30 March 2013

Drug policy

In an amazing interview at the Washington Post Wonkblog, Mark A. R. Kleiman succinctly delivers a lot of truth and clear thinking about drug policy.

When I was a kid, my parents would get The New Yorker, and the back cover was always a Johnny Walker Black ad. And they were great ads. Just terrific ads. One of them shows lights in an office building spiraling up. Next to it there’s a picture of Johnny Walker Black. And it says, “As you move up, the work doesn’t get easier, but the rewards get better.”

But another said, “If the difference in price between Black and ordinary scotch matters to you, you’re drinking too much.” And I regard that as the first principle of drug policy. Price matters a lot to people who use a lot, and so it’s a very good way to regulate consumption. So here I am in Washington state, thinking about regulating cannabis, and a big question is how to keep the prices up.

This kind of talk is what gets people like me excited about the neoliberal dream of smart technocrats setting policy ... and frustrated about our political institutions as we actually have them. It's easy to see how a public debate about the kinds of better policies Kleiman is advocating isn't even possible in our Republic as it is now.

Blood for oil?

Why did we invade Iraq? For oil? Then where's the oil?

Greg Palast has a different theory. He thinks it was to stop oil from flowing out of Iraq.

Big Oil could not allow Iraq's oil fields to be privatised and taken from state control. That would make it impossible to keep Iraq within OPEC (an avowed goal of the neo-cons) as the state could no longer limit production in accordance with the cartel's quota system. The US oil industry was using its full political mojo to prevent their being handed ownership of Iraq's oil fields.

That's right: The oil companies didn't want to own the oil fields – and they sure as hell didn't want the oil. Just the opposite. They wanted to make sure there would be a limit on the amount of oil that would come out of Iraq.

Saddam wasn't trying to stop the flow of oil – he was trying to sell more. The price of oil had been boosted 300 percent by sanctions and an embargo cutting Iraq's sales to two million barrels a day from four. With Saddam gone, the only way to keep the damn oil in the ground was to leave it locked up inside the busted state oil company which would remain under OPEC (i.e. Saudi) quotas.

Palast's evidence is not completely convincing, but it's at least plausible, which is more than I can say for most theories I've heard.

Fully dressed superheroines

Artist Michael Lee Lunsford has an interesting little project: Fully Dressed Redesigns of Superheroines. This hits me right where I live for a couple of reasons.

I have been enjoying the trend of artists offering up their redesigns of familiar superheroes. (Check out Project: Rooftop and Aaron Diaz experimenting with costumes.) There's something charming in the question it makes one ask about what makes a character recognizable as “the same”. One of my favorite panels in Warren Ellis' Planetary is the one in the very first issue in which a team of heroes who are transparent nods to ’30s pulps — Doc Savage, Tarzan, The Shadow — encounter characters from a parallel universe who are meant to represent the Justice League ... but who are drawn to be as unlike the Justice League we know as possible while still being recognizable.

Plus Lunsford's project riffs on the much remarked sexism of superheroine costumes, much like a favorite blog of mine, Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor.

Lunsford notes that his project isn't motivated by those political/cultural questions, it's an artistic experiment in taking characters and redesigning them with a challenging theme. All of the character's he's chosen ordinarily have revealing costumes while his experiments don't show any skin and aren't even tight. It's a cool project. He's a good artist, and all of them are clever and beautifully executed, but it's interesting that some worked for me and some didn't.

His Elektra is not just spot-on, it's so good that I feel like his version is her real costume which we haven't seen before because artists have tarted her up.

His solution to Power Girl is even better: it's an out-and-out improvement over the original in every way, distinctive and superheroic. A home run. I confess that I like that he kept her curves; if I were editor-in-chief of DC Comics, I'd stop making huge breasts the Most Common Superpower but keep Power Girl as the one superheroine with impossible proportions.

Supergirl is also pretty great, though the gray trousers look a little out-of-place with her colors. (Maybe they should go all the way to black? Or maybe a longer skirt that hangs over her boots?)

His Wonder Woman is interesting, but I think a near miss. It's does say “Wonder Woman” to me and I really like the armor at the shoulders, but overall it's just a little too busy. I can't really blame him, though. Wonder Woman's costume design is a perennial problem. Her “swimsuit” costume is iconic but terrible; to make it work you need either Lynda Carter's præternatural poise or to hang a lampshade on the absurdity of it. Her old ’40s skirt somehow feels even sillier to me, and pants seem like a good idea in principle but I've never seen a version that sits right. I've long thought the best solution might be to play off of her Hellenic background and give her a Greek pteryges as a “skirt”. (I've also long thought that she should be Black, as Warren Ellis hinted at with his character Rite.)

Conversely, his Vampirella costume is a terrific costume ... but it just doesn't say “Vampirella” to me. I don't have much of a taste for the character, but to my mind the whole point of her is to be over-the-top exploitive; she's supposed to be running around killing monsters by throwing running chainsaws at them, dressed in something that's not only pornographic but could not stay on her body even if you used glue. (Though maybe I'm wrong about that; I was astonished to discover that Trina Robbins created her costume and objects to it having shrunk away to almost nothing.)

His Zatanna is a different kind of frustrating near miss. It's a nifty costume, and I can tell it's supposed to be her, but it just reads as Not Right to me. I think the main thing is that the tailcoat is essential; replacing it with a fuller cape seems to violate the iconography. As does losing the white tie. I don't like that Zatanna is often drawn with a silly cleavage window, but I suspect that a fully-dressed Zatanna is inherently doomed. Her classic costume really is just classic, one of the best ever, not least because unlike so many superhero costumes that in real life seem silly, or even physically impossible, actual real-life Sexy Lady Magicians have worn it to good effect. The fishnet stockings are part of the cocktail; change that, and it just ain't the same.

Psyloche's costume is recognizable — barely — but his version of it comes off as bland. Maybe trying to do a fully-dressed version of her Sexy Cyber Armor costume would have worked better than this attempt at a fully-dressed version of her Sexy Ninja costume? I dunno.

And last, his Black Canary is the only total failure. I see he's trying to play off of her motorcycle, which is a good idea, but it doesn't work for me. It barely says “Black Canary” (which is inherently tricky to achieve, since her original costume is also lacking in character) and even on its own terms it's just a little goofy.

Of course, most interesting of all is the very fact that I have these opinions in the first place. Where does that even come from?

So of course now I'm looking forward to his next project ....

21 March 2013

Ken Wilbur

Mark Manson writing at Postmasculine gives us The Rise And Fall of Ken Wilber, a frustrated critique of Wilber's thought and the Integral movement he spawned.

