31 July 2007

L'avventura

Michaelangelo Antonioni
1912-2007
Filmmaker

That's two great European filmmakers in a row. Godard had best be careful crossing the street this week; we don't want him getting hit by a truck.


More of my obits

Sweet Jane (With Affection)

You've likely heard the Cowboy Junkies' dreamy Trinity Sessions version of “Sweet Jane.” Lou Reed is well known to have said that it is the best recording of the song he had heard, better than his own. And it certainly is amazing.

But according to legend, Mr Reed later heard the Two Nice Girls' recording “Sweet Jane (With Affection),” which mixes in several slices of Joan Armatrading's “Love and Affection,” and was moved to say that he that he was a little sorry he hadn't known to plug their version instead.

It's one of the most magical recordings I've ever heard, and I just recently discovered that you can hear it, together with a little video, on the Two Nice Girls website, where you can also buy the album. Enjoy. (Update: It seems the video link is borked. At the moment, you can hear the song via YouTube.)

And since the internet reports that it doesn't have them handy, I have transcribed the lyrics here ...



Standing on the corner
Suitcase in my hand
Jack he’s in his corset
Jane she’s in her vest
Me I’m in a nice-girls-band
Ridin’ in a Stutz Bearcat (I wish)
Those they were different times
The poets they studied loose verse
And the ladies they hold their eyes
Sweet Sweet Jane ... Jane
Sweet Sweet Jane ... Jane
Sweet Sweet Jane ... Jane

Jack he is a banker
Jane she is a clerk
Oh they save their money
They come home from work
Sittin’ by the fire
The radio does play
And the March of the Wooden Soldiers, yeah
You could hear Jackie say
Just give me love ooh-oo-hoo
Sweet Sweet Jane ... Jane
With affection
Sing me another love song ...
Sweet Jane ...
      ... but this time with a little dedication
... Jane
Sing it sing it sing it sing it
Sweet Jane ...
You know that's what I like
... Jane
Love ooh-oo-hoo

Thank you
Some people love to go out dancing
You took me dancing
Some people they have to work
’Cross the floor
Then there are ...
Cheek to cheek
      ... those among us
With another I could really dance
That will tell you everything ...
Really dance
      ... is just dirt
I could really move
And I’ve got all ...
And know that women they don't really faint
      ... the friends that I want
And that villains they always they blink their eyes
I may need more
And the children are the only ones who blush
But I shall just stick to the ones who ...
And that life is just to die
Anyone ... anyone who had a heart
Wouldn't turn around wouldn't turn around and break it
Anyone who had ... anyone who ever played the part
Wouldn't turn around wouldn't turn around and hate
Sweet Sweet Jane ... Jane ... Jane
Sweet Sweet Jane ... Jane ... Jane
Sweet Sweet Jane ... Jane ... Jane
Sweet Sweet Jane ... Jane ...
Just give me love ooh-oo-hoo
Sweet Sweet Jane ... Jane
And affection
Sing me another love song
Sweet Sweet Jane ... Jane
But this time with a little dedication
Sing it sing it sing it sing it
Sweet Sweet Jane
You know that's what I like
Love ooh-oo-hoo

30 July 2007

Radiocarbon dating

I'm relieved to learn that I'm not the only person who sometimes thinks of this when in the middle of an article about the fossil record.

Checkmate

Ingmar Bergman
1918-2007
Filmmaker

I guess I'll be watching The Seventh Seal tonight.

29 July 2007

Talking behind our backs

British journalist Johann Hari meets Red America.

I am standing waist-deep in the Pacific Ocean, both chilling and burning, indulging in the polite chit-chat beloved by vacationing Americans. A sweet elderly lady from Los Angeles is sitting on the rocks nearby, telling me dreamily about her son. “Is he your only child?" I ask. “Yes,” she says. “Do you have a child back in England?” she asks. No, I say. Her face darkens. “You'd better start,” she says. “The Muslims are breeding. Soon, they'll have the whole of Europe.”

I am getting used to these moments—when gentle holiday geniality bleeds into ... what? I lie on the beach with Hillary-Ann, a chatty, scatty 35-year-old Californian designer. As she explains the perils of Republican dating, my mind drifts, watching the gentle tide. When I hear her say, “Of course, we need to execute some of these people,” I wake up. Who do we need to execute? She runs her fingers through the sand lazily. “A few of these prominent liberals who are trying to demoralise the country,” she says. “Just take a couple of these anti-war people off to the gas chamber for treason to show, if you try to bring down America at a time of war, that's what you'll get.” She squints at the sun and smiles. “Then things'll change.”

I am travelling on a bright white cruise ship with two restaurants, five bars, a casino—and 500 readers of the National Review. Here, the Iraq war has been “an amazing success”. Global warming is not happening. The solitary black person claims, “If the Ku Klux Klan supports equal rights, then God bless them.” And I have nowhere to run.

From time to time, National Review—the bible of American conservatism—organises a cruise for its readers. I paid $1,200 to join them.

Mind you, we're talking about the National Review, the undisputed leading magazine of American conservatism, founded by the witty and brilliant William F. Buckley, Jr., not the internet fever swamps of Little Green Footballs, FreeRepublic.com, or worse.

Not that I have any illusions about the National Review, after Brad DeLong has done us the service of digging through their archives.

Meanwhile, Max Blumenthal has been showing up at conservative events with a video camera, talking to participants. He turned up for the Christians United for Israel summit, which truly has to be seen to be believed. Among other things, it actually made me hate Joe Lieberman even more.

I attended Christians United for Israel's annual Washington-Israel Summit. Founded by San Antonio-based megachurch pastor John Hagee, CUFI has added the grassroots muscle of the Christian right to the already potent Israel lobby. Hagee and his minions have forged close ties with the Bush White House and members of Congress from Sen. Joseph Lieberman to Sen. John McCain. In its call for a unilateral military attack on Iran and the expansion of Israeli territory, CUFI has found unwavering encouragement from traditional pro-Israel groups like AIPAC and elements of the Israeli government.

But CUFI has an ulterior agenda: its support for Israel derives from the belief of Hagee and his flock that Jesus will return to Jerusalem after the battle of Armageddon and cleanse the earth of evil. In the end, all the non-believers—Jews, Muslims, Hindus, mainline Christians, etc.—must convert or suffer the torture of eternal damnation. Over a dozen CUFI members eagerly revealed to me their excitement at the prospect of Armageddon occurring tomorrow.

....

