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{Tuesday, January 29, 2002}

The State of the Union Drinking Game
It's been a busy week. I'm sorry I haven't had time to post. To keep you busy tonight, check out the State of the Union Address Drinking Game that two Princeton kids thought up.
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{Sunday, January 27, 2002}

In Arabic, one of the words for 'wedding' is farah, which is also the word for 'joy'. I always liked that.

Delirium: What's the name of the word for the precise moment when you realize that you've actually forgotten how it felt to make love to somebody you really liked a long time ago?

Delirium: Is there a word for forgetting the name of someone when you want to introduce them to someone else at the same time you realize you've forgotten the name of the person you're introducing them to as well?

If you haven't read Sandman, you should. You should also read this post from Meg, and this one from Francis. Like Delirium's questions, they're about words.

Delirium: Um. What's the name of the word for things not being the same always? You know. I'm sure there is one. Isn't there? There must be a word for it ... the thing that lets you know time is happening. Is there a word?

Dream: Change.

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{Thursday, January 24, 2002}

Song of the day: "Drivin' on 9," by The Breeders. Oh, but, you know what, it's also "Cannonball."

i know you, little libertine
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The Measure of a Man
Wrote is a site whose motto is "Yesterday's News, Today." Here is the word from Minnesota, 1922.

"An employee of a paper mill company, tired of hearing men boast of their importance, dug up the fact that, according to scientific investigation, the ingredients of a man, plus water, are as follows..."

[ What Others Say You Are Worth | The Minnetonka Pilot, July 6, 1922 ] via Ruminate
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"An original style is the only true honesty any writer can ever claim."

- Vladimir Nabokov

In an article worth reading, Linton Weeks of The Washington Post says that popular fiction writers these days don't have any style. They have anti-style. "Writers such as Tom Clancy, Ken Follett, Mary Higgins Clark, Stephen Coonts, Robin Cook, Faye Kellerman, V.C. Andrews, Jonathan Kellerman, Dean Koontz and Dale Brown are remarkable for a rhythmless beat, and a straightforward approach to writing that ranks zippy, superinventive plot first, stating the obvious second, concrete details third, and language, artistry, character development and the exploration of universal truths somewhere near the bottom of the list."

"These are the new masters of the No-Style style.

Pick up almost any best-selling work of popular fiction today and you'll recognize it at once. You may not know which writer you're reading (a telltale sign of No-Stylism) and you may have even read the same book before and can't remember (another sign), but you'll know the No-Style style when you see it."

What's shocking about this? Nothing? How about the fact that I have read exactly one book by one of these best-selling authors. It was by Dean Koontz (I think), and I can't even remember what it was called.

Linton writes well enough and quotes even better, for example when he notes that "occasional No-Stylists, such as Grisham, Michael Crichton and Stephen King, sometimes try to write with a discernible style. Or, as Ernest Hemingway once said, better than they can." Touché.

But personally, I give Stephen King credit. He did more than crib from Robert Browning. Dark Tower I opened like this: "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed," and the sense of futility and mystery and of a thirst both physical and spiritual was maintained throughout the entire story. You read that book feeling like the main characters lived in a world whose hourglass had long since measured its last moment: time had run out, and the gunslinger and the man in black had kept on, would keep on. It was good. Certainly King's best.

That Litton has a point would be hard to argue, however. What strikes me now, what bothers me on reading his article, is realizing how little of my own literary education has had anything to do with style, with the question of how writers used the language to achieve their goals. My high school English teachers were focused on making sure we actually read our books (something they tended to fail miserably at), and then on theme. This is fine, since ideas are more fundamental than the vehicle that delivers them. But how rarely we studied the vehicle. At some point, students have been educated enough in the "moral of the story." But these days everyone wants to deconstruct, or defend, an author's ideas. It's all about politics, or, if not politics, then plot. Style is like the forgotten older sister in a Jane Austen story. Except, for goodness sakes people, everyone knows that style is the hot one. Who wants to spend time with plain old theme?

Exactly one class, William Rice's, at Harvard, focused primarily on the possibilities of style (an no, I don't think it's just because we read Oscar Wilde). Thank you, Professor.

Here is the secret good news, though. All this time I was focused on plot and theme. I thought, well, it's all been written. But that's not the point. It hasn't been written my way, has it?

[ Plotting Along, by Linton Weeks | The Washington Post ] via null device
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{Wednesday, January 23, 2002}

Song of the day: "Middle," by Jimmy Eat World.

Jimmy eat(s) world. The acronym doesn't fit me, but I like the name anyway. I like the mood of it. But then my name's Jimmy. ;-)

Caught a bolt of lightnin' / Cursed the day he let it go.
What I meant to post today was a paean to Pearl Jam. Yesterday, I guess. Because it isn't just Yellow Ledbetter; it's Nothingman, Evenflow, Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town, Release. Except for Yellow Ledbetter, Pearl Jam is usually sad music for me. Maybe that's why Yellow Ledbetter in particular made Song of the day yesterday.

Today's song cheers me up. Well, it's a cheering-up song; one to use when cheering someone else up. Which is a wonderful thing to be able to do. One of the best things.

The Middle
don't write yourself off yet
it's only in your head you feel left out or looked down on
just try your best
try everything you can
and don't you worry what they tell themselves when you're away

hey you know they're all the same
you know you're doing better on your own so don't buy in
live right now
just be yourself
it doesn't matter if that's good enough for someone else

it just takes some time
little girl, you're in the middle of the ride
everything everything will be just fine
everything everything will be all right

do your best
do everything you can
don't you worry what thier bitter hearts are going to say

jim adkins: voice, guitar, precussion. rick burch: bass guitar. zach lind: drums. mark trombino: synth emulator programming.
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Song of the day: "Yellow Ledbetter," by Pearl Jam

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Ghost Limbs
Quiddity links to a wonderful web site called Build The Towers. In their own words: "Build The Towers aims to raise a memorial and motivate rebuilding of the World Trade Center. It is our hope that people will take part and pride in restoration of this symbolic structure belonging to the American landscape by voting for rebuilding and contributing by sending in feedback and design ideas." The best section of Build The Towers is their designs for a new World Trade Center page. The image at left here is one of the submitted designs. There's also a section with designs for a memorial. This one in particular unnerved me.

The image at right here comes from the cover story of a recent issue of the New York Times Magazine, which suggested a monument called Phantom Towers: "two powerful beams rising from a reflecting pool, refilling the void left by the twin towers with incandescence.‘‘ One of the originators of the idea put it this way: "It’s an emotional response more than anything ... Those towers are like ghost limbs, we can feel them even though they’re not there anymore."

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{Tuesday, January 22, 2002}

New Theories Dispute the Existence of Black Holes
"Two U.S. scientists have questioned the existence of black holes and suggested, in their place, the existence of an exotic bubble of superdense matter, an object they call a gravastar. The two are pointing out that physicists have swept some "humiliating" problems with black holes under the carpet. By confronting these problems, they claim to have found an alternative fate for a collapsing star." (more)

via blogdex

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There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarrely inexeplicable.

There is another theory which states that this has already happened.

- Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

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{Monday, January 21, 2002}

Song of the day: "Sweet Jane," by The Cowboy Junkies (covering Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground).

This song, today, for Mia.
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{Saturday, January 19, 2002}

Objectionable Content's New Motto
I can write better than anybody who can write faster, and I can write faster than anybody who can write better.