Although flawed, Wilber’s integral perspective continues to be an inspiration in my life. I do believe he will be written about decades or centuries from now, and will be seen as one of the most brilliant minds of our generation. But as with most brilliant thinkers, his influence and ideas will be carried on by others in ways which he did not anticipate or plan.

Wilber’s story is a cautionary tale. His intellectual understanding was immense, as much as I’ve ever come across in a single person. He also tapped into some of the farthest reaches of consciousness, spiritual or not, that humans have self-reported. I do believe that. But ultimately, he was done in by his pride, his need for control and, well, ironically his ego.

Jordan Gruber has a similar piece, “Beyond My Ken?”, which includes a link to a link index of criticism.

17 March 2013

Interface evolution

There's a blog post from the LayerVault folks making the rounds among interaction designers. It's about what they call “progressive reduction”, in which they change their interface over time in response to use, simplifying the way the elements appear.

In a way, this is a moment in which Everything Old Is New Again. Many people don't remember Kai Krause now, but back in the mid-90s, he made a series of graphics tools with exotic interfaces. Check out these screenshots of the Kai's Power Tools Texture Explorer and Sphereoid Designer (ganked from Veerle Pieters):

Crazy, right?

Kai's software was even weirder than it looks in screenshots. Many of those beady little buttons started out with text labels which would then wear off over time, getting fainter and fainter until they disappeared entirely, because Kai figured that eventually you just knew the button by its position rather than by its label. Many of those buttons never had a label at all, they did things to the image that were hard to name; the interface instead provided an abstract, memorable-looking button from the beginning. And in some tools, Kai had bonus features that would only show up after you had used the system for a while. The reasoning was that you wouldn't want the complexity of those functions at first anyway, so it was more fun to have them show up as a surprise bonus reward.

LayerVault describes the principle this way:

As designers, the longer we live with a product, the greater our bias shifts towards the professional user. Alternatively, blindly applying basic usability heuristics results in a bias towards new users. The mistake isn’t biasing your UI towards one type of user, it’s failing to realize that your user’s bias is changing.

How does one guide a new user from on-boarding, to low proficiency, to high proficiency? With progressive reduction, the UI adapts to the user’s proficiency.

I would never do something as garish or abstract as Kai's interfaces in my own UX design work, but this idea of progressive reduction stuck in my mind from back then, and a few times I've proposed versions of the same idea ... though they've always been shot down.

I don't mourn those missed opportunities too much though, because it's a risky, shoot-the-moon design move. If you get it just right, I think there's an opportunity to get some big benefits, but executed sloppily it could easily create more problems than it solves. LayerVault are swinging for the fences; good for them.

I have a hunch that this must be connected with the rise and fall of cursor-hover behaviors. When I doing interaction design for desktop applications at Cooper in the mid- to late-90s, we often tried to convince clients to make better use of tooltips and other cursor-hover behaviors, usually to no avail. The original edition of Alan Cooper's About Face included a lot of discussion about this. Then along came web applications implemented in Flash, which often included a lot of hover behaviors (often frivolously) because early on it was one of the few bits of crafty interaction it could provide easily. As a result, web applications have actually led the way for desktop applications, a reversal of the general pattern that the desktop has provided richer interface idioms than the web.

But just as the world has reached the point at which colleagues understand why I'm proposing extensive use of mouseover behaviors, they've started resisting them for a different, better reason. We need to accommodate tablets which cost us the use of this powerful interface idiom. Indeed, the tablet is killing a lot of idioms we used to use because it also doesn't support right-click or compact clickable buttons.

My hunch is that the (re-)emergence of progressive reduction in the LayerVault example reflects a secondary effect of the tablet revolution. Suddenly we are losing some of the idioms which have served well for years, while at the same time we don't think as much about “user expectations” on the new platform, resulting in software development organizations with a greater willingness to experiment with user experience.

You can see another way in which new hardware affects thinking about interaction design in software here. The garish-looking textures of Kai's interfaces and the LayerVaulters' enthusiasm for the opposite support John Gruber's theory that all that stuff was actually crafty technique for compensating for the crummy displays of the old days, and the trend toward “flat” interfaces reflects the emergence of better display technologies.

The trend away from skeuomorphic special effects in UI design is the beginning of the retina-resolution design era. Our designs no longer need to accommodate for crude pixels. Glossy/glassy surfaces, heavy-handed transparency, glaring drop shadows, embossed text, textured material surfaces — these hallmarks of modern UI graphic design style are (almost) never used in good print graphic design. They’re unnecessary in print, and, the higher the quality of the output and more heavy-handed the effect, the sillier such techniques look. They’re the aesthetic equivalent of screen-optimized typefaces like Lucida Grande and Verdana. They work on sub-retina displays because sub-retina displays are so crude. On retina displays, as with high quality print output, these techniques are revealed for what they truly are: an assortment of parlor tricks that fool our eyes into thinking we see something that looks good on a display that is technically incapable of rendering graphic design that truly looks good.

War fever

Via a chilling post by Corey Robin at Jacobin, I find Dan Savage (yes, that Dan Savage) telling us to Say “YES” to War on Iraq”.

War may be bad for children and other living things, but there are times when peace is worse for children and other living things, and this is one of those times.
But wait! Taking out Saddam means dropping bombs, and dropping bombs only creates more terrorists!

That's the lefty argument du jour, and a lot of squish-brains are falling for it, but it's not an argument that the historical record supports.

Trivia fact: The historical record now shows that Dan Savage was wrong, and those “squish-brains” were right.

It would be nice if in our political culture, we had more people who react to old quotes like this as Ta-Neisi Coates does, recognizing how poisonous and pervasive it was.

Not to restate my post from yesterday, but what stands out for me 10 years later is how people whose entire branding was “seriousness” and “tough-minded” pragmatism were just flagrantly, catastrophically, perhaps unconscionably wrong .... It's not just being wrong about the war (which is bad.) It's the being wrong while blustering.

Digby describes how this felt for those of us who were against the war.

A whole bunch of America sat there watching these sycophantic performances with our jaws agape, wondering if we had lost our minds. Bush was barely articulate, as usual, mouthing the worst kind of puerile platitudes (when he was coherent at all) while the press corps slavered over him as if he were Cicero. Bush, the clearly in-over-his-head man-child was molded into a hero and cheered by the media as he led this country into the dark, morass of an illegal war in the middle east. It was the most disorienting thing I've ever experienced in my life.

In the earlier post which Coates links in his quote above, he offers a mea culpa for having been a war supporter himself.

I am not a radical. But more than anything the Iraq War taught me the folly of mocking radicalism. It seemed, back then, that every “sensible” and “serious” person you knew — left or right — was for the war. And they were all wrong. Never forget that they were all wrong. And never forget that the radicals with their drum circles and their wild hair were right.

