31 January 2004

A response to libertarians and anarchists

Today Brad DeLong has a provocative post in which he repeats the ''tale of the slave'' in Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia. Then he finds he cannot resist following up with another post offering a counter-argument in the form of the ''tale of the serf:''
Here are two situations:

In the first, you are a free and independent peasant living in a village. Your field is your own. Your crops are you own. After working, you huddle before the fire in your peasant hut until you fall asleep. A smallpox epidemic comes. You, your spouse and your children all die.

In the second, you are a peasant living in a village. Once a year a thug with a spear -- Sir Pierre de Bois-Guilbert, say -- comes and takes 10% of your crop. He uses his takings to live well in the castle up on the hill. He also employs a troubadour who comes and entertains the peasants nightly in the village square, singing, juggling, and telling stories. He also employs chirurgeons who undertake research into the balance of the four humours. One day, the chirurgeons come with their knives: they cut the arms of you and your family, and insert some cowpox-infested tissue. When the smallpox epidemic comes, you and your family (and the other families in the village) survive.

In which situation are you ''freer''? Do you really care whether you are ''freer''?

America's finest news source

You may recall this little item in The Onion:
Bush: 'Our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over'

WASHINGTON, DC—Mere days from assuming the presidency ....

Bush swore to do ''everything in [his] power'' to undo the damage wrought by Clinton's two terms in office, including selling off the national parks to developers, going into massive debt to develop expensive and impractical weapons technologies, and passing sweeping budget cuts that drive the mentally ill out of hospitals and onto the street.

During the 40-minute speech, Bush also promised to bring an end to the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring citizens that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years.

The Onion 18 January 2001

Look at that date! Tom Lehrer once said that he retired from political satire because when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize he realized that he would never be able to keep up with reality. But The Onion has what it takes to satirize by anticipating reality.

This week The Onion takes news satire to a mind-boggling level of deadpan irony.

Bush 2004 campaign pledges to restore honor and dignity to the White House

BOSTON—Addressing guests at a $2,000-a-plate fundraiser, George W. Bush pledged Monday that, if re-elected in November, he and running mate Dick Cheney will ''restore honor and dignity to the White House.''

''After years of false statements and empty promises, it's time for big changes in Washington,'' Bush said. ''We need a president who will finally stand up and fight against the lies and corruption. It's time to renew the faith the people once had in the White House. If elected, I pledge to usher in a new era of integrity inside the Oval Office.''

The Onion 28 January 2004

Go read the whole thing. It may be the most coldly funny thing I've ever seen.

A better example of lefty propaganda

Busy Busy Busy gets it right with its execution of the ''shorter'' concept: snide one- and two- sentence summaries of conservative pundits' columns.

Dig this fine sample from their archives:

Shorter Donald L. Luskin
A Letter From Jeffrey J. Upton

I will personally track, hunt down and pursue my political opponent to the ends of the earth, while my lawyers flush out and assail anyone who dares call this stalking.

Shorter Max Boot
Dog Bites Man in Baghdad

Things are going swimmingly in Iraq, all appearances to the contrary being due to an exaggerated media focus on the body count, which isn't even all that high when compared to any larger number.

Shorter Gregg Easterbrook
One unseen divinity? Ridiculous! Billions of unseen universes? Sure, why not

Theoretical physicists stubbornly prefer science to magical thinking, even though science is complicated while magic easily explains lots of stuff.

The ''shorter'' concept was invented at D-Squared digest but has gone on to glory in lefty weblogs all over the place. Busy Busy Busy not only provides the richest source of them but also links to other good examples.

It's a terrific way of doing criticism. It's pithy, witty, and funny when done well. And yet it's not rhetorically irresponsible: rather, it's the opposite, surfacing core ideas that are often buried under the devices of rhetoric.

Flash propaganda

There's another well-done bit of anti-Bush propaganda from Bushflash.com that's been making the rounds, entitled Thanks for the Memories. It's a good introduction to Eric Blumrich's work: clever and beautifully executed animation, making digestible the complex story of how Saddam Hussein's rise in Iraq in fact involved significant American complicity and even aid. Check it out.

On the other hand, it also demonstrates some of Blumrich's weaknesses as a vigorous lefty propagandist, as in a few places the piece overreaches in attributing American responsibility for events in the last decade and a half. Certainly I believe in some American culpability for supporting the Ba'ath party for a long time, but the first US-Iraq war under Bush the Elder (and its aftermath) represented misjudgement, events spinning out of control, and opportunism on both sides, not clever manipulation by the CIA as Blumrich implies.

