30 June 2006

Rail

James Howard Kunstler sings the praises of rail travel.
After sitting on airplanes for two days, like a mummy in a casket, I took the Amtrak train from Bellingham, Washington, down to Seattle. It was an extravagant relief from harsh inanities of aviation. The train cars were new, clean and luxurious, very unlike the beat-up rolling stock on my usual Hudson River line (Albany to New York City). The seats were better than first-class airplane seats. There was a cafe car serving up hot beverages. The conductors were cheerful, as if they actually liked what they were doing.
Mmm. I am fond of quoting Ursula LeGuin, who said somewhere that trains are one of the few technologies that are at once perfectly romantic and perfectly efficient.

I myself will be getting on a plane tonight. At least it's headed home.

29 June 2006

Shaxberd

Shakespeare, Pericles Prince of Tyre II.4
Go search like nobles, like noble subjects,
And in your search spend your adventurous worth
Via Content Love Knowles, I learn that Google have been good enough to give us a big fat Shakespeare resource.

28 June 2006

Art

Holy Georgia O'Keefe, Batman! Eros ex Mathematica is a series of pictures that are not safe to view at work. Yet the description on the website insists:
The images in this room are created entirely from mathematical algorithms. If you find them offensive in any way, all I can say is that beauty (or obscenity) is in this case most certainly in the eye of the beholder.
Indeed, most of the images don't look like actual people. But something in the brain must use an algorithm similar to the one that produced these images to recognize things as looking fleshy.

26 June 2006

Economics

Brad DeLong quotes an article about politics and economics which offers an interesting explanation for the development of Europe's current mild socialism.
Mr Judt stresses the primacy of politics in human affairs and explains how postwar Europe created something novel in human history by transforming a tax-raising, military-spending state into a social state devoting huge amounts of money to health, education, pensions, housing, welfare and public facilities. Europe built these liberal welfare states, Mr Judt reminds his audience, not as a vision of a utopian socialist future but as a means of securing political stability and preventing a recurrence of its terrible past ....
There's also a good bit in which a Martian economist finds the economists of Earth confusing, if you like that sort of thing.

Better than Dora

Paddington Blasts Off

Tom Disch reports that Paddington Bear is ready to take on a thrilling new adventure.

I have been talking with Paddington, who has just seen an exciting news story on CNN about the importance of establishing a human presence on Mars before the Earth turns into Venus, as Steven Hawkings predicts. This naturally alarmed Paddington, but also in an odd way reassured him. Scientists say that it might be possible to establish human habitations on Mars is twenty years, or half that time! If humans can do that, then surely teddy bears have an even better chance. They don't need oxygen, or water. They eat only imaginery food, chiefly cookies, ice cream, and other desserts, which are abundant on Mars. He is willing volunteer to undertake the perilous journey ....
He's seeking funding. I might kick in.

24 June 2006

One Trillion Dollars

That's how much the world spent on militaries last year. One Trillion Dollars.

The United States was responsible for just shy of half it.

C2H6O

From time to time I dream of making my living as a bartender. Many folks say I have the right temperament for it, for some reason.

One deterrent is that it would mean that I would probably give up drinking liquor. That's not a big problem for me, as I'm a person who might go a month or more without a drink. But I do thoroughly enjoy a good cocktail, and once or twice a year I'll enjoy a very blurry evening. Moderation in all things, including moderation. But I don't think that would work for me so well if I were the bloke behind the bar.

The Rant Waiter—who knows his way around a cocktail—has a sharp little story explaining why.

23 June 2006

Global warming

Lindsay “Majikthise” Beyerstein kicks off her review of An Inconvenient Truth with this little story.
My friend Ryan's dad is a famous polar zoologist. Several years ago, I asked Ryan what his dad thought about “the whole global warming thing.”

“Well, my dad's an optimist about global warming,” Ryan said.

I breathed an inward sigh of relief.

“He's not nearly as dark as a lot of his colleagues.”

I began to hope that the crisis had been exaggerated.

“My dad just thinks that global warming is going to kill off all the indigenous peoples and most of the wildlife in the arctic.”

She goes on to give a detailed review well worth your time.

22 June 2006

Presents

For the record, I would be delighted if someone would buy this for me.