And yet it seems that not only do we not learn the lesson, we don't even learn the lesson about the judgment of the people who supported or opposed the war in Iraq. A common lament in the lefty blogosphere is that in order to be regarded as a Serious Person whose judgment should be respected in American political media (and in many kitchen-table conversations) one has to have been for the war on Iraq — this is to say, wrong — rather than against it. The Balloon Juice Lexicon explains that this pattern is so pervasive that Serious Person has emerged a useful term of art among lefty bloggers for analyzing a lot of commentary, not just about the war.

Serious Person— Also frequently appearing as “Very serious person,” this is applied to a person held in great esteem by The Village, who is repeatedly entirely wrong about everything, usually with tragicomic results. Conversely, those who have pretty much been right about everything the last twenty years are referred to as “not serious.” Serious persons believe the only solution to any foreign policy issue is bombing brown people (preferably Muslim, when at all possible), and the only solution to domestic affairs is cutting entitlements and demanding that the poor and working poor “sacrifice.” Noted examples of serious persons include Tom Friedman, Ken Pollock, the Kagans, Dick Cheney, and Frank Gaffney. Usually has an open lifetime invitation to appear on Hardball or to pen nonsense for the Washington Post editorial page.

16 March 2013

Pagan cultural appropriation

Pagan teacher Ivo Dominguez, Jr. tells a story about doing a brief, impromptu public ritual.

I then proceeded with calling of the four directions, the above, the below, and the center. This was done through simple chants that were taught on the fly, and brief visualizations. I improvised a simple drum beat on an empty waste bin. I chose language that would emphasize connection and unity between the physical world and the spiritual world.

Afterward, he faces a striking criticism.

I listened as he harangued me for a few minutes, as the room continued to empty, about how wrong I was for appropriating his cultural heritage. He said that as a Native American he was particularly troubled that this should occur at a conference that he expected to be more forward thinking. When he was finished, I told him that nothing in my opening had been borrowed from his culture. I asked what in my opening made him think that I had done so? He said that I had called upon the seven sacred directions, on the concept of “all my relations”, and used a drum beat.

Dominguez tries to engage in a discussion with his critic about what symbols and practices are culturally specific versus more universal. It doesn't go well.

I think about cultural appropriation seriously, especially when it insults Native Americans, which makes me completely respect why Dominguez' critic would not be receptive ... while at the same time thinking that Dominguez was not behaving irresponsibly at all. Drums and the ancestors are not Native American secrets, and I myself do a seven directions practice invented by European Freemasons who I'm confident couldn't have known the first thing about what Native American rituals contained.

We do not have good tools and vocabulary for talking about these questions.

Update: Dominguez' story reminds me of another story that Pagan teacher Andras Corban-Arthen tells about an encounter with Hopi elder Thomas Banyacya. After hearing Corban-Arthen's description of European Pagan thought and practice, Banyacya said, “I didn't know there had once been Indians in Europe!”

Think about that.

Living simply

Vruba at Tupperwolf's little blog post Wealth, risk, and stuff points to something that has always been present in my What If I Were Filty Rich fantasies.

Poor people don’t have clutter because they’re too dumb to see the virtue of living simply; they have it to reduce risk.

When rich people present the idea that they’ve learned to live lightly as a paradoxical insight, they have the idea of wealth backwards. You can only have that kind of lightness through wealth.

There's also a followup post.

14 March 2013

A polite society

Ta-Neisi Coates at The Atlantic makes a number of good little observations in his blog post How The Quiet Car Explains The World. He's talking about public space and rudeness, and along the way he says this:

Every once in a while we'll be at a bar and someone (they are invariably white*) will stumble over drunkenly and decide that we should be engaged in conversation with them.

The asterisk, in a David Foster Wallace move, points to this footnote:

I am pretty sure this is because of how violence influences black communities. There's a whole choreography (especially among black men) around avoiding it. It's fairly easy to see and broadcast. If you've been acculturated to people being shot/stabbed/beat up over minor shit, you tend to be a little more careful in your interactions. You never know who you're talking to. And if you are black person of a certain age, you are intensely aware of that.

This is the coda to a post lamenting the prevalence of rude assholes, neatly defined by Coates as “a person who demands that all social interaction happen on their terms”. Coates has just spoken against assholes and in favor of politeness. That gives this last comment a tricky spin.

He's pointing to a characteristically White form of rudeness as a manifestation of what social justice folks would call White privilege. If you're Black, the effects of systemic racism have salted your community with armed, violent hotheads; if you're White, those implications don't even occur to you.

So in a strange way he's describing a benefit of racist injustice, in preventing the emergence of a certain kind of assholishness among Blacks that he sees among Whites. I feel certain that Coates intends this benefit to be read not simply as a good thing but as a symptom of disturbing circumstances. And it is.

But there's another kind of White asshole who finds this not disturbing but desirable. Paul Waldman at The American Prospect describes the enthusiasm of (White) gun advocates for having as many people as possible carrying concealed guns.

But gun advocates want to create a society governed by fear, or at the very least, make sure that everyone feels the same fear they feel. “An armed society is a polite society,” they like to say, and it's polite because we're all terrified of each other. They genuinely believe that that the price of safety is that there should be no place where guns, and the fear and violence they embody, are not present. Not your home, not your kids' school, not your supermarket, not your church, no place. But for many of us—probably for most of us—that vision of society is nothing short of horrifying.

“A person who demands that all social interaction happen on their terms.”

And here I hand the microphone to James Wolcott at Vanity Fair.

“An armed society is a polite society.” Think about that. Think about societies where the adult men routinely pack and tote arms.

Afghanistan. Yemen. The badlands of northern Pakistan (Bin Laden Country). The Sunni Triangle. Beautiful downtown Mogadishu.

Do these regions and cultures leap out at you as polite societies? Places where you could safely stroll for a nightly constitutional and enjoy vigorous differences of opinion that wouldn't break out in a misunderstanding between AK-47s?

It takes a someone unaware of how profoundly their privileged circumstances inform their thinking to romanticize that.

Update: Cobb has a lively commentary Cowboy Up more sympathetic to gun enthusiasts than I am. He does offer this clever restatement of Coates by way of me:

whitefolks: we feel fear so we want an armed society — therefore our privilege is the asshole's privilege to unconsciously dominate.

blackfolks: we know fear and never have that privilege.

my point: grr. how long has gangsta rap been praising guns and social domination?

I hope to find time to comment at greater length on his reading.

Update: I am reminded that Wolcott also inspired a more waggish earlier post on this subject.

11 March 2013


Much political and cultural weight rests on the pillar of the reading that the Christian Bible condemns abortion.

Fred Clark of Slacktivist, whose analysis of Evangelical culture is well-informed and sharply observed, recounts that this idea was a sudden and recent development

At some point between 1968 and 2012, the Bible began to say something different. That’s interesting.

