31 May 2008

Watch Out! It's a 50/50 cotton blend!

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

Via Boing Boing: Man forced to change out of T-Shirt with picture of gun-toting Transformer before boarding flight at Heathrow. I know airport screeners may not be the brightest bulbs in the knife drawer, but can they really not tell the difference between a gun and an image of a gun? Does the giant robot warrior not provide a clue that this might not be real?

Update: Here's a BBC online article. Money quote: "If [the shirt] is offensive, we don't want other passengers upset." Can we please, for the love of everything good and decent in the world, stop hiding behind offensiveness? It's the lamest excuse since "the dog ate my homework." It's a big, steaming pile of last-quarter-of-the-20th-century lamitude. "I'm offended" is lamer than FDR's legs. (Too soon?)

While we're at it, here's another Boing Boing post from last week on an airport screener confiscation of an inch long, solid metal necklace charm shaped like a revolver. Says Cory Doctorow: "What are you doing about other conceivable — but technically impossible — threats, like telekinesis, voodoo, and directed sunspot radiation?" Inquiring minds want to know.

30 May 2008


I know the Fake Motivation Poster trope has been done to death, but these are good. (NB: some of the captions are lightly NSFW, but the pictures are safe.) I like the "Manwich" especially. And "Unique."

(Via TJIC)

Summer Drinks

James Poulos at AFF has a list of summer drinks and where to get them in DC. Hoorah. It's good to know the Libertarian blognoscenti have excellent taste in booze.

Some thoughts:
2. Limoncello. If it’s good enough for Clooney, De Vito, and Avril Lavigne, it’s good enough for you.
Amen. Mother of the Dude has been making her own Limoncello for years now. It is a summer requirement, and the freezer at the shore is always stocked with a bottle of the homemade. If you want to take it up a notch, try it with some (rather unsweetened) lemonade and a touch of vodka.
3. Gin and grapefruit.
Interesting thought. I can see this working very well, although I am no great fan of gin. I do enjoy a Greyhound from time to time, especially with fresh grapefruit juice. This is an excellent choice for morning drinking: eat your grapefruit, and then squeeze the leftover juice right into the shaker. Also a good choice when waking up from your afternoon beach nap, if you aren't into the whole drinking in the morning thing.
4. Red Stripe beer.
Hooray, Beer. Corona is good, but let's mix it up a bit. Enter the Red Stripe. Even the heft of the bottle is reassuring. I've always prefered Dos Equis to Corona anyway, but if you want something light like Corona, try a Pacifico.

I would add a summer staple of mine, the emasculatingly named but entirely delicious "Cowgirl's Prayer."
  • 2 parts tequila
  • 1 part lime juice
  • 4 parts lemonade
I'm not sure what's so girly about a big glass of cactus liquor and citric acid, so I'm going to go ahead and ignore the name and drink up.

And I usually find room for a bottle of Pimm's #1 each summer. I am considering getting a mint plant just so I can have a big wad of fresh mint leaves in my Pimm's Cup whenever I want. Really, the mint leaves are the key.

(Via Conor Friedersdorf)

29 May 2008

Presidents and Rock Stars

Here's Gene Healey, author of the new Cult of the Presidency on Barack Obama's "Body Man" and Gerald Ford's opinions on dog poop.* It's a good post, and it seems like an even better book, but the real value is his link to this article on ridiculous rider clauses rock stars have put in their concert contracts.

Like this Paul McCartney request: "No trees please! We want plants that are just as full on the bottom as the top such as bamboo, peace lilies, etc. No tree trunks!"


And Iggy Pop: "No toy robots, television evangelists ... No plastic seahorses, no bailiwicks, crepescules (sic) or kooks."

* "Body man?" Really? That's the lamest title for an assistant ever. Personally, I'm still choosing between having my chief assistant be styled "Factotum" or "Aide de Camp." If I were president I would lean more towards Factotum, to give a more civilian air. And of course I would need a responsible Camerlegno to take care of household affairs. And I'd really love to work a Gentleman's Personal Gentleman into the mix somehow. Perhaps one Gentleman's Personal Gentleman and one Dude's Personal Dude to counterbalance each other.

Paul Graham on Lies

Another Paul Graham piece very much worth reading, this one about lying to children.

The section on education is especially good:
What kids get taught in school is a complex mix of lies. The most excusable are those told to simplify ideas to make them easy to learn. The problem is, a lot of propaganda gets slipped into the curriculum in the name of simplification.

Public school textbooks represent a compromise between what various powerful groups want kids to be told. The lies are rarely overt. Usually they consist either of omissions or of over-emphasizing certain topics at the expense of others. The view of history we got in elementary school was a crude hagiography, with at least one representative of each powerful group.
As subjects got softer, the lies got more frequent. By the time you got to politics and recent history, what we were taught was pretty much pure propaganda.
Yes. It's as if when you remove rigor, the vacuum gets filled in with lies.
Probably the biggest lie told in schools, though, is that the way to succeed is through following "the rules." In fact most such rules are just hacks to manage large groups efficiently.
There's actually an upside to this, which is that the people who are smart enough to figure out early that you can get ahead by breaking the rules are exactly the people you want taking liberties with the rules. (Or, just as importantly, knowing how to make the rules work for you.)

He also has one point about suburbia that I think relates tangentially to his previous essay on cities.
The main purpose of suburbia is to provide a protected environment for children to grow up in. And it seems great for 10 year olds. I liked living in suburbia when I was 10. I didn't notice how sterile it was. My whole world was no bigger than a few friends' houses I bicycled to and some woods I ran around in. On a log scale I was midway between crib and globe. A suburban street was just the right size. But as I grew older, suburbia started to feel suffocatingly fake.

Life can be pretty good at 10 or 20, but it's often frustrating at 15. This is too big a problem to solve here, but certainly one reason life sucks at 15 is that kids are trapped in a world designed for 10 year olds.
I know just the feeling he talks about, and had it too when I was 15, as I suspect most people did. Teenagers are largely trapped in a world designed for 10 year olds, but I don't think suburbia has much to do with it. If my parents had decided to move back into the city when I was 13, I think I would have felt the exact same trapped feeling I did when I was living in Bethesda because all the things I like about DC now I didn't care about when I was 15. Bar scene? Off limits to a 15 y/o. Museums? I was uninterested. Art galleries, shows, and other cultural trappings? Uninterested.* I wasn't into the bands that were then making the rounds of The 9:30 club or The Black Cat even if they were to have under-18 shows, so live music was largely irrelevant. Interesting restaurants would have been mostly off the table for financial reasons, so food is irrelevant. I just don't see how a generic urban environment would have improved my suburban teenage malaise. I think there just isn't a lot to do when you're a teenager — no matter where you live — except loiter around public spaces and hang out in your friends' basements.

* Can you imagine the 15 year old me suggesting to a friend that we head down to Dupont Circle to see some of Chuck Close's new Jacquard-woven tapestries? I was a pretty geeky 15 year old, but not that geeky.

The more I think about it, the less sure I am about Graham's statement that suburbs exist mainly to provide safe places for children to grow up. I think children are certainly an important cause, but thinking back to my neighbors growing up there were actually very few children around. There must be something at least as important at work. I think there's a platonic ideal of Adulthood that a lot of people have which includes having a single family home with a garage and a lawn and a fence and some nice shrubberies, and you get that by and large in the suburbs, with or without children.

Paul Graham on Cities

Paul Graham has a much commented upon new essay up about cities, ambition, the types of people drawn to various cities and the messages each city send out to the universe.

