Rock Out

Marc Nozell links to Save Grafton and the associated blog.

Chromewalker is about technology. No RSS feed?

Brian Doss on how interns in the government are primarily selected for sexual potential.

But, a there is a bright side:

“When you look at an Assembly person from the outside, you have a view about them. But after working with them, you see a totally different person from what you thought,” she said. “After interning at the New York State Assembly, I’ve come to realize I don’t want to be involved in politics,” said [21-year-old SUNY Albany student Jennifer] Harrington, who has just wrapped up a semester working for the lawmakers.

Score one for civil society over political society, albeit the hard way. One less person with illusions about their politicians and politics is A Good Thing™.

Any comment Carly?

Bruce Schneier writes on warrants, security, and privacy.

Unfortunately, the debate often gets mischaracterized as a question about how much privacy we need to give up in order to be secure. People ask: “Should we use this new surveillance technology to catch terrorists and criminals, or should we favor privacy and ban its use?”

This is the wrong question. We know that new technology gives law enforcement new search techniques, and makes existing techniques cheaper and easier. We know that we are all safer when the police can use them. And the Fourth Amendment already allows even the most intrusive searches: The police can search your home and person.

What we need are corresponding mechanisms to prevent abuse. This is the proper question: “Should we allow law enforcement to use new technology without any judicial oversight, or should we demand that they be overseen and accountable?” And the Fourth Amendment already provides for this in its requirement of a warrant.

Dienekes reports on the Catholic Church’s recent provision against Catholic women marrying Muslim men.

Dienekes also links to a Helen of Troy slideshow of the major actors.

Peterr Lindberg quotes an interesting paragraph from Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino.

In every city of the empire every building is different and set in a different order: but as soon as the stranger arrives at the unknown city and his eye penetrates the pine cone of pagodas and garrets and haymows, following the scrawl of canals, gardens, rubbish heaps, he immediately distinguishes which are the princes’ palaces, the high priests’ temples, the tavern, the prison, the slum. This–some say–confirms the hypothesis that each man bears in his mind a city made only of differences, a city without figures and without form, and the individual cities fill it up.

Mark Pilgrim switched from MovableType to WordPress. Go him.

Freedom 0 is the freedom to run the program, for any purpose. WordPress gives me that freedom; Movable Type does not. It never really did, but it was free enough so we all looked the other way, myself included. But Movable Type 3.0 changes the rules, and prices me right out of the market. I do not have the freedom to run the program for any purpose; I only have the limited set of freedoms that Six Apart chooses to bestow upon me, and every new version seems to bestow fewer and fewer freedoms. With Movable Type 2.6, I was allowed to run 11 sites. In 3.0, that right will cost me $535.

WordPress is Free Software. Its rules will never change. In the event that the WordPress community disbands and development stops, a new community can form around the orphaned code. It’s happened once already. In the extremely unlikely event that every single contributor (including every contributor to the original b2) agrees to relicense the code under a more restrictive license, I can still fork the current GPL-licensed code and start a new community around it. There is always a path forward. There are no dead ends.

Movable Type is a dead end. In the long run, the utility of all non-Free software approaches zero. All non-Free software is a dead end.

Creative Commons links to Donald Rumsfeld poetry recitals.

Deep and Significant

Philip Greenspun proposes a different sort of welfare system based on the principles that people should get help immediately without becoming a different social class and not giving most of the money to bureaucrats.

I won’t say that my system is optimal. I won’t say that I’m smarter than any of the people running the government. However, I do say that American citizens shouldn’t have to go hungry or sleep in the streets. We should question the need to pay bureaucrats to decide whether or not people need help. We should consider replacing social workers and bureaucrats with computers processing reports from restaurants, hotels, and other companies who are actually delivering services to Americans who need them.

Philip Greenspun writes about the book Travels with Lizbeth by Lars Eighner.

One of the most interesting things they both talk about is the similarities between the very poor and the very rich. Namely that they both begin to loss their attachment to material. The poor do not have any or the access to it, so they are not attracted to it. And, the rich could have as much as they want and they know there is always something more they could spend money on.

It’s a very strange thing to think, and they both seem to identify with a “pity” of the middle.

I got a discount offer from Amazon via Peter Lindberg. Apparently there is this program called Share the Love that offers a 10% discount to your friends when you buy something. If you would like to be listed as my friend on Amazon for use of this service in the future, then please email me. This will be particularly useful in the case that you feel we have similar interests in books.

George Orwell writes about the problems with nationalism in 1945.

It is also worth emphasizing once again that nationalist feeling can be purely negative. There are, for example, Trotskyists who have become simply enemies of the USSR without developing a corresponding loyalty to any other unit. When one grasps the implications of this, the nature of what I mean by nationalism becomes a good deal clearer. A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige. He may be a positive or a negative nationalist — that is, he may use his mental energy either in boosting or in denigrating — but at any rate his thoughts always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations. He sees history, especially contemporary history, as the endless rise and decline of great power units, and every event that happens seems to him a demonstration that his own side is on the upgrade and some hated rival is on the downgrade. But finally, it is important not to confuse nationalism with mere worship of success. The nationalist does not go on the principle of simply ganging up with the strongest side. On the contrary, having picked his side, he persuades himself that it is the strongest, and is able to stick to his belief even when the facts are overwhelmingly against him. Nationalism is power-hunger tempered by self-deception. Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also — since he is conscious of serving something bigger than himself — unshakeably certain of being in the right.

He explains many of the problems and peculiarities of nationalism. One interesting example is how and why so many nationalists are foreigners to the group they support. His theory is that it has to with public support of your own group is not popular for the “intelligentsia”.

A great comment on Pacifists:

Pacifist propaganda usually boils down to saying that one side is as bad as the other, but if one looks closely at the writings of younger intellectual pacifists, one finds that they do not by any means express impartial disapproval but are directed almost entirely against Britain and the United States. Moreover they do not as a rule condemn violence as such, but only violence used in defense of western countries. The Russians, unlike the British, are not blamed for defending themselves by warlike means, and indeed all pacifist propaganda of this type avoids mention of Russia or China.

Sometimes when reading Orwell I can’t believe that this was written almost sixty years ago and the same crap is still going around. It really makes you think that not even the Internet and this stuff could cure people of these delusions. See this on self-hatred.

English left-wing intellectuals did not, of course, actually want the Germans or Japanese to win the war, but many of them could not help getting a certain kick out of seeing their own country humiliated, and wanted to feel that the final victory would be due to Russia, or perhaps America, and not to Britain.

At the very end, he writes about what might cause nationalism and what can be done about it. This is a very short section, but the overall message is that nationalism is something that people will always do to shield themselves from others, themselves, and the truth. As a result, it is unlikely to go away and being upset about it is a bad reason to remove oneself from politics. Orwell says that no legitimate intellectual can remove themselves politics really because it will always effect them and thus they will have an interest.

This is the New YEAR

Nate P. writes on how much “Gibson’s cartoon Jesus film” draws on action movie clichés.

Some of the undergrads in my dining hall were making fun of this scene [the "Resurrection scene"] the other day, saying that it’s almost as if Gibson were leaving himself room to make “J2: The Return.” And they’re exactly right. The last scene of the film exactly follows that action movie motif — it’s less Resurrection than it is Terminator or Lethal Weapon.

