantage of the web comic medium, using the brief pauses as each page downloads to control the rhythm of the piece. Plus the last three panels make me laugh out loud, chuckle, and then catch my breath, in turn, every time I read them. Take ten minutes and read it right now.

Apocamon: The Final Judgement

A manga-style retelling of the Book of Revealations, which is as witty, irreverant, and lusciously drawn as you would hope. There's some clever use of bits of Flash animation, some good close reading of the Biblical text, and a wink toward Jack Chick, but what makes this piece a marvel is the way it makes the Pokemon anime style work so naturally with the material.

The Jain's Death

A charming, patient, beautiful story about the quest for enlightenment. And with a zinger ending!

The Guy I Almost Was

To plug it again: This ambitious little novel is smart and funny. It was very personally affecting for me: it's a guy I almost was, too. It takes time to read, but it's worth it.

There are several more stories on his site. I personally don't favor the more visually experimental ones, but your mileage may vary. They're all worth a look.

And if you enjoy his work half as much as I do, please give Mr. Farley some money. He deserves it.

18 March 2004

Wow, celebrities really do all hang out together

So now I know what it's like to have a phone number that used to belong to Chris Rock.
CALLER: [In a jovial manner] It's Adam Sandler!

LAURA: [Realizes instantly it was indeed Adam Sandler -- there's no mistaking that distinctive voice of his] Oh, hi!

ADAM: Hi!

LAURA: Hi!

ADAM: Hi!

LAURA: [Overcome with sudden punchiness, from the craziness of one minute quietly winding down for bedtime, and then talking to Adam Sandler the next] So, are you calling Chris for business or pleasure?

ADAM: [Laughs, slightly taken off guard by this question, but still retaining his happy-go-lucky attitude] I'm calling Chris to say hello and chat. So ... is he there?

LAURA: [Knows it's confession time, but tries her best to retain formerly buoyant personality] No, well... he's not. You see, I'm actually just this random New York City girl who happened to get Chris' old cell phone number....

ADAM: [Lets out a big laugh] Wow, that's really funny! That's great! You must be having a fun time with this!

Epistemological crisis

Is it just me, or does this make the War on Terror a bit like being at war with Fredonia, the fictional country in Duck Soup where Groucho Marx is the prime minister?
A man describing himself as al Qaeda's European military spokesman also claimed responsibility for the Madrid bombing
...
The statement said it supported President Bush in his reelection campaign, and would prefer him to win in November rather than the Democratic candidate John Kerry, as it was not possible to find a leader ''more foolish than you [Bush], who deals with matters by force rather than with wisdom.''

In comments addressed to Bush, the group said:

''Kerry will kill our nation while it sleeps because he and the Democrats have the cunning to embellish blasphemy and present it to the Arab and Muslim nation as civilization.''

''Because of this we desire you (Bush) to be elected.''

Reuters 17 March 2004

See, al Qaeda are only pretending they want Bush to win, so that out of our hatred for them we'll elect Kerry, whom they really want to win.

Or no, they know that we'll figure that out, that we'll assume that they really want us to do the opposite of what they say they want us to do. So they figure that in our desire to foil their plan, we really will do what they say they want, based on our assumption that they will say the opposite of what they want. So instead they really are saying what they want.

Or no, it's actually an al Qaeda imposter, from a rival organization, hoping to discredit al Qaeda in the eyes of the Arab world, who all hate Bush.

Or no, it's actually al Qaeda hoping that people will think it's an imposter, so that they doubt al Qaeda's involvement in the Spain bombings.

Or no, this is just a plan to get the Big Computer at CIA headquarters to start thinking about these various possibilities until it becomes so confused that smoke starts to come out of the top ...

17 March 2004

One year ago today

Atrios takes us back to hear what our nation's president had to say, with special deceitful buzzword emphasis for your convenience.
Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.
...
The danger is clear: Using chemical, biological or, one day, nuclear weapons obtained with the help of Iraq, the terrorists could fulfill their stated ambitions and kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people in our country or any other.
...
The terrorist threat to America and the world will be diminished the moment that Saddam Hussein is disarmed.
And so on.

Power

So this Jimmy Breslin article about our nation's president visiting a New York park brought back a memory.

For days now, the job at Eisenhower Park in Nassau County has been to follow the order from the White House through the Secret Service and down to the park workers:

“The president's feet are not to touch the dirt.”

So all yesterday, large crews drawn from all county parks worked to ensure that, as always in his life, George Bush's feet do not touch the ground when he appears in the big park today.