Fiscal responsibility

Via MKB, I learn that Garrison Keillor has a nice little rant worth suffering the ad at Salon. It largely concerns a defense of the virtues of my town, but this was my favourite bit:
You might not have always liked Republicans, but you could count on them to manage the bank. They might be lousy tippers, act snooty, talk through their noses, wear spats and splash mud on you as they race their Pierce-Arrows through the village, but you knew they could do the math. To see them produce a ninny and then follow him loyally into the swamp for five years is disconcerting, like seeing the Rolling Stones take up lite jazz.
As I've said before, how did it happen that the Democrats became the party of fiscal responsibility? What's wrong with the world?

The New York Times took a crack at explaining it back during the '04 Presidential campaign.

Democrats and Republicans are engaged in the economic equivalent of Nixon going to China: Republican presidents can get away with utterly irresponsible fiscal policies because there's no one to their right who will make too much trouble for them. Democratic presidents can get away with fiscal austerity because there's no one to their left who will make their life too difficult. But the irony should not be missed.
That's half right.

Republicans have a hazy idea that if they bankrupt the government, then it will compel us to do away with all of the expensive things it does which they don't like. Hence Grover Norquist's famous quote about getting government small enough that it could be drowned in a bathtub. All the way back during the Reagan adminstration, David Stockman admitted that bankrupting our way into a smaller government was the plan—he knew that cutting taxes wouldn't really increase revenue, the way that Reagan said it would.

21 June 2006

Solstice

Happy midsummer!
Sing, cuccu, nu. Sing, cuccu.
Sing, cuccu, nu. Sing, cuccu.

Sumer is i-cumin in,
Lhude sing, cuccu!
Groweth sed and bloweth med
And springth the wude nu.
Sing, cuccu!

Awe bleteth after lamb,
Lhouth after calve cu,
Bulluc sterteth, bucke verteth,
Murie sing, cuccu!


Cuccu, cuccu,
Wel singes thu, cuccu.
Ne swik thu naver nu!

Sing, cuccu, nu. Sing, cuccu
The Wild Hunt has a fun collection of links to pagan tales about the day. “When has astronomy ever done more for the lifting of the spirit?” Indeed—Astronomy Picture of the Day delivers the goods again.

20 June 2006

Principles for American foreign policy

Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings has a terrific post worth reading in its entirety, which starts from pundit Peter Beinart's failure to see that the Iraq war was a bad idea. Quoting Beinart, Hilzoy says:
If you were to go from the Gulf War through Kosovo and Iraq, you would find that a large number of people in every facet of the liberal Democratic universe were wrong, on at least one of those wars. Very, very few people were right about all three of them.
This is just one more piece of evidence that Peter Beinart and I do not hang out with the same kinds of people. He (and other opinion writers) seem to find it obvious that almost no one whose opinions were worth taking seriously was right on all three wars. Among the people I know, however, that's not true: almost everyone I know whose opinions on policy I take at all seriously was right on all three; and so was I.

This is not because I and mine are right all the time. We aren't -- along with many people I know, I was very wrong on welfare reform, for instance. But we were right on these three wars. And I think, contra Beinart, that the reason for this is that being right on all three just wasn't all that hard, given certain basic principles.

What are those basic principles? Hilzoy has prepared a list.
    On epistemology:
  1. It is not true that being realistic always requires taking the toughest option.
  2. Every war is itself, and not another war
  3. On international relations:

  4. We have to be involved with the rest of the world
  5. It is very important that other people trust us
  6. It is very important to retain the good will of other peoples and nations
  7. We should do whatever we can to foster the development of effective international institutions and norms of conduct
  8. On war:

  9. War is not the worst thing in the world
  10. While war is not the worst thing in the world, it's really, really, really, really bad
As Hilzoy says, this stuff just isn't all that hard.

19 June 2006

Juneteenth

I almost forgot: it's Juneteenth today, marking the end of slavery in the US. The history of the holiday is itself interesting.

Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

This year I discover that the mythology of the origins of the holiday is complicated. What's with that two-and-a-half year gap?

Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Another, is that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations. And still another, is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. All or none of them could be true.

Hmmnn. I'd guess that none of those stories are factual, but I submit that all of them are, in an important sense, true.

Being a white guy, I figure it isn't really my holiday to celebrate. But being an American, the holiday and its story are part of my history, and so it's my responsibility to mark it. It's not exactly controversial to stand up in opposition to slavery ... but not everyone is comfortable being reminded that it is, unhappily, a central part of American history, and in fact history that is still alive in the society of the nation.