But I have been struck at how much the film relies upon pretty standard Hollywood visual motifs (in addition to the classical anti-Semitic portrayals of Jews and so forth) to tell its story. It really is the story of Jesus filtered through an action film. And just like with the anti-Semitic imagery and so forth, i wonder how much of it was unwitting acquiesence on Gibson’s part. It’s almost as if he did this without any awareness of the lineages of the various ways of portraying certain types of events.

Michael Feldman writes about unemployment in America.

All of these categories describe people who have stopped looking for jobs and are no longer counted in the “official” unemployment figures. Obviously, an economy as large and as powerful as ours can afford carrying a certain percentage of its population in non-productive roles, and a certain percentage of its production outside the normal channels of regulation and taxation. It is equally clear, however, that as these percentages grow it creates a drag on the economy which will eventually hurt overall performance.

What seems to us the more serious problem is the national attitude of denial which the artificially low government unemployment numbers embody. As though those half million people who drop out of the labor market each month don’t exist, or don’t count anyhow. Those millions of men and women, and the children, old people and pets that depend on them, represent stories of heroic struggle, dashed hopes, tragic surrender to illegal or immoral behavior, the failure of social safety nets, and the elusiveness of the American dream.

If you choose to stop looking for a job, how is that my problem? If these voters should do anything, they should ban minimum wage so that more jobs will be created when companies are allowed to hire based on what people deserve.

Michael Feldman tells another of his amazing stories.

Unfortunately, several of the workers at the Polytechnic lab, including the lady doctor who actually examined Number 5, met untimely ends just at that time, and when Jack went back for the results and the skeletons, guess what? No one seemed able to find Number 5. Gone, vanished, out and about? Who knows?

Jesus, it gives us the creeps just remembering this story. We are literally sitting here shivering and sweating as the memories come flooding back. A good time for a stiff drink, and we hate alcohol. Perhaps someday we will be able to write down all the truly horrifying details of this bad trip, but quite frankly 20 years is not enough distance to feel completely at ease. After all, Number 5 might be a regular reader of the Dowbrigade News.

AKMA writes about post-modernism and The Passion.

If Mel Gibson were a confirmed anti-Semite who wanted to make a film that would engender hatred of Jews around the world, how well would we say that he did? I cited a number of problems with the film yesterday, and I stand by those criticisms; at a number of turns, Gibson’s directorial vision (informed by his interest in the visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich) shapes the visual and narrative force of the passion in ways that foreground Judaic responsibility for Christ’s suffering. That’s bad, and pernicious, and Gibson ought to have had the wisdom to temper his production so as to preserve its strengths while eschewing these unnecessary, inflammatory flourishes. I’m not as comfortable with the film as my estimable overseas colleague Mark Goodacre, who finds that the complaint of anti-Judaism “has been at best greatly overstated.” Mark’s a fine, subtle reader and an expert on Jesus films, but I part company with him here; I think that the scholarly response to The Passion has rightly found serious problems with the significance of the ways Gibson represents Jews and Judaism.

Cynthia Rockwell on Sophia Coppola:

But I have to say that just as I predicted, Sophia Coppola is indeed proving to be an auteur, dealing with the same strains in each of her films. Pro-magic, pro-mystery, that’s her thing. We don’t hear what Bill Murray whispers to her in the end. Mystery. She sings “I’m special,” at karaoke. The sex club is garish–too much information, no mystery. Japan is buffooned but also made attractively mysterious, and she never wants to go back again–because it’ll never be so mysterious again. Familiarity ruins the mystique. Bill Murray’s wifey is obsessed with real-world details–carpets, cabinets, kids, birthdays–and therefore there is no mystery. (It was all the same in Virgin Suicides, the girls were mysteries even to themselves, and jesus fucking christ did that piss me off. Attempt some understanding, fuckers. Don’t preserve women in some fucking mysterious glass case. Especially if you’re a woman directing the goddamn movie.)

Cynthia is teh smarts.

Chip Gibbons explains why obeying the law vehemently is not required of “adults.”

Obedience is not required of adults, it is usually required of children. Since when is the test for adulthood that you don’t break laws or challenge authority? Since when is the test for adulthood that you wait for permission? The capacity to reason is a better test for adulthood. And there is no reason in a supposedly free country for individuals to accept having their lives and their freedom held captive by others who use obedience as the litmus test for adulthood. Where obedience is the test, there are no adults, because there are no rational individuals.

Rational adults make mutually benefitial contracts with each other, honor those contracts and accept responsiblity for them. Children look to be lead and told what to do.

Ross posts pictures from Rome. Wooo.

Anil Dash explains Karma a bit.

Most people in western societies don’t understand the concept of karma very well, or at least they don’t articulate it in a way that’s consistent with its traditional spiritual meaning. Naturally, as a bit of a pedant, it seems important to me to correct this misconception. Karma is something that happens on the scale of multiple lifetimes, like evolution, not shorthand for “payback is a bitch”. Of course, that’s something a bit vague in a culture like ours where “forever” is usually used to represent “until I die” as opposed to, well, forever. Still, it’s an important distinction.

Amanda = Wicked Wicked Good

Jorrit Wiersma writes about his daughter and horses.

I mean, she’s only two years old, and I don’t think we encouraged this in any way. So where does this love for horses come from? Sure, we taught her what a horse is called, and she has some toy horses, but it’s just one type of animal among all the others. She can’t really be influenced by other girls yet, and we don’t show her a lot of cartoons with horses in them or anything. It’s as if it’s some genetic thing, I can’t really explain it in any other way. I’m hoping it will blow over because, next thing you know, we’ll have a subscription to a horse magazine, we’ll be trudging through the mud at the local stables, I’ll be cleaning up horse dung while she’s out riding, or, she’ll even start nagging that she wants to own a horse. Please no.

I can’t wait until she’s old enough to read this. :)

Chip Gibbons can be very pretty about things when he wants to.

It is those dark, cold, wet days of winter that bring us days like today; the daffodils and the tulips just now sprouting above the ground, the trees budding and the snow-capped peaks as background for it all. The spring and summer would not be what they are without the winter being what it is.

You could call it an I-wish-I-had-my-camera day because that is what I kept thinking over and over as I took in the world around me. I wish I had my camera on the ferry, I wish I had it at the restaurant. The mountains, the fog shrouded skyline, the ducks paddling in the water, the cops, reporters, demonstrators each with his or her own story. Over and over, I wished that I’d brought my camera. But a camera can only capture so much: it produces pictures, a record of light, which is an experience in itself, not the same as the actual experience of being at the time and place where the picture was taken.

Friedrich at 2 Blowhards writes about famous mathematicians.

To start with, it turns out that some mathematicians, at least, are pretty good at earning money. I was intrigued to note that Thales of Miletus (c. 624-c. 548 B.C.)—according to tradition, the first person to offer a demonstration or ‘proof’ of a geometric theorem—not only wandered around doing mathematical things like measuring the height of the pyramids in Egypt by the lengths of their shadows, but was also shrewd enough to corner the supply of olive presses one year when a particularly massive olive crop made the need for such presses quite urgent. (That must have paid for a number of years of abstract speculation, huh?) And Hippias of Elis, a sophist of the latter fifth century B.C., who was responsible for introducing the first curve other than a circle into mathematics, considered his proudest accomplishment to be having earned more money as a teacher than all of his intellectual rivals in Athens combined. (He thereby, of course, earned the mortal enmity of Plato, who burlesqued him in a dialogue, but that’s another story.) More recently, Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855), a strong candidate for the ‘most-accomplished-mathematician-of-all-time’ award, somehow found it possible, despite having to raise a large family on a fairly modest salary, to amass a fortune by what Boyer and Merzbach describe as “shrewd investments.”

