I've mixed feelings on California's State Supreme Court upholding our constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. On the one hand it means same-sex couples have to wait still longer before being granted the basic human rights every m/f couple enjoys today in our state. On the one hand it gives us, the voters, one more chance to do the right thing by overturning this knee-jerk throwback to a previous era.
It's a sobering thought that, if my wife and I had been born into our grandparents' generation, it would have been illegal for us to be married in California, because she's Asian and I'm Caucasian. That ban was also overturned by the California Supreme Court, who in 1948 declared that our anti-miscegenation law violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Only that time there was no way that 52% of the voters could overturn that right simply by passing a ballot measure.
Fear and ignorance always bring out the worst in us, and the rights enshrined in a democracy's constitution are there, in part, to prevent a majority from acting on those base emotions in a way that tramples a minority. In this case, the State Supreme Court has declared that we voters need to grow up and do the right thing ourselves. I hope we do it soon.
Frankie Manning, one of the founding fathers of Lindy Hop and originator of the air step (aerial), died peacefully in his sleep this morning just a month before his 95th birthday. Since he came out of retirement in 1987 Frankie toured the world teaching Lindy, the original swing dance, to a whole new generation of dancers.
I had the pleasure of meeting Frankie at several of the dance workshops, camps and talks that he taught over the years. He had an incredibly infectious energy and sense of humor about life and the dancing and music he loved, which I think did much to make the swing dance community such a welcoming place to be. He will be missed.
Mark Oppenheimer in Slate gives odds about what the next minority group will be to win the White House. Looks like even without those Burning Man photos floating around the Net my chances are slim:
The atheists: When the lion lies down with the lamb, when the president is a Republican Muslim and the Democratic speaker of the House is a vegan Mormon lesbian, when the secretary of defense is a Jain pacifist from the Green Party, they will all agree on one thing: atheists need not apply. A 2007 Gallup poll found that 53 percent of Americans would not vote for an atheist for president. (By contrast, only 43 percent wouldn't vote for a homosexual, and only 24 percent wouldn't vote for a Mormon.) As Ronald Lindsay, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, told me in an e-mail: "Atheism spells political death in this country."
Indeed. Only one current congressman has confessed to being an atheist: Rep. Pete Stark, a Democrat from the lefty East Bay region of Northern California. If he ever ran for president, he would need God's help just as surely as he wouldn't ask for it.
I suppose I can take solace that Stark happens to be my congressman. So at least I'm represented. :)
(Via Political Animal)
Seen yesterday in San Jose: a group of seven or eight women, all between 50 and 65 years old, all wearing purple with a red hat that doesn't go. And you know, they all looked fabulous :).
This just felt very wrong to me: an interactive exhibit at Portland's Forestry Museum where city kids can have the real simulated experience of planting trees... with plastic trees and plastic dirt.
Bruce Schneier has a nice piece echoing the idea that the goal of terrorism isn't to blow up planes and kill people, it's terror itself.
According to recent polls, 50% of Americans believe that weapons of mass destruction were actually found in Iraq, and at least back in December 24% of Americans believed that several of the hijackers who attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11 were Iraqis. And a presumably different 36% of Americans believe it is either "very likely" or "somewhat likely" that federal officials either participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or deliberately took no action to stop them, and another 16% of Americas speculate that the World Trade Center collapsed because of government-planted explosives rather than as a result of burning jet fuel.
So on the right we have fundamental ignorance about the facts (no doubt encouraged by scurrilous politicians) and on the left there's a rising belief in ill-supported conspiracy theories (no doubt fanned by the Loose Change video). To the remaining 14%, please hang in there — you're all we've got left in an increasingly reality-free nation.
(Links via On The Media.)
The phrase all the newspapers have picked up about the recent foiled terrorist plot:
"Put simply this was intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale."
OK, so say their plan was to blow up 12 US-bound flights simultaneously, and say that by some stroke of absolute genius and/or luck they actually managed to succeed in every single case (fat chance, but humor me). If you assume around 259 people onboard each flight (the same number of people as were killed on Pan Am 747-100), that's 3108 deaths. That would be a tragic loss of life. It's roughly equivalent to the number killed in the WTC attacks, three times the number of civilians killed so far in Lebanon in the past few weeks, 7.5% of the number of civilians killed so far in Iraq, a third of the number killed every day in Rwanda in from April to July 1994, and only slightly fewer than the number of people killed in the US in auto accidents every month.
That's a lot, and I'm glad they've arrested these guys. But unimaginable? That sounds like a serious lack of imagination.
The Cato institute has a short paper pointing out that most of the harm done by terrorism comes from our over-reaction to it (in terms of money diverted to security from more meaningful programs, additional hassle and fearful customers staying away) than the miniscule amount of damage that a terrorist attack itself delivers in terms of damage or loss of life. (For example, the paper points out that "in almost all years, the total number of people worldwide who die at the hands of international terrorists anywhere in the world is not much more than the number who drown in bathtubs in the United States."
