Entries from August 2010 ↓

Bill White Volunteer All Right

Yesterday, partly in a quest to be more sociable — and partly in a quest to save (improve?) the universe — I volunteered, phonebanking, for Democrat Bill White‘s campaign (Twitter; Twitter) for the Texas governor’s office.

Some bullet-points about Bill White:

  • The Houston area led the nation in job growth during Bill White’s years in office. It added more jobs than 37 states combined.

  • Houston voters returned him to office as Mayor with overwhelming re-election margins of 91% and 86%.

  • Bill White’s parents were schoolteachers, and he calls “education the most important business of state government.” He pledges to work toward increasing public education’s share of the state budget and toward making two- and four-year colleges more affordable.

  • He helped Houston free up an additional $80 million for parks and $40 million for libraries.

His main opponent, incumbent governor Rick Perry:

  • Perry opposes consensual oral or anal sex between anyone, gay or straight, as does the 2010 Republican Party of Texas; both want those acts to be illegal.

  • In 2009, with Texas unemployment at 8%, Perry expressed disbelief when others said Texas was in a recession. Earlier, that January, in the middle of Texas-record job losses, Perry turned down half a billion in federal stimulus funds targeted toward unemployment benefits for Texans.

  • Perry-appointed chairperson for the current Texas State Board of Education, Gail Lowe, removed Thomas Jefferson from the curriculum standards’ list of world philosophers, making space instead for 16th-century theologian John Calvin (among others); according to Max Weber and more, much Calvinism, if not Calvin, considered great success in money-making to be a sign that a person is one of the elect going to heaven.

  • Sarah Palin is endorsing Rick Perry’s gubernatorial run. The two appeared together at the Super Sunday with Sarah! event along with Ted Nugent, where Perry said: “Sarah Palin was a great person to put on the [Republican Presidential] ticket.”

I had a lot of fun phonebanking. Most of the time I was just leaving answering machine messages or marking numbers as disconnected (“or no longer in service”); when I did get a person on the phone, most all of them were very polite, even the Perry supporters. I got the hang of it quick, and definitely talked a few people into yard signs or text-message updates or whatnot. ;-) If you’re able to volunteer, I bet you’ll get the hang of it quick, too. Find out how to volunteer for Bill White!

My Headquarters

My Personal Station (via John Smith)

Digest 7

A digest of what I’m reading online. Offline, still finishing up William Gibson‘s novel Mona Lisa Overdrive, and also, I’m listening to Joey Ramone‘s solo album. Has anyone else noticed we’ve had some slow news days lately?

  • This NYT op-ed on the timeline of the attacks against the NYC multi-use community center that’s near Ground Zero is a must-read. (Laurence Lewis at the DailyKos gives his take on the motivations behind the attacks here.) From the NYT op-ed:

    In the five months after The Times’s initial account there were no newspaper articles on the project at all. It was only in May of this year that the Rupert Murdoch axis of demagoguery revved up […] inspiration was a rabidly anti-Islam blogger best known for claiming that Obama was Malcolm X’s illegitimate son. Soon the rest of the Murdoch empire and its political allies piled on […]

    These [self-identified] patriots have never attacked the routine Muslim worship services at another site of the 9/11 attacks, the Pentagon. […]

    A recent Wall Street Journal editorial darkly cited unspecified “reports” that Park51 has “money coming from Saudi charities or Gulf princes that also fund Wahabi madrassas.” As Jon Stewart observed, this brand of innuendo could also be applied to News Corp., whose second largest shareholder after the Murdoch family is a member of the Saudi royal family. […]

    Were McCain in the White House, Fox and friends would have kept ignoring Park51.

  • The comments on this fun LifeHacker post/thread about what people carry in their always-with-them backpacks led to a post that highlights the top five comments — itemized descriptions of five personal backpacks.

  • Stealing this CNET lede: “A Pennsylvania school that was caught secretly snapping photos of students via laptop Webcams will not face criminal charges in the case.”

    The allegation brought to light that the district had activated the Webcams on student laptops over a 14-month period through the use of a remote control system. School officials said that the tracking system was set up only to locate lost or stolen laptops, but they soon admitted that the software had stayed active even after a laptop was found. As a result, the program took images every 15 minutes, capturing a total of 56,000 pictures in total

  • A scuffle over Target’s donations to an anti-gay Republican prompts a discussion in the NYT about disclosure and transparency in campaign financing.