John Porcaro talks about Paco Underhill’s visit to Microsoft. I’ve mentioned Underhill before, he’s pretty awesome.

One of the interesting concepts he talked about was “companion parking lots.” Research shows that more shoppers often take companions along (spouses, boyfriends/girlfriends, kids), and that they often are part of the purchasing decision making. Giving them a place to wait where they’re comfortable is imperative to them participating at all. There’s long-term parking where someone can wait for 30 minutes or more while someone else shops—I often will hang out at Radio Shack while my wife shops at The Bon. There’s medium-term parking, where someone comes in the store, but waits while someone else shops (the kids looking at children’s books while the parent browses). And there’s short-term parking where someone who needs to be part of the decision can wait for a few minutes (a friend sitting outside a dressing room to give feedback on how something looks on them). Stores that do this right make the whole shopping environment more comfortable.

Read for details on this idea and others.

Moxie is amazing.

Moxie: How much of your income would you be willing to pay in taxes?

Bleeding heart liberal: I don’t know.

Moxie: How about 50%

Bleeding heart liberal: {silence}

Moxie: I’d like to give 75% of my salary. I’d want all of it to go to welfare. And to old people who never saved a dime when they were young. Bigger government! Fiscal irresponsibility!

Bleeding heart liberal: I don’t know about that.

Moxie: Come on, you are starting to sound like a conservative, Mr. Strawman.

Bleeding heart liberal: Never!

Moxie: Say something liberal or I’m leaving.

AKMA on the Jewish responsibility for Jesus’ crucifixion.

Joe, in the comments to Saturday’s post, observes, “Much of what I’ve read here and elsewhere complain that Gisbon squarely places most of the blame on the Jews but nobody ever says how much, if any, responsiblity should be attributed to them. If I recall correctly, it’s pretty much a biblical fact that the local Jewish populace played a signficiant role in dooming Jesus to his fate.”

Scholars disagree about the extent of Judean complicity with the crucifixion. Some pertinent facts include the following:

The post is called “PC or AD?” What does that mean? “Politically correct or XXX?”

MyCandidateCanBeatUpYours.Com

David Carr links to a program to teach kids about money.

I think it is at least plausible to propose that a vast swathe of bad ideas and damaging policies are borne on the wings not of malevolence or even stupidiy, but simply economic illiteracy: a fundemantal failure to grasp how money actually works.

If that is the case, then this kind of thing is encouraging.

Dave Pollard writes about a book on animals and what we don’t understand about them.

In his new book The Pig Who Sang to the Moon, Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson continues the critical life’s work he began with the groundbreaking When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals. Masson understands the importance of repetition in achieving something as enormous as changing an entire culture’s belief system, and he is patient and dispassionate in doing so. Like his previous books, The Pig Who Sang to the Moon is a dense and methodical mix of scientific citations and compelling anecdotes in defence of his continuing thesis: that animals are not only intelligent, but also live rich and complex emotional lives. Previous books have dealt with animals in the wild and with pets, and the subject this time is the most difficult of all: Farm animals, which Masson correctly points out should more properly be called ‘farmed animals’.

I’m proud to eat a vegan diet.

Halley Suitt is amazing.

It was wonderful to have Betsy Devine as my companion for surgery yesterday. She’s the best. After the operation when you’re full of anesthia, they let Betsy come in and see if I was still alive. I was. We did yuck it up and have a lot of laughs. The nurses tell you all this serious stuff about how to take your eye drops every three hours and how to wash your hands and keep them clean and how to not get any liquids in your eye, but of course I had to interrupt 100 times or so and ask if I could get semen in my eye for example, would that be okay and also if she didn’t mind, might I have a pair of those great medical gloves, the kind Glove Girl makes, just as a souvenir, rather unorthodox I know and when could I go swimming and what about mastrubation, when could I resume a healthy schedule of that activity and what about adopting a child that day, I guess legally I was not supposed to do that, not that I intended on doing such a thing, but they told you don’t sign any legal documents.

Chai Latte on dieting and working out.

8. Dinner (cereal). And a little pasta. The anti-Atkins.

9. Now feel slightly sick while checking out the Web. Did Kerry win something?

10. Just now, on my way downstairs to work out – rowing machine and then sit ups. I will never ever have a six pack. ‘S ok.

Sick Sad World

Eve Garrard dilutes her Internet presence and writes about evil at Norman Geras’ blog.

Evil is a concept which is very widely used, but it is also very widely criticized as illegitimate in some way, and it’s these criticisms which I want to examine. But we might reasonably start by looking at what’s right with the idea of evil, at why we might find it useful to deploy such a concept. The world is full of terrible things, but some acts strike us as peculiarly dreadful, strangely chilling, horrifying, alien in some way (which is not of course to say alien in all ways, or necessarily incomprehensible to us, or even very unusual.) Forcing live human beings into industrial shredders, feet first so as to increase the suffering, is a current example which can stand in for all such nightmare actions. These are the kind of acts which we’re inclined to call evil.

The primary question is: Should we use this concept? Why and why not?

Scott Douglas asks, “Is Illiteracy So Bad?”

Literacy’s flaws are many and obvious: Reading can be boring, suggest ideas about how to destroy things, and give voice to people who shouldn’t have one, in addition to a platform to voice that voice. But these are only surface issues — there are whole other arenas that are rarely discussed. For instance, literacy causes colds; case in point, I developed a horrible cold just hours after an entire night reading Infinite Jest. I also discovered a strange raging sexual lust when I read All the Best, George Bush: My Life and Other Writings, and though I’m actually a little embarrassed to say what happened after finishing The Power and the Glory, the itchy rashes in sensitive spots still have not gone away. If we simply give into the will of our hearts and stop reading, we will finally be able to establish the utopian world that great thinkers have been planning for centuries.

[...]

One of man’s most sacred items, the computer, will have to be equipped for the illiterate mind. A computer keyboard with letters, for example, holds no value to an illiterate. Our new, more perfect world will need a Windings keyboard. The Wingdings keyboard, modeled after and inspired by the Wingdings font, will replace the letter on each key with a cute illustration. A formal greeting might therefore look like: :-). And a formal farewell might look like: :-|. Not only do these new communications save space, and, further, ink, but they will also be easier to remember. Many years ago, the mightiest, smartest men of them all — the cavemen — used signs and got along pretty well in life; we should not be so quick to mock this sort of communication as primitive.

Michael Feldman links to William Pfaff on how he doesn’t understand David Ricardo. Yesterday I blogged an article by Paul Krugman on people who don’t understand Comparative Advantage (Ricardo’s idea.)

The iron law of wages is also simple and logical. It says that wages will tend to stabilize at or about subsistence level. That seemed inevitable to Ricardo, since while workers are necessary, and so have to be kept alive, they have no hope of any better treatment since they are infinitely available, replaceable, and generally interchangeable.

