30 June 2009

Self-fulfillment replacing self-duty

Going to the Mat | Matt Johnson | Healthy and Unhealthy Obsessions
This is your brain on mid-life crisis says Tom Smith, about Gov. Mark Sanford, it is a sharp criticism:
Once more the human animal baffles me. Gov. Sanford, who I thought was pretty cool for trying to refuse to take stimulus money, turns out to be a love-crazed loon. I have long accepted that women are mysterious, but increasingly I fear I do not understand men either. What is it with these middle aged guys who ruin themselves, not to mention their families, by chasing after ridiculous objects of affection or even obsession? The length of the flight alone would keep me from flying to Argentina to have sex, not to mention prior engagements. Do I just not get it? Do I not know what love is? Hasn't this guy ever heard of cold showers or push ups?

I think in a deeper sense this is all the fault of liberals. Nobody used to think that just because you were 49 and the mother of your children no longer enthralled you as she once did that you were somehow entitled to fly across the hemisphere to satisfy your man lust. Real men sucked down a couple of stiff drinks, played a round of golf, fired up a good cigar and accepted the responsibilities of running the free world. But no more apparently. Now it's, oh my feelings, and I don't know who I am anymore, and nine other kinds of [b.s.]. It makes me embarassed for my sex. But, this is all the fault of the sexual revolution, and the associated rise of the therapeutic culture, which you may recall were not Republican ideas.
Despite the rhetoric about the fault of liberals, I don't think Smith is that far off the mark as a general point. Men used to be obsessed about inanimate things (cars or motorcycles), esoteric things (coins or stamps) or, heaven forbid, sports. Now they have become obsessed with feelings and validation and it seems stupid.

[...]

Should Sanford have had a few stiff drinks, a cigar and a round of golf, or certainly a cold shower? I don't know, probably and 30 years ago he might have. But our society has become very adept at putting the self-desire before the self-duty. What Gov. Sanford lost sight of was that in fulfilling his selfish, personal desires, he abdicated his duties to his wife, his family, his friends and his constitutents. He is a symbol of a culture that has put so much emphasis on feelings, on therapy, on self-validation, and self-fulfillment, the concept of a manly sacrifice for the benefit of others has become lost along the way. Sanford's affair is indicative of the culture exalts one's own personal, physical desires first and men have lost the wherewithal to think clearly or to sacrifice an immediate physical want (sex) upon the alter of what is considered proper or dare I say moral?
Smith's rather spurious accusation of liberalism reminds me of this Chesterton quote:
The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.
Otherwise I agree with Smith and Johnson in full.

29 June 2009

At least we're not Detroit!

So it turns out my wifi problems of which I wanted to speak no more have reared their head again. My poor MacBook has been shipped away for repairs to either the wifi card or antenna. (Aren't they one unit in MacBooks? The technician tentatively hinted otherwise, but he got a glassy look in his eyes whenever I mentioned the word "firmware" so I'm not sure how on-the-ball he was).* I have a full backup (actually two), but no record of my firefox session, so all the tabs I had open and ready to blog about are beyond my grasp. (Also, blogging on this old iBook G4 with Safari 3 is really annoying.)

As filler, check out some Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Videos:





* I can not express how galling I find it that Apple refers to their tech support staff as "Geniuses." If you haven't had the (non-)pleasure of visiting a tech support desk in an Apple store, know that I'm not exaggerating. Their actual job title is "Genius." The arrogance of it would astound even if they were particularly good at their jobs, which in my experience, they aren't. On multiple occasions I have had to come in with problem already diagnosed in order for them to take action. On multiple occasions I have had to explain the difference between the "Core Duo" and "Core 2 Duo" system profiles to them, especially as it related to upgrading to 802.11n. This time I had to show them records of ping** output and extracts from log files in order for them not to blame it on my router and send me away, which is exactly what they did to Special Lady Friend when she went in a week ago complaining of the same symptoms. For the record, we both knew the problem was with our laptops and not some external cause because the laptops did not work at our homes, offices or public libraries, and other devices connected fine at all those locations.

** Speaking of ping, I found out this weekend that RCN (among other ISPs) blocks the return of ICMP packets, making it impossible to ping anything further upstream than your own router. (Or perhaps some subset of ICMP? -- not sure, but traceroute doesn't seem to work either.) I only mention this because it's really hard to Google for something like internet is working, but ping is not working, because what you end up getting is a bunch of forum posts about the opposite -- network or internet access not being available, and people replying that you need to try ping to diagnose the problem. So if anyone has internet access but can't ping anything, it's probably your ISP or a similar firewall. (NB: I'm not really a networking guy, but this does seem to be what's going on to the best I can tell.)

Okay that's enough disgruntled ranting. Enjoy those Cleveland videos.

