Off the air for the next week. See you on the playa.
26 August 2008
25 August 2008
John McCain’s economic vision, as he has laid it out during the campaign, amounts to a slightly altered version of Republican orthodoxy, with tax cuts at the core. Obama, on the other hand, has more-detailed proposals but a less obvious ideology.That last is the first of many manifestations of the article's general tone of amazement that Obama is not what the reporter imagines to be a conventional “liberal.”
With Obama, there is vast disagreement about just how liberal he is, especially on the economy.
Today’s Democratic consensus has moved the party to the left, and on issues like inequality and climate change, Obama appears willing to be even more aggressive than many fellow Democrats. From this standpoint, he’s a true liberal. Yet he also says he believes that there are significant parts of Reaganism worth preserving. So his policies often involve setting up a government program to address a market failure but then trying to harness the power of the market within that program. This, at times, makes him look like a conservative Democrat.Astonishing!
From the beginning, Obama has sought out academic economists, rather than lawyers or former White House aides.I am comforted that Obama is talking to actual economists about economics (imagine!) and I'm certainly very sympathetic to his nuanced point of view about the role of markets.
As anyone who has spent time with Obama knows, he likes experts, and his choice of advisers stems in part from his interest in empirical research. (James Heckman, a Nobel laureate who critiqued the campaign’s education plan at Goolsbee’s request, said, “I’ve never worked with a campaign that was more interested in what the research shows.”) By surrounding himself with economists, however, Obama was also making a decision with ideological consequences. Far more than many other policy advisers, economists believe in the power of markets. What tends to distinguish Democratic economists is that they set out to uncover imperfections of the market and then come up with incremental, market-based solutions to these imperfections. This helps explain the Obama campaign’s interest in behavioral economics ...
“The market is the best mechanism ever invented for efficiently allocating resources to maximize production,” Obama told me. “And I also think that there is a connection between the freedom of the marketplace and freedom more generally.” But, he continued, “there are certain things the market doesn’t automatically do.” In other words, free-market policy isn’t likely to dominate his agenda; his project would be fixing the market.
The article is long, but fascinating. Check it out.
24 August 2008
Maybe it's just that I'm in the throes of a series of moves — with the current one being a move into a little studio — but I'm suddenly fascinated by Tiny Living (“furnishings for small spaces”) where you can get items like an inflatable globe, a stepladder / ironing board, a briefcase coffee table, or a shower curtain with pockets.
23 August 2008
Carlson goes on, at considerable length, about how Bush “bond[ed] with the goof-off in all of us” on that plane. Persistently, she portrays the press corps—and herself—as if they were feckless teen-agers. On the plane, “[Bush’s] inner child hovers near the surface,” she writes. And not only that; “Bush knows how to push the buttons of your high school insecurity.” But then, “a campaign is as close as an adult can get to duplicating college life.” Bush “wasn’t just any old breezy frat brother with mediocre grades…He was proud of it,” Carlson writes, approvingly. This seems to explain the press corps’ preference. “Gore elicited in us the childish urge to poke a stick in the eye of the smarty-pants,” she writes. “Bush elicited self-recognition.” Yes, those sentences actually appear in this book, and yes, they seem to be Carlson’s explanation of Gore’s lousy coverage. “It’s not hard to dislike Bush’s policies, which favor the strong over the weak,” she writes. “But it is hard to dislike Bush.”The emphasis is Digby's, and she has a lot more commentary worth reading ... including how this kind of BS is working to McCain's advantage in the current campaign.
Carlson spends little time on those Bush policies, “which favor the strong over the weak.” By contrast—as noted in Thursday’s HOWLER—she spends lots of time complaining that the Clintons would subject her to tedious policy chatter. It is perfectly clear that “the goof-off in Carlson” has little interest in such major tedium. In India, she falls asleep when Mrs. Clinton limns health care, and she can’t understand why Candidate Bill Clinton, in 1992, would talk to her about welfare reform. Talking to Bush is much more fun.
22 August 2008
I love weird orthography, and have been meaning to post something about 12480 for quite some time. It's a notation system for hexadecimal numbers; actually, a set of notation systems, associating each hex digit with a color, a cursive letter, a non-cursive letter, any of several cool science-fiction-y looking other scripts, and even spoken sound used to create words were each digit can be voiced as either a consonant or a vowel to make any number pronouncable.
This is the kind of thing that makes me want to found a whole new civilization, just to use it.
My occultist readers may notice that these correspond to the figures of Western divinatory geomancy ...