I have covered the Christian right intensely for over four years. During this time, I attended dozens of Christian right conferences, regularly monitored movement publications and radio shows, and interviewed scores of its key leaders. I have never witnessed any spectacle as politically extreme, outrageous, or bizarre as the one Christians United for Israel produced last week in Washington.

Don't kid yourself, this isn't a weird sideshow, any more than the National Review cruisers are. This is central to the conservative movement, and to the shape of American foreign policy. Evangelicals' belief that Israel is pivotal in fulfilling Biblical prophecies of Armageddon is far more responsible for the US supporting Israel than any Jewish or Israeli lobbying.

Almost as chilling, but much funnier, is Blumenthal's encounter with college Republicans. And less frivolously, his piece on CPAC, the conservative Political Action Committee, shows a very odd assortment of characters saying some odd and troubling stuff.

Blumenthal is becoming a bit like Michael Moore: smart, crafty, gutsy, and funny ... but with a badly compromising inability to resist the occasional cheap shot, as in his followup to the CPAC piece. That criticism of Blumenthal's style aside, he and Hari offer a scary look into the conservative mind. And don't forget that folks are the movement that gave us the Bush administration.

28 July 2007

College

Via Dragonlady Flame, Bill Watterson says:
In the middle of my sophomore year at Kenyon, I decided to paint a copy of Michelangelo's “Creation of Adam” from the Sistine Chapel on the ceiling of my dorm room. By standing on a chair, I could reach the ceiling, and I taped off a section, made a grid, and started to copy the picture from my art history book.

Working with your arm over your head is hard work, so a few of my more ingenious friends rigged up a scaffold for me by stacking two chairs on my bed, and laying the table from the hall lounge across the chairs and over to the top of my closet. By climbing up onto my bed and up the chairs, I could hoist myself onto the table, and lie in relative comfort two feet under my painting. My roommate would then hand up my paints, and I could work for several hours at a stretch.

The picture took me months to do, and in fact, I didn't finish the work until very near the end of the school year. I wasn't much of a painter then, but what the work lacked in color sense and technical flourish, it gained in the incongruity of having a High Renaissance masterpiece in a college dorm that had the unmistakable odor of old beer cans and older laundry.

The painting lent an air of cosmic grandeur to my room, and it seemed to put life into a larger perspective. Those boring, flowery English poets didn't seem quite so important, when right above my head God was transmitting the spark of life to man. My friends and I liked the finished painting so much in fact, that we decided I should ask permission to do it. As you might expect, the housing director was curious to know why I wanted to paint this elaborate picture on my ceiling a few weeks before school let out. Well, you don't get to be a sophomore at Kenyon without learning how to fabricate ideas you never had, but I guess it was obvious that my idea was being proposed retroactively. It ended up that I was allowed to paint the picture, so long as I painted over it and returned the ceiling to normal at the end of the year. And that's what I did.

Despite the futility of the whole episode, my fondest memories of college are times like these, where things were done out of some inexplicable inner imperative, rather than because the work was demanded.

From a 1990 commencement address.

27 July 2007

None dare call it

R. U. Sirius interviews David Talbot about his book Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years, and it's like James Ellroy's American Tabloid on acid. Literally, in parts.
Mary Meyer met JFK when they were both in prep school.... By the early 60s, Mary Meyer was kind of a pre-hippie hippie. She was an artist and a painter living in Georgetown. And she had divorced her husband and she was having an affair with the President. And I think it was quite a serious relationship—it wasn't one of these fiddle-and-faddle kind of flings that Kennedy would have.
....
And in this idyllic period in the early '60s, she was taken with the idea that peace, love and drugs could change the world. Specifically, she was out to turn on the world's leaders to the idea that they don't have to be in a constant state of war. So she went to Harvard, where Timothy Leary, of course, was still a respected professor in those days.
....
She was setting up these acid experiments involving some of the more prominent men in Washington. She was doing this through their mistresses and wives. Apparently, she has some of these sessions, and she thought they were succeeding quite well.
....
About a year after the assassination, he looked up Mary Meyer and found out to his horror that she had also died a violent death while walking on a towpath along a canal in Washington. In broad daylight, a man came up to her and killed her, execution style—shot her through the head and the heart. She wasn't sexually violated and nothing was stolen. It was just an execution-style murder that was never solved.
History is full of weird stuff.

In the interview, Mr Talbot also provides a lucid, un-zany overview of the Bay of Pigs misadventure, both Kennedy assassinations, and the Civil Rights Movement during the Kennedy administrations.

26 July 2007

Organizational dysfunction

Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings reads the recent articles in the Washington Post about Vice President Cheney and makes some cutting observations.
These articles should be assigned to management classes as studies in what not to do. They describe the exact sort of decision-making process that reliably leads to disaster, and the kinds of personal dynamics that enable it. It's a model of complete organizational breakdown, and it should be studied for generations to come, so that it is never repeated.
This is very reminicent of the George W. Bush: Bad CEO thesis I was blogging about a few years back.

25 July 2007

Today's quote

Ganked directly from Al at In Pursuit of the Mysteries, Chairman Bruce Sterling:

Don’t become a well-rounded person. Well rounded people are smooth and dull. Become a thoroughly spiky person. Grow spikes from every angle. Stick in their throats like a pufferfish. If you want to woo the muse of the odd, don’t read Shakespeare. Read Webster’s revenge plays. Don’t read Homer and Aristotle. Read Herodotus where he’s off talking about Egyptian women having public sex with goats. If you want to read about myth don’t read Joseph Campbell, read about convulsive religion, read about voodoo and the Millerites and the Munster Anabaptists. There are hundreds of years of extremities, there are vast legacies of mutants. There have always been geeks. There will always be geeks. Become the apotheosis of geek. Learn who your spiritual ancestors were. You didn’t come here from nowhere. There are reasons why you’re here. Learn those reasons. Learn about the stuff that was buried because it was too experimental or embarrassing or inexplicable.

From Sterling's essay The Wonderful Power of Storytelling.

Comedy

This comic strip pretty much covers all of the structural fundamentals of comedy in three identically-illustrated panels.