The reminder is important. If we don't have the will or wisdom to fully address the crimes of our history, in the very least we should make the effort on the level of symbolism.

So in honour of the holiday, let me offer Cobb's beautiful idea for symbolic reparations, which I've been meaning to blog for some time.

As a matter of apology and reparation, I propose the minting of a coin. This coin, preferably gold in color, would be distributed directly to [African] Americans through the US Post Office. What is important is that a sufficient number of these coins be minted such that their circulation through this country and the world such that their very presence indicate the breadth of the impact of any market orignially directed at the labor of African Americans.

The amount minted might be, instead of reflecting an interest bearing debt on 40 acres and a mule, representative of some fraction of todays economy as expressed in proportion to that of the slave economy in its day. For practical reasons, it is not likely to be a 1:1 ratio. But if the slave economy was estimated to be 1/3 of that time, it might be reasonable to mint 1/3 of all dollar coins as the “slave dollar”.

There are other practical considerations, such as the success of the coin itself, but I have little doubt that it would circulate widely among African Americans. There are currently many popular theories of ‘recycling black dollars’.

The presence of these coins in the national circulation would show, over time, how pervasive the effects of money generated by the slave economy would be. One of the great excuses often given in resistance to reparation and apology is that no one living was directly responsible or directly victimized. But a coin minted and circulated specifically as the currency of apology ultimately reaches everyone, just as the money generated specifically by the institution of slavery.

Symbolic justice alone is not enough, but it's still worth doing. Happy Juneteenth.

Drinking game

As part of ongoing drinking game coverage here at Miniver Cheevy, I have a new offering from Stephen Colbert, via Monkeyboy's Linkblog.

We played a drinking game called Lincoln-Douglas. Great game. What you do is, you act out the Lincoln-Douglas debate and any time one of the guys mentions the Dred Scott decision you have to chug a beer. Well, technically 3/5 of a beer.

It's from a college commencement address, and worth checking out if you enjoy Mr Colbert. ”The best career advice I can give you is to get your own TV show. “

Which reminds me to plug co-conspirator Jon Stewart's commencement address, which I blogged a while back. There's actually more than a bit of good advice in that one.

Ad

Microsoft's choices in advertising are notoriously hapless, but this is a little masterpiece.

Via Monkeyboy's linkblog.

Is this torture?

I don't think that this is quite a story about torture. But it's definitely a story of the US being in the evil business. Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings outlines a story about five ethnic Uigurs swept up as suspected “terrorists” immediately after 9/11 and held at Guantanamo.
We keep innocent men in prison for over four years. They have children they've never seen; their family thinks they are dead; they have no idea when or if they'll be allowed to leave. We keep them locked up for over a year after they have been found innocent. Right before their case is to be heard on appeal, we ship them off to Albania, of all places, which then decides to expel them. Did we somehow fail to ask the Albanians whether they would actually allow the Uighurs to stay in Albania?
For a while there, it looked like they were going to get shipped off to China—where they would likely get killed by the Chinese government for being ethnic separatists. But the Albanians finally decided that they didn't have the heart to do that.

18 June 2006

Protest song

In honour of net neutrality, I offer the cute little song “God Save the Internet.”

I am guessing that some of my readers will want to click on it if I mention that the lead vocals are by the magnificent Jill Sobule.

Remember, the House just opposed net neutrality, so it's headed to the Sentate. Call your senators.

17 June 2006

Spiderman

Alter S. Reiss makes some observations about Spiderman's rogues gallery.
... just about everyone who had any sort of contact with Peter Parker turns out to be a villain of some sort — his friends, his classmates, his co-workers, his friends' families, his coworkers families, and, perhaps most memorably, his pants.

It's worth noting that Spiderman didn't face merely one pair of evil pants. The first set of evil spandex that Spiderman battled later produced a ... child of some sort, I think? It was called Carnage, if I recall correctly, and Spiderman has been forced to team up with the first evil pants, against the second, even more evil pants.

Hard as it might be to imagine, the legion of evil outerwear are not necessarily Spiderman's least comprehensible foes. In addition to the special effects guy mentioned earlier, there's the Vulture, whose power, as best as I can recall, is that he's pretty tough for an old guy, John Jameson, who is (and I'm pretty sure I couldn't make this up) an astronaut werewolf, The Walrus, who has the proportional agility of a Walrus (and who is good at crossword puzzles), and, of course, the various Goblins.