Ricardo’s wage theory has seemed untrue. The supply of competent workers in a given place is not unlimited; neither workers nor industry are perfectly mobile, and labor demonstrated in the 19th and 20th centuries that it could mobilize and defend itself. The iron law of wages would seem to function only if the supply of labor is infinite and totally mobile.

Richard on entry titles.

Nobody asked, but my method of entry titles of late has been to highlight a phrase from either the principal quote in each entry or a turn of phrase of my own that I felt was particularly clever (at the time, at least). It used to be that the title of the item being blogged was the entry title, but that got old fast. It makes my weblog look a lot more interesting when the title of the weblog entries are interesting (this month is turning out well in that respect). Entry titles are micro-teasers, especially when that’s all one sees initially in aggregators, and, well, the more interesting-sounding they are, the more likely I’m going to read the entries behind them.

Charles Miller writes about the computer environment. It’s great.

All these ideas fight in the bizarre landscape of the computing market. It’s like watching evolution at work: being forced to realise that Darwinism is a statistical process that doesn’t apply to individual species. You have to have faith the general trend is for the better despite the fact that the most efficient carnivore can have a bad run of luck and die out, while some completely unremarkable scavenger can find itself in a lucky niche and plod along forever.

Except this is evolution played at maximum fast-forward, with an ice-age every couple of years and meteorites hitting the planet constantly from every angle.

James Robertson writes about XML validation and that crap.

I’m already off the reservation with BottomFeeder. It doesn’t handle anything thrown at it, but it does ignore as many problems as it can. I use the standard VisualWorks XML Parser, but I do intercept and ignore a bunch of the error conditions. Why? Because it’s an end user tool, and many of the end users are never going to report the problem as malformed xml – not to me, and not to the author of the bad feed. What they’ll actually do is hunt around for a replacement aggregator that will handle the bad feed. That’s the reality of it, and all the hand waving in the world isn’t going to change it.

Cancer: You’re Gonna Die

Doug Miller is buried under work.

Very nearly since the day I joined the F.C. Tucker Company, I’ve been hearing about how business picks up after the first of the year. I viewed this with some trepidation; I thought I was pretty busy throughout the Fall, and frankly couldn’t imagine how I was going to cope when thing got busier.

Turns out the way you cope is by working all the time. I haven’t had a full day off since New Year’s Day, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get better for a few months. When other agents said things were going to pick up, they really weren’t kidding.

David De Santo on fluoride in our drinking water: It’s not a commie plot, it’s just bad medicine.

For over half a century the government has been telling the public that fluoride is safe and beneficial. It is supposed to reduce cavities; manufacturers add it to toothpaste, and municipalities to their water supplies. Supposedly the only ones who opposed fluoridation were a few lunatics on the far right alleging a Communist conspiracy. Now it seems the left is concerned about it as well.

The Green Party, which is hardly an advocate of laissez faire, has come out solidly against mandatory fluoridation, and for good reason. The Greens point out what more mainstream opponents of fluoridation have know for years, that tooth decay is caused by poor dental hygiene and high consumption of refined sugar products. In fact, it may even give people a false sense of security, by making them feel that they can neglect good dental hygiene in lieu of fluoride. In fact nothing cold be further from the truth.

Tyler Cowen links to a story about how caution can kill you.

…new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science shows that caution can actually kill you. Sonia Cavigelli and Martha McClintock of the Department of Psychology and Institute for Mind and Biology at the University of Chicago found in a recent experiment that individuals who fear novelty—a condition scientists have named “neophobia”—are likelier to die at an earlier age than those who are unafraid of change. It is the first time, says Cavigelli, that a study has demonstrated that an emotional trait that shows up in infancy can shorten life span.

Philip Greenspun writes about how immigration makes Americans fat.

Contrast this with life in an American city. You’re with friends and propose going to a Chinese restaurant. They say “No, we had Chinese food last night.” You eventually agree on Indian food, which nobody has had for awhile. Delighted with the novelty of all the tastes you order one or two more dishes than your group would require merely to sustain life for another day or two. The next day you have Mexican food for lunch and go to a Greek restaurant for dinner. Because of immigration we always have the opportunity to open our mouths to alleviate boredom rather than hunger.

Limited choices make you see food as a necessity, not an art form or entertainment outlet.

Adam Gessaman writes about this:

I can attest to this. I live on what I would call the College Student Diet™. Essentially, it consists of foods that are frozen, keep well, and are cheap. They are as healthy as I can make them given my current budget, but they fall far short of a home-cooked meal like Mom makes. This diet is related to the Poor Person Diet™ although it generally includes a basic knowledge that the foods that are being consumed are generally detrimental to my long-term survival. The CSD™ is driven by the fact that one can only eat the same foods, which were purchased in bulk at Costco, day-in and day-out for a certain period before the portions decrease to minimize stomach churn.

Everything Was Closed

Check out the Thursday Meetings blog.

Real Live Preacher posts part eight.

Kevin Werbach on Cory Doctorow.

Cory Doctorow: “The last twenty years were about technology. The next twenty years are about policy.”

A nice formulation, but, with all due respect, a wrong one. Technology and policy are always intertwined. Both of them always matter. Was the Napster saga “about” peer-to-peer technology, or the current state of copyright law and the music industry? Was the rapid growth of the commercial Internet in the US “about” advances in data networking or enlightened FCC policies? The danger lies in thinking about either element in a vacuum. Geeks and the technology industry love to think they can ignore policy battles, which is just as misguided as policy-makers thinking they can adopt laws without regard to technological reality.

Al3x responds to the same Cory Doctorow.

Being a student of technology policy (or, if you prefer, technology and policy, since there are but a handful of courses that really overlap the two) I’m pretty chuffed by this prediction :-) All humor aside, Cory’s is an insight that I’ve noticed for some time, and what pushed me to ultimately focus more on policy than technology. I like Cory’s prediction because it codifies a place for people like – mediators between geeks and government, as new technological possibilities and the code that powers them will inevitably be met with legislation and policy.

[...]

“An important note for 2004: stop trying to build an Internet without malefactors, parasites, freeriders and inefficiency. There is no such thing as a parasite-free complex ecology (thank you Kathryn Myronuk for this formulation). Some organisms lamented the existence of mitochondria. Others adapted to exploit them and integrate them. Some lament the existence of spammers. Spammers will always exist: stamping your foot and demanding their nonexistence won’t change that: adapt or die.”

While hardly near-and-dear to me, this is a fine point as well. Being everyone’s “tech guy” they know I get many the spam question: “can I stop it? Slow it? Will it end? Can’t they do something about this?!” My answer: no, no they can’t, not really. If they (the government, the lawmakers, the G-men, the fuzz, etc.) can’t stop physical domestic junk mail, dream on. People who have been sold the Internet as a service fundamentally don’t understand it as an ecosystem; they just see a flaw in the service they’ve been sold. But is it easier to convey the true nature of the ‘Net, or try to combat the flaws that plague it with bug fixes and laws? Well, how easy was it to explain email to your grandmother? Case closed. I’ll been looking for that Sendmail patch right after I’m done reading this anti-spam legislation.

Dean Allen on bagels and Heaven.