21 August 2008
Mike Perry, a reverse engineer from San Francisco, announced his intention to release his Gmail Account Hacking Tool to the public. According to a quote at Hacking Truths, Perry mentioned he was unimpressed with how Google presented the SSL feature as less-than-urgent.Lest you think Mr Perry is a shmuck, security expert Bruce Schneier explains why he's actually being responsible.
Full disclosure -- the practice of making the details of security vulnerabilities public -- is a damned good idea. Public scrutiny is the only reliable way to improve security, while secrecy only makes us less secure.
Unfortunately, secrecy sounds like a good idea. Keeping software vulnerabilities secret, the argument goes, keeps them out of the hands of the hackers (See The Vulnerability Disclosure Game: Are We More Secure?). The problem, according to this position, is less the vulnerability itself and more the information about the vulnerability.
But that assumes that hackers can't discover vulnerabilities on their own, and that software companies will spend time and money fixing secret vulnerabilities. Both of those assumptions are false. Hackers have proven to be quite adept at discovering secret vulnerabilities, and full disclosure is the only reason vendors routinely patch their systems.
To understand why the second assumption isn't true, you need to understand the underlying economics. To a software company, vulnerabilities are largely an externality. That is, they affect you -- the user -- much more than they affect it. A smart vendor treats vulnerabilities less as a software problem, and more as a PR problem. So if we, the user community, want software vendors to patch vulnerabilities, we need to make the PR problem more acute.
Full disclosure does this. Before full disclosure was the norm, researchers would discover vulnerabilities in software and send details to the software companies -- who would ignore them, trusting in the security of secrecy. Some would go so far as to threaten the researchers with legal action if they disclosed the vulnerabilities.
Later on, researchers announced that particular vulnerabilities existed, but did not publish details. Software companies would then call the vulnerabilities “theoretical” and deny that they actually existed. Of course, they would still ignore the problems, and occasionally threaten the researcher with legal action. Then, of course, some hacker would create an exploit using the vulnerability -- and the company would release a really quick patch, apologize profusely, and then go on to explain that the whole thing was entirely the fault of the evil, vile hackers.
It wasn't until researchers published complete details of the vulnerabilities that the software companies started fixing them.
I've been muttering on this blog and elsewhere about the housing bubble for quite some time. It's hard for most people to follow the numbers. You can lay out a graph to explain it more vividly, but there are even better ways that go more directly to how the human mind processes information.
Now that's rich information display.
19 August 2008
But like all the dancers, Stewart had a second job: to somehow convey his Ph.D. thesis. Before the show, each dancer had about 60 seconds to describe their research to the judges. So this was more than just a dance contest. Folded in was the ability to summarize your work succinctly. In Stewart's case, that work is titled “Refitting repasts: a spatial exploration of food processing, sharing, cooking, and disposal at the Dunefield Midden campsite, South Africa.” His highly stylized chase of an antelope—played by fellow University of Oxford archaeologist Giulia Saltini-Semerari—followed by processing and sharing of the goods, was elegant. “What I most looked for was that scientific ideas came across,” said Gschmeidler. “He did this perfectly.”So it seems that they can!
Along the same lines, we have a film of the 1971 theatrical presentation Protein Synthesis: An Epic on the Cellular Level.
18 August 2008
What is the ideal political system?
what values would it need to express?
How would it operate efficiently?
And would you give your life to defend it?
Since I fear I may have contributed to inspiring this question, I will attempt to answer it.
The second question comes first: what are the driving values of government? My answer borrows from the classics.
Governments are instituted among people for the purpose of providing people protections that it is right for them to enjoy: we call those protections rights. Those rights include life, the pursuit of happiness, and the liberties of freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. They are enumerated in greater detail in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights but this enumeration of certain rights should not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. In this pursuit, governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
So what institutions of government succeed in these ends? Yezida is a utopian anarchist ... with the “utopian” coming from the need for a citizenry of fully self-possessed people to populate that civilization. She believes that this is achievable, and most days I agree, so ultimately I am a utopian anarchist as well. But I'm not holding my breath waiting for that one, and in the meantime I've catalogued the interlocking attributes of good governments:
- Democracy: All of the government's mechanisms must be publicly accountable. Legislatures of representatives chosen through free elections of the whole of the citizenry using secret ballots are the best-known of these mechanisms, but they alone do not a democratic government make. Other institutions along this principle are also important, like trial by jury, the ability to file civil lawsuits against the government, and perhaps most important of all ...