Here's what he said about DC, which is exactly what popped into my mind 30 seconds earlier:
In DC the message seems to be that the most important thing is who you know. You want to be an insider. In practice this seems to work much as in LA. There's an A List and you want to be on it or close to those who are. The only difference is how the A List is selected. And even that is not that different.
Commenting on this, Tim Lee had the following to say about St. Louis:
Here in St. Louis, the message is "you should have met the right people in school." The cliche here is that the first thing St. Louisans ask when they meet each other is "what high school did you go to?" The answer tells them about the speaker's social class and often his religious background.
Yes. One of my freshman year roommates was from "The STL," as he liked to say. (Yes, that's the kind of guy he was. The kind of guy who refers to his hometown by an airport abbreviation.) This was a guy who took his image as a Certified Cool Guy very seriously. When doing sit ups in the middle of the room he would get up between sets to make sure his hair was still sufficiently natty. But the one uncool thing he persisted in doing (besides being a general c*ck to everyone around him) was name dropping his high school endlessly. Everyone else was smart enough to know that no one on a college campus cares where you went to high school, and mentioning it was decidedly uncool. And yet he persisted. So yes, I am willing to believe that people in St. Louis care very much about where you went to high school.

So, back to Lee's comments:
When I lived in DC and I told people I worked at a think tank, virtually everyone knew what that was and many were interested to know which one and what I did there. When I go to a party in St. Louis, the people I meet not only don't know what a think tank is, but a lot of them don't know what public policy is. I've taken to just telling people I'm a writer, which is something most people have heard of.
[Insert hearty chuckling from The Dude]

Arnold Kling agrees with both assessments. I'm surprised, frankly, that the Libertarian blogosphere reads Paul Graham.

Finally, Graham offers an interesting metric in a footnote:
How many times have you read about startup founders who continued to live inexpensively as their companies took off? Who continued to dress in jeans and t-shirts, to drive the old car they had in grad school, and so on? If you did that in New York, people would treat you like shit. If you walk into a fancy restaurant in San Francisco wearing a jeans and a t-shirt, they're nice to you; who knows who you might be? Not in New York.

One sign of a city's potential as a technology center is the number of restaurants that still require jackets for men. According to Zagat's there are none in San Francisco, LA, Boston, or Seattle, 4 in DC, 6 in Chicago, 8 in London, 13 in New York, and 20 in Paris.

28 May 2008

Band of Brothers Part 2

Rejoice, rejoice, for a second installment of Band of Brothers is being released in roughly one year plus or minus six months. The new series, called The Pacific, is in post production now. I am quite excited. Band of Brothers may be the best war movie of the last quarter century even though most people would (through false dichotomy) consider it a TV show and not a movie.

On a related note, we need more miniseries. Band of Brothers was excellent. Rome was excellent. Lonesome Dove was excellent. There are so many good stories to be told that won't fit in a 150 minute feature film but don't need 5 seasons of a TV show. I don't care if they're hard to syndicate, various "on demand" streaming services and DVD sales will hopefully make this irrelevant soon.

More miniseries in comics would be good too. It works for Mignola with Hellboy and Wagner with Grendel and now Wood with Northlanders, so let's keep it going. You get the benefits of a rich world while making it easy for new readers to jump on relatively unencumbered by continuity, and it becomes easier to keep publishing on schedule.

(via The Agitator)

Heapings of Shame upon Rep. Richardson

From the "Lunatics Running the Asylum" file: Congressthing Laura Richardson (D-CA) has "defaulted on loans she took out for not just one, but three, California homes."

First reaction: In all likelihood, those were not homes. Houses, yes. Residences, maybe. But not homes. Those were speculative investments.

Second reaction: This is someone who is in a position of authority over me? A position of power? A position, supposedly, of respect? F**k that.

And it gets better:
Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports show that Richardson loaned her campaign a total of $77,500 — in three installments — between June and July of 2007.
Ah, wonderful. You owe other people $32,000. $32K you have promised, in good faith, to pay them. $32K they are expecting, and have planned to receive. $32K you are under some pro tanto moral obligation to repay. But instead of paying them, you tell your creditors to go take a flying f**k because you want to use that money to gather power and prestige to yourself. Me, me, me, me, me, me, me!

And further hilarity:

Richardson last week told reporters in California that her experience makes her particularly well-suited to help Congress legislate a solution to the nation’s housing crisis.
Really? She acts negligently, immorally, selfishly. She, of her own free volition, tangibly contributes to the problem being considered. She shows utter disregard for common decency. And she thinks she should be in charge of crafting the solutions. Disgusting.

Let's try this with some other situations:

Captain Joseph Hazelwood last week told reporters in Alaska that his experience makes him particularly well-suited to help Congress legislate a solution to the nation's oil tanker DUI crisis.

Former NFL running back O.J. Simpson
last week told reporters in California that his experience makes him particularly well-suited to help Congress legislate a solution to the nation's domestic violence crisis.

Former President Bill Clinton last week told reporters in DC that his experience makes him particularly well-suited to help Congress legislate a solution to the nation's crisis of sexual assault and philandering.

Current Washington, DC councilman and former mayor Marion Barry last week told reporters in DC that his experience makes him particularly well-suited to help Congress legislate a solution to the nation's drug, tax evasion and drunk driving crises.

Hit me with wisdom, Samuel Clemens!
"It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress."
Hit me two times!
"Congress...the smallest minds and the selfishest souls and the cowardliest hearts that God makes."
Ah, we've come such a very long way since the 19th century, having invented wholly new ways for our overlords to defraud the public.

(HT: Q&O)

27 May 2008

Comments, Geocentrism, Despair

Occasional Superheroine gives a rundown of the commentary she receives for various types of posts. For example:
My Headline: "New Thing Launched"
Commentary: "That thing is terrible! It ate my cat! How dare you cover this!"

My Headline: "Chicken Crosses Road"
Commentary: "I wrote a post with that subject 8 months ago! In fact, I invented chickens."

My Headline: "Interview!"
Commentary: "This person ate my cat! And killed Jimmy Hoffa! And is a racist! And stole my idea for the chickens!"
Sometimes I too weep for the future when confronted with the average internet comment. Then I try to lift my spirits by reminding myself that blog commenting just brings out the ignorant troglodyte in people, and society isn't really doomed. But this is usually when I find out that 21% of the country is unaware that the Earth revolves around the Sun.* Then my hope whithers and dies, like a banana that has fallen behind the bread box, forgotten and left to turn all mottled and squishy.

* !!

26 May 2008

Pretty Shiny Things

Conor Friedersdorf suggests an alternative to the diamond engagement ring. He proposes reselling the diamond and resetting the ring with a semi-precious stone, and then using the proceeds to fund a charitable donation. Then you have the signaling effects of the ring without tying up a bunch of wealth in a useless lump of carbon, while the fiancée gets the warm glow of feel-goodery from the donation.

One commenter points out the immediate depreciation of the diamond upon purchase, which can be easily solved by never buying the rock in the first place and just presenting your beloved with the cheaper ring and making the donation for the difference between retail ring prices. This makes it significantly more difficult to sparkle and shine your way into an affirmative proposal response, but surely your lady friend isn't so easily swayed by mere baubles. Well, let's hope so, anyway.

It was a good idea on Conor's part to sell this idea to the Hollywood crowd first. They seem an impressionable bunch. But from my (poorer, less sentimental) point of view this plan just shunts my semi-indignation from "Why am I supposed to spend two months salary on a lump of carbon just to prove my bona fides?" to "Why am I supposed give two months salary away to PETA just to prove my bona fides?" That's not much of an improvement.

