Thursday, October 28, 2010

Quote of the Day

"There are just a lot of people who don’t care that you’re nuts, as long as you hate the same people they do."

-Amanda Marcotte

I, for one, welcome our military and financial overlords!

 Greenwald:

The United States of America in one short scene, from Politico:
MILITARY OFFICERS TOUR JPMORGAN -- JPMorgan Chase yesterday hosted about 30 active duty military officers (across all branches and agencies) from the Marine Corps War College in Quantico, Va.  The officers met with senior executives, toured the trading floor and participated in a trading simulation.  They discussed recruitment, operations management, strategic communications and the economy.  Aside from employees thanking them for their service as they passed by, they also received a standing ovation on the trading floor.  Said one officer after a senior JPM exec thanked him for his service: "We promise to keep you safe if you keep this country strong."
You can sleep tight knowing that JPMorgan Chase is keeping your nation strong, and that military officers view JPMorgan Chase as guardians of the nation's strength.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The shame of our nation

Oh great, now we've tortured a badly wounded child soldier into confessing to an attack on American soldiers. Sullivan:
I don't know how anyone who cares about the integrity and moral standing of the United States can absorb the full details of this case and not be profoundly ashamed. To prosecute a child soldier, already nearly killed in battle, tortured and abused in custody, and to imprison him for this length of time and even now, convict him of charges for which there is next to no proof but his own coerced confessions ... well, words fail.
The thing that no one seems to be discussing is: how is attacking an American soldier on a battlefield while you are being bombed and shot at by Americans a crime? We didn't prosecute individual soldiers in World War II just for battling and killing Americans. We treated them as prisoners of war. Now Omar Khadr was not part of any regular army. But is what he did different? If Al Qaeda captured an American operative and treated that operative the way we treated Khadr, wouldn't we be outraged? Wouldn't we point to his torture and farcical legal treatment as an example of the barbarity of the enemy?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Inscription for the inner door of my tomb

IF YOU CAN READ THIS, THEN NOT ENOUGH TIME HAS ELAPSED SINCE MY DEATH TO ELEVATE WHAT YOU ARE DOING FROM VANDALISM TO ARCHEOLOGY.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

I am not on this chart....

...but some of my friends are. Here it is: The Map of Non-Monogamy.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Culture of Poverty" using Dungeons & Dragons metaphors

Ta-Nehisi Coates:
The streets are like any other world--we all assume an armor, a garment to suit that world. And indeed, in every world, some people wear the armor better than others, and thus reap considerable social reward. In the main, it's been easy for me to discard the armor of West Baltimore, because I wore it so poorly. I was never, as they say, truly built for the streets. And still, even I struggled to take it off. But I know others who were masters. (My own brother, for instance.) Inducing them, and those in between, to change class, to trade their plate for robes, to trade the broad-sword for a spell-book, is the real work.
The whole piece is really good.

Nothing harder than changing habits. Especially habits that worked, that indeed were essential to your survival. I'd love to be able to re-optimize myself, spend my character points differently. But most of those points are already spent, and many of them were spent before you even realize that you have some choice about how to spend them. And overall, I think I'm a pretty damn good character to play in Modern Life. My DM was most generous. I'm just not particularly well-tuned for my current circumstances, and working to move myself to a space where my strengths can shine a little more.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

If pseudoscience works, how come corporations aren't exploiting it?

xkcd captures it perfectly:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Zuckerberg on The Social Network


The real Mark Zuckerberg on what The Social Network got wrong:
...It's such a big disconnect [...] the way that people make movies think about what we do in Silicon Valley - building stuff - [...] they just can't wrap their head around the idea that someone might build something because they like building things.
I think this is true: I think ambitious nerds are ambitious nerds because they are nerdy and ambitious, not because they got dumped. We all like a love story, but some stories aren't love stories. Like Lord of the Rings. That ain't a love story. And I found it annoying when a love story was shoe-horned in there.

Apparently, the founding of Facebook wasn't a love story either: Zuckerberg has had the same girlfriend since before Facebook's founding. But I actually liked the (failed) love story in The Social Network. I thought it worked. I thought it provided a nice contrast to the Sean Parker character, who no longer thought about the crush that (fictionally) inspired him to start Napster. So although in general I don't approve of contaminating cool, nerdy things with romance, in the case of The Social Network I'll make an exception, because it was such a fun movie.

Listening to the real Mark Zuckerberg, he seems much more normal and likable than the character in the movie. But I actually liked the fact that the character in the movie wasn't likable. I loved the dysfunction in the main characters, and seeing the lawyers, older and/or more socially skilled, wearily trying to sort through their adolescent spat (in which billions of dollars are at stake). 

Ta-Nehisi Coates on the American Civil War

Someone has created an index of all of Ta-Nehisi Coates' American Civil War writing. If you want to see what got me on my recent Civil War kick, here it is.