Of the almost two dozen animations on his website, all of them demonstrate impressive formal mastery -- artful use of text, photographs, and music to tell a story with impact -- but too many of them are too smug and angry. Quite few are just name-calling exercises. In other places, Blumrich juxtaposes vague triumphalist rhetoric by Bush and his administration with vague triumphalist rhetoric by Hitler and other Nazis -- it's an irresponsible propagandist's cheat that could make Gandhi look like a fascist.

Even at his best he often poisons the well, as in Mission Accomplished. In that animation, he juxtaposes the Bush administration's hestiancy to honor fallen American service men and women in Iraq with a litany of statistics about the bloodiness of the Iraq conflict, punctuated by the names of our war dead flashing quickly over the screen. It's very powerful -- until he accuses the Bush administration of shedding this blood for the benefit of corporations like Haliburton. Sure, a lefty like me finds it gratifying to say that, but the piece doesn't make a case for the connection at all, which means that it will only alienate anyone who is not already convinced. To an ordinary American, that animation looks like a cheap attempt to capitalize on heroic soliders' sacrifice to push anti-corporate conspiracy theories.

When he's explicitly raising questions about a conspiracy, Blumrich is often actually better. Top Gun? juxtaposes Bush's flight suit photo op with his failure to serve even his undemanding duty in the National Guard. Grand Theft America tells the story of Katherine Harris' purging of voter rolls to disenfranchise black voters in Florida. Even Buddy Buddy, which hazily accuses the government of complicity in the 9/11 attack, a very strong accusation which is not supported by correspondingly strong evidence, makes enough of a case that it's not easily dismissed.

It is frustrating to me that so many of our most talented lefty propagandists like Blumrich and Michael Moore are so often rhetorically irresponsible. Yeah, I know, it doesn't compare to the stuff you hear from their counterparts on the right, but that still doesn't make it okay.

30 January 2004

People in red states won't believe you if you tell them

It's possible to group the 50 states into two categories: Givers and Takers. Giver states get back less than a dollar in spending for every dollar they contribute to federal coffers. Taker states pocket more than a dollar for every tax dollar they send to Washington.
The Democrats' electability predicament comes into focus when you compare the map of Giver and Taker states with the well-worn electoral map of red (Republican) and blue (Democrat) states. You might expect that in the 2000 presidential election, Republicans, the party of low taxes and limited government, would have carried the Giver states — while Democrats, the party of wild spending and wooly bureaucracy, would have appealed to the Taker states. But it was the reverse. George W. Bush was the candidate of the Taker states. Al Gore was the candidate of the Giver states.

From the New York Times by way of Atrios.

The Daily Howler has more.

Details from the Tax Foundation.

A sequel on this blog about who pays taxes.

A finer-grained map of where the money comes from and goes to.

Remember what I was saying about crossover satire?

I have more for you from the Department of Crossing the Memes. Thanks to Dionysus Devotee, I can tell you about this little gem:

Jack Chick tracts + Goth = Darque Dungeon

Don't know what a goth is, or a Chick tract? Then you won't laugh until your nose bleeds like I did.

Update: God Hates The Scene is another variation on the theme, and The Trancecracker! gives us a very witty variant of Jack Chick + rave culture.

Plus the original Chick tract Dark Dungeons has been has been adapted to film by a Kickstarter-funded effort which give the work the reverence it deserves.

Today's quote

Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock.

Ben Hecht

Brought to you by way of Brad DeLong, by way of Bonobo Land.

Two stories almost about me

Such is the nature of my generational / social class / cultural / tempermental position that few novels I have read really express the the tenor of my own life experience. But there are a couple of stories on the web which really get it.

One is by the dazzling web cartoonist Patrick Farley, whose Electric Sheep is a showcase of inventiveness and skillful comics storytelling often, but not always, laced with humor. In a later post, I introduce all of my favorite stories of his, but for today I just want to bring The Guy I Almost Was to your attention. (Update: a single page archive of that story, if you need it.)

It's a long story for a web comic: give yourself 20 or 30 minutes to read it. Along the way it evokes the magic of a slightly geeky childhood, the economic desperation Generation X experienced in the early ’90s, the appeal and the absurdity of Mondo 2000 back in the days of “cyber-culture,” and the deep strange seductive power of the Beat era for intense young men. A tiny novel, in web comic form. It works for me. Maybe it will work for you.