27 June 2009

The Banality of Hypocrisy

Popehat | It Is Not The Hypocrisy; It’s How Banal and Trite the Hipocrisy Has Become

"...speculating about whether the pockets of their impeccable blue suits are stuffed with smuggled Thai anal beads made out of the polished bone of dead hookers."
There's a sentence fragment that ought to pique your interest.

(This is perhaps the only time I'll ever get to link to a post that both mentions anal beads and yet is safe for work.)

26 June 2009

Ink

dispatches from TJICistan | tattoo:

I have no intention of ever having a tattoo, but living in a society where they’re so common, one sees several a day, and the question “if I ever got a tat, what would it be?” springs to mind at least occassionally.

The definative answer finally dawned on me today. It’d be one of my favorite quotes from the last few decades:

Hard pressed on my right. My center is yielding. Impossible to maneuver. Situation excellent. I am attacking.

–Ferdinand Foch
Huzzah! A fine choice.

For more on written tattoos I recommend Body Type: Intimate Messages Etched in Flesh.

In other tattoo matters, Edward Goldman raised an interesting point on a recent episode of KCRW's Art Talk, to wit, if we had better art education in America, would people continue to choose such banal tattoos?

On chilling effects

Popehat | Euphemisms That Should Disappear: “Chilling Effect”:

Although the language of law has introduced many toxins into everyday English, I can think of few as pervasive as the term “chilling effect,” which has evolved from its original and limited meaning (suppression of legitimate political speech by overbroad or arbitrarily enforced laws) to mean, today, “deterring me from doing something that everyone knows is wrong, but that I’d like to do anyway.”

[...]

In plain English, we call these “chilling effects” compensation for wrongs, deterrence, and punishment. And yes Mr. Wright your clients hopefully will be deterred by the prospect of paying damages in a civil suit from molesting little girls like Savana Redding in the future. Even if their hearts are in the right places. Even if it’s to protect her from advil.
That's in response to the attorney for the school district whose goons flunkies administrators ordered 13 year old Savana Redding to strip so that they could look for contraband Advil on nothing but another girl's accusation. (None was found.) This attorney, a Mr Matthew Wright, claimed that the recent supreme court ruling holding Stafford School District responsible would "have a chilling effect on [schools'] response to threats of drugs on campus."

I've been interested in this case for a while, because the school administrators seem so obviously wrong to me that I wonder how this case could have progressed this far. Well, I don't really wonder. I know that the local government will always stick up for the local schools, and the state government will back up the local government, and everyone has a hair across their ass about drugs, so I'm not actually surprised. But really, this is the kind of behavior we allow only in jails and prisons. How did we get to the point where drugs turned in to such a bogeyman that the very act of setting foot in a school — which you are required to do — made kids subject to strip searches based on nothing more than some finger pointing from a peer looking to get herself off the hook?

Is there a single person in the country who would say "Yes, you may order my daughter or sister to strip in order to protect other children from over-the-counter anti-inflammatories"?

Schools are prisons.

25 June 2009

"Would these faces lie to you?"



I was out last night, walking through Gallery Place, and the sidewalks were positively abuzz with news of MJ's death.

I once knew a guy...

It seems the crazy barefoot [running] people have more actual research backing them up than the “motion control super duper space shoe” people do. Since they tend to keep up with nutty trends anyway, I also began to notice more of the fitness community I hang out on the sidelines of picking up the trend as well. They’re about split down the middle whether it’s only good for sprinting or the best thing since protein shakes.
I had a friend in high school who sprinted barefoot. This raised some eyebrows at the college football combines.

Of course, this guy was also a 6'3" 240lb white dude with corn rows and a positively Rasputinian beard, which he braided into two strands to pull through the holes in his chin strap before games -- going for a Varangian look, I think.

His entire family referred to him by their surname, and he introduced himself as his surname repeated twice (e.g. James James, though I've changed the name).

He hunted and butchered/charcuterized about a dozen different species. I had moose salami at one of their family Christmas parties. Delightful.

He spent his childhood in Mongolia and the more isolated bits of Fiji, which left him with a lack of popculture knowledge that was Leeloo-esque in its completeness.

His father was ostensibly a Seabee, but judging from his mid-back length braid, nearly-fetishistic love of long range rifles, and general lack of naval repair facilities in the Gobi, he was in fact a hitman.

So the bare foot running thing didn't really registry on his list of oddities.

PS Now he's a high school history teacher.

24 June 2009

Hiatus

Sorry about the break from regularly scheduled blogging action. I am back.