I think a better idea yet would be to buy a ring, also sans diamond, and use the surplus money for a house down payment or the start of a college or retirement fund. The way I understand it the whole point of buying a diamond is to signal that you can afford to provide for a family. So why not use the money to start actually providing for a family? We just need some unique design that can act as a signaling device to the effect of "instead of having lots of wealth in an octahedrally crystallized bit of C-12 we are using said wealth to make a better life for our children." You can add your own subliminal "you do care about the children, don't you?" This, of course, is far too practical an idea to ever catch on as long as romance rears its head.

Of course this whole discussion is irrelevant. When the time is right I know I'll be marching off to a jewelry store for a rock regardless of how irrational it may seem now.

25 May 2008

Geek Pride

Happy Geek Pride Day. I'm celebrating with some Indiana Jones and crabs, although admittedly the shellfish have very little to do with geekery. Also on the agenda, finish reading Giant Robot Warriors, and stink my teeth into Matter. That'll up the nerd quotient.

And, in what I promise is my last David Brooks reference for the month, here's an op-ed of his concerning geekdom. Fairly accurate, but not terribly insightful either. He does have one line that may not contain much truth, but is fine wordsmithery: "Barack Obama has become the Prince Caspian of the iPhone hordes."*

With the warning that hackers are commonly overlapping but in no way contiguous with geeks, you might find Appendix B to the Jargon File, "A Portrait of J. Random Hacker," to be instructive in combination with Brooks' piece.

* I find this to be of only marginal accuracy because, to my eyes, the two contemporary politicians most supported by geekdom were Obama and Paul, who are about as different from each other, in both policy and presentation, as I can imagine. Any theory that fails to account for how geeks can rally behind both is incomplete. But there I go again prattling about politics when I should be geeking out.

24 May 2008

Short Notes of a Miscellaneous Nature

Threat Quality Press reminds me to cancel my order of Wii and cheddar on rye: "Wii Console Found to be Toxic, Still Good Source of Fiber." Honestly, does Greenpeace have nothing better to worry about than the quantity of completely legal plastics in gaming consoles? Aren't there some whales or shrubs or muskrats that need hugs?

Maxine Waters channels her inner bully and behaves like an ignorant prick. She's like a Marxist Porky Pig on a power trip. (I have to love Mankiw's not-at-all-sarcastic subject line "Oh, yeah, that should work.")

Seutonius reminds us that not every drunken idiot who takes a spill is an excuse for new legislation. He may be short on compassion, but he's long on reason.

Don Boudreaux and Jonah Goldberg each weigh in on environmentalism as religion. Once again, read The True Believer, and you will gain wisdom. It doesn't matter whether you're rallying people to support the Motherland or the Great Sky Father or Mother Earth — you get the same irrational and fundamentalist behavior out of all mass movements.

Radley Balko had a particularly disappointing set of morning links yesterday. It's about half a dozen servings of things which grind the dude's gears.

TJIC rocks out
to some Julian Simon and gets angry at hippies.

Iain M. Banks' Matter finally arrived at the library today! Gonna get me some of The Culture. The Culture is delightful if for no other reason than that their ships have given themselves irreverent names like Lightly Seared On The Reality Grill, Very Little Gravitas Indeed, Resistance Is Character-Forming and the No More Mr Nice Guy, and they call their combined DoD and CIA by the preposterously euphemistic "Special Circumstances."

23 May 2008

Paying People not to Police

Megan McArdle (May 23, 2008) - The few, the proud . . .

This actually strikes me as a very poor idea. You're essentially selecting a police force that values the intangibles of their job more than $10K cash. But as far as I can see the intangibles are the opportunity to swagger about in uniform, order civilians around at will, and grow improbable mustachios. These are not qualities I wish to reinforce. Except the mustachios. Those are always welcome.

Let me put that in a less antagonistic and less whisker related way. The goal is to realign incentives to reduce abuse in the police department. You offer a hefty buy-out fee, hoping all the people who don't really care about being cops will leave, and you'll be left with the dedicated few who will do the job right. But the way I see it there are two groups of people who will remain: those really good officers who want to serve the community, and those really bad ones who are on a state-sponsored power trip. You're buying out the dispassionate middle, not the trouble makers.

Or say the real problem is the institutional culture, and not a particular set of bad apples. The people most likely to take the buy-out offer are those who recognize the corruption and amorality in that culture and want out. The people who are likely to stay are those who don't find anything wrong with Tasering someone having an epileptic fit twelve times.

Side note: Oddly enough this same employee buy-out scheme was discussed on this week's Stack Overflow podcast.

Netflix TV

Wired reviews the new Netflix set-top box quite favorably. This is the kind of device I've been waiting for since, oh, 2003.

The problem at this point seems to be content availability. Netflix claims 10% of their titles are available now, which looks about right. Scanning my queue, 29 of the 252 discs are available for downloading, however they're mostly movies over 20 years old or contemporary documentaries.

If they can ramp up the content selection, and maybe use their customer base to convince TV studios to make some shows available before the DVD release, I will push this up to the front of my electronics wish list.

22 May 2008

Frabjous Indeed

From The DCeiver, quoted in its entirety:
Oh frabjous day! Calloo, callay! Certifiable dumbass and 'gray rape' mythmaker Laura Sessions Stepp has taken the buyout offered by the Washington Post. She is now free to roam the wide world, withering in the throes of utter befuddlement for which she is best known. WOO! SUCK IT! BLOGS WIN AGAIN!
I have LSS to thank for this WaPo article about the sexual habits of eight or nine of my high school class mates. Seriously, I think I know all but one or two of the people interviewed there. You know how awkward of a feeling that is? Quite awkward.

If you're not sure why some people think Sessions Stepp is the pond scum of the newsroom, read any post about her on Why I Hate DC. This one really gets to the point (Attn: very strong language). Oh, also, she doesn't respect bloggers, so I think I'd pretty much be morally bound to hate her even if she wasn't some oral sex alarmist.

Update: Why I Hate DC chimes in.

Narrative Bias

There's a good article at AFF's Doublethink about unconventional sources of media bias:
Bias creeps in largely because the narrative conventions of journalism are poor at capturing basic conservative and libertarian truths. An instructive example is rent control. A newspaper reporter assigned that topic can easily find a sympathetic family no longer able to afford its longtime apartment in a gentrifying neighborhood. Their plight is a moving brief for a rent ceiling.

As almost everyone long ago conceded, however, opponents of rent control offer superior counterarguments. Limiting rent degrades the quality of a city’s housing stock, causes shortages as a dearth of new units are built, and spurs a black market where well-connected elites game their way into subsidized flats. A talented reporter, given enough time and space, could craft a narrative that illustrates how rent control ultimately makes poor families worse off. His job is relatively difficult, however, for he can hardly write a pithy anecdotal lead about the hundred families that won’t occupy a non-existent apartment building because a foolish policy eliminated an unknown developer’s incentive to build it.

The right, in other words, has a problem with narrative.
I tried to put together some sort of coherent commentary on this, but it just didn't take. I'm a little fried from turning in my last exam earlier. So here's a hodge-podge of quasi-ideas.
  • I think, at least as far as day-to-day reporting goes, this is probably more of a factor than explicit desires to represent one ideology or the other.

  • As a result we get the press printing a lot of arguments from anecdote, which have a lot more in common with bedtime stories than actual, you know, rational arguments.

  • This is why the Broken Window Fallacy will always run rampant in our newspapers. It's easy to find and interview the glazier who gets to replace the window.

  • Chuck Klosterman had a similar theory in Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs. His view was that journalists just want to get their pieces written quickly with the minimum amount of effort, and as a result their writing is going to be colored by whoever calls them back quickest.