Bush arrives for a fund-raiser at a restaurant in the park. That is indoors and he doesn't have to worry about his feet there. But he has to go over ground to an administration building where he is to meet with families of 9/11 victims. After that, he has to go over more ground to get to the site of a memorial to the victims.

He doesn't want his feet on the ground and he will be at a groundbreaking ceremony.

Breslin fills us in on the details of the effort to fulfill this bizarre requirement: asphalt, wood chips, and fencing laid on its side by long-suffering public servants. It's entertaining, and Breslin artfully works in the obvious digs against Bush, which I'll confess that I enjoy.

But I'd like to cut Bush a measure of slack here ... in service of criticizing him for something else. I don't imagine that he had some spoiled Marie Antoinette fit about getting his shoes dirty. Most likely there's the germ of a reasonable impulse at work here which had all of these wacky consequences. This is really a story about the passive effects of power, and how the movements of VIPs inevitably create big ripples in the world. It reminds me of a time when I was a long-suffering public servant myself, working for the university in the summers between classes while I was in college. One year, the Regents of the University of California were going to be holding their annual meeting right near where my office was, so they kicked me out for several days.

A couple of weeks before, my boss told me a story, to explain what was about to happen. Her boss had called her into his office, she said, and showed her a purchase order form which had come across his desk: the PO to prepare for the upcoming meeting. She told me that she remarked that the PO was incorrectly prepared, but that her boss had told her that it had a blank cost field on purpose, because it was an “open” PO. Spend whatever it takes.

What it took was an army of workers who descended upon the college like a benign plague of locusts that ate up everything unsightly that the Regents might gaze upon as they walked to and from their meeting room. Peeling paint was repainted. Broken windows were replaced. Most impressive to me: a decade's worth of staples from a decade's worth of flyers were methodically pulled out of kiosks. And so on.

I do not imagine that the Regents told their minions “clean up that college before we get there for our meeting.” No doubt the opposite is true — this happened without the Regents' smallest awareness. It is actually more mind-bending to think that all of this effort was expended without the Regents' request. It puts them in a bubble that gives them a subtle false impression of what the college is like, which in turn misinforms their imagination about the lives of the students who attend the school.

This is hardly a thrilling new revelation to most folks; it's more like an entertaining example of something we all recognize, Bush's visit to the park being another such example. So I don't want to blame Bush for the wood chips strewn everywhere to protect his shoes. But I do want to criticize him, in that I don't think that he knows that these things happen. All of the evidence I have seen is that our president has lived in the bubble all his life, takes it for granted, and neither knows nor cares.

This is an emotional objection to Bush's presidency. I feel not only a political opposition to Bush, but because of this obliviousness I also dislike him on a personal level. In a weird way, it makes me feel a greater sympathy now for all of those folks who hated Bill Clinton so much: I now know how it feels to have your politics reinforced by visceral personal feelings.

The thing that gets under my skin is Bush's smirk. I've seen it on other men before: folks who deny that their life of privilege reflects a turn of fortune, but rather somehow rationalize to themselves that their fortune reflects some innate virtue, as Bad Attitudes suggests.

At Harvard Business School, thirty years ago, George Bush was a student of mine. I still vividly remember him. In my class, he declared that “people are poor because they are lazy.” He was opposed to labor unions, social security, environmental protection, Medicare, and public schools. To him, the antitrust watch dog, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Securities Exchange Commission were unnecessary hindrances to “free market competition.” To him, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal was “socialism.”

And then that this arrogant patrician manages to sell himself to so many Americans as a champion of ordinary folks' values burns me further still ....

Flash to content ratio

A parody of a bad flash website. Or of a bad architects' website. It's both!

16 March 2004

Today's quote

I asked Eric Drexler how long he thought it would be before we started to see practical applications of nanotechnology. He said, ''If we're lucky ... thirty years. If we're not so lucky ... ten.''

Greg Bear, 1986

Mainly a pain

If, like me, you're trying to figure out what the hell just happened in Spain's elections, this Salon article provides a good pocket description of the historical and political context.

More dirty jokes

Atrios asks the question: shouldn't our press learn some media literacy skills? Follow all of the links in Our Wonderful Press, I promise that the payoff is funny as hell.

Home equity

One of my sources of generation-x economic/political angst is the spiral in housing prices. Many folks from older generations won the home equity lottery in the last decade or two, with their houses becoming dazzlingly more valuable than they were when they were purchased. I resented this during the early '90s, when folks my age were mostly underemployed and paying high rents: in my crude economic analysis, it seemed that the young were paying for those equity lottery winnings in the form of high rents. In more recent years, folks my age have started taking home ownership seriously, but the costs in down payments and monthly mortgage payments give me vertigo.