Even more interesting is how thoroughly the record has been rewritten. We have always been at war with Eastasia.


They all now believe that the Bible teaches that life begins at conception. They believe this absolutely, unambiguously, firmly, resolutely and loudly. That’s what they believed 10 years ago, and that’s what they believed 20 years ago.

But it wasn’t what they believed 30 years ago. Thirty years ago they all believed quite the opposite.

Infamous Brad Hicks explains the theology of what they once believed, and why.

In plain English (and equally plain Hebrew, I'm told), the Bible says that even in cases where the pregnancy is terminated against the woman's will in a criminal assault, it's treated as a property crime, with the penalty being nothing more than a monetary fine negotated between the assailants and the woman's husband. Compare and contrast that with the penalty for murder (death), and then tell me that the Bible would treat the death of even, to use an unspeakably tired current example, “Connor” Peterson as a murder. If God thinks that killing a fetus is murder, why make the penalty so light and trivial?

Answer: because the Bible says when human life begins, when a person first obtains a soul, when that person has rights that must be respected. It doesn't say this out-right, but the implication is pretty plain, and it's the only interpretation that's compatible with the rest of the Biblical legal code. Consider the creation of mankind in Genesis chapter 2, and let me specifically call your attention to Genesis chapter 2, verse 7: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Pay attention to the sequence there. When God made Adam from the dust of the ground, Adam was no six-week fetus. He wasn't even a newborn. Adam was a full-grown adult human being, and yet he had no soul until he drew his first breath. And that is why, until abortion became a political issue again around a hundred years ago and people went digging in the scriptures to try to find a reason to hate it, it was an assumed fact of religious law that the soul enters the body at birth. Indeed, it was long assumed on this same Biblical basis that the “death rattle,” the rattling sound in the throat of many dying people as they exhale for the last time, was the sound of the soul leaving the body, and it was for this very reason that many Christian theologians were deeply disturbed when mouth-to-mouth rescusitation was invented.

That's from a five-part series, Christians In The Hands of an Angry God, in which Hicks details the history, theology, and the politics of the change in Evangelical culture which Clark is talking about. And Clark offers an additional explanation of the emergence of Evangelicals as a political force which is even more unflattering than Brad's.

Jill Filipovick writes about this at The Nation in the context of a Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage

Numerous commentators, most notably at The New York Times, have expressed concern that a broad ruling on marriage equality could turn into the next Roe v. Wade, igniting decades-long culture wars and damaging public perception of the Supreme Court. Better to rule narrowly, they say, and let the states follow the emerging trajectory towards marriage equality.

That argument, though, is not only totally ahistorical, but dangerous for both civil rights and the Court’s credibility.

Contrary to the current mythology, Roe didn’t incite the culture wars, and before the case was decided in 1973, the right to abortion across the fifty states was far from a foregone conclusion. As Linda Greenhouse and Reva B. Siegel detail in their book Before Roe v. Wade: Voices That Shaped the Abortion Debate Before the Supreme Court’s Ruling, an organized, primarily Catholic Church–backed anti-abortion movement existed in force before Roe. Although abortion rights were initially championed by Republicans and favored by a majority of Americans, social conservatives saw an opening to exploit for political gain. According to Greenhouse, before the Court decided Roe, conservative architects of the “New Right” had already decided to use opposition to abortion as part of a strategy for party realignment that would come to fruition with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. “New Right” leaders sought to bring Catholics and into the party and politicize Evangelicals to form a coalition of traditionalists based on hostility to progress and change.

Abortion was hardly their only issue. The new conservative coalition opposed the Equal Rights Amendment, claiming that gender equality would destroy the family and send our daughters to war. They stoked white voters’ fears of full racial integration with racist tropes about black criminals and welfare queens. Those narratives and appeals to tradition continue today, with social conservatives hoping for a return to a gauzy vision of Good Old Days America before the social upheavals of the 1960s and ’70s—and before women, people of color, religious minorities and other marginalized groups were able to secure a full range of rights.

A different ruling in Roe—or none at all—wouldn’t have prevented a Republican Party realignment that was already underway. It wouldn’t have prevented abortion, and the rights of women and other traditionally disempowered groups, from becoming controversial political issues. But a Roe-free United States would almost certainly mean a United States wherein abortion laws were wildly varied, with women in many parts of the country having no legal right to abortion at all. Similarly, even though Brown v. Board of Education inspired an immediate backlash from Southern racists, it’s tough to argue that without court intervention, racial integration of public schools and other facilities would be better without Brown than the (admittedly lacking) state of racial equality today.

Perhaps the fundamental question is: Is securing civil rights through the courts worth the backlash? Or is it better for marginalized groups to push for their rights incrementally, avoid the glare of national politics and hash things out at the state level?

Social Security Trust Fund

I've long been cranky about the politics of Social Security—Generation X folks like me look like we're gonna get screwed. But part of the politics is people sowing confusion about economics. One can de-confuse one's self by reading Mike Brennan's long post at his blog Does It Hurt to Think? about Trusting The Fund: A Citizen's Guide To Social Security's Trust Fund.

I assure you that most young people know nothing factual about Social Security's finances, or its future prospects. They're not alone. The public at large is more or less clueless—even persons whom you might suppose to be quite intelligent and well informed. Why is that? How is it we've failed to understand this most important of government programs? The question is especially crucial in the present political climate, with all the furor over whether or not we're in the midst of a fiscal crisis, and what should or shouldn't be done about it. Social Security has always had its critics, but now they've been empowered in a particularly significant way. A lot depends on the citizenry understanding who is telling the truth. It wouldn't hurt if the man on the street understood a bit about how the system works.

Economic policy

Conservative-ish newsweekly The Economist offers an overview of Generally Agreed Upon Macroeconomic Policy Truths.

BECAUSE it is always a good time to relitigate America's fiscal stimulus, the blogosphere has spent the past week or so relitigating America's fiscal stimulus. Rather than plunge headlong into the fray, I'll attempt to distill some fiscal policy truths that should be reasonably acceptable to most participants.

Now I have little doubt that the internet will quickly disabuse me of the notion that these are things to which most economists can agree. But it sure seems to me that these are things to which most economists should be able to agree.

They list seventeen points. I think left-leaning economists might quibble over the last few points, but it's striking how it offers an awfully neo-Keynesian overall picture. Yet you would never know this from our mainstream news media.

Critique of capitalism

A lively talk delivering a critique of capitalism from Richard Wolff. It probably doesn't say anything you don't already know, but that's part of the point.

10 March 2013

Leadership lessons of the con artists

I love this little snippet of dialogue from David Mamet's movie about con artists House of Games.