- Transparency: The operations of government must be visible to the citizenry. This means government proceedings must be open to the public, and the proceedings published where individuals and private organizations can read them. Likewise for laws and the operations of all government agencies. Pragmatically, government must keep a few secrets for the sake of privacy and security, but these secrets must be checked by publicly accountable means of review.
- Legalism: Government must operate through written regulation of universal applicability, rather than informal agreement or the empowerment of individuals: “a government of laws, not men.”
- Limitation: The legislation giving government its form must specify limitations to what the government may do. The US Bill of Rights is a good example.
- Separation of powers: The mechanisms of government are divided into distinct elements which hold checks and balances against one another to prevent the accumulation of power by any one element. Most important among these separations is ...
- Civil control of police and military organizations: The use of force by government organizations must be subject to the direction and review of authorities outside those organizations, with the democratic accountability, transparency, and limitation that implies.
The fundamental structure of the government of the US under the US Constitution embodies these principles, if imperfectly. Many years ago, during a short stint as a government employee, I swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the US against all enemies, foreign and domestic; I swore it gladly, still count myself bound by it, and will continue to do so for as long as it remains evident to me that the US Constitution is the best available institutional embodiment of these principles.
Certainly the US currently has a government which violates these principles in many of its actions, if not in its structure. So I have given this question a great deal of thought, which is why I have this answer ready for Veleda. But prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that people are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. So I am not a rebel against the Constitution, nor against the current US government.
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce people under absolute despotism, it is our right, it is our duty, to throw off such government and to provide new guards for our future security. And to that, yes, I would pledge my life, my fortune, and my sacred honour.
17 August 2008
Are some things still worth dying for? Is the American idea* one such thing? Are you up for a thought experiment? What if we chose to regard the 2,973 innocents killed in the atrocities of 9/11 not as victims but as democratic martyrs, “sacrifices on the altar of freedom”?He keeps it brief. But there are footnotes, of course: see that asterisk?
15 August 2008
Thomas is not a narrative like the biblical Gospels, but rather a collection of “secret sayings which the living Jesus said.” Many of them are familiar from the New Testament, but many more are novel, and very different in tone. My favourite is the beautifully pantheist Saying 77. Usually it's rendered something like the Patterson-Meyer translation:
I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained.
Split a piece of wood; I am there.
Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.
I recently noticed an interesting word-root repetition looking at an interlinear translation of it. The root word translated there as “split” actually appears twice. I don't know Coptic, but looking at that, I offer an amateur translation of my own which preserves this repetition with a poetic use of English:
I am Light upon all things.
I am All ...
All comes out of me ...
All breaks upon me.
Break a log: there I am.
Lift a stone: find me there.
14 August 2008
Barry Alfonso at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, whom I quoted in my post on the mysteries of Mary Worth, writes in.
I wanted to take note of your taking note in your blog of my piece about Mary Worth earlier this year in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I like being mentioned in the same prose environment as Miniver Cheevy. I also like thinking about Mary Worth and Miniver Cheevy together: the austerity, the astringency and the void-like limboism of their shared atmosphere -- the balmy nowhere of Santa Royal overlayed upon the withering saltiness of Robinson's Maine. I digress. Anyway, thanks for noticing.
Folks reading via my LiveJournal feed may be puzzled by the reference to Edward Arlington Robinson's poem Miniver Cheevy. I publish the original version of this blog on Blog*spot (now run by the nice people at Google) under the masthead “Miniver Cheevy: some things I find interesting,” because I have used the web handle Miniver Cheevy since before the web, even before the internet.
And to Mr Alfonso's point, I agree: it is pleasing to imagine how Ms Worth would — in her languid, eliptical way — encourage Mr Cheevy to get his life together.
13 August 2008
Consider, the following:Ouch! Doctor, I think I just sprained my epistemology!
So, it appears that we disagree with Icke on the subject of whether Bush was a lizard, and with the Post on the subject of whether Bush was a heroin pusher. And the fact is that, while it's more or less impossible to prove one way or the other whether Bush is an Annunaki lizard from the fourth dimension, it's very easy indeed to show that Bush was the head of the CIA during the period in which Air America was carrying opium by the ton from Burma and Laos to the heroin labs of Hong Kong and Saigon, from whence it was sold to American GIs. So it appears that David Icke makes a claim that is pretty difficult to believe, with not much evidence in favour of it, while the Washington Post is asking us to believe something in the face of a vast amount of conclusive contradictory evidence.
- David Icke believes that the former US President George Herschel Walker Bush is a lizard and a drug dealer.
- The Washington Post believes that former US President George Herschel Walker Bush is not a lizard, and not a drug dealer.
