March 14, 2017

GitS and whitewashing

I'm not that comfortable with some of the accusations of whitewashing that have been made recently. There are many recent instances, but the key one I'm interested in is Scarlett Johansson in the upcoming Ghost in the Shell movie.

There are certainly horrific examples of whitewashing from decades ago ranging from blackface to exaggerated Asian (Breakfast at Tiffany's!) or Indian affectations. These can be explained away as cultural gaffes of history, like an older person using an impolitic term. It's not great that they happened, but our embarrassment of them as a culture is a sign that we've grown. Recently though there have been very public discussions on and dissatisfactions with European whites playing characters of other cultures and cisgendered playing trans. I feel that the legitimate issue with whitewashing is when, simply, a crude stereotype or one-note character is presented. The stereotype is lazy and racist (*-ist (side-note: I've noticed the word "racist" used as a catch-all for social over-generalization w/r/t race or nationality or gender, and I kind of like its transformation into a catch-all)) and so is the easiest to spot and critically dismiss. The writer or actor doesn't care enough to understand the othered group, and so presents a thin, shadow of a character. What could be a dynamic secondary or tertiary character becomes filler with a check mark for "different".

However, and this is key, actors should be allowed to act. They perform as characters with advanced skills they haven't personally acquired, or with mental aberrations and manias they do not possess and could never acquire or as people that could never exist. Taking that into account, is nationality or gender so out of the realm? Though I haven't seen it, the show Transparent seems to be, critically, the canonical example of a cisgendered actor playing a transitioning character. With quality writing and performance observation, the specter of minstrel shows dissolves into an illumination into the lives of humans of the world.

Over the past few months, I've been watching pinky violence films from 1960s/70s Japan. They generally deal with female street gangs fighting aggressive male competitors, or corrupt government institutions taking advantage of the poor or female or both. In several (e.g. Sex Hunter, the Rica series), those who have mixed national parentage--"half-breeds"--are treated with focused brutality by the alpha gangs and a strong-willed female thug steps up to protect them. In Sex Hunter, the half-breed Kazuma is played by the Japanese/Italian actor--with visually uncertain heritage--Rikiya Yasuoka. In the Rica trilogy, the lead Japanese/American woman is played by Rika Aoki. I am uncertain whether the actress is herself multiracial. Nationality it seems is very fluid.

Back to Ghost in the Shell, it was pointed out in a comment from a recent Reddit thread that five of the seven other main actors are of distinct, non-Japanese nationalities, and I'm reminded that a main theme of the story is that of fluid gender, individuality, and consciousness. This seems key.

posted by sstrader at 7:30 PM in Cinema , Culture & Society | tagged ghost in the shell | permalink

March 31, 2016

AI and tomorrow

An article covering the monumental story of an AI beating the world champion Go player discusses the societal ramifications: Deep Learning Is Going to Teach Us All the Lesson of Our Lives: Jobs Are for Machines. The program Alpha Go beat the human Lee Se Dol. Some of the ramifications:

The article presents jobs across two dimensions: routine and non-routine, cognitive and manual. Routine jobs in both cognitive and manual have stopped growing starting around 1990. The assumption/premise, and not a controversial one, is that this is a result of automation. The question, and this is the crucial, has become when will non-routine jobs succumb. As a software engineer, I tend to think that software engineering will survive (as did Go players...) as well as health care, based basically because I think non-routine cognitive jobs will survive the longest. And I still have the bias that human-to-human interaction will retain its value in some industries.

AIs referenced in the article: Amelia call center AI. She replaces call center workers across multiple languages and learns faster than any low-wage human. The Viv personal assistant which promises to bypass the ubiquitous advertising that pays for web content. These subjects are regularly discussed in the subreddits Futurology and DarkFuturology. So the subject of post-scarcity mediation is not something for the distant future. As jobs progressively become not-done by humans, the question of how do humans get money to pay for materials (produced by machines?) becomes more common. When there are no jobs for humans, how do they pay for food etc.? The basic income proponents are already thinking about that and Switzerland is already preparing.

Is the blacksmith analogy dead? The confidence that, just like smithees had to adapt to the elimination of their jobs 150 years ago, current jobs will morph into a new job market. Maybe there are no new jobs to replace the eliminated. And, as a developer, my whole career has been eliminating jobs.

Valuable reading is 20 Crucial Terms Every 21st Century Futurist Should Know. It suggests a radical socialist idea to me: The move from some automation to complete automation starts with a redistribution of wealth to those in control of the automation. It initially appears as the class struggle. What happens to those wealthy and poor when the economy collapses?

posted by sstrader at 11:29 PM in Culture & Society | tagged posthuman | permalink

March 6, 2016

The city

The conceit of China Mielville's The City and The City has grown on me since I'd read and was mesmerized by it nearly five years ago. In its magic realist drama, sister cities and their inhabitants share a weird, parallel-space relationship that is both unreal and metaphorical.

I'm not sure where I first heard of Italo Calvino, but he had often registered on my radar like Borges or Eco. Finally, mimicking the mass order of Kafka May of last year after my Prague trip, I ordered a three-box set of Calvino containing: If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, Invisible Cities, and The Baron in the Trees. Invisible Cities presents dozens of one-to-three page descriptions of cities that could only exist as metaphor. Highly poetic invocations of unreal living conditions that more clearly represent society than any realist literature might.

I have just started reading China Mieville's second Bas-Lag book, The Scar. Early on, we're introduced to a mile-square ocean city made of all manner of joined boats. Alleys are rope bridges connecting skiffs and freighters; suburban neighborhoods are carved from successive living quarters; harbors are built by absence. Such organic growth is fascinating.

This weekend we walked the beltline. It passes through many neighborhoods I know, and yet I was often disoriented. Crossing a different path completely changes the experience. Whenever I visit an Atlanta neighborhood I've never been in, I like to imagine that I don't know what city it is. It makes me view Atlanta with unbiased eyes and avoid assumptions. The beltline experience was similar.

posted by sstrader at 9:43 PM in Culture & Society , Language & Literature | permalink

January 22, 2016

Race, actors, representation

The 2015 Oscars, much like those of 2014, have not nominated any blacks (or, save Inarritu, minorities) in any categories. While black groups are acting on this with boycotts and editorials, the primary social presence is via the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag. This is on its face a statistical oddity, so what representation would we expect based on the racial makeup of the US? The Wikipedia article on this, excluding measurements of mixed race, provides several groups of slightly different percentages. The first group comes from the article header representing census numbers, the second from the section on racial makeup representing estimates:

  • White - 62.6%
  • Hispanic (ethnic) - 17.1%
  • Black (race) - 13.2%
  • Other - 7.1% (remainder from the above)
  • White - 63.0% (2012 est.)
  • Black - 16.3% (2014 est.)
  • Hispanic - 14.1% (2012 est.)
  • Asian - 4.4% (2008 est.)
  • Other - 1.2% (remainder from the above)

Going with these numbers, we are ignoring actual minority participation in the acting community (i.e. there are probably no Quaker bankers, few white rappers, etc.), barrier to entry (here's where racism comes in to play), and representation in high-quality and possibly well-financed films (if there is a ghettoization of a minority, participation and support of projects becomes extremely problematic). Also, and perhaps more importantly, we are assuming that artistic skill is distributed evenly across humans no matter the race or ethnicity (or gender or left-handedness, etc.). Given that best and supporting actor and actress categories have five nominations each, any racial or ethnic minority would need 20% of the population to make a slot statistically representative (I suck at statistics; are there issues with this logic?). Blacks and Hispanics are under that 20% margin, but not by too much. Suspicious?

Related: there has been some grousing regarding non-transgendered (cisgendered) actors getting transgendered roles. I have not read enough of the articles/editorials to provide a good summary, but Jared Leto is probably going to win an Oscar tonight, and I feel weird about it (updated) from two years ago gets close to the group gestalt. Simply: it's an insider complaining that a dramatic representation is not as faithful as it could be. Complications arise when the insider status coincides with deep prejudice from society and the oft-correlated ignorance that begets prejudice. More even than racism, I'm treading into dangerous waters here.

As a relatively well-informed musician and a long-time industry software developer, I know from imprecise dramatic liberties. Many example exist; some are egregious; most are harmless. The getting-it-right is satisfying to see, but art is suggestion and generally not encyclopedic. A good writer can hit key points and work around that they don't know the difference between F# and Gb or how EBCDIC is related to ASCII.

With that in mind, I dislike the assumption that like must play like. Writers and actors research in an attempt to portray the diversity of human nature by having the full of humanity in their palette. Many don't succeed; some don't spectacularly; most are harmless. When you've seen a good actor in two roles in diametric opposition and embody them to their fullest, it's difficult to want to make typecasting a requirement. We constantly accept that French characters only ever speak to other French people with a French accent, and accept that the actor is not actually French. When did actor-to-role authenticity become mandatory?

Conversely: is man-playing-woman ever acceptable? Or--and here's the real icky part--is white playing black ever acceptable? Is this the same as cis-playing-trans?

posted by sstrader at 5:29 PM in Cinema , Culture & Society | permalink

October 4, 2015

When should you not report a name?

We're back in that cycle of a post-mass-shooting where some struggle or denounce, faux heroically, naming the shooter. The logic is that the shooter wanted attention and, by getting it, will spur on other potential shooters who want attention. The Wikipedia article, Umpqua Community College shooting, gets over with it in the second sentence by naming Christopher Harper-Mercer. Facts are facts, whether you choose to suppress them or not.

The Reddit post, This just happened on CNN..., is a prime example of the do-not-name camp. It includes a video from CNN with a clip of the local sheriff refusing to name the shooter, followed by the reporter naming him. Reddit's opinion as represented by the multi-thousand up-voted comments, several of which were given gold, is that this is an example of media hypocrisy (how?), irresponsibility, arrogance (again, how?), and blood lust (what?). Reddit rarely shocks me with large subreddit, highly up-voted posts going completely opposite to my opinion. However, others who I respect, notably Charlie Brooker back in 2009, also disagree with me.

On The Media, regarding the 2012 Aurora shooting, discussed the issue in the segment Don't Say His Name. Interviewing the father of a victim who is part of a group trying to get media outlets to hide shooters' names, Bob Garfield cites the five Ws as a basic tenant of reporting. The exceptions to reporting "who" are usually (always?) that of rape victims or minors. That is: the assaulted, innocent survivors receive the solace of anonymity.

To hide facts of a car chase or the oft romanticized bank robbery or a home invasion or mass shooting based on the fear that there is someone who will then want to replicate it takes us into a labyrinth of reactively filtered speech. It proposes to remove information from the news if it might trigger any imbalanced fetish out there. That, ultimately, reduces the well-informed-ness of the public.

posted by sstrader at 11:11 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

September 18, 2015

Health cost

Do emergency room medical costs of the uninsured affect the insured?

Trauma in the ER: Who pays for the uninsured? from the LA Times on 18 Jun 2012 describes how and why the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act was passed in 1986. It requires hospitals to provide emergency room care regardless of the patient's ability to pay.

But the bills come due. And although emergency care accounts for a small fraction of total healthcare spending, many hospitals are feeling increasingly strained by the free care they provide.

Last year, MedStar Washington reported delivering $107.2 million in care for which it was not reimbursed. Nationwide, the total amount of uncompensated care provided to the uninsured reached an estimated $56 billion in 2008, according to one study.

Those costs have prompted financially strapped hospitals to rely on a complex system of shifting costs. Most of the burden falls on taxpayers, with the government providing tens of billions of dollars annually to help hospitals care for the uninsured. Privately insured Americans also pay a price as insurers raise premiums to reflect higher charges from hospitals. [ emphasis mine ]

In other words: the costs of emergency room use by the uninsured gets shifted to government-reimbursement (potentially raising taxes) and insurance company reimbursement (potentially raising individual coverage costs).

How much is emergency room spending compared to total health care spending?

Does emergency care account for just 2 percent of all health spending? from PolitiFact on 28 Oct 2013 examines what percent emergency room spending represents of total health care spending. In 2008 (the same year referenced in the LA Times story), total health care costs were $2.4 trillion. The PolitiFact article quotes two valid estimates of <2% and from 4.9 to 10%, pointing out that there are diverse metrics to use and no single calculation is definitive. These percentages represent costs from $48 billion to $240 billion. The LA Times story says uncompensated care was $56 billion in the same year. Compared to the emergency room estimates, this number suggests that it could represents emergency room plus elsewhere.

Has Obamacare reduced insurance premiums (by reducing un-reimbursed emergency room visits)?

Obamacare was signed into law in Mar 2010. Considering the many assumptions above: has the hospitals' burden been reduced in order to reduce the government's, taxpayers', and insurance companies' burden? And have insurance premiums changed for the larger pool of policy-holders? Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act > Impact > Public Policy > Effects on insurance premiums from Wikipedia provides CBO estimates pre-implementation from Dec 2009, along with Kaiser Family Foundation findings from Jun 2013. The definition of who will be affected and how is by the nature of the problem not straightforward, as is suggested by the opening sentence:

Several studies on insurance premiums expect that with the subsidies offered under the ACA, more people will pay less (than they did prior to the reforms) than those who will pay more, and that those premiums will be more stable (even in changing health circumstances) and transparent, due to the regulations on insurance.

For additional variables in the equations, we could look at whether the person is self-insured or employer-insured. Here are the CBO's estimates of percent cost increase by group:

  • Individuals (17% of the market): 10-13% increase, over half are eligible for subsidies
  • Small groups (13% of the market): 1% increase to 3% decrease; for those eligible for subsidies: 8-11% decrease
  • Large groups (70% of the market): up to 3% decrease; for high premium plans: 9-12% decrease

By Sep 2013, the actual premiums were better than predicted. The Jun 2013 Kaiser study found that for individuals purchasing their own insurance, Obamacare saved this group of consumers $1.2 billion in 2011 and $2.1 billion in 2012, reducing their 2012 costs by 7.5%. This does not immediately reconcile with the predicted 10-13% increase, but may be explained by the subsidies provided.

posted by sstrader at 10:39 AM in Culture & Society , Politics | permalink

March 22, 2015

Posthuman dystopia

I'd recently read Blindsight by Peter Watts after my Kindle recommended it and the content of the reviews suggested I would like it (correct and correct). It's a posthuman sci-fi novel about a small group of enhanced humans sent on a decades-long journey to investigate an alien presence at the outer regions of the solar system. Throughout, there's a sense that humanity has reached a dead end. As people with means alter themselves with enhanced abilities--man/machine interfaces, multiple consciousnesses in one person, neuro-physical updates--un-altered "baselines", without the ability to keep up against an advanced society, hook their brains up to a virtual world called Heaven. Once in, they abandon any emotional bond to those they left behind. One particularly odd aspect of the novel is that vampires exist as an extinct offshoot of humans. They have been resurrected and though there is a detente of sorts, they are so far advanced in intelligence and ability that even the most enhanced humans are like children. To trump even this level of insignificance, the aliens the crew encounter are orders of magnitude more adept than even vampires.

I've since started the sequel titled Echopraxia (which means "the involuntary repetition or imitation of another person's actions"). I'm 50-or-so pages in, but the grimness is the same. The action takes place on Earth where a group of hive mind Bicamerals push the boundaries of invention but cannot explain how they achieve it. It's another example of humans becoming so far from equal that there is no longer a single humanity. Non-Bicamerals are as threatened by them as baselines by the transhumans. Similar fears have been echoed in Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl (and his even more stunning and depressing short stories Pump Six), Rajaniemi's The Quantum Thief trilogy, and even somewhat in Atwood's Oryx and Crake trilogy. Notably, Watts is a marine biologist, Rajaniemi a mathematician and programmable DNA entrepreneur, and Atwood a developer of remote robotics.

Contrast these with Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End (read at the same time as Oryx and Crake). Though he deals only slightly with posthumanism, he shows the tension of modern, augmenting technology. Rainbows End has all of the aspects of a dystopian warning--aggressive emergent AI, near 100% surveillance state monitoring, the physical destruction of all books in order to digitize--yet he somehow offers an optimistic message in the end. Ever the singularitanist. Or maybe the realist. Still, sci-fi is not about what will happen; it is simply plotting a straight line with a few of the data points we currently have. Sometimes it's a warning, sometimes a hope.

posted by sstrader at 10:21 AM in Culture & Society , Language & Literature , Science & Technology | tagged posthuman | permalink

August 3, 2014

Group engagement

Beach reading at St. George Island included Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. It is a post-scarcity novel where basic needs are free and unlimited, and death is avoided by regular brain backups and fast cloning. Money is replaced by reputation points (called, humorously, "whuffies"). The key setting is a Walt Disney World taken over by "ad hocracies" that run the different theme parks within in order to increase their collectives' reputation points. Most action revolves around The Haunted Mansion (which resides in Liberty Square, which itself resides in the Magic Kingdom, which is only one land in Disney World), in particular. I had no idea that there was such a byzantine hierarchy of lands-within-lands in Disney World, having only been there once when I was (?) 3.

The key storyline involves the Haunted Mansion's ad hocracy's attempt to defend their curatorship against another, more technologically advanced, ad hocracy. Everyone in the Haunted Mansion group, much like today's various *con-attending cosplayers, are obsessive in recreating and participating in the simulacrum of the Mansion. Group engagement with entertainment as a performative experience is the end in itself.

Compare this with the installation performance of "Forty Part Motet" by Janet Cardiff, as described in the article Solitary Pursuit. The piece, installed in The Cloisters' Fuentidueña Chapel in Manhattan, consists of a recorded performance of the motet "Spem in alium" by Thomas Tallis, with each of the individual singers broadcast through a separate speaker and inter-performance chatter included in the broadcast. The listener can walk through the voices to physically control which line is dominant and to eavesdrop on the private, backstage comments (e.g. "That line there got me messed up"). The article's main theme is the question of where we can experience solitary reflection in a group setting. The idea, a contradiction of sorts, has at times been a promise of museums and galleries and concert halls. Here, group engagement as private experience is the end in itself.

Years ago, I had gone to The Vortex bar late on a weekend night in order to pick up food for our movie night back upstairs at home. While I drank and waited for the order, I saw a woman alone at the crowded bar reading a hardback novel. That struck me. I'm just as likely to go to the Cafe Intermezzo bar and do the same. Though it's easy to read at home, being isolated in a group satisfies a different impulse.

posted by sstrader at 9:58 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

December 26, 2013

Wealth of nations

X-mas eve at an extended family gathering when an older gentleman starts a conversation with me about Midtown and arts patronage. As with 99% of my conversations initiated by strangers, he quickly stated his strong conservatism. I do not know how this happens. Unless friends or family, I generally avoid heated subjects and so have the opportunity to gather opinions fresh. His gripe: pointedly left-leaning artistic expressions should be suppressed by the institutions themselves, based on the assumption that most wealthy donors are conservative. When the Alliance Theater staged a play overtly questioning Bush's policies, he asked the director that they give equal voice to anti-left playwrights. The every-view-must-be-equally-represented impulse from a presumably laissez faire invisible hand-ite was odd: good art should not rise from judge of art but from dictate of patrons? And what would the patrons of NYC or San Francisco say of his The Wealthy are Conservative theory? It's an old problem. He hated that government support of culture weakened the power of the conservative and wealthy.

Later, we had dinner with the Swells at Bacchanalia. Our meal could have helped many a small gallery or theater.

posted by sstrader at 7:36 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

June 29, 2013

Article on Albert O. Hirschman in The New Yorker

[Eugenio] Colorni believed that doubt was creative because it allowed for alternative ways to see the world, and seeing alternatives could steer people out of intractable circles and self-feeding despondency. Doubt, in fact, could motivate: freedom from ideological constraints opened up political strategies, and accepting the limits of what one could know liberated agants from their dependence on the belief that one had to know everything before acting, that conviction was a precondition for action.

--Jeremy Adelman, from "Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman"

The phrase that Hirshman and Colorni would repeat to each other was that they hoped to "prove Hamlet wrong." Hamlet shouldn't have been frozen by his doubts; he should have been freed by them. Hamlet took himself too seriously. He thought he needed to be perfect. Colorni and Hirshman didn't. Courage, Colorni wrote, required the willingness "to always be on guard against oneself."

--Malcolm Gladwell, from "The Gift of Doubt"

This reminds me of Frank Herbert's comments on his character Paul Atreides from Dune. Herbert said that Paul's success came from riding the chaos and not trying to control all events. (I can't find the interview where he says this.)

posted by sstrader at 12:55 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

October 6, 2012

Harris on torture

In chapter six of The End of Faith, Sam Harris argues that torture is justified in any circumstance in which we would be willing to cause collateral damage. The argument goes that, barring an ideal world: armed conflict is sometimes necessary, armed conflict may inflict harm on non-combatants, and that harm may be as painful as torture techniques. If we accept this sequence, then we accept that torture is allowable. The context is unimportant; killing is an end without intent.

Earlier, he contrasts foreign offenses against us with our reaction to US soldiers in the My Lai massacre. Our actions are different because what distinguishes us from many of our enemies is that this indiscriminate violence appalls us. Ah. Here, context is important.

If soldiers torture and we revile them because of that, we are holding a higher moral ground. What then does it mean when torture is institutionalized and we don't revile that fact? To Sam Harris, it means we are intellectually honest. This is laughable.

posted by sstrader at 12:20 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

September 9, 2012

Atheism, feminism


Over lunch recently, someone from the SSA was telling me about the minor schisms that have been cropping up between feminists and atheists. I don't follow the scene that closely, so I miss out on the drama. io9's got a good summary of the three most notable incidences from ReaderCon, The Amazing Meeting, and DefCon. Dawkins comes off looking the worst in the TAM aftermath. A shame. DefCon security staff creating a game to get conference-goer to coax women to show their tits was pretty awful too. The response--rugby penalty cards handed out to creepers--was perfect (Some of them proudly displayed the cards they'd been given on their name tags. "That's fine -- let them make themselves visible," KC said. "That way we know who to avoid.").

Nico Lang's got a great summary of the Kristen Stewart thing. Another scene I would not normally follow without the keen analysis. Chris Brown can publicly beat the hell out of his girlfriend but ... if you ever cheat on your boyfriend, your life is over and no one will ever want to be associated with you. And the way that young women are turning on her is almost too Lord of the Flies to be believable. (Although, I am tempted to get a "Kristen Stewart is a trampire" t-shirt for novelty reasons.)

I'm about to dive into My People's sacred texts (The God Delusion, God is Not Great, The End of Faith). I'd previously avoided them because there's only so much preaching a choir wants. Reading books five years after they're popular: I'm the bizarro hipster.

posted by sstrader at 11:06 AM in Culture & Society | tagged io9 | permalink

June 4, 2012

January 9, 2012


The photos from a 1980s scifi convention called Westercon have been making the rounds over the last week or so (see io9 and Boing Boing for starters, the io9 comments have people going full-nostalgia, which is an historical document in itself). I started reading Ready Player One a few days ago, and so this sort of sepia-toned craziness is well-timed. It's a history I'm not a part of (I was reading Dune, possibly a second or third time, and collecting Micronauts at the time) but one that I feel tied to. Honestly, I wasn't cool enough to be with these people.

I've been picking through anime to watch on my new Android tablet. Recent viewing history on Netflix and Crunchyroll has been: Corpse Princess, Time of Eve, Pale Cocoon, and Mnemosyne. Star Blazers, recently added to Netflix, has tempted me though I know it won't live up to memories of my obsessive morning viewing before going on my paper route.