It seems to me I've heard this idea somewhere before:
I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.
We need words like these today as much as we did then, from the highest of offices to the local community.
With all the doping scandals in sports news lately, I keep wondering why, exactly, doping is against the rules in the first place:
Is it because doping is unsafe and encourages children to be unsafe as well? Then we shouldn't allow people with osteonecrosis to compete either — that's just asking for trouble. Alternatively, we should only outlaw those kinds of doping that are clearly more dangerous than the extreme stress athletes put their bodies through as a normal part of training.
Is it because doping rewards the athletes who have the best pharmacists money can buy? Then we should outlaw expensive trainers and coaches too.
Is it because we want to test the human rather than what they put in their bodies? Then don't allow pitchers to pop ibuprofen like vitamins, and while you're at it outlaw the traditional carbo-loading spaghetti dinner the night before a marathon.
I don't mean to dismiss these reasons entirely, but there seems to be an underlying prejudice against any form of "unnatural augmentation" that bothers me. Training for professional athletics by definition pushes one's body to and sometimes beyond its natural limits, and as long as those dangers aren't too extreme our society accepts that. We should accept the risks of doping to the same degree. As for the "naturalness" of doping, the line between training in high altitudes and eating right, on the one hand, and blood doping or even anabolic steroids on the other seem pretty arbitrary.
I'll let you draw your own conclusions from the article. Personally, I just love the juxtaposition of phrases like "hate crime" and "well-planned and coordinated assault" with phrases like "think sheet" and "play date." And Activist Lesbian Mothers would make a great band name.
(Thanks to Dave for the link...)
A nice comment came at the end of the Long Now discussion between Brian Emo (composer) and Will Wright (game designer):
It's interesting that just one verb is used both for music and for games: "play."
This seems to be true in a large number of languages too, which implies some kind of universality of the concept. I also note that my dictionary says the English word play is related to the Middle Dutch word pleien: 'leap for joy; dance'.
DocBug Exclusive — Yesterday the US Senate passed a non-binding resolution declaring that Democrats are all "poopy-heads." The resolution passed along party lines, with all Republicans voting for the resolution, plus Joe Lieberman (D-CT). When Senate Minority-Leader Harry Reid of Nevada protested the resolution as childish and irresponsible, an amendment was passed adding that Democrats are "all whiners and a bunch of cry-babies too." Republican strategists predict similar resolutions will fill the bulk of the Senate's time until after the November elections.
The resolution now has to be resolved with the House version of the bill, which declares that Democrats are idiotic dumb dumbs and girly cowards. In recent days several Republican Representatives in the House have condemned the Senate language as being squishy-soft and going against core conservative values, and a compromise version is not expected before the end of this legislative session.
I've really gotta wonder about this NYT review of the latest Superman movie:
'Superman Returns' to Save Mankind From Its Sins
Jesus of Nazareth spent 40 days in the desert. By comparison, Superman of Hollywood languished almost 20 years in development hell...
...what is essentially a new and considerably more sober sequel to the first two films, one that shakes the earthiness off Superman and returns him to the status of a savior. There's always been a hint of Jesus (and Moses) to the character, from the omnipotence of his father to a costume that, with its swaths of red and blue, evokes the colors worn by the Virgin Mary in numerous Renaissance paintings. It's a hint that proves impossible not to take.
OK, so I can see the omnipotence of Superman's father angle, if by "omnipotence" you mean unable to even save himself, much less his planet, from complete destruction. As for the red and blue costume, doesn't that mean Superman is actually the Virgin Mary rather than Jesus?
Of course there are a few similarities between Superman and Jesus. For example, Superman pretends to be a mild-mannered reporter while fighting crime in the big city. So does Jesus. And Jesus fights a never-ending battle for the salvation of our immortal souls, which is kinda like Truth, Justice and the American Way. Oh yeah, and they're both American.
Not that the Times is entirely to blame here. This latest movie is pushing the whole Christ theme in their trailers, presumably hoping the crowd that made Passion of the Christ a box office success either doesn't know or doesn't care that they're being exploited. But really, this is as dumb as those literary critics who claim Shakespeare's Julius Caesar character is a Christ figure — you can tell, see, by the fact that both of them have the initials J.C.
Leonard Susskind has a nice quote on the recent anti-science frenzy we've seen the past few years. This is from his chapter / essay called The Good Fight, published in Intelligent Thought: Science Versus The Intelligent Design Movement:
What is the reason for the recent upsurge of antiscientific passion? My own view is that it is, in part, a result of the anger, fear, frustration, and humiliation suffered over the years by the losers in the culture wars: those who would have kept women in the kitchen, blacks in the back of the bus, and gays in the closet. It is also a consequence of the deep and terrible universal fear of old age and death. But I don't believe these emotions, by themselves, could have created the antiscientific backlash of recent years. The fault may well lie in the ease with which these emotions can be cynically manipulated. It is pretty clear that the battle was engineered by provocateurs who may not even have wanted to win the battles they provoked. What seems much more likely, in view of the gingerly way that politicians have skirted such issues as Roe v. Wade, is that the provocateurs want to lose the battles and in that way keep the anger and humiliation at fever pitch.