Okay, the San Francisco bay area real estate market is particularly nutty, which exacerbates my anxiety. But I think the principle still holds.

When I talk to members of older generations about this, they seem to assume that steep increases in housing prices will continue throughout my lifetime. I'll eventually have a collosal chunk of home equity, too, if I buy a house. So it's okay. But this seems like a perpetual motion machine. Where does the money come from? It doesn't seem possible that this could be sustainable.

Brad DeLong demonstrates that an understanding of economics provides some explanation, but only in a way which raises its own questions.

Many people who have refinanced have now boosted their own consumption spending because they feel (and are) richer. But why haven't those who will buy your house in thirty years and their parents cut back on spending by an equal amount as they strive to accumulate the bigger nest egg that they will need? This is also a mystery -- why the effect of rising housing prices on consumer spending is so large. (There are a number of people working at the Bank of England right now whose job it is to be puzzled by this mystery).

15 March 2004

Translator

If you are a consultant, or hire consultants, you may find this translator useful.

Clear moral cases

Drat! I think I may be hooked on Philosoraptor now.
Most people -- most non-sociopaths, at any rate -- acknowledge that we have at least some moral obligations, though there is some bit of disagreement about what those obligations are. We tend to disagree about unclear, peripheral cases like same-sex marriage, but we tend to agree about clear, central cases like recreational torture. In this respect, our disagreements about morality are analogous to our disagreements about non-moral matters. We tend to disagree about unclear, peripheral cases like the existence of God but we tend to agree about clear, central cases like the existence of rocks.

14 March 2004

Insert cheeky caption here

I'm sure that, like me, you used to subscribe to The Economist but became despondent that they were coming too quickly for you to digest all of the good stuff they contained. But did you notice the magnificent graphic design?

Crackpot index

If you enjoy reading crackpot pseudoscience rants as much as I do, you may have a use for this handy index for ranking their crackpotitude.
5 points for using a thought experiment that contradicts the results of a widely accepted real experiment
...
10 points for beginning the description of your theory by saying how long you have been working on it
...
30 points for suggesting that Einstein, in his later years, was groping his way towards the ideas you now advocate

13 March 2004

Atrios is on a tear right now

If you want a taste of why Atrios is generally regarded as the best of the topical lefty bloggers, check out what he's saying today.

Scroll baby, scroll: the last several posts show what he does well.

The secrets of science

In his excellent experiment report Electron Band Structure In Germanium, My Ass, Lucas Kovar explains why I lost my enthusiasm for my undergraduate major.
Abstract: The exponential dependence of resistivity on temperature in germanium is found to be a great big lie. My careful theoretical modeling and painstaking experimentation reveal 1) that my equipment is crap, as are all the available texts on the subject and 2) that this whole exercise was a complete waste of my time.

12 March 2004

How to enjoy Las Vegas

Rands in Repose offers his advice, which he calls the ''Rands Vegas System ™'' or ''Vegas for the Realist''.
Drinking in Vegas is essential because you must reinforce the reality distortion field that surrounds it. You must believe that it is ok to blow $1000 at a card game which is designed to fleece you. You must learn to ignore that constant hangover that you've developed by Day #2. And, finally, you must believe that the objectification of women is WELL SHIT A GREAT IDEA AND BY GOLLY SHE'S A STRIPPER WITH A HEART OF GOLD.

Booze makes you dumb and dumb people have more fun in Vegas.

Very realistic, but also funny and wise. Not for the faint of heart.

Six impossible things before three o'clock

Jon Carroll has been thinking about how to design a school.
We want grades to be important, but not too important. We want our children to suffer with homework the way we did, but not so much that it makes them crazy. We fret about the weight of children's book bags, but we don't do anything about it. We worry if our child is obese, but we still drive him to school. We are just bundles of mixed messages that the teachers are supposed to decode, and if they fail, it's probably because they're underpaid or lazy - - pick one from the menu.

11 March 2004

Geek parenting

Wil Wheaton's tale of The Forbidden Dice: A Love Story

Terrific, if that title appeals to you.

US-Saudi politics far weirder than suspected

Let's all join hands with Teresa Neilsen Hayden and say it: I deeply resent the way this administration makes me feel like a nutbar conspiracy theorist.