  • I tend to see two different perspectives on government programs on the front pages of newspapers. One is that the government tried something, and it got screwed up. The other is that there is a problem, and people are clamoring for the government to try and fix it. No matter how pro-narrative your bias is, sooner or later you'd figure someone would notice this inconsistency? Doesn't seem to happen though. (Here's a hometown example Radley Balko did notice a couple of days ago. I'll bet dollars to donuts the Washington Post didn't print word one about how bizarre that is.)

  • I think there are certain ideological biases in most newspaper reporting, stemming from, among other things, the dissociation of journalists from the actual money-making, wealth-generating activities of their employers. Most really don't seem to know how private enterprise works.

21 May 2008


Some miscellaneous science notes today:

Terence Kealey has written a book about the effectiveness of government funding of scientific research. His view: not effective. I'm a little dubious. (Grain of salt: I earn my paycheck through such funding.*) One example discussed is the failure of a Federal flight program just months before the Wrights got airborne. I think the question to ask is not whether government research can invent airplanes, but whether it can discover the Bernoulli principal that keeps them in the air.

Vatican endorses GM food. A wise, ethical, pro-science position from the Church. Perhaps this doesn't really belong in my science post, since as Renato Cardinal Martino correctly observed "This controversy is more political than scientific." Amen, Your Eminence. Amen.

Not convinced GM food is an acceptable substitute for "organic" comestibles? Check the Independent. My conclusions: Organic food: tastes yummier. Non-organic food: better in all other ways.

From the "Drugs that would make Dr. Jonathan Crane jealous" file: inhaling the neurotransmitter oxytocin makes you trust people and take extra social risks. Here's the original article in Neuron. I can't even count the ways that could be abused... frat parties, casinos, military recruiters...

Finally, Moody's is investigating whether it gave out AAA investment ratings due to a computer error. Really, Moody's? Really?

* Well, not for the next 12 month funding cycle, but still...

The Price of Comics

Comics Should Be Good! » The price of comics:
The first trade [of DMZ] is 10 dollars. That’s 5 issues for 10 dollars, mind you. If you bought these 5 issues in their original format, you would have spent 15 dollars (more or less). Why on earth would anyone buy these in single issue format, I ask? The second trade contains seven issues and will cost you 13 bucks. That’s 12 issues, each originally $2.99 (thereby costing you 36 dollars, more or less) that you can get in handy trade format for 23 dollars.
That, in one paragraph, is why I can not see myself ever being a comics reader who buys a lot (if any) monthly books. I'd love to be that kind of guy. I like the idea of going into my local shop every week. I like the feel of floppies. I like the idea of supporting creators by buying monthly, when it will most help to keep under-appreciated titles in print. I'd like to be able to follow along with the comics podcasts I listen to more closely by reading the monthly books. But I just can not justify a 50% markup per unit story.

Especially since, as someone relatively new to comics, I have decades worth of trades and collections and OGNs to catch up on. Add on top of all of that the fact that most titles I read benefit from reading an entire story line at once, and a razor thin entertainment budget, and you have a recipe for a trades-only reader.

Postscript: I was listening to one of Around Comics' Emerald City ComiCon episodes and Dan DiDio said something along the lines of "$3 still isn't a lot of money for the entertainment you get from one book." Let's do some back of the envelope figurin'

comic book: $3 / 15 minutes = $12/hr
collected edition: $12/ 90 minutes = $8/hr
movie ticket: $10/ 2 hours = $5/hr
DVD rental (Netflix): $2 / 2 hours = $1/hr*
novel (Amazon, used): $6 / 12 hours = $.50/hr

He does admit later that they're competing for people's attention with other media. I'm not sure how you can reconcile each of these statements.

* This gets even more affordable when you rent discs of TV shows, dropping down to maybe 75 cents/hr.

Post-postscript: Brian Wood happened to ask today (22 May) how much people would be willing to pay for a DMZ collection that went straight to trades. Publishers would be giving up ad revenue and going to a less predictable income stream by switching off of monthlies, but from the sampling of his commenters it doesn't appear that people would be willing to pay much more than they already do.

20 May 2008

The Legend of the Mayan Crystal Death Ray Aliens from Atlantis at the End of World!!

Threat Quality Press discussing the Sci-Fi channel's pre-Indy IV "documentary" about the "real legend" of the crystal skulls:
One of these characters tries to explain the skull. 'The theory may sound far-fetched, at first,' he says, and this is misleading, because it implies that the more you hear about it, the LESS far-fetched it will sound, 'But the crystal skulls are made from quartz, which is what we make our modern microchips from. Imagine how much information is stored on a microchip--now, think of how much information could be stored in a crystal skull.' Which is crazy, because beaches are made out of quartz, too, and all they store is sand crabs and used heroin needles.
Highly, highly recommended read. Another good observation: why do all these conspiracy theory shows rest almost entirely on the ramblings of balding hippies with pony tails? Seriously, if you are bald and not Willie Nelson, cut that shit out. If you get confused, refer to the following supplement:

Life Lesson #143: Your dissertation topic is not a marketable product

Very good take down of the One Laptop Per Child program from Tim Oren:
Conflating what was properly a research project with a low-end, scale product is rank hubris. Even a first-time-out product manager knows better.
I'm unconvinced with Oren's claim that the trailing edge of the technology/price curve moves as fast as the leading edge, but mostly because I've never seen any data to support this. That may or may not be true now; I have a feeling it will not be in the future.

Otherwise, a thoroughly brilliant article.

Via TJIC. And a here's previous TJIC post on OLPC, poetically entitled "the tears of sad hippies (now, just $249 per unit, in lots of 10,000 )"

19 May 2008

J.Lester: 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 9 SO

That was the line of the night as "Lester throws majors' first no-hitter of season as Red Sox rock Royals."

Cue the music...
Tessie, Nuff Said McGreevey shouted
We're not here to mess around

PS Varitek has now caught four no hitters from four different pitchers. What a stud.

PPS The Special Lady Friend points out that Mr. Lester is one week older than I am, and has already pitched a no hitter in the bigs and survived The Cancer. And not in that order.

2008 Farm Bill: My Disgust Knows No Bounds

Greg Mankiw offers at least five good reasons to scrap the new farm bill, any one of which, in a better world, would be a killing blow. And that doesn't include the issue of killing it on general principals, just because it's market-distorting, vote-pandering behemoth whose only purpose is to gobble up money from tax payers in order to cement the power of largely-corrupt incumbents. (How do I know they're corrupt? Because, among other crimes, they voted for this monstrosity. QED.)

Unfortunately it is not a better world. Robert Novak provides the grisly, back-of-the-sausage-factory details as to how we got into this mess and why we're stuck with it.

ND Alum David Freddoso nails it as well, explaining how Uncle Sam is now taking the ingenious strategy of buying sugar high and selling it low. How can this work? It doesn't, unless you are a sugar or ethanol producer, or a congressman. Oh, you're none of those? Then Congress is f**king you. Freddoso also expounds on farm bills as prime examples of a government "solution" to a problem that is the direct result of a previous government "solution" to a previous problem, which was also caused by the government.

Addendum: I just saw the actual prices that congress, in its infinite wisdom, has committed to pay for sugar. Buying price for the US Government: 23 cents per pound. Selling price: 2 cents. Genius! I suppose I should be happy. After all, everyone has a share.