Not really one for rituals, but on frequent bleary Sunday mornings back in Vancouver I’d journey far across the Burrard Street bridge to the Siegel’s on Cornwall, to buy bagels just out of the oven, lox, and tubs of Winnipeg cream cheese.

It is a salient truth that every human should find the bagel to which they are aligned by fate; for me it was plain (sometimes the poppy) at Siegel’s. I could foghorn on about texture and crumb and a balance of salt and sweet, but they were just really good. With lox, cream cheese, capers, and red onion they were heaven.

(Note: Check out this funny picture of his home in Pompignan, France.)

Rob likes the same type of woman I do.

I want a woman who can show good manners in an expensive restaurant and still sit out a thunderstorm under a raincoat on the side of the road with me when we get caught riding bicycles after dinner. I want a woman who doesn’t primp for thirty minutes in the bathroom mirror after I told her that she looked good when she woke up in the morning.

I want a woman who likes herself and doesn’t feel the need to prove that point to anyone else. I’ll pick that virture up right away, when I meet such a woman. They are easy to recognize.

Mike Pence on Kuro5hin interviews Dennis Kucinich.

Are you frustrated by the national media already discounting your candidacy as irrelevant before the first primary has even been held?

No, I think that the fact that they have done that has now become a story [laughs]. It kind of takes care of itself. After a while people are saying, well, why did they do that? Especially when people hear me. [They say,] “This guy makes sense! Why wouldn’t you hear him?” When that happens people start saying, what is the motivation of not wanting this candidate to be heard? It is not the proper role of the media to tell people, these are your candidates, and these are not. It just isn’t. This is a democratic society and people have the right to their own choices. Americans are particularly sensitive to stuffing the ballot box, whether it is electronically or with hanging chads. So, we have to be careful about the role of the media in a democratic society. The American people don’t want the media telling them who to vote for.

Jane writes about videogaming and how it can be better at Salon.

Gothamist links to the Times on the Italian nympho book.

“One Hundred Strokes” has obviously changed her life. She said she was planning to move away from Sicily, which bores her, and had already stopped going to her high school there.

“The obligations of the book do not leave me much time,” she said, adding that she also had problems with her teachers after the book’s release.

“It wasn’t only because they thought the book was scandalous,” she said. “It was also the envy. You know, those teachers are the most frustrated people in the world.”

Justin comments on the Howard Dean for Iowa game.

The Howard Dean for Iowa game does remind us that the political process is made up of rote tasks performed by dedicated followers – the earlier in the process the better. So as a political education project, it is rudimentarily successful – recruit early and often. As a game? It’s good for about ten minutes. Which ain’t bad I guess. The game begs a strategic element – something to give it replay value. Having more detailed modelling of citizens and neighborhoods would have been exciting – playing politics with social networks, targeting hubs. It is the first US political promotion game I can remember playing, so for curiosity it scores points. And points for reaching out to young audiences with a young medium.

[...]

Ultimately I was curious for more – I wanted to stop the rote tasks, and play Joe Trippi, commanding my followers in the political power pyramid. Version 2.0 – South Carolina perhaps?

Outsiders detect the pyramid best.

Don Park writes about learning english “virtually.”

Learning English is a big deal outside America. For Koreans, whether or not you speak English affects your career. English is taught in school but learning English in America is considered to be essential to properly learn English. So kids of all ages are sent to America.

So I started thinking about a cheap solution. I thought about a variation of a Rent-A-Sub idea I had long time ago that lets anyone connected to Internet control a little remotely controlled submarine. You get a little mobile robot with video camera and speakers that a lets Internet users control. Imagine little robots running around town trying to engage in conversation with townfolks. There will be lots of problems, but lots of fun also.

I would talk to a Korean student over iSight and help him/her learn English in exchange for help learning Korean. I think that would be a neat service – like a Match.com for students of languages to find pen pals and video conferencing mates.

Wendy links to a random blog post of disturbing magnitude.

I need to pass on a very important life lesson. One I learned the hard way. One that you should not continue reading if you’re squeamish.

If you need to vomit and you aren’t near a toilet, do NOT cover your mouth with your hand. You will only create a spew spray.

Ryan Overbey links to the What kind of postmodernist are you? quiz. I’m a tortured conceptual artist.

Dave Winer writes about the Dean and Clark campaigns developing open-source software.

One of the reasons American programmers aren’t competing here (in America) is that users expect to get software for free, and in that environment little new stuff gets created, and we have to keep creating to justify the greater amount of money we make (over Indians). But if all we make are commodities, then Indians working for low pay beat Americans working for free. (People who work for free have no incentive to please users, or even create usable software.)

How sad to see two leading Democrats fall for, even feed the lie that they can create user-oriented software for free. Shame on both Dean and Clark. They went after the little guy. Who wants a president who does that. Not me. Still looking for someone worth supporting.

Michael Feldman writes about Philip K. Dick, copyright laws, and media companies.

Well, what about the publishing company. Aside from the fact that they are a major media corporation, they had nothing to do with the creative or technological process that made these words available to me. They bought the rights to something they probably didn’t even read and wouldn’t understand or care about if they did, from another company, and now they want to profit from repackaging, binding and marketing the content. Fine, for them and for people who want to pay them for the convenience of a back-pocket paperback. But do they have the right to say people can’t access the words in other ways, from other sources.

Plus, these are the same companies that screwed Philip K. Dick during his entire creative life. Dick hated his publishers, even as he depended on them. We owe them no moral obligation for making these words available.

This was a great read. Michael is totally a NBB.

Matt Stoller posts a guest post from a Clark supporter against Dean.

In a recent debate, John Kerry was asked the question, “what has Howard Dean done right?” The simple answer to that of course is that he hired the right campaign manager. Joe Trippi has run the Dean campaign with Karl Rove like efficiency and has run a very effective campaign, for the wrong candidate.

[...]

In Dean’s speeches he often states that his success thus far is because of the people, telling them that they did this, they can take our country back, they have the power to bring change. They do, and it’s good to see a candidate say these things, but Howard Dean is exploiting that. He is exploiting the inherent desire in each of us to bring about change in this world. He is exploiting it because his grassroots effort, through their own house parties and blogs, have created a candidate in their imaginations that Howard Dean is not and Howard Dean is too afraid to tell them that.

[...]

So why is all of this attention surrounding Dean? [...] Because of the great grassroots support that he has raised? If you are going to base it on that then cast a vote for Joe Trippi. You aren’t voting for a campaign, you are voting for a candidate. I would hope that we should all be intelligent enough to vote for the candidate who has the best leadership qualities, diplomacy skills, foreign policy experience, and domestic ideas that fit in most with our own beliefs about the environment, civil liberties and the economy without being duped into the hype of the size of a campaign.

Dean supporters have been misinformed about their candidate and the media has eaten it up. Dean is an empty shell of a candidate who relies on his anti-Bush stance for support but with no real vision of how to deal with our country once Bush is out. He wants regime change without any clear set of goals as to what to do once the current leader is out. Where have we heard this before?

The Yeti has a revelation.

TheYeti: I don’t mind the compliments. I like them. I may be a big strong man, but I still have a fragile male ego.

Yetiette: Have you noticed what the initials for male ego come to? ME!!!!! Pay attention to ME!!!!!

Update: All of a sudden, this makes a lot of sense. Young men are all about sex. Older men are all about attention. Young women are all about attention. Older women are all about sex.