  • Gawker.com reposts a video from space shuttle mission STS-124 “taken from a tiny camera mounted on one of its solid rocket boosters. The booster separates at around 146,000 feet [about 2 minutes into the video], eventually drifting to Earth via parachute.” In other words, this is basically what it’d look like if you jumped out of a spaceship — relatively close to Earth where there’s enough atmosphere for sound — and fell to our planet.

  • NPR reports that the economy seems to be worsening again, with rising unemployment insurance claims appearing to indicate more employers are laying off workers.

    In a healthy economy, jobless claims usually drop below 400,000. But the recent increases in claims provide further evidence that the economy has slowed and could slip back into a recession. Many analysts are worried that economic growth will ebb further in the second half of this year.

  • A Boing Boing post concerning studies of “a parasitic fungus that infects ants, affects their behavior, then sends them to a fungus-friendly death.”

  • Given this BBC article, maybe one shouldn’t mess with Wikileaks, because they have INSURANCE.

    it seems [wikileaks] may be using encryption as insurance against legal and other threats to the information it holds.

    The insurance.aes256 file has been posted alongside the already published leaked war logs and can be downloaded by anyone.

    From the file name, it is believed that it has been encrypted using the AES256 algorithm – described as “extremely strong” by Professor Whitfield Diffie […] could prove too tough even for US intelligence agencies to break.

    While no-one knows what the insurance file contains

    From the department of Related News, the NYT reports on the war of words between the Pentagon and Wikileaks.

  • As I continue to work on my office, I need to neaten the cables. Lifehacker has some how-to in this regard.

  • Frustrated by the two choices of gender that hegemonic society allows you? (‘Scuse the Eurojive.) Yeah, so’s Sociological Images, a recent post of which goes off on the B&N screenshot below:

    Keep It Simple, Stupid

  • One component of newlywedhood is getting all your official stuffs in order; Wifely and I have done some of that, but we haven’t yet turned to the morbid. For anyone getting around to it, however, here’s a Lifehacker post about how to ensure your estate’s executors can do what you want them to with your cyberspace identities after your meatspace identity goes kaput. (Un?)fortunately, Maas-Neotek hasn’t yet designed you a biochip box to live in.

  • Newt Gingrich stinks.

  • National Park visitors are causing more trouble due to technology, according to a NYT report.

    “Because of having that electronic device, people have an expectation that they can do something stupid and be rescued,” said Jackie Skaggs

    “Every once in a while we get a call from someone who has gone to the top of a peak, the weather has turned and they are confused about how to get down and they want someone to personally escort them,” Ms. Skaggs said. “The answer is that you are up there for the night.”

  • Some cognitive benefits afforded by wine benefit only women, not men, says CBS11. (Video.) Summary from the CBS11 RSS feed:

    “Women looking for more ‘mental muscle’ may only need to lift a glass of wine, according to a recent study. Wine, the study says, can give women an intellectual edge over men.”

  • First the genes, then the memes, and now the temes, as Susan Blackmore philosophizes about them in the NYT.

    Each request to Google, Alta Vista or Yahoo! elicits a new set of pages — a new combination of items selected by that search engine according to its own clever algorithms and depending on myriad previous searches and link structures.

    This is a radically new kind of copying, varying and selecting, and means that a new evolutionary process is starting up. This copying is quite different from the way cells copy strands of DNA or humans copy memes. The information itself is also different, consisting of highly stable digital information stored and processed by machines rather than living cells. This, I submit, signals the emergence of temes and teme machines, the third replicator.

    What should we expect of this dramatic step? It might make as much difference as the advent of human imitation did. Just as human meme machines spread over the planet, using up its resources and altering its ecosystems to suit their own needs, so the new teme machines will do the same, only faster

    Well, most techno-philo/socio/anthro/othero-pology stuff I read seems phony — buzzwords mixed with second-rate Eurojive (lit crit talk); this piece, I’m not sure about either way, because I’m hungry right now and can’t really concentrate on abstractions, just low-level sensory data: FOOD FOOD FOOD. I’m definitely a low-tech replicator.

  • Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at Seti — Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence — says Seti’ers should start looking for artificial alien intelligences, not just biological alien intelligences.

    Dr Shostak says that artificially intelligent alien life would be likely to migrate to places where both matter and energy – the only things he says would be of interest to the machines – would be in plentiful supply. That means the Seti hunt may need to focus its attentions near hot, young stars or even near the centres of galaxies.

    The first message from the alien artificial intelligence, of course, will be HELLO WORLD!.