With this in mind, an io9 comment about a 1980s anime called Dirty Pair caught my attention. I'd never heard of it. Two YouTube-ripped episodes later--silly, but self-aware--and the complete series plus a 10-episode OVA run is on its way from an Amazon reseller.

posted by sstrader at 9:05 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

July 11, 2011

Evolution and history

Finished reading Brooke Gladstone's graphic novel (graphic essay?) The Influencing Machine. In one section, she surveys the various ideas about how our tools change us. Early humans may have begun walking upright after using tools because tools required their hands to be available. This pairs with the fact that predictions of the Internet dumbing us down or isolating us have been, so far, completely wrong. And since 2004, reading books has increased. Ultimately, BG feels that we are evolving to be more adapted to high data stimulation. (She also takes a nice dig at Apple: Any company that offers cool devices--but bans applications that might offend some users--stand in the way of evolution. Worrying about offending people drags us back to the lowest common denominator.)

Watched X-Men: First Class [ 3/5 | IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes ] on Friday (sadly missing Run Lola Run at the midnight movie, yet still staying out till 3 AM). In it, the first group of mutants--Magneto and Xavier, et al.--are integral in both causing and resolving the Cuban missile crisis. When evolution is discussed, it's presented in terms of its binary opposites replacement (H. sapiens v. Neanderthals) and modification (quadrupedal to upright) respectively. Media fear mongers are Magneto; Brooke Gladstone is Xavier.

I haven't and probably won't see the last Transformers. The second one was enough pain for one lifetime. However, I was intrigued that it and X-M:FC share a main theme of hidden history: Transformers using the moon landing as a focal point. This is an unlikely example of screenwriter cross-pollination.

posted by sstrader at 7:06 PM in Cinema , Culture & Society | permalink

November 25, 2010


Reading list:

On NPR yesterday, I heard flyers' comments on the scanners and the far majority could be represented by the flyer who said "I'm OK with it if it keeps me safe." Ignoring the question of a set-upon media possibly cherry picking comments, I'll repeat what Schneier and many others wiser than me have said: re-inforced pilot doors and flyer awareness are the only things that have made us safer. Reporters have oddly ignored that "if" clause at the end of the statement above choosing to believe the tacit assertion of increased safety.

Beyond the complete lack of proof, and significant evidence to the contrary, that this makes us safer is the question of whether we have a right to complain about it. There's been the standard backlash backlash of people criticizing people who criticize the use of scanners (e.g. "if you don't like it, don't fly"). I'll invoke the slipper slope fallacy and ask: how invasive can security be before it's unacceptable to you? If being viewed naked and/or being groped is acceptable now, and people are generally happy with this, how much further can they go? People have a right to criticize what they believe is improper. That criticism holds greater validity when it is backed by facts and logical conclusions. What does the "if you don't like it, don't fly" argument contribute to the discussion?

I've also heard people express anger over those who would slow down the airport line to make a point by opting out of the scanners. (This is also part of the backlash backlash.) One comment on Reddit pointed out the, humble, parallels with the Greensboro sit-ins. The black students would not be served but still took up space in the restaurant and hindered the ability of the restaurant to serve others. If they didn't like that store's policies, just don't go there.

From the Ask the Pilot article above:

Look again at that list above [of seven deadly terrorist attacks on airlines in the mid-80s]. All of those tragedies, in a four-year span, with some of the attacks actually overlapping. Try to imagine a similar spell today. Could we handle even a fraction of such disaster?

In the 1980s we did not overreact. We did not stage ill-fated invasions of distant countries. People did not cease traveling and the airline industry did not fall into chaos. We were lazy in enacting better security, perhaps, but as a country our psychological reaction, much to our credit, was calm, measured and not yet self-defeating.

posted by sstrader at 11:08 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

September 21, 2010


Drill, Baby, Drill [ via Arts & Letters Daily ] examines the lost appreciation of learning through memorization. Although (or because) I had a mundane, public-school education, I still remember learning my multiplication tables. In our kitchen in Colorado Springs (?) and my mom running through them with me. If that were my only memory of rote learning I'd probably not be so supportive of it, but I most firmly connect with repetition and its values my time at the piano. Learning a piece of music--both the physical aspect and the memorization--takes at its heart simple repetition. An understanding of theory, history, biography, etc. is invaluable for assistance and to actually personalize the work. But a musician must pour over the scales-and-arpeggios-and-whatnot in order to make sure that such techniques are mindless as you're working on passages more interesting than scales-and-arpeggios-and-whatnot. With the mundane backgrounded, you are free to focus during performance on the flow of a melodic line or the dramatic arc of the piece as a whole.

The article quotes University of Virginia professor of psychology Daniel Willingham: You can't be proficient at some academic tasks without having certain knowledge be automatic -- 'automatic' meaning that you don't have to think about it, you just know what to do with it.

posted by sstrader at 9:34 PM in Culture & Society , Music | tagged arts and letters daily | permalink

July 12, 2010


On Saturday, I Marta-ed and walked to City Sports in Atlantic Station to purchase a pair of Vibram Bikila shoes:

A year or so ago I'd read about the research done on running barefoot compared to using running shoes. Running shoes promote a gait that strikes with the heels and, though cushioned, transmits the force up to the knees. Running barefoot, or with minimal protection, your gait changes to land on the front of the foot, and the energy from impact is absorbed within the metatarsal bones. Since the introduction of running shoes in the 70s, the ratio of injuries has increase even though the shoes are intended to mitigate the chances.

I restarted jogging a couple of years ago after taking a break because of my herniated disc and foot drop. I've slowed down recently but plan on ramping back up with these neat new foot gloves. I wore them all of Saturday and, beyond the odd looks (especially from the club kids riding Marta on Saturday night), they were very comfortable. Good protection from rocks and such too.

As with the iPhone vs. no-iPhone question, I have entered another binary debate that's being played out in the market: minimal sole shoes vs. rocker bottom shoes. To be fair, I don't think anyone's suggesting that you run with those rocker shoes, but they do seem to fit into the principle of shoe-as-impact-protection.

[ updated 30 Jun 2012 ]

Found my Crescent City Classic number from a few months prior:


posted by sstrader at 12:37 PM in Culture & Society | tagged jogging, new orleans | permalink

April 15, 2010

Group identity

Simple thought experiment about group association:

  1. I believe X
  2. Group Y also believes X
  3. I agree with Y and now consider myself a Y
  4. Y, being made of individuals, changes over time
  5. Group Y no longer believes exactly X

At this point, the individual can either (1) realize that individuals change, group membership changes, and group median identity changes, or (2) insist that the group "lost its way" (from an idealized past) or that they aren't a valid representation of the beliefs (its members being no true Scotsman).

posted by sstrader at 10:10 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

December 5, 2009


Some recent subversive arguments in support of gay marriage:

  • Let's just ban divorce. The fiction that gay marriage stultifies the value of straight marriage dissolves when presented with the choice of eliminating something that truly cheapens its value. This is similar to asking anti-abortionist how long a sentence girls who get abortions should get. Better yet, asking whether they would recommend the death sentence (abortion, in their eyes, being premeditated). If one believes that abortion is murder (and not simply a means to control women) they would without hesitation chose the common punishment for murder.
  • Let's make gay marriage only worth 3/5 of a real marriage. A nice way to emphasize the civil-rights issue that we're really dealing with.

Equally inspiring (although ultimately in vain) was Senator Diane Savino's argument in the NY State Senate [ via Reddit ]. Not a word was wasted in her speech.

I have a hopelessness with such issues, because the only argument I've heard has been a banal, illogical denunciation. There is no argument against the inane. It was pointed out recently that my frustration with the voting rights of the ignorant (though I would never suggest they be taken away) are similar to the right-wing talk show hosts that say the same thing when liberal beliefs are brought up. Does it really come down to such relativism? It reminds me of a thread on Reddit where, in response to Chomsky comparing Fox News tactics to Nazi media control, the comment was made that When a right-wing person uses a Hitler analogy: Reddit is disgusted. When a left-wing person uses a Hitler analogy: Reddit is elated. Can such an argument Ignore Chomsky substantial credentials when compared to those of the soft news entertainers on Fox, or most any, news show? The value of two opposing opinions should be measured on the reasoning that arrived at those opinions.

posted by sstrader at 4:12 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

July 30, 2009

Atlanta and Midtown in the 70s

A friend sent me a gallery of photos of Atlanta from the 1970s. From the crazy strip clubs (The Centaur!) to The World of Sid and Marty Krofft in The Omni: Midtown was the site of sheer awesomeness. To wit:

slideshow_894631_Plaza_Theatre2 slideshow_894616_10th_St._Theatre slideshow_894474_Midtown-12.JPG
posted by sstrader at 8:05 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

April 9, 2009


I was upset to see my otherwise favorite group of internet people--Redditors--fairly lick their chops over the fact that the South Park creators were given signed photo of Saddam Hussein by Marines who forced him to watch himself in South Park the Movie. I may have mis-scanned, but among the few who called this out as a an infantile act, perpetrated by those who are to be "few" and "proud," were a majority going the route of that asshole Limbaugh by arguing that it was simply along the lines of a schoolboy prank. We are an idiot nation.

More mature was Slashdot's response. Typical of the lot: Do you endorse rape in our own prisons by any chance? I know plenty of people who do, and quite frankly, it's disturbing as hell. Revenge is not a valid public goal, even when you dress it up and call it "justice". Brutality diminishes us, not the criminals. Many more like that.

posted by sstrader at 4:27 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

March 20, 2009


I was regaled recently about the plight of society and its economic turpitude. Because of factors that have never before occurred in the history of societies [emphasis definitely not mine], we're surely on the road to a pre-industrial primitivism. My insistence that such worries are unfounded in historical example was met with, simply, disbelief. There was no common ground. What arguments are there against such a card house of conditionals that find destruction in every flawed system of human society? The polysci maven's response to the--obvious--impending doom was to search for ways to distance themselves from dependencies on the specialization that results from community. Learn to live off the land and you won't have to put up with allowing your tax dollars to be used or misused by atheists and the lazy.

I had always blamed this worldview on too much Ayn Rand and too much being a male. More seriously, I felt that it went back to the noble savage ideal and the belief that, somehow, society has corrupted the individual by making them dependent on others. However, I'm beginning to think that it's as much influenced by millenarian tendencies. There's an aching desire, when presented with complex systems beyond your control, that there must be a simpler way and a teardown is in order. In programming land, this leads to the inescapable desire to rewrite everything. In life, you yearn for revolution.

[ updated 31 Oct 2009 ]

io9 has an article on trends in the last 200 years of post-apocalyptic fiction. The author provides a graph of the relative importance of religious eschatology or post-nuclear wastelands or zombies. One comment suggests an alternate explanation for the desire for an apocalyptic tabula rasa: Frank Kermode's The Sense of an Ending traces the apocalypse - or end of history - as a basic western need through the beginning of its literature. I'm not doing justice to his thesis. But basically, he says we fear becoming insignificant in the infinite, and need an end point.

posted by sstrader at 11:03 AM in Culture & Society | tagged io9 | permalink

December 24, 2008

Happy x.mas!

[ via Studio 360 ]

posted by sstrader at 9:47 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

December 23, 2008

The enhanced classes

Listened to Toby Miller, author of Makeover Nation: The United States of Reinvention on Media Matters (stream available). He discusses, among other subjects, the role of direct-to-consumer marketing of drugs and their use to alter personalities as one of the methods that America has, dubiously, excelled at using to reinventing itself. Similar discussions are echoed in Fukuyama's book Our Posthuman Future (see also my reference in in July 2005). Miller worries that people are presented with too much power with the direct marketing. He argues that just as the unskilled should not have the power to build bridges or airplanes, they should not be presented with the power to choose their medications. Not the perfect comparison but it gets to the point. Similarly, Fukuyama warns that as we have more freedom to alter our personality (he complements this with a discussion on our power to alter our physical self), we take away apparent deficits that are actually benefits. One of the driving forces behind human accomplishments is those "negative" feelings of fear, unhappiness, inadequacy. Take those away and we have less drive to conquer the objects of our distress.

Maybe we're still in a nascent age of mood-altering drugs. In the same way that there is an older generation who cannot adapt to using cell phones, text messages, and mobile internet--a technical alteration that gives us a connective and communicative power--there will be a generation that can't adopt the use of mood alterations that may give us concentrative and expressive power. Such drugs certainly don't exist today, but their potential to exist in the next 20 to 30 years is feasible. Once this is accessible and non-addictive, won't adoption of its use be as common as adoption of current technology? Once common to some, the gulf in ability between those enhanced and not could be similar to that of those born with rare physical prowess and those not. We could see an enhanced class of people who would be working on a much higher plane of consciousness with the rest of the population--most likely poor--fumbling around unfocused.

posted by sstrader at 10:05 AM in Culture & Society | tagged fukuyama, posthuman | permalink

December 10, 2008

Think of the children

I've heard a rash of rehashing of the ole complaint that kids are too coddled these days. Happens every generation, usually from multiple directions: the poor are lazy, the rich are lazy, the (working) middle class are the only people who grow up earning their place in society yet they're being feminized by non-metal toys and too many Little League awards. I've always thought that this bias came out of the Protestant work ethic (you can only appreciate what you have by suffering to get it), but who knows. Ultimately, it should get filed under "walking six miles to school in the snow" and "get out of my yard, you kids." That is: an absurd romanticization that no one should really take seriously.

Oddly, many of those who bemoan the de-ruggedization of the American youth are the same who (1) put their children in safer, private schools, and (2) fear the harsh affect of violence from television. (Others of note are conservative talk-radio drug addicts Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly, but no one really takes them seriously, do they?). So much for the value of a "tough" (your definition or mine?) environment. If we remember the absurdity of the acted violence in 40s-60s noir films (thugs used to slap each other?!) and the nonsense puritanism of television sex/hygiene even through the 70s (can't show bellybuttons, can't say the word pregnant, can't broadcast the sound of a toilet flushing), we have to ask if there could be any "commonsense" point where a line should be drawn.

Although this is a cry to action common to many generations, when has a perceived cautiousness in our society ever resulted in anything more than anecdotal oddities?

posted by sstrader at 9:59 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

December 4, 2008

Twitter + APIs > Pownce

This caught my eye(s) a few days ago. "Pownce Deadpooled, Team Moves To Six Apart" [ via Digg ]. Once you get past the snarky comments, you get to some of the basic analysis of whyitwentwrong: lackluster features, bad marketing, bad luck/no critical mass. When it was released, I felt a great sense of meh, and I still think it only got any attention because of the geekstar power of Kevin Rose. Just look at the Online social networking category at Wikipedia for a sampling of the field of battle. Of the 400+ listed (plus many subcategories that may-or-may-not contain relevant sites with equivalent features), and if we guess that half are fighting it out for this space, you'd think star power would be a prerequisite for survival. Not so.

I had originally hated on Pownce as a rehash of what everyone already used. My complaint may sound prescient ([it's] another hipster fad technology that will find a niche geek community and nothing else), but that could pretty much define every social networking site out there. I recently signed up for Facebook and find it lacking as a member for the same reason that I found it lacking as a non-member: there's no link in this sentence. A year or so ago, I signed up for Twitter. See? I understand people have different comfort levels w/r/t online privacy, so maybe open v. closed is the pivot point in the 20 Questions game that decides where people plant their social networking flag.

For me, a blog + Twitter does the job (for now). On Thanksgiving, it was nice getting a barrage of tweets from friends' Thanksgivings. Even the simplest message made you feel a little more connected to others not there. And getting ideas out (such as this) is primarily for my own benefit but made available to any others who care. Sometimes useful (music and tech), sometimes connective like a Twitter Thanksgiving. Right now, Facebook doesn't offer anything to me beyond forcing my manias onto a larger audience.

Facebook and MySpace are at their core--and to simply quote the definition of social networking--mechanisms for friends to connect asynchronously (for non-US, see Orkut, et al.). These sites have garnered the critical mass to assure newbies that (1) they'll have a guaranteed group of IRL friends as soon as they connect, (2) they'll get an adrenaline rush of finding long-lost friends-and-relatives, and (3) they'll be able to glom on 2nd-order FOAFs for fun gossip. Instant audience! Critical mass is a powerful thing and for those not otherwise connected the simplicity of joining these sites is compelling. With their wealth of features, Facebook and MySpace v. blogging are the opposite of the Pownce v. Twitter story. Pownce is (was) more orderly and featureful, whereas Twitter is barebones and just a little bit chaotic with extra stuff APIed on. A July 2007 article from bet on Twitter over several competitors, including a month-old Pownce, but felt that if Pownce added a rich API that it'd be a close race. Huh.

(Addendum: "Why Twitter Turned Down Facebook". Facebook tries to acquire Twitter and gets turned down. A Twitter co-founder is surprised by their popularity despite a lack of features (though Pownce is not mentioned)).

posted by sstrader at 1:20 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

November 29, 2008


Daniel L. Everett just released his book, Don't Sleep, There are Snakes, describing his work with the Piraha people of Brazil. Back in August 2004, I'd read about his work as reported in a New Scientist article. The Freethinker just published a short writeup of his story [ via Reddit ] along with a a portion of Everett speaking on a BBC special. BBC has a handful of articles dating back to the 2004 story. Language Log, too, has commented on the Piraha language over the years.

(Small gripe: One of the linguists on Language Log complained about the state of the Piraha Wikipedia article, vocally refused to link to it, and yet didn't take any time to clean it up. Where will the public more likely go to learn: from your specialized blog or Wikipedia? The Wikipedia entry is now quite detailed and shows a history of battled edits. Crowdsourcing 1, academic isolationists 0.)

The Guardian just published a lengthy article covering, first, Everett's loss of faith (he'd originally gone to convert them to Christianity) in the face of the Piraha's general contentedness and disinterest in the spiritual. Much is made of this, and Everett discusses both his conversion to Christianity and his loss of faith in the audio above. The Piraha were almost cruelly dismissive of his belief system. Do tell? In the audio excerpt, Everett recounts how he converted to Christianity after his stepmother committed suicide. The Piraha laughed at the story, telling him How stupid! Pirahas don't kill themselves! (I've always felt there should be special punishment for the coercively arrogant who would wrestle a people's beliefs away from them. Missionaries are, simply, some of the lowest scum of a compassionate society. It's human nature to try to dominate others; but it's one of the more distasteful aspects when it attempts to destroy another's culture.)

Second, the article discusses Everett's notable assertion that the Piraha breaks rules of Chomsky's universal grammar (lacking recursion and ideas of numbers and colors that Chomsky believes are basic parts of a human "language organ"). This assertion is less interesting than the extremes of mental representations that the language and people display. The examples show how wonderfully diverse people of the world are: the Piraha have no history beyond their daily memories, they cannot understand the numeric difference in two groups of objects (a pile of four sticks is no different than a pile of five sticks), they have no government, they have no art or literature. Sortof redefines what a culture is, and that's always nice to encounter so shocking an example of variety in human cultures.

The New Yorker has a more conversational account of Everett and the Piraha, including some very funny stories of Everett and the author's interactions with the tribe. They encounter repeated examples of the villagers' complete disinterest with any culture but their own and any events beyond what was happening in the present. "Crooked head" is the tribe's term for any language that is not Pirahã, and it is a clear pejorative. The Pirahã consider all forms of human discourse other than their own to be laughably inferior, and they are unique among Amazonian peoples in remaining monolingual. An entire society of ultra-nationalists. The history of the decades of failed attempts to fully understand the language shows how different it is from other languages--even if it doesn't challenge Chomsky's ideas. The heart of the article:

Inspired by Sapir's cultural approach to language, [Everett] hypothesized that the tribe embodies a living-in-the-present ethos so powerful that it has affected every aspect of the people's lives. Committed to an existence in which only observable experience is real, the Pirahã do not think, or speak, in abstractions--and thus do not use color terms, quantifiers, numbers, or myths.
posted by sstrader at 7:10 PM in Culture & Society , Language & Literature | permalink

November 26, 2008

Blog about it


File with the infamous New Yorker cartoon of dogs blogging.

posted by sstrader at 1:45 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

November 11, 2008


Excellent discussion on Slashdot about alleged media bias during the campaign. WaPo reviews its coverage and admits bias towards Obama. Unfortunately, it's not a very convincing case of bias and the Slashdotters have a field day ripping it to pieces. WaPo's proof:

The number of Obama stories since Nov. 11 was 946, compared with McCain's 786. ... From June 4 to Election Day, the tally was Obama, 626 stories, and McCain, 584. Obama was on the front page 176 times, McCain, 144 times; 41 stories featured both.

Wow. Bias has a pretty even hand these days. It's a shame that they even ran with this story since so many people still believe in the boogeyman of liberalmediabis. A summary from the comments:

I don't see this as evidence of bias on the part of reporters, I see it at evidence of the Democratic Primary running as long as it did.

Also, the Republican campaign(s) threw a lot of mud which of course prompted coverage. If Mccain hadn't put Obama in the news so much, he wouldn't have been in the new so much. If the accusations had more merit the resulting coverage wouldn't have been as positive as it was.

Do the numbers factor in Sarah Palin at all? ... She was in the news quite a bit, at least a HECK of a lot more than Biden. I'm not saying her press was "good" but there was a lot of it.
It wasn't so much that McCain sucked, it was that McCain was BORING. Here was a long-time known political player, running in an unpopular party with an unpopular leader, with a message that seemed to be an echo of the same old Republican Party platform that has governed the country for most of the last 8 years. Then here comes Obama--a fresh, young, handsome guy with a message of change; drawing HUGE crowds at his rallies, inspiring worldwide excitement, defeating a CLINTON in the primaries, and having the historic distinction of being a black guy with a serious chance at winning the Presidency.

Bias aside, word-count is a sucky metric to use as so absolute a barometer of a complex issue like "bias." The guys over at Language Log regularly use Google-hit-count to compare similar phrases (e.g. "could care less" v. "couldn't care less") to determine what's more commonly used. And even though they're comparing count to common use, they don't put too much emphasis on it. Here, people are arguing that more words is better words, and yet Palin's coverage proves the opposite.

[ updated 14 Nov 2008 ]

Editor and Publisher weighs in and agrees with the Slashdotters: the word-count numbers are too minor, the content is ignored re positive/negative, and reporting notable news on one side doesn't mean you're ignoring the other side if they simply did not have anything notable to report on. They also question what "the media" really is: talk radio (too often and for too many, it is)? blogs? news aggregators? Again, it's a shame that this is brought up to give weight to the tinfoilhatters.

posted by sstrader at 5:38 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

November 7, 2008

On a host of issues

Watched the Obama Flickr slideshow from election night. It's deceptive to be moved over beautiful pictures of well-dress and well-composed people. However, I can only imagine how black people felt to have this moment and have it with such a composed and intelligent politician and family (us whites had to skulk along with Bush or McCain as potential leaders; they don't inspire racial pride and even go so far as to bring up questions about humanity as a whole).

Brooke Shields in the new VW ads is very middle-aged-sexy. I think she just got on the list. The ads are not at all good though.

Embedding streaming audio in a web page: (1) works for Firefox and Opera using standard HTML, (2) works for Opera and IE using IE hack, (3) works for all three in some manner I have not yet divined. Fuck you, Microsoft.

Last Sunday went to buy DFW's The Broom of the System since I finished Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and needed a novel-not-short-stories. The pieces in Brief Interviews were not as good as Oblivion. Stand out items: The Depressed Person (virtuoso execution!), Octet, and Tri-Stan: I Sold Sissee Nar to Ecko (an inexplicable story of 1980s TV decadence written as Classical history). Before even finding BotS, impulse buy of Alex Ross's The Rest Is Noise (I read his blog, now I can read his book! I expect to pass it on to Lisa as the introduction to modern music), Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man (first Hugo Award winner, 1954, s/b short and punchy pulp sci-fi. I vaguely remember the title as one of those passed over during my teen years.), and Bad Monkeys (a Lisa impulse buy, 20 pages left right now and about to finish it, fun and light but maybe prepping for a Big Finish).