- A. J. Liebling


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"As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly." Spoken by Mr. Carlson as turkeys are dumped from a plane as a promotional stunt on WKRP in Cincinnati.
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The Myth of the Rule of Law
John Hasnas is a name that too few libertarians (not to mention humans in general) are familiar with. I met him in 1996 in Washington D.C. He gave a talk that began with medieval trials by fire and ended with my first introduction to the idea of a market for law.

Hasnas didn't open with the idea of competing legal systems or co-existing methods of dispute resolution; he worked his way right up next to it and then ended the talk without quite getting to that payoff. But I could feel that something big was unsaid, something so new to me that I couldn't figure out exactly what it was. Other people in the audience must have felt the same way because there ended up being a group of five or six of us that essentially prevented John from leaving until he explained some of the implications of a few statements he'd made at the end of his talk.

He did. We kept him there for twenty more minutes, and when he had to leave we literally followed him to the door of his taxi cab. Most of us were college students, and one might expect us to be engaged in the life of the mind, but I don't know if I have ever seen another example of people literally chasing after an idea.

We invited Hasnas to a dinner the next week. By then we were getting a clearer picture of what he'd hinted at in his talk, an idea that can be summarized in the question: Is it necessary for the government to maintain a monopoly on the law?

By the time of our dinner, we'd thought up new questions and counter-arguments, and we competed to get them out. Hasnas didn't have answers to everything. In 1996 I think many of the ideas he tried out in his talk were new to him as well, and so the group of us explored them at the dinner table. I wish I could share the feeling with you.

I don't think I've ever experienced such a rapid and dramatic shift in mental perspective as I did in the last five minutes of Hasnas' talk. Even as I write this I know that my words won't be adequate to convey the feeling I had: of a door opening; of a long-known landscape made suddenly unfamiliar. It was like finding a new room in your own house that you'd never known existed; or looking out of your bedroom window to find that your room and only your room had suddenly been relocated to the south of France. But not just that, the new landscape was strewn with treasure, the new room full of books you'd never read all written by your favorite authors, France full of beautiful girls who wanted to divide their time between talking philosophy and making wild, eager love.

Unfortunately, Hasnas' talk isn't something I can replicate here. ;-)

(I ought to apologize to the younger me, who surely wasn't the geeky, eager innocent I just made him out to be, and who would have rolled his eyes at his older self's nostalgic romanticizations. Maybe he'd forgive me. I've got a day job, and I don't get to futz around and philosophize like he did. At least I can embellish my past.)

What I can do here is point you all to an essay of Hasnas' called "The Myth of the Rule of Law," originally published in 1995 in the Wisconsin Law Review. The article is long, it took me two sittings to finish it. I am willing to wager that not a single person who reads it will experience what I did when I heard Hasnas' 1996 talk. His thesis is undoubtedly better presented in person rather than in the context of a dry academic paper. But it is still worth reading, still more worth reading than the vast majority of other things you might read. It starts like this:

Stop! Before reading this Article, please take the following quiz.

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States provides, in part:
"Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; . . . ."

On the basis of your personal understanding of this sentence's meaning (not your knowledge of constitutional law), please indicate whether you believe the following sentences to be true or false.

_____ 1) In time of war, a federal statute may be passed prohibiting citizens from revealing military secrets to the enemy.

_____ 2) The President may issue an executive order prohibiting public criticism of his administration.

_____ 3) Congress may pass a law prohibiting museums from exhibiting photographs and paintings depicting homosexual activity.

_____ 4) A federal statute may be passed prohibiting a citizen from falsely shouting "fire" in a crowded theater.
_____ 5) Congress may pass a law prohibiting dancing to rock and roll music.

_____ 6) The Internal Revenue Service may issue a regulation prohibiting the publication of a book explaining how to cheat on your taxes and get away with it.

_____ 7) Congress may pass a statute prohibiting flag burning.

Thank you. You may now read on.

It is actually useful to put down your answers to the quiz before going on with the article, though he doesn't get to the subject again until well into the essay. Much closer to the end of the essay comes the following:

What if we were to try ... and end the monopoly of law?


The problem with this suggestion is that most people are unable to understand what it could possibly mean. This is chiefly because the language necessary to express the idea clearly does not really exist. Most people have been raised to identify law with the state. They cannot even conceive of the idea of legal services apart from the government. The very notion of a free market in legal services conjures up the image of anarchic gang warfare or rule by organized crime....

The primary reason for this is that the public has been politically indoctrinated to fail to recognize the distinction between order and law. Order is what people need if they are to live together in peace and security. Law, on the other hand, is a particular method of producing order. As it is presently constituted, law is the production of order by requiring all members of society to live under the same set of state-generated rules; it is order produced by centralized planning. Yet, from childhood, citizens are taught to invariably link the words "law" and "order." Political discourse conditions them to hear and use the terms as though they were synonymous and to express the desire for a safer, more peaceful society as a desire for "law and order."

The state nurtures this confusion because it is the public's inability to distinguish order from law that generates its fundamental support for the state. As long as the public identifies order with law, it will believe that an orderly society is impossible without the law the state provides. And as long as the public believes this, it will continue to support the state almost without regard to how oppressive it may become.

The public's identification of order with law makes it impossible for the public to ask for one without asking for the other. There is clearly a public demand for an orderly society. One of human beings' most fundamental desires is for a peaceful existence secure from violence. But because the public has been conditioned to express its desire for order as one for law, all calls for a more orderly society are interpreted as calls for more law. And since under our current political system, all law is supplied by the state, all such calls are interpreted as calls for a more active and powerful state. The identification of order with law eliminates from public consciousness the very concept of the decentralized provision of order. With regard to legal services, it renders the classical liberal idea of a market-generated, spontaneous order incomprehensible.

I began this Article with a reference to Orwell's concept of doublethink. But I am now describing the most effective contemporary example we have of Orwellian "newspeak," the process by which words are redefined to render certain thoughts unthinkable. Were the distinction between order and law well-understood, the question of whether a state monopoly of law is the best way to ensure an orderly society could be intelligently discussed. But this is precisely the question that the state does not wish to see raised. By collapsing the concept of order into that of law, the state can ensure that it is not, for it will have effectively eliminated the idea of a non-state generated order from the public mind.

[ The Myth of the Rule of Law, by John Hasnas, in the Wisconsin Law Review, 199 ]

Hasnas didn't invent the idea of polycentric law. He mentions its existence in history, and other scholars are more widely known to be associated with the idea. Randy Barnett, David Friedman, Bruce Benson, and Murray Rothbard have done most of the major work in the field. But Hasnas gave me my introduction to it, and it makes me feel good, after all these years, to be able to introduce him to someone else.
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The Insanity Test is not one of those on-line personality tests. Go, laugh, I dare you. (via Jen at reenhead).
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At dinner last October, a wonderful girl who happens to share the name of a famous actress told me that Ronald H. Coase is still alive and well and teaching at the University of Chicago. I'd like to meet him. I'd like to do something worthy of meeting him first. We'll see.

This week's New York Times has a short, excellent piece by Hal Varian about our failure to appreciate the achievement Coase is most widely known for, the theorem that bears his name.

A New Economy With No New Economics

There was never a new economics to go along with the new economy. Sure, there was a lot of talk about increasing returns, network effects, switching costs and so on. But these are hardly new concepts; they've been part of the economics literature for decades.

Furthermore, although these are important ideas, they aren't Big Ideas. They explain certain phenomena well, but they have limited reach. Those in search of a really big idea had to look further back in the economics literature. They hit gold with "The Nature of the Firm," a 1937 paper written by the Nobel laureate Ronald Coase.