24 July 2007

General

In case you missed it, Seymour Hersch had another chunk of investigative journalism out in New Yorker last month, this time about Major General Antonio M. Taguba. Brent Budowsky summarizes:
Among other things, Taguba says:
  1. He was ordered not to investigate higher-ups in the chain of command, which means there was (is) a cover-up protecting the highest-ranking Bush administration officials who might have criminal liability.
  2. Early in his investigation he was threatened with career retribution if he dared to seek the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
  3. After his investigation he was punished by being forced into early retirement.
  4. He suggests that Don Rumsfeld might have lied when he testified before Congress, which would be a criminal offense.
  5. He details meetings in which Rumsfeld spoke to him in terms that were sarcastic, rude and unprofessional shortly before Rumsfeld would publicly say how much he supported the investigation and wanted the truth to come out.
  6. He reveals specific acts of torture that are beyond what was publicly known, and videos of Abu Ghraib torture have not been released that provide strong evidence that the crimes of Abu Ghraib were known earlier and far higher up than previously reported.
  7. He expresses serious concern that the same forms of torture used at Abu Ghraib were (are?) also used at Guantanamo Bay, which remains open and the subject of world-wide condemnation.
At some point Gen. Taguba will be called to testify publicly and will prove one of the most explosive witnesses in six years, while investigative reporters and almost certainly congressional committees are currently looking into Abu Ghraib.

The implications of this are enormous because they go to potential perjury and giving false testimony to Congress and investigators, and lead outward throughout the dark side of the Bush years.

There is a high probability that investigation of the Abu Ghraib crimes and cover-up will lead upward to Donald Rumsfeld and his coterie of neoconservative aides and their shadow CIA run through the Department of Defense.

There is a substantial possibility this leads to the role of Alberto Gonzales on the range of torture issues at the Department of Justice and during his years as White House Counsel.

There is significant possibility this leads to Vice President Cheney, the most aggressive advocate of what the world considers torture of any senior official anywhere in the free world.

Colour me unsurprised.

23 July 2007

Useful term

Okay, Wikipedia may not be a reliable encyclopedia any more, but it is full of useful information. Consider this excerpt from a Wikipedia entry:
  • What would X Do? (WWXD)

    Original: What Would Jesus Do? (WWJD)

    Example: “WWXD” (What would Xena Do?). Or “What Would Brian Boitano Do?” (from South Park). Sometimes one of the other elements is replaced, as in “What Would Jesus Eat?” or “Who Would Jesus Invade?” or “Where Would Jesus Shop?”

  • Worst. X. Ever.

    Origin: The alt.tv.simpsons newsgroup. Popularized by the character Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons as a parody of the fans that regularly post to the newsgroup criticizing the show.

    Example: “Worst. Episode. Ever.” (from the episode “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show”)

  • In a world where X, one man Y.

    A common pattern followed in movie trailer voice-overs, particularly those performed by actor Don LaFontaine. Satirized in the trailer for the movie Comedian starring Jerry Seinfeld, and by LaFontaine himself in an advertisement for GEICO car insurance (“In a world where both our cars were completely underwater...”)

  • The X formerly known as Y.

    Original: “The artist formerly known as Prince”.

They're called snowclones, and Wikipedia has a list of them dating back to the 16th Century and before, including the special case of the Russian Reversal.

This is useful information if, of course, by “useful information,” of course I mean “useless but entertaining web nonsense.”

22 July 2007

The Future

Cory Doctrow talks clever at Locus Online.
There's a lovely neologism to describe these visions: “futurismic.” Futurismic media is that which depicts futurism, not the future. It is often self-serving—think of the antigrav Nikes in Back to the Future III—and it generally doesn't hold up well to scrutiny.

SF films and TV are great fonts of futurismic imagery: R2D2 is a fully conscious AI, can hack the firewall of the Death Star, and is equipped with a range of holographic projectors and antipersonnel devices—but no one has installed a $15 sound card and some text-to-speech software on him, so he has to whistle like Harpo Marx.

It is lovely that we even need a neologism like “futurismic.”

21 July 2007

Errata

Momus has an old follow-up to a manifesto:
Our Manifesto, which this summer proposed the bold new artform ‘Ultra-Paranoid (Extra-Spatial) Portable Art’, aroused vigorous debate in the British art world. Unfortunately it also contained certain dangerous inaccuracies. At the behest of Detective Superintendant Ken Bradwell of Scotland Yard's Serious Fraud (Art Movements) Squad we have issued the following list of errata, apologia and retractions.

(Nevertheless, long live ‘Ultra-Paranoid (Extra-Spatial) Portable Art’!)

1. In paragraph 17 (green calligraphy on a purple background) we stated: ‘Burn down The Academy, for it does not represent ‘Ultra-Paranoid (Extra-Spatial) Portable Art’ !’

Our legal representative, Mr Bernard Bloom, has asked us to make it clear that no libel or calumny was intended against Norman Rosenthal, the board, trustees and friends of the Royal Academy, or in fact any public institution of art, be it gallery or college. And our thanks go to Reginald Longley of London Fire Brigade for pointing out that arson is, quite rightly, illegal. We do not for a moment endorse in the name of ‘Ultra-Paranoid (Extra-Spatial) Portable Art’ any act of fire-setting. We rather intended to represent, by ‘The Academy’, a state of mind, and by ‘Burn down’, a wish for peaceful, democratic change ....

20 July 2007

The World Wide Web

Glimpse the future being correctly predicted by the good people at DEC.
... a vast array of information is being made available in an attractive, easy-to-use form—and for free!—over the Internet. A global electronic mall is under construction. People congregate here, interact here, and find the information they want. And here, too, they are beginning to conduct business ...
Richard Seltzer reports:
This video was created by me and Berthold Langer in February 1994, when we worked at DEC. NCSA (creators of Mosaic, the first Web browsers) and dozens of other organizations, distributed thousands of copies of this video, using it to help spread the word about the business potential of the Web, which, at that time, many business people found difficult to imagine.
Wow.

I vividly recall a talk in '94 or '95 by Nicholas Negroponte, of MIT Media Lab and the back page of Wired, in which someone in the audience asked Negroponte if we would ever see advertising on the Internet. Ha ha.

(Negroponte, to his credit, said that it was already happening, and that we could count on seeing more and more ... )

Don't they watch movies?

Killer flying robots.

We're not supposed to worry because they're on our side.

19 July 2007

Kwik

Promotional efforts for The Simpsons Movie suggest that satire may be impossible in our contemporary world.

Two great tastes

The web has everything you can think of, including people playing chess on roller coasters.

18 July 2007

Pictures of hot babes

Hmmnn.

I find that this photograph of writer Audacia Ray has the effect on me that, say, this picture of Ms Britney Spears is said to have on many blokes.

Zowie.

Now I want to resist the temptation to get on a high horse about my tastes. Yeah, it seems to me that I dig distinctive-looking beauty, rather than than the blandly-very-pretty that passes for “beauty” in American popular culture, and that my preference is “better” both in æsthetic judgment and in cultural implications. But everybody feels that way; de gustibus and all that. I think of all the artists well known for transparent obsessions with depicting people with particular sorts of builds: Peter Paul Rubens, Robert Mapplethorpe, Robert Crumb, on and on. The eye likes what it likes.