The basic idea is this. It's called a “confidence game”. Why? Because you give me your confidence? No. It's because I give you mine.

In Mamet's film, we see how this is trick used to defraud people.

But it is a deeper idea than that. I just recently read a critique of Amanda Palmer's TED talk “The Art of Asking” which cleverly substituted that clip for her talk. When my friend tells me about her work with the kids at her continuation school, where all of the students have dropped out of (or have been pushed out of) ordinary high schools, I think of this.

And it is also the way that you enable people to do great work. Every time I have led a team or trained someone in my work, I have thought of the importance of giving people my confidence.

09 March 2013

Godwin's Law

You have most likely heard of Godwin's Law.

I developed Godwin's Law of Nazi Analogies: As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

I seeded Godwin's Law in any newsgroup or topic where I saw a gratuitous Nazi reference. Soon, to my surprise, other people were citing it - the counter-meme was reproducing on its own! And it mutated like a meme, generating corollaries like the following:

  • Gordon's Restatement of Newman's Corollary to Godwin's Law: Libertarianism (pro, con, and internal faction fights) is the primordial net.news discussion topic. Any time the debate shifts somewhere else, it must eventually return to this fuel source.
  • Morgan's Corollary to Godwin's Law: As soon as such a comparison occurs, someone will start a Nazi-discussion thread on alt.censorship.
  • Sircar's Corollary: If the Usenet discussion touches on homosexuality or Heinlein, Nazis or Hitler are mentioned within three days.
  • Van der Leun's Corollary: As global connectivity improves, the probability of actual Nazis being on the Net approaches one.
  • Miller's Paradox: As a network evolves, the number of Nazi comparisons not forestalled by citation to Godwin's Law converges to zero.

Eric Raymond describes a common reaction to the awareness which Godwin's Law brings us.

There is a tradition in many groups that, once this occurs, that thread is over, and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress.

But this presents a problem. Fascism and Nazis are a real thing. How to deal with that?

Journalist David Neiwert writes about the far right in the United States, and so comparisons involving Nazis are necessary for him. In his great long essay Rush, Newspeak, and Fascism, he grapples with the challenge.

I've kind of viewed Godwin's Law, or at least its overeager invocation, as symptomatic of the larger problem I hoped to confront with this series: Namely, an almost frightened refusal by most Americans, right and left, to come to grips with the meaning of fascism, and how that blind spot renders us vulnerable to it.

When I first began seriously studying fascism some years back, one of the first things that struck me was how little I — or anyone I knew — actually understood what it meant, in spite of the fact that it, alongside Communism, was one of the two major political phenomena of the 20th century, both of them radical anti-democratic movements that the American system was forced to confront and defeat.

Virtually every educated person I know (and many less-educated people as well) has a relatively clear and at least semi-informed understanding of what Communism is, what its origins are, what are the basic elements of its ideology. Moreover, wariness of Communist influence is a virtual byword of the American worldview.

In contrast, hardly anyone I know understands just what fascism is. At best, they vaguely comprehend it as a kind of heinous totalitarianism, identified specifically with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. There is a great deal of confusion about its ideological orientation, embodied in the now-common conservative canard that “Hitler was a socialist.” Mostly it is just flung about — mostly by leftists and thoughtless liberals, but in the past decade by conservatives too — as a catch-all term for totalitarianism, or worse yet, as a substitute for “police state” (which is not the same as fascism).

Hardly anyone can identify any tenets of fascism; most of the time its manifestations are understood almost as extrinsic infestations of a virulent hatred and violence, brought on by such influences as propaganda and “brainwashing.” As I discussed in Part 11, though, this model is faulty; what is now clear about totalitarianism of all stripes is that it arises when certain ideologies and movements interact with personalities configured by “totalist” predispositions. That is to say, it cannot be imposed from without unless there is concession within; its audience is not a blank slate, but people who willingly join in.

In the case of fascism specifically, the lack of an ideological core or easily recognizable signifiers (beyond, of course, such images from fully developed fascism as goosestepping stormtroopers and mass rallies) is a large part of the reason it's so little understood.

None other than Mike Godwin himself says that one can and must make the comparison sometimes.

American history has its own flirtations with fascism and racism and militarism, and people have believed in any and all of these things, so with certain individuals it has to come up from time to time. So it’s not the case that the comparison is never valid. It’s just that, when you make the comparison, think through what you’re saying, because there’s a lot of baggage there, and if you’re going to invoke a historical period with that much baggage you better be ready to carry it.

07 March 2013

Atheist temples

The interesting article in Good, A Truly Godless Place: Why We Designed a Temple for Atheists, brought to mind the temple which Howard Roark designed in The Fountainhead. When I read Ayn Rand's novel as a teenager, I thought that she and her hero were psychopathic monsters, but I admired the Temple of the Human Spirit which she described Roark building.

Here's the description, provided by a critic who hated it in the book:

Mr. Hopton Stoddard, the noted philanthropist, had intended to present the City of New York with a Temple of Religion, a non-sectarian cathedral symbolizing the spirit of human faith. What Mr. Roark has built for him might be a warehouse—though it does not seem practical. It might be a brothel—which is more likely, if we consider some of its sculptural ornamentation. It is certainly not a temple.

It seems as if a deliberate malice had reversed in this building every conception proper to a religious structure. Instead of being austerely enclosed, this alleged temple is wide open, like a western saloon. Instead of a mood of deferential sorrow, befitting a place where one contemplates eternity and realizes the insignificance of man, this building has a quality of loose, orgiastic elation. Instead of the soaring lines reaching for heaven, demanded by the very nature of a temple, as a symbol of man’s quest for something higher than his little ego, this building is flauntingly horizontal, its belly in the mud, thus declaring its allegiance to the carnal, glorifying the gross pleasures of the flesh above those of the spirit. The statue of a nude female in a place where men come to be uplifted speaks for itself and requires no further comment.

A person entering a temple seeks release from himself. He wishes to humble his pride, to confess his unworthiness, to beg forgiveness. He finds fulfillment in a sense of abject humility. Man’s proper posture in a house of God is on his knees. Nobody in his right mind would kneel within Mr. Roark’s temple. The place forbids it. The emotions it suggests are of a different nature: arrogance, audacity, defiance, self-exaltation. It is not a house of God, but the cell of a megalomaniac. It is not a temple, but its perfect antithesis, an insolent mockery of all religion. We would call it pagan but for the fact that the pagans were notoriously good architects.

This column is not the supporter of any particular creed, but simple decency demands that we respect the religious convictions of our fellow men. We felt we must explain to the public the nature of this deliberate attack on religion. We cannot condone an outrageous sacrilege.

I liked the sound of that temple. I would visit that place and nourish my spirit there.

And yeah, it does sound pagan to me.