The Coase paper asked a deceptively simple question: If the market is such a great tool for allocating resources, why isn't it used inside the firm or company? Why doesn't one worker on the assembly line negotiate with the worker next to him about the price at which he will supply the partly assembled product? (more)
[ A New Economy With No New Economics, by Hal R. Varian in The New York Times ]

If reading the article makes you want more (and it should), then I recommend The Firm, the Market, and The Law.
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Internet Old-Timers
Ziana Astralos (is that her real name?) tells of an old usenet thread that began with innocent tales of some members' exploits in the early days of the internet and devolved into gratuitous one-upsmanship (you'll have to scroll down a lot on the page to get to this particular line of humor, but why bother, I included all the good stuff below). There are a lot, but stick with them, it's worth it.
  1. Oh, yeah? Well, I had to *walk* every day to deliver *my* email, six
    miles each way. Hand-forged each one and zero myself, because we were too
    poor to afford a proper Babbage Machine. Raised my first Gopher site from
    a pup...damn thing bit so bad once I needed eight stitches. Why, I
    remember one traceroute that took me 34 days and 3 pairs of shoes.

    You kids just have it too soft these days...

    (from Steve J. Van Sickle)

  2. Ummmm... I was there when Thog chiseled out this thing he called a wheel.
    Yeah. That's the ticket.

    (from Terry Donaghe)

  3. Hey, you know Thog? Dude still owes me three conch shells.....

    (from Brian D. Williams)

  4. That's nothin'. I invented the chisel. {8-]

    (from Spike Jones)

  5. Ha! Hand-forged each one and zero, did you? We only we had ones. And we
    didn't hand-forge them, because we had to make our own iron atoms from
    hydrogen. Some days we didn't even have hydrogen and we had to use
    primordial ylem. We sent packets by carrier pigeon until all the pigeons
    died of the plague, and then we had to invent fire before we could use
    smoke signals. And a Babbage Machine, oh, we never even dreamed of a
    Babbage Machine. We had to use slide rules chipped out of flint and
    Granpa died before his was finished booting up. Our whole village only
    had one bit of RAM. It weighed thirty pounds and we had to share it with
    the neighbors.

    (from Eliezer S. Yudkowsky)

  6. Back in my day, we didn't even have the full set of Peano's axioms. We
    didn't have 'zero', so we had to do without natural numbers and
    addition. We had to make do with scraps from empty sets.

    If you tell that to the youth today they just don't believe you.

    (from Anders Sandberg)

  7. You've obviously never had to build your own pocket of spacetime.
    Fundamental unit by fundamental unit with rusty, broken tweezers handed down
    from the previous universe. You had scraps from empty sets? You're lucky.
    In my day we didn't have the luxury of the existence of empty sets. Only one
    of our neighbors had half a { and then most of the time it didn't even work.

    You think you had it tough. In those days television wasn't even in black
    and white. Everything was in black and white! And that was only years and
    years after anything was differentiated at all! Oh, other people will tell
    you that it was always cold. Bah! That shows you what they know. Back then
    it was always very hot! Trillions of degrees! We had to shovel the
    primordial plasma out to cool the place down. But first we had to pound out
    the fabric of spacetime to shovel it into. Ahh, don't get me started.

    But those were the days! Or, rather, they weren't-- only after we cobbled
    the sun together from spare particles did we get to have a day. Later we had
    to invent the concept of "morning" just to get up early in it. You don't
    know how easy you've got it.

    (from Joseph Sterlynne)

  8. You had plasma? LUX-ury. In my day, everything wasn't even in black and
    white. Just blackness. No photons yet, not enough _room_ for 'em. And
    what we wouldn't have given for just a few piddling _millions_ of
    degrees of plasma. We used to have to fumble about in the dark,
    reassembling ourselves from chaos every nanosecond, barely able to
    distinguish ourselves and each other from the storms of utter

    _And_ we didn't complain; we were happy.

    (from Michael M. Butler)

  9. You had nothing? At least that's something! We didn't have
    anything. We didn't even have the concept of "having". Concepts
    hadn't been invented yet. We didn't even know we didn't have
    anything, because we couldn't conceive a concept that hadn't been
    invented yet.

    We weren't just pre-Thought. We were pre-Big-Bang! Pre-Time. We
    were even pre-Us. We weren't even there yet! Nobody was anywhere
    yet. There wasn't even a "yet" yet. And when the Big Bang was about
    to start, *everything* was uphill, infinitely in all directions. We
    had up-hill in dimensions that don't even exist anymore today.

    It couldn't have been any worse, because nobody had invented "worse"
    yet. There was no worse. Nobody had anything worse. You couldn't
    get worse. We would have killed for worse! When something worse did
    finally come along we couldn't even get that. Nothing could get
    worse. There was nothing worse.

    (from Harvey Newstrom)

  10. You could reassemble yourselves from chaos? EASY Street! [yes, it goes on... - Ed.]

    (from Damien Broderick)


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Civil Obedience
If you guys had seen my Amazon wish list before Christmas, you'd have noticed Étienne de La Boétie's essay, The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude. It isn't on the list any longer because my parents bought me the book as a present.

Murray Rothbard, one of the modern fathers of libertarianism, wrote these words in his introduction to the essay:
The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude is lucidly and coherently structured around a single axiom, a single percipient insight into the nature not only of tyranny, but implicitly of the State apparatus itself....

This fundamental insight was that every tyranny must necessarily be grounded upon general popular acceptance. In short, the bulk of the people themselves, for whatever reason, acquiesce in their own subjection. If this were not the case, no tyranny, indeed no governmental rule, could long endure. Hence, a government does not have to be popularly elected to enjoy general public support; for general public support is in the very nature of all governments that endure, including the most oppressive of tyrannies....

This, then, becomes for La Boétie the central problem of political theory: why in the world do people consent to their own enslavement? La Boétie cuts to the heart of what is, or rather what should be, the central problem of political philosophy: the mystery of civil obedience.

The impact of the ideas in the Discourse was far reaching. Rothbard describes how Leo Tolstoy quoted La Boétie in his The Law of Love and the Law of Violence, and that Tolstoy's Letters to a Hindu, which was "heavily influenced by La Boétie" also "played a central role in shaping Ghandi's thinking toward mass non-violent action." As a source for this last assertion, Rothbard cites Bartelemy de Ligt's Conquest of Violence. De Ligt's book was published in 1938. In 1972, Joan Valerie Bondurant wrote Conquest of Violence: The Gandhian Philosophy of Conflict. Here's the publisher's blurb:

When Mahatma Gandhi died in 1948 by an assassin's bullet, the most potent legacy he left to the world was the technique of satyagraha (literally, holding on to the Truth). His "experiments with Truth" were far from complete at the time of his death, but he had developed a new technique for effecting social and political change through the constructive conduct of conflict: Gandhian satyagraha had become eminently more than "passive resistance" or "civil disobedience." By relating what Gandhi said to what he did and by examining instances of satyagraha led by others, this book abstracts from the Indian experiments those essential elements that constitute the Gandhian technique.

There's one other book with the same title, published in 1970. It was written by T. A. Critchley and has the subtitle: order and liberty in Britain. I'm tempted to follow the trail of all three books.