- Adequacy.org believes that former US President George Herschel Walker Bush is not a lizard, but is a drug dealer.
12 August 2008
Last month, TSA announced a change of policy: passengers who “willfully refuse to provide identification at security checkpoint will be denied access … This new procedure will not affect passengers that may have misplaced, lost or otherwise do not have ID but are cooperative with officers.”Think about that. The standard for flying without ID depends on whether you're failing to provide ID on principle — if you are, you will be punished for it.
Sherri tried “I lost my wallet.” The results are instructive. My favourite bit of analysis:
Recall that to indicate that I required extra screening, staff wrote in red Sharpie on my boarding pass. If I had simply printed off a second boarding pass at home, I could have presented that instead of the marked one, and gone through the metal detector as usual. In other words, passengers without ID can travel without undergoing any extra screening other than “identity verification.” A lawyer friend of mine commented that “if TSA marked ‘SSSS’ on a person’s hand rather than a piece if paper … the airport’s security would at least be as good as a bar’s.”
10 August 2008
So I thought I was so over lightsaber battles — cool, to be sure, but now it's been done to death — but Ryan vs Dorkman 2 demonstrated that I was wrong.
John Rodgers comments, sagely:
Please note, action fanatics — it's the little flourishes that make a great fight, not the big stunt-y moments.
Seriously. I started to feel guilty about watching, and then at 1:48 I realized I didn't want to miss a second of it.
09 August 2008
- Clown punk bands
- Rock ’n’ roll belly dancers
- Gorgeous old flames cheerfully showing off how they're getting along great without me
- Brass-heavy sextets in boater hats and diapers doing zany ’20s cartoon cover versions of songs like “Girl From Ipanema,” “I am Ironman,” and the theme from Sesame Street
- Sexy old flames hinting that maybe they aren't doing as well as they'd like without me
- Impromtou talent shows demonstrating actual talent
- Blowtorches vs firebreathing set to the tune of “dueling banjos”
07 August 2008
This story has it all.
So last week the McCain campaign ran this ad:
“Sure, Obama is a really popular candidate, but that doesn't mean he has any leadership ability.” That's not exactly stinging criticism. Isn't popularity kind of helpful in leading people? It's not the most important thing you want in the President, but it's certainly not a failing.
More peculiar: what are Britney Spears and Paris Hilton doing in there? Uh ... let me try. Ms Hilton and Ms Spears are bonehead celebrities, Senator Obama is “the biggest celebrity in the world,” therefore he is even dumber than Paris Hilton? (All men are Socrates!)
Or is it something else?
Like a lot of lefty bloggers, I hear an echo of the notorious ad that was used in a successful challenge against Congressman Harold Ford, another Black and charismatic Democrat.
As Joshua Micah Marshall observed of this ad originally, the blonde bimbo element is meaningful in its incongruity.
If you watch the ad closely it is clear that the racist appeal — about Harold Ford having sex with white women — is the centerpiece, the entire point of the ad.
The ad has a number of faux man on the street interviews .... each addressed to a question of public policy.
But then you see that one ‘man on the street interview’ isn't quite like the rest. It's almost like those old Sesame Street segments, one of these things is not like the other.
It's the one spot with the platimum blonde with no visible clothes on, vamping “I met Harold at the Playboy Party.”
What policy issue is she talking about? It's not connected to anything. It's just, ‘I'm a loose white woman. I hooked up with Harold at the Playboy mansion. And I can't wait for him to do me again.’
Once you watch the ad again after realizing that, it sticks out like a sore thumb. What becomes clear is that the funny man on the street interview clips are padding, filler meant to make the ‘Harold does white chicks’ blurb appear to fit into a larger whole ...
In the Ford ad, even if you don't buy the psychosexual stuff the way Mr Marshall and I do, the “he's just not right” tagline is pretty much the textbook example of dog whistle racism in American politics — recognizable, but subtle enough that even its targets can rationalize to themselves that it isn't appealing to their bigotry.
Is the Celebrity Obama ad trying something similar? It's certainly not as crafty as the Ford ad. But I note that Terry Nelson, the architect of that Ford ad, was campaign manager for McCain for the first six months of 2007. It's not hard to imagine that Nelson was brought in for his ability to blow that dog whistle well ... and after his departure the remaining folks in the campaign made a clumsy attempt to play the same game.
But why get into all this serious analysis when you can do goofy satire instead? It seems that Paris Hilton was displeased with having her image used by the McCain campaign. So she made a witty campaign ad of her own, with the aid of the nice folks at FunnyOrDie.com:
I don't know which embarrasses me more: that I actually find the odious Ms Hilton a bit charming in this ad, or that she manages to sound more credible on energy policy than the Republican candidate for President of the United States.