  • Some worry with the recent USA healthcare reform legislation that insurers will over time raise rates in response to (or perhaps “in response to”) the new consumer protections &tc. But we can haz a plan for that, and also other related plans, one of which is coming into effect imminently:

    under the new federal law, insurance companies will be required to justify to federal and state regulators “unreasonable” rate increases before imposing them. Companies also will have to post that information on their websites. […]

    Last week, federal officials distributed $46 million of $250 million in grants to the states. The $1 million that Texas received was expected to go toward developing the data required for the greater number of rate reviews.

  • The NYT on presidential vacations.

    A big sign on a hotel dominating Main Street read:

    Mansion House Inn Believes Anyone Who Has

    Passed Health Care Reform

    Signed Economic Stimulus Bills

    Recast America’s Global Image

    Commands Two War Zones

    Won the Nobel Peace Prize

    Named 2 Supreme Court Judges

    Overhauled Financial Regulations


  • Great DailyKos post about the multi-use community center near Ground Zero; explains a lot.

    It should come as no surprise that as the November election draws closer, the conservative movement would choose to stop focusing on things that legislators are responsible for (such as what sort of legislation to pass–and focus instead on something they have no control over (such as where a private entity builds a community center and house of worship). Democrats may be unpopular right now, but Republicans are just as unpopular. Meanwhile, the last thing conservatives want is to have a fight about actual legislation; they tried running briefly on the idea of repealing health care reform, but that fizzled. They certainly can’t run on opposition to Wall Street reform, or the Lily Ledbetter Act, any other of the good pieces of legislation passed by the Democratic Congress and signed by President Obama […]

    The Republicans are trying to go back to the playbook from 2004 and 2006 and use the Park 51 project as a referendum for exploring how concerned Democrats are about “national security” and “protecting America” […]

    Democrats have an opportunity to use their support for Park 51 to reinforce their existing narrative about supporting the little guy. Democrats support the right of middle-class moderate Muslims to worship in peace for the same reasons that we support extending unemployment insurance for those hard-hit in these economic times. For the same reasons that we support the right of the LGBT community to get married. Because even when it’s slightly unpopular, our fundamental values is to stand up for people’s basic fundamental rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

That’s it for now, folks!

Digest 6

Another digest of what I’m reading online these days. Offline I’m reading William Gibson‘s novel Mona Lisa Overdrive and listening to Marcus Miller.

  • CBS11 News video (warning: autoplays) on civic-minded teenager C.J. Lechner’s speech to the Fort Worth City Council in defense of the Fort Worth Public Library’s Ridglea branch, which is threatened with closure from budget cuts.

  • Galleycat says the Freakonomics documentary comes out on iTunes a month before it hits theaters.

  • The excellent Talking Points Memo reports (I’m stealing half their lede) that “former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has taken up the cause of reforming state judicial campaign and election systems”; she wrote the forward to a report on the subject. (Text below from TPM.)

    The report highlights some of the most blatant examples of overly cozy relationships between judges and their campaign donors, which can lead to corruption or the appearance thereof. One coal executive spent $3 million to elect a West Virginia justice, and the law firm Beasley Allen in Alabama gave over $600,000 to Judge Deborah Bell Paseur’s unsuccessful run for the state Supreme Court, but never appeared on her contribution records.

    Authors of the report said the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case poses a “special threat” in judicial elections, because it overturned bans on election spending from corporate and union treasuries.

  • Lifehacker has a fun thread asking what you carry in your daily backpack; I tote a backpack around all too often, unfortunately; it’s not the most stylish thing — oh well.

  • The BBC covers Frederick Forsyth’s assertion that US spies attacked his wife’s laptop in Guinea-Bissau. I’m pretty sure his novel The Day of the Jackal was the first adult book I ever read, or it might have been Stephen King’s It; I can’t quite remember which. I remember really liking both; then again, I was what, seven?

  • Tom Scott offers a print-your-own PDF of journalism warning labels that you can stick on newspapers or whatnot. Ready for Avery’s Letter-size 5160 labels or equivalent.

    Caveat Publicus!

  • News Corp (parent company of FOX News) donated $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, according to this NYT article. Murdoch has to pay his actors somehow, right? In response (Politico), Democratic Governors Association Executive Director Nathan Daschle writes to Fox News chief Roger Ailes:

    In the interest of some fairness and balance, I request that you add a formal disclaimer to your news coverage any time any of your programs cover governors or gubernatorial races between now and Election Day. I suggest that the disclaimer say: “News Corp., parent company of Fox News, provided $1 million to defeat Democratic governors in November.” If you do not add a disclaimer, I request that you and your staff members on the “fair and balanced” side of the network demand that the contribution be returned.

    Does anyone have any legit info on other news or ‘news’ orgs’ political donations, if any? UPDATE (19 Aug 2010): Talking Points Memo haz info on other orgs’ donations.