Rothbard and La Boétie are both worth getting to know. The Discourse was written in the sixteenth century, and there is no copyright. I recommend buying the book, but an English translation is available on-line at The Memory Hole. If you haven't heard of The Memory Hole yet, well now you have.
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{Friday, January 18, 2002}

Song of the day: "Santa Monica," by Everclear.
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"Although the temperature had dropped below freezing and there was ice on the roads, the New Yorkers were confident they could handle the conditions. Six packed into a rental car and set out for the airport. They had made it to the main road in front of the hotel when their car spun out of control and careened into a ditch...

I snapped this picture this morning from my balcony before my misadventure ... Snow is deceptively pretty, isn't it? (A lot like many women... )"

Words and image stolen from Richard. Deceptively pretty women courtesy of God.


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Honesty is the Best Policy Wonk
But by far the larger category of O'Neill's indiscretions are the many things he has said that are true, and that most people know to be true, but that treasury secretaries are not supposed to say. Included here are (a) his observation that despite decades of treasury secretaries suggesting otherwise, the United States government does not pursue a ''strong dollar policy'' and that in any case the Treasury has no ability to affect the level of the dollar; (b) that the most recent House Republican economic-stimulus package is ''show business''; and (c) that the real trouble in Argentina is that ''they don't have any export industry to speak of. . . . And they like it that way.'' It's hard for sane people to see any problem with any of this. Some, for example, will point to the convulsion in the market for Argentina's bonds that followed that last remark. So what? It's now clear that the bonds would have convulsed anyway.

But that isn't the point. To the financial-establishment mind, O'Neill's approach to Treasury Department big-shot-dom is a travesty. It violates the central tenet of Washington financial life: never use the English language to convey meaning. [ Emphasis mine - Ed.] The idea is that the economy benefits when important financial policy makers preserve their mystique and that they do this only when they avoid saying what's on their minds. The assumption underpinning this behavior is that the financial markets need to feel as if there is someone somewhere who knows something that they don't and who can, in a pinch, fix things. Greenspan has made a living by saying nothing in the most complicated possible ways and letting other people infer his genius. O'Neill's immediate predecessors, Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers, took a slightly more direct approach but still stopped well short of saying anything worth discussing. (more)

[ O'Neill's List, By Michael Lewis in The New York Times Magazine ]

Two nights ago while watching television I saw a succession of commercials. The first was for Morgan Stanley, and it advertised their wealth management service. It showed two children, both probably under six, sitting in a well-appointed study. A girl had an open book in her lap and she was reading aloud to her younger brother; except it was clear from her words that she couldn't read. She was just looking at the pictures and making up her own story; "... and then a horse came, and he said 'oh no' and they jumped up and down, and the sky was blue." The girl was adorable, and her brother was only half-listening. He would get up, forgetting her completely, and go to the shelf to try and pull down a book for himself. While you watch this scene, a voice-over (a soft, adult female voice) said something like this, "You can choose bonds over stocks. You can take your money out of the market. You can stop investing altogether ... But you can't stop her from growing up to be a college freshman one day ... Morgan Stanley Financial Advisors, invest in your future."

The very next commercial was for cranberry juice, from a company competing against the market leader, OceanSpray. The visuals were juice containers, and cups, and flowing juice. The voice-over went more or less as follows. "Our mixed juices are 100% real juice, 27% of it cranberry. OceanSpray can't say that. Even their highest-percentage cranberry juice is only 16% cranberry." A visual of OeanSpray's juices, several containers filling the screen, as percentages appear and disappear beside them: 10%, 14% 7%, 16%. The screen is filled with percents, and the voice-over says, "Some mixed juices aren't 100% juice, and some of those are only 10% cranberry -- or less! Our juices are 100% juice, twenty-seven percent of it cranberry."

Afterwards, as I sat ignoring the TV, it struck me what a curious world we live in. The math content of a juice commercial is almost overwhelming, while complex financial instruments are sold without once referring to a number.

You may draw your own connections to Paul O'Neill.
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{Thursday, January 17, 2002}

This rough magic I here abjure
Scientists in the U.S. and Korea have stopped light in a solid (via Hugin and Munin).

By the way, Hugin and Munin are a pair of ravens that act like familiars for the Norse god Odin. Hugin is 'thought' and Munin is 'memory.' It's an interesting idea for a blog, because sometimes the writer posts as one and sometimes as the other, I suppose based on which of thought and memory is more appropriate for the particular post.

Update: OK so it turns out it's just a two-person blog. Oh well. ;-)
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Today the song of the day is my brother sitting next to me, strumming his acoustic guitar slowly and singing "Hello MaryLou," and then "Summertime and the livin' is easy..." and then "If not for you..." Today the feeling is being older, of being more independent from the womb of family. Today I comforted a friend, and yesterday I did someone a favor. Two days ago, someone did something for me when I needed it. Thanks imouto.

Today the funny thing is my brother's idea, for a skit on SNL:
Before there were timers
The Queen is on her throne in the Great Hall. She claps her hands, summoning a lackey. The lackey comes into the hall and waits at the Queen's pleasure. The Queen says, in an imperious tone befitting royalty, "I need twenty-five minutes." At which point the lackey starts going "tick-a-tick tick-a-tick tick-a-tick tick-a-tick" for twenty-five minutes.

It works best if you can hear my brother make the timer's ticking sound. Trust me.

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{Wednesday, January 16, 2002}

Song of the day: "A Little Respect," by Erasure.

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The Shadowy Flight of a Country That Does Not Exist
Belgium is, and has always been, a leftist ruse. (via The Umbrella Stand)
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{Tuesday, January 15, 2002}

Brad Delong makes these points about the benefits of trade on his home page.

  • Opponents of globalisation claim that poor countries are losers from global integration.
  • But if you divide poor countries into those that are more and less globalized, more globalized poor countries have grown faster than rich countries.
  • Manufacturing export growth has been concentrated in two dozen countries, chief among them China, India and Mexico, that are home to 3 billion people. These economies have doubled their ratio of trade to national income. And in the 1990s their GDP per head grew by an annual average of 5%.
  • For the 2 billion people who live in the non-globalizing rest of the developing world, the story is very different. Trade has fallen relative to GDP. Income per capita has grown slowly, or has shrunk. And poverty has risen.
Source: World Bank, through Economist.

People in search of the real culprits when it comes to third world poverty should probably look first at some of the kleptocracies running those places.
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Some Finds
brown-eyed girl mentioned Yaysoft, a new weblog directory.

Firda, the wannabegirl, mentions three (count 'em) new blogging tools: Radio Userland 8.0, Upsaid, and Blog 5.0. Radio is a $40 package that includes a year of hosting (10 MB of space). Firda says that Upsaid "is just like Blog*Spot in nature, only with a native comment system and no banner ad." Oh, and for those of you looking for comments (not me, thanks to Matt), everyone at blogdex has been liking to Yet Another Collaborative Comments System.

I've been thinking of a site re-design, or, more accurately, a site design, since Objectionable Content is based on a template and never went through a design process. Also in the works is a possible move to my own domain, and a shift to one of the blogging tools above, or Moveable Type, or Greymatter. I've been very happy with blogger, but for a long time I've been thinking about some kind of content management for my posts. In particular, I want to be able to tag each post with one or more indicators that might code for anything from a post's topic (eg. Palestine) to its mood (eg. funny), to its nature (eg. personal vs. journalistic). In my ideal world, readers could choose to view only funny posts, or only journalistic posts, or only journalistic posts about technology.