My other offering in the tales of smart, weird, intense young men is The Serial Killer Jailbait Airline Lotto by the astonishing Igloowhite. Again, I'll be coming back to some of my favorite things of his in a later blog post. But for now, let me just introduce this one story about sharing a flight with a pretty young girl who, it turns out, is fascinated by serial killers.

At first, I thought this might be a conversational gambit, a feigned interest. But no — she was true to her word, tirelessly questioning me on everything I knew about the perpetrators of serial violence. She wanted to know why I knew so much, and I admitted that I was also obsessed with serial killers — to the extent that I (sheepishly) consider myself something of an armchair profiler.

So I spoke with her like I speak with all teenagers, like an adult. To say that she was amped was something of an understatement.

This odd encounter turns into a moment of clarity in which Igloo realizes that being smart, weird, and intense is a nightmare as a teenager, but eventually you grow into it, that it takes you to extraordinary places where ordinary folks cannot go — like a random conversation with a pretty girl about random murder. This is the kind of weird that turns up in my life, and Igloowhite captures it perfectly.

29 January 2004

Five geek social fallacies

Those of you interested in geekkultur may want to have a look at this astute article written by and for the smart, social, and socially awkward.
Ostracizers Are Evil
Friends Accept Me As I Am
Friendship Before All
Friendship Is Transitive
Friends Do Everything Together
Each fallacy has its own set of unfortunate consequences, but frequently they become worse in interaction. GSF4 often develops into its more extreme form when paired with GSF5; if everyone does everything together, it's much harder to maintain two friends who don't get along. One will usually fall by the wayside.

Similarly, GSF1 and GSF5 can combine regrettably: when a failure to invite someone is equivalent to excluding them, you can't even get away with not inviting Captain Halitosis along on the road trip. GSF3 can combine disastrously with the other ''friendship test'' fallacies; carriers may insist that their friends join them in snubbing someone who fails the test, which occasionally leads to a chain reaction which causes the carrier to eventually reject all of their friends.

There's a word for it

Nock (n.) -- The cleft of an arrow, or of the fundament

John Kersey's New English Dictionary (1772)

Oceania was, in fact, at war with Eurasia

You may have noticed that the Bush administration is now saying that they never claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction which were a threat to the US, which seems a little funny, since I recall them saying exactly that.

As a notable example, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the other day, ''I think some in the media have chosen to use the word 'imminent.' Those were not words we used,'' which is odd, since on 10 February 2003 his exact words were ''this is about imminent threat.''

For your convenience, the nice people at the Center for American Progress have prepared a detailed history of the semantics of the ''imminent threat'' from Iraq plus another page with a big stack of quotes from Bush and administration officials, in case you're wondering if your memories are a hallucination.

Makes my head hurt

Okay. Okay. Someone is maintaining a blog of spam. Really. Check back every few days for new spam on the blog.

It does not appear to be ironic. Well, actually, it does appear to be very ironic. But it does not appear to be intentionally ironic.


Sometimes I wonder if some internet content, like the bad movies you find on Deep Cable, isn't the result of some spontaneous mimetic genesis that operates without human intervention. I can almost imagine the Harlan Ellison or Philip K. Dick story: ''Jonathan, if you think about it, why would anyone deliberately make that stuff? It's just a natural outgrowth of the infosphere once it reaches a certain critical mass ...''

Can the American right really believe this stuff?

Today there's a good rant over at The Volokh Conspiracy, quoting Paul Craig Roberts, Reagan's pick for Assistant Secretary of the Treasury.
Compare an American taxpayer's situation today with that of a 19th century American slave.
[Some slaves] were freer than today's American taxpayer.
The ''Civil Rights revolution'' destroyed equality before the law. Today rights are race-and gender-based.
Have I somehow managed to quote Roberts out of context, to twist his meaning? Go check out Eugene Volokh's rant and see that no, I didn't.

I honestly, genuinely do not know if educated guys on the right like Roberts really believe this stuff, or if they're just saying it. I recognize that some of the stuff I believe is puzzling to folks like them, but this sort of nonsense just seems impossible for anyone thoughtful to swallow.

Tightening airport security is useless

It turns out that several of the 9/11 hijackers were screened by the FAA.
The 10-member bipartisan commission revealed that nine of the 19 hijackers had been flagged by the Federal Aviation Administration's computer passenger screening system before boarding their flights. The system alerts airport security screeners to more thoroughly check passengers who buy one-way tickets or pay with cash. FAA procedures at the time called for the luggage of the ''selectees'' to be screened for explosives.