Do-it-yourself space program

Attach an HD camera to a weather balloon, use an iPhone to track it via GPS, add some hand warmers to keep the camera batteries from freezing, and a parachute to cushion the landing, and off you go! So many geek points.


Homemade Spacecraft from Luke Geissbuhler on Vimeo.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Quote of the Day

This sentence, from Daniel Indiviglio's article on the Fed's plans to combat unemployment, jumped out at me and punched me in the face:
[Bernanke] also mentions the possibility of the Fed providing additional communication on its plans to influence expectations.
OK, let me get this straight: The Fed Chair mentions that it is possible the Fed might provide some communication on what it is planning to do to influence events? No, that would be too direct! The plan that it is possible they might provide some communication about would only be to influence people's expectations about events.

How many steps removed from actually doing anything is this? Look, I understand that the Fed must be somewhat ambiguous in its statements because so much hangs on their decisions. But this is getting ridiculous.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Quote of the Day

A Sullivan reader:
The recession isn't over; it's killing us. What's worse is that it appears to me that the American Dream isn't just, as punk rocker Ben Weasel put it, "an ugly fucking lie." The American Dream is nonexistent. When I see those who contribute nothing to society getting further and further ahead while my parents, whom I have seen work their asses off my whole life, drift further and further behind, I find that belief in the American Dream is like a belief in Santa Claus – a story told to kids to keep them in line.
But as Margaret says at the end of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, we can make that lie come true. Indeed, one could define progressivism as a political effort to reduce the bullshit to truth ratio of the American Dream. I would say the story of America is the story of a nation struggling to live up to its own noble rhetoric. Right now, I'd say our political class is failing us in trying to make this vision of broad and increasing prosperity real. Unemployment is very high, and I do not see Congress, the Federal Reserve, or anyone in the private sector responding adequately to the size and scope of the problem.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Google will make lovely customized information cocoons for all of us

From the "cool but very creepy and potentially dystopian" file:
Since Dec. 4, 2009, Google has been personalized for everyone. So when I had two friends this spring Google "BP," one of them got a set of links that was about investment opportunities in BP. The other one got information about the oil spill. Presumably that was based on the kinds of searches that they had done in the past. If you have Google doing that, and you have Yahoo doing that, and you have Facebook doing that, and you have all of the top sites on the Web customizing themselves to you, then your information environment starts to look very different from anyone else's. And that's what I'm calling the "filter bubble": that personal ecosystem of information that's been catered by these algorithms to who they think you are. 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The weaponization of classical music

Classical music as the audio version of a gated community:
As a classical music lover, I’d like to believe that my favourite music has some kind of magical effect on people – that it soothes the savage breast in some unique way. I’d like to think that classical music somehow inspires nobler aspirations in the mind of the purse-snatcher, causing him to abandon his line of work for something more upstanding and socially beneficial.

But I know better. The hard, cold truth is that classical music in public places is often deliberately intended to make certain kinds of people feel unwelcome. Its use has been described as “musical bug spray,” and as the “weaponization” of classical music.
Am I a very bad person for being fine with this? After all, numerous bars and trendy stores directed at young people play music that's designed to keep old fogies like me out. Whenever I walk by an Abercrombie & Fitch, I feel like the music is basically telling me: "Fuck off, old timer." The world is full of musical bug spray directed at me. So I don't see why I can't have little islands of beauty, tunefulness, and structure scattered throughout our geography.

Of course, I understand that the racial, social, and economic dimensions along which classical music filters people make its use more problematic. And using it in public spaces is different than small retail shops trying to cultivate a certain kind of atmosphere.

There's more to work out here, but I'm going to make some cookies...

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Taking down one of the more annoying arguments against same-sex marriage

Quote of the Day

Yglesias:
Whenever I read reports about US government officials being frustrated by Pakistan’s cooperation in fighting militant groups, I always wonder what it is policymakers are expecting will happen. Our current policy, after all, is to give the Pakistani military a lot of aid that’s predicated on the existence of an Islamist militant threat. If the threat went away, the aid would probably dry up and even if it didn’t dry up it would be redirected away from military matters—we wouldn’t be interested in explicitly funding an arms race with India.

When the Pakistanis give us a desultory effort it seems to me that we’re just getting what we paid for.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Neo-Confederatism is alive and well in the United States

Nathan Bedford Forrest was a formidable Confederate cavalry officer during the American Civil War. After the war, he was the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Such a figure ought to be reviled: this was someone who committed treason and rebellion in defense of the vile institution of slavery, and then went on to lead a domestic terrorist organization once that rebellion failed. Surely such a person would be considered a horrible villain! Surely people would be deeply ashamed that their ancestors were ever associated with him or his causes.