The Goblins are people in sort of “evil Santa's elves” costumes, who ride around on sort of floating skateboards, and who throw bombs at people. You might think that this isn't a job position that people would be anxious to fill ....

He goes on to talk about Batman, if you can take it.

16 June 2006

Definition of terrorism

Dear Jonah Goldberg:

Folks in Left Blogistan often poke fun at you. I've never taken much interest in the practice myself. But I was recently inspired to drop by The Corner, and there I read with interest your recent post in which you quoted Joe The Depleted Uranium Guy:

A terrorist is a combatant that does not discriminate between military or civilian targets. Either is legitimate, in the eyes of the terrorist, if it advances his goals. The fact that he may choose a military target on one particular occasion does not change his doctrine.
By this definition, if we reflect on the history of cities like Hiroshima and Dresden, it appears that the United States is a terrorist organization, or at least was during the Second World War.

You say this definition of terrorism was “nicely put.” I find that a definition of “terrorist organization” which includes the US is not a useful definition. Do you believe the US was a terrorist organization in WWII? Or is there profundity I'm failing to understand here?

Please help. We lefties are so easily confused!

Today's quote

From Paul Erdös:
A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems.
One can imagine a number of variations. “A programmer is a device for turning Coca-Cola into software ....”

15 June 2006

Intellectual property

Wil Wheaton observes another example of the music industry not only circling the drain, but paddling directly toward it.
Someone at the RIAA must have realized there were still a few music consumers it hadn't sued yet ....
The RIAA is apparently sending out cease-and-desist letters to YouTube users who dare to put up videos of things such as themselves dancing to music they haven't licensed.
Now the newspaper industry I have sympathy for. They may be hapless in their efforts to figure out a business model for professional journalism that works in the Digital World of the Future, but hey, it is a hard problem. It's also a problem worth solving; much as we in Left Blogistan gripe about mainstream journalists, we do it because professional journalism has an important place in the body politic. Okay, putting the wrong parts of the online New York Times behind a subscription wall and structuring the pricing the wrong way is badly conceived, but it's at least a well intentioned attempt to fund the real costs of keeping the Gray Lady running.

Likewise, the film industry has me wishing them well in spite of the way that, as usual, they're responding stupidly to new technology. Gods know their anti-piracy propaganda is boneheaded, and they still don't want to admit that they need to change their home video pricing and distribution to suit new technologies, but like journalists they do face a real problem. It wasn't easy figuring out a business model for the industry in the first place, because a lot of things artistically worth doing in the medium require the attention of legions of professionals, which just costs money.

It's difficult to see how Hollywood-style films will be possible for much longer. This will be a loss, bad as many Hollywood films are. (Though it might just revive opera as a medium.)

But the music industry? They rob their artists and they hate their audience.

It's been clear for a good long time that there are plenty of ways to make money without restricting musicians and music lovers one bit. Recall that decades ago the Grateful Dead weren't trying to discourage fans from recording their shows—in fact, they gave fans with recording equipment the best seats in the house—and they didn't exactly have trouble making money. Heck, there aren't only opportunities with unconventional business models, there are opportunities with the old one. For all its flaws, iTunes proves that people are willing to pay for their music if you make it easy and you price it reasonably. The music industry has an opportunity to survive, to prosper even.

But nooooooooo. They're being shmucks and trying to demand that the law step in and not only preserve their business model, but expand it beyond all reasonable bounds. Screw 'em. I look forward to dancing on their grave.

Temptation

Never before have I wanted to let a nickel of my money fall into the hands of the publishers of the National Review, but right now I'm a little tempted.

Not that I'll do it. But I'm charmed, for once.

History of Oil

Robert Newman's History of Oil is a witty, fun, radical one-man cabaret show that talks about Western imperialism in the Middle East, peak oil, the exchange rate between the dollar and the Euro, and stuff like that—and manages to squeeze in an homage to the greatest vaudeville dialogue of all time.

Sounds dry, I know, but it's a delight. Spend five minutes watching, and you'll be hooked for the remaining forty, so set aside a little time.