18 May 2008

Elitism, Money and Symbolic Analysis

Bainbridge discusses elitism. He's right to say that money is not the only factor contributing to elitism, and so it is not inherently paradoxical that the Obamas are labeled elitist in contrast to the Clintons, who have an order of magnitude more wealth.*

Bainbridge bases his arguments around some quotes from Christopher Lasch, with whom I am admittedly quite unfamiliar. Bainbridge leads with the following from Lasch's The Revolt of the Elites:
The new cognitive elite is made up of what Robert Reich called “symbolic analysts” — lawyers, academics, journalists, systems analysts, brokers, bankers, etc. These professionals traffic in information and manipulate words and numbers for a living.
I agree that wealth is a very incomplete picture of elitism. Quite significant, to be sure, but far, far from complete. Please refer to Bobos in Paradise, and David Brooks' theory of Status-Income Disequilibrium. Brooks describes "SID" affecting the professors, journalists, think-tank fellows, etc. who enjoy very high status but moderately high income. In comparison to, let's say, the millionaire owner-operator of a small construction firm, who are we to call elite? I'd say 99 times out of 100 the journalist is more a member of the elite than the builder despite the latter having 20 times the net worth.

However, I disagree that "symbolic analysis" is the keystone of the "new elite." Literacy is still much more of a defining characteristic than numeracy, for one. Who's more likely to be on the Sunday morning talk shows, the law prof or the mechanical engineering prof? Who's more popular at the upper echelon cocktail parties, the novelist or the mathematician? Numeracy is influential and impressive to people only when it makes you money, or at least relates to other people making money. Computational geometry will score you very little clout in elite circles; computational finance will open doors. This does not seem to hold as strongly in the sciences, where medical applications seem to command the most status: science as applied to medicine is almost always more prestigious than other scientific disciplines.**

Donald Knuth
and Milton Friedman were both excellent symbolic analysts, but I can guarantee 99.9% of the country has never even heard of Knuth. Richard Stallman and Eric S. Raymond have done more to shape the world than Eleanor Clift or Dinesh D'Souza, but I'm pretty sure the latter pair would be considered far more elite than the former.

Symbolic analysis may be a factor in elite-hood, but it misses something far more crucial. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I'm leaning towards the desire to be considered elite. The desire to influence people, perhaps. Even that, though, is incomplete. Stallman, for instance, seems to have a burning desire to influence, and to do so far and wide outside his field, and yet outside of software developers and CS-geeks, he will forever be unremarkable. All-in-all symbolic analysis seems a poor corner to base a definition of elitism on.

* Though I will refrain, I feel compelled to put quotes around every instance of elitism I type, because I feel like it's one of those words that's so loosely used that it's loosing touch with any coherent referent. It's more or less getting the "Fascist" treatment: people throw it around anytime they smell something related to wealth, education, selectivity, or meritocracy, just like people deploy "fascist" whenever something is right-wing and vaguely pro-statist. (Similarly it's an accusation that's almost entirely impossible to defend yourself from rationally. In the case of elitism, at least for politicians, it seems the only antidote is to be seen wearing a lot of blue jeans and engaging in folksy pastimes like bowling.) I have the same repugnant reaction to real elitism that I have to real Fascism, but I'm never really sure if I'm talking about the same thing as someone else when I hear either word, because both are lobbed into debates with the reckless abandon of a 3rd grader in a food fight on sloppy joe day.

** I always found it revealing that, to a first approximation, all of the chemical engineers I graduated with who were from the Northeast went into pharmaceuticals, while all the Midwesterners went into petrochem. I have a feeling that when the parents of John Q. Recentgraduate go to brunch at their Main Line club they're a lot more pleased to say that wee little Johnny is going to work for Astra Zeneca than BP, or NIH rather than the DOE. Of course I am now wildly and widely speculating, but sometimes I can't help myself.

16 May 2008

On Identity Politics

Again, a Q&O posts gets me thinking, this time on the problems with identity politics.

I remember thinking back in '96 that it seemed like the Democrats didn't have any organizing principals, just a coalition of independent groups that all herded themselves in the roughly same direction for completely different reasons. Not a lot has changed. They're still expecting women to support them because they're women, and ditto African Americans and "intellectuals" and union workers and so forth. It appears as though this reliance on "identity groups" is finally coming back to bite them. Perhaps bite is too strong, maybe nip would be better. Because I think when the dust settles most of these voters will go to back to toeing the line like they have for a generation. Until then it's delightful to watch.

I feel the same way about the GOP now. Any guiding principals they may have had were jettisoned as soon as they got inside 495, and all they're left with today is a general orneriness and unspecific opposition to The Other Guys. This is reminiscent of the attitude of most Democrats during the impeachment proceedings. The reason you were supposed to back the Dems then and are supposed to back the GOP now is mostly because you're not supposed to let the other guys win. Their main argument is pretty much "Our party doesn't deserve to fall from power just because our president is a widely reviled numbskull."

The GOP hasn't built their support quite as explicitly on identity groups, but they're still reliant on disparate and unconnected policy positions to lure groups of single-issue voters.* As a result I don't think they'll self-destruct in quite the same way. For one thing, they've already been doing their self-destruction for the past few years, so they don't have a lot of feet left to shoot themselves in. But I'm guessing that within the decade they're going to end up in a similar situation to the Democrats now. Maybe they'll end up with three semi-viable candidates, but one of them is pro-choice and one of them is a pacifist and one of them is the child of illegal Honduran immigrants. (How much fun would that be to watch? Or what if you threw in an atheist? Or [gasp!] a vegetarian?) You'll get the same petulant "If my guy isn't nominated I'm taking my ball and going home" thing we're seeing now.

* Both Team Coke and Team Pepsi do this; there is no coherent political philosophy in either party. This may be a good policy, from a short-term, practicality stand point. I don't think voters happen to like intellectual consistency, just like I don't think they want honesty of any kind. But still, this is a tenuous foundation for an organization to build on.

Addendum: A previous post on Q&O that I missed discusses why three Republican party cast offs (Barr, Paul and Keyes), who each sort of stand for some of what the GOP used to claim to stand for, have splintered off to pursue their own campaigns. This is the start of the Republican version of the Democrats' current identity schizophrenia. I seriously do predict that they will end up with Political Party Dissociative Identity Disorder when they end up with two potential nominees, one of whom is a flag-waving, church-going moderate statist (perhaps named Rudy McCaickabee, if you please) and the other is an actual conservative, but has some supposedly disqualifying characteristic like atheism. Maybe Bobby Jindal will give us a little taste of that next time around, although for the purpose of drawing maximal personal amusement from the ignorance of thick-witted xenophobes, it would be really nice if he was still Hindu.


In response to whether he thinks health care is a right, Michael Novak points out that there is a difference between a right to seek health care and a right to be provided with health care. This positive/negative rights distinction is absolutely true, and worth thinking about whenever the topic of "rights" comes up. But putting that aside there's another important sense in which health care is and is not a right.

Let's say everyone has a right to potable water. I'm all for a government that wants ensure that everyone, no matter how destitute, has enough clean water. Enough to cook, to drink, to bathe regularly, to do some washing of clothes and dishes. We can go ahead and list that as something it is proper for a modern republic to provide. But I do not think there's a similar right to water to wash your car, or water your lawn, or take 30 minute showers. Some of your water consumption we can call a right, but some you must provide for yourself. Water both is and is not a right. Similarly electricity. Enough to light your home, to operate a refrigerator, etc. But not to keep your thermostat set to 68 all summer long. That's a privilege, and like all others, one you make sacrifices for.

Similarly with health care. It's one thing to have wounds stitched up, to have bones set, to get some antibiotics when they'd be useful.* These public provisioning of these services are not objectionable. But at the other end of the spectrum is, well, four dozen things covered by my state employee insurance plan like acupuncture. And there's a multitude of things residing somewhere in the middle. There's a lot blurrier line between necessary and frivolous health care than there is between water to cook your ramen and water to fill your pool, which is why you can't let someone promise that they only mean a right to health care when it comes to the important stuff. You can't just parrot "health care is a right!" without addressing exactly what types of health care you mean.