It's a common belief that Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs) are more interesting than their single-player counterparts because of the ability to socialize in the game. A paper presented at this year's ACM Computer Human Interaction conference, "Alone Together?" Exploring the Social Dynamics of Massively Multiplayer Online Games, offers a different spin on that. After installing /who-bots on several World of Warcraft servers and watching people's play habits, researchers from PARC and Stanford University concluded:
"Our observations show that, while MMOGs are clearly social environments, the extent and nature of the players' social activities differ significantly from previous accounts. In particular, joint activities are not very prevalent, especially in the early stages of the game. WoW's subscribers, instead of playing with other people, rely on them as an audience for their in-game performances, as an entertaining spectacle, and as a diffuse and easily accessible source of information and chitchat. For most, playing the game is therefore like being "alone together"— surrounded by others, but not necessarily actively interacting with them."
Some other interesting tidbits from the paper:
Players who never grouped tended to level up about twice as fast as those players who grouped more than 1% of the time. (The paper doesn't mention this possibility, but this makes me wonder whether these anti-social players are actually farmers working in a virtual sweatshop.)
Median guild size was only 9 (6 if you include "one-person guilds"), and the 90th percentile of the distribution is only 35 active members.
Guilds tend to be sparsely-knit social networks, with a guild member tending to ever see only one in four other guild members and only playing in the same zone as one in ten. (Again the paper doesn't say, but I imagine this statistic is influenced by people playing multiple characters in the same guild, which already forces some exclusion since people can't play more than one character at a time.)
Guilds tend to have one or two groups of tight-knit "core" players who play together regularly and are all of roughly the same level. This is probably a result of the level treadmill and the fact that people of radically different levels can't really adventure together — which means people who get out of synch with other guildmates can't adventure with their friends anymore and are more likely to quit the game or find a different guild.
(Thanks to Amy Bruckman for the pointer!)
I've been thinking lately about Stephen Colbert's uneven performance and audience reaction at the this year's White House Correspondents Association Dinner. (If you haven't seen it yet the video is still floating around the the Net, though C-Span has their own limited-time Real Media feed and is asking other websites to remove their links.)
I tend to agree with Colbert's message and politics, but in this post I'm more interested in how humor works and doesn't work than the message itself. Something I love about both Stephen Colbert and John Stewart is how they're willing to step outside of their characters and actually analyze what they do as comic, but I think that hurt Colbert that night. Rewatching the video, I still liked Colbert's message but I thought his performance was just as uneven as the audience's reaction.
The great part of his act, when it works, is that he plays a Bill O'Reilly type and then either makes plain that type's underlying messages and underhanded motives or just plays at being inept and catching himself in metaphors that don't work. But that evening he didn't seem to convincingly inhabit that character. First he told the joke about "somebody shoot me in the face," which cast him as a comic telling jokes rather than as an inept pundit. That could have been OK, since he hadn't really started, but I think the killer was when he messed up his "the glass isn't half empty, it's 2/3 empty" joke. I thought he was quite respectful by saying "it's important, Mr. President, to set up your jokes correctly..." but that joke was a pivotal one — it was the joke that would have both cemented his beginning rant about how great Bush was and that set himself up as being incompetent about his attempted praises. As it was, he was suddenly seen as a comic again, just as he was about to launch into the really biting part of his act where he lashed out against the press itself. Suddenly his mask was stripped away and instead of playing The Fool in the guise of an overly harsh pundit he became a Stephen Colbert speaking in a fighting-words tone and lecturing the press on how they should behave. Still ballsy of him, still something that needs to be said... but for me and I think that audience it lost a lot of the humor it could have had.
The cardinal said secular societies should not assume a right to offend religious sentiments. He noted that many countries consider it illegal to offend their national flag and asked, "Shouldn't we consider religious symbols on an equal level with the symbols of secular institutions?"
This is a good point; it is far to easy to defend the right to satire or denigrate the other people's images while holding that our own images and ideals should be off-limits. However, I take away a different lesson than he intended, namely that we all must be wary of the power our own symbols have over us.
If I may stereotype the argument as religion vs. secular culture, both sides of have blind spots when it comes to our symbols. We secularists are so invested in the myth that we are rational beings that we are blind to the very real power our icons and our media have over us, and that blindness makes us vulnerable. The result is Madison Avenue, Hollywood and politicians who can play us like a musical instrument. Religion, on the other hand, is so aware of the power of icons that they have become hostage to the defense of their own. The result is hair-trigger sensitivity, where a simple cartoon or perceived slight in the wording on a greeting card can spark boycotts and even violence.