Atrios observes that ''it was one of the oddest 'conspiracy theories' -- that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, while the American airspace was still closed to most air traffic, the Bush administration allowed a bunch of members of the Bin Laden family and other Saudi royals to fly around the country and then leave.'' Craig Unger fleshes out the story in an excerpt from his forthcoming book House of Bush, House of Saud on Salon, and it makes a John le Carre novel sound as clear in narrative and morality as an episode of Powerpuff Girls.

I really can't capture the story of the bin Ladens flying out of the US on 9/11 in a quote. It is weird, scary, and tangled. Go read it if you want to know.

On the other hand, I do want to give you Unger's amazing summary of the House of Saud as the fulcrum on which the bizarre relationship between Saudi Arabia and the US turns.

The House of Saud had somehow maintained control of Saudi Arabia and the world's richest oil reserves by performing a seemingly untenable balancing act with two parties who had vowed to destroy each other.

On the one hand, the House of Saud was an Islamic theocracy whose power grew out of the royal family's alliance with Wahhabi fundamentalism, a strident and puritanical Islamic sect that provided a fertile breeding ground for a global network of terrorists urging a violent jihad against the United States.

On the other hand, the House of Saud's most important ally was the Great Satan itself, the United States. Even a cursory examination of the relationship revealed astonishing contradictions: America, the beacon of democracy, was to arm and protect a brutal theocratic monarchy. The United States, sworn defender of Israel, was also the guarantor of security to the guardians of Wahhabi Islam, the fundamentalist religious sect that was one of Israel's and America's mortal enemies.

Astoundingly, this fragile relationship had not only endured but in many ways had been spectacularly successful. In the nearly three decades since the oil embargo of 1973, the United States had bought hundreds of billions of dollars of oil at reasonable prices. During that same period, the Saudis had purchased hundreds of billions of dollars of weapons from the U.S. The Saudis had supported the U.S. on regional security matters in Iran and Iraq and refrained from playing an aggressive role against Israel. Members of the Saudi royal family, including Bandar, became billionaires many times over, in the process quietly turning into some of the most powerful players in the American market, investing hundreds of billions of dollars in equities in the United States. And the price of oil, the eternal bellwether of economic, political and cultural anxiety in America, had remained low enough that enormous gas-guzzling SUVs had become ubiquitous on U.S. highways. During the Reagan and Clinton eras the economy boomed.

Surprising link credit

Joshua Micah Marshall's famous lefty journalistic blog Talking Points Memo brings this excellent article about Funyans to our attention.
It is a wonder we know about Funyuns at all. Frito-Lay, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, has proved time and again that it is more than willing to spend lavishly on advertising, promoting and branding its products. Frankie Muniz, Jay Leno and Enrique Iglesias have shilled for Doritos in recent months. Dana Carvey hawks all varieties of Lays potato chips. Several high-profile professional athletes have appeared in ads for Tostitos and Cheetos have their own animated spokescheetah. Funyuns are conspicuously absent from the mix.

On one hand, it is understandable that Frito-Lay has not similarly promoted Funyuns, because, quite simply, Funyuns are gross.

10 March 2004

I knew I smelled a rat

Brad DeLong has a terrific radical critique of a rhetorical device that has dogged my steps in countless discussions about social democracy.

He (falsely) sees the debate between those who advocate equality of opportunity and equality of result as an intellectual battle to be settled by who has the better ideas. I think that is not what it is. I think it is something very different.

I first ran across the distinction between the (good) people who believe in “equality of opportunity” and the (bad) people who believe in “equality of result” when I was working my way through the 1960s and 1970s writings of Irving Kristol. It seemed to me that in so defining the issues Kristol was doing a masterful job of preparing the ideological terrain, and that virtually anyone who then entered that terrain was doomed to almost certain complete defeat.

In Kristol's conceptual vocabulary, the pinning of the label “equality of result” on the left was intended not as an intellectual argument but as an ideological police action. The point was to erase any difference between the tamest of levelling social democracy and High Maoism: even if it was an unrealistic political prospect now, those who wanted a progressive income tax were committed to a long-run future in which everyone ate the same meals and wore identical overalls or Mao jackets. In truth, nobody in the West ever believed in “equality of result.”

There's lots more. If you like this sort of thing, do go read it all. Then go check out what the Decembrist has to say about how slow hiring in the labor market reflects a breakdown of the liberal social democratic order.

Government, under the liberal consensus of the New Deal through the 1970s, did not redistribute income. Rather, government's greatest achievement was to create SECURITY — the kind of security that created the opportunity to join the middle class.

Krugman's thousand words redux

Did you go look when I told you?

It's witty, smart, political, and Tufte-licious. Go. Go. Go!