Richard writes about blinding yourself with Partisanship.

Partisanship gets the better of everybody, even Josh Marshall, but at least he’s skeptical when he reads information that would tend to confirm his partisan leanings. It bothers me when people read news that confirms their already-held beliefs (e.g. that Bush lies—as if to suggest that those opposing Bush don’t lie) and dismiss out of hand information that would go against their partisanship. I would be interested to see Lisa Rein (and others) link to and critically evaluate (which doesn’t mean you have to reject) what they read in the newspaper and even more importantly, on the Internet.

I try to link to stuff I don’t necessarily agree with but that is argued forcefully or eloquently. Most of the stuff that gets linked here is linked without endorsement, and although it would be safe to assume that I agree with unendorsed quotations, it’s not necessarily always the case. A truly nuanced weblog links to things that challenges the weblog writer’s leanings, not one that merely reinforces them.

Richard Tallent asks us to think this holiday season.

Something to think about over the Christmas holiday: how much of your present money went to imported finished goods? Where were these presents manufactured? How are those countries doing on the global scale of civil rights, healthcare, education, and the environment? What contribution, other than cheap assembly lines, has their society given to the rest of the world? Where will displaced American workers get the money to buy their kids’ presents? Sorry if that sounds a bit harsh for the holiday, but if we are going to collectively put hundreds of thousands of Americans on the street this year by closing factories and offices and telling them their degrees and training are useless, I think a quick mental accounting is the least we could do.

Charles Miller has great gift buying advice.

If on a major holiday or birthday you buy a girl a gift from The Body Shop, you may as well be writing “I didn’t have the faintest clue what to get you, so I ended up taking the path of least resistance” on the wrapping paper. Because that’s what the gift be interpreted to mean, and lets face it guys, that’s exactly why you ended up in The Body Shop in the first place.

James Robertson links to Anomalistic History on John Hanson, the first President of the United States.

The Articles of Confederation only allowed a President to serve a one-year term during any three-year period. Hanson served in that office from November 5, 1781, until November 3, 1782. He was the first President to serve a full term after the full ratification of the Articles of Confederation. Why then does he not hold a more prominent place in U.S. history? Like so many of the Southern and quasi-Southern Founders, he was strongly opposed to the concepts of a strong central government that was to be eventually implemented under the new Constitution of 1787. Until his death in November 1783, he remained a confirmed Anti-Federalist having stalwart apprehensions about the Federalist vision of a dominating federal government.

Winners write history. The Federalists prevailed over President Hanson and the Anti-Federalists. The once feared centralized government emerged with the new constitution and the powers of the individual states guaranteed under the Articles of Confederation gradually eroded. Unfortunately, the erosion of state’s rights ultimately culminated into the Civil War in 1861.

Seven other Presidents were elected after Hanson – Elias Boudinot (1783), Thomas Mifflin (1784), Richard Henry Lee (1785), John Hancock (1786), Nathan Gorman (1786), Arthur St. Clair (1787), and Cyrus Griffin (1788) – all prior to Washington taking office. Why don’t we ever hear about the first eight Presidents of the United States? Besides the truism that victors write history – The Articles of Confederation didn’t work as well as it should have. The individual states had too much power and disagreed on numerous issues. To make the states more conciliatory toward one another the articles needed to be revised. A Constitutional Convention was first convened in 1786 to consider altering portions of the Articles of Confederation; however, what followed after numerous meetings and months of heated debate was a complete revision. An almost completely new constitution, which is still utilized today, began its path to augmentation. For some inexplicable reason the implementation of this new Constitution also seems to be the starting point for United States Government history taught throughout this country. The American education system has sadly neglected this critical period in American history, an era in which the very nation itself was shaped from the sword to the plowshare.

Kaye Trammell advises us to let our audience know what is going on.

No matter what some bloggers say, we all know that there is an audience out there. A few days ago Will linked toPat’s take on the difference between writing & publishing. Blogging is about publishing. Publishing is about audience.

But what happens when real life takes over & you can’t give your audience that content they so desire? What happens when you — gasp! — know you won’t be able to blog for a bit?

Joi Ito replies to Marc Canter who says he’ll eventually start drinking again.

Marc Canter:

Well maybe those days are over, but there’s one thing for sure – Joi will have a drink – again. Maybe on New Year’s Eve – maybe 20 years from now – but once an addict, always an addict. I mean that in a nice way.

We can try and intellectualize our way out of our problems, manipulating our actions and behavior to suit our health – mental, physcial or economic – but you’ll always go back to being – just you.

I would beg to differ on this point Marc. Since I announced that I wouldstop drinking, I’ve been contacted by a lot of people who have chosen to stop drinking and that was the end of that. I realize that it’s quite difficult and you can’t go back to NOT being addicted, but that doesn’t mean you have to end up drinking again or that you don’t have a choice.

It is strange to define yourself by what you don’t do and think about that a lot. I don’t drink, smoke, do drugs, eat meat, eat dairy, etc. I wonder at what point you stop ‘recognizing who you are’ and start hiding who you are?

I think Joi, and anyone, can do what they put their minds to. And Joi seems to have put his mind to it.

Bentley posts an adorable picture.

I asked Bentley if he had anything he wanted to post before Christmas. He ignored me but magically this photo appeared on my desktop.

Who knew Phoebe could use the camera? She apologies for the redeye.

Jay Fienberg wonders how the Peter Principle interacts with weblogs.

At a certain point, if the competency that attracted readers to the blog in the first place get lost, does the blog author not notice this because their past status is persisting into the present? In particular, for a blog with a mass audience, can incompetence be realized and the blog author not notice (e.g., because so many people still read it and seem to like it)?

This may be simply comparable to popular fame which often seems to surround, say, an artist with “yes-men” who infect the artistic perspective with a status-concerned perspective. And, with artists or blog authors, obviously, when you have “someone whose opinion you can really trust and who is willing to kick your ass” that you listen to, that maybe makes all the difference.

You have no idea how often I type <blockquote> when my outliner is broken. I seem to recall that <bq> used to work in some earlier HTML… bring it back… please.

Norman Geras replies to Ken MacLeod‘s criticism of supporting the Iraq War.

The ending of the Baathist regime is not just an incidental side-effect of what happened. It is the main story. I therefore don’t accept that the war was ‘overall reactionary’. I think that the freeing of the Iraqi people from a decades-long political darkness was – as Ken himself appears to allow – ‘progressive’. It was a boon, a great release for the Iraqi people, a national liberation, no less; and then, more than this, an opportunity for the region and the world. Therefore, I don’t regard support for the war as ‘abstracting these effects from their context’ – as if the context was already pre-defined by something else more general, with the progressive ‘bit’ being merely by the way. It’s a skewed version of what the war was about, WMD and all the rest of it notwithstanding. I would hold this view even if I thought (as in fact I do not) that George Bush and Tony Blair fought the war for wholly cynical reasons. To give a crude analogy here: if someone burgles a house and her only motive in doing so is greed, I will approve of her action if, in order to bring off the burglary, she finds she has to release a terrified family from the grip of a bullying, violent and child-abusing patriarch. I will not think that what happened was overall bad because it was – ‘in essence’ – a burglary; or worry, in my approval, about the burglar going on to burgle others. If she does, we can disapprove of – and oppose – that.