According to the report, three of the five hijackers aboard Flight 11 were designated selectees by the computer system, known as CAPPS, but one hijacker had checked no luggage and screeners scanned the bags of the other two for explosives. All five hijackers aboard American Flight 77 -- which crashed into the Pentagon -- were selectees and their luggage was held before they were confirmed on the aircraft, and no further screening was done.

One hijacker aboard United Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania, was flagged and his bag was screened for explosives before being loaded onto the plane, the report said.

Washington Post

Yet we act as though bigger helpings of the same security measures will make a difference. At this point, we may as well eliminate all airport security: no one will ever let terrorists take over a jumbo jet again. Passengers foiled the 9/11 jet-as-flying-bomb strategy later that same day.

26 January 2004

The same data in two forms

As a way of pressuring my friend John Dunning into becoming a blogger, I'm going to rudely share with y'all an email he sent to me.

The world's most attractive zipcode entry field

The applet starts by displaying every zipcode in the US as a white dot. As you type each digit in a zipcode, all the codes that begin with what you've typed stay white, while the others fade. So typing 9 lights up the West Coast, typing 4 highlights just the Bay Area, and so on. Simple, but kind of hypnotic.


The zipcode map is almost dot for dot identical to a nighttime picture of the US from orbit:


Considering how zipcodes are distributed, that shouldn't be surprising. But it's still remarkable that as soon as humans are concentrated enough to merit their own zipcode, they use enough light to be visible from space.

Two other people's thoughts about blogging

Now that I'm blogging, I'm thinking about blogging. Very meta. I'm not sure that I have anything to say about it yet, other than that these two folks have interesting observations ...

Clive Thomson points out that blogging gets you thinking like a writer.

The thing that most writers and pundits don't realize is that, before the Internet came along, the vast majority of Americans never wrote anything -- ever -- after they left high school or college. There was neither any need (their jobs didn't require it) or any vehicle for doing it in their spare time. What the Internet did was give us all a reason to write -- and write tons. Which is where things get cool, because that helped Americans realize that they are, beneath the surface, a hell of a lot more outre and odd than they're normally allowed to be in polite company. Hence all the flame wars, the brobdignagian emotions, the playful grandstanding that characterizes so much of online life.
Meanwhile, Rands in Repose agrees and takes it a step further to argue that everyone should ''write and meet with courage.'' Seconding Clive Thomson, he says
If you're reading this, you've chosen to use the web as a means of gathering new ideas. It is a non-trivial ability to take that drunken thought you had last Thursday and translate it a compelling argument that folks should talk about. Writing takes time and practice and time and practice.

When you create a space in your life for a weblog, you're saying, ''Writing matters.''

... then he goes on to talk about the power of weblogging for community ...
Once you've ably conquered the whole writing thing and your ideas are floating around the weblog-o-sphere, people are going to find you. These people are going to want to talk about what you wrote and, oddly enough, their voice is going to sound familiar. This is because they've found something familiar in your voice.

Weblogs match people together regardless of geography thus making the world a pleasantly smaller place.

Is the spam industry employing schizophrenics?

When I first read about Bayesian filtering for spam I dared to hope that it would work well enough to frustrate spammers out of existence. But of course I was wrong: it just created Darwinian pressure for craftier spam. Since Bayesian filtering looks for words and word patterns in email that denote spam or non-spam email, spammers are now trying to overwhelm the filters by adding weird random words that drown out the spammishness of such words as !V!I!A!G!R!A!

Lately, the efforts to outfox filters have taken a turn to the poetic. Today I received this little gem:

Jim gave an indignant neigh

Look at me! he cried

You may guess what an improvement is this automatic Record of Events, which is as reliable as Truth itself

Behold a real horse! The wooden animal gave a start, and then examined the other intently Nothing can be altered or falsified, for the vibratory currents convey the actual events to your vision, even as they happen

This seems oddly reminiscent of conversations I've had with folks on Market Street who have missed a few doses of their antipsychotic medications: rambling somewhere in the border territory between sense and nonsense. Perhaps some street people have now moved on to happier, more productive lives writing copy for the spam industry.

Two other things worth noting while I'm on the subject. Clive Thomson at Collision Detection has more on spam poetry, as well as antispam poetry, as part of his ongoing coverage of spam weirdness.

Plus, it's important that you read what British Parliment has to say on the subject of spam, in both senses of the word.