Re-hearing the Barber Violin Concerto made me fall in love with it again. Need to revisit his Piano Concerto. At some point in college I purched an ELL PEE with both and wore out the grooves listening to it. Perfect concert piece last night with Joshua Bell: short and catchy and well proportioned as a concerto.

posted by sstrader at 11:30 PM in Culture & Society , Music , Personal , Politics | permalink

October 30, 2008

Mother of violence

During voting, we were repeatedly told to turn off our cell phones because they interfere with the voting machines. I'll ignore the conspiracies that could be spun from such a fabrication and charitably blame it on bureaucratically inspired misinformation. Yesterday at work, someone spammed the entire dev department with a notice about Bad Candy from China. The information was true, as far as it went, but the person failed to read further than the warning to see that the candy was only distributed in Canada. No offense intended to Canadians, but we have no offices in Canada. In a recent Science Friday, Judy Estrin spoke about how the current environment suppresses innovation because the main message sent out from our government in response to external threats is fear. In contrast to the archetypal space-race, our generation hasn't responded to the Sputnik-like threats with a moon landing. Instead, we remove rights and suppress information. She ties this, without mincing words, to the Bush administration's disregard and suppression of science. From Ms. Estrin: You turn off the leadership function in each individual [when you scare them instead of inspire them].

All of this--responding with ignorance and fear--seems endemic from the top down. As the PATRIOT Act takes away rights to protect you, it punishes individuality and leadership. Science is mocked as a methodology to vet knowlege of the physical world and replaced instead by political statements. People defer to a false authority and so are susceptible to believing whatever information is placed before them without even a cursory examination. Fear allows lies to spread more quickly when inquiry is abandoned.

posted by sstrader at 1:18 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

September 11, 2008


Watched an old video of Phil Donahue smacking down Bill O'Reilly. Something I learn every three months when I'm lured into watching a BO smackdown: his show has no redeeming value. No truths are revealed; no insights are gleaned; no contradictions exposed; no facts are upturned; no entertainment is delivered. Even when he's portrayed on his own show as an ass (something I'm biased to enjoy), the experience leaves me with nothing. Ya know when you watch a completely worthless movie? How after the hour-and-a-half-or-two-hours you just feel like an empty, nauseating cigarette ash? That's his show.

And yet some people thrive on it. One group, those gun fetishist pseudo-libertarians, simply enjoy the appearance of dominance that O'Reilly provides. If you're economically weak and are--let's say this charitably--less than well equipped to understand the world around you, you're going to hitch your wagon to the angry agression of the first person that you feel can take out your enemies. When that person then tells you who your enemies are, all the better! Another group watches him as a kind of Dadaist theater, and yet I can't even enjoy it as that. Absurd should surprise you; his show is more like futurist nihilism.

All this time, and I still don't get it.

posted by sstrader at 11:07 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

September 6, 2008



Referenced from Reddit. That was really neat!

posted by sstrader at 5:38 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

The Space Pope

posted by sstrader at 10:22 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

August 20, 2008

ITT: Spaghetti Cat rules

posted by sstrader at 4:29 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

August 19, 2008

Big trouble

People seem to be up in arms over (1) China's youthful gymnasts, (2) China's policy of initiating training at a young age, and (3) other countries' use of U.S. facilities for training. That's quite an array of whiny bitching, but I guess it's par for sports: even within the same culture, the other team will always have some unfair advantage in this or that. Cross-culture differences can only exasperate the situation. Swapping 8-year-olds or some such for teenagers is certainly suspect, but we seem to ignore the number of foreign-born athletes and coaches on the U.S. team. And to the training issue, I can only look at the best musicians of our time and when they begin training (usually at 3 or 4 years of age). Few would judge their sacrifices and subsequent accomplishments in terms that have been used to describe what some Chinese families put their children through.

Finally, I'm curious if any of those who sneer at the alleged wickedness of the Chinese olympic aspirations ever put half as much effort in railing against the arguably more pertinent issue of China's human rights record. Trading tragedy for pettiness seems kinda sad.

[ 20 Aug 2008 ]

Excellent rant about the duplicity of partisan ranting: These Olympics are a joke.

posted by sstrader at 11:42 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

August 1, 2008

Fuck you, ABC

Outstanding/depressing report on the anthrax story from Glenn Greenwald. As per usual, he cuts through the media cloud. Too many gems to quote.

Reporters are warned about possible anthrax attacks before-the-fact; anthrax is sent to (1) media outlets and (2) Democrats in Congress; ABC reports from anonymous sources that the anthrax is linked to Iraq (it is not); conservative rags denounce the Bush administration for not immediatly accusing Iraq of being behind the attacks (Bush, on record, had been gunning for Iraq before 9/11); Bush references Iraq+anthrax in his State of the Union; Congress falls over itself to give up citizens' rights.

Poor Bruce E. Ivins is probably just a scapegoat to Bush and those complicit assholes at ABC.

posted by sstrader at 7:19 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

Julia Allison, nothing to see here, move along

Wired magazine's recent issue (16.08) has a cover story about someone named Julia Allison (me neither). She's supposedly "internet" famous because she has a popular blog about her life, hangs with the hipsters, and ... that's about it. I guess that technically does make her famous, but Wired insists that this is some kind of new famous because she did it on the internet. Typical Wired.

I hate to rant again about Daniel J. Boorstin's book The Image, but this is a perfect example. JA is nothing but an online Paris Hilton. In Boorstin's words, she's famous for being famous. She hasn't accomplished anything notable or unique, she's simply good at getting people to talk about her (yes, I hesitated to post anything but hey, I'm not famous so it really doesn't add to the mix). There's tons of people who do that and just doin' it on the internet is not that notable.

posted by sstrader at 12:19 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

July 6, 2008


OK. You gays need to get your shit together. Apparently, you've either stopped praying or you've increased your sodomy/hedonism since last year when the weather was perfect. Now, what we saw of the parade was awesome, but when we could hear the lightning above the cheers and disco music, it sounded fearsome and don't-fuck-with-the-religious-fucks-inspiring. Again, I don't know how you've pissed them off, but you better watch your shit.

Oh. Other than that: HAPPY PRIDE!!

posted by sstrader at 8:01 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

July 2, 2008

Transparency and control

Over the past week, there's been a blog fight of sorts (BLOG FIGHT!) between BoingBoing and Violet Blue. From what anyone can tell, Boing Boing silently deleted a long history of guest posts by Violet Blue from their archives (see "That Violet Blue Thing"--beware, 800+ of comments, large page ho!--for BB's summary and apologia). They gave no explanation until the ...-osphere sussed them out and gave a collective What The Fuck?!? considering BB's lauding of openness, transparency, and ... well, those two are probably enough to bring up the oddities of such a silent attack on someone who had been a BB pal. Violet Blue's befuddled reaction is her article "when transparency does not equal erased". By the unpersoning of VB on BB, her Google pagerank--and subsequent cross-pollination from BB readers--is sure to take a hit. Browsing the writings of both sides, with the impetus still unspoken, BB comes out looking like asses, especially with Xeni Jardin's snarky defense of their silence: Blog fights are stupid.

I had my own fun with blog censorship a while back when a certified wack-o started posting heavily (relatively) to one of my posts on morgellons. She was a shrill troll whose posts had the appearance of fanaticism and paranoia. After a few rants and attacks, I deleted her very last comment (a repeat of previous rants) and blocked her from posting further. She was generally troll-like, and so I was pretty justified in cutting off her microphone. I'll chat with all comers, but my tolerance has a limit when noise outstrips signal.

The issue of whether you should be able to publicly criticize the president came up in drunktalk recently. One person had the position that it makes us look weak and therefore vulnerable to attack. This is a similar situation of transparency and control. If the government effectively controls the discussion group and can censor what it deems to be unpatriotic speech, how free is our speech? Should our government be more open than, say, the Chinese government, which regularly imprisons those who criticize them?

Finally, going further afield, I've often encountered a certain type of "secretive" co-worker. When you have public repositories of documentation and data, hiding your code or documentation or proposals is little more than an act of self-censorship whose purpose can be only to control the expectations of others. This reveals a different drawback to concealment: hiding information inhibits growth. Working within a group who shares information, the people who withhold information hold back the group. First, the knowledge they could have shared with others remains hidden and only for their own benefit. Second, the mistakes they hope to conceal remain uncontested and therefore inhibits their own growth and the chance for them to make a greater contribution to the group.

posted by sstrader at 2:34 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

June 14, 2008


Listening to the citizens of Jasper Texas recount how their town dealt with and continues to deal with the brutal murder of James Byrd 10 years ago, I was reminded of the distaste that people expressed for Obama as a black candidate and Clinton as a female candidate. The complaints generally followed the straw man suggestion that people were only supporting those candidates because of their minority representation in political office and not because of any political or leadership merits. What some failed to see was what the rise of qualified minority candidates represents how our country has changed. It should first be assumed that they are qualified considering that they have held strong support while in office. To say that it would be notable and noble to have a black or female president presupposes their qualifications and emphasizes instead that it would be notable to have the United States voting public finally accept such a leader. This ignores the question of whether viable minority candidates have been available before, but also ignores the fact that countries with more inequal treatment of women and minorities have had leaders from those groups. Cause won't easily be found, so I'd instead emphasize the result: this country finally has a social environment that accepts such a leader.

While listening to the Jasper story, I wondered why when it happened it couldn't have been passed off as simply the act of a few, hateful individuals that did not represent the town as a whole. Outliers. But considering that, I had to think that the citizens must have feared that somehow their town tacitly allowed such individuals to act. The killers weren't psychotic or depraved, just bigoted with the attitude that perhaps their actions wouldn't be judged too harshly. The fact that they could even act in such extreme ways suggests that--whether true or not--their society failed to put up walls against such behavior.

So, thinking now that our country as a whole can get this far, with Obama and Clinton, I think that a great deal of the bigotry and ignorance that might not allow such a situation is being push further into the fringes. One Jasper woman in the NPR story told of how she would often use the word "nigger" around her house. After the crime and after reconciliation meetings, her daughter finally confronted her and demanded she stop using that word. The woman admitted that only her daughter's demand could have opened her eyes to her own bigotry. The crime pushed her daughter to finally confront the environment of bigotry that can make violence more accessible.

posted by sstrader at 1:40 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

May 15, 2008

End game

Caught a second-hand conversation on the environment from workers at this hypothetical company. People are still pulling out the same old macho canards: "raping the environment won't affect me in my lifetime so it doesn't matter what I do," paired with "it's too difficult to recycle so I shouldn't have to." After the initial blush of anger at such short-sighted and basically infantile idiocy (this is how adults act?!?), I realized that infantile is the key word. I should maybe look upon it like 14-year-old boys telling each other they'd like to "fuck the hell out of some chick" with carelessly offensive swagger. It's sort of a group aggression in the face of a discomforting "other". The sad difference is that the former discussion results in them actually fucking the hell out of the environment; the latter merely ends in video games and who-can-punch-the-hardest competitions.

posted by sstrader at 2:13 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

May 13, 2008

Mike Norman

So one of the racist Marietta bar owner's many bon mots--displayed in the redneck businessman's version of Yosemite Sam mudflaps: the backlit plastic letter sign--was no habla espanol--and never will. Ignoring the recursive idiocy of such a statement (akin to saying "only kikes think I'm a jew-hater" or ... well, you get the idea), I'm just glad that I had Freedom Tortillas for lunch today and not those nasty, non-American ones. GOUSA!!

[ update: 14 May 2008 ]

Pharyngula teaches the controversy on our new-found Georgia racism and the masses of ScienceBlog readers tip the AJC poll from ~52% not racist v. ~48% racist to a heartening-if-it-hadn't-come-from-outsiders ~40% not racist v. ~60% racist. *sigh*. Still, the memory of the original poll results (and what will probably be increased patronage of the bar by a certain segment of the population) won't go away.

To console your despair, go play Racism Bingo over at Shakespeare's Sister...

posted by sstrader at 9:05 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

April 30, 2008


Whatever the Miley Cyrus hooplah is about (and it is about people being uncomfortable looking at a 15-year-old girl looking satisfied, seemingly forgetting what teenagers spend most of their time thinking-about-if-not-doing, that menarche hits at 12, etc.) it's not about sending kids to war but not letting them drink or fuck. The war is the war, and I don't think that the time people are wasting being offended that VF and AL conspired to purvey the photo is time that those people would otherwise be using to protest or otherwise denounce the war.

Continue reading "Sirens"
posted by sstrader at 4:47 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

April 22, 2008

Green it

Did anyone else throw up a little when they saw this?

Fox. Spin it. Dimwit.

Fox. Flip-flop it. Profit.

(OK, they obviously had a marketing team trying to make the rhyme difficult...)

posted by sstrader at 8:22 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

April 18, 2008

Cam nom nom nom

up here silly
posted by sstrader at 6:04 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

April 17, 2008


First I heard discussions on NPR with priests mincing about how the pope shouldn't be expected to apologize (for the endemic corruption of the clergy regarding the sex abuse scandal) because the issue is about Christian forgiveness and is not about blame. A more repulsive hypocrisy I can't imagine. Then, they go on to discuss the prevalence of homosexuality in the priesthood. Oh, no you didn't. I hope you didn't just try to equate the two, 'cause shit like that just doesn't hold up. Ultimately, this is from only one representative of the church and not the leadership, so maybe the church as a whole has a different position. But then, that jackassed pope tries to blame the abuse on everything but the church's leadership. I'm at somewhat of a loss.

Religion didn't invent hypocrisy, it just made it a whole lot easier.

posted by sstrader at 1:27 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

April 9, 2008

LOLcats are dead, long live om nom nom nom

Main page for wasting time ... Thread for wasting time.

And they're down. Digg effect (or maybe Ether effect...?).
posted by sstrader at 6:01 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

April 8, 2008


Listening to the quality of content on the public radio media studies shows (On the Media, etc.) reminds me that it isn't the hateful patriotism of conservative talk radio that returns some power to citizens (no matter how much they crow that they are), nor is it PBS as a whole who almost without exception fell down on the job with the Iraq war, nor that idiotic Air America Radio with its reverse vitriol, and of course no more hatred needs to be heaped on the MSM. It's the media shows and media sites (FactCheck, etc.) that begin to allow the people to decide that a quality truth will get reported. Optimistically, we're on the first steps to fewer repeated lies becoming true.

Bill Moyer's special, Buying the War, showed only two reporters who researched, read, and exposed the lies as they were happening. Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel did what everyone should have been doing but were too few to be heard. However, on corporate control of the media, Landay says:

I'm not sure that the failure of major news media to delve into the Bush administration's case for invading Iraq can be totally blamed on corporate consolidation and control of big media. Knight Ridder was (and The McClatchy Co.) is the second largest publisher of newspapers in the United States and one of the largest in the world. KR was and McClatchy is mainstream media, with more than 30 newspapers and multiple websites and many other publications. But there was never a point where Knight Ridder's corporate leadership tried to rein us in or interfere with our reporting. On the contrary, we received only the strongest encouragement and unwavering support from KR's top executives. This was all about journalism. We simply did our jobs. Our editors had faith that our work was accurate and so did their bosses. [emphasis mine]

Behind this observation is repeated what many of us believed: the public was more to blame for the war--whether from misguided vengeance, investigative laziness, racism, or simple 2+2=5, bootlicking ignorance. And when I listen to Brian Lehrer or Leonard Lopate on WNYC, I hear reasoned discussions without straw men or kowtowing to a liberal audience. They treat their listeners, to borrow Jon Stewart's quote, as though they're adults. Imagine, reasonable discussions of passionate beliefs taking over the media and kicking out the, to paraphrase an Obama quote I can't find, shallowness of the past decade.

OK, enough of this optimism...

posted by sstrader at 7:44 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

April 5, 2008

April 4, 2008


A couple of weeks ago, the anti-evolution documentary Expelled, a project of intellect-wannabe Ben Stein, was previewed to anyone who would sign up. Science blogger extraordinaire PZ Myers signed up and took science writer extraordinaire Richard Dawkins as a guest. Myers was IDed (no pun) and ordered to leave the premises before he could enter the theater; Dawkins, in what is now science blogger legend, was unrecognized and allowed in. Science blogs were beside themselves with the duplicity of it all: Expelled posits that anti-evolution professors are being blackballed from teaching. Academia being too terrified of being proven wrong, they expel opposing viewpoints. Myers and Dawkins had a good laugh and mocked what sounds to be an eminently mockable film. Geesh, the subtitle is "No Intelligence Allowed," so it's like they're asking for it.

I read, laughed, and assumed that this deceitful concept would die a death of isolation, believed only by the insulated hyper-Christian clique. Alas, I listened to Marketplace today and fear that the venomous Christian self-martyrdom that took a feverish hold in the Left Behind series, moved to the Xtian torture-porn of The Passion of the Christ, will now manifest its mysteries in this anti-science documentary. The backers of the film have pocketed marketing firms to match the purchased indulgences of Gibson's Passion: cash awards for churches that have the greatest attendance at the screenings and for the best song that sings a joyful noise against the evil scientists. Have you no fucking shame?

Wikipedia's entry on the brouhaha has more. PZ Myers' first post on being expelled. Video of Myers and Dawkins talking about their respective experiences at and not-at the screening. Google search on related articles.

posted by sstrader at 7:20 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

40 years

Listened to the American Radio Works documentary King's Last March on the way home on Sunday. Learned many facts about the last days of MLK. From the pillow fight with friends that occured just before his assassination (?!?), to the conspiracy-confirming lies that the American government tried to spread against him, King's latter-day move to bring attention to the economic inequality in our country, and the grisly cause of the Memphis sanitation workers' strike and his reason for being there. Worth a listen on this day.

posted by sstrader at 7:18 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

April 2, 2008

The social

A few weeks back, I got in a conversation trying to argue against people who insisted that mediated socializing isn't "real" socializing. A specific comment was made that people who look for friendship online must hate their lives and hate the people they know IRL. I know: where to begin? I took the approach that having a pen-pal 50 years ago wouldn't have been considered a slight to those who you associated with in person. Phone conversations, discussion groups, emails, IM, SMS--all are fair game for connecting to others. They were not convinced and stood by their belief that our social fiber is crumbling (mixed metaphor mine).

I got in yet another argument about it today, this time with someone insisting that intellectual geeks were isolated and un-social. The mistake was perhaps getting in a conversation with such sweeping generalizations. My approach today was to point out the prevalence of discussion groups, meetups, IRC, etc. (to keep the generalizations going, I guess). Those media were declared off limits because they might involve work as opposed to private life. Beyond bland truisms (people who isolate themselves don't socialize...), not much can be gleaned from such differences-of-worldview. And again, these are tech people, not grandparents or luddites.

[ 3 Apr 2008 ]

More kids-these-days-suck ideology that I couldn't resist commenting on.

Lisa's in Pittsburgh/Bethlehem this weekend to see Diane, Brad, and The Baby, so I'm considering going to a Sat nite piano recital at Spivey Hall. Gilles Vonsattel will be performing some distinct and modern pieces; the Liszt is from his more ascetic period so I'm not so sure about it, the contrapuntal Dallapiccola would be of interest.

Tomorrow night (her last night in town this week) is a date dinner at Amore. We had first stumbled in for late nite drinks a month ago, and I loved the interior. A couple of weekends back we had some afternoon drinks and chatted with the owner of the bar. Fun.

This past weekend was: charity auction at the Knoxville Theater where we lost out on a years worth of free AMC movie tickets and a collection of nice wines, Lisa won the bid for a spa certificate for her and her mom, afterwards attended the B.B. King concert, and on Sunday Lisa's first 5k with a triumphant ending on the 50-yard line of the football field.

posted by sstrader at 11:15 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

March 11, 2008


So most Spitzer headlines were phrased along-the-lines-of "Spitzer connected to prostitution ring," to which I immediately thought that he was somehow running or controlling some cat house (Prostitution, loan sharking, numbers... The kid liked to wet his beak in everything.). Ho-hum, it ends up it was the more pedestrian act of hiring prostitutes. As the Republicans call for impeachment (I know, the absurd imbalance of ire is a bit sour to the taste) they're probably just miffed that all the good Democratic sex scandals are of the opposite sex type. Still, with Spitzer the Democrats are at least attempting to match Republicans one-to-one on hypocrisy. The very Republicans that rail against homosexuals are invariably caught in the more colorful of gay and public situations; the Democrat who railed against prostitution was going behind his ... hey, very attractive ... wife's back for some very expensive action on the side.

But what really got me was this: NPR this morning had a quote from a female aide (or acquaintance?) stating something-along-the-lines-of how surprised she was because Spitzer acted like such a moral man and she'd never think he'd do such a thing by looking at him, however others she could just look at and know that they were up to horrible things in their private life. That alone speaks volumes. She didn't even--as the basic facts of reality slapped her around--come to the epiphany that no, you can't just look at a person and know whether they are moral, immoral, or otherwise. She registered the shock but was impervious to knowledge. You think people in the public eye don't know when they're expected to look pious and know specifically when they have an audience of those that only respond to the appearance of piety? I don't deny the hypocrisy of the event, but I deny the prevalent attitude that you can sniff out hypocrisy specifically (and ee-vil generally) simply by appearance alone.

posted by sstrader at 3:37 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

March 6, 2008


Overheard on the The Brian Lehrer show this morning on WNYC from a caller describing the consumer and new media: the deer have guns now. He couldn't remember the source, but there are many references to Gordon Borrell, CEO of the online market research company Borrell Associates, using the phrase What do you do when the deer have guns? Get into the ammunition business. Just searching for any of the variations on the deer phrase brings up interesting media tracking sites: unmediated, TV News in a Postmodern World, Marketing & Strategy Innovation Blog, Social Media, etc. This is a good spelunking technique I hadn't thought of: in order to find sites that cover a specific area of interest, search for a notable quote from that area.

posted by sstrader at 1:48 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

January 23, 2008


Childish? Yes. But man, I hope these guys that have declared war against Scientology keep up the fun:

[ updated 24 January 2008 ]

Wired News has a more complete summary of the e-carnage.

[ updated 2 February 2008 ]

And Huffington Post has some praise for Anonymous and their tactics.

posted by sstrader at 4:39 PM in Culture & Society | tagged anonymous | permalink

January 6, 2008

Child rules

Children are coddled by: "politically correct" editing of shows and movies, too many safety labels, awards for losers. So says the angry right/middle-class.

Children are endangered by: predators that are everywhere, suggestive shows that involve sex (though violence is OK), foreign toys that are too dangerous. So says the angry right/middle-class.

So what is it? Are kids rotting with liberal caution or liberal permissiveness? Or maybe it's just immigrants.

posted by sstrader at 10:09 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

December 21, 2007


Went to A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant at Dad's Garage last night. It was around an hour of complete hilarity with the right balance of good child actors (a second surprise after the great child actor in The Golden Compass), silly songs, and an absurdly straight-faced telling of the Scientology story. It felt much like the South Park telling of what the Scientologists and what the Mormons believe: just give it straight and these wack-o religions skewer themselves (of course, you could do that with any religion and expose the silly underbelly). Best actor of the evening was the girl who played the Scientology auditor. Not to take away from the wonderful kid playing L. Ron, but she had the perfect mix of cute and creepy that is the heart of the show. Sure, they were preaching to the choir, but it was a good sermon.

We had gone to Santaland Diaries several years in a row; I think this show has superseded it as the go-to Christmas event.

posted by sstrader at 12:41 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

December 14, 2007

Ho Ho Hubbard

We just purchased tickets to the December 20th performance of A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant at Dad's Garage (AJC's B- review here). Ahhh ... now I'm finally feeling the Christmas spirit!

posted by sstrader at 1:06 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

December 1, 2007

Pope Benedict is a cock

Take this gem from his recent encylical:

It is no accident that [atheism] has led to the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice...