In fact, this gives me sympathy for fellas who had their preferences installed more correctly by American culture than I did, who therefore find themselves constantly confronting hypnotic images of feminine beauty generated by our vulgar culture industry. That's gotta be bewildering.

I count myself lucky to be just slightly out of phase from the norm.

Which reminds me of an odd reflection on the subject by Eric S. Raymond.

A couple days ago I chased a link over to unablogger and found myself unexpectedly confronted by pictures of naked women. This picture, in particular. And I noticed something unusual—which was that I liked it.

Don’t get me wrong, here. I’m a functioning heterosexual male; I enjoy looking at naked women. It’s most pictures of naked women I can’t stand. I’ve found by experience that most of the vast amounts of pornography available on the Internet leave me feeling more repelled than aroused. And not out of puritanism either; I have no intrinsic moral objection to porn, and I judge that the consequentialist arguments against it don’t stand the reality test.

No, the truth is that I find most porn subtly and deeply ugly. Unablogger’s picture (which happens to be of a Czech model named Veronika Zemanova) was a sufficiently glaring exception that it stimulated me to think seriously about why.

I found Mr Raymond's guesses about what unappealing pornography is trying to do to be intriguing, though as he is uncomfortable with feminism he was more dismissive of the power symbolism in pornographic images than I would be.

Which brings me back to Ms Ray: having seen that first picture, I spent a minute with Google and found that she has had a number of far more racy pictures taken of her ... pictures I didn't find nearly so affecting.

And I found out about her because she's art modeling at Dr. Sketchy's Barbary Coast this weekend. Having now thought this hard about her picture, I think it's probably fortunate that I won't be able to attend that event.

Update: I learn that my man, nerdcore slam poet Big Poppa E has been reflecting on nerdy fellas' needs in racy pictures. Preach it, brother.

17 July 2007

Nobody loves you, music industry

Apropos of my recent post quoting Fake Steve Jobs, Brian Hiatt and Evan Serpick at Rolling Stone report that the record industry is ... well ... doomed.
So who killed the record industry as we knew it? “The record companies have created this situation themselves,” says Simon Wright, CEO of Virgin Entertainment Group, which operates Virgin Megastores. While there are factors outside of the labels' control—from the rise of the Internet to the popularity of video games and DVDs—many in the industry see the last seven years as a series of botched opportunities. And among the biggest, they say, was the labels' failure to address online piracy at the beginning by making peace with the first file-sharing service, Napster. “They left billions and billions of dollars on the table by suing Napster—that was the moment that the labels killed themselves,” says Jeff Kwatinetz, CEO of management company the Firm. “The record business had an unbelievable opportunity there. They were all using the same service. It was as if everybody was listening to the same radio station. Then Napster shut down, and all those 30 or 40 million people went to other [file-sharing services].”

It all could have been different: Seven years ago, the music industry's top executives gathered for secret talks with Napster CEO Hank Barry.
....
The idea was to let Napster's 38 million users keep downloading for a monthly subscription fee—roughly $10—with revenues split between the service and the labels. But ultimately, despite a public offer of $1 billion from Napster, the companies never reached a settlement. “The record companies needed to jump off a cliff, and they couldn't bring themselves to jump,” says Hilary Rosen, who was then CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America. “A lot of people say, ‘The labels were dinosaurs and idiots, and what was the matter with them?’ But they had retailers telling them, ‘You better not sell anything online cheaper than in a store,’ and they had artists saying, ‘Don't screw up my Wal-Mart sales.’ ” Adds Jim Guerinot, who manages Nine Inch Nails and Gwen Stefani, “Innovation meant cannibalizing their core business.”

Even worse, the record companies waited almost two years after Napster's July 2nd, 2001, shutdown before licensing a user-friendly legal alternative to unauthorized file-sharing services: Apple's iTunes Music Store, which launched in the spring of 2003.

Fans hate the industry because it makes recordings expensive. Obscure musicians hate the industry because there's no way in. Mid-list musicians hate the industry because they put out a successful album, tour hard for two years, and end up in debt because their contracts screw them.

At least the huge, super-popular acts were happy, right? At least the music industry delivers for them. Reuters reports, um, not so much.

Rock star Prince gave his latest album away free on Sunday with a British tabloid, to the fury of music retailers.
You can also go hear it for free on MSN right now.

Needless to say, the record industry isn't happy. Paul Quirk, co-chairman of the Entertainment Retailers Association says:

The Artist Formerly Known as Prince should know that with behavior like this he will soon be the Artist Formerly Available in Record Stores.
Oooh! I'm sure Prince is soooo scared. Here's what his reps have to say.
Prince's only aim is to get music direct to those who want to hear it. Prince feels that charts are just music industry constructions and have little or no relevance to fans or even artists today.
Yep. The industry is doomed.

Impact armor

So there's this company, d3o, that makes this polymer stuff that's soft and flexible ... unless you give it a hard shock, which makes it turn completely rigid.

Yeah.

Guy invented this stuff in his garage.

Not a jetpack, but definitely evidence that we're living in the Future.

Today's quote

Ruby K. Payne's book A Framework for Understanding Poverty explains the relation between culture and social class in terms of unspoken cultural knowledge associated with each class.

Jay McInerney ultimately has nothing to say, and has fallen into Allen Stewart Königsberg's trap of loving our WASP overlords a little too much, but this little line about social class anxiety, from Bright Lights, Big City, is a gem.

She possessed secrets—about islands, about horses, about French pronunciation—that you would never know.
There you go.

16 July 2007

Smoke and mirrors

Yoram Bauman, Ph.D., the stand-up economist, offers us some help with the principles of economics.
The cornerstone of Harvard professor N. Gregory Mankiw’s introductory economics textbook, Principles of Economics, is a synthesis of economic thought into Ten Principles of Economics ....
  1. People face tradeoffs.
  2. The cost of something is what you give up to get it.
  3. Rational people think at the margin.
  4. People respond to incentives.
  5. Trade can make everyone better off.
  6. Markets are usually a good way to organize economic activity.
  7. Governments can sometimes improve market outcomes.
  8. A country’s standard of living depends on its ability to produce goods and services.
  9. Prices rise when the government prints too much money.
  10. Society faces a short-run tradeoff between inflation and unemployment.
Yoram’s Translations
  1. Choices are bad.
  2. Choices are really bad.
  3. People are stupid.
  4. People aren’t that stupid.
  5. Trade can make everyone worse off.
  6. Governments are stupid.
  7. Governments aren’t that stupid.
  8. Blah blah blah.
  9. Blah blah blah.
  10. Blah blah blah.
....
To continue to deepen the reader’s understanding of why choices are bad—really bad—let’s return to our previous example, in which somebody offers you a choice between a Snickers bar and a package of M&Ms. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that you take the M&Ms. According to Mankiw, the cost of those M&Ms is the Snickers bar that you had to give up to get the M&Ms. Your gain from this situation—what economists call “economic profit”—is therefore the difference between the value you gain from getting the M&Ms (say, $.75) and the value you lose from giving up the Snickers bar (say, $.40). In other words, your economic profit is only $.35. Although you value the M&Ms at $.75, having the choice of the Snickers bar reduces your gain by $.40. Hence Principle #2: Choices are really bad.