  • The WSJ reports on the wary dance between Google TV and big content providers such as ABC, CBS, Fox, etc.

    The Google software aims to play any video that runs anywhere on the Web, from clips on YouTube to full-length TV episodes that media companies distribute on their own sites. That open pipe has some media companies worried that their content will get lost amid a range of Web content, including pirated clips, according to people familiar with the matter.

    I still haven’t read Cory Doctorow’s nonfiction book Content, about such subjects. Actually I recently dropped that book in the bathtub; then, pursuant to a Lifehacker article, I stuck it in the freezer, removed it later: this repaired most of the wet pages. But I still haven’t read the thing.

  • This NYT post discusses recent record temperatures in connection with global warming. Meanwhile, the Navy and Marines (sez the NYT) are working on increasing use of renewable energy sources:

    “Within 10 years, the United States Navy will get one half of all its energy needs, both afloat and onshore, from non-fossil fuel sources,” he added. “America and the Navy rely too much on fossil fuels. It makes the military, in this case our Navy and Marine Corps, far too vulnerable to some sort of disruption.” […]

    Last year the Navy launched its first electric hybrid ship

    If memory serves, I’ve read in the NYT that the Pentagon’s SOP for futuristic war games is to take global warming into account. They’re not joking around, unlike Joe Barton (R-TX).

  • Beloit College has published a “mindset list” every year since 1998 to describe its new incoming students’ zeitgeist for their teachers. (Also useful info for fiction writers!) Here’s some excerpts from the Class of 2014 list:

    27. Computers have never lacked a CD-ROM disk drive.

    40. There have always been HIV positive athletes in the Olympics.

    41. American companies have always done business in Vietnam.

    43. Russians and Americans have always been living together in space.

    46. Nirvana is on the classic oldies station.

  • A Reuters article says indie bookstores flourish, even in the digital age, when they emphasize their local relationships.

    Bookstore owners say the industry has found new life with the locavore movement, which puts a premium on locally grown or raised food. The trend has brought farmers markets and by extension breweries and craft soap factories to cities.

    “People are rediscovering the value of an independent store that’s connected to their neighborhood and understands them and their tastes,” said Jessica Stockton Bugnolo, who opened Greenlight Bookstore this year.

  • Lifehacker lists resources for free online academic educational content.

Hey, this digest is actually fairly positive! Keep it up, world!

Man Versus Soap

WHY does soap have to be so complicated? The other day my wife handed me some alleged body wash that apparently claims as its primary function “exfoliation” — or “moisturizing” — or some other ludicrous buzzword. Look, soap marketing people, here’s what I want when I take a shower:

  • Stuff to shampoo my hair
  • Stuff to condition my hair
  • Stuff to clean my face
  • Stuff to clean my body

I do not need or want to infuse my hair or any other part of me with complexities, I don’t care about the bottle texts’ creativity, I just want to wash off, okay? Though…I admit…this might be fun to try out:

Caffeinated soap

P.S. I blogged this while about 30,000 feet over New Mexico and Texas!

Digest 5

Digest the Fifth. Some items are several days old; others are fresh. For my next digest I plan to post a wikileaks special edition rounding up links about them. For now, have fun! Or not, as the case might well be. Some of this stuff is pretty bleak, folks. Any comments from y’all on how I should or shouldn’t post digests differently are welcome; this is still unfamiliar, and somewhat awkward, territory for me.

  • The BBC reports that a tech security expert demonstrated the possibility of creating booby-trap websites that, as I understand it, imitate your (local) computer asking your router for its Media Access Control (MAC) address; once the website successfully acquires your router’s MAC address, the website couples it with geolocating info from your browser and then with Google Street View database info. In short, the booby-trap website now knows where you live, down to “nine metres” in at least one case.

    “This is geo-location gone terrible,” said Mr Kamkar during his presentation. “Privacy is dead, people. I’m sorry.” […]

    “The thought that someone, somewhere on the net can find where you are is pretty creepy,” [Mr Hypponen] said.

    “Scenarios where an attack like this would be used would be stalking or targeted attacks against an individual,” he added.

    “The fact that databases like Google Streetview […] can be used in these attacks just underlines how much responsibility companies that collect such data have to safeguard it correctly,” said Mr Hypponen.