And not only is this gray area very broad, and very murky, and very ... gray, but where we draw the line between "rights" and "privileges" will keep marching steadily towards everything being a right. We've already seen this with state insurance requirements. Insurance in New Jersey must include fertility treatments, even if you are, for instance, an unmarried 24 year old male or a widowed 70 year old female. You can not purchase low cost, high deductible insurance in Massachusetts.** There are too many people out there with too much to gain by getting the legislature to redefine whatever health-related service they provide (or desire) as part of our "right to health care." If we applied the same process to water service we'd soon end up with the right to free 24x7 slip-and-slides in every yard.

* Let's not get started on over prescription of antibiotics.
** Citations needed. Nolo. But frankly, I'm not in the mood.

Burma, Again

A post by Dale Frank at Q&O got me thinking about Burma again. Also, thinking about Burma is a lot more interesting that thinking about my take home final. Honestly, I do not have an opinion on Harold Black's theories of negative feedback and their relation to Hargadon's views on creativity. Just don't have anything to say about them. I don't care. There. I said it.

So, Burma:

I think there's an interesting paradox in the idea that you can depose a government if there's an international consensus. (Or if not depose, then at least violate the sovereignty of.) On the one hand you have to embrace some sort of conditional sovereignty: a government only gets to decide who comes and goes in its territory so long as it lives up to your standards. On the other hand, your decision about whether that government retains its legitimacy is based on the assumption that the other governments forming this consensus have enough legitimacy to not only control their own territories and armies, but those of other nations. You're tearing down the nation state as a moral authority, but in doing so you're appealing to the ability of nation states to make subjective moral decisions.

To put this concretely, you would trust the UN, a group which has pretty much fallen all over itself to avoid even criticizing the Burmese junta previously, to decide whether a "humanitarian invasion" was justified?

And the nations making this decision would include... Zimbabwe? North Korea? Libya? Let's say Zimbabwe votes for invasion of Burma. What happens when Zimbabwe hits the skids and doesn't want to let anyone help? Let's say it happens this summer. Floods, earthquakes, locusts, whatever. (Not that it looks like Mugabe really needs the hand of God to screw things up there.) So then we put it to a vote of the "international community." Should we do some forced humanitarian intervention in Zimbabwe? One day we trust the Zimbabwean government enough to help decide whether we trust Burmese government enough to let them run their own country. A few months later we're seriously debating whether we trust the Zimbabwean government enough to run their own country. That does not seem consistent to me.*

But I'm not suggesting we only put these decisions to "stable" or "trustworthy" governments. Nor am I suggesting anyone would really care whether Zimbabwe supported an armed intervention in Burma. Practically this does not matter. But the practicality is not my point. My point is that you must redefine, to the point of unrecognizability, your notion of sovereignty to consider the morality of an international consensus in relation to a benign invasion.

This says something pretty interesting about your view of the nation state if you think an international consensus of governments is morally relevant to overthrowing another government. What it says is that you support the concept of the nation state when a state does what you want it to do, but you're willing to ignore it when it does not.**

* I can already hear objections. (Or I would if anybody was reading this.) "Between letting Zimbabwe vote and then considering intervention, they responded very badly to the crisis. Things have changed, so our trust in them can change too." Fair enough. But who defines "crisis?" Who defines "very badly?" The whole notion of sovereignty is that you don't get to judge what they're doing within their borders: that's the point of exclusivity of jurisdiction as I understand it. If any government is one colossally bad disaster relief effort away from losing its legitimacy, what can it possibly mean to gain legitimacy from the agreement of many such governments?

** Actually you're holding both of these positions simultaneously. That makes it a little different from "you like the police when they're protecting you but not otherwise" or "you like federalism when you're the minority in DC but not otherwise" or "you like earmarks when they're coming to your district but not otherwise." First of all, those are all about how you feel about the exercising of power. I'm talking more about how you feel about the abstract entity called a "nation," about the philosophical concept of the state, about the definition of a country. Furthermore, those are all differing, conflicting positions you're taking up in different circumstances. In the "international consensus for benign invasion" situation you're holding both contradictory positions at the same time. You're using one to prop up the other.

15 May 2008

And Then I Read: Sandman Vol 8: Worlds' End

The Sandman Volume 8: Worlds' End collects issues 51-55 (plot summaries from wikipedia). Written by Neil Gaiman with art by a multitude of creators.

Worlds' End is really an anthology of one-issue stories, set with a frame tale of travelers stranded at the "Worlds' End Inn" swapping their stories. Each story is unrelated to the others, and each has its own art team, as per Sandman MO.

Worlds' End is kind of the best and worst of The Sandman. One the one hand, Gaiman's writing is great; the stories themselves are superb. On the other hand the Sandman himself is hardly present, and it doesn't really contribute to the larger narrative of his and his family's life at all. That's blessing and curse of The Sandman. It can be about anything. Since everyone dreams and Morpheus is the self-described "Prince of Stories," any story throughout time and the universe is fair game. That gives Gaiman a huge sandbox to play in, and he uses it to indulges his interests in mythologies and narration. When it works, like I think it does in Worlds' End, it really works. But the flip side is that the stories often feel aimless, and if you hit a string of issues that just don't work for you it can really be a slog to get through a trade.

I can see how Worlds' End could be especially frustrating if you pick it up after the previous volume (Brief Lives) expecting the story of the Endless presented there to be advanced in any way. Here you get good material, but it they may not be stories that fit well into the broader narrative running through the series.

The art is also quite agreeable in this volume. I especially liked Mike Allred's work in "The Golden Boy" — Boss Smiley is a great character design, and the Nixon and Old John Belushi are very clever. Michael Zulli also did good work in "Hob's Leviathan," especially the three pages of the story-within-a-story-within-a-story of the Indian prince and one epic double page spread.

I feel rather the same way about the art in The Sandman as I do the work as a whole. It's very intellectual, and I can see technically why it's laudable. But sometimes it doesn't click for me, and I find it hard to connect with.

Sidebar: In Hy Bender's The Sandman Companion, Gaiman has this to say about "The Golden Boy," in which a twenty year old, watch-repairing pretty boy becomes a world-saving president:
Well, during that period — the summer of 1993 — I was still new to the U.S., and I was struck by how powerfully my friends reacted to Bill Clinton, who had become president about eight months earlier. They had been so happy when Clinton was elected, as if he was going to fix everything. And when some time had passed and he hadn't yet done the things they'd expected, they were genuinely heartbroken, as if something deeply religious had gone wrong. It seemed clear to me that they were yearning for a savior, someone to sort it all out for them. So I thought I'd do a story, in the form of a synoptic gospel, in which I'd give my friends the kind of president they wanted.
I have the feeling there's a whole generation of currently bright-eyed Obamistas who are going to be needing reprints of this issue next summer.


I admire any comedian who wears a shirt that says "COMEDY" on it. More professions should do that. Next time I give a seminar talk I'm going to make a shirt that just says "SCIENCE."

Also, as a general rule, I could use more charts in my comedy. Off the top of my head (and our office door): Exhibit A,* Exhibit B.**

(HT: The Agitator)

14 May 2008

Photographic Boogeymen

#473 in an infinite series of photographers being given the heave-ho from public spaces to protect against The Terrorism: Press photographers threatened with arrest for taking photos in Union Station.

This is a pretty standard if still outrageous incident. A few thoughts:
  • It's a robot camera. Do we think the terrorists are all out using fancy robot cameras from CMU? If so, I'd love to be at that Al Qaeda budget meeting. ("Well, we were going to buy some explosives and guns and scimitars and shit, but we decided a few grand on a state-of-the-art robocamera was a better idea.")