Ebert understands what a review should do

Okay, I'm never going forgive him for his positive review of Spawn. But Roger Ebert really understands that while it's often helpful for him to tell you whether or not he liked the movie, the point is to do so in service of making clear whether or not the reader will like the movie. On the way, he often offers you a witticism, an observation about life or art, encouragement to try something different from your usual movie fare, or some insight into how movies work. But helping you judge whether you will like a picture comes first.

Consider his recent review of Hidalgo.

This is a movie that has: Concealed pits in the sand with sharpened stakes at the bottom; exotic sprawling villas made with corridors and staircases and balconies and rooftops where countless swordsmen can leap forward to their doom; sandstorms that can be outrun by a horse like Hidalgo; tents as large and elaborately furnished as a Malcolm Forbes birthday party; blazing closeups of the pitiless sun; poisoned oases; tantalizing mirages; parched lips; six-shooters, whips, daggers, and ... no, I don't think there were any asps. Some will complain that Hidalgo magically arrives on the scene whenever Hopkins whistles, but Hidalgo knows that if he could whistle, Hopkins would be right there for him, too.

I have done my duty. Not a moviegoer alive will be able to attend Hidalgo and claim that I have not painted an accurate portrait of the film.

Whether you like movies like this, only you can say. But if you do not have some secret place in your soul that still responds even a little to brave cowboys, beautiful princesses and noble horses, then you are way too grown up and need to cut back on cable news. And please ignore any tiresome scolds who complain that the movie is not really based on fact. Duh.

09 March 2004

He will be missed

Spaulding Gray
1941-2004

An American Original: Troubled, Inner-Directed, and Cannot Type

Thanks to him, if a djinni offered to make me into a talented performer I would wish to be a monologist.

Today's quote

Every politician has a natural format -- Clinton's was the State of the Union, Bush's the single-topic (war) speech -- and Kerry's is the debate.

The Decemberist

Since you asked

3Jake was kind enough today to remind me of the marvels of Cary Tennis' relationship advice on Salon.
Cary's First Law of Subjective Thermodynamics ... states that though the total energy in a system remains constant, it always seems like you're putting up with more crap than she is.

It is theoretically possible that your subjective view could be correct: Because energy and crap in the universe tend to cluster, it's possible that you're putting up with more than she is. But it's highly unlikely. What science has shown is that women put up with more crap than men, but they do it invisibly, using methods that can't be seen by the naked eye or even identified with telescopes.

You don't want to know all the crap she puts up with. You're better off not knowing.

Too true.

Word count

A few days ago, Brad DeLong argued that the 700 word format for Op-Eds is inherently lame while pointing to the Decemberist's fisking of one of David Brooks' more memorably loony New York Times articles. I didn't buy it at the time: Paul Krugman does pretty well in the same format.

But then today it turns out that Krugman needed a thousand words -- or the equivalent -- to tell a simple tale.

Buffer

Whaddaya know. It turns out that the human mind buffers about three seconds of experience.
We take life 3 seconds at a time. Human experience and behaviour is characterized by temporal segmentation. Successive segments or 'time windows' have a duration of approximately 3 seconds.

Examples:

  • intentional movements are embedded within 3s (like a handshake)
  • the anticipation of a precise movement like hitting a golf ball does not go beyond 3 s
  • if we reproduce the duration of a stimulus, we can do so accurately up to 3 s but not beyond
  • if we look at ambiguous figures (like a vase vs. two faces) or if we listen to ambiguous phoneme sequences (like Cu-Ba-Cu-Ba-.., either hearing Cuba or Bacu) automatically after approx. 3 s the percept switches to the alternative
  • the working platform of our short term memory lasts only 3 s (being interrupted after 3 s most of the information is gone)
  • spontaneous speech in all languages is temporally segmented, each segment lasting up to 3 s
  • this temporal segmentation of speech shows up again in poetry, as a verse of a poem is embedded within 3 s (Shakespeare: 'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day')
  • musical motives preferably last 3 s (remember Beethoven's Fifth Symphony)
  • decisions are made within 3 s (like zapping between TV channels)

08 March 2004

Taxes, the economy, the media

Atrios has one of his long comments on the state of the economy and our allegedly liberal media.
The Republicans predicted that the Clinton tax increases would bring on an economic armageddon. They didn't, but if the economy had tanked or failed to recover for whatever reason, in 1996 every Republican would have blamed it on the tax increases, because as we all know tax increases are bad for the economy.
...
no matter what happens with the economy this year, the media will never allow the narrative to be ''the Bush tax cuts caused the poor economy'' the way ''the Clinton tax increases caused the poor economy'' would have been the narrative in 1996 if it had been the case. Why? Because, ''we all know'' that tax cuts are good for the economy and tax increases are bad for the economy. The media has internalized this as a basic fact, even though there's no reason to think it to be true. The golden years of the US economy, 1945-1973, coincided with the period of record high top marginal tax rates.