    If there’s one thing with the Net that by now should be obvious to everyone, it’s that, uh, it’s really easy to copy stuff digitally. All that data mentioned above, I think, just plain isn’t going to be safeguarded successfully against the human element in the long run. You know those periodic news stories about hackers stealing portions of credit card companies’ databases and the like? What do you think happens to that copied information, even if the hackers are eventually arrested? I think we can presume it’s copied again, and again, and again. Probably resides on darknets, and will eventually make its way out to the public; we’ll all be astonished — until non-privacy becomes the new norm. The sooner you adjust yourself to this forthcoming reality the better off you’ll be. Read science fiction to prepare, e.g. William Gibson, Cory Doctorow.

  • Timbuctoo was a real, secret town, NPR’s All Things Considered explains; it was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

  • Were you too once a middle-schooler sequestered in a computer lab forced to play The Oregon Trail to kill time? Then watch this trailer on YouTube for an (hypothetical? imaginary?) Oregon Trail movie.

  • Brain Mysteries adapts a Stevens Institute of Technology news release about research to be conducted testing the ability (or inability) of crowds to evolve creative solutions to problems.

    “We think that the crowd can innovate, providing new and specific solutions to broad social problems, such as those related to our need for energy.”

    To test this conjecture, Nickerson and Sakamoto will perform a series of graduated experiments. First, members of the public will be asked to generate, evaluate and modify ideas, without any interaction with each other. Next, members of the public will interact with each other while creating the ideas. Finally, the public will be asked to design its own unique creative process and pursue its own problems.

  • According to Talking Points Memo, Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, Republican, implied Muslims might not be entitled to freedom of religion.

    “Now, you could even argue whether being a Muslim is actually a religion, or is it a nationality, way of life, cult whatever you want to call it,” Ramsey said. “Now certainly we do protect our religions, but at the same time this is something we are going to have to face.”

  • Do you really need Bristol Palin – Levi Johnston drama? If so, NPR haz it.

  • The WSJ mentions eBook antitrust scrutiny rumbling in the distance.

  • Republicans are calling for hearings on repealing the 14th amendment, which gives automatic birthright citizenship: if you’re born in the United States, you’re automatically a citizen, regardless of your parents’ legal status. About the Republican idea of hearings, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat, said:

    The authors of the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed citizenship to all people “born or naturalized in the United States” for a reason. They wished to directly repudiate the Dred Scott decision, which said that citizenship could be granted or denied by political caprice. […]

    Then Reid said of Republicans pushing the issue, “They’ve either taken leave of their senses or their principles.”

    Am I the only philosophy nerd for whom that last statement’s specificity — “their senses or their principles” — sounds as if Reid’s been brushing up on his 17th-18th century Western philosophy? =p

  • More on those Republican 14th Amendment attacks. The Service Employees International Union says that not only would calls for mass deportation of illegal immigrants remove “12.6% of the US population” (where do they get that 12.6% stat, I wonder?), but also putting an end to birthright citizenship would have meant the following Americans never would have been citizens: Olympic Gold Medalist Henry Cejudo; Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; Republican National Hispanic Assembly Minnesota Chapter Chairman Rick Aguilar; USA NASA Astronaut Jose Hernandez; more. Talking Points Memo points out that without the 14th Amendment, people could be born without citizenship with any country.

  • Wifely @cckaty82 found this NYT note on lima bean cooking. Actually I was showing her a NYT post on something — probably wikileaks? — and she pointed to the sidebar with the lima bean link and told me to click there.

  • Education experts push for Texas to hire more minority teachers, the Associated Press reports.

    “The research shows that if you can match the ethnicity and race of teachers and students, teachers tend to be more effective,” said Ed Fuller, associate director of the University Council for Educational Administration at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s important for role modeling and pushing those students to go to college. Of course, you want to make sure teachers are well-qualified and not just thrown into a classroom because of race or ethnicity.”

    For sociology statistics, it’s important to remember that there always individuals who for whatever reasons break a trend, e.g., a minority student who seems to perform better with majority teachers. But humans, as for any other animal, plus human cultures, exhibit patterns in behavior, including in response to environmental influence. And so many people deny how much the environment contributes to their makeup; acknowledging it would make them feel less in control. It’s important to take charge of yourself, but also important to acknowledge the influence of your environment — and to acknowledge both in political decisions, too. Yes, this is an axe I like to grind. Honestly, though, it’d be useful for anyone uninformed (including me) to read good material on how sociological statistics work … Labeling, for instance, can give rise to excuse-making (rightfully and wrongfully).