BARONESS STRANGE: My Lords, does the Minister agree that sardine tins and anchovy tins are also very difficult to open with their tin-openers?

LORD SAINSBURY OF TURVILLE: My Lords, I think I will just agree with the noble Baroness on that question.

LORD MITCHELL ASKED HER MAJESTY'S GOVERNMENT: What are their plans to reduce the growth in spam (unsolicited emails).

LORD SAINSBURY OF TURVILLE: My Lords, I hope the noble Lords will appreciate how I move seamlessly from corned beef to spam.

24 January 2004

Batman is not your superfriend

I just returned from a few days on the road, which means a few days in hotels, which means a few evenings of watching television. Since I don’t have a TV, this is a big treat.

Usually I watch a lot of Law and Order, which is always on, but the best part this time was catching an episode of Justice League on the Cartoon Network. I’ve seen it a few times before, and it beats the hell out of the Superfriends I grew up on. Not only is the animation crafty, the show is written by witty people who know and love the characters and the whole sensibility of comic book superheroes. [Update: Like many superhero nerds, in the years since this post I have come to believe that Justice League + Justice League Unlimited are the best interpretation of the DC Comics superheroes ever done in any medium.]

This week’s episode featured a ten-foot android deceived by Lex Luthor into believing that the Justice League are bad guys. It emerges that the android copies superheroes’ superpowers by looking at them, so before long it’s as strong as Wonder Woman and as fast as the Flash. The League wisely decides to have Superman hang back, but when the android is about to smash Hawkgirl into feathers the big blue boy scout zooms to the rescue. He blindfolds the android with a hunk of metal, but before long the android rips that away and catches a glimpse of Superman, leading to some building-smashing that’s pretty cool if you like that sort of thing.

Then the show becomes very smart. Batman turns up and we get a look at Batman through android-o-vision.

“You don’t have any powers,” says the android.

“No,” says Batman. “But I have this.” He reaches into his utility belt, and produces something green and glowing. The android starts looking woozy. “You get the powers,” says Batman, “but you also get the vulnerabilities.” The android falls into a river, to come back for more trouble later.

Hawkgirl comes up to Batman. “You carry krypotnite with you?”

“I think of it as insurance.”

Now that’s the real Batman. None of this “Robin, try using the bat-foam” nonsense. Kids watching this show will learn the important life lesson that you do not fuck with the Batman.

This post originally ran under the title “My mon Bats, he don’t shiv”, a reference to a line of dialogue in Frank Miller’s hugely influential Batman series The Dark Knight Returns. In that story, the evil gang the Mutants speak in a peculiar slang; “shiv”, presumably short for “shiver”, means “fear” or possibly “hesitate”.

A reader unfamiliar with the reference pointedly asked if it was kosher for a white guy like me to use the voice of Black slang (“my mon” and the use of “don’t” as the present tense third person singular version of “do not”) in the title for this post. It hadn’t occurred to me, but on reflection it’s A Bit Awkward so discretion is the better part of valor.

It’s notable that despite their slang, the Mutants are not portrayed as Black. Indeed, crime-ridden downtown Gotham seems, unlike the cities of New York and Chicago which inspire it, to be almost entirely a white city, with crime coming in the form of white mafiosos, white gangs, and (of course) colorfully-dressed white lunatics. Astute readers have observed that this anomaly is necessary because if Batman lived in an ordinary American city, he’d be a white billionaire spending his nights wandering around downtown punching the Black underclass, an image that Would Not Do At All.

This observation should make us discomforted to think about why Batman’s War On Crime appeals to us, no?

20 January 2004

Republican foreign policy is even worse than I imagined?

David Neiwert at Orcinus has a long post quoting a fella named Mark D. Lew about how the ''October surprise'' story about presidential candidate Ronald Reagan's efforts to delay the return of American hostages in Iran in 1980 is a capsule example of how and why the US is a supporter of authoritarian regimes.
Members of the U.S. government are frequently expressing their moral support for the democratic reform movement in Iran. At the same time, our actions are supporting the vali faqih. Why? Because he can deliver the goods. What we want most from Iran right now is for them to shut down their nuclear weapons program. The democratic movement is basically for a peaceful Iran, but all you've got to show for it is the rhetoric of a bunch of activists who argue with one another, and who knows who will actually be elected? With Ali Khamenei, he can say the word and the nuclear program shuts down right now. That's a man we can do business with, and so we do.
It's a fairly intricate look at how the October surprise story connects to the internal politics in Iran, and the implications are chilling, as Neiwert observes.
If these accounts prove accurate, the Reagan team's behavior in this instance constituted treason, by any definition of the term. As Mark suggests, the Reagan folk directly undermined government negotiations to free the hostages. If George H.W. Bush was a direct participant in this, it casts an even darker light on not only his presidency but his subsequent actions regarding Iran-Contra and Iraq, actions for which we continue to confront the consequences.
The principals may indeed have said their piece, but sadly, the public is spectacularly unaware of this. The point is to put our current events in a clear and factual context that erases the mythology favored by Republican propagandists, who would have us get all misty-eyed over the wonders of the Reagan administration's moral clarity and farsighted vision.