05 March 2013

Organizational will

Via Dan Saffer I learn that Leisa Reichelt at Disambiguity has a crackerjack post, Design Is The Easy Part, about organizations' failure to seize the benefits of the design work they already have done.

It’s been my experience that the main reason most designs go unsolved is not the lack of talented designers or their interest in solving the problem. Instead, the problem is with the organisation themselves — their inability to allow themselves to implement the right design, or even any good design.

Many times I’ve suggested a design approach only for the in house designer on the team to literally pull the design from their desk drawer or computer and to tell me how they tried to get the organisation to go this way two, three, maybe four or five years ago. They tried and tried, had no success, and filed the design away so they can get on with the work the organisation deemed acceptable or appropriate. It’s kind of depressing, and almost embarrassing when my main role is to advocate for work that was actually done years before I appeared.


Most places I encounter these problems have all kinds of strategies talking about how important design and the end user is to them. They all handwave the right way, but the execution doesn’t match the strategy. This is the reality we live in — almost every organisation you come across is loudly proclaiming their interest in the customer experience and surveying you within an inch of your life to prove it. They’re talking about the importance of design and hiring expensive designers (who are then hobbled by the organisation). None of this matters if the execution, the tactics, don’t fit the strategy. And most often, it doesn’t.

This matches my experiences exactly.

Here's another, similar experience I had again and again when I was in consulting. My team would present a design solution to the client and have everyone at the table respond with heartening enthusiasm. “If we can deliver that product,” says the marketing guy, “we can expand our market and sell at a juicy price!” “Some of this will be a challenge,” says the engineering lead, “but the team would love to work on it and I know we can do it!” Then the discussion turns to plans, and it becomes we already committed to X and we will have to get approval on Y and before half an hour has passed one can already see that they are talking themselves out of doing something that they all agree is the right thing to do.

This is why the odd little first generation iPod Shuffle intrigues me. It's a good little design idea, but hardly an earth-shaking one. Someone said, “Hey, we could make a little, lightweight iPod with very limited capacity for very cheap. With only room for about a hundred songs, playlists don't really make sense, so you don't need the screen or the clickwheel, just a minimal set of hard buttons.” It's the kind of nifty little idea that people in the industry idly propose all of the time over lunch ... and then forget about. Or they do follow up on them and let feature creep kill them. It's not hard to imagine a meeting which adds a couple of features to the Shuffle, which then suggests the need for a screen, which then drives up the cost and complexity, implying the need for more features in order to beef up the “value proposition” ... and then there's no turning back. How did Apple muster the organizational will to resist that?

I often talk about how the most important thing in getting organizations to deliver good user experience is not designers' ability but the ability of the organization as a whole to metabolize design work and execute on it. Better to have mediocre designers but a strong ability to leverage their work than to have the best designers in the world but an inability to follow through on their thinking. I have been talking about the importance of organizational questions for quite some time, emphasizing stuff outside of design qua design like having a properly defined and empowered product managment role. There's a lot to it, more than most folks in the field are talking about.

As Reichelt says, this is the right question to talk about ... and a much harder question than how one gets to good design.

03 March 2013


Apropos of the ambivalence I expressed at the end of the previous post, I found a Metafilter post by flex about privilege checking and the callout culture. It starts with Ariel Meadow Stallings' well-known, flawed, but usefully provocative piece on Liberal bullying: Privilege-checking and semantics-scolding as internet sport and follows up with a big pile of links to writing about the subject. A little nosing around in those links finds many of them a little too wobbly to cover the things I keep meaning to write on this subject, but this passage from The Unicorn Ally by Pyromaniac Harlot struck pretty close to the mark:

So, here are the contradictions as I see them. As an ally, my job is to not impose my own beliefs of what’s ‘right’, but instead amplify the voices of the oppressed people that I’m trying to be an ally for. Except that I shouldn’t bug them about educating me, because that’s not what they’re there for. And it’s my duty to talk about the issue of oppression in question, because it’s the job of all of us, rather than the oppressed people, to fix it. Except that when I talk, I shouldn’t be using my privilege to drown out the voices of the oppressed people. Also, I should get everything right, 100% of the time. Including the terminology that the oppressed people in question themselves disagree on. This is what I consider The Unicorn Ally phenomenon. The effect of these demands, for me at least, is to make me less likely to say, well, much of anything, except a) to correct other people who are clearly even more wrong than me, or b) on issues where I have direct experience of oppression.

Linked here for future reference, for when I take time to do a more thoughtful review.

Pagans & Privilege at PantheaCon

I was at the “Pagans and Privilege” panel discussion at PantheaCon this year. Pagan Newswire Collective Minnesota has a good article on the event, panel moderator T. Thorn Coyle also wrote about it on her Patheos blog, and both Thorn and Crystal Blanton discussed it with Devin Hunter on his Modern Witch podcast.

I made several posts to Twitter during the discussion and had the good sense to capture the content of my tweets so that they would not vanish beneath the waves of time ... and then the Con Crud overcame me.

I'm afraid that my memory has gone a little stale, but having finally taken some time to catch up, I've done my best to annotate a collection of those tweets for anyone interested.

A lot of firepower on this panel. Xochiquetzal (Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir), Elena Vera, @BlantonHPs [aka Crystal Blanton], @ThornCoyle (T. Thorn Coyle), River Higgenbotham

Gasps as Elena Vera describes online harassment for writing about goddesses as a trans woman.

Elena Vera is a powerful speaker who has a great capacity for speaking about difficult subjects — including her own experiences — in a way that is both frank about the pain involved and thoughtful at the same time. When she described the horrifying harassment she received, the wave of shock through the room was palpable. As I alluded to in a later tweet, I was struck by the fact that so many people were obviously surprised by what she was describing, as cruel harassment is unhappily common if one is familiar with the experiences of trans people.

Xochiquetzal reminds us, “Don't apologize for other people who look like you.”
Xochiquetzal: The White Guilt response of defensiveness distracts from the discussions we need to have.

These tweets attempted to summarize Xochiquetzal talking about experiences she often has where White people approach her and talk about how heartbroken they are about the injustices done to Native Americans, offering an apology for that history. But this isn't a satisfying or productive White response, since it draws the focus to those White people's desire for her to accept the apology, rather than grounding a discussion of what can be done to bring greater justice today.

Taylor Ellwood asked @BlantonHPs to edit Shades of Faith to keep the culture from being edited out.

Crystal Blanton told this little anecdote, explaining how she had come to edit the essay collection. Ellwood had been bringing materials together for the collection, and saw that it needed editorial work ... but being White, Ellwood worried about being the wrong person for the job.