I took a long weekend out on Lake Michigan with the old college mates as a combination reunion and bachelor party. Quite the rare old time. There was a storm one night which dumped 3+ inches of rain onto the venerable but small burgh of South Haven, knocking out the power and water to our rental for two days. In a true show of prioritization we made due with bathing in the lake before laying in an extra stock of ice to keep our beer cold. There was also some abortive fishing, plenty of beach lounging, much cooking of things over open flames (including some pizza on a bonfire -- recommended), consumption of alcohol in modes that the more bluenosed among us may deem "socially irresponsible," and a roastish skit prepared by former suitemate (and SB7 reader) Skipper patterned after that most lofty of cinematic acheivements, The Big Lebowski. Trival pursuits and Arrested Development also made appearances, and there were several conversations on the nature of morality, ethics, the state and the law. (Doesn't everyone do the latter on occassions like this?)

Also contributing to my dearth of blogging in the last few days is my return home on Monday to an internet connection which can be politely called churlish. In deference to my blood pressure, we will dwell no more on this matter.

16 June 2009

Can we all finally agree not to take Paul Krugman seriously anymore?

Things I'm Glad I Never Said | Arnold Kling | EconLog

Paul Krugman, writing in August of 2002:
"To fight this recession the Fed needs more than a snapback; it needs soaring household spending to offset moribund business investment. And to do that, as Paul McCulley of Pimco put it, Alan Greenspan needs to create a housing bubble to replace the Nasdaq bubble."
Ouch.

NB: This guy is 10th in line to the Presidency.

But where are the clowns?
Quick, send in the clowns.
Don't bother, they're here.
Restoring Competence to Government | The American Scene | Peter Suderman:

U..S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, a bureaucrat ostensibly responsible for helping Americans make the switch to digital TV, admits that, despite the transition having been in the works for years, until just a few months ago, he didn’t understand the differences between digital and analog signals:
"Too many people don’t know the difference between digital and analog. I didn’t even know myself until a few months ago when my brother-in-law explained it to me."
Good job, brother in law!
I'm shuddering in horror right now. Not only because this is pretty basic high school level science, but because the Secretary of Commerce would gleefully admit to such ignorance. The NY Times article Suderman links also mostly botches the difference between analog and digital signals, and Locke half-brags about being irresponsible enough to leave his Christmas shopping until Christmas Eve. I don't need the guy to master discrete Fourier transforms or anything, but can he at least not go around trumpeting his own ignorance? Is it really too much to ask that we have leaders who drop the aww-shucks-I'm-an-average-Joe bit and stop taking pride in their own shortcomings?

For the record, it's like this:
Got it?

While we're talking about electrical impulses and waveforms, here's the pattern of synaptic activity in the brain of an average person, and US Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke:
[Cheap shot. Deal with it.]

Scientists are so mature

Atomic Nerds | I Love Biology So Much

Why does LabRat love science so much she wants to cry? Follow the link to find out.

15 June 2009

Giving your ring fingers the day off -or- Do programmers type funny?

dispatches from TJICistan | two fisted four fingered tales

My four finger typing method is unstoppable.

(I use my index fingers middle fingers for letters.

I use one thumb for the space bar. The other five fingers and all ten toes are dedicated to to chording bucky bits…)
I type the same way — almost the same: my left middle finger doesn't get hardly any action -- and everyone's always thought I was weird for it. Well, it's not the only reason people think I'm weird, but it's on the list of reasons somewhere.

I've always wondered if this technique might be more common amongst programmers.* Or at least the ability to type quickly despite not "knowing how to type" in the conventional sense. My first hypothesis is that home-row typing has less utility when programming because of the relative frequency of braces and parens and assorted other punctuation in code.** (Perhaps we could test this by comparing the typing techniques of Perl programmers to Java programmers, or even test several languages and look for correlations between typing technique and proportion of non-letter characters in code corpuses (corpi?) of that language.)

The second hypothesis is that programming languages (at least the good ones) have a higher density of information per character, so that the limiting factor in turning your thoughts into written form is more likely to be your thinking and less likely to be your fingers. This would be a little trickier to test, but I think it's ultimately a better notion.

For the record, I'm not talking about whether you can type quickly — I agree with Jeff Atwood and Steve Yegge that you should be at least moderately fast. I just have a hunch that programmers may be more likely that the average office worker who spends most of the day reading and typing on a computer to have weird, self-taught techniques, like my three-fingers-with-occasional-thumb-and-pinky-back-up fu.


* For non-TJIC readers, he is also a programmer.

** Not that traditional touch typists can't type these things, but compared to someone drafting business correspondence all day long, someone coding in C, with it's preponderances of { and } and & and * and = is bound to get relatively less utility from home-row-based technique. Let's not get started on Perl, which was once described as looking like "Cyrillic on acid."

Castro Jr Pwnded


Tony Castro’s Interests Include Revolutionary Justice, Serving The People, And Masturbating Furiously At His Computer | Popehat

This is the face of the generation that will lead Cuba’s revolution for the next forty years.