After all, we are currently in a political environment in America in which it is a commonplace to characterize liberals as traitors and to suggest that they have behaved treasonously in our response to ''the war on terror.'' What the October Surprise scenario makes clear is that not only are the Republicans now running the government the principal traitors here, but their entire approach to dealing with terrorists is a poisonous cauldron of deceit, both at home and abroad.

It explains a lot

A modest proposal from the Unintelligent Design Network:
UDN, Inc. and GNIJS of Ohio are united in our cause to open up Ohio state science curriculum to fair, even-handed and objective discussion of all sides of the issue of the origins of life.
We hereby propose that a new debate be held, including members of the scientific community to argue that evolution should be taught as is, members of SEAO or the Intelligent Design Network, Inc. to argue that life shows evidence of an intelligent, omnipotent creator, and member of our organization to argue that although life was designed by an all-powerful creator, he is in reality pretty dumb and not very good at it.
Spotted by the magnificent Brad DeLong.

Eyesore of the month

Grumpy urban design critic James Howard Kunstler maintains an Eyesore of the Month page showing examples of our nightmarish American built environment annotated with his scathing criticism. Kunstler is sort of a real-life equivalent to Dean Motter's Mr. X, ranting about how our architecture is so bad that it will drive us crazy. I'm not mocking Kunstler, mind you; I agree with him.

My favorite eyesore post combines the witty, the sad, and the chilling in its last line.

Here we have the old courthouse in Biloxi, Mississippi, (left) and its 1970s replacement (right) -- the sublime and the ridiculous. The old building is garbed in the architectural vestments of authority in decorum. The new courthouse invokes arbitrary bureaucratic despotism. Note to political economists: the building on the left came from a far less affluent society than the one at right.
I do wish his web site design were not so horrid, though. You'd think that as an urban design critic, he'd know better, but in my experience a good eye for one design discipline doesn't necessarily confer any advantage in approaching other disciplines.

19 January 2004

Four ways to get drunk

It is conceivable that I may have a reader unfamiliar with TV drinking games. The original is believed to be “Hi Bob”: you watch The Bob Newhart Show and take a sip of alcohol any time someone on the show says “Hi, Bob.” Beer is traditional, as drinking hard liquor this way would be unhealthy. But the most notorious variant is Star Trek drinking games: you watch an episode of Trek and sip your drink whenever a show cliche happens. Folks have been publishing lists of situations that call for a drink since the days of mimeographed fanzines.

I recently stumbled across a particularly witty example of the form.

  • A garbled distress call
  • Mention of or reference to Shakespeare
  • Someone is attempting to compensate
  • Someone says “with all due respect...”
  • Data is “attempting to do so”
  • They cut to Spock for a “no-reaction” shot

That Shakespeare thing alone could hurt you pretty bad.

I get a kick out this kind of thing, because it often reveals little epiphanies about the storytelling tricks of a show. It's not that Star Trek is formulaic, though sometimes it can be. It's that good series television is structured. Consider a West Wing drinking game, which includes “whenever Latin is spoken” and “whenever there's a reference to a musical — two sips if it's Gilbert & Sullivan.”

You may argue that The West Wing is TV and therefore still essentially kitchy, but consider the Shakespeare drinking game you could do:

  • Someone tells you where they're from
  • A comedy relief character breaks out of blank verse
  • People discuss something they're watching offstage
  • A character uses a metaphor and then another character elaborately turns it around to mock them
  • Someone remarks on the brevity of youth

That right there will get you pretty buzzed. In fact, I find myself wondering if drinking games weren't invented at the Globe Theatre: I wouldn't put it past the Elizabethans.

Update: Ten more from io9.