Throw another meme on the barbie

Remember the post I made about Darque Dungeon? Thanks to darque and delightful Trueheart, I can now report a sequel, God Hates the Scene, which adds some gangsta memes to the mix. (Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics)

There's no such thing as too much genre crossover!

07 March 2004

Innocence and despair

Checking out the Langley Schools Music Project site is worth it for the celebrity testamonials alone: David Bowie, John Zorn, and Neil Gaiman, for starters. But the music itself does well and truly boggle the mind.
The Langley Schools Music Project is a 60-voice chorus of rural school children from western Canada, untrained but captivated by melodic magic, singing tunes by the Beach Boys, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, The Bay City Rollers, and others. The students accompany themselves with the shimmering gamelan chimes of Orff percussion, and elemental rock trimmings arranged by their itinerant music teacher, Hans Fenger.
Fenger writes of 9-year-old Sheila Behman's version of the Eagles' ''Desperado'' on that record: ''She sang it without a trace of sentimentality, a literal reading. She had no idea about the romantic cowboy stuff; she just heard it as sad, the way a child does.''

06 March 2004

The definition of terrorism

Orcinus has another terrific post keeping a weather eye on domestic right-wing violence, and our leaders' failure to grapple thoughtfully or effectively with this — or any other — form of terrorism.

It's starting to become clear that, to the Bush administration -- and their corporate and media cohorts — the definition of a “terrorist” is “someone we don't like.”
....
I've described previously how the Bush administration's emphasis on the “war on terror” bears all the earmarks of a political marketing campaign, precisely because it exclusively focuses on Arab nations as the source of terrorism, and when dealing with its domestic aspect, is only concerned about Muslim extremists operating clandestinely here. The existence of far-right, white-supremacist domestic terrorism as a dual threat undercuts such a strategy.

On the way, he quotes from Robert Wright's landmark essay on the emergence of the general terrorist threat.

For the foreseeable future, smaller and smaller groups of intensely motivated people will have the ability to kill larger and larger numbers of people. They won't have to claim that they speak on behalf of a whole religion. They'll just have to be reasonably intelligent, modestly well-funded, and really pissed off. It may be hard to imagine a few radical environmentalists, or Montana militiamen, or French anti-globalization activists, or Basque separatists, or Unabomber-style Luddites, killing 100,000 people. Yet what makes this plausible is exactly what makes radical Islam such a formidable long-term threat: two enduring aspects of the evolution of technology.

Update: A word from me about a proper definition of terrorism.

Art

I quite like these paintings. I can't tell you why. And yeah, it's not your imagination, a lot of them allude to Myers-Briggs type indicators.

I also like this guy's work.

05 March 2004

Sounds like MY job

Maybe Tufte is right and PowerPoint really is a tool of Satan.
The most remarkable thing is the form of the ''memo'' that is being drafted for Bush: it is a seven-page Powerpoint presentation plus nine pages of charts. 659 text words total. That's one text word for every ten billion dollars that is going to be spent on Social Security over the next decade, and one word for every hundred billion dollars that is going to be spent on Social Security over the next half century. Hell is briefing someone like George W. Bush on a complicated issue like Social Security reform.

Brad DeLong

Today's quote

I regret to say that we of the FBI are powerless to act in cases of oral-genital intimacy, unless it has in some way obstructed interstate commerce.

J. Edgar Hoover

04 March 2004

What they don't teach in school but should

For your convenience, an index of the logical fallacies on the web.
Complex Question

Definition:
Two otherwise unrelated points are conjoined and treated as a single proposition. The reader is expected to accept or reject both together, when in reality one is acceptable while the other is not. A complex question is an illegitimate use of the ''and'' operator.

Examples:
You should support home education and the God-given right of parents to raise their children according to their own beliefs.

Do you support freedom and the right to bear arms?

Have you stopped using illegal sales practises? (This asks two questions: did you use illegal practises, and did you stop?)