  • The photographers had NPR press passes. It's not like they were speculators trying to tap into that huge photos-of-train-station market, forcing management to intervene. I can conceive of no rational thought process that leads to kicking the photogs out except "Oh no, something strange and new and different! Better shut this down forthwith lest I be confronted with new circumstances."

  • The Dude's dear mother was once shooed away whilst taking photos of an office building for her real estate business. Turns out the nondescript building next door was a covert Three Letter Agency facility. That strikes me as a legitimate security concern.

  • The author references the Great Silver Spring Photo Banapalooza of 2007. This is of interest to the Dude mostly because the public space in question there is home to own of the Dude's more frequented pubs. Sort of pricey for what you get, but it's easy to get there and they have free darts.

  • I understand that Union Station is managed by a private entity, but AFAIK that does not make it private property. A concession to manage a property doesn't make it private. Even if it was privately owned it's still open the public, like a shopping mall, so doesn't that put certain limits on what the management can do?

  • Any police, or private security acting in the manner of police, should be required to give their name and service number to any citizen at any time. Especially when they start giving orders and making threats. Furthermore any police officer should be able to be photographed any time they are in uniform or carrying out their duties. The refusal of the officers involved here to give their names, and the demand that any images of them be deleted, is rank cover-your-assery.

Updates: Three more examples of photographers getting heat in the last 24 hours: at a disused highway weigh station, at the port of LA, and in an LA subway station. I especially like the last one, where an employee invokes "The 9/11 Law." Whatever happened to the good old days, when you actually knew what laws you were being arrested for breaking? (Or when those laws actually, you know, existed?) No one needed to know the particular provisions of the Equine Theft Prevention Act of 1873 to know you couldn't steal horses. Now anyone with a badge or a clipboard can just do some jazz-fingery hand waving about the Patriot Act and frighten people into ceasing pretty much anything.

13 May 2008

A Tax-Free Hedge Fund?

Jim Manzi asks "Is Harvard Just a Tax-Free Hedge Fund?," and finds the answer to be a resounding, "pretty much, yes." This is a short but highly recommended read; Manzi packs about three strong arguments into a page. (His argument is pretty close to one of the two pillars of my "There is no such thing as a non-profit" theory, which states that there is no such thing as a non-profit.*) I contend, for the record, that everything he says is equally true of all private colleges and universities, not just Harvard, and not just the big swingers in the endowment game. Now, I still don't support Massachusetts' endowment/golden egg tax, but I think it important to recognize the scam** Harvard et al. are pulling off.

* The other pillar being the belief that money is just one of many motivations. As a result people will pull the same kinds of shenanigans that anti-capitalists love to harp on whether their incentive is take the money and run or to able to brag about their do-goodery at their Bobo cocktail parties. Institutions are going to act pretty much the same whether the wealth, power and privilege they seek are of the greenback kind or not.

** Scam implies I would like to stop whatever they are doing. This is not the case. I'd prefer to have everyone else's capital gains and corporate income taxes lowered to make this situation less inconsistent. But tax policy is another point for another day.

Alaska. Scientology. Teflon.

Lest I cast too much ridicule towards the eminently ridiculable Democratic candidates, I offer this: Things Younger Than John McCain. [Chuckle. Snort]

(HT: The Agitator)

12 May 2008

Invade Burma?

Time advocates invading Burma to help. I do not see how that would be qualitatively any different than our ill-fated forays into Somalia or Iraq (send armed men into country
to help citizens even though government doesn't really want us around).

Discussion on the Nat'l Review Online here, here and here. I'm with Steyn and Schiffren: very bad idea. This plan would turn into the worst of Iraq and Somalia combined, except with less sand and more standing water. As soon as things turn the slightest bit ugly everyone, including Time, will suddenly be convinced this was an awful idea from the beginning. If we bail out when this happens then we have a soggy Somalia. If we stay we have an over irrigated Iraq. There's just no way a military intervention ends well. Of course, there's pretty much no way this ends well for Burma no matter what happens.

Postscript: Dale Franks at Q&O more cogently than I.

Offered without comment...

Rescind that subject line. I have one comment: "Hehehe."

(HT: Boing Boing)

Brooks, Suderman, Politics, Meaning, etc.

Now, I do love David Brooks. Bobos in Paradise is one of those few books that really changed the way I view our culture. Plus Brooks grew up in Special Lady Friend's hometown, and currently resides in the Dude's ancestral home. (For values of "ancestral" equal to "one generation give or take.") But today I have to side with Peter Suderman. (For the record, I also like Suderman a good deal. I'm not sure any other sociopolitical journalist offers better movie reviews, for starters.)

The source of the disagreement is this column by Brooks comparing US and British conservatism, and whether American conservatives should deploying some "politics of meaning" like their Cameronist trans-Atlantic fellow travelers. To this end, Brooks prescribes the following for Conservatism in America: "Political leaders have to also talk about, as one Tory politician put it, 'the whole way we live our lives.'"

Suderman disagrees quite strenuously, and as I said, I'm in his camp on this. For politicians to start talking (semi-credibly) about the whole way we live our lives, that means politicians must start influencing the whole way we live our lives. That is unacceptable.

For starters, politicians do not know anything about how to live my life. By my reckoning, they aren't even that good at living their own lives. Politicians are only experts at becoming politicians, that is, at gaining power. They have no expertise in "democracy building," or steroid use in baseball, or what gasoline or bread ought to cost, or public health, or how the music industry ought to adapt to a digital age, or how to set safe speed limits, or violence in video games, or the cultural implications of divorce, or whether I ought to choose paper or plastic, or seeing that kids learn to read good and do other stuff good too, or whether I do, in fact, honest to God, want fries with that. Politicians are already influencing lots and lots of things they don't know anything about and aren't even particular good at influencing. Why would I want to make that list any longer?

I have no reason to believe they could live my life any better than I could, and, since I respect the human race, I have to then conclude that they couldn't live your life any better than you can either.

Addendum: Reihan Salam pushes back against Suderman. The gist: "I think of Cameronism less as a 'politics of meaning' and more as ... inculcating a set of cooperative norms and habits through responsive, open public institutions."

Getting the government in the business of inculcating norms and habits sounds pleasing, and is doubtless appealing to the median voter, as Salam points out. But the benefit of said inculcation rests on three assumptions. First, that there exists a particular optimal set of norms and habits to be inculcated. I am beyond dubious of this proposition. Second, that the right norms and habits are chosen to inculcate. I am equally skeptical of this, but again we'll leave it for the time being. Finally, that someone else down the road doesn't get control of the inculcating machinery and start pushing some norms and habits contrary to your initial plans. This, I can guarantee, will happen. It always has, and it always will. (A lot of creationism gets into curricula via mechanism that were originally created so that state-wide authorities could push environmentalism on local school boards. Morning-after pills are being held up by the same morality-based arguments that originally gained legitimacy when breast implants were banned.)

Someone else will always get control of the levers of power that you created in your altruistic fit of world-saving. And you will always wail "why oh why did I let those brutes take control of my beautiful society-shaping machine?" It will never occur to you had you not built the damn machine, the brutes can't wrest control of it from you.

The folly of those who persist, as is supposed, without reason, in not taking advice, has been much expatiated upon. But the folly of those who persist, without reason, in forcing their advice upon others, has been but little dwelt upon, though it is, perhaps, the more frequent, and the more flagrant of the two. It is not often that one man is a better judge for another, than that other is for himself, even in cases where the adviser will take the trouble to make himself master of as many of the materials for judging, as are within the reach of the person to be advised. But the legislator is not, can not be, in the possession of any one of these materials.—What private, can be equal to such public folly?
—Jeremy Bentham, Defense of Usury, 1787

11 May 2008

Last Train Out...