Congratulations to Miami blogger Luis Dominguez, who pulled what has to be the trolling coup of the year, penetrating the secrecy of the Cuban security apparatus to reveal the Castro family in all its rich, hypocritical glory. Dominguez established on online relationship with Fidel’s oldest son Antonio Castro, posing as “claudiacartagena82,” a sexy Colombian sports journalist. (Really, there was a picture and everything!)

I want to know why the CIA doesn't have a team of trolls doing this sort of thing around the clock. How many millions have the spooks spent trying to embarrass the Castros, and all it took was one dude pretending to be a Hispanic Erin Andrews.

(Also, Tony, you are a scion of the most infamous political family of a region known for infamous politicians, and you still pose for pictures like Joe College. Lame. I want to see some gold-plated Kalashnikovs and such.)

The videos keep coming: Feynman Smackdown Edition



Feynman is such a stud. I highly recommend Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! It's fine autobiography. He lived life and had adventures and was punishingly brilliant. The dude really knew where his towel was.

(Via Mungowitz)



Feynman's bit about not providing laws reminded me of this, from the Wikipedia article on Postmodernism that Special Lady Friend pointed out to me:

The linguist Noam Chomsky has suggested that postmodernism is meaningless because it adds nothing to analytical or empirical knowledge. He asks why postmodernist intellectuals won't respond as "people in physics, math, biology, linguistics, and other fields are happy to do when someone asks them, seriously, what are the principles of their theories, on what evidence are they based, what do they explain that wasn't already obvious, etc? These are fair requests for anyone to make. If they can't be met, then I'd suggest recourse to Hume's advice in similar circumstances: to the flames."

There are lots of things I don't understand — say, the latest debates over whether neutrinos have mass or the way that Fermat's last theorem was (apparently) proven recently. But from 50 years in this game, I have learned two things: (1) I can ask friends who work in these areas to explain it to me at a level that I can understand, and they can do so, without particular difficulty; (2) if I'm interested, I can proceed to learn more so that I will come to understand it. Now Derrida, Lacan, Lyotard, Kristeva, etc. — even Foucault, whom I knew and liked, and who was somewhat different from the rest — write things that I also don't understand, but (1) and (2) don't hold: no one who says they do understand can explain it to me and I haven't a clue as to how to proceed to overcome my failures. That leaves one of two possibilities: (a) some new advance in intellectual life has been made, perhaps some sudden genetic mutation, which has created a form of "theory" that is beyond quantum theory, topology, etc., in depth and profundity; or (b) ... I won't spell it out.

— Noam Chomsky
When Chomsky sticks to science he can be right on the money. (Politics and economics... not so much.) The Hume quote he references is from An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding:
If we take in our hand any volume of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance, let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames, for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.
Sophistry and Illusion! To the Flames! These are phrases that may become common refrains around here. Damn, I love Hume.

The videos keep coming: Free Money Edition



I want some of those question mark pants. Not the suit jacket though, just the pants. Throw in a bowler and some spats and I could rock a Steampunk/Riddler/Droog thing. I'd need some of those armband thingies that keep your sleeves up, of course.

Yeah, that's the kind of absurd sartorial fantasy needed to take my mind off all the of the profligacy of our Wastrels in Chief.

14 June 2009

"Open mindedness means agreeing with me."

... or "Open mindedness means accepting the unreliable testimony of anyone with a spooky story."



(Another well-designed video via Ruhe)

12 June 2009

Silicon Valley and Savile Row

dispatches from TJICistan | More on biotech / industrial policy idiocy

Skeptics cite two major problems with the race for biotech. First, the industry is highly concentrated in established epicenters like Boston, San Diego and San Francisco, which offer not just scientific talent but also executives who know how to steer drugs through the arduous approval process.

“Most of these states probably don’t stand much of a chance to develop a viable biotech industry,” said Gary P. Pisano, a Harvard Business School professor and the author of “Science Business: The Promise, the Reality and the Future of Biotech.”

and:

The state of Florida and Palm Beach County used $510 million as bait for a research institute that will employ 545 people

Wow - only $1 million spent per job created. If those jobs pay $100k/year each, and local government gets 10% of that in tax revenue, and the jobs persist for a whole decade, they’ll have destroyed $460 million.

Or, if you factor in the cost of money, something like $480 million.

Genius!

Cities like Shreveport, where public and private money have built the InterTech Science Park, remain steadfastly optimistic, though a biotechnology manufacturing center at the park was occupied for only six months in 2001 before the tenant went under.

Paul Graham had a good explanation about why tech start ups fail in bad locations, but it's just as good an explanation for why these let's-build-a-high-tech-industry-right-here! industrial policy plans never work.

What are the top cities in the world for fashion design? London, Paris, Milan, New York. Maybe Tokyo. LA? What's the 10th best fashion city in the world? Or the 20th? No one knows. Like Graham says, it's probably so marginal that's it's misleading to even call it a center of fashion. For all practical purposes there's no difference between being the 20th and 100th best city for fashion design. No economic development committee would dream of trying to establish themselves as centers of global fashion because the top spots are already taken and there's no reward to being middling-high on the list.