Indeed, the more choices you have, the worse off you are. The worst situation of all would be somebody coming up to you and offering you a choice between two identical packages of M&Ms. Since choosing one package (which you value at $.75) means giving up the other package (which you also value at $.75), your economic profit is exactly zero! So being offered a choice between two identical packages of M&Ms is in fact equivalent to being offered nothing.

This vital work informing the public is available as a paper in the Annals of Improbable Research and as a video on YouTube.

15 July 2007

Yours in Christ

Thomas Roche alerts us to www.SexInChrist.com, a website offering Christians some guidance about how to get it on in a Biblically-approved way. Some of the advice is a bit of a surprise ... though not so much if you can think androcentrically.

Masturbation? Go for it, just wash up after. Viagra? Yep, “it is the Lord’s will that we be firm, upright, long-lasting, and steadfast.” Oral sex? Sure—Jesus gave couples personal instruction on this. (Honest, it says this!) But don't you spill the seed, ladies.

Ahem.

Anal sex? Oh, yeah, it's a great way to preserve a young lady's virginity. BDSM? No problem “if it is absolutely clear that outside of the bedroom, the husband is the spiritual head of the marriage,” of course. Threesomes? Well, there are conditions, not least that it's only okay with two women and one fella ...

And pornography? Bad in practice, but since the Song of Solomon is pornographic they offer guidance for would-be producers of good Christian porn:

  • It must depict only married couples engaging in sexual acts.
  • It must portray sex within the context of a Christian marriage.
  • It must be instructional.
  • Husband and wife must both receive their due benevolence.
  • No extramarital sex, unless it is to illustrate the downfalls of adultery.
  • It must be uplifting and inspirational, focusing on strengthening Christian marriage and Christian faith.
  • No profanity.
“Due benevolence.” That sounds sweet. And call me perverted if you like, but that sounds hotter than most ordinary pornography I've run across.

Now if I could just determine whether or not this is a joke.

13 July 2007

8/18

You may have heard news stories about the new report on progress in Iraq, saying that on eight out of eighteen measures, there has been satisfactory progress.

Fred Kaplan actually reads the 25-page report.

The legislation required the president to submit a report “declaring, in his judgment, whether satisfactory progress toward meeting these benchmarks is, or is not, being achieved.”

The White House report states, “In order to make this judgment … we … asked the following question: As measured from a January 2007 baseline, do we assess that present trend data demonstrates a positive trajectory, which is tracking toward satisfactory accomplishment in the near term? If the answer is yes, we have provided a ‘Satisfactory’ assessment; if the answer is no, the assessment is ‘Unsatisfactory.’ ” (All italics added.)

Subtle but pernicious wordplay is going on here. “Satisfactory progress” toward a benchmark is very different from “a positive trajectory … toward satisfactory accomplishment.” The congressional language requires a satisfactory degree of progress. The White House interpretation allows high marks for the slightest bit of progress—the “positive trajectory” could be an angstrom, as long as it's “tracking toward” the goal; the degree of progress doesn't need to be addressed.

Yet even by this extraordinarily lenient standard, the White House authors could not bring themselves to give a passing grade to the Iraqi government on half of the benchmarks—and the most important benchmarks, at that.

I note that the report was issued yesterday, and has disappeared from CNN's home page today. There was no time to read the report this closely yesterday, but today the story is already over. This is why the White House thinks that it can get away with a cheap semantic trick.

12 July 2007

Oath

As a California state employee, at the age of thirteen I signed an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

I remember it vividly: I took it seriously then, and a I still do.

All enemies, foreign and domestic. I hope that I will never have to do anything drastic to fulfill that oath, though for the last few years I have not been so sanguine about that.

I have to admit, though, that there's a part of me that has always kind of hoped that I would someday have get to angrily refer to it, something like the mighty Senator Leahy did the other day.

1984

In 1984, Michael Radford directed a film adaptation of Orwell's 1984, while Terry Gilliam directed his film Brazil. John Hutton compares the two.
Terry Gilliam's Brazil was created literally in the shadow of Radford's 1984. In an interview shortly before the film's release in the fall of 1984, Gilliam stated,
I was scared stiff when I went to see 1984 ... After 10 minutes I was moaning, ‘They've got it all.’ They even used some of the same locations as us, although we shot them differently ... However, when I sat through the whole film, I realized it didn't matter—the thrust of theirs is completely different.
Comparisons between the two are inescapable. Like 1984, Brazil is set in a bureaucratic police state. Winston in 1984 rewrites history for the Ministry of Truth. Sam Lowry (Jonathan Prye) the protagonist of Brazil, is employed by the Ministry of Information. He repairs the computer systems, which bill people for the right to be tortured (“information retrieval”). Winston falls in love with Julia, a mechanic who repairs the machines that write pornography for the proles. Lowry falls in love with Jill Layton (Kim Greist), a truck driver. In both films, it is this love affair that dooms the couples. Both films posit a world from which in a real sense there is no escape or refuge.

At base, however, Gilliam reassembles and reworks these elements with a freedom altogether absent from Radford's film. Gilliam's fears are not Orwell's, and the world he creates is simultaneously more fantastic and far more engaged with our time than the 1940s nightmare so painstakingly recreated by Radford.

He not only argues that Gilliam's film is far more sophisticated than Radford's, he says in many ways Gilliam's film is more sophisticated than Orwell's novel. (Though I have to interject that I think that in it's own, understated way, the production design in Radford's 1984 is every bit as clever as the famously gonzo production design of Brazil.)

This kind of reminds me of Fail Safe and Dr. Strangelove, another two very different films about the same thing with eerie similarities that were released the same year. And in that case, too, the comedic one was also the smarter one ... and the one we still watch.

11 July 2007

Impeach who?