The timing on these changes is not for about six months though, so don't worry.
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{Monday, January 14, 2002}

group approval is not a substitute for intimacy. Getting

is easier, though. For me. I think for some people it may be the other way 'round.

"I had the sudden revelation that no one to whom I talked online knows me. ... Most of the time I'm perfectly happy with this, but sometimes, when I feel overly lonely, it feels weird to open up to complete strangers...

And I took the above thought one level further; and realized that my real life friends don't know me, either. We get to hang out and drink together, but there's a certain distance between us that seems natural to them (but not to me, at least not always).

And (do you see where this is going?) I went even further. I had made it to the bathroom, and I was looking at my face in the mirror. The voices in my head started debating again; the first one asked, "You know what, Tudor, who are you, anyway? What's your purpose, your direction, your goal in life?"
[ Why I should quit Everything (idea) by dwyn Tue Jun 20 2000 at 09:41:49 UTC ]

Fuck you,
lack of intimacy.
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Song of the day: " "

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Madam, I'm Adam
Everything2 has a new Vernor Vinge node worth checking out, called Nature, Bloody in Tooth and Claw? In it, he speculates some more about the Post-Human Era, some of the seeds of which are visible today. Here is a snippet: "The bacteria do not have sex as we know it, but they do have something much more efficient: the ability to exchange genetic material among themselves -- across an immensely broad range of bacterial types. Bacteria compete and consume one another, but just as often both losers and winners contribute genetic information to later solutions."

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Despair and Martyrdom
by Sam and Leila Bahour

As for those radical [Palestinian] political entities that feed on the desperation created by the occupation, they take innocent Israeli lives by exploiting Palestinians in despair while simultaneously stripping their own people of any political agency. They thrive on disruption and chaos, and seek to complicate any chance for a negotiated solution. These forces play right into Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's strategy of destroying the potential for a negotiated peace. Sharon continues to give them fertile ground in which to flourish: economic crisis, despair, road closures, and assassinations....

The US has joined Israeli in demanding Arafat do more to stop the suicide bombings. Arafat only wishes he had the power to stop the suicide attacks. But he does not, for the simple reason that he cannot end the occupation. Israel, and only Israel, can stop the suicide attacks by giving back Palestinians their freedom, dignity and a reason to live. To do this may seem like Israel is giving in to suicide attacks. It is not. If Israel refuses to accept its historic responsibility to end its terrorizing of Palestinians, then it should not question why the psychology of suicide applies to a segment of a terrorized Palestinian people. As Palestinians and Israelis continue to bury and mourn their innocent victims, the world is well advised to remove its head from the sand. (more)

[ Despair and Martyrdom, by Sam and Leila Bahour, in Freezerbox ] via elihu, posting at randomwalks
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The Other War At Home: Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do about It: A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs by Judge James P. Gray, reviewed in The American Prospect (via Wood's Lot).
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Only because I care about you do I cop out in this fashion
Maureen at Reenhead links to an article that came to her via Wood's Lot and which came to them via the liberal arts maifa.

Reading other blogs I often feel that it's my duty to resist the temptation to link to the articles that they link to. It's one thing to find something on the net and share it when, perhaps, no one else would have publicized it if you didn't. It's less valuable to add your voice to a chorus already shouting the same word. I'm doing it anyway, this copping out, because I care about you people, my readers. And you deserve to read this article. In fact, you should share it. Go ahead, cop out.

God vs. God
At 8:48 a.m. on Tuesday morning September 11, God collided with Himself at the World Trade Center, and blew into shards....

To sum up. On September 11, nineteen men, most or all devout believers in God, through ruthlessness and "luck" (if not through the direct intervention of their God) pulled off a mission of incredible difficulty, against tremendous odds, killing more than three thousand people.... it is a safe assumption that numerous devout people of all faiths died that morning, unsheltered by their God, who, if not actively backing the Al Quaeda boys that day, was nowhere to be found.

There is a very simple explanation why the people eager to destroy the World Trade Center would see more satisfactory results than the people simply wishing to survive. Anyone invoking God on the side of the Second Law of Thermodynamics is likely to be more immediately pleased than someone calling on God to suspend the Second Law....

In fact, regardless of whether or not He exists, our world functions exactly as if there was no God. In a Godless world it is easy to understand how men invoking an imaginary God could fly fuel-laden 767's into towers full of people. In a Godful world, such events are impossible to comprehend.

This is why a primary message of religion is that we must not ask questions. In thousands of sermons after September 11, including those at funerals, religious men and women of every stripe preached that God is more mysterious than the quarks and that it is best not to doubt His wisdom. This is the use of God as a semantic stop-sign. In spite of this injunction against thinking, people tend to provide their own tentative explanations (often without believing them wholeheartedly). For example, one of father Judge's friends said at his funeral that the priest could not have tolerated the death of 343 firefighters. So he had to be the first to die, to greet them all in heaven. Note that this statement, comforting as it is, does not attempt to explain why God tolerated the death of the other firefighters, or all the other victims.

When challenged for empirical evidence of God, most believers can only resort to personal faith and mystical perceptions of a presence, intense feelings of otherwise inexplicable joy, etc. All I can say is: Mohamed Atta felt these as much as you....

.... in The Brothers Karamazov, Alyosha expresses the idea which panicked Dostoyevski more than any other: Without God, "everything is lawful". But as Mohammed Atta can explain, the opposite is true. Without God, murder is forbidden by human law; it is only for those acting on behalf of God, that everything is permitted. (more)

[ God vs. God, by Jonathan Wallace, in The Ethical Spectacle ]
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{Sunday, January 13, 2002}

Song of the day: "Blue," by The Jayhawks.
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But Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others
The unequal treatment of Israeli and Palestinian deaths is a long-standing pattern at NPR; a FAIR study of six months of the network’s coverage (Extra!, 11-12/01) found that 81 percent of Israeli conflict-related deaths were reported, but only 34 percent of Palestinian deaths. Strikingly, NPR was even less likely to report the deaths of Palestinian minors killed; only 20 percent of these deaths were reported, as compared to 89 percent of Israeli minors’ deaths. While NPR was more likely to cover Israeli civilian deaths than those of Israeli security personnel (84 percent vs. 69 percent), the reverse was true with Palestinians (20 percent vs. 72 percent).

Of course, NPR is not the only outlet that has misreported the Israeli/Palestinian conflict by downplaying violence against Palestinians. When a battle in Israeli-occupied Gaza recently left four Israeli soldiers and two Hamas guerrillas dead, the New York Times described the story on its front page (1/10/02): “Palestinian gunmen in Gaza put an end to a lull in the violence, ambushing and killing four Israeli soldiers before being shot dead.” The fact that the story inside acknowledges that “at least 20 Palestinians have died violently” in recent weeks only underscores how some violence doesn’t seem to register with mainstream U.S. media. (more)

[ FAIR: For NPR, Violence Is Calm if It’s Violence Against Palestinians ] via adnan.

Think that stinks? Then let NPR’s ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin know. FAIR suggests that people ask him to "end NPR’s double standard in reporting on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and for equal treatment of all victims of violence, regardless of ethnicity or nationality." Go ahead, his e-mail is JDvorkin@npr.org, or you can just click here. FAIR would like you to cc fair@fair.org.

Ali Abunimah wrote his own letter to NPR about this, which you can read here. It ends with these words: "Will you now finally stop your obscene and shocking references to "calm" and begin to report on the relentless Israeli violence that has not stopped taking Palestinian lives and limbs for a single day?"