Tarot

Have £2500 lying around? Then you can earn my envy by owning a watercolour by Frieda, Lady Harris of the Fool card for the Thoth tarot deck—a version which Aleister Crowley evidently rejected. There's more from Ms Harris for sale from Caduceus Books if you're into that sort of thing, but it's the Fool who is dear to my heart, because he's drawn to look like the occult master Harpo Marx.

14 June 2006

Gratuitous infographics

For those of you who have never seen Royskopp's cunning video for their song “Remind Me,” check it out. It's a cavalcade of faux infographic whimsy. And the song is pretty catchy.

If you like that sort of thing, you may also want to check out another little something, full of dancing faux blueprints.

Crane

Stephen Crane is mainly remembered today as the author of The Red Badge of Courage, which you likely had to read in high school. But Stephen Crane also wrote poetry, which I remember discovering in my American lit textbook.

Crane's poetry has a kind of steely, vivid, precise voice. And it is uncompromisingly cold and bleak. Not cold and bleak in a wistful, romantic ruins, Edgar Alan Poe, recite it and the goth girls may swoon for you kind of way. Cold and bleak like an operating theatre. It is bitter, but I like it. Not to everyone's tastes.

Looking through that online collection, I discover that he wrote one hell of a love poem.

Should the wide world roll away,
Leaving black terror,
Limitless night,
Nor God, nor man, nor place to stand
Would be to me essential,
If thou and thy white arms were there,
And the fall to doom a long way.

Fierce.

13 June 2006

Truth vs Fact

Warren Ellis retells a legend about George Lucas and Akira Kurosawa which is almost certainly not factual, but is certainly true.

Better cocktails through science

The New York Times reports that contemporary mixology is truly an -ology in that it's full of Big Science.
Mr. Cantu uses a grade-school science trick — baking soda plus acid equals fizz — for his Fizzing & Foaming Hurricane and a very not-grade-school trick involving a Class 4 laser, typically used for military experiments and eye surgery, according to Mr. Cantu, and a vanilla bean to “caramelaserize” a wineglass — that is, to coat it with the flavor of vanilla — before filling it with red wine and pairing the altered wine with a beef course on his restaurant's tasting menu.
This reminds me of a legend about some mixologists at Los Alamos who were fond of very dry Martinis. They strapped a bottle of vermouth to an A-bomb that was being tested in the desert. Then for weeks after the explosion, they would make a shaker of just gin and ice, pour it into a cocktail glass, open a window, reach out the window with the glass in hand for a few moments, then drop an olive into the glass an announce that the Martini had just the right amount of vermouth.

12 June 2006

National security

If you're the kind of person who is fascinated by close analysis of polling data—and who isn't?—then you'll love this post from Chris Bowers at MyDD. Here's what we bloggers call the nut ’graph, in which he unpacks voters concerned with “national security” into folks concerned with Iraq vs. those concerned with terrorism:
I do not think that there is a national security gap where Democrats have not convinced enough people that they can keep America safe. I do not think it is particularly useful to lump two distinct voting blocks, those concerned with Iraq and those most concerned with terrorism, into a single “national security” voting block and then conclude that we are losing this group of voters for a single reason: that they do not trust Democrats to keep America safe. Clearly, the Iraq block of voters do trust Democrats to keep America safe, as even in the South they voted for Kerry in overwhelming numbers. On the other hand, those concerned with terrorism, who clearly do not trust Democrats to keep America safe, cannot ever be expected to trust Democrats to keep America safe because their faith-based, identity-based worldview is antithetical with liberalism.
This implies that further precipitating a clash-of-civilizations type of conflict with the Muslim world would work to Republicans’ electoral benefit. Brr.

11 June 2006

Colour

Wow. A particularly charming optical illusion. Read the directions in fine print at the top.

10 June 2006

Marketing

Indri of Waterbones points me to Genpets, a disturbing little masterpiece of web art about how technology products are marketed.

Be sure to check out the reseller's catalogue.

09 June 2006

Today's quote

Big Media Matthew Yglasias weighs the tactical antiterrorist value of our recent success in killing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
The Israelis certainly have proven a lot of things about the tactical/operational aspects of counterterrorism time and again. And, indeed, again. And again. They've proven them so often, for so long, that one might almost conclude that tactical counterterrorism accomplishes very little absent resolution of the underlying political conflicts.
Maybe the Israelis aren't trying hard enough.