The ignorant will fall and have fallen for that crap argument; there is no simple death for such deceit. Should we point out the greater multitudes of cruelty that religion has brought on society? No, because that's a crap argument too. "Good" and "bad" can come from anything. Religion's biggest problems are its unfounded and harmful assertions (such as curing through prayer), its rewriting of history (such as ignoring its own acts of torture and killing), and its moving target doctrine where any sect at any point in time may pick-and-choose which statements to follow and which to ignore.

And the best he's got is a grade school rebuttal to atheism? This is what passes for Catholic theology today?

posted by sstrader at 10:59 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

November 15, 2007

Magic Sky Daddy brought some rain last night

Next up: I'm prayin' for alcohol sales on Sundays...

posted by sstrader at 9:09 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

November 8, 2007

Holy Force

Religious fanaticism and intolerance being pushed at the Air Force Academy. It's like parochialism has to resurface every 50 years and take us two steps back...

posted by sstrader at 4:03 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

November 3, 2007

News bites

CNN was on the TV in the exercise room yesterday and some blowhard newsy (Lou Dobbs?) announced that the next story would be about a recent study on bias in the news media. OK, self-reflection is good. Then, he immediately goes into sarcasm mode (because that's what respected reporting is all about) and says "the study comes from Harvard, so it must be correct." Anti-intellectual much? They're not even trying anymore.

posted by sstrader at 7:43 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

October 19, 2007

Funny responses to the "nothing to hide" argument

Via Why, Even If You Have Nothing To Hide, Government Surveillance Threatens Your Freedom > University Law School Professor Daniel J. Solove's essay:

  • Do you have curtains?
  • Can I see your credit card bills for the last year?
  • I don't need to justify my position. You need to justify yours. Come back with a warrant.
  • I don't have anything to hide. But I don't have anything I feel like showing you, either.
  • If you have nothing to hide, then you don't have a life.
  • It's not about having anything to hide, it's about things not being anyone else's business.
  • Bottom line, Joe Stalin would have loved it. Why should anyone have to say more?
posted by sstrader at 3:56 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

October 12, 2007


Seen in traffic on a Louisiana license plate:

posted by sstrader at 1:47 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

October 5, 2007


Understand that "predictions" of the future are usually "warnings" of the future. Orwell probably never believed that 1984 was a prediction. He was saying: let's play with the idea and take it to its extended possibilities. Art is generally a riff on potentials, not a science of predictions. Art as prediction says more about the artists' current world-views than the future. Assuming this, viewing current events as realizations of prescient art is, at best, unfair. Predictive art is philosophy, not fortune-telling.

posted by sstrader at 11:31 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

September 22, 2007

Top Flr

Went to Top Flr after seeing Eastern Promises [ IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes ] last night. Top Flr: every dish we had was excellent. Mixed green salad with lavender honey dressing and figs, lamb skewers with tsatsiki and cauliflower couscous, gnocchi with spinach and garlic, and pork tenderloin (plus a couple of vegetable sides). The pork and gnocchi were the stand out dishes of the meal. Prices were between $5 and $12. The pork was the only entree we ordered, the rest were appetizers or sides. All had very good flavor. Where Da Vinci's used to be.

posted by sstrader at 10:35 AM in Cinema , Culture & Society | permalink

September 19, 2007

Another example to make you doubt the intelligence of the average American

I've always considered creationists to be just one step away from flat-Earthers. Here's new proof that they're possibly equivalent: "Video- “The View” co-host doesn’t know if the world is round or flat". Also see comments on Reddit and Digg.

And you can just see the other hosts squirm over how to approach this discussion and not lose core viewership. I'm not sure if we blame religion (with its "four corners of the Earth" line that was so convincing 1000 years ago) or socio-economic self-oppression (with the "I've got kids to raise!!" canard that seems to absolve her from learning day-to-day science), or maybe she just saw that she was being lured into an argument equating creationists with flat-Earthers. I've never said this before: Woopi Goldberg is my hero.

posted by sstrader at 8:56 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

September 14, 2007

Hopefully my last entertainment-related post

Emily Gould of Gawker Stalker fame goes on Larry King and gets abused by an ignorant and sanctimonious Jimmy Kimmel. The video gets posted on Digg and the gang of 12-year-olds also known as "Diggers" ignorantly trounce on her some more. A few, however, do post her lucid well-written NY Times opinion piece reflecting on her shabby treatment on the show. Watch the video then read her editorial. Everything she says (e.g. new technology is redefining the concept of public and private) should have been praised by any supposed web 2.0 critters. Instead, they bleated out accusations that made no sense in context to the actual material.

Kimmel first complains that the information that Gawker readers post isn't accurate, then that their information could be used by psychopaths obsessed by celebrities. End of credibility. The only mistake Ms. Gould made was being thrown off guard enough to miss that. Her excellent point that publicists are losing power hit home tonight when I saw some red carpet trash TV interview where the celebrity-person spent the whole interview praising the brand of champagne that was being served at the event. That type of farce may be losing its cash value.

posted by sstrader at 8:59 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

September 13, 2007


Listening to tech talk on WREK on the way home and they were cracking my shit up. Some quotes:

  • Kanye West is a whiney bitch
  • Both Kanye and 50 Cent's music is garbage
  • The Kanye/50 Cent feud was just bull shit marketing/subliminal messages
  • All pop music is garbage (amen)
  • Country is white man's blues

It was definitely a hip hop scene with maybe one white guy and one black chick. Very wacky group. I'm glad to hear that others hate poprap.

posted by sstrader at 6:53 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

September 11, 2007

More silly entertainment news on this, the 11th of September

In an attempt to appear even more ignorant than Britney Spears fans, the Catholic church (in conjunction with E! television?!?) has condemned as hateful Kathy Griffin's acceptance speech. What's not to like?

A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus. Suck it, Jesus. This award is my god now.

So: preening, duplicitous adulation to Jesus is acceptable when receiving a golden idol but mocking the emptiness of such statements is offensive? Meh.

posted by sstrader at 8:17 PM in Culture & Society | permalink


This was a perfect moment of cultural self-loathing. MTV knew what they were going to get from Sarah Silverman and expected such an act. Hell, she probably pulled some punches and disappointed them. MTV also knows the mentality-shall-we-say of their viewers whose sense of humor comes from the hateful antics of reality TV. Although where reality TV's transgressions merely allow the viewer to revel in the flaws of ordinary people play-acting as entertainers, Sarah Silverman's schtick makes you feel uncomfortable reveling in the flaws of actual (needs scare-quotes?) entertainers. Sounds pretty boring since it's what every tabloid, Best Week Ever, The Soup, and everyone-at-the-watercooler has been saying anyway.

However, I do love the comments on her site! Up to 583 right now with sentiments such as I wonder if Brit might consider a lawsuit for the emotional damage your comments may cause her children in the future ... PS you are butt ugly… your shining moment was your impression of a vagina. Maybe we can get lucky and your face will stick that way! and PIECE OF SHIT! GO TO HELL! YOU SHEMALE!!!!!!!!! This almost demands that people start posting wildly overblown criticisms on her message board a la the Amazon reviews of David Hasslehoff CDs (a god is in our presence...). Maybe.

posted by sstrader at 7:14 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

September 6, 2007

Customer relations

This is how it's done. Jobs give $100 store credit to early adopters. People were grumbling, they'd still stick with Apple, but Jobs still makes the move for appeasement and with absolute honesty. Favorite comment from Reddit: WOOT! I can buy a spare battery for my... oh wait.

posted by sstrader at 6:39 PM in Culture & Society | tagged iphone | permalink

August 23, 2007

Most sardonic headline of the day

Who Is John Galt? Nobody Very Qualified - Company Working On Building Where Firefighters Died Was Nearly As Fictional As Its Namesake

posted by sstrader at 11:10 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

Bacos (definition)

The cool kids have decided we need a new word (bacn) that's so web 2.0 you're sure to hate it in a week. I, however, will begin hating it now by mocking the impulse that it takes to fabricate such a useless word and, non-ironically, invent my own word: bacos (n.) an idea that sounds good at first but once examined is revealed as contrived and unnecessary.

posted by sstrader at 9:20 AM in Culture & Society , Language & Literature | permalink

August 15, 2007

The other side

Reading "The age of endarkenment" from Guardian Unlimited, my main preoccupation was with how I felt that other countries also have to deal with irresponsible and flagrant ignorance from their citizens and politicians. I know I know: people are the same everywhere, but my focus still makes me feel that the degree to which America can cultivate ignorance is out of proportion compared to the wealth of knowledge that is freely available in this country. I would like to say "ah, we suffer the same as others," but instead I lose heart for the fact that there is no model to measure against to say "see, a society can act with informed wisdom instead of irrational conviction."

posted by sstrader at 6:10 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

August 14, 2007


As Wikiscanner gets outed to the citizens-at-large and Wikipedia spin jobs (like Fox editing Al Franken's article to their benefit) start embarrassing those in power, expect to hear demands for anonymous surfing move from the pages of Slashdot to the pundits at CNN.

posted by sstrader at 11:58 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

August 8, 2007

Relative standard

An odd idea that gets resurgence every election is the Great Return to the Gold Standard. Earlier today, I was reading about the bank shenanigans that were recently occurring in Second Life. The bank Ginko Financial was attempting to--IIUC--purchase the AVIX stock exchange using IPO funds from AVIX. I always think that financial systems are like the Ouroboros anyway, so this just seemed horrible and appropriate to me even though the deal was quickly squelched. /. picked up a related story about a bank run on the same bank after it had been robbed by a former employee. To this, gold standard proponents naturally came out of the woodwork. There were many interesting financial threads, but one poster provided two good links on (1) an argument against gold by Paul Krugman and (2) Creating Money by someone I'm unfamiliar with. Both good reads.

posted by sstrader at 5:29 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

July 18, 2007


You know, as I watch wave after wave of muscle-bound-cinema-hero modelled as far back as the Heracles/Hercules of 2500 years ago, I have absolutely no sympathy for the whiney bitches (oh, I went there) that say females are imposed an unfair metric by a society that demands they be "voluptuous yet slim."

posted by sstrader at 11:43 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

Beautiful ideas

Sam Harris at Aspen Ideas Festival. Three was particularly good.

posted by sstrader at 10:15 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

July 4, 2007

Two recent Onion articles that were a little too believable

Revised Patriot Act Will Make It Illegal To Read Patriot Act - Bush also proposed extending the rights of states to impose the death penalty "in the wake of Sept. 11 and stuff."

American People Shrug, Line Up For Fingerprinting - Said Amos Hawkins, a Rockford, IL, delivery driver: "I guess this is another thing they have to do to ensure our freedom."

Maybe I'm being a little pessimistic.

posted by sstrader at 1:15 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

June 29, 2007


I've always thought that there were two classes of people: alcohol people and pot people. I'm the former and don't understand the latter, however I don't understnad why the latter are being assaulted by weird propaganda. Thus:

The animation's cute, but the message sucks. Get over yourselves, govt.

posted by sstrader at 11:36 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

June 28, 2007

I'm on the hunt

OK, Old Spice is soo 1940s, and lounge rock is sooo 1990s, but Bruce Campbell can do no wrong:

Hey! My first YouTube embed!!

posted by sstrader at 10:51 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

No means yes

I keep reading about Sam Harris's statement to-the-affect that religious moderates have perverted the word of god because they attend it only selectively. That is to say: the fundamentalists are the true believers. I haven't been able to find the source of this reference, but the intent is compelling. The most timely If a man lies with a male as with a women, both of them shall be put to death for their abominable deed; they have forfeited their lives. seems to be adhered more than the most humanist (and Christian) thou shall not kill. Is diplomacy inappropriate for absolute truths?

I don't even want to deal with the idiocy of ignoring For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him. I'll leave that to their feeble consciences.

Finally, I look at the quote from Eric Hoffer's The True Believer:

Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance. A mass movement offers them unlimited opportunity for both.

How do I determine from that quote if my hatred of ignorance is more valuable than their hateful bigotry? So many questions. Maybe questions--and not Three Stooges movies--are the true abominations. Maybe?

posted by sstrader at 12:09 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

June 25, 2007


Gay Pride Parade on Sunday, and I'm embarrassed to say that it's the first we've attended since we've lived here in Midtown (~7 years?). The weather was perfect (dare I say god approved?) and the parade was entertaining if a little less flamboyant than we'd hoped. A good turnout even if we couldn't match the 3 million that showed up in Sao Paulo. The sunglass sisters were there:


It was rather late before the first disco ball made an appearance:


And we ended the day at The Vortex:


The only "activism" we saw was a plane buzzin' around with a Christianny/judgemental banner saying that Jesus Christ offers "hope for homosexuals." It's all wacky fun until you come across this garish piece of offensiveness that bubbled up this morning [ via PZ Myers ] (don't watch, it's vile). After I watched it I truly wanted to just pass it off as the product of a hateful hateful minority until I encountered the same hateful minority at the office and had to re-think my Pollyanna ways. After regaling my co-workers with the tale of my first Midtown GPP, all were entertained but one who--and I completely am not fucking you with this quote--said "they're an abomination, it's a shame that our city puts up with that."

(Yeah ... let that wonderful statement of human kindness sink in ...)

You may mock me for my complete bemusement at the existence of anti-evolutionist in the tech industry, but the sheer hatred and unlettered ignorance of that statement is on a whole 'nother level. It's one thing to ignore first-grade science to satisfy your voodoo belief system--appalling in its willful ignorance, but not out-and-out hateful--it's another thing to denigrate a class of people based on your shallow world-view. I try not to assume the worst w/ you religious types, but the scales keep tipping.

I quickly dropped the discussion to avoid any further revelations.

On a lighter note, my new favorite word outside of the office is abomination. "This bran muffin is an abomination!" "The Three Stooges In Orbit is an abomination compared to Sing a Song of Six Pants." Ah, it just rolls off the tongue.

posted by sstrader at 7:54 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

June 6, 2007


Lisa got me Snow Crash in a buy-2-get-one-free frenzy at Barnes & Noble and so I gave it the One Page Test (tm), part of which contained:


WARNING. The National Parks Service has declared this area to be a National Sacrifice Zone. The Sacrifice Zone Program was developed to manage parcels of land whose clean-up cost exceeds their total future economic value.

This after seeing photos of the worlds most polluted river and Darryl Hannah sullied by big oil in Equador. What's a good word to describe when the line plot of fiction starts crossing the line plot of reality?

posted by sstrader at 7:37 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

May 18, 2007


How do you eulogize someone who (1) had power over others and (2) was morally offensive? Be careful how you answer.... Who's a parallel to Falwell on the left/center? The fascist hate of religious extremism, the likes of Falwell being the sine qua non, is possibly matched by socialist extremism--a single will versus a loss of will--but living deep in the heart of the heart of capitalist country, it's hard to say just who represents the boogeyman of malignant socialism. And in the shadow of a single, malignant will, it's hard to see how that would be so bad.

One thing I know: too few people voiced the evils of Jerry Falwell at his death. Leave politeness to hold its tongue for noble men.

posted by sstrader at 12:05 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

May 10, 2007


ELAINE: The balance beam?

JERRY: Could we stop?

ELAINE: (gasps in mock surprise) Not the pommel horse?

JERRY: All right. Let's just drop it.

Gymnasts. Pfft. Now, pole vaulters...

Continue reading "urr..."
posted by sstrader at 5:28 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

May 4, 2007


The IPCC is in and it's everything we expect. As the BBC reported, science has finally won out over politics. However, some will still ignore it, and there are those I've spoken to who still doubt it's even a serious concern. Astounding. One random thought I had was that such "kooks" as Ed Begley Jr. and his ubiquitous bicycle will soon be forgotten-yet-mimicked. It's also heartening to hear the emphasis that the cost of ignoring global warming is muchmuchmuch more costly than addressing it.

Sad that it looks as if Sgolne Royal may fall behind Sarkozy in the French elections this Sunday. Let's hope for the best (and not just because she looks better than most politicians in a bikini--but should still lose the baseball cap).


We discovered, sadly yet with not too much surprise, that most Republican candidates would revoke Roe v. Wade and plant us in Iraq for who-knows-how-long. Interestingly, Ron Paul made a good showing in a post-debate-poll on MSNBC (take that for what it's worth). Respondents felt he both answered the most and deceived the least.

Israel's PM acts more petulant and pouty than Bush (if that's possible) and defies a 12% approval rating and a populace that demands he resign. His response, simply: "it would be wrong to resign." Pair this--with no connection necessary--with a diplomat from the Sudan, who has recently had a powerful member of the government indicted by the ICC for war crimes, the diplomat insisting that the US has proved that abuse of the ICC does not result in expulsion from the world community. Nice model we're providing.

Oh, and the LAPD suck dick. Fuck you, assholes.

posted by sstrader at 10:06 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

May 1, 2007


"A Brief History of Disbelief" is supposedly coming to PBS, but I haven't spotted it yet. And apparently some conservative Xtians are afraid that we're taking over, yo. Don't worry, that won't happen until we learn to decipher television listings.

posted by sstrader at 12:22 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

April 27, 2007

Internet radio to dry up, part 2

There's hope for internet radio. Instead of paying for each song * users listening, the offer is on the table for internet radio = satellite radio. Although, as a /.er had commented: they probably just got what they wanted in the first place.

posted by sstrader at 8:39 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

April 19, 2007

A million hours

It's hard to overstate the importance of the BBC's decision to put one million hours of archival broadcasts online [ via Tim Rutherford-Johnson ]. Free access. Expect wikis and blogs to pop up indexing the interesting and historical similar to those travelogues for Google maps or their Usenet timeline, but considerably more important. This is just going to be reallyreally amazing.

posted by sstrader at 6:15 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

April 17, 2007

Internet radio to dry up?

"Internet radio dealt severe blow as Copyright Board rejects appeal"

Internet radio stations currently pay a flat yearly fee + percentage of their profits; new law will have them paying for each song * users listening. Yipes.

posted by sstrader at 7:55 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

March 24, 2007

More lies

Sheesh, this week needs a round-up of all of those things people repeat as true that are, simply, not. Thanks to Reddit and Digg for reminding me that for every 10 idiots, there's at least one smart person ready to take them down:

posted by sstrader at 10:54 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

March 21, 2007


The Recording Industry Association of America is a trade group that represents the recording industry in the United States. Its members consist of a large number of private corporate entities such as record labels and distributors, who create and distribute about 90% of recorded music sold in the US. ... The RIAA was formed in 1952 primarily to administer the RIAA equalization curve. This is a technical standard of frequency response applied to vinyl records during manufacturing and playback. ... The RIAA also participates in the collection, administration and distribution of music licenses and royalties.

posted by sstrader at 8:31 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

March 20, 2007

Art lie, now with more science fiction

Neal Stephenson calls 300--now get this--Classics-based sci-fi and that behind critical complaints lies politics and not aesthetics or history. 300 came out of the Rotten Tomatoes starting gates strong but has since fallen to 60%/51% where its defenders revel in its action-fluff and its detractors see merely fluffy-action. Stephanie Zacharek of Salon sets the tone for most of the complaints:

A recent, characteristically beard-stroking New York Times article pondered the way reporters at an international press junket for the computer-generated extravaganza "300" zealously attempted to read the movie as a metaphor for George W. Bush's war on Iraq. ... The bigger question to ask about "300" is why, for a supposedly rousing tale of heroism, it's so curiously unaffecting.

And I baffle at Stephenson's sucking up to his readership by turning 300 into some sort of a techie history that it is not. I guess he'd consider A Knight's Tale to be included in this new form of sci-fi with its heavy metal soundtrack and Hollywood-based history.

I wonder if the TMNT adaptation will have as many fervent defenders?

posted by sstrader at 12:00 AM in Cinema , Culture & Society | permalink

March 14, 2007


The short piece on Morning Edition this morning about Bush's visit to Latin America read like a Jon Stewart piece, and in fact may have stolen one of his running jokes. Highlighted were Bush's odd comments--at each stop mind you--on his anticipation to try some of the delicious local food. The final clip even has him chumming with the Guatamalan president thusly: Tortillas? Que bueno!

posted by sstrader at 8:40 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

March 5, 2007

The untimely death of Rob Cordry

To anyone fortunate enough to not have watched Rob Cordry's new sit-com: that laugh track they play every 10 seconds is not used ironically. And it continues--at least for the 5 minutes that I watched--throughout the show. Eww.

posted by sstrader at 10:12 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

March 4, 2007

Video request

[ updated 5 Mar 2007 ] Two copies are up now.

Please, please, please, someone upload to YouTube the "Prom night dumpster baby" song from tonights Family Guy. It was as offensively hilarious as it sounds.

posted by sstrader at 11:01 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

March 1, 2007

In the future

We'll all swear like characters do in HBO shows that are edited for basic cable. Begin getting comfortable with phrases such as "forget you" and "we hugged like wild animals." Made for TV swearing will be all the rage.

posted by sstrader at 4:49 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

February 21, 2007

Hate < Love

So I went to watch some video of some comic that people love/hate. Dane Cook? I had never heard of him and so read through the YouTube comments beforehand to get a sense of what I'd be watching and what to expect. In YouTube comments?!? I know, I know. As I scrolled through the fans saying how great he is and the non-fans saying how badly he sucks, the last comment caught my attention with something-along-the-lines of "if you hate him so much, don't watch."

What's with the odd rule that you can praise freely but you can't criticize freely? I think this is the same flawed impluse that forces people to demand relativism in Art analysis. Certainly, Entertainment--and however it may be different from Art--puts a spin on the issue. Still, after the relativism bomb gets dropped, only positive remarks become allowable. And that's kinda stupid.

posted by sstrader at 11:54 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

February 13, 2007

Tell me of your homeworld, Usul.


(original found in comments here)

posted by sstrader at 11:38 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

February 5, 2007

An option for YouTube

Amidst the tens-of-thousands of take-down notices that YouTube seems to be getting every other week, I realized that one possible future for them would be to steal shows from the networks. The first, obvious choice, is Jon Stewart. How cool would it be for him to drop TV entirely and be the flagship show on a YouTube network? Separate from cable yet competing. Something like that might legitimize internet audiences like Howard Stern didn't for XM radio.

posted by sstrader at 8:12 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

February 1, 2007


New t-shirt: ATHF is the bomb, with an image Ignignokt fipping us off [ via BoingBoing ]

That about sums up the stupidity of the initial over-reaction, and then the (Govenor's?) speech after they knew it was just marketing was someone falling for an obvious prank and then getting angry at the prankster to cover their own stupidity.

In the words of Jerry Seinfeld upbraiding Kramer and Newman: idiots.

posted by sstrader at 8:17 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

January 26, 2007

Updates to EventNett

New features added to EventNett this month:

  • Added a Map view that plots the current search results in a Google map
  • Included a map in event and location pages
  • Added iCalendar files for downloading into Outlook, Sunbird, etc.
  • Enhanced event schedule entry when adding a new event
  • Added a Location view that lists all locations and the number of events at each
  • Added a thumbnail calendar view of each event's schedules in the event page
  • Added a FAQ page
posted by sstrader at 2:53 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

January 18, 2007

Avenue Scrubs

The Scrubs musical airs tonight. Music and lyrics by the guys who did the-painfully-hilarious Avenue Q. I stopped watching Scrubs because I got tired of Braff's over-coy mugging, but this could be a nice diversion.

posted by sstrader at 12:03 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

January 9, 2007

Ye olde videowe gamme

Listened to The Long View on BBC 4 today. The show centered around the similarities between this generation's view of video games and 18th Century's disapprobation of fictional novels. Both sparked fears of a distracted and decadent public more intent on self-entertainment than societal responsibility. I've often said that reading is as much as a consumer act as watching television, but I completely agree with the humorous warning contained in the BBC show's comparison. They spoke specifically of the novel Pamela (note that The Long View has been added to the end of the Wikipedia entry for Pamela), which apparently had a following in 1740 equivalent to today's popular TV shows.