Take one drink when:
  • Daenerys screams about her dragons, or anything else.
  • There's pointless nudity to bribe us into listening to a lecture about the history of the Targaryens.
  • Varys or Littlefinger tell the truth and nobody listens to them.
  • Tywin or Lady Olenna put the smackdown on someone.
Drink and chaser when:
  • Someone makes a dreadful decision, that you can tell will lead to ruin even if you haven't read the books.

The backstory on one of my favorite quotes

It was said that the people had lost the confidence of the government and could win it back only by redoubled efforts. Would it not be simpler if the government dissolved the people and elected another?

Berthold Brecht

I first heard that one through Robert Anton Wilson. Today Brad DeLong has an illuminating post about what Brecht was talking about.

MLK day

Most people have forgotten that at the civil rights march on Washington DC on 28 August 1963, Martin Luther King was not the featured speaker. He was not the icon of the movement that we think of today. He was a major player, yes, but there were others more famous, respected, and important at that time. The speech he gave—the one you know—changed that.

The importance of the speech is distinctively American. The United States, unique among nations, is a frankly artificial creation. France is the place in Europe where people speak French, but the US has no ethnic definition—this place is full of immigrants who decided to be Americans, and their children. Japan is an island, but there's nothing natural about the borders of the US—this place wound up a nation through a chaotic combination of war, purchase, legislative decisions, and (oh yeah) genocide. The US is an idea. Something we just made up.

This is why we have our peculiar veneration of documents. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are the holiest of holies in our civic religion because they are made of words, made of ideas. Through acclamation over the years we have chosen a handful of other documents that tell us what the United States is, like Lincoln's Gettysburg address and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s I have a dream speech. In that speech, the power of King's rhetoric and ideas was so great that hearing it transformed our understanding of what the nation was about. I know, I know, that's a white guy thing to say: it's not like plenty of folks didn't know about American racial injustice. But on the level of shared understanding of shared destiny, King gave dazzling voice to ideas implicit in the American national promise that had too long been denied. And still are denied today.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.

Go read it right now. It will only take five minutes of your time. With no exaggeration, I think it's your duty as an American — we have a lot of work left to do.

And while you're at it, take a little more time and read Letter from a Birmingham Jail. I know you did it back in school. It's worth doing again.

18 January 2004

When I agree with Tom Friedman, I now doubt myself

Friedman's latest column says in so many words that Israel must get out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as soon as possible and evacuate most of the settlements.
Let's not mince words. American policy today toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is insane.
The Bush team destroyed the Iraqi regime in three weeks and has not persuaded Israel to give up one settlement in three years. To think America can practice that sort of hypocrisy and win the war of ideas in the Arab-Muslim world is a truly dangerous fantasy.
I agree with Friedman's pro-Israeli-security / anti-Israeli-policy fundamental philosophy. But after a year of him as an Iraq invasion apologist, his writing all smells fishy to me. Am I missing something here?

Crossing the memes

There's a style of humor that I'm not sure has a name: combining two disparate styles of things into a whimsical fusion that rewards a familiarity with both. My favorite example of this thing is Nathanial Daw's little masterpiece Republic Dogs, which mixes the dialogues of Plato and Quentin Tarantino.
Aristotle: Well, allow me to demonstrate. Let's say there was an imaginary city, and all the people were divided into three groups. Let's say I represent the Gold group, I'd be Mr. Gold, you, Socrates would be Mr. Silver, and, you, Alcibiades, Mr. Bronze.

Alcibiades: Why do I have to be Mr. Bronze?

Aristotle: Because it's only a demonstration. So me, Gold, I'd be the philosopher king--

Alcibiades: But why can't I be the philosopher king? Look, Socrates, I'll trade with you.

Aristotle: [Draws a gun, fires a shot into the air, and points it at Alcibiades] Interrupt me again, motherfucker. Interrupt me again. Nobody's trading with anybody. This is my allegory.

The recasting of the Talmud I linked to in my last post is another example, as is Star Trek by Dr. Suess.
Picard: LaForge, please give us factor nine.

LaForge: But sir, the engines are offline!

Picard: Offline? But why? I want to go! Please make it so, please make it so!

This kind of humor is beloved of hyperarticulate lovers of intricate systems of detail -- like both academics and hackers, so no wonder it's all over the web. And what else do those folks love? Meta-humor.