06 August 2008
I was recently reminded of some reading I did in college, way back in the last century, by a British historian arguing that the critical technology, for the early phase of the industrial revolution, was gin.Mr Shirkey believes that we're coming up on another shift where we stop using an anæsthetic technology to deal with a major social change and start to seize that change's benefits.
The transformation from rural to urban life was so sudden, and so wrenching, that the only thing society could do to manage was to drink itself into a stupor for a generation. The stories from that era are amazing— there were gin pushcarts working their way through the streets of London.
And it wasn't until society woke up from that collective bender that we actually started to get the institutional structures that we associate with the industrial revolution today. Things like public libraries and museums, increasingly broad education for children, elected leaders—a lot of things we like—didn't happen until having all of those people together stopped seeming like a crisis ...
What is the 20th century equivalent of gin? I bet you can guess.
What are the benefits of this change? Read what Mr Shirky has to say, or better yet, check out the video of him talking through it. He has some truly astonishing back-of-the-envelope calculations.
05 August 2008
In that final scene, when Gordie pulls the gun on Ace, my instinct was to yell at him, like I was trying to intimidate him (again, this made sense when I was 12.) Rob let me rehearse it that way, and then he very calmly pulled me aside and asked me to try it again, but to keep my voice quieter. “Let the gun do the talking,” he said. “It's more powerful.”You can see it here.
I was 12, so I said that I thought I should do it my way. (Ah, the impertinence of youth, how glad I am to be rid of it.) Rob nodded patiently and said, “Okay, listen to this.” He took a few steps away, and pointed his finger at my face. “No, Ace, just you,” he said. Gravely, quietly, seriously.
Then, he pulled that finger back and held it up.
“Now,” he said, “listen to this.” He took a deep breath, pointed his finger at my face again, and screamed, “NO ACE JUST YOU!”
His voice echoed off the river, as he asked, “Which one is scarier? Which one is stronger?”
I laughed nervously. “It's scarier when you yell at me, but it's stronger to be quiet, which is guess is scarier if you're Ace.” I said.
“So let's try it that way,” he said, kindly.
People always give me credit for being great in that movie. The truth is, I don't think I deserve as much credit for it as I'm frequently given. I think back on my limited experience and my silly ideas, and then I see what a magnificent performance Rob Reiner coaxed out of me. The difference is striking.
04 August 2008
The extent to which wrestling relied on national identity to manufacture its villains should not be overstated. Some of the greatest villains were home-grown, like Nature Boy Buddy Rogers, and some of the greatest heroes were foreign-born, like Bruno Sammartino. But although ethnic stereotyping was not essential to the emotional dynamics of wrestling, it did play a crucial role. That is why the end of the Cold War threatened to deliver a serious if not mortal blow to the whole enterprise. Suddenly audiences could not be counted upon to treat a given wrestler automatically as a villain simply because he was identified as a Russian. There was a brief, almost comic era of wrestling glasnost, during which the promoters tried to see if they could generate drama out of the shifting political allegiances of the Russian wrestlers. The extended Koloff family was riven by internal dissent, as some sided with Gorbachev and the reformers, while others remained hardliners and stuck by the old regime. But since Kremlinology has never been a popular spectator sport outside academia, the public quickly grew bored with trying to sort out the internal politics of the Koloff family, and it began to dawn on the wrestling moguls that the end of the Cold War was a threat to their franchise.What is wrestling to do?
This problem was compounded by the fact that at roughly the same time as the Cold War was ending, ethnic stereotyping began to be anathematized. By the early ’90s, the WWF even seemed to be testing whether it could capitalize on the new era of political correctness. With Russia and virtually every other country ruled out as a source of villains, Vince McMahon and his brain trust searched the globe to see if any ethnic group remained an acceptable object of hatred. The result was a new villain named Colonel DeBeers — a white, South African wrestler with an attitude, who spoke in favor of apartheid during interviews. One can almost hear the wheels grinding in McMahon's head: “Russians may no longer be fair game, but no one will object to a little Boer-bashing.” But wrestling fans did not take the bait.
The answer, says Cantor, is postmodern tribalism, and he makes some serious points about the erosions of both national and personal identity represented in wrestling narratives.
01 August 2008
At least 1,500 miles wide (give or take, could be much larger, no one's quite sure because it's a bit difficult to measure), 30 meters deep, 80 percent plastic, and 100 percent appalling. Truly, there is nothing else quite like it on Earth.