Matthew Yglasias performs the thought experiment.
The fact remains, however, that impeaching and convicting Bush means, in practice, only that Dick Cheney becomes President. In a weird way, it was the very trumped-up and trivial nature of the charges against Clinton that made impeachment plausible—replacing Bill Clinton with Al Gore really would have had a material impact on the quantity of tomcatting in the executive branch. Removing Bush doesn't accomplish anything. I suppose you could impeach Cheney, and then impeach Bush before confirming a new vice president, and then Nancy Pelosi becomes president. And that, of course, is going to get 67 votes in the Senate sometime after they establish congressional representation for flying pigs.

UPDATE: I don't think the “impeach Cheney" option makes much sense, though public support for it is quite strong. The problem is that the VP doesn't have any independent legal authority from the President. If Bush delegates authority to Cheney, and Cheney uses that power in an illegal manner, then either Bush needs to hold Cheney accountable for that, or else congress and the public need to hold Bush accountable. Having the buck stop with Cheney creates a terrible set of forward-looking incentives.

The thing to do is to impeach Bush and Cheney on a dual docket and have Nancy Pelosi and Robert Byrd both say that they would decline the presidency in the event of a dual vacancy (they can even note that many scholars think putting members of congress in the line of succession is unconstitutional anyway), thus making Secretary of State Rice the heir apparent, in order to demonstrate a lack of partisan motivation.

You're still left with the problem that this is only getting the requisite votes in fantasyland, but I think it's a perfectly cogent political agenda.

Still, in my position as a blogger, I say: Impeach Bush. Impeach Cheney. Do it now.

An Atlas body?

Warren Ellis notices a website for a self-improvement program for 98 pound weaklings who love comics.
Welcome to TheVeidtMethod.com! If you have visited us you are interested in my course, and if you did that, it's because you think you need a change in your life. A better body? Increased confidence and magnetism? Advanced mental techniques that will help you at home or business? Well, yes we can offer you all these things...but in order to have and enjoy them, there's got to be a new YOU! More than just a bodybuilding course, the Veidt Method is designed to produce bright and cabable young men and women who will be fit to inherit the challenged, promising, and often difficult world that awaits in our future. The course is designed to be easy to read and to understand, and if you follow it through, I can assure you that you and uour friends will quickly notice the results as a whole new realm of ability and experience is opened to you. Stay tuned for more updates on what you can expect to find in later updates on this site.

Best wishes and encouragement — Adrian Veidt.

Ha ha. Spot on. (And of course Rorschach's Journal insists that this is a “LIE.”)

If you don't know who Adrian Viedt is, then never mind.

10 July 2007

Oh, Really?

Fox News informs us that there is a nationwide network of tough lesbian gangs recruiting innocent schoolkids for their program of violence, rape, and other crime. Some of them carry pink pistols.

Bill O'Reilly opines, “It makes sense that, if you had lawless gay people, they would do this kind of thing.”

09 July 2007

Have I been meditating too much?

This passage from a backgrounder I was just reading for work seems alive with spiritual meaning.
Discovery is the pre-trial phase in a lawsuit in which each party through the law of civil procedure can request documents and other evidence from other parties. Electronic discovery, or “e-discovery,” refers to discovery which deals with information in electronic form. E-discovery poses new challenges and opportunities for the courts, the legal community, and their clients. Electronic evidence differs from physical evidence because of its intangible form, volume, transience, and persistence. Additionally, electronic informaiton is commonly accompanied by meta-data which itself has evidential weight.
Bolding mine.
Oh, Sariputra, Form Does not Differ From the Void,
And the Void Does Not Differ From Form.
Form is Void and Void is Form;
The Same is True For Feelings,
Perceptions, Volitions and Consciousness.
Sariputra, the Characteristics of the
Voidness of All Dharmas
Are Non-Arising, Non-Ceasing, Non-Defiled,
Non-Pure, Non-Increasing, Non-Decreasing.
Does electronic information have the Buddha nature?

That other Apple product

Over at the Secret Diary of Steve Jobs, Fake Steve explains the doom that faces the music industry.
The music companies are in a dying business, and they know it. Sure, they act all cool because they hang around with rock stars. But beneath all the glamour these guys are actually operating two very low-tech businesses. One is a form of loan-sharking: they put up money to make records, then force recording artists to pay the money back with exorbitant interest. The other business is distribution. They’ve got big warehouses and they control the shipment of little plastic boxes that happen to have music in them.

The guys running the labels are pretty stupid -- most are just dirtbags who started out as band managers or promoters -- but now at long last they are kinda sorta finally vaguely getting clued in to the fact that both parts of their business model are fucked. Their loan-sharking business is being eliminated by low-cost digital recording technology that lets people make an album for very little money. And by letting us build the online music store they've taken themselves out of the distribution business. In the days of vinyl and then CDs, the labels managed to control the value chain by having loads of retailers in a highly fragmented market, and playing them off each other. In the digital world they've got us. And that's it.

Ironically the mistake the major labels made was the same one that IBM made when it gave the DOS franchise to Microsoft nearly 30 years ago. They were faced with a new market that they didn't understand. They had a piece of work that they couldn't do on their own or didn't want to do on their own and they didn't view it as critical or important, so they outsourced it to a partner.

Couldn't have happened to nicer people.

08 July 2007

Category error

Thomas Roche has had it with TV.
Hey, like I said—I love pseudoscience, and I trust consensus reality and the wisdom of crowds about as much as I trust the guy down on Broadway who every third day tells me his car broke down and he needs gas money to get his sister/wife/rottweiller to the doctor. Bigfoot, grab yourself a cold one; in the kitchen there’s a fresh pot of faintly phosphorescent goo for the Greys and salmon mousse for the Fiji mermaid. Nessie, the Chupacabra, the Jersey Devil—I love these guys: They keep it real. I cut my teeth on In Search Of, and it taught me both to think weird thoughts and be skeptical about them. There’s little I love more than a good cryptozoology documentary.
My sentiments exactly. But he finds that this stuff is getting in the way of his enjoyment of Basic Cable.
But what the fuck is this crap doing on the History Channel? Isn’t The History Channel supposed to be about history ... you know, the academic discipline, and more generally, the series of events—not things that never happened and never will happen ... or will they!?!?

07 July 2007

Uniters or dividers?