Ken also makes the point that ‘the occupation itself could be the catalyst for a slide into a worse situation than that before the war’. I’m not going to engage over it, because he doesn’t know that this will happen, and I don’t know that it won’t. It’s relevant to say that supporters of the war will have reckoned that the baseline for comparison about better and worse was such that it was improbable that the war would make things worse.

I suppose the most that can be said is that while maybe the result of the Iraq War was good, it may lead to worse consequences. We don’t know that those things will happen, but we do know with reasonable certainty that it will be harder to stop the “bad burglary” after we’ve allowed the tools to be developed for the “good burglary.”

The Binary Circumstance on the government’s fear mongering.

If they keep this up, their warnings will cease to be credible. We’ve had these warnings based on “chatter” before and they haven’t turned into anything. Like in story of the boy who cried wolf, too many warnings about threats that don’t materialize desensitize people to warnings. Then when there’s a real threat, people won’t believe it. Maybe that’s al-Qaida’s plan; increase the amount and detail of the chatter to force the government to issue warnings. Once people start to ignore the warnings we would become very vulnerable.

It’s getting to the point that as horrible as a flu epidemic, a mad cow panic, or another terrorist attack would be, if something like that happened at least we would know that the government wasn’t just making this stuff up to create a psychological need for their promises of protection and their increasing assaults on our civil liberties. We would know that the threats are real and this “chatter” can be trusted as a source of intelligence.

Tom White on the same.

And the impression left with me is this. There is a terrible and real danger of a terrorist attack somewhere in this giant land, or perhaps in several places. Nothing new there. But now that we have this Alert is it fair to ask, What places? Don’t know. So what to do. Nada. What is anybody going to do? Nada. Change travel plans, if any, to Portland Oregon, Portland Maine, Sioux Falls South Dakota, Houston Texas, New York City? By no means, says the President. Go about your business as if nothing were up. All this is precisely where we were before the Alert went out.

But then why the Orange Alert? Think. So we’ve got Orange Alert, and I go to Portland, Oregon, and blooey, Madame Muhammadine or somebody blows up the city by some new and highly creative means. As I speed to the afterlife, will I have been better off in any eensy teensy tiny way for having known of Orange Alert? No.

So what was the point of the whole thing? Announcement: Be scared to death. Next Announcement: Don’t mind us. Next announcement: For heaven’s sake, go right ahead to Portland, Oregon, or wherever; that’s your duty as a true-blue, red-blooded Amurrican. And of course I go to Portland and nothing happens, and Akron, Ohio, is leveled in a blast of some kind. All the people in Akron should have cleared out and gone to Portland, but how could they have known?

Dan Darling writes about why the terror alert is warranted and goes into detail about terrorists threats.

His theory of why there have not been attacks focus on internal problems in al-Qaeda and the success of the War on Terror.

In any case, I think that one of the reasons as to why the US has yet to experience a second wave of terrorist attacks since September 11 is due in large part to three unique factors: al-Qaeda’s grandiose visions of death and destruction, the arrest and later detention of Ali Saleh al-Marri, and the fact that US law enforcement has finally gotten their act together. Let me go through these one-by-one to show you what I mean.

1. The Downsides of Meglomania …

For better or worse, by carrying out attacks like 9/11, the Bali bombings, the Poshipnikov Zavod Dubrovka theater seige in Moscow, and more recently the Istanbul suicide bombings sets a very high bar for the terrorist network as far as its operational planning goes, which is one of the reasons as to why there is such a lengthy gap between major al-Qaeda attacks. While smaller organizations like Hamas or the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam are generally content with killing only a handful of civilians in reasonably simple attacks such as suicide bombing a bus, al-Qaeda favors sophisticated simultaneously mass casualty suicide attacks designed to inflict a massive amount of damage as well as to spread a maximum amount of fear to the civilian population. More to the point, al-Qaeda leaders such as Abu Salma al-Hijazi have previously promised the network’s supporters that the next major attack on the US will kill as many as 100,000. Chopping that figure down by a factor of ten by filtering out the hyperbole, we arrive at ~10,000 casualties, which would be well within the network’s capabilities of achieving – Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing originally hoped to kill over 100,000 in his plan to cause one tower to crash onto the other, creating a kind of giant “domino effect.” However, by committing itself to such astronomical figures, the network cannot easily resort to Hamas-style suicide bombings inside the US because to do so would be to grant America a tacit admission that its capabilities have become extremely degraded since 9/11.

This was sent by me by one of my favourite bloggers and now that I know the site I’m subscribed. Woo!

Gina Smith posts a great quote.

“As long as people continue to believe in absurdities, they will continue to commit atrocities.” Voltaire.

Seth Gordon points to Sean Collins who says “what everyone else is too polite to say about Strom Thurmond.”

The revelation of Thurmond’s fathering a child with a black woman makes him even more loathsome in my eyes, if that’s possible; to him, black people may not have been good enough to go to the same schools or eat at the same counters or drink from the same water fountains and probably even to vote, if that were possible, but they were good enough to fuck and then discard.

Joey deVilla calls me Boston’s deepest blogger and I call him very lucky and haught.

No Wonder My Happy Heart Sings

Min Jung on words and Christmas.

It’s Christmas Eve.

This morning, so far, I’ve had two Hindu and one Muslim co-worker say to me “Merry Christmas.” The agnostic expresses “God bless you.” and the lapsed Catholic, with a hug and smile shouts out “Jingle Mah Bells, Mutha Fuckah”.

Perhaps it’s because I work in a non-hypersensitve, non-uberPC, environment, folks aren’t as afraid to have thier candy canes and tanenbaum’s out.

Campaigns as Software Companies

AKMA on colour code systems and TERROR.

Let’s just note for the record that although we have a security spectrum that ranges from blue through green, yellow, orange, to red, the Department of Homeland Security has actually used only yellow and orange through the twenty-one months since the Bush administration implemented the system. [...]

Question: What is the actual function of raising the Terror Threat Alert color under these circumstances, with these instructions to the public?

I resist cynicism, but the whole deal smells to me a great deal as though the Terror Threat Alert serves mostly to cover the posteriors of administrators in case a terrorist succeeds. That’s why the Alert color can’t go below yellow, and is unlikely to go above orange: letting the color slip below yellow constitutes too great a risk if a terrorist were to pull off an attack; letting the color rise above orange risks raising expectations that the administration disclose or foil an actual plot.

Edward Bilodeau links to Naomi Klein on what runs the White House. (Greed, not ideology.)

The Kissinger transcript proves that the US gave money and political encouragement to the generals’ murderous campaign. And yet, despite its now irrefutable complicity in Argentina’s tragedy, the US has opposed all attempts to cancel the country’s debt. And Argentina is hardly exceptional. The US has used its power in the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to block campaigns to cancel debts accumulated by apartheid South Africa, Marcos in the Philippines, Duvalier’s brutal regime in Haiti and the dictatorship that sent Brazil’s debt spiralling from $5.7bn in 1964 to $104bn in 1985.

The US position has been that wiping out debts would be a dangerous precedent (and rob Washington of the leverage it needs to push for investor-friendly economic reforms). So why is Bush so concerned that “the future of the Iraqi people should not be mortgaged to the enormous burden of debt”? Because it is taking money from “reconstruction”, which could go to Halliburton, Bechtel, Exxon and Boeing.