As an aside, there's a lot of other good stuff on adnan's blog, if you haven't been there recently.

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As Promised
For breakfast today I had three delicious pancakes (oh God they were good) :-) and a mug of tea.

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"Most of us are about as eager to be changed as we were to be born, and we go through our changes in a similar state of shock."
- James Baldwin

You remember James Baldwin, I stole one of his sayings before. This one was cribbed from no slipping.
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{Friday, January 11, 2002}

Song of the day: "She Don't Use Jelly," by The Flaming Lips.

(edits and updates made at midnight to the post on Zoroastrianism below)

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The Man Who Invented The World
Sometimes history is about ideas, and nothing more clearly emphasizes this aspect of history than the sudden eruption of Persians on to the world stage.... The sudden rise of Persian power not only over Mesopotamia, but over the entire known world, has its center of gravity in a new set of ideas constellating around a new religion... The Persians would become the largest and most powerful empire ever known in human history up until that point.


Somewhere around 650 BC, a new religion suddenly took hold. While we know little or nothing about the Persians in this period, we know the man who invented this new religion. Called Zarathustra (Zoroaster in Greek), his new religion and new gods captivated the spiritual and social imagination of the Persians. [Some scholars put Zarathustra's life much earlier, between 1500 B.C. and 1000 B.C. - Jim] In its roughest outlines, Zoroastrianism is a dualistic religion; in Zarathustra's cosmos, the universe was under the control of two contrary gods, Ahura-Mazda, the creating god who is full of light and good, and Ahriman, the god of dark and evil. These two evenly matched gods are in an epic struggle over creation; at the end of time, Ahura-Mazda and his forces will emerge victorious. All of creation, all gods, all religions, and all of human history and experience can be understood as part of this struggle between light and dark, good and evil. Zoroastrianism, however, is a manifestly eschatological religion; meaning and value in this world is oriented towards the end of history and the final defeat of Ahriman and all those gods, humans, and other animate forces arrayed on the dark side of creation.

It is not possible to underestimate [sic] how Zoroastrianism changed the Persian world and its sense of its own community. If the world and human history could be understood as an epic struggle between good and evil, a struggle whose ultimate trajectory is the establishment of good throughout the universe and the defeat of evil, then one's own role in the world as an enlightened people becomes vastly different. This political role in the world was put together by Cyrus, called The Great.

Cyrus was a first in human history, for he was the first to conceive of an idea that would forever fire the political and social imaginations of the people touched by the Persians. That idea? Conquer the world. (more)

[ "The Persians," in World Civilizations, an Internet Classroom and Anthology, at Washington State University ]

How much of the western world owes its character to Cyrus' quest? There had been expansionist kings and conquerors before him, but their ambitions were essentially local in character. While such rulers certainly saw the use in capturing neighboring kingdoms or city-states in order to increase their own power, they didn't operate under the imperative that Cyrus introduced to the world. The story of Zoroastrianism made it unthinkable for Cyrus to do anything but conquer the world.

Once Cyrus made Persia into an empire, he infected the people he conquered with the Zoroastrian story. It got to the Hebrews and from them to the Christians and from them to us. In fact, the story comes to modern people by more than one route. Islam was born among a people already infected. The Greeks were also infected, and so the Romans, and so, eventually, us. Of course, not everyone believed the story. Most didn't convert to Zoroastrianism. But the meme was there. It had been heard. Maybe bits and pieces of it were adapted and adopted by the peoples exposed to it.

Even in Greece and Rome (who never pretended that their military conquests were matters of ideology) the eschatological meme was understood by the pagan people and might have facilitated their later adoption of Christianity. With Christianity come the Crusades, missionaries, colonialism (God, gold and glory!) and the empires of every Western European nation.

But the meme survives even without Christianity, even without theism. It's in America's manifest destiny. It's in the very eschatological orientation of communism, where at the end of history the workers will revolt and communism will spread over all the world.

Zarathustra and Cyrus didn't invent the struggle between good and evil; almost all cultures had this idea. But in non-Persian cultures good and evil were local moral concerns, centering around individual behavior. Think of the Hebrews. What is good according to Moses is obedience to God's commandments. Jews are to have no other god before Yahweh, but they are otherwise indifferent to the existence of other gods and the people who worship them. The belief system of the Jews of that time (600 B.C. - 500 B.C.) was little concerned with questions of how Jews were to behave towards non-Jews, or how the gentiles and their gods fit into the universal story. The focus was not on a universal story at all but on the story of Yahweh's chosen people, the Israelites. In the context of that story, goodness was obedience to Yahweh and evil was its opposite. Such a moral narrative is both insular (concerned only with the tribe, not the wider world) and individualistic (focused on an individual's compliance with the rules of the tribe). This type of moral narrative appears to have been common to Near Eastern civilizations before Zarathustra and Cyrus.

The Persian idea was a moral story that was universal instead of insular and societal instead of individualistic. A Zoroastrian had to be concerned with the other peoples of the world and their gods, because they were all players in the final drama between Ahura-Mazda and Ahriman. In this sense, Zoroastrian morality was universal. Further, given a real battle between the forces of good and evil in the world, a Zoroastrian had a duty to hasten the victory of good by joining the struggle. Since other people and other gods were arrayed on the side of evil, the struggle for good was a struggle of civilizations–in other words, it was societal, not individualistic.

The Persians invented the idea of a universal social destiny for the world. It's been two and a half thousand years since the Persians started this meme. Can you think of a story that's replaced it?
The articles quoted in this post come from an on-line course at Washington State University. I highly recommend visiting their web site. Though not impressive in its visual presentation, the site is a trove of interesting material on world civilization. If you have any interest in history, the site is worth exploring. Navigating through the site requires some care, or you might miss whole sections full of detail. This page is my recommendation for best place to start from.

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{Thursday, January 10, 2002}

Any sufficiently advanced extraterrestrial intelligence is indistinguishable from God
Because of science and technology, our world has changed more in the past century than in the previous 100 centuries. It took 10,000 years to get from the dawn of civilization to the airplane but just 66 years to get from powered flight to a lunar landing.

[ Shermer's Last Law, by Michael Shermer, in Scientific American ] via plep, or nutlog

Scientific American has an interesting little piece on what human contact with an extra-terrestrial intelligence might be like. Worth the quick read.
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{Wednesday, January 09, 2002}

Dear Dave
"The burgers are square because Wendy's doesn't cut corners."

- Dave Thomas

You probably know by now that Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy's, died on Tuesday. Bloggers have been mostly linking to these two news articles written about his death, one at CNN and the other at Yahoo. Either one is a fine read. Dave, born in New Jersey, was adopted and raised in Michigan. His family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to:
Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption
P.O. Box 7164
Dublin, OH 43017

Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital & Richard J. Solove
Research Institute
The Ohio State University
300 W. 10th Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210

The Dave Thomas Family Primary Care Center at Children's Hospital
700 Children's Drive
Columbus, OH 43205

The Wellington School
3650 Reed Road
Columbus, OH 43220
I was surprised by how sad I was to learn of Dave's death; a man I never knew, who started a fast-food chain I rarely eat at. Maybe this is just the ultimate triumph of marketing, proof that if you watch enough TV commercials, you can be manipulated into any emotion. I don't think so, though. Reading the obituaries, it strikes me that Dave Thomas really was the kind, affable, humble regular-guy that he appeared to be in the Wendy's commercials. He and his wife were married for 47 years. And he built an $8 billion business, by many accounts the best of the fast-food chains. Dave was a good guy who finished first. I hope more of us follow his example.