  • Working wonkishly on the data of problems like these would make for a curious life, I think. From this NYT piece on the infrastructrure in Iraq as a reflection of the country’s state:

    What is clear is that Iraqis’ expectations of a reliable supply of electricity and other services, like their expectations of democracy itself, have exceeded what either Americans or the country’s quarrelling politicians have so far been able to meet. […]

    The United States has spent $5 billion on electrical projects alone, nearly 10 percent of the $53 billion it has devoted to rebuilding Iraq, second only to what it has spent on rebuilding Iraq’s security forces. It has had some effect, but there have also been inefficiency and corruption, as there have been in projects to rebuild schools, water and sewerage systems, roads and ports.

  • Also in the NYT, Wikipedia and the FBI’s spat over Wikipedia’s use of the FBI seal.

    Cindy Cohn, the legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, called the dust-up both “silly” and “troubling”; Wikipedia has a First Amendment right to display the seal, she said.

    “Really,” she added, “I have to believe the F.B.I. has better things to do than this.”

  • A WSJ piece reports on the increased number of illegal immigrant deportations by the Obama Administration.

    Matt Chandler, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said the administration had “fundamentally reformed immigration enforcement using our resources to focus on identifying and removing criminal aliens who pose a threat to public safety.”

    Critics said the administration’s numbers were misleading.

    “It is a misrepresentation to say that these are criminal aliens,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, an immigrant-advocacy group in Los Angeles. “Many are just regular workers driving with broken tail lights or stopped and don’t have a license,” Ms. Salas said.

  • Speaking of illegal immigration (“undocumented workers”?), here’s a college professor explaining how his voluntary work on a small organic farm is apparently illegal because he’s doing it for free.

    I was up at 5 AM, working by 6 AM, and dead tired by noon, but it was a tiredness I could live with and not the mental fatigue that I experience as a college professor. I learned about farming by farming. I believe that all Californians and indeed all Americans could learn about the value of small, organic farms by going to farms to plant, weed, cultivate and harvest. It’s just what our society needs – ordinary citizens getting away from their computers and into the outdoors to work with their hands alongside farmer workers.

    I have to admit that I’ll stick to cutting vines out of my crepe myrtles. The vines have grown back quickly, by the way, as eerily as plant-monsters in a Stephen King story. Think I’ll now have to go after the root of the problem, pun intended. Maybe I’ll present Wifely the root/trunk like a head on a platter.

  • Krugman says in the NYT that the recession isn’t going to get any better without stronger government intervention. Ever since Krugman’s surprise appearance as himself in the otherwise lowbrow comedy flick Get Him to the Greek, I’ve paid his real work special attention. Call me a consumerist defeated by branding — or just call Krugman awesome for having a sense of humor.

  • Indonesia tries to censor Internet porn, but one technical worker trying to implement the government demands finds it “almost an impossible task” — welcome to the Internet. Apparently in response, (horny?) hackers managed to broadcast porn for 15 minutes into the Indonesian Parliament while they were in session. I have some jokes, but I’m trying to keep Babel Krieg PG-13 or so, although parental discretion is always advised.

  • Rachel Maddow, in the context of racial and gender segregation in the military, lectures on the difference between inalienable constitutional rights and mob democracy (originally via Sociological Images):

  • Google has just made it possible to have multiple accounts running at once without complex rigging; for instance, you can have your personal Google Reader account open at the same time as you’re using you and your Wifely’s joint Google Calendar account to schedule a dinner party with cooked lima beans. LifeHacker explains how, and hopefully I’ll soon get around to implementing what for me would be a very useful option. Because someday the lima beans are coming, I bet.

  • Iran’s Supreme Leader says “promoting and teaching [music] is not compatible with the highest values of the sacred regime of the Islamic Republic”; apparently he’s been reading Book X of Plato’s Republic. And by the way, I often link to Boing Boing instead of directly to the source article because 1) you can click through Boing Boing if you want, and 2) the comments on Boing Boing are worthwhile — usually pretty amusing.

  • I’m not an atheist, not really, and I don’t like militant atheism, but this xckd comic is excellent:

    XKCD comic

    Yay for xkcd’s Creative Commons licensing allowing me to easily figure out I could embed the cartoon without running afoul.

  • For its Internet Explorer 8 browser (use Firefox instead!), Microsoft undermined privacy settings for the express purpose of benefiting advertisers. Because advertisements are really improving our society. Right?

  • Publishers Weekly reports that Williams-Sonoma is partnering with Omnivore Books; PW calls it a coup for the indie bookseller.

    Cookware heavy hitter Williams-Sonoma is acknowledging the expertise and power to move books of one independent bookseller. […]

    Williams-Sonoma initiated the partnership

  • The NYT mentions the military using thriller fiction-writers to entertain troops.

  • The blog Oscillatory Thoughts says EEGs were invented to test psychical phenomena.