This "fear of corruption" seems to me to be equivalent to the absurd concerns that television is getting so amoral that we'll soon be watching hardcore porn on prime time. If you can agree that banning navels and banning the word "pregnant" goes too far, then you've already been corrupted beyond what the 1960s would allow on TV shows.

posted by sstrader at 11:28 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

Jay-walking-crazed Tufts historian harrassed by Atlanta police

Reporter's Notebook: Highlights from the 2007 Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association

What is that, like five or six cops that have him pinned to the ground?!? Truly, there's nothing more deadly or dangerous than the Wiley Historian.

BBC News puts Atlanta on the map with some unwanted attention. Oddly, they soft-peddle it with a simple diagnosis of culture clash. That's a bit too kind.
posted by sstrader at 1:43 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

December 29, 2006

EventNett, a community-maintained events calendar

I created a new web site called EventNett. It's in beta and open to anyone. Try it out.


EventNett is an events calendar modeled after the openness of Wikipedia. Anyone can add new events or edit existing events without having to log in or provide any personal information. There are no advertisements so you don't have to click through multiple pages or scroll past banner ads in order to view event information. More importantly, there is no central control. A single company or individual doesn't decide what gets listed or what gets prominent placement. Shows at your community theater or drink specials at your neighborhood's corner bar are as important as stadium concerts or wine tastings--all based on what you want to see.

The intention behind EventNett is to allow you to quickly find what you're interested in or to add what you think others might like. EventNett brings events to you with as little intervention as possible.

The big idea came around a year ago when Lisa & I were at a restaurant that had an advertisement behind their bar for 1/2-priced bottles of wine on Tuesdays. It made me consider the countless other events like it that may only have a few local flyers and no internet presence. Creative Loafing and Access Atlanta have advertising models that just don't accommodate such notices, so I thought that an open-community site might be useful.

Details on how to use EventNett are on the About page. The important point to remember is that you can edit anything. Don't be afraid to add information to existing events or locations, or to delete an event you think has been cancelled. Bad edits can be rolled-back to a correct version, and deleted events can be restored.

Currently, EventNett contains items that I've added and that the EventNett web robot, Yoink, has "liberated" from the AOL Atlanta events calendar (minus any copywrited content). Feel free to contribute, request features, and report issues. This is a beta, after all, so expect some oddities and down-time as the kinks get worked out. If, to consider the unthinkable, you feel EventNett is useless and rather silly, try one of the similar sites instead like or They're more polished, but somewhat less open.

Hopefully, EventNett will help you find at least one 1/2-priced wine special to make it useful to you.

Notable features

These are what I feel are the most useful features of EventNett:

  • Everyone has control over all content
  • Keep track of new and updated events - You can view what's been added in the last week under the Recently Edited tab.
  • Each venue has a link to a map of its location (using Google Maps, of course)
  • Each venue has a link to directions to it - You can store a "from" address when you create an account or add a temporary address when you're browsing anonymously.
  • Permalinks to events, locations, and custom searches - I.e. you could create a search for "jazz" in "Atlanta, GA" and bookmark the link.
  • Searches with keywords will automatically include synonyms - I.e. "theater" will find events tagged "theatre" or "drama". Keywords and synonyms are editable by everyone.
  • Search within categories - EventNett creates 10 high-level categories from the most popular keywords. These mimic the fixed categories present in some other events calendars, but they are generated dynamically from user contributions.

Upcoming features

These are features that are being developed:

  • Private events - accessible only to you or your friends
  • Event groups - I.e. group together dinner, a movie, then drinks, or maybe several bars for a Saturday pub crawl
  • Live maps within EventNett instead of a link to Google Maps
  • Show multiple locations listed in a single map - useful with event groups
  • Email notification of upcoming events
  • Access from PDAs and phones - So it's easy to find a local event when you're already out
  • Import and export iCalendar files - For use in Thunderbird, Outlook, etc.
  • RSS feeds for events - Based on a location or a custom search
  • Any suggestions?
posted by sstrader at 1:02 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

December 21, 2006

Text (beware, a rant)

The more dealings I have with the religious, the less tolerant I become. My abstract desire for objective equality falls away when confronted with their gross flaws. That's the way it is with any prejudice, isn't it?

GrrlScientist's Carnival of the Liberals 28: Christmas Edition includes an examination of one aspect of my prejudice with a link to Meaning in the Constitution and the Bible from World Wide Webers. The post examines the author's recent reflections on text and intentionality. I realize--as I've probably come to realize many times before--that some of the greatest conflicts of modern man stem from the contention of literalism and (vaguely) relativism. In essence: anyone who's used the phrase "activist judges" is guilty of subjective literalism by considering their reading of a text the reading of a text.

The relevant and punchy quote from WWWs' post is here:

Hence such gross inconsistencies as Bush v. Gore. Or, on the religious side, the fact that virtually every fundamentalist Christian ignores dozens of rules laid out in Biblical books like Deuteronomy and Numbers while exalting others to the status of shibboleths. For example, Leviticus 19:19 says:

Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.

About a page later, Leviticus 20:13 says:

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

Right-wing Christians are forever quoting the latter text, since it's one of the very few Bible verses that share their obsession with homosexuality. But they never quote the former text, because they have nothing personally against linen/woolen blended fabrics.

It's as if a whole generation had never heard of New Criticism.

And thus my intolerance. It's not such a bad intolerance, but I just wish that people wouldn't live up to it. For every ignorant and dogmatic theist I have dealings with, I'm really put at odds with my desire not to be so prejudiced. Something I've (probably) heard from Dawkins recently (and paraphrased): how can you trust someone who puts an arbitrary limit on where logic can be applied? No one denies gravity, yet 50+% of Americans want to deny the equally-well-supported evolution. How can one not be prejudiced in the face of such arrogant subjectivity that clothes itself in faux-pious objectivity?

posted by sstrader at 7:49 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

December 18, 2006


A nice overview of introverts unfortunately titled "Marketing to Introverts." My impulse is against declaring as a group those people who hate to be in groups, but many of the points were accurate enough. I'm also cautious about any generalization that elicits a hey-that's-me! response; that's usually a sign of merely being told what you want to hear. Worth a browse at least.

posted by sstrader at 11:06 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

December 13, 2006

The war on trees

Ben Stein gets a little testy because someone's avoiding use of the moniker "Christmas Tree." He's saying that, as a Jew, he is not offended by our culture throwing around the C-word, and so it's silly for companies to replace it with the H-word. I'm trying to wrap my brain around the irony. Irony's the right word, isnt' it? He's getting upset over the use of a word, and justifies it by saying that people shouldn't get upset about the use of another word.

Or something like that.

posted by sstrader at 3:13 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

November 28, 2006

Peace rabbit

Peace symbol = The Devil. The funny thing is that I just had a co-worker tell me that my niece's drawing of a peace symbol (with a rabbit on top carrying a flag that says "peace!") represented witchcraft. A software engineer that doesn't understand the mutability of symbols--it took all of my energy not to kick him in the nuts.

posted by sstrader at 5:08 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

November 24, 2006

Lenny Bruce comments on Michael Richards' predicament

Are there any niggers here tonight?

Can you turn on the house lights, and could the waiters and waitresses just stop serving for a second? And turn off the spot. Now what did he say? ''Are there any niggers here tonight?'' There's one nigger here. l see him back there working. Let's see. There's two niggers. And between those two niggers sits a kike. And there's another kike. That's two kikes and three niggers. And there's a spic, right? Hm? There's another spic. Ooh, there's a wop. There's a Polack. And then, oh, a couple of greaseballs. There's three lace-curtain lrish Micks. And there's one hip, thick, hunky, funky boogie. Boogie, boogie. Mm-mm. l got three kikes. Do l hear five kikes? l got five kikes. Do l hear six spics? Six spics. Do l hear seven niggers? l got seven niggers. Sold American! l'll pass with seven niggers, six spics, five Micks, four kikes, three guineas, and one wop.

You almost punched me out, didn't ya?

l was trying to make a point, that it's the suppression of the word that gives it the power, the violence, the viciousness. Dig. lf President Kennedy would just go on television and say ''l'd like to introduce you to all the niggers in my cabinet.'' And if he'd just say ''nigger, nigger'' to every nigger he saw, ''Boogie, boogie, boogie, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger,'' till it didn't mean anything any more! Then you'd never be able to make a black kid cry because somebody called him a nigger in school.


posted by sstrader at 10:00 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

November 21, 2006


Michael Richards apologizes. It's as uncomfortable as the original video but for different reasons. It seemed like a sincere response to me. Seinfeld (the show) often dealt with all of the discomfort of prejudice and yet handled it in the most G Rated manner. Just look to what Family Guy does to get an idea of a more incautious approach to humor that challenges racial mores. This is not to say that Michael Richards was responsible for the writing of such Seinfeld scenes as Jerry Makes Stereotyped American Indian War Cry References, or George Gets Hyper-sensitive About Acting Like All Black People Look Alike--but he was part of a team that addressed the uncomfortable awareness of stereotypes. They joked that we all know these crude thoughts exist, even if we are uncomfortable about acknowledging that awareness.

The importance is that the humor of these shows is a delicate approach to the taboo. Now, add improv to that and add a few trouble-makers in the audience, and I can see the potential of that tightrope going terribly terribly wrong. How many times might this have happened to unknowns?

John McWhorter on NPR is having none of it. He compares Richards' apology to that of Mel Gibson. Think about that. Mel Gibson is very likely a Holocaust denier; Michael Richards got angry at hecklers and used the N-word. I normally respect linguists, but get over yourself McWhorter. To compare these two infractions and apologies is assinine. Comparing a harsh word to blaming all of the wars in the world on a single group of people is ... well, it's an argument that goes beyond the simple hatred of racism. To make such a judgement is to revel in your own hatred a little too much.

People have a tendency to be apologists for the "nice guys" and demonize the foibles of those not-so-nice. I don't think that tendancy is at issue here if we forgive Michael Richards his moment of insanity.

posted by sstrader at 7:48 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

November 10, 2006

Media guide

I'm tired of going to Rhapsody to look up a CD, RealPlayer to look up personal CDs on my local drive, to browse what's currently playing on those pirate stations, podcasts to see what content is available from NPR or anyone else, and RadioWave to see what's being broadcast on the (handful of) internet radio stations that it indexes. I want all of those to provide a single (open) interface that a client could connect to and browse within. Browse by artist or browse by time or genre or tag.

Things are converging, and this is going to happen.

posted by sstrader at 9:26 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

October 29, 2006

Not collecting stamps is my hobby

Atheism is making a comeback, but then maybe it never really went away. Dawkins' new book is out, and his videos are all over YouTube; Wired's recent issue takes up the atheism buzz and talks with Dawkins and Sam Harris (who, like Dawkins, also published a new book in September); Gene Expression discusses Harris's ideas in relation to the minority position that atheists must take; and finally, Pharyngula opens the boards for a discussion on an atheist logo (that's not a Darwin-fish). I like the *, but and ♮ are also nice even though finding them in a unicode chart is a bitch.

As an artist, I understand the power and mystery of symbols and ritual. Creativity is part skill and part fleeting evocation, so as much as the commenters in the above threads insist that they're atheists because they lack some trait that would allow them to understand myth: I have that trait yet I still get frustrated when others allow it to infringe on the sciences. Although Dawkins' book is getting lukewarm reviews on the basis that it states the obvious, there's an undeniable need for some obvious-stating. Of course religious belief doesn't hold up to rational thought: why then do we allow it to so often tread in that realm?

Maybe this is all part of a pendulum correction. That'd be nice--if only to get back to a more sane norm.

[ updated 10 Nov 2006 ]

More statements of the obvious where unfortunately they need to be stated. "Gotta have faith?" from A. C. Grayling in Comment is free....

Continue reading "Not collecting stamps is my hobby"
posted by sstrader at 3:53 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

October 18, 2006

Dawkins on Colbert

The most revealing moment was when Richard Dawkins said You're an atheist about [Thor and Zeus and Poseidon], some of us just go one god further. A great line that he's used before, and yet the audience basically booed him. [ via YouTube ]

So much for an intelligent viewership.

Continue reading "Dawkins on Colbert"
posted by sstrader at 7:47 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

October 17, 2006

Another missed opportunity

Over a year ago, I had a genius idea to create a wiki events calendar. A few average attempts popped into existence since then, and I sort of lazily worked on my own version. It's written in Java and bulkier than a LAMP-like equivalent, but the experience helped me hone my skills enough to get an actual Java position.

The original idea came when I realized that all of the local restaurants' happy hours and meal specials were only being advertised at the restaurants themselves. Or at best, buried in one of the neighborhood free papers. Well, I began coding it and goofed around with re-writes and experiments and along comes someone publishing atlanta drink specials on Google Calendar.

Still a good idea though.

posted by sstrader at 8:44 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

October 8, 2006

Scott Adams

First, Scott Adams mocks the death of Steve Irwin as if he got what he deserved, ignoring that the cause of his death was in no way related to his other more daring actions. People often swim with stingrays and only very rarely does an attack occur. Adams quickly took down the post.

Now, he tries to crack some more eggs of knowledge on our collective heads re the Foley scandal by pointing out the fluctuating age-of-consent mores throughout Western history. Thanks for dusting off our high school text books, Scott. Quite informative. I can only imagine his position on the kidnapped Austrian girl; after all: women were once possessions and slavery common.

Maybe he's just trying to be controversial (or more appropriately: "controversial") with no real point, but his standard mode is social criticism so we should assume intent. With his Dilbert empire, he has an instant audience (that he rightly deserves). Unfortunately, he's too often nothing more than an AM radio talk show jackass.

posted by sstrader at 12:17 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

October 7, 2006

Richard Dawkins: The Root of all Evil

YouTube links to the entire the documentary The Root of All Evil? by Richard Dawkins:

Total running time: 1:36:01

I just heard a short interview with him on Talk of the Nation Science Friday. I'm in the camp of middle-grounders that he's trying to convert.

Continue reading "Richard Dawkins: The Root of all Evil"
posted by sstrader at 11:32 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

TV shows, cont.

Not to be forgotten:

  • Six Feet Under - Now on basic cable. Quietly quirky after two episodes, we'll definitely stick with this through the season. Nothing really surprising here, but it's likably competent.
  • Heroes - I had the revelation that this is what Alan Moore has been doing for years, but sort of told with a Marvel sensibility (yes, that's an insult). This is a graphic novel re-tooling of the super-hero genre. People not familiar with such dramatic dissections are initially confused by the girl who has an alter-ego in mirrors. It's not an official Super Power, however it would fit perfectly in any of the secondary characters in Moore's Top Ten series. That being said, I don't like the Lost aspect of mysteriously intertwined lives and the only likable character is the over-awed Japanese guy who can teleport. Still, I'm interested to see where it goes and what evil villains must be thwarted.
  • Dr. Who - This fails in so many way, and yet I'm hooked. The season finale was a perfect example: the Bad Wolf meme suggested something with a much better payoff that what actually happened. Still, good cheesy entertainment. Maybe I'm just hooked on Billy Piper.
posted by sstrader at 11:07 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

October 6, 2006

TV shows

What's on the TiVo?

  • My Name is Earl - Everyone's a cartoon in this show, but Jason Lee's goofball expressions and Jaime Pressly's bitchy twang really sell the humor. Good casting. And behind them are lovable scripts that express the same sentiments as a Hallmark Channel movie but without the saccharine. Happy I finally gave this a chance; all of the praise was justified.
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - First season was painfully hilarious, second season--with Danny DeVito and very abbreviated--was a sophomore slump but still had its moments. We'll see what happens.
  • Supernatural and The Nightstalker - Why oh why can't someone get this genre right?
  • House - It irritates me that this character is presented as unfailing, until he fails and the story has him quickly skip to the next hypothesis. The other doctors seem to forget that he was wrong as he ridicules them for being wrong. It's a dramatic conceit that wouldn't hold up if it weren't for Hugh Laurie (again, appropriate casting can sell almost anything). I may have to join the ranks of those who "discover" Jeeves and Wooster based on House (or at least check out the clips on YouTube).
  • The New Adventures of Old Christine - Julia Louis-Dreyfus is lovable, so you (almost) can't go wrong. It's a little sit-commy, so I'm not sure how it will hold up beyond the few episodes I've seen.

What will be?

  • 30 Rock and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip - Watched a little bit of Studio 60 and it was not un-funny.
  • Ugly Betty - Should be cute and America Ferrara got unreserved praise in a recent New Yorker review. Every picture of her in character makes me want to say with nasal aplomb "did I do that?!?" She's an Hispanic Urkel. And who couldn't love a telenovela adaptation?
posted by sstrader at 10:27 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

September 14, 2006

Genius idea

Online shopping sites should have a gift receipt mode that hides prices. The receiver could browse without seeing how much the gift cost. Items could be filtered by the amount on the receipt and optionally have items that cost more shown as the difference in price.

posted by sstrader at 7:25 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

August 24, 2006


Schneier is the voice of reason in an otherwise cravenly stupid world.

I'd like everyone to take a deep breath and listen for a minute. ...

We're all a little jumpy after the recent arrest of 23 terror suspects in Great Britain. The men were reportedly plotting a liquid-explosive attack on airplanes, and both the press and politicians have been trumpeting the story ever since.

In truth, it's doubtful that their plan would have succeeded; chemists have been debunking the idea since it became public. Certainly the suspects were a long way off from trying: None had bought airline tickets, and some didn't even have passports.

From now on, anytime any of your idiot friends spout air-wasting stupidity about the dangers of air travel and how the FAA's rectal x-raying is somehow protecting our freedoms, kick them in the nuts. It's really the only sane response.

posted by sstrader at 3:22 PM in Culture & Society | permalink


Was there a "war on X-mas"? Ignoring the fact that "X-mas" and even "X-tians" have long been acceptable terms, the assertion is as laughable as saying there's a "war on women's work" or "a war on cartoon racial stereotypes" (I've actually heard complaints of the latter). Our society has become more egalitarian and less focused on one set of imposed mores than in the 1950s or 1920s or 1800s. Our society is not only becoming more secular but more diverse--the latter may be a cause of the former--and the American fundamentalist backlash like Middle Eastern is, as Reza Aslan puts it, the death throws of a threatened existence.

So, if it's silly to say there's a war on X-mas, is it equally silly to say there's a war on science? This is at least forcing us to define our terms. The war on X-mas is presumed to be a conspiracy of secularists as opposed to a simple drifting of social norms and capitalism's response to those norms. Corporations are held up as the primary conspirators as if they would ever raise "evil-doing" above simple profit. Would a company be more likely to bow to the requests of the ACLU or the profits of greater market share?

So then, is there a conspiracy of powerful groups aiming to eliminate (specific yet important) scientific beliefs from society? What do we make of Pope Benedict's reversal of John Paul's simple acceptance of evolution? Or with Bush's smack down of most all respected scientific beliefs? Are these battles in a war or simply a "drift of social norms"? On the one hand we have powerful corporations eliding religion and on the other we have powerful governments and religions eliding science. Corporations and the US government are secular, religions are not, so the only guilty party is the government.

posted by sstrader at 2:33 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

July 30, 2006

Morgellons catch-up

Reading the Digg comments on Morgellons is like going through the whole process of shock (But what makes this even worse is being labeled as mentally deficient and writing it off as an imaginary condition, 2nd comment, +18 diggs), concern (Fuck bird flu, i want immunization from this, 11th comment, +20 diggs), suspicion (Looks like some lint stuck to a scab to me, 17th comment, +2 diggs), and debunking (I was actually the person who wrote the original article suggesting it was a viral marketing scheme, 38th comment, +6 diggs) all at once. The videos posted, in contrast to the proof that they're supposed to offer, are surprising in their effective debunking of the claims. It's odd that some crazy bitch didn't attack Digg too.

The best comment, of course, posited that Morgellons is a series of tubes!

Continue reading "Morgellons catch-up"
posted by sstrader at 4:24 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

July 12, 2006

Morgellons! Attack!!

So, an internet troll has found my post on morgellons and decided to post this jaw-droppingly psychotic rant (which I'll repeat in full, though it's one of many that she left):

You saying "I" posted or own something about Atmospheric WHAT? I frigging failed science in highschool. You show me where I EVER posted on such a site. I'm tired of my personal name being slandererd on the internet and just because it is the internet does not mean that you can use false information wrecklessly and get away with it. It is slander just the same. Yes, I had volumes to say about Morgellons and I will say more if you wish, but I am not, nor have I ever been associated with Atmospheric What the F and prove it you slimy scumbag. I'm getting sick to death of these personal attacks on my personal private information, unprovoked, when I am a disabled BUSINESSWOMAN in the legal field that had NOTHING absolutely NOTHING to do with the sciences and if you really want to know all of my personal information, those of you that hide behind your darn blogging masks and slander folks PERSONALLY? I'll give you my resume, my business references, just about all you want but my home address because there are such a buttload of crazy fools out there that I would never consider going that far, or I would. Just to prove that I am simply a sick, sincere, sufferer of a horrendous government created disease! Now bring it on! Bring it on! And who are YOU anyway. You wanna call me out and slander me, you're as sick as Jay Reynolds, so grow some balls (my son told me the other night that I had 8 pound metaphorical balls and he's right!) and come out from behind your mask and I'll take you on, one ON one. Did you ever stop to consider how common the name Karen Marsh might be? Or are you another of these sick paranoids or a government plant yourself? Bring it on fool! I apologize for my language but I am FURIOUS. Can you spell INVASION OF PRIVACY? Oh yeah, you idiotic right wing Bush administration supporters let us lose our constutuional rights. You, whoever you are had better be sure of what you are saying before you stick your foot down your damn throat. I told Jay Reynolds I have 4 attorneys on retainer, one is specifically FOR SLANDER ISSUES. Do you wanta get in line? Bring it ON! - [signed KC Ridgewalker]

My first impulse was to ignore them, then it was to mess with them ("my agents in the government said you'd be contacting me..."), then I thought that maybe they actually believed what they said (maybe I do come across as an idiotic right wing Bush administration supporter). Finally, I realized that--whatever their impulse--they're just trolling for a response. From around 6 PM to now they seemed to be hovering over Ctrl+F5 waiting to let loose with more threats of legal action and/or a fist fight. Either way, it was really a very stunning rant that in the end I felt somewhat honored to be a recipient of. Thanks to Mason for being my argument proxy and for dealing with whatever it was that happened in these last 6 hours.

No new news on Morgellons though.

Continue reading "Morgellons! Attack!!"
posted by sstrader at 11:48 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

July 2, 2006


Two articles via Arts & Letters Daily. First, "Goodbye, Blog: The friend of information but the enemy of thought." from Christianity Today, which accuses the obvious. The author closes with a C. S. Lewis quote (naturally) that blames the Reformation on that evil of quotidian thought: the printing press. No mention is made of a corrupt church and an empowered populace. Oddly, the article praises the time-honored magazine practice of sponsored dialog as a more scholarly approach to debate. I guess that depends on whether you have pre- or post-printing-press magazines and on just who is sponsoring that debate. I ended up not really sure if the author was, as he says of blogs that he has encountered, morally compromised, or invincibly ignorant.

Second, "Professors of Paranoia? Academics give a scholarly stamp to 9/11 conspiracy theories" from The Chronicle of Higher Education. This provides an iconic, non-blog example of what the CT author selectively and salaciously blames on blogs. The author of a 9/11 conspiracy book is asked about a web site that refutes his assertions:, a Web site run by a software developer in England, is one of the few venues that offers a running scrutiny of the various claims and arguments coming out of the 9/11 Truth movement. Mr. [James H.] Fetzer [the co-chairman of Scholars for 9/11 Truth] has heard of 911myths .com, but he has never visited the site.