17 January 2004

An addition to next year's haggadah

In yet another demonstration that all wisdom is already found in the Talmud, it turns out that optimality theory, which is apparently a hot new development that has all of the phonologists talking, is already present in the Talmud's discussion of Passover sacrifices.
''What we have here," Hillel began, "is a simple case of constraint conflict:''

(1) SAB: You shall do no work on the Sabbath.

(2) PASS: You must offer the Passover sacrifice.

''Conflict of this type is quite general,'' he went on. ''For example, the Tamid offering (TAM) is performed twice daily, including on the Sabbath, and so outranks the Sabbath; if PASS outranks TAM, then, by transitivity of strict domination, PASS >> TAM >> SAB.''

Hillel then drew the diagram in (3):

(3) Input: Passover falls on a Sabbath ...

Comics are really bloody expensive

So I just dropped over $200 at the comic book shop, almost entirely on trade paperbacks. Now granted, I love the medium, I'm pretty flush these days, I've admitted to myself that it's a priority in my life to spend real money on books/DVDs/comics/magazines, and it's been a couple of months at least since I've bought comics -- a recipe for an expensive outing.

But I've also made a conscious effort for the past several years to restrict my comics purchases to my favorite stuff, which basically adds up to witty genre-bending work written by snarky Brits. This isn't quite so esoteric and trivial a category as the uninitated might imagine -- but still, it leaves out a lot of interesting books that my younger self, with his more catholic tastes, might have wanted to pick up.

Glen Engel-Cox is right, the comics industry has spiraled into madness.

One of these days I’m going to post my graph about how comics, as a consumable media, has outpaced inflation in comparison to others, and in comparison to the other options for a child/teen’s dollar at the convenience store. It’s not the trade paperback that’s killing the comic market, John Bryne and Peter David, it’s the exorbidant cost of your monthly comic.

16 January 2004

A stunning reversal

Roger Ebert makes an interesting aside in his review of Torque today:
Hells Angels on Wheels (1967) was frankly intended as an exploitation picture by everyone involved, who all hoped to move up to the A-list and make better films (all except for the producer, Joe Solomon, who we will get to in a moment).

Torque (2004), I fear, considers itself to be a real movie....

What has happened between 1967 and 2004 is that Hollywood genres have undergone a fundamental flip-flop. Low-budget pictures are now serious and ambitious and play at Sundance. Big-budget exploitation work, on which every possible technical refinement is lavished, are now flashy and dispensable and open in 3,000 multiplexes. Little did Solomon suspect that he was making the major studio pictures of the future.

Quote of the day

If it were left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.

Thomas Jefferson

15 January 2004

Que es mas macho?

Speaking of Laurie Anderson, a friend tells me that this site lets you compare opinions of the gender of common household objects.

Virtual 'hood

So I just learned about CPixel, which is sort of Friendster for folks concerned with Ke3p1n' It ReA1, HoMe8oY, with a little Hot or Not mixed in.

From a design perspective, I cannot help noticing that the site design is not as bad as you would ph33r, and there are a couple of cool innovations that serve the target audience. Most notably, you can not only link to friends ("homies"), you can also link to anti-friends ("shit list"). Plus -- and this is a little innovation that other sites could borrow -- there's a function for flagging fake profiles, and has a top-level link to a list of 'certified fakes'.

How the blind lead the deaf

The phrase of the week in the Echo Chamber appears to be former Treasury Secretary O'Neill's comment that our nation's president was like “a blind man in a room full of deaf people” at cabinet meetings.

This reminds me of Teresa Nielsen Hayden's comments almost a year ago, which explained for me a lot of things you see happening in the Bush administration:

I do not need to explain why I say things. — That’s the interesting thing about being the President. — Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don’t feel like I owe anybody an explanation.
It’s one of the tactics you can use if you’re in an executive-level job that’s beyond your abilities, you have to have meetings with underlings who know more than you do, and your only concern is to save face while making sure they’re giving you what you want.
This camouflages the fact that you don’t know which end of the stick is sharp. It also teaches people that they’re only safe if you’re happy.

Having to ask questions is likewise unacceptable ....

03 January 2004

Chairman Bruce understands what Burning Man ain't

In the course of his interesting-as-ever State of the World address, Bruce Sterling makes an offhand comment about the Burning Man Festival:

Burning Man doesn't come to grief, but Burning Man has a cabal of hardened, experienced cadres, it only lasts three days, and it's swarming with cops. Burning Man is organization disguised as licence. If bikers started beating and knifing naked people at Burning Man they'd be jumped on by Danger Rangers and Nevada cops with guns.

Burning Man is a party, not a city-state.