...sounds crazy, no?
File this one under "Only in San Francisco." One of the attractions at a friend's birthday party this past weekend was watching them have their chimney swept by a gargoyle.
In hindsight, I guess being a chimney-sweeping grotesque architectural decoration is an odd odd job to have, but somehow Shadow (a costuming major from USCS who always swept out his Dad's chimney every year) made it seem like a perfectly normal thing to do. Heck, maybe it is...[more pictures]
Docbug Exclusive — Faced with a potential boycott from right-wing Christian groups, retailers Target and Lowes have agreed to reinstate their long-standing policy of using Christ's name for cheap commercial gain. The companies were targeted by the American Family Association because they refer to the word "holiday" instead of Christmas in their advertisements and storewide decorations.
Conservative pundits were quick to call the move a victory for those who recognize Christ as an inherent part of the end-of-year buying season. Spokesmen for both companies say they intended no disrespect, and that they plan to institute policies to insure that religion will be more prominently exploited in the future.
(Update 12/15/05: fixed typo)
This sounds fun: The ROBO CAFE [jp→en] has just opened up in Osaka, Japan, where customers can watch Nuvo dance, view a Segway of course have their crumbs cleaned by a Roomba. Sounds like a perfect place to unwind after a day at the wearable-computing conference I'll be attending there in a couple of weeks :).
(Thanks to Rebecca for the link!)
With that said, however, it turns out that I do have a bone to pick with Kurzweil over one of the trend charts that litter his book. Basically, he argues that the pace of change has been accelerating over time, so that major inventions are being created ever faster as time goes by. 10,000 years ago it took several thousand years between major inventions (agriculture --> wheel), while a century ago it took only a few decades (telephone --> radio).
Fine. But his cleverly constructed chart cheats: it stops about 30 years ago. So I decided to extend it. My version of his chart extends to last month (see pink shaded area), and it indicates that major, paradigm-busting inventions should be spaced about a week apart these days.
So what gives? Seems to me that the Singularity should be right on our doorstep, not 40 years away. And while 40 years may not seem like all that much in the great scheme of things, it means a lot if you're 46 years old. Which I am.
So what happened?
If I had to guess without having read the book yet, I'd say what the chart really shows is the gloss of history: the longer ago something was, the less important we take it to be and the more we lump it together with everything else from that period. For example, the last four entries on Ray's chart are the Industrial Revolution, the Telephone, electricity, and radio (as one event), the computer and the personal computer (as two events). Why did he decide to label these as four paradigm-busting inventions rather than seven, or as one? Contrarily, why are writing and the wheel lumped into the same invention, or printing and the experimental method? Depending on what you call a single "event" the spacing between those events could show accelerating change, constant change, or stability punctuated by short periods of rapid change (the last one being my own personal belief).
Could the one true constant be the belief that our generation is experiencing more change than any other?
I love living in a place where a little rain makes front-page news:
Moisture and unstable air spinning off a tropical storm along the coast of Mexico brought a rare burst of thunder, lightning and rain — even some hail and power outages — to the Bay Area on Tuesday afternoon.
From 1 p.m. to about 3 p.m., thunder boomed as the brunt of the storm passed over San Jose, Fremont, Palo Alto and San Francisco, while sporadic rainfall wet roadways and cooled down the region.
It was the first rain since June 17, when 0.03 inches fell in San Jose. And the storm marked the first recorded rainfall on Sept. 20 in San Jose at least back to 1948, according to National Weather Service records.
I've just come across a new blog called Beyond Satire (beyondsatire.us):
For years, we've been observing that truth has moved beyond satire. We created this site to highlight news that would be unbelievable as satire but is nevertheless true. Please help us by submitting comments and stories.
I can tell from the first dozen or so posts that this is going on my short list. (It reminds me of the "No Comment" feature that Ms. Magazine runs — things that are so over the top they supply their own punchline.)
As a side note, it took me two-thirds of the way through reading it till I realized the author is Ellen Spertus, a CS professor in San Francisco that I know from back when she was at the MIT AI Lab. Small world syndrome strikes again...
(Thanks to Andrea for the link!)
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has just released a report on the effects seen from the repeal of Florida's mandatory motorcycle helmet law back in 2000 (summary and CNN report). The effect was pretty much the same as seen in other states that have repealed helmet laws: deaths increased and costs to treat head injuries more than doubled (with $10.5 million charged to charitable and government sources).