  • Saudi Arabia joins India and United Arab Emirates in Blackberry-banning efforts. The countries are having a hard time surveiling Blackberry communications; my understanding is that they come by default, for their local drives at least, with unbreakable encryption. The New Yorker has good discussion:

    because the devices are simply too difficult to monitor. It’s as if the Bush administration had come right out and confiscated our home phones because, really, wire-tapping was such a pain. The announcement is a hard-line statement of authority that also sounds oddly like an admission of incompetence.

    One of the more troubling aspects of the story was that the U.A.E. made little attempt to conceal the reason for the ban

    Don’t forget your Fourth Amendment, folks:

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    It’s unreasonable for governments to surveil the Internet, as they do, regardless of a few people living in caves who sometimes succeed with terrorist attacks. Why? The chilling effect that turns necessary freethinking into thoughtcrime is more destructive of democracy, not to mention individuals; and, remember those databases in the first bullet-point above? What happens when governments’ surveillance of citizens spills its way to the general online public, if unredacted? Furthermore: America, in conformed, frightened obedience, seems to be ditching the notion of warrants altogether. Uh, people? Didn’t you read 1984? The goal of terrorists is to terrorize; victory over terrorism means not being afraid; destroying civil liberties means we’re afraid; ergo, cutting off civil liberties means the terrorists win.

  • A gamer gives a thoughtful response to Roger Ebert’s strong (and also thoughtful) criticism of the notion that video games are art.

  • In 2004 sportscaster Mary Carillo really showed how to fill dead air time, improvising a very clever and surreal imaginary story about backyard badmitton.

  • Sociological Images discusses a NYT article about the intense competition between especially smart Manhattan kids entering public and private … kindergarten.

    Whereas at one time teachers recommended students to these programs, today entrance to both public and private schools for gifted children is dependent entirely on test scores. […]

    The owner of Bright Kids confesses that “the parents of the 120 children her staff tutored [this year] spent an average of $1,000 on test prep for their 4-year-olds.” This, of course, makes admission to schools for the gifted a matter of class privilege as well as intelligence.

  • Tipping tends toward sadly predictable patterns, says a study discussed by The Cornell Daily Sun.

    Though most customers say they reward service, Lynn reports that quality of service has less than a 2-percent effect on the actual tip.

    Instead, he found that waitresses with larger bra sizes received higher tips — as did women with blonde hair and slender bodies.

  • Joan McCarter at the DailyKos says almost every state faces forthcoming, budget-cutting teacher layoffs, some facing layoffs of between 2000-5000 teachers. But Republicans haven’t signed up to vote for a “modest health and education funding bill” that’d help, and neither has conservaDem Ben Nelson.

  • A NYT article discusses the perils of statistically analyzing differences between generations, and some of the consensus that has been reached about my generation (sort of; born in 1982, I’m at a threshold), the Millennials, also known as Generation Y — the current crop of twenty- and thirty-somethings.

    In recent years some have sketched a portrait of the current crop of twenty- and thirty-somethings that is low on greatness and high on traits like entitlement and narcissism. […]

    the Millennials are more tolerant of people of other races and different sexual orientations, research suggests. They appear to be more likely than previous generations to do volunteer work […]

    [But] researchers tend to work with samples, like college students, that are not representative of the generation at large. Nor is it even clear that outside events can alter a person’s fundamental traits by much. […]

    In short: Generation Y’s collective personality, if such a thing exists, is not likely to be much different from other generations’. Still, small differences may matter.

  • NYT discusses an inclusive school district in Madison, and the effects of such inclusion on students with and without autism.

  • A seventh-grader and her genealogist grandfather discover that all USA presidents except one — Van Buren — are distantly related and have a common ancestor: John “Lackland” Plantagenet, a king of England and signer of the Magna Carta. What Van Buren did wrong (or right?), the KSBW article does not say.

  • Matt Zoller Seitz at Salon.com says that though many online anonymous comments are terribly vicious, at least they expose us to the full range of humanity instead of social masks.

  • The Huffington Post interviews James Hynes (Twitter), the novelist behind NEXT. I found this part helpful:

    Hynes: Right from the beginning, I knew Next was going to be a day-in-the-life novel (which, I only just learned, is also called a “circadian novel”), and I knew I’d finally have to read Ulysses all the way through, if only so I could answer questions like this one. I’d tried two or three times before and failed–but manfully, even heroically, with no shame attached. I was the Ernest Shackleton of Ulysses readers. But finally, with the help of a couple of books about Ulysses (one of which was Anthony Burgess’s Re: Joyce, which I recommend), I made it all the way through.