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{Tuesday, January 08, 2002}

Atlas Abridged
"It is I, Francisco d'Anconia, of the oldest most wealthy copper fortune this side of the Atlantic, and don't I want you to know that I'm pissing it all away for a grand reason that I won't tell you!" His perfect physique burst through the door in a mocking manner few could achieve but which he achieved perfectly. He had seen someone do the act before and fail and, after a single try at six months old, was better at mockingly bursting through doors than anyone on the planet.

"Slacker," Dagny screamed with indignation and a pointed finger.

"Yes Dagny, you silly silly woman, I may seem a slacker to you, but after ten pages of explanation you will know that it is you who slack and it is I who serve a higher cause which will not be explained for another seven hundred pages. Remember, I am a d'Anconia which goes without saying that I know what I am doing," he mocked. He was so perfect at mocking. No man mocked like Francisco. How she wanted to be back in his arms. Were it not for… no! He was a slacker! The very embodiment of slack yet… yet he slacked with purpose. Even that was perfect. No man slacked like Francisco.

[ The Abridged Atlas Shrugged, via spudWorks ]

I would like to state for the record that Francisco is my favorite literary character of all time. And I am not a liberal.

That said, . . . so true. heh heh heh. Read the whole thing.
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Sometimes there's just nothing to say
OK, this (#6) is hard to believe. But, suspending disbelief for a moment . . . Japan's culture is weird. I guess every human culture is weird, sure, but I submit the following:
1. manga/anime porn (find your own links!)
2. capsule motels
3. the subway groping phenomenon
4. image clubs
5. telephone clubs
6. and, most of all, ... this (this one only via blogdex)

I suppose I ought to mention that in ancient Egypt, the pharoah and his sister would marry to become king and queen. So maybe we should all chill out about #6.
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In a Family Way
We should therefore not be surprised that the twenties were an enthusiastic display of unchaperoned dating, provocative dress, and exhibitionist behavior. Had it not been for a time-out imposed by the Great Depression and the Second World War, we would no longer be referring to the sixties as an era of self-indulgence; we would be talking about the legacy of the twenties.

The sixties reinstated trends begun half a century earlier, but now without effective opposition. No-fault divorce laws were passed throughout most of the West, the pill and liberalized abortion laws dramatically reduced the chances of unwanted pregnancies, and popular entertainment focused on pleasing the young.

[ Why We Don’t Marry, by James Q. Wilson | City Journal ] (via reenhead, who doesn't have a permalink feature on her blog)

This is an excellent article written in defense of marriage. Despite my recent post about monogamy, I sympathize with most of what James Q. Wilson writes here.

The last part of the excerpt I quoted also caught my attention. I think popular entertainment's focus on pleasing the young has contributed to the erosion of our culture. To pick music as an example, no one can reasonably argue that O-Town, The Backstreet Boys, S-Club Seven, et cetera represent the best that today's musicians have to offer. How can some of these groups be called "boy bands" when they don't have (and can't play) any instruments? What does the word band even mean anymore?

Think about how this "music" is created:

Step 1: Old men who want to make money manufacture a new group.

[ group(grp): noun. 1. an assemblage of youngsters (usually four to six) who can dance and perhaps sing, who are more familiar with bar tabs than guitar tabs, and are incapable of differentiating a tuning fork from salad tongs. ]

Step 2: Old men find four to six boys or girls between 14 and 29, usually by advertising for them (though for O-Town the selection process was apparently a TV-show cum contest. Winners are chosen based on one criteria: marketability.

Step 3: Sign with huge media conglomerate where old men have connections.

Step 4: Flood the airwaves and television stations with one of the group's songs until repetition drills it into the minds of your average teens

Step 5: When the group's popularity fades, go back to step 1 and repeat.

Nowhere in this process does art come into play. Nowhere is the audience challenged to live up to the creative explorations of the musicians. Meanwhile, people who write their own words and music and play their own instruments are much harder to find and hear.

I think this does come from a focus on pleasing the young, as opposed to educating them. Kids can be educated in art as much as they can in academic subjects. What if teenagers were challenged to live up to great art, instead of society sacrificing great art in order to produce more of the kind of drivel that a twelve-year-old can appreciate without trying?

Maybe that would be a damned good world.

Regardless, go read James Q. Wilson's article. It's about marriage, private property, welfare, and culture—not the music industry.
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{Saturday, January 05, 2002}

Song of the day: "Vaseline Machine Gun," by Leo Kottke.
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Ask Yourself
Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true? Does it improve on the silence?
- Sai Baba
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Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.
- Voltaire

And, with that, here follow a few posts of links taken from other bloggers.
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A Passage to India
The last of my thefts from Boing Boing (for today), this is a story about poverty, corruption, and disease in Mumbai.

A small hand takes mine. A tiny three-year-old half-naked boy with a bowl hair cut and his trousers hanging off wants something. I offer him 20 rupees and am astonished when he pushes it back at me. He quietly says 'Milk powder'. What? 'Milk powder'. His sister needs it. 'Where can we get it?' 'Here...' He drags me to a street stall. A tin with 60 servings is 250 rupees, about £4, way beyond the pockets of most of the people here who need it....

Of course I buy the stuff for the heartbreaking boy and inside my stomach churns. A girl arrives and our Liverpool friends buy her the same. I give the boy the powder and he hugs it like a toy. We ask him his sister's name. 'Shika. She will grow big.' We go to a bar and try not to weep for this awful place which has made it necessary for that wee boy to understand the difference between 20 rupees and milk powder. We absolutely f**king hate it here. A friend emails to say that when she went to Mumbai, she cowered in her room and wept.

[ Suffer the little children: Red van man, by Mark Cousins | The Sunday Herald ]

This article is part of a series. I haven't been able to link to the rest of the stories in the series because the Herald's search function is down, but I will try again later.

UPDATE (12:20AM 1/6/2002): The wonderful and talented Miss Claire Berlinksi noticed this post and had this to say:
. . . the milk powder thing is a well-knowb tourist scam. Kids beg for it, tourists' hearts break, they buy it in jumbo-sized boxes for the kids, the moms re-sell it for a profit. I of course bought loads of baby milk in my first weeks in India until I learned how it worked. Not to say there isn't an enormous amount of childhood malnutrition in India. But generally, this is a scam.
Assuming Claire is right, then this occurence is worth an entire post of its own, about how the web spreads (mis)information.

The world that's relevant to a person used to be small: their Lord's fief (which they might not have been allowed to leave), their town, maybe their region (a good friend of mine had never been out of New England up to her 20th birthday). That meant you could directly experience most of the world that was relevant to you.

Nowadays the whole planet might be relevant to you, but it isn't feasible to visit all of it and get a first-hand understanding of what's going on. So you read the papers, you watch the news, you follow independent media on the internet. Now your experience of things that are relevant to you is necessarily mediated.

This mediation makes it possible to know about things you'd never have heard of before (think how little an Eglishman of 300 years ago knew about the life of a Chinaman, and how much one could know today) – but, as technology brings more of the world into your circle of relevance, errors in your understanding might be more likely. Whereas in earlier times, our Englishman would know about the world he directly experienced and consign the rest to ignorance, a modern person will believe they "know" about aspects of the world that they have never experienced directly. This gap between knowledge and experience is new, thanks to technology. It's the result of a good thing – the expansion of our knowledge to more of the world – but the spreading of the Mumbai rice powder meme is an example of its dangers.