Of course, the report just dredges up all the libertarian arguments about how the government shouldn't interfere with one's right to be stupid, so long as they aren't hurting anyone else by their stupidity. That argument has an air of truth to it for me, and as a public service I'd like to propose a simple government form:
Intended stupidity (check one):
[ ] Riding motorcycle without helmet
[ ] Driving without wearing seat belt
[ ] Asserting my second-amendment rights while drunk
[ ] Other (please specify): ___________________
Please read carefully and sign below:
I hereby attest that I am hellbent and determined to be as stupid as possible, as is within my rights as a free-thinking adult, and assert that it is nobody's business to tell me otherwise. I also attest that all of the following are true:
(Thanks to Judith for the link!)
...sites like condoflip.com start popping up. As my friend Sasha put it, "Do all new condos come with airbags now?"
(Thanks to Omri for the link.)
Now that I've seen Star Wars Episode III I can't help but rewrite the plotline in my head. (A few spoilers below the fold.)
I wish Lucas had stolen a little more from Shakespeare and a little less from Dawson's Creek. We know from the start that Anakin is going to fall to the Dark Side and take the Republic with him, so we're already prepped for a good stirring tragedy. Wouldn't it have been great if Anakin was a true natural leader, the kind who could command a room and look cool without needing to dress all in black first? If he was full of youthful idealism and zeal to bring peace to the galaxy and a belief that he was the only one who could do it? If the Jedi Council and all close to him fed his somewhat deserved self-importance with the prophesy of being the chosen one, and if that pride made him vulnerable to an Iago-like Senator Palpatine's lies? And if he started to come apart when he realized he might be mortal after all and not be able to live up to his own legend, and that drove him to jealousy and paranoia? And if he ultimately slipped to the Dark Side not out of teen spite or even desire to save Padme's life, but out of a belief that he was actually martyring himself to save the Republic (as a true legend would do), and from that hubris he ultimately destroys it?
Anyway, that's the Episode 3 going on in my head. I still enjoyed it well enough, but as far as tragic flaws in literature go petulance has never been high on my list.
MIT is hosting the first, last, and only Time Traveler Convention on May 7th, 2005 in the East Campus Courtyard. As their announcement points out:
Technically, you would only need one time traveler convention. Time travelers from all eras could meet at a specific place at a specific time, and they could make as many repeat visits as they wanted.
So to help out, scratch out these temporal-spacial coordinates on a hunk of metal and throw it into your local salt mine:
Time Traveler's Convention! May 7, 2005, 1 hour 56 minutes past sunset, 42:21:36.025°N, 71:05:16.332°W
(Thanks to Josh for the link!)
Update 9/22/5566: The conference was a blast! If you wind up going (and I recommend you do) be sure to say hello — I'll be the one with the green sports blazer, red fez and blue tentacles.
I've always been skeptical when people said violence in TV shows or video games lead to more violent behavior in children. It's always smacked of hysteria and panic, particularly back when Doom was being blamed for Columbine and other school shootings. Cognitive Daily has just posted a three-part series summarizing a report published by the American Psychological Society that has me convinced I was wrong — there really is an effect and a problem here, especially with regard to violence in TV and video games. CD concludes:
Overall, the research on media violence, whether it was experimental or correlational, has shown a significant correlation between media violence and aggressive behavior. Though the correlations are sometimes small, Anderson and his colleagues point out that they are at least as significant as other behaviors considered to be very risky, such as exposure to asbestos and smoking cigarettes.
It’s clear from the research we have discussed in the last few days that media violence is a significant problem. What’s less clear is precisely what to do about it. Aside from the research on parental intervention, little has been done to determine the best way to address the problem. If the goal is to reduce aggression and violence in the greater society, then more resources should be devoted to finding solutions, rather than only adding to the voluminous literature indicating that a problem exists.
Interesting comment by Edward Hasbrouck about the collection of data on where everyone travels, especially the collection of air-travel data. He sees the US, and especially people living in New York City (media) and Washington D.C. (government), as collectively suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after 9/11. The Travel Panopticon is the core of that response to 9/11/2001. Our first response was panic, leading to investigation: integrated databases, etc. Now we're entering second phase of PTSD: trama, leading us to go from investigation into surveillance. Our main thrust is explicit prohibition of anonymous travel, and by that act to enforce the non-transportation of undesirables.
This sort of panic explains for why we require all sorts of inconvenient and sometimes dangerous privacy-violations when it comes to travel, even though it doesn't make us more secure. As Bruce Schneier points out, asking for ID before you get on a plane not only doesn't stop terrorists (unless we can convince them to put "terrorist" on their cards) but it doesn't even keep people from passing tickets on to someone else. When you're in a state of panic, it doesn't matter if something is sensible — you just want to be doing something, anything.
Veronica Pinero's presentation, Panopticism vis-a-vis criminal records, had an interesting graphic which I've reproduced on the right. It's a map of all the sex offenders living within a 10-block radius of the CFP conference hotel.