  • Northwestern University, Brain Mysteries says off a press release that “when researchers knew in advance specifics of the planned attacks by the [role-playing] ‘terrorists,’ [the researchers] were able to correlate P300 brain waves to guilty knowledge with 100 percent accuracy in the lab.” I’m not a terrorist, but since this stuff freaks me out in general, pardon me while I go stock up on tin foil.

  • A NYT report on New Delhi police crowdsourcing traffic-coppery via facebook.

  • The NYT says students’ perceptions of plagiarism are blurring in the digital age. Maybe for some, but having worked at a university writing center, I don’t buy it, litcrit about intertextuality notwithstanding … not for most students — except maybe undereducated freshmen. In my admittedly limited experience, students plagiarize because they’re short on time, maybe because of outside employed, but what I not infrequently observed was nothing more than kids wanting to go out and get drunk and party and call that higher education. Meanwhile we have this aggravating piece of barely-disguised bragging from Salon: “I will write your college essay for cash: I’m a broke writer who can’t find a gig in the recession, so I decided to save myself — by helping students cheat.” I cannot abide by this. JuliaCollier has wise, and impressively empathic, words in the Salon comments:

    I know what it’s like to struggle as a freelancer but what you do is dead wrong on so many levels. If you want to stay in the middle class, give up on these $100 cheat fests that are bad for your soul and bad for your clients and bad for your portfolio. Living and working in bad faith is wrong. As a longterm strategy to stay economically viable it’s a waste of time since it will pay for a few days’ rent but can’t be leveraged into progress in your field. Find another career and fast. It’s not going to get better for you as a writer in the years ahead; on this path, you’ll end up broke and soul-sick when you need to have money and a clear conscience when you’re older.

With Wikileaks, will there be Forgiveness?

If you aren’t up to speed on Wikileaks news, try here and here and here, and watch this:

Now that you’re up to speed:

There is this goofy card game one of my brothers likes to play; to my knowledge, he invented it. The dealer (typically my brother!) passes out one face-down card to himself and one to each other player. At his signal, all players raise their cards to their foreheads facing out such that no one can see his or her own card, but everyone can see everybody else’s. The players then place bets as to how valuable they think their own cards are in comparison — a total guess, of course, but by this time everyone’s laughing from holding poker cards against their skin. After betting, the players reveal their cards, and the random results release laughter …

Here’s my version of the game, which so far exists only in my imagination. People find themselves seated at a dinner table, clutching their one card tightly to their chests, looking down at their stated worth — “7” or “3” or “10” — a value that is calculated according to all the good and the bad they have caused in life, according to all the secrets they know, according to all the things they wish they hadn’t said or they wish they knew how to say.

“If you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you” — Herbert McCabe

At this imaginary table of mine the players are making small talk, some of it happy, some of it sad; all are nervous about their value, and what the other players would think if their card were seen. After all, this player Sue’s card reveals that she said to this player Bob that this other, wealthy player Jorge’s a jerk, and now that Bob and Jorge are pretty good friends, does Jorge know what Sue once said about him, and if so, how does that affect who’s gonna pick up the check?

The dealer — a voice from the sky? — suggests the players lay their cards down on the table, face-up, on condition that they all, unanimously, forgive one another and love one another regardless of the cards’ value. The players agree, make their promises, and lay the cards down face-up. Angry yelling (“Jorge has the hots for both Bob and Sue?”) soon turns to laughter (“Jorge has the hots for both Bob and Sue!”) as people discover everyone’s a mess inside …

Except what if the players at the table included polarizing figures such as (take your pick) Dick Cheney, Barack Obama, Julian Assange, or heck, even that driver yesterday who cut you off when you really needed to get over a lane? Would we the powers-that-aint agree to forgive they the powers-that-be permanently if they’d lay down their cards and their guns?

I would. I would, to get the cards on the table so everyone could be safe.

There are of course several things my card-game scenario doesn’t address. For instance, it seems radical transparency and privacy can come into conflict, and privacy is I presume often preferable: if you’re surveilled to death, your creativity is chilled (partly because honest creativity requires engaging in thoughtcrime) and also under surveillance you can’t experience as fully the fun premium privacy can add to events (e.g., sweet nothings can be more meaningful when expressed without others around). Further, logically there are possible worlds where security is unjustly threatened by radical transparency, and I am uncertain as to how such situations, when they do arise in this actual world, should be handled, although I am tempted to say, well, let the chips cards fall where they may, because 4000 years of trading our rights away to leaders whose trustworthiness is unproven in return for promises of security hasn’t worked out so well.

Minor edits made 18 August 2010.