I couldn't imagine doing this if it was the last bloody train out of Paris.

I would seriously feel so much better about the human race if someone could credibly tell me it was some bizarre performance prank, but I suppose this is just one of those things that, having grown up in an American suburb, I'm never going to understand.

(HT: Distributed Republic)

10 May 2008

Orodruin Comes to Chile

Good Lord, this is some biblical, end of the world shit. I mean, a volcano that spews lightening?

Fire and brimstone wasn't enough. Had to have lightening too. Great.

Here's a gallery of more photos.

(This must have been what Jack McDevitt had in mind when he was writing Deepsix, in which a planet is literally ripped apart by tidal forces. It's part of a good series. Sort of an interstellar Indiana Jones thing.)

09 May 2008

Congressmen, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!

Coyote Blog: Where is the Windfall Profits Tax on Farmers?
In the very same week that Democrats in Congress have introduced bills to punish oil companies for high prices with windfall profits taxes, they have passed a farm bill that rewards farmers who are already getting record high prices with increased price supports and direct subsidies. This despite the fact that on a percentage basis, the increase in crop prices has been far larger than the recent increase in gas prices.
File under: "There is no intellectual consistency in politics."

Really, none at all. There are drunken, piss-stained lunatics jumping up and down in Speaker's Corner that have more consistent views than our congresscritters.

Here are two more stories about mutually incompatible policies just from this afternoon. First, the executive's schizophrenia regarding medical marijuana. Secondly, much of the tech community's sanctimonious stance regarding property rights. (The last, by the way is a good example of the anti-corporate attitude previously noted on Boing Boing comment threads.)
"If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture, let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies."
— Albert Einstein
This farm bill/profit tax idea beyond shabby. This is the couture equivalent of wrapping yourself in trashbags and fashioning shoes out of cheeseburger wrappers. This is shameful.

* Subject line

Socioeconomic Creationism

Yes, yes! One thousand times, yes. I know it's been said before, but it bears repeating. Nay, shouting from rooftops. Sound the trumpets. Let the calls ring out. Spread the word: socialism is just another form of creationism.
Metaphysical creationisism [sic] is the rejection of the idea that the physical features of the world around us and/or life are the product of spontaneous order, instead insisting that they must be the product of some form of intelligent design.

Socioeconomic creationism is the rejection of the idea that the social and economic features of the society in which we live are the product of spontaneous order, instead insisting that they must be the product of some form of intelligent design.

... The socioeconomic creationist infers a conspiracy among greedy oil producers and gasoline refiners, rather than recognizing that this is the natural and predictable result of rapidly-growing demand coupled with relatively inelastic supply.

In both forms, I think the fallacy is the same. Lacking a clear understanding of how spontaneous order works, creationists fail to see how it can produce the phenomena they observe, and from this they infer the existence of a designer.
It's even worse though. Not only do socialists infer the existence of a designer, they think they ought to be that designer. The biological creationist may see the hand of a designer where there is none, but he's at least content to leave the designs alone. (The worst he'll do is screw up your local school board and thereby force you to teach your children the valuable lesson that sometimes their instructors and authority figures are willfully ignorant, self-righteous knuckleheads.) In contrast, the socioeconomic creationist also wants to be a creator. He wants to recreate society according to his own design despite the the fact that there never was a design in the first place. And in doing so he actively conspires to screw up your life at every turn.

At least, when confronted by the insanity of biological creationism, I can chortle softly and take comfort in Flying Spaghetti Monstersm. I have no such comfort when confronted by economic creationists because most of the world has entirely failed to realize they are nescient nitwits.

Addendum: Found a Coyote blog post from a couple of years back I was looking for on this:
Economics is a science. Willful ignorance or emotional rejection of the well-known precepts of this science is at least as bad as a fundamentalist Christian's willful ignorance of evolution science (for which the Left so often criticizes their opposition). In fact, economic ignorance is much worse, since most people can come to perfectly valid conclusions about most public policy issues with a flawed knowledge of the origin of the species but no one can with a flawed understanding of economics.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more economics and evolution are very similar. Both are sciences that are trying to describe the operation of very complex, bottom-up, self-organizing systems. And, in both cases, there exist many people who refuse to believe such complex and beautiful systems can really operate without top-down control.

08 May 2008

Gas Tax, Take II

Bryan Caplan expands his previous blog post supporting the gas tax into a NY Times op-ed.
During our last big energy crisis, in the 1970s, “something” turned out to be a salad of populist nonsense: price controls, rationing, windfall profits taxes, arcane loopholes and lots of lawsuits. That political response turned an inconvenience into a disaster.
"Salad of populist nonsense" is my phrase of the week.

The Crime of Flying True Colors

More bullshit Cult of the Nation State in England, where some two-bit town allows the flying of any national flag, but no others outside of your home. As a result some fine family man was threatened with State action for flying the Jolly Roger during his daughter's pirate-themed birthday party. As a Metaphysical Outlaw,* as well as a lover of rum, I am incensed. However, I am proud of the distinguished neighbor who ran up the same colors in solidarity. Any town could use neighbors such as him.

Unfortunately, it appears another neighbor is to blame for calling in the authorities. Like most of these spats over obscure and misapplied zoning regs, some cantankerous and cowardly neighbor decided he would use the long arm of the Zoning Board as his own private cat's paw.

Zoning regulations are just the polite way of cudgeling someone you don't get along with. Hey, if you can't get them to change their behavior, just have them cited for a violation of Neighborhood Code 173b, Amendment 12 and a half, Paragraph VII! That will show them! Admit it, you don't have the testicular fortitude to address a problem with your neighbor directly, so you're going to call in the government to do your dirty work for you. You like having tax-paid functionaries with clip boards carry on your confrontations, because you haven't got the stones to face up to your neighbors yourself, you petulant jackass.

* "If you're honest, you sooner or later have to confront your values. Then you're forced to separate what is right from what is merely legal. This puts you metaphysically on the run. America is full of metaphysical outlaws."
Tom Robbins, Still Life With Woodpecker

109 Years of Hayek

In honor of Friedrich August von Hayek's 109th birthday,* here's a sampling of my favorite Hayek pearls of wisdom.
  • The more the state 'plans' the more difficult planning becomes for the individual.
    — The Road to Serfdom

  • We shall never prevent the abuse of power if we are not prepared to limit power in a way which occasionally may prevent its use for desirable purposes.
    — The Road to Serfdom
  • There is all the difference in the world between treating people equally and attempting to make them equal. While the first is the condition of a free society, the second means as De Tocqueville describes it, 'a new form of servitude.'
    — Individualism and Economic Order

  • Freedom granted only when it is known beforehand that its effects will be beneficial is not freedom.
    — The Constitution of Liberty

  • Liberty not only means that the individual has both the opportunity and the burden of choice; it also means that he must bear the consequences of his actions.... Liberty and responsibility are inseparable.
    — The Constitution of Liberty

  • If one objects to the use of coercion in order to bring about a more even or more just distribution, this does not mean that one does not regard these as desirable. But if we wish to preserve a free society, it is essential that we recognize that the desirability of a particular object is not sufficient justification for the use of coercion.
    — The Constitution of Liberty

  • 'Emergencies' have always been the pretext on which the safeguards of individual liberty have been eroded – and once they are suspended it is not difficult for anyone who has assumed such emergency powers to see to it that the emergency will persist.
    — Law, Legislation and Liberty, vol. 3: The Political Order of a Free People

(HT Cafe Hayek)

* We need a word for the anniversary of someone's birth that makes it clear they are dead. The above makes it sound as if Hayek just turned 109, but the phrase "anniversary of his birth" is just so cludgy.