The thing that strikes me is how fear-inducing this list is, both because of what it says and what it leaves out. It includes a map, showing that we're surrounded by no less than 39 sex offenders, and gives their names, mean-looking photos, and the name of the crime they were convicted of. What it leaves out is exactly where they are (addresses only within 100 numbers) and any sort of details of the crime that might help people figure out whether they or their children are actually at risk. I expect most of these guys did horrible things (is there any way "child molestation" can be better than it sounds?). Some I have no idea about, like "indecent liberties," or even whether "child rape" includes a 19-year-old having sex with his 17-year-old girlfriend. More importantly, I don't have any way to tell how frightened I should be or what I should do about it. Avoid downtown? Lock myself in my house? Buy duct tape? What good is this information to us, beyond making us even more afraid than we already are?
I did my level best to completely ignore the Teri Schiavo case, but a coworker and I were talking about how easy it is to sympathize with her parents, to understand their desire to keep her alive regardless of her state. And I do sympathize with that desire. I also suspect, though, that hanging on like they have these past 15 years has been destructive for their lives, and hope that now they may finally be able to grieve and move on in their lives.
Our culture has a long tradition of fighting to keep what we have, and institutions to help us fight. We have churches to bind us to our culture's morality, political organizations to insure our rights aren't trampled, medical research to hang on to youth and health for just a few years more. These are all good things. But I think we need more focus on institutions to help us accept when things change, death being the ultimate change that we all face. It's not easy to let go of a an addiction, a loved one who's gone or a belief that has outlived its usefulness. Sometimes we need help and support just to let go.
This is wonderful. In 1951, Edward R. Murrow asked Americans, both famous and everyday, to express their beliefs in 500 words. Every week an essay would be played on national radio, read in the author's own voice. Now NPR, Atlantic Public Media and This I Believe, Inc. are recreating 'This I Believe' both on the radio and online.
From Jay Allison's introduction, read today on All Things Considered:
In a media climate of Hyper-reality Television and Conflict Radio, of aggressive pundits, of innuendo, harangue, and attack - we're trying to create not more noise, but a quiet place. A place to listen. As it was fifty years ago, This I Believe will be noted not for its clamor, but for its calm. We are eager for your contribution.
Essays from the original series, including ones from Helen Keller, Jackie Robinson and Harry Truman, can be found at ThisIBelieve.com (redirects to the NPR.org site). There you can also submit your own essays and join the discussion.
Long as I'm posting holiday pictures I may as well catch up on St. Pattie's day...
A couple months ago we had one of those amazing rainstorms where it's raining pretty hard but the sun is shining at the same time. (I know, you Seattle folks won't be impressed, but here in California the fact that it rained is already enough to make us sit up and take notice.)
Anyway, it made for a gorgeous rainbow stretched across the sky. It also caused something I'd never seen before in a "real" rainbow: the end of the rainbow was in sight, just 100 feet or so away. You can see in the picture below, where the end of the rainbow clearly occludes the houses just across the street.
Having never seen such a thing before, I did what any good Irish-heritage boy would do — I ran over and looked for gold, or at least a midget in green telling me to keep my mits off his cereal. Looks like I was too late though — at the end of the rainbow is a water-main access cover. I figure somewhere in Menlo Park is a water works repair employee with a big smile on his face.
Happy Easter all (either a week late or right on time, depending on your persuasion). I'm happy to report this year's experiment was an unqualified success: quail's eggs make great naturally-speckled Easter eggs, with a nice marble look to them.
And the best part is bringing them to work and having people assume they're chocolate since they're the wrong size to be real eggs.
Sounds like President Jacques Chirac has bought into the French National Library president Jean-Noël Jeanneney's call to make huge swaths of European literature available online. A big nudge came from Google's plans to put some 15M English-language books online, leading Jeanneny to write an editorial in the French paper Le Monde warning that such a service would naturally view the knowledge of the world through an Anglo-American lens. If it became the dominant source of knowledge, that perspective would become equally dominant. (You can see the full editorial in this blogger-cached copy or the Google translation).
He is, of course, quite right in assessing the threat. It's nice to see the French respond with a call to counter-attack rather than protectionism — such a contest can only result in a race to the top, delivering the best each of us has to offer to the betterment of all. It's also nice to see yet another example of culture as something to spread rather than something to protect — that sometimes gets lost with all the copyright wars going on.
Jeanneney also hits on something that's not coming out much in the English press: he's not just afraid English-language texts will be over-represented, but also that the organization of the texts will be seen only through that lens. From a March 4th Le Monde Q&A (auto-translated by Google):
Why are you hostile with the Google project?
Hostile? It is not the word right. When Google announced, December 14, its project of digitalization of 15 million volumes drawn from the funds of several large Anglo-Saxon libraries, we did not doubt that among these works would appear a great number of European titles. But their selection, their hierarchisation in the lists will be defined inevitably starting from a singular glance: that of America. The Anglo-Saxon scientific production will be inevitably overestimated. The American mirror will be the single prism. My remark does not raise of any chauvinism, I do not intend to inform any lawsuit with the opening of Google, I restrict itself to note an obviousness. I would like simply that one can have in the future another point of view, marked by another sensitivity - European - of a glance on the world undoubtedly quite as partial and even partial, but different. What I defend, it is a multipolar vision.