"I have been dealing with disinformation and phony stories about the death of JFK for all these years. There's a huge amount of phoniness out there," he says. "You have to be very selective in how you approach these things."

"I can assure you the things I'm telling you about 9/11 have objective scientific status," he says., he says, "is going to be built on either fabricated evidence, or disregard of the real evidence, or violations of the principles of scientific reasoning."

"They cannot be right," he says.

As Ira Flatow said recently, some people will simply ignore inconvenient facts. Web publishing comes in many forms with many and different intentions. Don't expect it to manifest as something greater than its authors and certainly don't try to blame the model for flawed content.

posted by sstrader at 6:22 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

June 27, 2006

Morgellons continues

The Adrants thread continues to grow and gets weirder. First, Morgellons sufferers are banding together to chastise the insensitivity of those who would question their disease's existence. Then, there are accusations of identity deceit: "KC Ridgewalker"--the most voluminous poster and appears on only one other page, a web site that touts Better Living Through Atmospheric Engineering--is really "Karen Marsh." Their accuser "Jay Reynolds" is really "Ron" or perhaps a govt. spook and possibly the purveyor of a conspiracy (or possibly spoof-conspiracy) site that examines the evils of contrails (vapor trails).

Mind Hacks has also taken up the Morgellons question. Their conclusion is that it's too esoteric and imprecise to be viral marketing (Philip K. Dick's fictional descriptions of parasitosis have it manifesting differently). But then--get this--they state that Randy Wymore, a genuine professor of Pharmacology and Physiology at Oklahoma State University [emphasis mine] has made public statements on the disease. Mind Hacks link to their genuinity points to an page that lists 30 doctors in their biomedical sciences department: Wymore is the only one that doesn't have a bio/credentials link.

It's like people are injecting weirdness. I can appreciate this recent comment on Adrants:

What the heck happened to this thread? Is this some sort of college prank? It's degenerated from a thoughtful discussion to a spellcheck war, who can google better contest! ... these patient accounts are ridiculous! So, a person is spewing long fibers, using a whole roll of tape to extract them, and when they go to the doctor, all they have is a lesion with a little blacm speck that they're picking away at with a magnifying glass and tweezers??

Another poster from a Hondo's World entry on Morgellons points to an article on the Morgellons Watch blog that a few doctors are making money off of patients who may be delusional and will therefore require indefinite services. Comments ensued.

Continue reading "Morgellons continues"
posted by sstrader at 12:18 AM in Culture & Society | tagged philip k. dick | permalink

June 21, 2006

Are we legal yet?

The assfucks known as AT&T are busy airbrushing out traitorous comrades. 1-2-3 and suddenly your Personal Information is now the latter but not the former. I heard about this from Marketplace on the way home (with the host doing his best I-can't-make-this-shit-up voice) and see that SFGate has taken note [ via BoingBoing ]. And while a non-insignificant proportion of scholars, lawyers, the American Bar Association, former CIA counsel, former FBI director, former NSA counsel, etc. denounce the NSA/AT&T collusion as unconstitutional, the administration's primary defense is that adherence to FISA is too difficult. They had successfully, and with ease, weakened aspects of FISA with the legislation of the Patriot Act, yet they now feel legal means are too difficult? Inconvenience trumps legality once again.

posted by sstrader at 7:42 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

June 20, 2006


So, recently a friend pointed out that The Religious (that all-encompassing group that counters The Agnostic) are arguing that said agnostics wouldn't dare try to remove crosses from Alington Cemetery (in the same manner they're trying to remove them from other public grounds) because there would be too much backlash. Ignoring the fact that Arlington Cemetery was not the issue, I immediately responded to the argument's deflection. If religious branding of federal/state ground is wrong it's wrong no matter how much backlash it initiates. Avoiding that issue to bring up the other is like saying "we shouldn't give group X their freedom because then we'll eventually have to allow group X to vote." The more difficult fight shouldn't negate the more obviously unjust situation.

That being said, although I agree that branding graves in a cemetery is different from branding public ground, an argument that relies on public intransigence in the face of change should reveal in and of itself that there's a problem with that argument. Or at least with the society that makes it.

posted by sstrader at 11:54 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

June 19, 2006

June 17, 2006

Jaron Lanier's got a (different) problem

That being: everyone (myself included) is mis-reading his essays. According to BoingBoing, Lanier never accused Wikipedia in his essay and in fact specifically exempted many internet gatherings from [his] criticism, including the wikipedia. His argument is more against how he feels that Wikipedia is perceived, not against how it functions:

No, the problem is in the way the Wikipedia has come to be regarded and used; how it's been elevated to such importance so quickly. And that is part of the larger pattern of the appeal of a new online collectivism that is nothing less than a resurgence of the idea that the collective is all-wise...

Yeah, Wikipedia may be overly-trusted by some, but isn't that a flaw of the whole internet?

posted by sstrader at 2:08 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

June 15, 2006

Pirate Bay's shiny metal DNS

As goes Lori, so goes the world.

She resparked my interested in opening up a CafePress shop, and although I had several original ideas I'd been sitting on Pirate Bay's recent Futurama reference seemed ripe for a CafePressing of my own. And we can all agree that there're not enough products in this world. Right?

posted by sstrader at 12:02 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

June 7, 2006

Jaron Lanier's got a problem

His Edge essay is just really unsatisfying in both content and expectation. Content was skimmed from every anti-Wikipedia treatise that's been around for years: fear of lowest-common-denominator, accusation of narrow scope (doing only what it does best), and fanaticism (among others). Expectation is that such a "visionary" should have some greater insight into the collective web. And he, simply, doesn't.

This P2P Foundation essay gets deep into phenomenology and ontology, but I don't think we need to get too far into the ether to set the foundations for the difference between collectivism and socially constructed networks (Web 2.0). The editors of Wikipedia are not the collective, they are the part of the collective that self-select to edit. This is hardly communist. The system doesn't fail because a significant portion of the population refuses to contribute: it's best that they don't contribute to (probably) 90% of what's there. I won't touch the articles on Roman history and I sure as hell shouldn't be touching them. Those that care to edit them, will.

And, just as critical mass has threatened to muddy Wikipedia with ideological battles, it also provides greater attention to attract those who really love their subject. Editors who are knowledgeable will take ownership and nurse the arguments into qualified disputes within the text. Not all will be 100% successful, but neither is any static text 100% successful.

The greatest fear that people have, possibly, is that Wikipedia shows text for what it really is: living. We're proud of science when it adapts to change, and proud of laws when they are corrected and clarified by application: we should be as proud of our text that can correct itself and reveal that history of correction.

(Digression: Lanier had also claimed that much of the information is available elsewhere. Offline yes, but it's very doubtful that this is available online. And even when it is, it's not as organized. I spent quite a while trolling through discographies and recital programs to piece together a skeletal list of Lyadov's compositions. I don't have access to the Grove dictionary, so I otherwise don't have his catalog on hand. Now I and others do.)

posted by sstrader at 12:06 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

May 26, 2006


Ian Frazier summons his best Holden Caulfield impersonation in the May 29, 2006 New Yorker (detailing one observer's impressions on the NYC coyote caught two months ago). Hilarious writing with its overzealous commas and quite a high ratio of "goddam"s per square paragraph, by the way.

posted by sstrader at 7:01 PM in Culture & Society | tagged catcher in the rye, coyote | permalink

More on Morgellons

57 News stories on Google News referencing 'morgellons'. One story says that the CDC is creating a task force, yet I could find no references on their site. This person points out the same concern but appears oddly bitter about the delusional bahavior of Morgellons sufferers.

My previous post on Morgellons on the 23rd pointed to an Adrants article that suggested it is viral marketing for A Scanner Darkly. A few comments have been added since then, and the Wikipedia entry has been updated with the recent flurry of local news reports, along with the claim that MLB relief pitcher Billy Koch and his family have Morgellons. That section was added on the 24th after a story about Koch and Morgellons was published by KTVU in San Francisco.

Continue reading "More on Morgellons"
posted by sstrader at 2:52 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

May 23, 2006


It's getting easier to organize a reality that may-or-may-not exist.

An article at Adrants proposes that Morgellons disease--that weird-as-shit, alien-type skin problem that's been cropping up in south Texas--could be viral marketing for the upcoming Philip K. Dick movie A Scanner Darkly. Morgellons is compared to delusional parasitosis (which is just what it sounds like) and has an alleged history of doctors refusing to treat it because it's all in the patients' minds. Dick is notable for his novels of paranoia equal to Pynchon yet with some extra psychosis mixed in. Add in viral marketing to blur the lines and the mind boggles. Add to this the comments with the Adrant article. Several people--with that rare disease Morgellons--immediately called bullshit and called the author out. Almost as immediately, others noted the dubious nature of those posts: duplicated entries with different names, duplicate IPs on different entries. More examination only clouded the truth. The mind boggled a little more.

And here we have a Junk Charts article calling for caution in the use of Google Trends. Although I couldn't imagine serious citations coming from GT, its irresistibleness is undeniable. Like Google Battle and Google Fight before it, Google Trends compares two searches but then trumps the other sites by adding a (ungraduated) histogram over months or years. Neat-o. Who wouldn't be compelled to over-emphasize the fact that Java is more important than .NET is more important than Ruby? And so these throw-away comparisons become like a more compelling urban legend. Instead of "my uncle's friend's co-worker's mother said" type of supporting evidence, you have Google to stand behind your assertions. Not so crazy when even Language Log relies on the opaque cipherings of a Google search to determine common usage, even though on several occasions they puzzled over the fact that A OR B != A + B (see here and here and here for starters).

Continue reading "Mutability"
posted by sstrader at 12:06 PM in Culture & Society | tagged philip k. dick | permalink

May 17, 2006

Drink up, boy-o

Someone just told me that the British drink instant coffee. I have no idea if this is true (or if it covers a majority of British coffee drinkers), but isn't it interesting that it's completely opposite of British and American cultural stereotypes? Shouldn't the British--who were primarily responsible for introducing coffee to Europe--be coffee snobs, eschewing mere instant? And shouldn't the Fast Food Americans be swilling Folgers and such?

Hard science at its best, I know.

posted by sstrader at 2:15 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

May 11, 2006

Tim and Jim

Martin Freeman plays Tim in the British Office. John Krazinsky plays Jim in the American Office. Wikipedia has a list of all of the parallel universe characters.

Martin Freeman has a personal Web site where you can purchase his CD of Motown covers. Not really interested in Motown, but good for him. Three out of five from five customer reviews. I still haven't seen H2G2 or Love, Actually.

John Krazinsky is apparently not as tech-savvy but is certainly getting some literary cred. According to Lisa and TV Guide, he's working on a movie adaptation of David Foster Wallace's short story "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" due out in 2007. I had read Wallace's other collection of short stories, Oblivion, back in September of 2004. Even his short stories have an unbelievable density to them, so "Brief Interviews" should be worth looking for.

posted by sstrader at 12:30 PM in Culture & Society | tagged david foster wallace | permalink

May 5, 2006

Dames. Aflame.

We saw some signs for Dames Aflame a week or so ago in the window of the old Peachtree Playhouse (aka, All Peachtree Battle, All the Time) on the first floor of our building. Ooh, says I, let's go see topless women! Lisa was less enthusiastic, and my impeccable logic (they're topless!!!) didn't sway her. We had actually seen them months prior (actually in April of last year) at the famous Kabao show in the Dojo Yakko gallery. It was an experience.

Well, apparently, they've set up house next to the Vortex and have called it The Laughing Skull Lounge (found via Toniet ... warning! thong-prominent lithograph). I can't believe how out-of-touch I am with my neighborhood. Next show there is the 19th. We'll be at the MC Frontalot show at the Drunken Unicorn, but we all need to plan a burlesque evening eventually.

posted by sstrader at 12:38 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

April 2, 2006


This is a wonderful story of some teen chicks in Ohio who deployed Mario power-up blocks around their town, hanging them sneaker-style over tree branches and power lines. Unfortunately, these silly question mark cubes stunk too much of ObL's handiwork, so the girls are being charged. My only goal in life now (besides finding the source of The Sing-along Beard) is to hang these up and down Peachtree St. so that the Saturday night cruisers can gain extra power and possibly attain speeds higher than 5-miles-an-hour.

From the originators of the urban power-ups:

[D]espite what Ravenna [Ohio] Police Chief Randall McCoy says, the purpose of these boxes is not "just to see what kind of response you get". It is to bring a smile to people's faces, to get them to connect with their neighbours, to bring colour into an otherwise grey urban landscape.


posted by sstrader at 12:19 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

March 31, 2006


Listening to Brian Lehrer's segment on The Blue Book. The book provides details on corporations to help the consumer buy within their political and moral beliefs (think Target and their jackassery with allowing pharmacists to pick-and-choose on prescriptions). Anyway, one of the reviews of the book at Amazon pointed to a Daily Kos article outing the publisher of the book as a possible thief, stealing information and methodology from Not sure what's true, but I think will be my first stop. Oddly, the two negative reviews on Amazon referencing the conflict have been voted as non-helpful (4/14 for the one-star review and 7/25 for the three-star review). An issue definitely worth consideration.

Brian Lehrer did not discuss the publishing controversy (I emailed him the info, not wanting to call while I'm here at work), but a caller on the show brought up questions on the appropriateness of personal boycotts--some questions I've also been thinking about. If companies are working within the law, why demand more? Well, government is slow, so--as with the examples given on the show such as Apartheid and Kathy Lee's sweatshops--it's the consumers' responsibility to act their morals. However, at some point we get to a masses-make-right morality which, let's face it, can go horribly wrong: slavery, Japanese internment, good-ole-boy racism, and glass ceilings. The Target example is a good illustration of the problem. I'm boycotting for an action whose opposite others boycott against. Those others without question are wrong of course, because I'm right of course, but our actions are otherwise equal. The act of boycotting is belief--and truth--agnostic.

At its heart, boycotting is a method to effect change, but I think ultimately you do it to obey your personal beliefs. If the world ultimately agrees with you, great. If not, you've at the very least acted appropriately to your own system of morals.

posted by sstrader at 11:27 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

March 25, 2006


Two humorous jabs, at religious conservatives (parodying this piece of crap):


And at ... more religious conservatives:

Continue reading "Subversion"
posted by sstrader at 4:26 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

March 24, 2006

The sing-along beard

Possibly the funniest comic I've ever read in my life, ever, was one that I had read years ago posted on the Internets called "The Sing-along Beard." It told a completely ludicrous morality tale about the harm caused by following fads. The particular fad of the story was a fake beard marketed as (for no particular reason) The Sing-along Beard and which became insanely popular. Chaos ensued.

So, for no particular reason, I was thinking about it recently and decided to look it up. Nothing. The only hit I get is a post in where someone used a quote from the comic in their sig. College boy thinks he's too good for the sing-along beard, huh? Can you believe this? My only goal in life now is to find that comic.

seancostello over at The Halls of Valhalla has the scoop! The cartoonist is Sam Henderson and the cartoon is from a set called The Magic Whistle. Not sure what issue has TS-aB, but with strips like "Contest to sit on cats" and "Pickles the Exploding Dog!" I don't think I can go wrong.
posted by sstrader at 11:08 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

March 22, 2006


Spent the last two days in training classes for work. Nothing interesting, just basic indoctrination along with a simple personality test called DISC (my results shown below). Going in, I understood that it was to be more of a team-building experience than anything tangibly useful. I mean, how useful is it to discuss the idea that customers appreciate being treated with honesty and integrity? Who doesn't know that? Still, the understanding of what was to be expected and the acceptance of the experience never really locked into place. Ultimately, the shared experience was good (everyone in the company takes this class), but the tediousness of the material was a little grating. It's the business world, so what are you going to do?


The break from the office was nice and there was free lunch both days: always to be appreciated. I don't know that there's any way for a large company to avoid these types of classes--the minor benefit it acheives by reigning in the few who really don't know how to talk on the phone is possibly benefit enough--but it reminds me too much of the bland infinitive soup of mission/vision statements that companies churn out. Any positive recognition (if it ever occurs) is simply socially constructed with no real benefit behind it. The absence of a mission statement would only be noticed by those who would force it back into view: the board of directors. And possibly the marketing team.

posted by sstrader at 11:51 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

A Wild Coyote in King Bloomberg's Court

Great chase scene described in the story of the coyote loose in Central Park.

We have the coyote cornered, but it remains elusive.


posted by sstrader at 6:00 PM in Culture & Society | tagged catcher in the rye, coyote | permalink

March 18, 2006

Dr. Who

The new ones are really pretty good. They've retained the goofy/cheesy mood of the original along with its moments of seriousness but not too much so. I watched the first two episodes this afternoon and was pleasantly surprised. Like the little-remembered show Freaky Links, the new Dr. Who has that fun feel that The Night Stalker had. Very pleasant.

posted by sstrader at 9:47 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

March 17, 2006

Bruce Sterling's speech at SXSW

Crap. Why are people listening to this? Is there some secret value that I'm missing beyond his free association of current events and lists of Cool Things but with no coherent framework? And the arrogance--whether deserved or not--only muddies his message. Absence of message. You know how Bush will make some quotidian statement and say it like he's the first person to ever think of it? Sterling, unfortunately, reminds me of that.

posted by sstrader at 5:21 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

March 14, 2006

Legally moral

Last night's Law & Order re-run (one of them) had the detectives putting an innocent elderly woman in jail in order to force her guilty daughter to reveal her crime. Every week on 24, government agents routinely torture and lie to con (presumably innocent) suspects into obeying. Two days ago, the judge in the Moussaoui trial declared that she had never seen a more egregious violation of the rule about witnesses when it was revealed that the government coached witnesses on how they should testify.

posted by sstrader at 4:23 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

March 5, 2006


Re-reading the paper written by two archeologists from the Archeological Institute of America examining the historical accuracy of The Passion of the Christ (originally linked from Language Log?). Their source materials are the Gospels and research based on Roman documents of the time. Their observations:

  • The lingua franca of that area of the Levant was Greek. The Romans and the ruling class would set aside their Latin and Aramaic, respectively, for Greek when speaking with each other.
  • Jesus, however, was poor and would not have known Greek or Latin.
  • Jesus, and anyone at the time, would have been crucified in the nude.
  • The Gospels don't mention any exceptional torture occurring, and torture was strongly regulated in Roman law.
  • Jews would not have been allowed in the Roman army and would therefore not have been part of the entorage arresting Jesus.
  • Jews were not a single group but were divided across various sects, some of which organized against their Roman rulers so were less in cohoots than in conflict.

Their conclusion: The end result is a movie that conveys a tremendous amount of pain and suffering, but also one that is, in many major and minor respects, unmoored from documented realities. Gibson strives to convey a theological message by recreating a convincing ancient context. The message that people take away from the movie should not, however, be mistaken for verifiable historical fact. There is good archeological research out there, it's a shame that it wasn't used. I can understand that Muslims might cringe at an accurate examination of the life and times of Muhammad, but I'm surprised that it can't or hasn't existed for Jesus.

I was reminded of this, especially the concept of striving for authenticity yet ignoring facts in conflict with belief, when I watched the Wafa Sultan commentary on Al Jazeera. She argues that Muslim violence is primitive, and although somewhat rambling at the beginning, she makes many, many fine points. However, the cleric who is to rebut her shows the futility of any attempt at dialog when he says dismissively If you are a heretic, there is no point in rebuking you, since you have blasphemed against Islam, the Prophet, and the Koran. Isn't that what Mel Gibson has said to us?

posted by sstrader at 9:18 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

March 2, 2006

Where am I?

I saw a lady at work the other day, obviously a guest because she was lost. Our office isn't that complex, but the first-time through--and maybe the next couple of times through--you'll get a little disoriented from the extra turns you have to make just to get to point B. Anyway, she had this slight panic look on her face. I knew it was just a lost look, but I imagined that maybe she forgot where she was at or what she was doing. She wasn't extremely old, but older enough to make that thought not so improbable or out of place. My next immediate thought was how I will feel when that eventually happens to me.

I think it will be like a fun mystery. How fast can I collect the clues to solve the riddle? But maybe my optimism will deflate when actually confronted with disorientation. It could be terrifying, I guess, but I still like to think that old age and dementia might be fun. Like: Who am I?!? Oop, OK, got it now. Never mind!

posted by sstrader at 9:48 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

Go to hell, Mississippi

I have to pass along BoingBoing's collection of DIY abortion clinic links. I was once asked where in the Constitution it says that you have the right to an abortion. Well, where does it say that you have the right to a tattoo? Or to follow a poor diet? Or spout inane arguments for limiting others' freedoms? There's your fucking penumbra, jackasses. How can the rights of the individual stop--or arbitrarily begin demanding specificity--when the value becomes so great? Stop giving religion a bad name.

posted by sstrader at 12:21 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

March 1, 2006

"My Big Break" on This American Life

Re-listened to the This American Life episode from January 2005 called "My Big Break." Specifically, act two of the show, where a Salon reporter--Jen Banbury--interviews two college kids--Jeff Newmann and Ray Lemoigne--she met in Iraq. They made their way over to Iraq in order to "help out in any way they can." What loveable, drunken idiots. Great impact at the end; very moving. The whole show is good, but act two begins at around 25 minutes in (RealPlayer allows you to scroll ahead).

posted by sstrader at 1:18 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

February 27, 2006

The White Rose, again

Back in June of 2004, Wikipedia's featured article was on the group of student dissidents in Nazi Germany called The White Rose. It is a very affecting story of idealists hopelessly trying to acheive their ideals, and I was reminded of it a week or so ago when Wikipedia had the anniversary of their trial on the front page. Looking through the current New Yorker, I see that a new movie out of Germany has been made of their story (an earlier one came out in 1982, also German). Netflix, unfortunately, does not have either yet. In the current film, Sophie Scholl is presented as somewhat wavering but ultimately resolute--the writers draw from recently available Gestapo transcripts. Reading "Die Gedanken sind frei," a song forbidden in Nazi Germany, I'm reminded of the upcoming film V for Vendetta. Alan Moore's original graphic novel was strong at times but too uneven. I don't have much hope for the Wachowski's giving it any cinematic justice, but there's always hope.

Continue reading "The White Rose, again"
posted by sstrader at 7:22 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

February 26, 2006

The IT Dud

Finally succumbed to the geek hype and watched the first episode of The IT Crowd on Google Video. Meh. In a discussion thread comparing The British Office with The American Office, someone posted that American humor is always more obvious and slow-witted. If The IT Crowd is to be a good example of non-American subtlety, it fails completely. The IT workers are anti-social nerds and everyone else is vacuous and computer illiterate. There's more comedic insight in a Revenge of the Nerds sequel. Add to that pratfalls and obvious sight gags and you have something equal to the more lowbrow American sitcoms. Just as the British gave us The Office, we've produced Arrested Development. I'm not trying to introduce a competition: just trying to dispel a silly bias.

There's good and bad from both, and unfortunately The IT Crowd is just a simplistic and generic sitcom. I'll sit through the second episode in the hope that it gets better, but I think people are just getting overexcited about spotting the Flying Spaghetti Monster and an old PET computer on the show and confusing in-jokes for insight.

posted by sstrader at 1:48 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

February 17, 2006


[ updated 16 Mar 2006 ]

Danny Sullivan's rant from 30 Jan lays out the deceit and self-deceit of Google's explanation of their China policy. If they're in it for the long haul, then I can argue doing the opposite -- not going in right now -- would be a long haul, long term vision. A short term sell out option is to go in now and build a market then naively think that when you're making billions off of China, you'll want to threaten to pull out later. Amen, brother.