03 March 2004

Warren Ellis is thinking about the future

Super-cool Warren Ellis, whose more reputable inventions include Transmetropolitan and Planetary, has a knockout rambling essay about the future and, um, stuff.
We seem to be currently in the grip of what me and novelist Alex Besher call ''future fatigue''. It's what Bruce Sterling is talking about when he playfully advocates switching the word ''futuristic'' with the word ''futurismic.'' The future as we have imagined it seems tired, boring, ordinary. The Space Shuttle is a classic car now, as aesthetically historic as a finned Fifties car.
...
We're living in a science-fictional world now. Someone reminded me that JG Ballard once said ''the future will be boring,'' and damn if old miseryguts wasn't right all along.
...
I saw Stewart Brand lecture, a few years ago. Standing there like he'd just wandered in from a foresty log cabin, Swiss Army knife and compass mounted on his belt, he talked about how we'd become a workaround society. We have become entrained to step outside the stated rules of a device's operation in order to get it to do what we want.

Shorter Rabbi Daniel Lapin

Protesting Passion

It is hypocritical for Jews to support artistic freedom and then describe why an antisemitic movie disturbs them.

(''Shorter'' invented at D-Squared Digest and brought to fullness at Busy Busy Busy.)

For the record

I am a vigorous defender of the separation of church and state, and am clear that the Framers of the Constitution intended to create one. I am opposed to ''In God we trust" on the money. I am opposed to ''under God'' in the pledge of allegience. I am opposed to posting the Ten Commandments in schools or courtrooms, unless paired with, say, the Hammurabi Code. I am opposed to the opening prayer in the Senate.

I even envy the secular culture of Western Europe, with Existentialists as far as the eye can see saying that God is dead. I'm sorry they had to learn the lesson through the butchery of two generations of 20th century young men in stupid wars, but I'm glad they learned the lesson, and wish we could catch on here in the US. The kind of people who think that American culture is under assault by evil secular humanists would definitely call me a secular humanist.

But let's be clear: This is not what I advocate.

A law banning Islamic headscarves in France's public schools was overwhelmingly adopted Wednesday in the Senate despite protests by many French Muslims that the measure is discriminatory.
...
President Jacques Chirac ... said such a law was needed to protect the French principle of secularism.

The law forbids religious apparel and signs that "conspicuously show" a student's religious affiliation. While Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses would also be banned, authorities have made clear that it is aimed at removing Islamic headscarves from classrooms.

AP, 3 March 2004

This is an abrogation of personal liberty. We ''secular humanists'' don't want a completely secular public sphere, free of religious observance, just a secular government.

Religion good, government advocacy of religion bad. Okay?

John Kerry is the Democratic candidate

Josh Marshall is hopeful about the implications for the Democrats.
The Kerry-Weld race was supposed to be, and in many respects was, the fight of Kerry's political life. And going into it there was good reason to believe that Kerry would lose. But he kept in it and fought and fought and fought and eventually won the race. His persistence and tenacity were impressive.

By national standards, it was a pretty clean race. But it was extraordinarily hard-fought. And since then Kerry's always struck me as someone who was a fighter, someone who'd never give up, give in, let himself get hit without fighting back or flag in the home stretch.

That gives me some confidence about this race.

Guided by infalliable logic

MKB just turned me on to this cool interview with video game design legend Eugene Jarvis, creator of Defender and Robotron 2048. His favorite quote was
You have all these fantasies about how people are going to play your game and all the depth you put in there and your great moral story and everything and it seems like actually what people really do is they just enjoy shooting guys in the nuts.
but I stuck on the bit where he says
Is there really anything in Windows that you couldn't do any better on your old computer? Just now it takes 30 seconds to boot up your word processor. [But] it makes work fun because you're playing a video game at work, clicking on boxes and stuff.

Today's quote

''Every ambitious work of literature was written either by someone who had insomnia or by someone who was supported by their family.''

pseudopodium

02 March 2004

Passionately snide

Yeah, I still haven't posted my long review of The Passion of the Christ. I'm working on it.

Fortunately for all you Passion fans, Orcinus has published a darkly funny email he received on the subject:

The film is only anti-Semitic if you consider it anti-Semitic to portray Jews as an unruly crowd of evil, hook-nosed Christ killers.

The main miracle in the life of Jesus is apparently the miraculous amount of blood that his body contains.
...
Jesus wears really heavy sandals. Because every time he puts his foot down, it is like Godzilla walking through Tokyo. Boom, Boom, Boom. They must weigh like a ton.

Plus, I've got a Mel Gibson screenplay generator handy, if you need one.

Behind Greenspan's Social Security comment

A few days ago Alan Greenspan spoke up about the need to cut Social Security benefits due to looming budget deficits.