It's not clear to me how Google plans to categorize the vast library they're helping put online, or indeed if they plan to do more than add existing (no doubt US/British-centric) library classifications, offer full-text search and then let the emergent organization of the Web take its course. But the problem is a tricky one, and search-engine bias is both subtle and, honestly, inevitable. We would all benefit from multiple experiments, multiple methods and multiple points of view, and at least for a while that's worth a little duplication of work. However, I do hope that all the sides involved come together at least enough to establish some common data formats and, more importantly, agree to share data with each other. No one would be served by multiple little fiefdoms, each hoarding their little corner of culture out of fear the other side would gain an advantage. Let's keep this a race to the top.
|666||6053||Number of the Beast|
|101||3762||Intro class (or Orwell/Matrix reference, or maybe oral sex)|
|123||3325||And I'm working on getting to 4!|
|007||2473||Bond. James Bond.|
|182||2452||Probably Blink 182|
|143||1880||I Love You (1-4-3, get it?)|
|777||1452||Number of God (or perhaps global read/write/execute permission in Unix)|
|911||1026||Emergency, and of course 9/11|
|247||1006||24 hours a day, 7 days a week|
This week's On The Media radio show has a great segment on conspiracy theories, including an interview with the Editor-in-Chief at Popular Mechanics about their recent article Debunking the 9/11 Myths and an interview with conspiracy-watcher Alex Jones of InfoWars.
(On the Media also has a Podcast, which I've found quite convinient.)
Maybe I just think in audio, but there's something about poetry being read aloud that I've never gotten from text. I especially love the way former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Colins reads his work — take this audio of his reading of his poem Litany.
During the day the Red-Light district is mostly downtown shopping with cute fashion shops, Chinese restaurants and British sports pubs. OK, and hash bars and prostitution, but the vibe is still downtown shopping district. Come dusk every few blocks you'll hear a quiet whistle, and if you turned your head someone would offer to sell you coke or X (low quality, according to my tourist guidebook). The prostitutes were all out behind their windows, preening under red neon in bikinis or lingerie and looking rather bored.
Going down a side alley (I know, never go down the side alleys...) I ran into a very friendly gentleman who wanted to pick my pocket. We chatted for a while, him asking questions like "have you taken any pictures of your trip," and patting his pocket, as if to say "now you pat the pocket where your camera is!" I never gave him a lead and kept to the touristed streets, glad that I'd zipped everything in my inside jacket pocket. Eventually he asked if I smoked pot and I when I told him I didn't we parted ways, and I went to the Hash Museum.
(No pictures — even during the day I didn't want to take my camera out.)
The Hash, Marihuana & Hemp Museum was far more interesting than I expected, even after getting past my initial American surprise of seeing the potted marijuana plant that adornes the sidewalk entrance to this place. Their small establishment is full of the history of the use of the hemp plant as both textile and drug, plus a great collection of '30s & '40s anti-marijuana propaganda.
The best part was getting to meet Eagle Bill, a self-described "half biker, half hippie" and former canabis breeder and smuggler from the US. It's hard not to like Bill from the get-go — he's got an infectious smile and the same love and passion for his drug of choice that you see in wine growers and conesuirs up in the Napa Valley. He was demonstrating his vaporizor system for inhalation of smokeless, pure THC vapor. It's safer than smoking, obviously, but what surprised me is his claim that with vapors you get high (giddy, euphoric) but not stoned (zoned out). I've never done pot myself so this may be common knowledge in other circles, but when smoking he claims some breeds, like Indica, will get you stoned while others, like Sativa, would get you high. With the vaporizor you just get high. That makes sense if the vapor really is just pure TCH (the breed shouldn't make a difference then except amount of vapor produced) but it makes me wonder what the extra chemicals are in the smoke that makes one stoned instead of high.
Another interesting comment by Bill — his main complaint about today's pot is that it's too strong. Back when he started smoking it was about 4% THC, now the stuff you buy on the street is about 18%. It's still the same chemical (I assume, though see above), but now one joint is like smoking four old-fashioned ones in the same time period. Reminds me of the bathtub gin of the Prohibition era — when you're risking getting busted, you don't bother making a nice 4% alcohol Merlot.
[still clearing my backlog — this is from about a week ago...]
Amsterdam is gorgeous. Take a cross between Boston & San Francisco, remove the hills & homeless and replace them with a canal every 2 blocks and you've pretty much got Amsterdam. The canal district is Becon Hill, the Red-Light District is a cross between Haight-Ashbury & the Combat Zone (only with more overt illigal-drug sellers on the street and the prostitutes solicit from inside heated rooms), and in this alternate universe Critical Mass won the war.