So what are the top US locations for software design? Silicon Valley, Seattle, Austin, Boston. New York and Denver, but they're pretty far behind. Are Northern Virginia and Southern California worth mentioning? It doesn't make any more sense for Shreveport or Palm Beach to try and oust one of these cities than it does for them to try to oust Milan or Paris as fashion centers. And it also doesn't help to half-ass yourself up to the 25th best high tech business location in the country. And yet bureaucrats toss billions of dollars away trying every year.

Economic development councils try these tricks (always unsuccessfully) all the time. They would never dream of trying it with fashion or finance or publishing, I don't know why they try it with technology, besides that they read some breathless and uninformed article in USA Today and then heard that their neighbor has a nephew who does something they don't understand with computers or test tubes and makes a lot of money doing it. There is nothing magic about biotech or software start-ups that make it any easier to become the new Silicon Valley than to become the new Savile Row.

DC Interns are officially in season

Spotted: DC Summer Interns: Spotted: Bud Light Oversight Authority

Four interns sit down in my section and order four Bud Lights.

Me: I'm sorry, fellas, we don't have Bud Light. We have PBR on draft, though.

Intern #1: (sighs) Fine, four of those.

Me: No problem. I just need to see your ID's.

Intern #2: You don't need to see our ID's. We work for Congressman _______ from ________. (Flashes his red badge)

Me
: Sorry, dude, but unless the Distinguished Gentleman from _______ is willing to use his oversight authority to make the $10,000 fine that we'd get slapped with for serving you without ID's go away, and give me a paying job when I get fired anyway, I'm still going to have to see them.

Intern #1: Wow, "oversight authority." That's more knowledge than I'd expect from someone with your job.

Me: And that's about as much ignorance as I'd expect from someone who agreed to lick envelopes for free.
Ba-zing!

For anyone who hasn't had the pleasure of working in DC: yes, the interns really do act like this. "Ooooh look at me, I've taken four semester of Poly Sci at State U and now I wear ill-fitting khakis and tennis shoes to work where I give poorly narrated tours of the Capitol to sweaty, disinterested tourists with camcorders. I'm going to be just like Sam Seaborn when I grow up!"

(Via Jacob Grier)

Facebook, anonymity, blogging, some other stuff

Facebook's Fatal Error - The Daily Beast

At the minute that tomorrow night turns into Saturday morning, if all goes right, Facebook's servers will be overloaded by millions of people racing to register their personal usernames with the social media Web site, so that their friends—and anyone else in the known universe—will be able to find them even easier. Instead of trying "Douglas Rushkoff" in the site's search window, or laboriously tracking me through your own friends and groups, my name will easily show up on Google, and you'll be able to find me through a simple Facebook URL that I can trumpet to the world.

That is, if I manage to stake a claim to my own name. The personal stakes here are obvious. Doug Rushkoff is relatively unique, but pity the few thousand Robert Johnsons out there. If they’re lightning quick and fairly lucky during in the wee hours, they’ll get something sporty like www.facebook.com/RobJohnson. More likely, their overarching Facebook persona is doomed to RJ1167 or Mynameisrobertjohnsonyesitis. [...]

But Facebook's new page-naming scheme actually brings up other memories for me, ones that hold bigger stakes for the company itself. It reminds me of the moment that AOL, formerly a completely closed network with its own content, allowed its users onto the greater Internet for the first time. [...]

By opening itself to the greater Internet, AOL revealed itself as something of a wading pool. A mini-Internet. Once people could use AOL as a portal to the true, unadulterated, global net, the company was reduced to an ISP. AOL became series of phone numbers you dial to get online, and little more. [...]

Facebook must be hoping the name change will not only make the site more user friendly, but also get people to start thinking of their Facebook pages as their public faces for both personal and business activities: true home pages.

That’s a problem. Facebook's relative detachment from the Internet is not a bug, but a feature. Its only competitive advantage in the Internet space—its only reason for being—was that it was more personal, more closed off, and arguably more private than the Internet itself. Even then, the biggest problem has never been how to get people to find you, but how to not friend many of those who do. Now that we'll be quickly findable via Google, what's left to distinguish this social-networking site from the social network that is… the Internet?
(Via Jacob Grier)

This is actually the first I've heard of this Facebook URL thing, so I'm not sure what to add except to say that Rushkoff is right to recognize that the biggest threat to social network systems is over growth and over exposure. I think he's dead on about this.

Like I said, I'm not familiar with what the features of this new Facebook system are, but I don't think I want to make it easier for people to Google my Facebook page, for pretty much the same reason I don't use my name on this blog: neither this blog nor my Facebook page are the front I wish to present to the internet at large.