Sandman

Like seemingly everybody, I'm a Neil Gaiman fan. Old school; I started buying The Sandman with issue #8, and I picked up the complete run of the series in hardcover at a time when I couldn't really afford it.

I also follow the man's blog, and lately he's revealed that DC wants to assemble an Absolute Sandman collection with lots of little goodies and recoloured art.

Recouloured art? Isn't that like George Lucas going back and screwing up the Star Wars movies that he made back when he was a real director? No, says Neil.

Because frankly, the first twenty odd issues of Sandman (in particular, but there’s more running through) were colored for a process that hasn’t been used for twenty years on that old paper stock. And now the paper stock is amazing, the print process is amazing and we’re still using the colors which look worse and worse with every printing. That’s not satisfactory. We’ve always known we needed to recolor the first two graphic novels and maybe the first couple issues of Dream Country ...
I read him saying that sort of thing and was thinking “yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm happy with the editions I have now, I'm not gonna get suckered into being a fanboy sinking even more money into a book I don't really need.”

Then he published a before-and-after sample in his blog.

Zowie. If you have any love for Sandman at all, you have to go see. Neil says:

Leaving aside the crispness of the reproduction here, one thing that's impressed me over and over as we've worked on Absolute Sandman is the number of places where what seemed like poor storytelling on an artist's part turned out to make perfect sense once the colouring was fixed.
Seeing those panels, I believe it.

08 June 2006

Today's quote

Tim F. at Balloon Juice, charmed by the fresh outrage of Republicans who have recently become disgusted with the Bush Administration, observes:
Sure I was outraged once, back around the time that he got elected the first time, but that steam blew off a long time ago. I have long since reached the political equivalent of a thousand-yard stare.
My blog readers probably don't realize this, since y'all catch the moments when my outrage rallies again, but I know the feeling.

Word of the day

kayfabe
In professional wrestling, kayfabe (pronounced KAY-fayb) refers to the portrayal of events within the industry as real, that is the portrayal of professional wrestling as not staged or worked. Referring to events as kayfabe means that they are worked events, and/or part of a wrestling storyline. In relative terms, a wrestler breaking kayfabe during a show would be likened to an actor breaking character on camera.

Kayfabe is often seen as the suspension of disbelief that is used to create the non-wrestling aspects of promotions, such as feuds, storylines, and gimmicks, in a similar manner with other forms of entertainment such as soap opera or movie. In the past, kayfabe was strongly adhered to in order to preserve the illusion that pro wrestling was not staged ....

Ganked from a long description of kayfabe and its implications on WikiPedia ... which has a whole index of carny lingo-ish pro wrestling jargon. Of course.

07 June 2006

Today's quote

I know it's a cheap shot to quote these folks, but this one just jumped out at me. Robert J. Stewart kicks off a long essay, “When a Woman Wears Pants,” with a story.
After I gave her the truth, she immediately became defensive concerning the pants she was wearing by exclaiming, “So what? I don't think THERE'S ANYTHING WRONG WITH WOMEN WEARING PANTS.” I tried to show her more Scriptures, but she couldn't be reasoned with.
Couldn't be reasoned with. Some folks do seem impervious to reason. Still, as Inigo Montoya says, I do not think the word means what he thinks it means.

More torture news

Not from the “War on Terror,” but from the “War on Drugs.” Chilling.

And yet another reason to be anti-war and anti-“war.”

06 June 2006

666

So it's 6/6/06, which is of course the National Day of Slayer, everyone's favourite Satanic speed metal band. Um, actually, I don't recommend clicking that there link, since your computer will then start singing Slayer to you, which I have discovered has the Satanic power to give me a headache.

You have been warned, good people.

Pagan blog The Wild Hunt has a collection of amusing and illuminating links in honour of the day, my favourite being a link to a long article in the Los Angeles Alternative about the Church of Satan's sold-out Satanic High Mass in LA tonight ... which shows the Mass, and the Church, to be about as scary as the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland. The Mass sounds to be sort of like a Hallowe'en vaudeville show ... which makes sense since CoS founder Anton LaVey gave Gene Rayburn and Milton Berle a run for their money for the title of Last Vaudevillian.

The Wild Hunt's post also includes the usual admonitions that Pagans ain't Satanists, and there's also a silly set of pictures of various famous folks, including John Lennon and Pat Robertson, throwing the goat—with our nation's President conspicuously absent, in spite of feaured as a result of having a habit of doing it.