“I acknowledge my own privilege first. We all oppress and are oppressed.” @BlantonHPs

This was a recurring theme in the discussion: the intersectionality of different ways in which each of us both gain privileges and suffer oppressions within systems of power. Crystal Blanton was pointing to how she suffers disadvantages as a Black woman, but also possesses privileging advantages in being well-educated, cisgendered, and so forth.

“Having time and energy and money to do things in the community is a privilege.” River Higgenbotham

This was a reminder that with privilege comes a responsibility to act.

The richness of this discussion is, ultimately, impossible to communicate in 140 characters.

I was livetweeting in large part because I knew that people were watching the #PantheaCon hashtag on twitter and I wanted the panel to get more exposure. In that I was gratified, as many people forwarded tweets I made.

But it was also a frustrating exercise, in that the more complex ideas presented, dialogue between the panelists (and between panelists and attendees), and most of all the personal stories which the panelists shared were simply impossible to convey in tweets. I worry that this record compresses the panel too much into Social Justice Aphorisms, in consequence of the 140 character limit on the length of a tweet.

“I see people who wear their privilege like a top hat & tuxedo.” River Higgenbotham

This was in reference to some discussion of how one should conduct one's self in the privileged position. Denying one's owns privilege is both impossible and irresponsible to attempt, but River was pointing to how some people assert their privilege more obtrusively than others.

Being shocked by injustices is itself a manifestation of privilege.
Being unaware of the concept of privilege is itself a manifestation of privilege.
Ignorance and apathy are characteristics of privilege which contribute to injustices.
“We have to accept knowing that there are things we will not understand.” @BlantonHPs
“It's hard enough to understand my own stuff, much less other people's.” —@BlantonHPs

These were allusions to the observation that people in a privileged position tend not to see important things about the circumstances and experiences of the oppressed. The privileged need to be careful of their tendency to overestimate their own insight, and to respect that it will always have its limits.

“I am not the Magical Aztec!” Xochiquetzal tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MagicalNegro

Xochiquetzal was talking about occasions when White seekers not only hoped that she would deliver to them Special Aztec Wisdom, but also deliver it in some kind of easy-to-digest form.

Elena Vera “Intent is not magic. The harm remains real.”
Elena Rose Vera said this in allusion to the social justice language of magical intent: that when people in a privileged position say or do something harmful, they tend to say that they didn't intend to do something harmful and then to proceed as if that corrected the harm.
Elena Vera “The ability to call the police is privilege. For me, the police represent danger.”

This was an allusion to how in many situation people of color, trans women, and others cannot reasonably expect that police will be helpful to them ... indeed, they often have good cause to worry that the police will actually present a threat to them.

Elena Vera “Privilege is a loaded gun on the table. Even if the privileged person knows they won't use it.”
“Diversity and tolerance are easy to talk about. Power is harder.” Elena Vera
Continuing the panel out on the patio, because so many people want to continue the conversation.

As the articles linked above have noted, many more people showed up for the panel than there was room for in the room where the panel was presented. And when the allotted hour ran out, there was a general feeling that the discussion had only gotten warmed up and both attendees and panelists were hungry for more. I didn't count, but it seemed that the majority of attendees stayed through the transition.

“One has to show up and say, ‘how I can I use my privilege to help?’ ” @ThornCoyle

This was part of a discussion how people in positions of privilege can work effectively as allies to people who are oppressed on the axes on which they are privileged. There's a tendency for people in privileged positions to end up driving the process and deciding on their own terms what they will do to help when they need to be more deferential to the needs that the oppressed themselves express.

“White privilege travels internationally.”

This was a snippet from a story one of the attendees told about being a couple traveling abroad, one Black and one White. The strange ways that they were treated in other countries showed that White privilege has distinctive manifestations even outside the United States.

“We need to think systematically, not about individual incidents. Society has a structure. “ @BlantonHPs
“I am a part of an oppressive system; I have to be aware of it while I work against it.” @BlantonHPs

Can we have a Pagan liberation theology?
Elena Vera: I love the Christian & Muslim liberation theologians, who remind us to identify with the poor.

This was the short twitter version of a discussion that ran for a few minutes with the panel alluding to the liberation theology movement. There was some discussion of whether a Pagan equivalent might prove viable.

Xochiquetzal: Chip Smith's book The Enculturation of Whiteness describes the economic origins of racism.

Either I mistranscribed this or Xochiquetzal misspoke, as I cannot find this book. I have not been able to find a book entitled The Enculturation of Whiteness by any author. I was able to find Smith's book The Cost of Privilege: Taking on the System of White Supremacy and Racism (plus a couple of videos of him talking about it at Beyond Whiteness).

Xochiquetzal: slippery boundaries of identity create situations where people have no safe way to behave.
Elena Vera: conditional Whiteness prevents alliances between the oppressed.

This was an allusion to how many people may or may not be read as “White”, and therefore face dilemmas in which challenging injustices can cost them their White privilege, making them more vulnerable.

Read and listen to Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary's work says @BlantonHPs

Xochiquetzal: Privilege means the ability to disengage from combatting injustice when you're tired.
Planning a Pagans & Privilege resource page at www.SolarCrossTemple.org

Thorn Coyle and Crystal Blanton and I all serve on the board of Solar Cross. Seeing the enthusiasm for the discussion and the hunger of many attendees for resources, we discussed following up with a set of resources for interested Pagans.

I have one other more personal note about the panel, tweeting it, and creating this followup post.

Most aspects of my identity put me in a privileged position: I'm White, male, cisgendered, educated, bourgeois, et cetera. I make an effort to be aware of that and to stay attentive to social justice questions. I don't claim to be an activist, but I do my homework, try to act responsibly, and on occasion I have spoken out about social justice both within the Pagan community and in other domains.

The rhetoric of “privilege” and many of the other things I tweeted reflect a style of social justice rhetoric one might call the “identity politics school”. It's an approach to discussing social justice that offers a number of powerful tools, but also has some limitations which I find can be frustrating, even counterproductive in some cases. I felt a little awkward using it so heavily.

But the discussion at the event was a helpful reminder to me of how valuable that toolkit can be. Attendees came with great enthusiasm for talking about social justice, but not always a lot of sophistication. It was obvious that many of them were hungry for better tools for thinking and talking about it, and in that environment the language of identity politics was helpful and powerful for all of us.

Capitalism vs. the Market

Gus DiZerega has a long post Capitalism vs. the Market which lays out a point that I've been semiconscious of myself for some time.

Virtually everyone in America today, regardless of whether they call themselves libertarians, classical liberals, conservatives, moderates, liberals, progressives, or socialists, equate markets and capitalism. Usually the terms are used virtually interchangeably. At most, some libertarians distinguish between “capitalism” and a “free market” that has never existed. They are deeply, fatally wrong. Market economies and capitalism are crucially different from one another, but not because the market is a utopian goal. We encounter it every day. So long as the distinction between the two is missed or misunderstood, our efforts to solve many of our most intractable problems will be for naught.