Someday I'd going to be applying for academic jobs, and the first thing any member of a faculty search committee is going to do is Google my name. That's a given. And what they're going to find is my professional/personal page hosted by my university that I've created for exactly that reason. It's not 100% business, I've still got info about what books I'm reading and what movies I like and some vacation snap shots and such, but it's true raison d'ĂȘtre is to disseminate my CV and list my publications and present my research statement. Those are the things that I want people to find when they go looking for me on the internet. That is the facade of my public internet persona.

(This is a theme that the guys on the Stack Overflow podcast bring up from time to time. You really should think of the public information available online as branding for yourself. If you don't have a basic webpage listing some basic information about you that you would like people to know then you are leaving up to fate as to what your identity will be in the eyes of anyone who searches for you. And that doesn't just apply to software engineers like them or academics like me. I'm constantly shocked by the number of service people and handymen and small companies whose only web presence is a listing on yellowpages.com. Seriously, folks, if I need to actually open the phonebook to find you, you are dead to me and everyone else under 30. Hire your nephew or some high school student or neighbor to throw up a basic HTML page listing your address and hours of operation and phone number. You don't want a couple of mediocre Yahoo! business reviews to be your only presence on the Internet.)

Friends have asked me why I don't use my real name here, and it's just that I don't want some snarky excoriation of the Prince of Wales, for instance, being the first thing that people see when they Google me. It's not that I don't stand behind my opinions, it's just that those opinions aren't the first thing I want people to know about me. And frankly it wouldn't be any fun for me if I had to write every post with some monitor daemon running in the background of my mind considering how potential employers could possible misinterpret or misconstrue everything I write. I don't think what I would turn out would be as much fun for you either.

Similarly there's nothing particularly incriminating on my Facebook page. It's not like I have pictures of me doing anything illegal or improprietous. That's just not the identity I want to present to the world. I'm sure FB will have some sort of privacy settings so that won't be a problem, but I'm just not sure what kind of person out of high school would want their FB page to be the leading representation of their public, online identity. Probably not the sort of people that advertisers are going to trip over themselves to get, anyway.

Careful and long-time readers may note that I'm not exactly being fastidious about covering my tracks as to my real identity here. There are ample clues and I'm sure any half-motivated j-school student could track down my real identity. No matter. As long as my CV is the first things you get when you Google my name I'm cool.

This issue of blogger anonymity has actually been on my mind recently, since Patrick and Ken at Popehat have both posted on it this week. Patrick points out that the principle reason to write under your real name is that to do otherwise causes you to lose some credibility. I'm cool with that. I don't really care whether people find me credible or not. Every person who reads this could decide I'm wrong about everything I write, and my life would go on unchanged.

I have thought recently about adopting a pseudonym though, just so that people don't have to refer to me as "SB7." Having spent a decade referring to people (not face-to-face of course) by using their brief log-in names to their UNIX accounts, calling someone "SB7" is a totally normal thing for me. I'm realizing this is not so common for people generally, so maybe I'll adopt an actual name just to grease the wheels. Look for that at some point in the future.

(And by the way, Patrick is right that "National Review today is a shadow of what it once was." WFB founded a magazine that was as intellectual and witty and roguish as he was; now they're putting out GOP-partisan lowest-common-denominator flapdoodle like this. Shameful.

And speaking of anonymity and the decline of NR, I just found out that Rob Long, writer and EP of Cheers, one of my all-time favorite shows, and host of the podcast Martini Shot, was the anonymous author of the humorous NR column "Letters from Al" that ran through the 90's. Wonderful.)

09 June 2009

Is Obama a secret Nihilist? (That must be exhausting.)

Is Obama a Secret Muslim? The Role of Reputation in Politics | Porch Dog:

Furthermore, as I’ve already said on this blog, regardless of whether a president, in his private life is a Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, or “other” he (or she) is certain to violate more than a few of their religions’ tenets. That is to say, they will violate so many in the course of governing the country that they can hardly even be considered religious at all. Not only will they violate these tenets they 1) enter the profession knowing it will call upon them to do so and 2) they will persist in the profession even after they have done so and knowing they will be called on to do it again–which violates any reasonable standard of penance for their sinning. So unless we adopt a Weberian model of the suffering political martyr who condemns his own soul to Hell so that others don’t have to, we have to admit that politicians are never of the faith they profess.
Sadly, this is too true. It also encapsulates my deep suspicion of politicians that like to make hay out of their Catholicism.* (And no, not just the pro-abortion ones.)

Anyone with principals considering going into politics ought to think on this passage and either prepare a rebuttal or abandon their plans. And everyone who persists in thinking politicians have principals ought to similarly prepare a rebuttal or abandon their delusions.