I've recently become less accepting of Google's decision to work with the Chinese government (or, at least to work within their requirements). I expected Congress's hearings to be only silly grandstanding, and dutifully ignored them until /. took note of Tom Lantos' grilling of Google, Microsoft, Cisco, and Yahoo, comparing their actions to those of IBM when it did business with Nazi Germany and suppl[ied] the machinery needed to handle the great indexes and lists needed to keep track of the processing of six million or so undesirables, and the consultants and technical assistance needed to set up and run that machinery.

At what point does profit become a moral issue? Another poster pointed out that Mr. Lantos probably has something with a "Made In China" stamp, so he shouldn't be so quick to single out Google, et al. That avoids the subject (i.e. Lantos acting of two minds doesn't change the morality or immorality of Google's actions), but also questions why the government hasn't grilled other corporations. Maybe this is why I wanted to avoid following the Congressional hearings; what they decide won't change my beliefs and will very likely be twisted with politics more than morality.

posted by sstrader at 5:20 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

February 16, 2006


Muslims counter an image depicting them as violent by acting violently, and even the more moderate, avoiding violence, state that "[t]he rights of press freedom are not absolute" and that "Europe is godless and alone."

posted by sstrader at 8:11 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

February 10, 2006


Recently acquired:

Continue reading "Bazooka"
posted by sstrader at 9:50 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

January 15, 2006

Two worlds

Escapee from the Meme Machine posts the results of her two month experiment as an atheist visiting Christian discussion groups [via Pharyngula]. The results were 80% what you'd expect (ignorance and vitriol) and 20% surprising (commonality and politeness). Very well-written summarization of the experience and notable differences. Worth a read. Also check out the comments from both entries.

Fixed links to Pascal's wager below...

In my personal experience, I'd been presented with Pascal's Wager--the fifth most common reason to believe according to the article--as a reason to believe (see the list of criticisms for a good overview of its many problems). My response has always been: to waste your life in following a falsehood is a secular hell equal to that of any sacred hell. It would turn what should be the most meaningful dedication of your life into a Sisyphean farce. For me, that sorta nullifies any weight the wager could have.

Most arguments, however, come in a form similar to Dembski's tellingly daring defence of ID:

Ironically, Judge Jones's decision is likely to prove a blessing for the intelligent design movement, spurring its proponents to greater heights and thereby fostering its intellectual vitality and ultimate success.

Just ignore reality and you don't have to defend your beliefs.

Continue reading "Two worlds"
posted by sstrader at 5:45 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

December 30, 2005


Overheard recently at work: everyone thought that recycling was a good thing until they realized that it costs more to recycle than to throw away. Yeah, that's why we recycle. To save money. Jackass. Recycling is A Good Thing because our society can consume both resources and land (as landfills) at a greater rate than the environment can provide. Ancient societies got in the same predicament and often disappeared because of it. American Indian tribes over-farmed forests and destroyed ecosystems in the west [ref?]; we could just as easily outpace what our current forests have to offer. And although there's millions of acres of "empty" land to use as landfill, how are you going to get your garbage there efficiently (i.e. affordably)? And the argument that recycling costs more ignores the full processing cycle that includes mining ore or harvesting lumber. Jeesh. Does this even need to be stated? It reminded me of another canard where someone tried to tell me that we shouldn't recycle glass because it's made of sand. Gah!

Obviously, I and a half-dozen or so random strangers were at the recycling center today.

posted by sstrader at 11:35 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

December 23, 2005

The flaw of certitude

Listening to Bart Ehrman being interviewed on Forum and discussing his book Misquoting Jesus. It contains fascinating research on the hundreds of thousands of discrepancies between the various New Testament manuscripts. Most are trivial, but some--such as the fabrication of the concept of the trinity--significant. He teaches at UNC Chapel Hill; what a great course to be able to take.

Humorous comment from the show: an emailer accused him of fetishistic biblio-historiography (some people can only hope to be insulted with such an honorific) to which he dispassionately responded that fundamentalists worship the bible and not God, and so could be accused of a similar sin.

I had been in an argument recently concerning the mutability of the intent of the Constitution (aka the Living Document argument). I was, duh, pro and insisted that the wording is vague to its benefit, making the work bend without alteration to changes in society and culture. I was countered by something about activist judges ... how odd that we didn't find common ground.

Continue reading "The flaw of certitude"
posted by sstrader at 1:43 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

December 13, 2005

Sacred considerations

At work, I've a neighbor who I've never seen but that I hear constantly on the phone. He will talk for 30 or 40 minutes, I swear, to what sounds like his therapist--very loudly and in great detail. What's odd (as if the setup isn't odd enough) is that he's pontificating about his deep religious beliefs and how he feels that our culture is morally corrupted, and he'll continue to detail the points in scripture that prove it. So I really don't want to listen to how the world is wrong and sinful and but this guy has the insight into God's word to see it and live correctly. I especially don't want to be subjected to this at work. But then I consider: we all do our fair share of declaring what's right and what's wrong and (of course) following that declaration ourselves. It's kinda tacky to state that you've got the final word on the issue (as per divine law) ... but not really that much different from what we all do. Maybe? And I consider that he has to listen to me and my other cube neighbors rant about movies or music or how to replace a VW Beetle battery. Is that so different?

Target's been off-limits since they decided to mix their religion with my science. I really don't activist all that much, but this seems beyond good taste on their part, and so there's no more of that Good Target Stuff to be purchased. But then, do any of Target's good deeds make up for this one bad deed? I didn't have the urge to buy more from them because of thier charitable donations or their steadfast use of the phrase "Happy Holidays" in the face of fundamentalist rabble-rousers. Am I being uneven in my activism? Although maybe my actions as a consumer are atomic and only relevant (socially) when combined with others'. Target's reward for being socially responsible may manifest itself as an increase in customers--with the reverse also occurring. And boycotting does not always have to be about punishing the institution; it can just as likely be about acting true to yourself. Which gets us to the rabble-rousers: acting true to yourself doesn't mean that you have a justifiable position.

Finally: I watched Jimmy Carter on The Daily Show. It's nice to be an athiest and see a devout fundamentalist that I not only agree with but deeply respect. I sometimes worry that I'm biased to the point of being crippled. It's people like Jimmy Carter and Father Gregory Boyle who give me hope that the secular and religious don't have to be at odds.

posted by sstrader at 10:48 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

December 9, 2005

Google Print/Google Library

I had mistakenly told a friend that one of the problems with Google's library of scanned books was that they don't provide compensation to the copyright holder. From Search Engine Watch's explanation I'm still a little unclear, but it appears that the issue is that Google doesn't ask permission to reprint the works (or, rather, portions of the works), relying on the umbrella of Fair Use to validate their cause. And yet, the odd point is that Google will still be making money on that Fair Use with ads. Am I missing something here? I've read several articles and still feel that I don't have a full understanding.

Danny Sullivan really misses the mark though, very obstinately, on the difference between indexing Web pages and indexing books. The first point is that Web pages may be copyrighted yet still freely available; books, on the other hand, must be purchased. Even when loaned from a library, the book was purchased and is not being duplicated. It's free to read anyone's copy of a Web page because to view a Web page you must download it and therefor copy it. This brings up the second point that digital copying is different than physical copying. The domain of digital information is different from that of physical information and the two worlds are (once again) colliding. Maybe I'm missing some new paradigm, but I think that Google has to respect the existing model that exists in the physical world while pushing into the new world.

An artifact still has value. Or am I just being old-fashioned?

posted by sstrader at 7:36 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

December 6, 2005


From an anonymous employee-submitted Q&A survey taken where a friend works:

Question: Why does executive management keep their jobs when they obviously have had little impact to help the business succeed and profit? We do not get profit sharing but they get to do the same mediocre job for a hefty salary.

Answer: It is difficult to respond to broad generalizations.

And, no, they don't work for the Bush administration...

posted by sstrader at 12:47 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

December 3, 2005

People for the ethical treatment of logic

Digg just posted an article praising Penn and Teller's show ridiculing PETA. The commenters were falling over themselves in their praise of P&T and their vitriolic hatred of PETA. Ignoring the fact that it's easy to ridicule the differences from the norm that any extremist organization has (hint: that's why they're called "extremist"), and admitting that any harassment by PETA should not be tolerated, what are these people's complaints? ...

Continue reading "People for the ethical treatment of logic"
posted by sstrader at 2:45 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

December 1, 2005

Don't cry for me, I'm already dead.

Well, I better say my goodbyes now while I still have my wits about me.

posted by sstrader at 10:41 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

November 16, 2005


I hadn't written anything on the sad demise of Arrested Development because I just didn't have anything pithy to say. We'll miss it, and one of the best gifts we'd received in the past was the season one DVD. I recently heard an interview with the creators on Fresh Air and they pointed out what we all love: it's an eminently re-watchable show because it is so dense with gags.

Now, although I love Arrested Development, I don't trust people who insist that it's "too smart" for TV. What the hell does that mean anyway? It's too easy to pat yourself on the back as a Sophisticated Consumer when a well-written show that you like goes under. Its quirky humor and (unfortunately) erratic schedule combined to aid in its demise. Oh, and the fact that it's made up of an ensemble cast including several veterans might make it a little more costly than The King of Queens or (shudder) Two and a Half Men. There are many good shows that make it. This one didn't.

OK, enough ranting.

My intent here is to point out a suggestion over at Lost Remote that bump had pointed to. LR proposed that Arrested Development should investigate the VOD and streaming models. This, in combination with its healthy DVD sales, could support the costs. Great ideas there. And some good musings in the comment section. Much more pithy than any rant I could come up with. The concepts may-or-may-not work, but they are certainly related to what we'll see in the future, and who better to begin the trend than such a Very Smart show?

posted by sstrader at 10:37 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

Oh, drat

I've gotta drop Target. I'm keeping the Magic 8 Ball though.

"Are we living in a theocracy?"

Rely on it.

posted by sstrader at 6:05 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

November 12, 2005

Futurama drinking game

Drink whenever:

  1. Fry scratches his butt,
  2. You are aroused by Amy (drink twice if you're female), or
  3. The Professor says "good news" (twice if he says "bad news," just "news," or any other variation)

If Flexo makes an appearance, drink a shot of Tequila.

posted by sstrader at 3:01 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

Silverman the racist

Reading several reviews of Sarah Silverman's new film Jesus is Magic, I saw that The Chicago Tribune brought up the interesting opinion that rather than skewering racism, as Silverman explains her humor, she is actually laughing along with racism. I've sort of thought about this before with The Simpsons. Their characters are so cliched--a cop that looks like a pig, a corrupt Kennedy-sounding politician, an Indian convenience store owner--that it's a wonder they ever get beyond vaudevillian stereotype jokes. There are no fried-chicken-eating blacks or stingy Jews, so the racism/stereotypes are very G-rated and relatively uncontroversial, yet they are still presented as characters that are Funny Because They're Different from Us (or "Us"). How many times can we laugh at Akira's broken English before we feel a little uncomfortable? I'm kind of fascinated to see the Middle Eastern Simpsons just to see what stereotypes they abuse.

Continue reading "Silverman the racist"
posted by sstrader at 1:35 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

November 4, 2005

Free, at last

Unless you've been living under a rock (which I have to some extent), you've probably heard that that jackass Kenneth Tomlinson has resigned from the board of the CPB. Keep your laws off of my news!

posted by sstrader at 6:17 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

October 28, 2005

Blogdex offline, part 2

Blogdex may be offline (or, maybe back on now?), so try out the BlogsNow aggregator for its general aggregatory goodness. Includes categorization of links (MP3, flickr, Wikipedia, etc.). I may be out of the loop, but why aren't there more Blogdex 2.0s out there?

posted by sstrader at 12:57 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

October 27, 2005

Blogdex offline?

I've been noticing some weirdness for the Blogdex feed in my RSS reader (reduced entries, repeated source links, more spam than usual), but thought it would pass. Now Blogdex appears to be offline. Trusting that I'm certainly not the only one to notice this, I found only one other person (Kevin Burton asking the question two days ago) who seems to have noticed. What's going on? How can something as valuable as Blogdex fall off the face of the Earth with no notice? Everyone can't be as dismissive of weirdness as I am.

posted by sstrader at 8:29 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

October 26, 2005

Who do you think you are?!?

CmdrTaco got his name taken away in an online game and posted a thoughtful piece on identity. Reminds me of when Elaine changed her phone number and became an outcast because of the new area code.

KRAMER: Oh! Jeez! Well, you've got a maid. It's a whole different world downtown-- different Gap, different Tower Records, and she's a 646.

ELAINE: What? What is that?

JERRY: That's the new area code. They've run out of 242s, so all the new numbers are 646.

ELAINE: I was a 718 when I first moved here. I cried every night.

posted by sstrader at 1:27 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

October 22, 2005

Sarah the Jew

Finally got around to reading the Sarah Silverman article in the recent New Yorker (impossible to keep up with that subscription). I first saw her a few years back when Bravo reran The Larry Sanders Show. I had heard-of-it-but-never-watched-it when it first came out, and was completely hooked when it ran on Bravo. Hey now! Sarah Silverman was a writer on the show and in one episode did a very funny stand up routine. She's cute and disarming and has such a unique comic voice that ends up being really really menacing. Some quotes:

Continue reading "Sarah the Jew"
posted by sstrader at 6:01 PM in Culture & Society | permalink


A couple of days ago, Lisa went to Target and got: Halloween candy, miniature Magic 8 Balls (!), Halloween paddle-ball paddles with a rubber ball attached by springy rubber bands, and cleaning supplies.

There's this spray cleaner that she started buying a few months ago called "method." I'm completely hooked on it: non-toxic, biodegradable, naturally derived (?), and never tested on animals. And it smells like grapefruit. Aaaaad they thank me for recycling. You're welcome.

Anyway, Target, despite often having things in confusing locations, has always been high on my list of where to get STUFF. But wait: Lisa just got word that they've joined the evil empire by apparently allowing their pharmacists to deny birth control based on their belief system. I found a reference of it on Daily Kos along with contact numbers and related articles. After complaning to Target, the author got a (basically meaningless) reply.

"Will Target stop denying medication to women?"

"Outlook not so good."

Continue reading "Target"
posted by sstrader at 11:11 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

October 20, 2005

Faith in humanity, or something like that ... whatever

A couple of week ago, on October 5th, FAB angried up everyone's blood by relaying a less-than-endearing story involving the Atlanta police. I suggested that people contact the Office of Professional Standards, took my own advice and emailed them on the 6th, and just today received a response (on the 20th) with a letter from the Chief of Police dated the 11th. Here's the story thus far:

Continue reading "Faith in humanity, or something like that ... whatever"
posted by sstrader at 11:46 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

October 19, 2005


I have this weird urge to wear a 100% Perfect Replica Rolex and buy some KOKO PETROLEUM (KKPT) stock for $1.85 a share.

posted by sstrader at 5:05 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

What's weird is that their convenience store is run by an American!

This just in from the Wife, The Simpsons are going to the Middle East! I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for bootleg region 1 DVDs or VCDs of the hilarious exploits of Omar Shamshoon and his reprobate son, Badr. Mmmmm, falafelishious...

posted by sstrader at 11:20 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

October 10, 2005

What happened to All Star Pizza?

Last night, the 14th Street All Star Pizza took their increasingly bad service a step further and delivered us two sideways pizzas. It was gross and unfortunately discovered after the delivery guy left. Whyohwhy don't I check it at the door?!?

They'd been my favorite choice over the 10th Street Dominos. That Dominos has constantly changing employees and managers, and the deliveries often had mistakes or missing items (drinks, etc.). And if you're unwise enough to go pick up your order, you'll expect the same high quality service with an added wait that will probably be longer than delivery. I dropped them for All Star and now think I'll give up on delivery pizza completely.

What do I expect? Their primary customers are college students, so they're probably trying to get away with as much as their customers. I've considered complaints of some sort, but I'm pretty pessimistic about customer service. Return the pizza and go to the grocery store: I'll probably be waiting for the manager no matter how noisy I am then begin the actual foraging for food elsewhere. Add the initial wait for delivery, the drive to complain, the wait to complain, the drive to the grocery store ... anyway, cut to three hours later when we're finally eating dinner. I flirted with the idea of calling them, but what response can I really get from that? "I just wanted to call and complain," or "give me a coupon for one of your free crappy pizzas."

I recommend the Fruschetta Brick Oven frozen pizza (it's square!) for around $5.

posted by sstrader at 8:43 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

October 9, 2005

wartuning (definition)

v. intr. To scan the FM frequencies from 88.1 through 89.5 in heavy traffic in order to find another driver with an FM transmitter connected to an MP3 player. See also wardriving.

posted by sstrader at 12:27 PM in Culture & Society , Language & Literature | permalink

September 9, 2005

September 7, 2005

You are not forgotten

BoingBoing is doing a good job trying to keep up with the media chaos that is Katrina. Check out this IM transcript from the Astrodome. Fox News is down on the floor. I'm in dome, hiding in seats. They're allowing some media on the floor, not others. The situation seems very uncertain. Although I'd like to think that we should be able to know with certainty if there're unreasonable restrictions being put on the press, anyone who'd want to place those restrictions would want to work within a gray area--making it difficult to determine what to dismiss as merely rumor.

Continue reading "You are not forgotten"
posted by sstrader at 9:42 PM in Culture & Society | tagged new orleans | permalink

Why I like WNYC

They've been my newfavorite radio station for a while; here's another reason why: with every editorial page and their mother invoking Hobbes to explain the social and governmental response to Katrina, Brian Lehrer devotes a segment of his show to discussing Hobbes with SUNY philosophy professor Dick Howard. With call-ins. I'm sure listeners of Neal Boortz or Rush Limbaugh will soon see copycat shows covering John Locke.

posted by sstrader at 12:16 PM in Culture & Society | permalink


Just as they act evilly in the face of charity (here and here), PayPal gets closer to supporting micropayments (5% plus $0.05 per transaction, apparently for merchant accounts). Adam has campaigned for using Ads by Goooooogle on blogs as a form of tip jar to allow kindly individuals to click-through to donate. I have taken, showing my groovyhippyartschool roots, an idealist position against allowing ads into the personal space of personal blogs. With this new offering by PayPal, the pragmatic approach using ads, being the only game in town, may no longer be needed, but I would still like to see some reasonable competition in consumer to consumer commerce.

posted by sstrader at 11:43 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

September 6, 2005

Awful, part 2

Something Awful has provided a summary of their pained dealings with PayPal. Heh. He had to contact customer support (many times) and of course could only obtain their number by going to (although present on the PayPal site, it is arguably difficult to find). These gripes have been going on for a while, and I guess you could say that anyone with any savvy should already be forewarned about PayPal. I guess. SA's assessment:

I'm not going to tell people to close their Paypal accounts. I'm not going to say all their actions were completely unwarranted. I'm just presenting my experience with them and will allow you to draw your own conclusions. However, I harbor a fundamental disagreement with their business practice of assuming all their clients are filthy criminals who must repeatedly prove their innocence to a series of unmanned servers and computer systems. I do not support their ability to freeze entire accounts, take money from whoever they want at whatever time they want, and impose whatever arbitrary rules and regulations they deem necessary without having to answer to any organization. Every single cent in every single Paypal account is earning their company ungodly amounts of interest in their central bank account. They offer users credit cards and the chance to put your money into interest-generating accounts. So exactly why are they not under banking and FDIC rules again?
Continue reading "Awful, part 2"
posted by sstrader at 9:35 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

September 5, 2005


Something Awful came back online at 9:20 this morning. Scroll down and read about those incredible jackasses over at PayPal who tied up ~$30,000 that Something Awful collected for NOLA, and that SA has to refund all of the money to the donors because of PayPal's jackassed handling of the money. Unbelievable. PayPal should die.

Check out the archived news for the full story.
Continue reading "Awful"
posted by sstrader at 12:11 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

September 1, 2005

The poor

Cherie Priest keeps looting in context and BoingBoing warns us to watch out for sly racism in the news (posing the rhetorical question Black people loot, white people find?). From Cherie's post:

People who don't have the funds to drive fifty miles inland almost certainly do not have the money to stock up for a week's worth of food, diapers, pet kibble, or bottled water. Come Tuesday morning, the kids were getting hungry. The toilets weren't flushing anymore. The power was gone, and it wouldn't be back for months, maybe.
Continue reading "The poor"
posted by sstrader at 1:09 PM in Culture & Society | permalink


BoingBoing has an excellent round-up of readers' comments and links on what the single best thing Joe Geek can do to help. It's a long-ish post, with many comments, but well worth the read and informative. Xeni will be adding more information as it comes in. Read especially the list of suggestions from Erik V. Olson.

That post has many links to sites with information on how to help. They are:

The general assessment seems to be: give money. If you haven't already trained as a volunteer, going there could get in the way of the help organizations and run counter to the evacuation. I heard a story on WNYC about a couple driving from Idaho to pick up the first homeless family they see and house them for a few months. This is a wonderful act of charity but could be a problem for rescue workers if too many people did it.

The Baton Rouge newspaper, The Advocate, has a list of contacts. Some places are looking for people with boats (who are able-bodied and capable of lifting 100 pounds!) and health-care volunteers.

Everyone should be careful of scam sites fishing for personal information and money. BoingBoing has also reported on a few suspicious sites.

There's a lot of information out there and the whole tragedy, even when you do something to help, is frustrating because of its scale. Will we be talking about the people of the Katrina diaspora decades from now?

Continue reading "Help"
posted by sstrader at 12:31 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

August 31, 2005

Political flood

bump dutifully points to an article over at Editor & Publisher questioning whether the White House is culpable for focusing more funds on Iraq and homeland security than on the New Orleans levees. The federal government set up SELA to prevent catastrophic flooding. This is only a more visceral effect of the egregious uselessness of Iraq. What quieter troubles are building as money is poured into Iraq? This has been discussed before, and the social trauma from the Republicans' fiscal ignorance in Iraq (hey, at least the Democrats attempt to throw money towards our society instead of away), ignoring their international and moral ignorance, can only be guessed at. Few could argue that the ROI of the Iraq war mitigates the billions lost to it.

And with this, I keep reading the defense "what do the Democrats offer instead?" Geesh, what wouldn't be better than what we have now? (Fukuyama has a more dispassionate assessment over at the NYT op-ed pages.)

Second question: are we equipped to handle this disaster with the few national guardsmen that are left here at home?

Continue reading "Political flood"
posted by sstrader at 12:19 PM in Culture & Society | tagged fukuyama, new orleans | permalink

August 28, 2005


I haven't been connected with news lately, and Lisa had told me earlier (~5) how serious the Katrina thing is. There's a Flickr group, and Wikipedia has an entry as does Wikinews, although they don't have a central page for it yet. The Flickr group had 51 photos when I checked it at 5--it's now up to 74.

We've had several trips to New Orleans over the years. The most memorable was the shortest: Saturday morning to Sunday morning with around 15 people from work. The tickets were cheap and the trip was a hurricane-infused blur. My first trip was a very uncomfortable one meeting Lisa's friends and their families for the first time. Yipes. I've been to JazzFest several times but have never been to Mardi Gras. I was worried that I was getting too old and enfeebled to party with the crazies no matter how many topless women were promised, but a different story may unfold. The last several years seems like they've had an upsurge of documentaries on the possible fate of New Orleans, so you couldn't call it unexpected. But as with other tragedies, expectations don't nullify the shock. We'll see what happens.

posted by sstrader at 11:35 PM in Culture & Society | tagged new orleans | permalink

August 27, 2005

Storefront maps

Back in April, I was excited to see our condo from satellite and storefront. A9's storefront view is cool, but sometimes difficult to get to. Now, they've combined it with MapQuest maps and will show navigable photos of both sides of the street at the mapped location. Again, our condo. Neat.

Not supported in Opera. Blah.