It's very much my kind of town.
I happened to arrive the day of their 5th annual Museum Night, where 39 museums are open from 7pm-2am all for one price, with special events at each and free water-ferry & trams between them. I must've hit 7 museums, the highlights being the black-gospel choir at the Bible Museum, blacklight-painting exhibit at Rembrandhuis and the lit-up Botanical Museum. For continuity sake, I ended the night at the NEMO science museum to check out their Smart Fashion exhibit.
Update: pictures are now up!
In other words, they [Red-State folk] disagree with us, but not so much that they can't be brought around or persuaded to vote for us based on other issues. Too often, though, a visceral loathing of being lectured at by city folks wins out and they end up marking their ballots for people like George Bush.
I think that's spot-on — and it works both ways too. My step-dad and I are a great example I think (hi Frank!) — we get along great and pretty much share the same core values when it comes to life, but go completely loggerheads when it comes to arguing politics. My sense (and he's welcome to correct me here) is the thing that sets him arguing most is any argument that smacks of intellectual/long-haired-hippie/lecturing elitism — almost regardless of the policy in question. I'm on the other side of that equation — I claim to hate Bush because of his incompetence and policy (and to some extent I do), but what really gets my teeth on edge about him is the anti-intellectualism he sides with and stands for. That more than anything is what drives me, a third-party-voting fiscal conservative who thought Iraq was a threat that needed to be dealt with, further and further taking the position of the Left.
Don't think for a minute that the pundits of both sides aren't doing this to us on purpose...
A few days ago I heard a talk by Paul Saffo (Institute for the Future) on the boom/bust cycle of Silicon Valley and how it all relates to innovation. Here's a quick (and rough) summary, mostly taken from the notes I jotted into my Treo:
"We've never understood how The Valley works." The conventional wisdom is that success comes from good management, right mix of capital and technology, etc. But that's not it.
Silicon Valley is not built on success, it's built on failures. Our best innovations come rising out of the ashes of our previous disasters. We need failures and large-scale wipe-outs like a forest needs fires to get rid of the undergrowth. In brief, Silicon Valley's success is built on bad management.
Example: Why did the Web take off here, and not in Switzerland where it was invented? Because we'd just had a wipe-out in interactive TV. We had just trained an entire generation of C++ programmers in the subtleties of interactive graphics, and then laid them off so they had nothing to do.
"Our core competence in Silicon Valley is managerial incompetence." &mdash bad management is the key to our vital boom-bust cycle. Furthermore, the whole point of good management is to kill stuff that isn't relevant, and that kills innovation. "Well-run companies kill ideas. Poor management allows weeds to grow. Around here, weeds grow to become very valuable."
So how do we survive in spite of our generally bad management? "we substitute velocity for management... that is a very rational act" given the uncertainty in the new technology sectors. Microsoft is the exception that proves the rule: "they aren't a technology company at all, they are a company that happens to sell technology... they've never had an original idea in their life." Microsoft would never have survived in the Valley, because the culture wouldn't have allowed it. In their first down-cycle, all their engineers would have left for a different company. Up in Seattle the culture is different — there's a lot more company loyalty. Silicon Valley is a place that eats its old. We've no respect for our elders... that's how we work.
In all this is the question of innovation. Innovation isn't rational — most companies and most ideas fail. "Innovation is extra-logical... economists can't put their finger on it." The culture can't let failure be lethal (as it is in France) or no one will dare attempt anything. But it also can't have no consequence, as is the case with what's called "interpraneurism" within large companies. Innovation is very hard in large companies — it can be done, but it takes large amounts of stress to make it happen. Successful entrepreneurs have a balance between an altruistic "change the world for the better" angel on one shoulder and a "get rich" devil on the other. The culture in Silicon Valley lucked into having the right mix.
So why do we still innovate out here and not just rest on our laurels? Why do millionaires out here keep feeding their gains back into the system? For some reason, we seem to be a strange attractor for would-be world-changers. Saffo's fear: will we start to fear change now? Will we finally decide we like what we have and refuse to tear down the old empires, like the Venetians did after their peak in the 1500s?
Final advice: disrespect your elders, remember that innovations extra-logical, and be willing to tear down the old empires.
Aaron Swartz has been blogging his experiences going through Stanford's freshman orientation. His observations so far are both painful and comfortingly familiar to me — I have to wonder if I would have had the same right-brained analytical discomfort had I gotten into Stanford as a freshman instead of going all of 10 minutes from home to Georgia Tech for two years. (The only mention of school spirit in Stanford's grad-student orientation, by the way, is along the lines of "those are called undergrads — they'll occasionally talk about this place called Cal, so don't look bewildered if it comes up when you're TAing them...")
All this trip down memory lane makes me glad I was able to re-do orientation as an almost-20-year-old transfer student. Two years perspective can make a hell of a difference.