* Not because it's wrong for Catholics in particular to do this, but because I'm personally most familiar with the tenets of the R.C.Ch. and because the Church spells out their tenets in a much more explicit way that do, for instance, the Methodists. On the other hand I remember reading some old letters of Augustine about whether it was proper for Catholics to be soldiers, the gist of which was that Holy men can fight the spiritual fight, but someone still needs to do the dirty work here on Earth. At the very best this should get us "political martyrs" who are begrudgingly shouldering the dirty work, not the self-aggrandizing let's-throw-inaugural-balls-with-red-white-and-blue-bunting-then-name-a-freeway-after-me cads we have now. Which in turn brings us right back to The Republic of Conscience in which "public leaders ... weep to atone for their presumption to hold office."

No ambassador would ever be relieved

"From the Republic of Conscience"
Seamus Heaney

When I landed in the republic of conscience
it was so noiseless when the engines stopped
I could hear a curlew high above the runway.
At immigration, the clerk was an old man
who produced a wallet from his homespun coat
and showed me a photograph of my grandfather.
The woman in customs asked me to declare
the words of our traditional cures and charms
to heal dumbness and avert the evil eye.
No porters. No interpreter. No taxi.
You carried your own burden and very soon
your symptoms of creeping privilege disappeared.
Fog is a dreaded omen there but lightning
spells universal good and parents hang
swaddled infants in trees during thunderstorms.
Salt is their precious mineral. And seashells
are held to the ear during births and funerals.
The base of all inks and pigments is seawater.
Their sacred symbol is a stylized boat.
The sail is an ear, the mast a sloping pen,
the hull a mouth-shape, the keel an open eye.
At their inauguration, public leaders
must swear to uphold unwritten law and weep
to atone for their presumption to hold office –
and to affirm their faith that all life sprang
from salt in tears which the sky-god wept
after he dreamt his solitude was endless.
I came back from that frugal republic
with my two arms the one length, the customs
woman having insisted my allowance was myself.
The old man rose and gazed into my face
and said that was official recognition
that I was now a dual citizen.
He therefore desired me when I got home
to consider myself a representative
and to speak on their behalf in my own tongue.
Their embassies, he said, were everywhere
but operated independently
and no ambassador would ever be relieved.
You can find "From the Republic of Conscience" in Heaney's Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966-1996.

I don't have a real reason for posting this, other than I've been lax about blogging recently and thought I ought to share something interesting. It shouldn't come as a surprise to regular readers that I like the bit about politicians weeping for the presumption to hold office.

03 June 2009

Scotland Day 2

Day 2:

Most of the morning was taken up by Edinburgh Castle. Saw all it has to see: Crown Jewels, Regimental Museum of the Royal Scots and the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, Mons Meg, the Chapel of St Margaret, the Scottish National War Memorial and the National War Museum of Scotland. I like the last two in particular. The War Museum had a great exhibit of portraits by photographer Robert Wilson. I don't remember the dog cemetery (below) from my previous visit, where the pets of officers and company mascots are buried. Our tour guide reminded me of my days leading tours in college: same well-oiled delivery of jokes you know are lame, same attempts to sell a site's history by excessively downplaying it, same I know you've come a long way and so want to be impressed but are also cosmopolitan enough not to let on that you're impressed and after all its just (just!) a bunch of old buildings so let's all use our imaginations and not take anything I say too seriously and besides I may or may not be hung over right now so try and work with me here people attitude.


Afterward we ambled down the Royal Mile to grab some soup and toasties for lunch at the Jolly Judge. Here's the Judge looking Jolly:


I'd recommend the Judge: very cozy; food was cheap and good. The barman said they always keep a couple of real ales on tap. We had Stewart's 80/- Ale and Rooster Brewery Yorkshire Pale Ale.

And here's your (anonymized) humble narrator posing with some of his favorite characters of the Scottish Enlightenment:



Further down the Mile we passed Adam Smith's grave. I stopped to pay my respects.


We went down to Hollyrood House, but it wasn't open to visitors because some hereditary poobah of advanced standing was in residence. Just as well, as my father the brother (henceforth MFTB) was in no great hurry to hand over coin to the English royal family. Can't say I blame him. We did get to see a military marching band going through their paces on the grounds, to which I can only say "Opa!" (Sorry, old college joke.)


The new Scottish Parliament building reminded me of nothing as much as a modern synagogue, and an ugly one at that, but what do I know about architecture?

Did some shopping. Picked up a shiny trinket for Special Lady Friend and a clan MacKay necktie for myself.

Dropped into another pub, The Bow Bar, another nice neighborhood place just far enough off the tourist track to be interesting, for an end-of-day pint, and it also stocks a great selection of ales. We had the Highland Brewing Company's St Magnus Ale and the Dark Munro Ale. There were three barristers in for a pint and they were all well-dressed with the exception of frightfully long trousers on two of them. This was well beyond a break in the leg, this was piles of material sitting on their shoes. Is this the new thing in Britain? These guys were like upper 40's to lower 50's too, so it wasn't some Young Turks trying to rebel by eschewing hems.