Ezra Klein on Republican political strategy.
If the Buddha and Machiavelli had a child, this would be the type of liberation he'd speak about: Liberation from the suffering imposed by democratic checks and balances. It is a liberation George W. Bush has pursued with a single-minded vigor.
....
And now, in the latter half of his second term, at 20-some percent in the polls, he has achieved full liberation from shackles of public opinion and congressional approval.
He goes on to observe that this is not just Bush, it's a general Republican strategy right now.
“Hastert and DeLay's insight,” wrote Schmitt, “seems to be that a bill that gets 218 votes in the House is just as much the law as one that gets 430. And for every vote they add on to the necessary minimum majority, they might have to compromise in some unnecessary way, whether with Democrats or their own fiscal conservatives. In other words, they see every vote over a bare majority as the equivalent of leaving money on the table or overbidding in an auction.”
....
And if that was to be your strategy, there was no sense in letting the other party sign onto your legislation—that would actually undermine your electoral appeal. So bills that could have garnered Democratic votes were twisted until no Democrat could, in good conscience, say “aye.” Perhaps the best example of this strategy was the Department of Homeland Security, a Democratic idea that the White House first opposed, and then inserted a union-busting provision into, so Democrats had to fight against a broadly popular idea that they, at base, supported. That bill could have passed with overwhelming support. It was a conscious decision to make it a partisan issue so it could be used as a cudgel in the 2002 elections.
Crafty.

06 July 2007

Sgt Pepper

Jody Rosen at Slate asserts that Everything You Know About Sgt. Pepper's is Wrong. That's too strong a statement, I think, but this observation is lovely.
Playing Sgt. Pepper's for the umpteenth time, you marvel at what generous-spirited revolutionaries the Beatles were. Compare the “Don't trust anyone over 30” rhetoric of the Beatles' 1960s fellow travelers to “When I'm 64,” the sweetest song about old age ever created by a rock group. Then there's “She's Leaving Home,” which hitches one of McCartney's prettiest melodies to a lyric that sympathizes on both sides of the generation gap—with the runaway girl who is “meeting a man from the motor trade,” and with her grief-stricken parents:
We gave her most of our lives
Sacrificed most of our lives
We gave her everything money could buy.
It's a remarkable feat of the artistic imagination, but it may as well have been reportage: Many British parents were saying such things back in the spring before the Summer of Love.
Ah.

“She's Leaving Home” doesn't turn up on the radio much, so if you you're not familiar with it, you can hear it over here, attached to a clumsy little video.

The song is a gem, and a big favourite of mine. I vividly recall my first college sweetheart telling me that that I would be amused to learn that after weeks of Bach in her music theory class, they had analyzed a Beatles song that morning. She was astonished when I immediately guessed correctly that it was “She's Leaving Home,” the darling of musicologists. That last chord is magic.

05 July 2007

Hollow earth

Devoted readers may recall an adventure tourism tour itinerary to the Inner Hollow Earth which I blogged a while back. Unhappily, Thomas Roche reports that the trip has been cancelled.
Provo, Utah-based adventurer and tour leader Steve Currey (whose principal claim to fame seems to be that he accidentally invented the self-bailing rowing raft, which “revolutionized the river rafting industry”—ample qualification, I agree, for a trip to the center of our hollow Earth) died last year, under circumstances that seem suspiciously vague. “Quietly and peacefully?” That’s how you always go when you’ve been shot by a blow dart fired by Bulgarian hitmen hired by the corebound Lava Lords and their Mantle Man agents.
It does make you wonder.

03 July 2007

More scooter

Jeff Lomonaco on DeLong's blog explains everything:
Libby was convicted on four counts of obstruction of justice, perjury and false statements in connection with the account he gave to investigators of how he learned the identify of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson and whether and how he disclosed that information to the press.
....
Cheney's hand-written notes on Wilson's op-ed from two days earlier showed that he was focused on Wilson's wife's alleged role in her husband's mission. Libby was acting at Cheney's direction. How likely is it that Cheney did not direct Libby to disclose information about Plame to Miller?

And what was the substance of Cheney and Bush's discussion shortly before Libby went on his secret mission to disclose previously-classified information to the press with the President's permission?
....
It is precisely out of the desire to avoid such uncomfortable questions for himself and his vice president that President Bush is likely not to pardon Libby but to commute his sentence, or otherwise keep him out of prison without fully clearing him. That would enable Libby to remain free while he seeks legal vindication through the appeals process. But more importantly, it would enable Bush and Cheney to continue the strategy they have successfully pursued in deterring journalists seeking their explanations with claims that they shouldn't comment on an ongoing legal proceeding.

Greenwald opens up a can on the lawless Washington establishment:
We have a radical and lawless government that has run rampant over the last six years precisely because the institutions designed to stop that abuse have not only stood idly by, but have actively defended and participated in it. We actually have a press corps that holds, as its central belief, that our highest government officials should be free of investigation and accountability. In every country ruled by a lawless government and a corrupt political and media elite, powerful political officials do not go to prison for crimes. That is why convicted felon Lewis Libby will remain free.
Digby comments on pundits defending Libby and offers an aside about Karl Rove.

And Hilzoy also observes:

These quotes have been brought to you by my thinking that it would not be a good idea for me to express my anger directly just now.
Yeah.

Left Behind

In honour of Blog Against Theocracy, I give you ranting lefty redneck Joe Bageant on Left Behind, the wildly successful novels set in the world of the fundamentalist apocalypse.
Sales figures aside, it is entirely possible that the Left Behind series is as important in our time and cultural context as was, say, Harriet Beecher’s Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin in its time, wherein Lincoln called it “the little book that started the big war.” The truth is that LaHaye is among the most influential religious writers America ever produced and is the most powerful fundamentalist in America today. He is the founder and first president of the eerily secretive Council for National Policy, which brings together leading evangelicals and other conservatives with right-wing billionaires willing to pay for a conservative religious revolution. He is far more influential than Billy Graham or Pat Robertson and was the man who inspired Jerry Falwell to launch the Moral Majority. He gave millions of dollars to Falwell's Liberty University. He’s the man without whom Ronald Reagan would never have become governor of California and the man who grilled George W. Bush, then wiped the cocaine off George’s nose and gave him the official Christian fundie stamp of approval. He created the American Coalition for Traditional Values that has mobilized evangelical voters, putting neo-conservative wackjobs into political offices across the nation. In short, he is the Godfather of Soul, fundie style. When the man lays it down, his peeps doo dey duty.

Scratch LaHaye and you’ll find an honest-to-god surviving John Bircher. In the 1960s when LaHaye was a young up-and-coming Baptist preacher fresh out of Bob Jones University, he lectured on behalf of Republican Robert Welch’s John Birch Society. We are talking about a man who believed Dwight Eisenhower was an agent of the Communist Party taking orders from his brother, Milt Eisenhower. Along the way LaHaye extended his paranoid list of villains to include secular humanists who “are Satan’s agents hiding behind the Constitution.”