Plus, for what it's worth, a I have a little numerology for ya: the sum of the squares of the first seven prime numbers totals 666. Spooooky.

Hitler

In honor of 6/6/06, I offer you a meditation on the question of evil.

When I was a teenager, I read Jeremy Levin's strange comic novel of ideas Satan: His Psychoanalysis and Cure by the Unfortunate Dr. Kassler, J.S.P.S. There's a scene which has stuck with me and surfaces in my thinking more and more these days. Kassler asks Satan about the nature of evil and Satan becomes very sharp with him. Don't get too interested in evil, warns Satan. It only leads to trouble. Hitler, after all, was a man determined to rid the world of evil.

I often say that moral certainty is an ethical failure. It's moral certainty that allows you to decide to crash a plane into a building, blow up an abortion clinic, hand AK-47s to children, and so on. A little uncertainty about your own righteousness is essential to ethical behavior.

J. David Velleman at Left2Right has a similar meditation on the nature of Hitler's evil that contains an elaboration of this point.

Rosenbaum develops his thesis in response to a remark that was made to him by the British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper

....

Trevor-Roper had developed a strong conviction about the nature of Hitler's mind. It was a conviction I evoked with a question that evening in the Oxford-Cambridge Club: “Did Hitler know he was doing wrong when he was committing his crimes? Did he know his acts were evil?”

“Oh, no,” Trevor-Roper told me with great asperity. “Hitler was convinced of his own rectitude.”

....

Rosenbaum has overlooked the most important word in the remark that haunts him. What Trevor-Roper said to him is, not that Hitler believed in his own rectitude, but that he was certain of it. And self-certainty of this kind, far from a mitigating factor, is a profound moral flaw, since it blinds one to one's own fallibility, to the ever-present risk of unwittingly doing wrong. To say that Hitler was certain of his own rectitude is not to excuse him from condemnation; it is a form of condemnation — an especially damning form. Certainty of his own rectitude is the flaw that we might also charge against Osama bin Laden: it's the flaw of the fanatic.

Just so.

And I found this via Nate at de crapulas edormiendo, whose follow-up to Velleman is also interesting ... and worth visiting if only to see the subtitle of the blog.

05 June 2006

Semiotics

Marian Bantjes dares to ask the question “what if corporate logos were designed like midæval heraldry?”

Pill

Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon sums up the reasons for my choice for the Greatest Man of the Twentieth Century in the course of a dazzling post which argues that “pro-life” social conservatism is not simply anti-sex ... it's actually enforcement of all kinds of creepy power relationships.

“I cannot imagine any development in human history, after the Fall, that has had a greater impact on human beings than the pill,” Mohler continued. “It became almost an assured form of contraception, something humans had never encountered before in history. Prior to it, every time a couple had sex, there was a good chance of pregnancy. Once that is removed, the entire horizon of the sexual act changes. I think there could be no question that the pill gave incredible license to everything from adultery and affairs to premarital sex and within marriage to a separation of the sex act and procreation.”
I agree with Mohler that the pill has indeed been one of the most profound inventions in human history. But of course, he’s an idiot and loses his argument after making that admission and actually tries to argue that premarital sex and adultery weren’t rampant before it, which is like arguing that people didn’t murder before there were guns. What has changed and changed profoundly is that for the first time in history, women have a real shot at equality with men. And for the first time in history, sex isn’t a force that tears women and men apart as they try to negotiate the number of sexual encounters and therefore pregnancies. Now sex is something that brings us together, because for the first time in history, men and women can view it with roughly the same perspective. It that new world of opportunities that conservatives find so threatening.

Not only is Ms Marcotte's essay worth reading in full, but her links at the end of her post are all worthy of attention, particularly the one to Echidne Of the Snakes.

04 June 2006

It must be high or low

Michael Bérubé doesn't just maintain a blog in the running for best combination of smart and witty in all of Left Blogistan. He also does an impressive personal-blog turn, writing about raising his son Jamie, who has Down's Syndrome, in a schmaltz-free yet deeply moving way.

Check out how he manages this trick in a post about his son's love for the greatest rock 'n' roll band of all time.

03 June 2006

Voting

Via Tristero at Hullabaloo, I learn that Robert Cringely describes a situation in which pencil, paper, and people are the best solution to a big data processing problem—elections.
The Canadians are watching our election problems and laughing their butts off. They think we are crazy, and they are right.