I tend to refer to “market capitalism” in order to point to how these are distinct arrangements that are linked together, but I've never tried to write systematically about what that relationship is. DiZerega lays it out:

Under capitalism the market has freed itself from human society to become an independent ecosystem of its own to which the rest of the human world must now adapt. Participants must adapt to the market. Property rights are selected not by their impact on human life but by their capacity to be bought and sold. The market has become an independent force rather than a subordinate component of civil society.

He tells the story a little differently than I would; a lot of what he describes as “capitalism” I would describe as “market capitalism”, the thing that emerges in the overlap of these two related systems. But that and a few quibbles aside, I'm glad he wrote about this at length so I don't have to.

He also has a sequel, Capitalism vs. the Market II: re-integrating markets into civil society.

Responsibility for the mortgage crisis

There's a line of movement conservative propaganda which blames not the financial industry for the mortgage lending crisis which triggered the 2008 financial crisis, but rather blames irresponsible homebuyers taking out loans for more house than they can afford. An article at Columbia Journalism Review provides a bunch of links to resources exploring that story in the course of criticizing a magazine cover for Bloomberg BusinessWeek which plays off of the racist dimension of this telling of the mortgage crisis (because of course those irresponsible homebuyers are people of color).

The narrative of the crash on the right has been the blame-minority-borrowers line, sometimes via dog whistle, often via bullhorn.

It’s a narrative that has, not coincidentally, dovetailed with “Obamaphone” baloney, the ACORN pseudo-scandal, and Southern politicians calling the first black president “food-stamp president,” and is meant to take the focus off the ultimate culprits: mortgage lenders with no scruples and the Wall Street banks who financed them.

In fact, though, the record is clear: minorities were disproportionately targeted by predatory lending, which has always gone hand in hand with subprime. Even when they qualified for prime loans that similar-circumstance whites got, they were pushed into higher-interest subprimes.


Via io9, I learn Timothy Leary's bizarre comic book essay Neurocomics is available on Flickr. For future reference.


Ezra Klein at the Washington Post demonstrates that President Obama is willing to compromise, is willing to lead, is willing to make an effort to show good faith, but Republicans just won't take Yes for an answer.

Mike Murphy is one of the top political consultants in the Republican Party. He’s been a top strategist for Mitt Romney, John McCain, Jeb Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger and many other Republicans. He’s also, as his client list would suggest, from the party’s more pragmatic, even moderate, wing. Over the past few years, as he’s transitioned into doing more punditry, he’s emerged as an invaluable guide to what reasonable Republicans think of the rightward lurch in the GOP.

On Feb. 13, Murphy wrote in Time that “six magic words can unlock the door to the votes inside the Republican fortress: Some beneficiaries pay more and chained CPI, budgetary code for slightly lowering benefit increases over time.” The only problem? Obama has said all these words ....

Klein goes on to describe Murphy being told this. Hilarity ensues.

There’s no deal even if Obama agrees to major Republican demands on entitlements. There’s no deal because Republicans don’t want to make a deal that includes taxes, no matter what they get in return for it.

Republicans don't want a deal. They are not speaking and acting in good faith. Period.

02 March 2013

Geek culture harassment

Maddy Myers' long post Harassment in nerd spaces, and encouraging honesty:

“The fighting [video game] community is so welcoming,” he assured me. “I've never heard of people being that rude!”

The fighting community had been very “welcoming” to me indeed ... if touching me without my consent, alternating between interrupting my conversations and refusing to leave me alone or completely ignoring me to cut me in line, assuming I don't game and acting over-the-top surprised about it when I say that I do, or referring to me as a “cheerleader” without so much as a “what's your name” count as being welcoming … which, they don't.

But I didn't say that.

If you've been paying attention, none of this is remotely new to you. Myers doesn't have a solution to offer. She just reminds us that these stories need to be heard.

She's right. So I encourage folks to read it.

Game design

Chris Dahlen at Unwinnable informs us that Lego's Heroica games are designed to be hackable.

First you need to assemble the board and the pieces and then you play – and once you’ve played, you’re encouraged to change the game by rearranging the board, making up new rule and rebalancing the scoring. The manual even gives you practical tips: Take chances. Fail fast. Change one thing, test it out and see if it makes the game more fun. As a graduate of Marc LeBlanc’s two-day game design workshop, I admired how the team at Lego had pared down an entire practice into language that small kids could understand.

I played one of these games with my nephew a while back and was charmed by the mechanic it included of having you rebuild the die during the game (because Lego!) but didn't catch on to this aspect. Very cool.

Why American global hegemony?

Digby at Hullaballoo, inspired by discussion of Oliver Stone's Untold History series, asks when can we end the empire?

I've not yet seen any of Untold History, in large part because I have mixed feelings about Stone's relationship to history. He strikes me as a vivid example of a certain kind of incoherent leftist antinomianism which knows that something is rotten in Denmark but cannot offer a plausible theory about what — and doesn't really feel a need to. Stone will tell you that he's Just Asking Questions, and I think that's a valid project, but he also implicitly hints that he's offering answers when he isn't, which is at best sloppy and at worst outright irresponsible. Consider his JFK, which is a marvel of filmmaking ... but offered us a confused mashup of several different half-baked Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories. I have a sweet tooth for JFK assassination theories myself, but Stone's film isn't helping.

So I don't quite share Digby's enthusiasm for Stone, but I like the long post it drew from her, which hinges around this observation:

But even if it's absolutely true that the Soviet threat required two generation's worth of global military build up, it's also certainly true that one would have expected the period since 1989 to be one of withdrawal from empire. And that has not happened.

Why not?

Well that's the real question, isn't it? Why? The how and the who is just scenery for the public.
Keeps 'em guessing like some kind of parlor game, prevents ’em from asking the most important question, why?
Who benefited? Who has the power to cover it up? Who?

I'm just asking questions.

Access to health care

Our society is insane.

The surgeons there said that he was sure to die if they did not intervene, and that they should schedule a surgery within the coming weeks.

Fortunately for him (or so he thought) he was released from prison one week later. When he returned for his pre-op visit, though, he was told that since he'd been released from prison, he no longer had insurance to cover the operation.

He asked what he should do. The told him to figure out how to get insurance.


After he was arrested, he wrote a note to the judge saying that he needed to get back into prison for a year, to get an operation. He told me the judge said “I'll give you 14 months, go get your surgery.”

What's even more insane is that the debate in this country is essentially between people who hold that no one should die from easily corrected conditions and people who hold that the way to prevent absurd stories like this one is to stop caring for the health of people who have been imprisoned.