02 July 2007

Scooter

The Associated Press:
President Bush commuted the sentence of former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby on Monday, sparing him from a 2½-year prison term that Bush said was excessive.

Bush’s move came hours after a federal appeals panel ruled Libby could not delay his prison term in the CIA leak case.

Faithful readers know I've been following the CIA leak case for some time.

Joshua Micah Marshall:

Specifically, the conviction stands—the fine and probation stand. Libby just doesn't have to spend a day in prison.
....
This is being treated in the press as splitting the difference, an elegant compromise. But it is the least justifiable approach. The president has decided that the sentencing guidelines and the opinion of judge don't cut it.

The only basis for this decision is that Libby is the vice president's friend, the vice president rules the president and this was the minimum necessary to keep the man silent.

Hilzoy:
Bush, typically, didn't bother even trying to come up with a decent explanation for what he did. He didn't address questions like: Mightn't this give people the idea that there are two different standards of justice, one for people with powerful connections and another for the rest of us? Is it OK to exempt your friends from the rule of law? Isn't it especially problematic to commute someone's sentence when you yourself might have had a hand in that person's criminal actions? And double especially when no one other than the now-free criminal has been held to account, despite your earlier promises?
Joe Wilson:
In so doing, he has acknowledged Mr. Libby's guilt for, among other things, obstruction of justice, which by definition is covering up for somebody in a crime. By commuting his sentence, he has brought himself and his office into reasonable suspicion of participation in an obstruction of justice. The commutation of (Libby's) sentence in and of itself is participation in obstruction of justice.
Senator John Edwards:
Only a president clinically incapable of understanding that mistakes have consequences could take the action he did today. .... George Bush and his cronies think they are above the law and the rest of us live with the consequences.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
The President’s commutation of Scooter Libby’s prison sentence does not serve justice, condones criminal conduct, and is a betrayal of trust of the American people.

The President said he would hold accountable anyone involved in the Valerie Plame leak case. By his action today, the President shows his word is not to be believed. He has abandoned all sense of fairness when it comes to justice, he has failed to uphold the rule of law, and he has failed to hold his Administration accountable.

Publius quotes Cato from the Anti-Federalist papers #67.
[T]he unrestrained power of granting pardons for treason, which may be used to screen from punishment those whom he had secretly instigated to commit the crime, and thereby prevent a discovery of his own guilt; his duration in office for four years-these, and various other principles evidently prove the truth of the position, that if the president is possessed of ambition, he has power and time sufficient to ruin his country.
Digby is “enraged.” The Poor Man's Editors say, “Impeach them all.”

D'accord.

Wikipedia, RIP?

I've written in measured praise of Wikipedia before.
Wikipedia does not deliver the last word on controversial subjects, but it provides a very useful first word for getting yourself oriented.
Now it's not even reliably that.

When UK education secretary Alan Johnson praised Wikipedia as an educational tool, disillusioned Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger responded:

I’m afraid that Mr Johnson does not realise the many problems afflicting Wikipedia, from serious management problems, to an often dysfunctional community, to frequently unreliable content, and to a whole series of scandals. While Wikipedia is still quite useful and an amazing phenomenon, I have come to the view that it is also broken beyond repair.
Jaron Lanier, in his essay Digitial Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism provides a simple example of the problem.
My Wikipedia entry identifies me (at least this week) as a film director. It is true I made one experimental short film about a decade and a half ago. The concept was awful: I tried to imagine what Maya Deren would have done with morphing. It was shown once at a film festival and was never distributed and I would be most comfortable if no one ever sees it again.

In the real world it is easy to not direct films. I have attempted to retire from directing films in the alternative universe that is the Wikipedia a number of times, but somebody always overrules me. Every time my Wikipedia entry is corrected, within a day I'm turned into a film director again. I can think of no more suitable punishment than making these determined Wikipedia goblins actually watch my one small old movie.

Twice in the past several weeks, reporters have asked me about my filmmaking career. The fantasies of the goblins have entered that portion of the world that is attempting to remain real. I know I've gotten off easy. The errors in my Wikipedia bio have been (at least prior to the publication of this article) charming and even flattering.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden has a more in a post and discussion about how the Wikipedia experiment may be turning out to just be a complete failure. There's lots of good stuff there, my favourite being a link to Kyle Gann's thoughtful words about how Wikipedia's editing rules tend to drive out genuine expertise.
The articles that a lot of people think they know something about, it turns out, are a nightmare. I take back everything: Wikipedia is a playground for belligerent adolescents.
....
The problem is that Wikipedia forces its contributors to come to a consensus, and building consensus with a crank is a fool's errand. Many of the departing scholars note the incident that finally brought them to leave; mine was a truculent teenager who refused to acknowledge that minimalist music was considered classical, because, as he put it, “it sounds more like Britney Spears than like Merzbow.” Let that sink in a minute. A person who insists that Einstein on the Beach, or Phill Niblock's Four Full Flutes, or Tom Johnson's Chord Catalogue cannot be considered classical because it sounds like Britney Spears is not a person one can seek consensus with.
Sanger is trying again with Citizendium.org, which has a credentialing process. He observes that the power of online publishing confronts us with fundamental questions with high stakes.
I think the fights we’ve seen about the reliability of Wikipedia or Digg.com are ultimately about politics in a deep but robust sense: we are really fighting about who should be in charge, epistemologically speaking.
I think it also reflects questions about community that online tools bring into sharp relief. Small communities built with trustworthy members can be successfully anarchic—indeed, benefit from being weakly structured. But this just doesn't scale. Eventually you have to find ways to handle untrustworthy members who are incompetent, irresponsible, or even malicious—and choosing how you do that is always a question with deep political implications.

01 July 2007

Today's quote

A.J.P. Taylor writing in Politicians, Socialism and Historians in 1957, quoted at Sadly, No!
Fascism is a disease of democracy or at any rate of the mass-age. Dictatorship alone is not Fascism if it relies simply on force and has no popular backing. Fascism demands a mass-party where a few self-chosen leaders control a body of disciplined followers drawn from the disgruntled elements of society. Here is the starting point of Fascism: a sense of grievance, social, political, national, even personal, it really does not matter what. But the psychology of resentment must be there, and if the resentment is unfounded so much the better. A Fascist party exists to express emotions, not to achieve results. Its programme is a mere rigamarole of high-sounding phrases, and if any of its aims are in fact achieved then others equally irrelevant will have to be botched up.
More if you follow the link.