Forget touch screens and electronic voting. In Canadian Federal elections, two barely-paid representatives of each party, known as “scrutineers,” are present all day at the voting place. If there are more political parties, there are more scrutineers. To vote, you write an “X” with a pencil in a one centimeter circle beside the candidate's name, fold the ballot up and stuff it into a box. Later, the scrutineers AND ANY VOTER WHO WANTS TO WATCH all sit at a table for about half an hour and count every ballot, keeping a tally for each candidate. If the counts agree at the end of the process, the results are phoned-in and everyone goes home. If they don't, you do it again. Fairness is achieved by balanced self-interest, not by technology. The population of Canada is about the same as California, so the elections are of comparable scale. In the last Canadian Federal election the entire vote was counted in four hours. Why does it take us 30 days or more?

The 2002-2003 budget for Elections Canada is just over $57 million U.S. dollars, or $1.81 per Canadian citizen. It is extremely hard to get an equivalent per-citizen figure for U.S. elections, but trust me, it is a LOT higher. This week, San Francisco held a runoff mayoral election that cost $2.5 million, or $3.27 per citizen of the city. And this was for just one election, not a whole year of them.

We are spending $3.9 billion or $10 per citizen for new voting machines. Canada just prints ballots.

This in the course of an article describing yet again the verification problems in electronic voting.

BTW, that wasn't even Tristero's main point, which was actually linking to the new, long article in Rolling Stone which argues vigorously that yeah, the 2004 election was stolen after all. I knew that there had been a number of reports of dirty pool in the '04 election, but I hadn't taken seriously the possibility that it swung the election. The Rolling Stone article had me beginning to change my tune, but James Joyner at Outside the Beltway and Farhad Manjoo at Salon pick the article apart pretty thoroughly. So yeah, the 2004 election was dirty, but W really did win.

Brilliant hack

Check this out. Don't bother with reading it first; just scroll down and watch the video. Then read how it takes advantage of the motion sensor in the PowerBook that protects the hard drive from the effects of a fall, if you like.

Just as charming as this hack on the same technology, but much more useful.

02 June 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

Ebert pulls out all of the stops.
In 39 years, I have never written these words in a movie review, but here they are: You owe it to yourself to see this film.
Opening weekend grosses will have a big effect on how long the picture will stay in theatres. See it this weekend if you can.

Colour

At the ever-intriguing BAGnews Notes, we see Alan Chin's amazing photographs from Hurricaine Katrina, and some interesting discussion about what makes those photographs work.

... these pictures seem that much more raw. Not surprisingly, his answer illuminated the difference it made that most of the news photos were in color. Chin explained:
I shot it in black-and-white because we live in America, so no matter what happens, we always have visual elements that are very distracting. I was one of the only people who did this in black and white. I felt it should not be distracted by color, by the fact someone might have been wearing a hot pink t-shirt. I didn't want that irony in it. I wanted to get to the heart of the matter—to the crucial thing.
The medium may not quite be the message, but subtle choices in medium do shape the message.

BAG news has the collection above, plus two followups: St. Rita Ongoing and The Katrina Landscape.

01 June 2006

Southern strategy

Politics junkies like me may be starting to see the initial signs that Republican party kingmakers are looking at Virginia Senator George Allen as a good candidate for President in '08.

Digby has the scoop on this guy, and it will make your blood run cold.

In Mudcat Saunders' new book about how the Democrats can win the south, he and his co-author go to great lengths to explain that politicians must have southern cultural tastes in order to win the presidency. Presumably a guy like Allen (who during his teen-age years in Southern California had a confederate flag on his mustang and wore a rebel flag pin in his graduation picture) is a man who has lived his bona fides even better than the the Yale fratboy, Junior Bush. Nobody can assail his good ole boy pretentions.
...
It's hard to believe that they can't find a southern Republican who isn't a sadistic idiot to run for president, but I'm beginning to think that's the real problem. Guys like Bush and Allen are the best they can do.
Digby's post is built around quotes from a long and fascinating article about Allen from The New Republic. Mark A R Kleiman also comments and links thoughtfully with respect to that same TNR. I highly recommend all of these resources—but only if you're a junkie like me.

Art car

Via Content Love, taken at Burning Flipside.