People living increasingly mediated lifestyles aren't always going to have the personal experience to distinguish fact from fiction. We rely on the web or their other information sources to build our picture of the world. Luckily, Claire's debunking suggests that the web might be able to correct errors as efficiently as it spreads them (if she is right. I still haven't experienced India myself!).

Do we have a net benefit overall?

There are other implications that follow from this stuff. Maybe I'll get into them in another post.
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Like the post below and the one above, this too is via Boing Boing.

Everyone's got their breaking point
With me it's spiders
With you it's me

- The Tragically Hip, "Thugs"

"The parable of those who take protectors
other than Allah is that of the spider,
who builds to itself a house; but truly
the flimsiest of houses is the spider's
web; if they but knew."
Quran 29:41

The Spiders is a beautifully illustrated (look at the backgrounds) and very well-written comic about Afghanistan. It comes in three four parts, of which two are up right now. I highly recommend you read it, with a caveat being that I found Part Two to be much better than Part One.

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The Stars My Destination
Cory Doctorow over at Boing Boing mentioned this brief description of a new method of interstellar travel thought up by science fiction writer Karl Schroeder (who co-wrote The Complete Idot's Guide to Publishing Science Fiction with Cory). For a kid who used to draw space-ships on graphing paper and plan out imaginary missions to Alpha Centauri, what Karl writes is cool stuff.

The huge distances between Earth and the nearest star make it necessary for us to conceive of extremely high-velocity starships if interstellar travel is to be possible with durations less than a human lifetime. In practise this means accelerating the starship to some percent of lightspeed. The problem with doing this, of course, is that truly phenomenal amounts of power are required to boost a ship to such velocities. Estimates run as high as $130 trillion to accelerate a 1 tonne payload to 30% lightspeed....

Various propulsion schemes have been proposed, from nuclear fusion to antimatter to laser sails. Until recently, laser sailing seemed like the most economical and easiest way, even though it still requires that we build lasers that draw more power than all of human civilization is now capable of producing.


Travelling between the stars is undeniably the most daunting project humanity has ever concieved. The distances involved are literally impossible for the imagination to grasp, and the velocities required to traverse them are many orders of magnitude greater than anything we've been able to attain to date. One thing remains true, however: the more we analyze the problems, the more they seem to be tractable, if not now then within the relatively near future. Much of what we have to do in order to conquer these distances is to think about them, and about how we will travel, in innovative ways. Each innovation will later look obvious in hindsight.

[ Cyclers 1: The Interstellar Cycler, and Cyclers 2: The Cycler Civilisation, by Karl Schroeder ] (via Boing Boing)

I've left out the key parts as encouragement for you to read more. So go ahead.
I also found this little toy via Boing Boing too: a "wireframe animation studio, in which you manipulate a fascinating, detailed human form."

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Artists Tricked Police to Save Work With Banned Images
"If he had been discovered, Asefi could have been beaten, whipped, jailed or even executed by the Taliban for so blatantly defying its version of Islamic law."

[ Taliban Had Wrong Impression, by Kevin Sullivan | Washington Post Foreign Service ] (via liberal arts mafia)

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I get bizzay!
Here is your dose of reenhead:Snagging other people's blogging is so much easier than doing my own. Especially with convenient one-stop shopping. Reenhead's blog also has this illuminating quotation:

"Poking you. Poking you."..."Hitting your knee. Hitting your knee."--How Rachel and Mike kept each other awake during Vanilla Sky.


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{Friday, January 04, 2002}

This is so great, and it's not what you think. I did not take the What Should Your New Year's Resolution Be? quiz. I was just over at beverage girl's site and I saw her results. She ought to incite a revolution through her art, says the quiz. The image that went along with it was so priceless I felt I had to show you. So here it is:

If only it were possible, eh? *grin*

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The Second Annual Weblog Awards
That's right, the 2002 Bloggies are here. Aren't you glad you voted? Don't you wish everybody did?

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Rule #1: Monogamy
A long time ago I talked about how a rule is a self-imposed limit that has utility.

Monogamy might be such a rule. Choosing to be monogamous is a dramatic self-imposed limit on the ways you can interact with people, dividing your possibilities into two groups: intimate relationships, of which you are allowed one, and non-intimate relationships, which are theoretically unlimited (though in practice these are also limited).

It's no revelation that this rule has a tremendous impact on an individual's life. Intimate relationships are just about one of the best things going, something that most people want and want badly. Why would so many of us agree to limit ourselves to just one?

[ Am I really long-winded? Sorry. ]

The arguments for monogamy that I've always found most convincing have to do with time and the Sophie's Choice problem. This is how they go:

(1) Time: Love may be infinite, but time is finite. There are only so many hours in the day that you can devote to your love. Whether it's work, the kids, football or the internet, anything that takes time away from your lover is essentially competing with them for your attention (love). The world's other commitments and responsibilities take time away from love and this causes stress even in monogamous relationships. How much more difficult is it without monogamy, when you could have two or more lovers making legitimate demands on your time?

That is a logistical argument, but it becomes something else when you think about the issue of urgent claims. In monogamy, the lovers typically acknowledge the relationship as (one of?) the most important aspect of each other's lives. This means that lovers can make urgent claims on each other's time. When a lover makes an urgent claim, all other commitments are dropped. Is your wife in the hospital? Then you come home from work, you tell the buddy that you can't make his wedding, the judge that you won't be there for jury duty.

Now we are not talking about logistics, because there can only be one urgent claim at a time. In monogamy, that's just fine. But what about outside of monogamy? What do you do if both (or all) of your lovers make an urgent claim at the same time?

(2) Sophie's Choice: The story goes like this:
When she arrived at Auschwitz — on a "beautiful spring night" — she was ordered to select one of her children, who would then be sent to the ovens; the other would be spared.
In other words, she had two urgent claims being made. Sophie's Choice is actually a different version of the urgent claim problem, and it shows that such claims aren't necessarily limited to a person's time.

Monogamy might be a tool to eliminate the problem of competing claims. By choosing to be monogamous, you identify the person that is your highest value, and you commit yourself to them. You sacrifice the ability to be with any other person intimately — a big deal — and you gain the ease of knowing that you will never have to face a Sophie's Choice.

The problem is that this argument is flawed. The main flaw to me is that people live with the possibility of competing claims, and with a literal Sophie's Choice, all the time. Parents might face competing claims if they have two children. Children might face them from their parents or siblings. Anyone with deep emotional attachments to other people may face competing claims, particularly in the case of family where the claimants may expect their claims to supercede all others.

In terms of emotional commitment, I imagine that having a child is similar to having a lover. Yet people never hesitate to have a second child on the grounds that the first child deserves monogamy. People never hesitate to have a first child on the grounds that their lover deserves monogamy. Sure, the issue of sex and sexual jealousy don't come into play in these cases, but the other very real issues of time, of emotional commitment, and of urgent claims do come into play. Who do you choose to save if one child must die, or if either a child or a lover must die? People live with the possibility of having to make such horrible choices every day, and they choose to do so because the value of bringing a child into their lives is considered to far outweigh the risk.

So can you really use this as an argument for monogamy? Does the possible value of a second (or third, etc.) intimate relationship outweigh the risk of harm it might bring? Should we all be re-examining the issue?

My musings on this topic were triggered by Jane Duvall's Polyamory FAQ, and you might want to go read it. She's in a very different headspace than I am, and a different place in her real life, so her perspective isn't theoretical.
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