Another fashion question: I saw a lot of men wearing their suit coats with the bottom button done up. I've always been under the impression this is verboten, and it looks silly to my eye. I don't remember anyone doing that when I was in London a few years ago, so this is either a new thing or it's something people do in the colder, windier northern latitudes. Can anyone fill me in on these floppy trousers and extra buttons?

By lucky coincidence, we ended up at a place on Thistle St in New Town called Iris for dinner. We were actually looking for a place one door down, but we ran into some people outside of Iris having a smoke who said it was great and we wouldn't regret it. We went in thinking it was the other place and didn't figure it out until we had been looking over the menu for 5 minutes. Didn't regret the mix-up though. I had some delicious duck and MFTB had a wonderfully moist pork loin.

01 June 2009

Back from Foreign Lands & Scotland Day 1

I have returned from my foreign adventuring. I'm sure everybody missed me furiously.

Rather than putting together one big amalgam of a post about what I did and what I thought and what I noticed &c I thought I would post a daily, two-week-delayed rundown of my activity, along with whatever related (or possible unrelated) observations I may have developed about Scotland in general. So here goes...

[And I realize this is a bit presumptuous of me to expect people to be interested in my vacation, but is it that different from expecting random strangers to be interested in my thoughts about economic policy or TV shows or sandwiches?]



Day 1: 18 May

  • Arrive at Edinburgh International Airport (via Newark, originating Reagan National) in the morning

  • Leave bags at the Walton Guest House, in New Town.

  • Walk through Dean Village to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art just as it opens. Out front they have the first piece of "land art" I've ever seen personally, Charles Jencks' Landform. I'm pleasantly surprised, as the medium has left me a little cold in the past. ("Okay you can make shapes with bulldozers and back hoes. Neat trick." And yes, I'm looking at you, Spiral Jetty.) It was nice to see someone moving beyond "Lookitme making stuff with big rocks" and actually create some pleasing shapes. But what do I know about land art?

    Inside, I really liked some of the drawings by Vija Celmins, especially the waves. There was also several rooms worth of Damien Hirst, who I'm quite bored by. They had the (or one of the? -- you can never tell with Hirst) iconic Away from the Flock, one of his earlier animal-in-formaldehyde numbers. They also had some of the medicine cabinet pieces, and some of the steel-and-glass-shelves full of anatomical curios and one of the butterfly wing numbers and one of the round drippy deals. I'd seen examples of all of those Hirst archetypes (Hirstetypes?) before, so why bother paying that much attention again?

    [This makes it seem like I'm not interested in seeing an artist's work more than once, which is not at all the case. It's just that the attraction of Hirst's stuff is the (high) concept and not the execution. There's not a whole lot of nuance to the actual reification of a dead sheep in a box of preservative, so there isn't a lot to come back to once you've seen it. Or even heard about it.]

  • We headed across the street to the Dean Gallery. I think the most interesting thing was a re-creation of Eduardo Paolozzi's London studio, more or less in its entirety. It was absolutely packed with old toys and wooden molds and magazine clippings and parts of mannequins and all manner of bits and pieces and detritus he would incorporate into sculptures. Paolozzi also did the ceiling panels of the Gallery, which you could see pretty close up from some of the interior balconies. Liked those; good balance of geometric and organic.

  • Lunch was some squash soup and a salad of mixed greens and baby potatoes in a mustard dressing at the Gallery of Modern Art's very above-average cafeteria. The Scots, like the Irish, have invented more ways of incorporating potatoes into the diet than Samwise Gamgee. More salads at Villa SB7 will include potatoes from this day forward.

  • Due to lingering effects of the red eye flight and persistent light rain we headed back to check into our room and rest up for the afternoon.

  • Before dinner we swung by the Cumberland Bar (on Cumberland St), a wonderful local pub. It was a bit damp for their beer garden, but we enjoyed a couple pints of Orkney Brewery's Dark Island Ale, a two-time national cask conditioned Real Ale champion. This was one of my favorite ales I had on the trip. Although I didn't have any, I was impressed by the Cumberland's selection of bourbon. I wasn't looking hard, but it was probably the largest selection of such spirits I encountered in Scotland.

  • Dinner was at the Mussel Inn on Rose St. I'm a sucker for shellfish of all kinds, and mussel in particular, and the Mussel Inn did not disappoint. I had a serving -- 2.2 lbs! -- of their mussels in blue cheese, bacon and cream sauce, and they were a delight. I would be a regular there if I lived in Edinburgh, without a doubt. If they would just add a coconut and green curry sauce to their six other preperations of mussels I could eat there every day of the week.