Nope. Due to the weird mythologizing of Confederate figures that has taken place in the American imagination (and not just in the former Confederacy), there's actually a high school in Florida named after this guy. And black students go to this school (37% of the students are black, according the alumni site). I find it hard to imagine anything more sick and humiliating to do to one's African American students (or any American student who cared about living in a society free of racial oppression) than to send them to Nathan Bedford Forrest high school.

Here's the alumni page linked above on the "controversy" about the name. Needless to say, I am hardly mollified by the reasons for keeping the name given in that article. The feelings of alumni nostalgia just don't stand up to the horrors of slavery, the horrors of the devastating war waged in its defense, or the horrors of the terrorism that went on and goes on in its aftermath.

Jamelle Bouie of Tapped offers a bleak assessment of how this state of affairs can remain in place:
For outrageous as it is that there are black students who attend a Nathan Bedford Forrest High School, the simple fact is that it pales in comparison to the other things African Americans in the South have had to worry about. Jacksonville, Florida, where that high school is located, for instance, has a double-digit poverty rate, a double-digit unemployment rate, and a fairly high murder rate, all of which disproportionately affect the city’s black population. Confederate-worship is annoying, but outrage falls pretty low on the hierarchy of needs, all things considered.
I would also add that African Americans simply don’t have the social capital to make people care about bigotry against them. Outside of high-profile incidents or blatant cases of racism, there aren't many people concerned with ubiquitous Confederate veneration. Indeed, it doesn’t even come across as obviously wrong in the way that a Nazi flag would. Put another way, this country has made an effort to forget its racial sins, and African Americans don’t have the social power necessary to challenge it, or stop the Confederate mythologizing of (some) Southern whites.
Whoa. That's pretty damn bleak. But it rings true to me.


Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jeffery Goldberg of The Atlantic react.

At the end of the American Civil War, our national consciousness swallowed a lot of immoral bullshit in the name of reconciliation between Northern and Southern whites. Maybe it was "necessary" to throw justice for blacks under the bus back then. But I'm not willing to do it now just so some people can cling to comforting myths. Change the goddamn name. Stop waving that hideous flag. Have a sense of shame, for Christ's sake.

If we look back at the history of our society, we will find much evil. Immorality was not and is not confined to the American South. But let us strive to correct the evils and injustices of our history, rather than celebrate them and populate our heroic mythologies with their perpetrators.

Whew. That was quite a rant. But I still can't get over the fact that in 2010, in The United States of America, there are black children being sent to Nathan Bedford Fucking Forrest high school. That fucking blows my mind. Fuck.

The Fed needs to do its damn job

Tim Fernholz:
According to the Federal Reserve Board's self-published guide to the Federal Reserve, the first duty of the central bank is "conducting the nation’s monetary policy by influencing the monetary and credit conditions in the economy in pursuit of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates." This morning, I was watching a panel at the America's Fiscal Choices conference that included economists Paul Krugman and Martin Feldstein. Krugman proposed some kind of new Fed action to bolster the job market, and Feldstein replied that the idea would never fly, explaining that "within the Fed, they'd say that 'we don't do unemployment, we do price stability.'"
It's not that Feldstein is wrong in assessing the response of Fed officials to demands for a more aggressive monetary policy -- that's the answer we've been hearing from the Fed for the past six months. The problem is that right now prominent economists and the Federal Reserve board blithely recognize that a rather substantial chunk of the central bank's congressionally assigned mission is simply ignored.
Democratic presidents need to get out of the habit of appointing Fed chairs who don't seem to care about maintaining high employment. The Federal Reserve is extremely important, and appointing Republicans like Greenspan and Bernanke to chair it is at least as damaging to progressive causes as appointing a right-wing Supreme Court judge.

If she weighs the same as a duck...

Republican Senatorial candidate for Delaware Christine O'Donnell claims she is not a witch:



How long before the Monty Python Holy Grail mashup hits the intertubes? Someone please do it...

UPDATE: Here's the Monty Python sketch in question:

Saturday, October 02, 2010

I want my Super Wi Fi now!

This will be so cool:
In a long-anticipated ruling last week, the FCC adopted a regulation (PDF) that could dramatically improve our wireless devices. The rule offered a brand new and much-improved slice of the radio space for unlicensed use. The new frequencies are known as "white spaces"—the waves that were freed up when TV channels switched from analog to digital transmission last year—and unlike the garbage band, they're considered prime real estate. Radio waves on white-space frequencies can travel for miles, they're much better at penetrating walls and buildings, and they're capable of carrying lots of data.

Tech observers say the new rules will lead to a new class of wireless devices known as "Super Wi-Fi." These new routers will be able to broadcast over very large areas—you could use a single device to bring Internet connections to an entire university campus, apartment building, or hospital. Anyone who's ever fiddled with a balky router will welcome these new devices.