Metafilter links to Economists on the deadweight loss of gift-giving just in time for Christmas!

Conventional economics teaches that gift giving is irrational. The satisfaction or “utility” a person derives from consumption is determined by their personal preferences. But no one understands your preferences as well as you do.

So when I give up $50 worth of utility to buy a present for you, the chances are high that you’ll value it at less than $50. If so, there’s been a mutual loss of utility. The transaction has been inefficient and “welfare reducing”, thus making it irrational. As an economist would put it, “unless a gift that costs the giver p dollars exactly matches the way in which the recipient would have spent the p dollars, the gift is suboptimal”.

This astonishing intellectual breakthrough was first formulated in 1993 by Joel Waldfogel, an economics professor now at the University of Pennsylvania, in his seminal paper, The Deadweight Loss of Christmas.

The difference between what givers pay for presents and the value the recipients put on those presents is the loss being referred to and, since it’s equivalent to tearing up banknotes, economists call it a “deadweight” loss.

It follows from this insight that, if people must persist with gift giving, they should at least minimise the loss by giving money rather than items in kind.

Trouble is, were families to assemble on Christmas morning for an equal exchange of $50 cheques, the pointlessness of the exercise would quickly become apparent.

Via Gothamist is a skinny vs. healthy Reene Zellweger comparison.

Matt Stoller covers the technopolitical bubble.

Still, it’s clear that regardless of whether the new campaigning style influences Dean’s administration, it certainly creates new constituency groups and reduces the power of centralized money. I am reminded of Dick Morris’s interview, that the era of participatory politics is upon us. I can tell you that on the local level in Massachusetts, there is absolutely NO internet influence on policy as of yet, but new internet influenced constituency groups are emerging to take on the centralized Democratic Party apparatus. The political fights will need to be fought before the policy changes, but think tank fellowships aside, it doesn’t seem like you can separate politics from policy for very long.

Essentially, the Dean community is a new source of political power. As such, it doesn’t write policy, but then, neither did unions or party bosses, but they certainly shaped policy, and the political realities that undergird it. The process of electoral politics enables effective governance, and should Dean eschew a two-way dialogue on policy-making, he would find that at least one component of his political power dramatically weaker. Does this mean that commenters write his trade papers? No, but it certainly means that he’ll pay attention to them, or suffer the consequences of not doing so with a weaker political base.

The Yeti comments on The Winds of Change and the reality of the war on Terror.

If you’re not following this – and actively seeking out information from those actually involved in making these decisions, then you’re listening to blowhards. If Iran is actively working with Al Qaeda, and you have the information now, then the cries of Imperialism if we invade Iran don’t pass muster.

This is very serious stuff. The main argument is if we suffer a major terrorist action that costs 10,000 American lives – nukes can very well start flying. At the very least, we will see major military action again – this time without allies and without discussion.

WoC also makes the point that if several small terrorist actions like car bombings or gas station explosions take place, it signifies an extreme degradation of the capabilities of Al Qaeda. Counter-intuitive, but small attacks means we’ve thwarted their major attempts.

Jay Rosen posts a must-read memorial of Sander Thoenes. I want to quote every line.

On the day he was killed, Sander Thoenes was a Dutchman, educated in the United States, employed In England, published in America, theUK and Holland, stationed in Jakarta, reporting from East Timor. He was fluent in Dutch, English, Russian, and Bahasa, the main language of Indonesia. He also spoke spotty French. He had lived in Moscow and Kazakhstan. He had friends all over the world; and there have been memorial services for him in Australia, Holland, Indonesia, England and now the U.S. The White House, the Secretary General of the U.N.,the Dutch Foreign Minister, officials of the World Bank– all made statements condemning his death.

That is part of what I mean by a citizen of the world. But it goes deeper. As a matter of law, there is no such thing as world citizenship. Legally speaking, you’re a citizen of a particular country, perhaps two, never the globe. But Sander knew how to live anywhere. He could talk to people, anywhere. He could have fun wherever he was. If he found a way to hook up his computer, play his piano, phone his friends, he was home. As a traveler, the opposite of a tourist. He had no fear of the foreign, and no felt need for protection against it. Maybe it’s true that he had a gift for learning languages. As likely, he saw other languages as a gift to him.

[...]

One reason Sander got on that motorbike on the day he got shot, then, was that he didn’t need to find a translator in East Timor, just a driver. Others had to wait. Another reason: he wasn’t willing to parachute in. He wanted to see for himself the damage caused by arrogant men with guns. Maybe it’s embellished, maybe not. But they say when his body was found, there was a reporter’s notebook next to it.

Sander was doing his job, but the point to remember is how he defined his job: citizen of the world tries to tell the world what goes on in the struggle for an open society. If he looked for the facts on the ground, he lived by some abstract and universal values. To understand his story, you have to see the poetry in that. Feet on the ground, eyes on the horizon.

Joi Ito writes about talking to someone versus about them.

I’ve recently had the experience of receiving inbound links from people who write very personal diaries. I struggled when trying to decide whether I should comment, link to them or otherwise shed attention on a conversation or monolog that appeared to be directed at someone other than me or my audience. A lot of people will say at this point that posting on the “world wide web” is publishing to the public and information wants to be free, yada yada… I would disagree. The tools are just not good enough yet. Live Journal has a feature that allows you to post entries that only your friends can see. I would love to be able to add special comments interspersed in my blog posts for only my close friends.

Kristin is too much.

the christmas break has given me lots of extra time to focus on my two favorite fall/winter sports: football and shopping. because *MY* football team won’t be taking the field until january 4th, i’ve been forced to spend the majority of my break indulging in my second favorite pastime. i can honestly say i’ve seen the inside of a mall each and every day of christmas break, and while the massive, churning holiday crowds would deter or at least dishearten any other shopper, i only gain strength from the mall’s magical powers.

Campaigns as Software Companies

Matt May on Dave Winer being against the campaigns becoming open source projects.

So, the only good protectionism is my protectionism. (See also: the only moral abortion is my abortion.)

This argument is so wrong-headed, I don’t know where exactly to start. First off, how is a candidate going to go after the major media during the election cycle? I could swear that the point, at this stage, is to get elected to office. Nobody has the resources to create an alternative network and infiltrate cable carriers between now and when it’s important, which makes this argument a red herring. What they do have, and what Dean and Clark have had for months now, is a steady supply of geeky supporters (and I say that with love, and a Palm clipped proudly to my pants).

Point 1: The point should not be to get elected to office. The point should be to be the person who the people want to be in office. Don’t convince them, be their voice.

Point 2: A candidate could go against the media companies by refusing to participate in the corruption of our democracy and instead actually engage citizens rather than shout at them and try to propagandize them until they blindly support the candidate.

I think these are the important points that Dave was making, I don’t think that he is saying that open-source software is anti-American or immoral, just that there are bigger and better industries that could embrace freedom.

Gregor has a reply to Dave on the point that free software doesn’t provide incentives to developers to make their software usable.

dave is ranting about how free software cannot be user-oriented. i bought a license of manila, and tried radio for a while. verdict: Movable Type has a better user interface than both userland products, and costs.. $0

Aaron Swartz joins the fray and points to user-oriented free software.