Now I'm the first to say that I don't believe that Social Security will last long enough for me to collect on it. The rapidly approaching demographic crisis of long-lived Boomers is going to kill the system as we know it. At the crudest level, I agree with Greenspan: we should bump the retirement age out a few years and start means-testing benefits.

But the first order of business in dealing with growing budget deficits is to fix the nutty Bush administration tax cuts, and Greenspan has so far held his tongue on that point. What's going on here?

As usual, Paul Krugman makes the murky clear.

If anyone had tried to sell this package honestly -- ''Let's raise taxes and cut benefits for working families so we can give big tax cuts to the rich!'' -- voters would have been outraged. So the class warriors of the right engaged in bait-and-switch.
...
The right-wing corruption of our government system -- the partisan takeover of institutions that are supposed to be nonpolitical -- continues, and even extends to the Federal Reserve.

Ten rules

Via Teresa Nielsen Hayden: Elmore Leonard tells us all how to write well. Rule Ten is my favorite: ''Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.''

Now if only he explained how to create Elmore Leonard characters.

01 March 2004

Early thoughts about Mel's Passion

I posted earlier about looking forward to getting a look at Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ. Saturday I dragged some long-suffering friends to see it. I'm 1600 words into trying to articulate my thoughts about the picture and still going. In the meantime, let me offer a quick take.

There are a few things to like. The lead actors all have terrific screen presence, with the curious exception of Caviezel as Jesus. The pieta shot is truly magnificent, and there are some other lovely touches -- the opening shot of the night sky, the spooky androgynous Satan shadowing Jesus' steps, mother Mary clutching at the ground in her grief, Jesus' first miracle in the film.

But I'm reaching for nice things to say, because I disliked this picture on so many levels.

The violence is pornographic. The craftsmanship of the film is often clumsy and cheap. The antisemitism is there, mitigated only by the general misanthropy being even greater. The absence of the animating ideas of Christianity is disturbing. It adds up to a disconcerting Manichean view of humanity, where sympathy for Christ's suffering is the core of Christianity, while unbelievers are cold, or cruel, or both.

I made a point of going to a theater where I would be in an audience of believers, many of whom were clearly moved. I wanted to be sympathetic to their experience, but found it impossible. I am baffled by how many of these same folks undoubtedly rejected, with anger, Scorscese's The Last Temptation of Christ, a beautiful, deeply spiritual film which engaged seriously with the language and ideas of Christianity. And there were dozens of children in the audience: twelve, ten, eight years old, and younger. How could anyone think that was a good idea?

The title is true, really

It's called work-safe pornography and it's very, very clever.

Speaking of McNamara

If you've seen Fog of War (and you should see it), check out Alexander Cockburn refusing to let McNamara off the hook for his sins and then coming back to the well to take him to task for screwing up at the World Bank.
McNamara rode into the Pentagon on one of the biggest of big lies, the bogus “missile gap” touted by Kennedy in his 1960 campaign against Nixon. It was all nonsense. As Defense Secretary McNamara ordered the production of 1,000 Minuteman strategic nukes, this at a time when he was looking at US intelligence reports showing that the Soviets had one silo with one untested missile.
...
[As head of Ford] McNamara did push for safety options -- seat belts and padded instrument panels. Ford dealer brochures for the ’56 models featured photos of how Ford and GM models fared in actual crashes, to GM’s disadvantage.

But Morris could have put to McNamara what happened next. As Nader describes it, in December, 1955, a top GM executive called Ford’s vice president for sales and said Ford’s safety campaign had to stop. These Ford executives, many of them formerly from GM, had a saying, Chevy could drop its price $25 to bankrupt Chrysler, $50 to bankrupt Ford. Ford ran up the white flag. The safety sales campaign stopped. McNamara took a long vacation in Florida, his career in Detroit in the balance, and came back a team player. Safety went through the windscreen and lay in a coma for years.
...
The Gulf of Tonkin “attack” prompted the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, whereby Congress gave LBJ legal authority to prosecute and escalate the war in Vietnam. McNamara does some fancy footwork here, stating that there wasn’t any attack by North Vietnamese PT boats on the US destroyer Maddox on August 4, but that there had been such an attack on August 2. It shouldn’t have been beyond Morris’s powers to pull up a well-reported piece by Robert Scheer, published in the Los Angeles Times in April, 1985, establishing not only that the Maddox was attacked neither on August 2 nor 4 but that, beginning on the night of July 30, South Vietnamese navy personnel, US-trained and -equipped, “had begun conducting secret raids on targets in North Vietnam.” As Scheer said, the North Vietnamese PT boats that approached the Maddox on August 2 were probably responding to that assault.