Continue reading "Storefront maps"
posted by sstrader at 4:13 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

August 26, 2005


Listening to Fresh Air on the way to recycling. While discussing the less than moral life that his father led, John Le Carre said that hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue (originally by Franois de La Rochefoucauld?). Nice quote.

posted by sstrader at 4:43 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

August 21, 2005

Genius idea

Create a wiki to manage social events/happenings. It should allow those events to be easily searched and categorized, but of equal importance, as with most wikis, it should allow anyone to manage the entries. Too often, I've gone to closed, business-owned sites that are generally over-full with ads or diluted with out-of-date information. If the information isn't out-of-date, the sites collect it in an exclusionary manner with pay-per-placement and by acting as editorial guards to what they consider worth reporting. This sounds like a familiar problem that an open Web site could solve.

Continue reading "Genius idea"
posted by sstrader at 12:52 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

August 3, 2005

Chevron and Nigeria

I recently learned about the complicity of Exxon in human rights abuses in Indonesia. Alleged abuses. Anyway, the EFF legal director is currently representing Nigerian civilians against Chevron. Apparently, allegedly, Chevron paid local security forces who killed the Nigerians' relatives and neighbors [via BoingBoing]. (Within the last 30 minutes, Google News went from six hits to 162.)

Is it naive for me to be surprised? First at Exxon and Indonesia then Chevron and Nigeria? I guess that even though you can imagine what can-and-probably-does happen, the specifics will be jarring.

posted by sstrader at 9:34 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

August 2, 2005

UPS obsession

So I'm waiting on my new keyboard, checking the UPS site every five minutes and refreshing the tracking status list. Comeon comeon comeon! And I'm thinking: someone needs to write a Google Maps hack to map all of this. I have no idea where Lenexa, KS is--and even if I did, I wouldn't know how far it was from Earth City, MO. Few would.

But then I think: this is too genius of an idea for me to have come up with it first. So I Google ups tracking google maps and immediately find a Greasemonkey user script to map UPS package routes. Nice. Although it would be nicer if it marked arrivals and departures, but I'm sure that's in the works.

But why isn't it making my keyboard travel faster?

posted by sstrader at 1:53 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

July 31, 2005

More on morality

From a recent dinner with some strident conservatives, I've been kinda perplexed by some contrasts they brought up. They bemoaned the plight of a society that must support "stupid people," with one key example being a relative who always makes poor dating decisions. Paired with this was an almost angry insistence later in the conversation that my, and everyone's, morality was for sale. So, we're all willfully fallible in that which is possibly most important, and yet fallibility in common choices of life--dating, jobs--is unforgivable.

Continue reading "More on morality"
posted by sstrader at 1:59 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

July 25, 2005

Torture, again

The discussion came up today: other countries' mistreatment of American prisoners justifies our mistreatment of foreign prisoners as long as we don't go as far as they did. I've avoided considering this position because, to me, it means the end of civilization. To think that we have to be only slightly more moral than the next guy in order to say that we've led a conscientious existence is simply too depressing. How can we support a double-standard of morality and define a double-standard of what we would label, too simplistically, as "evil"? I've avoided considering this, maybe, to avoid realizing that for many it's a generally accepted truth.

And Biden's compelling observation that we act morallly to protect American troops (I commented on favorably here and here) is a cop out. Should the choice of a moral life be simply insurance, protection money paid, so that others will treat you justly? Those who will act with malice will act that way no matter your morals.

Continue reading "Torture, again"
posted by sstrader at 9:23 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

July 22, 2005


Listening to Reza Aslan talk about his book No God But God [Amazon] on Forum. I had first heard about Aslan when Jon Stewart had him on his show. During this Forum interview, he made an interesting defense of the Islamic community that I hadn't heard before. A caller made the often heard criticism of Muslim leaders saying that they did not speak out against 9/11. Aslan said that, in fact, there was a voluable and wide-spread denouncement immediately after the attack. I had never heard this defense--another good reason to get his book and see what's what.

Continue reading "Denouncements"
posted by sstrader at 3:23 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

July 21, 2005

Dinner politics

Dinner with the bosses and the DoD reps at a restaurant called Tomas in Norcross. The head chef came from Buckhead Diner, and although the choices were outstanding the results were average. I don't not recommend it, but there were problems. My caprici salad had some slightly unripe tomatoes and the calimari, breaded, didn't have enough spice. Considering all that, the atmosphere and service was very nice and, again, the choices were outstanding.

It was fun hanging out with the crew. We eventually wound our way around to politics, and the resounding tone was one of a plea for everyone to be reasonable. And yet, being surrounded by conservatives, I noticed that they had the same issues as me: the desire to be reasonable is often overridden by the frustration of your political affiliation. In the same breath that you're denigrating the extremists on both sides, you have the urge to paint those on the other side as the more offensive of the two.

Continue reading "Dinner politics"
posted by sstrader at 10:34 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

Publishing and tuning out

Another entry from Sarah Vowell's book Radio On. She's listening to NPR's show "Soundprint" with Gary Covina and Ira Glass (remember, this is 11 years ago):

Continue reading "Publishing and tuning out"
posted by sstrader at 12:18 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

July 20, 2005

That old house, part 2

The Designer Finals show on HGTV that remodeled our friends' living room will finally air on August 6th. Look for: time-lapsed magic, Lisa looking exasperated as she pulls up carpet tacks, and lots of furious painting near the end. Excelsior!

posted by sstrader at 10:07 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

July 19, 2005

Attempting to eliminate email spam

Around a month ago, I got fed up with email spam (only a month ago?) and decided to do what I should have been doing for a while and begin responding to the opt-out options that were available. It had seemed easier to just delete them in bulk, but the bulk got too bulky, so I decided to see what SOP would achieve.

Continue reading "Attempting to eliminate email spam"
posted by sstrader at 2:54 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

July 14, 2005


On News and Notes yesterday, I heard about a study by Harvard University economist Roland Fryer. In that segment Fryer spoke about the results of his studies on the relationship between social popularity and "acting white," and on the relationship between uncommon black names (I think "Loquetia" was an example) and economic success.

I love studies on our basic assumptions. Even when they reaffirm common knowledge or "home-spun wisdom," they are valuable because of their validation. So often, common knowledge is just plain wrong, so validation of such information is more valuable than, say, validation of a theory on superstrings. Maybe not that valuable, but still pretty valuable.

Anyway, Fryer looked at high school friend networks and compared grades with popularity ("An Empirical Analysis of 'Acting White'"). He found that black students kept a consistent popularity with grade increases up to a point. After that, their popularity went down. He labeled this as two audience signaling tension and pointed out that it is not related to race. As students try to achieve academic success in order to achieve economic success, they distance themselves from their peer group. Instead of focusing on friendships, they focus on a different environment and necessarily spend less time with friends. The higher achieving students are not being isolated because of their grades but because of friendship jealousies.

In the analysis of the affect of odd names on economic success, he compared apples to apples by tracking people from equivalent social settings. He found that a person's name had no correlation with their economic success. Oddly, he never explained why more black women than men have odd names.

posted by sstrader at 11:43 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

Quick thought on emotional responses

Instead of being viewed as emotionally cold, the glib and mocking sentimentality of the meta-narrative should be viewed more as a way to defuse sentimentality that is too often faked. People aware of their awareness Act more consciously and, in effect, cheapen the emotion. Meta-narrative immediately re-examines an emotional moment in order to acknowledge the awareness but not necessarily to nullify the emotion.

100 years or 500 years ago, people were equally self-aware yet not so reactive to the conscious Acting. Why do we respond differently?

posted by sstrader at 10:24 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

July 7, 2005

Wide eyed

William Gibson has an essay in Wired titled "God's Little Toys" as part of a larger feature called "Remix Planet". In it, the writers extoll the importance, and sheer cultural primacy, of collage and repurposing. Gibson:

Our culture no longer bothers to use words like appropriation or borrowing to describe those very activities. Today's audience isn't listening at all - it's participating. Indeed, audience is as antique a term as record, the one archaically passive, the other archaically physical. The record, not the remix, is the anomaly today. The remix is the very nature of the digital.

I'm extremely suspicious of most assertions that attempt to say that our current society is unique in this way or that from earlier eras. The assertion that we're a "remix culture" is no different. Here are some of the points provided as proof of our uniqueness (from Gibson's article and others):

Continue reading "Wide eyed"
posted by sstrader at 3:43 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

London town

Following new stories all day. Bush sounding alternately like a war propagandist (I was most impressed by the resolve of all the [G8] leaders in the room.) and a hippie (We will ... spread an ideology of hope and compassion to overwhelm their ideology of hate.). Weird. Also: Americans should stop acting like egotistical martyrs who can teach the British how to deal with such a situation. It is we who are the newcomers to those who have had violence perpetrated on their home soil. On vigilance, a British representative pointed out the many attacks before today that were stopped, saying that "the terrorists only need to be lucky once, we need to be lucky a thousand times."

Today, we are all Londoners.

posted by sstrader at 2:21 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

July 5, 2005

past the barber and gymnasium...

Heard yet another person denigrate the choice of getting a tattoo (useless disclosure: I don't have a tattoo). The most recent argument I heard was, like the previous ones, that what looks interesting on a young, smooth body will look faded and ugly on an old, wrinkled, fleshy body. Few bodies at 60 or 70 are going to be all that lookable anyway, with or without a tattoo, and a dragon or heart or dagger or flower is unlikely to ever look dated. They'll just always look tattoo-ey. It's not like people are tattooing zoot suits or bell-bottoms on themselves.

posted by sstrader at 1:01 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

June 29, 2005

America's contribution to the world's religions

[don't read this if you're touchy about religion - ed.]

Salon has started a four-part series on Scientology.

What is it about modern American religions that binds them to such questionable social acts? Mormons [Wikipedia] have/had thier penchant for polygamy, Christian Scientists have their ambivalence towards medicine. And Scientologists have badgered, legally and socially, those who have left their religion or those who criticize it (and hopefully, they only attack those whose opinions matter--winkwink). Is this just a parallel of the persecution of older incipient religions? A very basic summary (although please correct if I'm horrendously wrong): Jews were enslaved as foreigners, Christians were persecuted for their challenge to the Jewish authorities, and Muslims were condemned for their conflict with the prevailing animism. All pretty normal in societies where theological is political. But in such a wonderfully permissive society as America's, how in the hell do religions crop up and still bump against the social norms?

All of America's religions are based on documented lies. In the world of early Judaism or Christianity or Islam, society's less-than-incisive collecting of facts was understandable. How can that happen today in our (apparently not so) modern world of open information? Well, there's a desire for the spiritual no matter the facts, so I guess if something's gonna crop up as a spiritual desire (rocks or crystals or incantations from a book or Nikes hopping a comet) no amount of real-world knowledge is going to stop it. The harmless part is the spiritual part.

But these affronts to social mores, that have little-to-nothing to do with the spiritual intent of the American religions, are inexplicable. All of the American religions have basically the same bundle of stuff once you ignore their embarassing beginnings and questionable activities: positive thinking and a (ultimately non-denominational) soul. Why don't they just stick with that?

Continue reading "America's contribution to the world's religions"
posted by sstrader at 12:55 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

June 23, 2005

TOTN on CPB funding

Reviewing yesterday's discussion on Talk of the Nation covering issues surrounding government funding and public broadcasting. The guests were the editor of Reason magazine, Nick Gillespie, and Michael McCauley, associate professor of communication and journalism at the University of Maine. A few points:

Continue reading "TOTN on CPB funding"
posted by sstrader at 11:27 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

June 20, 2005


Drinking with someone the other night, we got into an argument about the relevancy of the new directions that search engines are taking. Amazon's A9 displays storefronts [SearchEngineWatch] as photographed from a fleet of vans. Google's map displays satellite images [SearchEngineWatch] of the area that you're viewing, and they are planning 3D enhancements [SearchEngineWatch] as reported in eWeek. MSN is developing a Virtual Earth [SearchEngineWatch] using a fleet of low-flying planes. On top of that, Google has just added the world [via /.]. Most places are lo-res satellite or country placeholders, yet their future intentions are clear.

Are these features just "cool," or do they add enough value to be around for a while?

Continue reading "Immersion"
posted by sstrader at 7:20 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

Public service

Brian Lehrer on WNYC discussing the CPB funding issue.

David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, argued for a separation of news and state. VOA [Wikipedia] was not brought up, I'm assuming, because it's restricted from being broadcast within the US (which is just silly considering their short-wave broadcast, their streaming audio feed, and their Web page). He also argued that FOX and CNN provide sufficient diversity for the public. The discussion was interesting until Boaz declared Lehrer biased simply because he was presenting counter-arguments. During the introduction, Lehrer admitted his bias--acknowledging the absurdity of even needing to point that out--yet ad hominem is no way to defend your side of the issue. Following were call-ins that were, I swear, 90% in support of cutting all funding for CPB. So much for public radio limiting public debate. WNYC consistently presents a diversity of opinion; greater and with greater depth than the narrow editorializing of FOX+CNN. I'll reiterate Bill Moyers' point that giv[ing] each side an opportunity to spin the news is not reporting. We're still a long way off from people being reasonable.

Continue reading "Public service"
posted by sstrader at 10:45 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

June 19, 2005


Scott Spiegelberg has had two weeks of attempting to manifest the mysteries by using random iPod tracks and merging them with a Tarot reading: thus, the iChing [via Preposterous Universe]. Very entertaining.

I'm surprised I haven't heard of more divine leveraging of such computational randomness. It reminds me of a recent report I had read about [source?] where delusions were studied along with their relationship to modern technology. The example I remember is of a lady who felt that the top search results of a specific phrase were being sent to her specifically by unseen forces (the important point being that a different set of high-ranked hits would have instilled a different delusion). What was once only borrowed from the complexity of nature is now being subsumed by complex technology.

posted by sstrader at 2:54 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

June 7, 2005

MyMedia, part 2

Related to my recent post on the dystopic personalization of media, Terry Teachout has an essay on the history of blogging [ via Alex Ross ].

With all of the great detail offered, I'm a little doubtful about his overall explanations that the red/blue state dichotomy sparked the drive for personalized culture (because the red states were disenfranchised by Liberal Media). He also asserts that the disconnect between mainstream media and groups not represented by mainstream media is somehow new to our modern culture (and that the common culture of widely shared values and knowledge that once helped to unite Americans of all creeds, colors, and classes no longer exists). There are many ideas in the essay so I'll need to re-read, but his conclusions seem considerably counter to historic example.

Continue reading "MyMedia, part 2"
posted by sstrader at 5:08 PM in Culture & Society | permalink


Back in November of last year, I posted about an animation pondering the possibly weird world of media in the future. It's an animation called "Epic" and had some interesting ideas in it: in 2014 people will be surrounded by dynamically generated and dynamically compiled, personal media. This concept has been floating around for a while, but the Epic animation ties it in to current companies to give it a realistic edge. Google will provide the network grid, Blogger and iPod will provide personal broadcast "towers," and Amazon will provide the personalized recommendations. The New York Times and Microsoft die, and all media consumption reverts to trivial gossip. They have an update that tacks on events in 2015, but adds little to the concept.

I keep considering how the opposite (of degenerate personalized media) might happen. These cocoons of self-interest may be our generation's Frankenstein or primary dystopia: a warning of the possible excesses of media addiction if current trends are taken to the extreme. Dystopian predictions are good for the feedback and cathartic outlet they allow. They may be too extreme to ever happen, but they allow us as a society to examine the possibility and examine the fears that may be building in our subconscious.

posted by sstrader at 12:49 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

May 29, 2005


There's a weird reversal that happens with friends.

Strangers will point out your quirks or failings as points of failure. That changes with people who know you. Familiarity breeds familiarity, and your uniquenesses become transparent to anyone who's consistently around them. They're no longer you, you're you, and they become background noise. But then eventually they reappear, somehow, and you go back to being for-lack-of-a-more-accurate-term judged. And that's kindof a shame, but that's how things are. Maybe we need to be judged sometimes.

posted by sstrader at 12:11 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

May 28, 2005

Ghost friend

I have a friend who often tells stories about her and her co-worker, Shawanda (a white woman, no less). "Shawanda and I did such-and-such...," "I was telling Shawanda about our weekend in Destin...," and the like. I realized where Kramer's Bob Sacamano [Wikipedia] or even Norm's [Wikipedia] wife originate. We have all of these named-yet-unseen characters [Wikipedia] that are almost a part of the group.

I kinda want to know what's going on with Shawanda. What's she got planned for this weekend?

A couple of jobs back, the company used Lotus Notes for email, documentation, and general group-ware stuff. One aspect that was great was that it also contained everyone's pass-card photo. This was a big company, so whenever I needed to be in a meeting with someone I had never met before, I'd look at their photos to get a head start on the always difficult task of combining names and faces. I shared a very small office with four (yes, four) other contracters, and eventually sent their photos home so that Lisa could see who I was talking about whenever I'd retell one of our adventures. Five guys in an office can get into some interesting (ok, maybe just silly) conversations, and I guess it's easier to keep track of the retelling if you know who everyone looks like. Although it sortof breaks the rule of unseen characters.

posted by sstrader at 10:33 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

May 27, 2005


I've said it before: I don't understand gaming. I'm a geek that was born without that gene, so I guess I'm an outcast amongst outcasts. However, I love the idea of the Sims games (having played SimCity and, of all things, SimAnt for short periods of time in college). And I'm reallly fascinated by the potential of a new game by SimCity creator Will Wright called Spore. Within an online universe, you create life and evolve it from amoeba to interplanetary civilization. Highly developed civilizations can then interact with each other.

Holy crap.

spore world

I'm not sure that I'd play it--again, no game-gene--but what cool software to work on.

posted by sstrader at 1:26 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

May 23, 2005


Odd contrast: the movie Crash details racial tensions within the backdrop of LA. In real life, LA citizens just voted into office their first hispanic mayor in over 100 years. He had the support of hispanics, blacks, and whites.

posted by sstrader at 12:56 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

May 13, 2005


A good reason to have lanes that only go one-way in parking lots: so that you can walk back to your car in a lane going in the opposite direction and drivers can't follow. you. every. single. step. at. five. miles. an. hour. in order to get a parking spot--whereas they could've parked 10 minutes ago if they'd just accepted to walk an additional few feet to get to the store. Jackasses.

posted by sstrader at 12:54 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

May 6, 2005

Eat this way

When will the world come to its senses and create a new utensil to complement the knife, fork, and spoon: the mini-tong. This would be a greater invention than the spork. The tong would definitely kick the spork's ass.

posted by sstrader at 3:32 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

May 5, 2005

Michael Eric Dyson and Cosby on NPR

Listening to Michael Eric Dyson on NPR discuss Bill Cosby's remarks of a year ago in a speech to educators. Cosby said quite a bit in the speech, but it mostly chastised blacks for embracing dialect and frivolous spending:

These people are not parenting. They are buying things for their kids - $500 sneakers for what? And won't spend $200 for 'Hooked on Phonics.'...They're standing on the corner and they can't speak English. I can't even talk the way these people talk: Why you ain't,' Where you is'...And I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk. And then I heard the father talk...Everybody knows it's important to speak English except these knuckleheads...You can't be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth.

The other speakers were described as being "stone-faced" after he finished. No doubt. On NPR not long after Cosby's original speech, Dyson criticized it and Cosby clarified it. Any dialog with Dyson quickly turns into a monologue--he's a preacher and often got on a roll that pushed Neal Conan off of his own show.

Through all of the noise, Dyson seemed to be saying that Cosby was attacking the poor. I'm not so sure, but I'll listen to more of his arguments if only to avoid trying to read his book Is Bill Cosby Right? [Amazon] that is currently getting ripped to shreds by customer reviews.

He also railed upon, coincidentally, anti-intellectualism in the black community.

Continue reading "Michael Eric Dyson and Cosby on NPR"
posted by sstrader at 12:07 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

April 30, 2005


I read the recent stories of the rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker [Wikipedia] with some interest but not really that much. It's nice, and rare, that a species gets to be un-extinct even if only for a short while. Then I listened on NPR to an ornithologist breathlessly describe how excited he was when he first heard the news. His heart pounds at the thought of the rediscovery. That humanized it for me and made me more interested. How nice that it's so meaningful to some people.

And yet no commentator has referenced Woody Woodpecker [Wikipedia] this whole time.

Continue reading "Ha-ha-ha-HA-ha"
posted by sstrader at 10:35 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

April 25, 2005

April 21, 2005

I'm a sticky ball for snobbery

It began earlier this week with WNYC discussing first The Rock Snob's Dictionary [Amazon] with its authors (very funny) on The Brian Lehrer Show. Then on The Leonard Lopate Show, a discussion of quirks in the English language resulted in many Language Snobs calling in to decry this or that usage they're aghast at (usually related to something dangling or mixed). Later, a co-worker passed around one of those how-observant-are-you trivia quizzes (Which way does a no smoking sign's slash run? How many sides does a stop sign have?). A situation free of snobbery you think? Well, the Logic Snobs of the office took issue with the connotative/denotative ambiguity of some of the questions ("a stop sign only has two sides, it does however have eight edges"), succumbing to the urge to try to be smarter than the object that's challenging you. Then today, Alex Ross gave his readers a good laugh by pointing out the sometimes contradictory Music Snobbery of Pope Benedict XVI: Holy cow — Theodor W. Adorno has been elected Pope! [Exclamation mine.]

Continue reading "I'm a sticky ball for snobbery"
posted by sstrader at 12:50 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

April 20, 2005

April 14, 2005


Just listened to an interview with Steven D. Levitt on WNYC about his new book Freakonomics [Amazon]. He has some interesting ideas on par with Gladwell's The Tipping Point [Amazon]. A couple of his quirky observations: sumo wrestlers regularly throw matches, legalized abortion caused a drop in crime.

One of the (unpopular) comments on Amazon suggests that the abortion hypothesis has been debunked by Steve Sailor. Kottke has this interview with Levitt along with copius links to background info and an email argument between Levitt and Sailor.

posted by sstrader at 2:06 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

April 10, 2005

Money for blog

One of my rules has been: no ads on blogs. How in the hell are highway billboards "ruining our landscape," yet the horror vacui [Wikipedia] manifested with Ads By Google is acceptable because it's some kind of new, grass roots, edgy economic model? Maybe we've just given up on escaping sponsorship. Yet Wikipedia is both a rich potential source for keyword ads and also wonderfully free of them. Even after Yahoo stepped up in an incredibly non-evil manner and donated money and equipment to the Wikimedia foundation, Wikipedia is to stay ad-free and unaltered.

Continue reading "Money for blog"
posted by sstrader at 10:44 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

April 8, 2005


Heard from a letter to NPR (and similar to what I've been thinking lately): "I'm tired of hearing about the pope for every opening segment of the news. Yes, he's still dead, but there must be some important news going on in the world."

Heard endlessly before from critics of the media (and similar to what I've argued): "The media will pick up a story and then abandon it quickly for the next ephemeral event. They never follow up on old stories. We're a nation with a short attention span, and I blame the media for it."

It's wonderful to be put in your place. And even more wonderful when you do it to yourself and don't have the embarrassment of someone else recognizing it first.

Continue reading "Papal"
posted by sstrader at 8:47 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

Levy and Tocqueville

Bernard Henri Levy has an essay in The Atlantic Monthly called "In the Footsteps of Tocqueville" (subscription only). I'm finishing up listening to an interview with him on The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC [RadioWave]. Many interesting points; I'll have to hit the newsstand after work.

One point he made: Why do Americans fly so many American flags? It's not because of nationalist arrogance, but because of the fragility of our belief in nationalism. We're insecure.

posted by sstrader at 11:55 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

April 7, 2005

"hello, this is <old friend from college>"

That was the subject of a recent email that almost got speed deleted by my Delete Finger, which is the same as my right index finger but sounds more ominous. I need to start paying attention to the subject not the sometimes cryptic sender address.

It's difficult to keep in touch with people, but it's nice when an old friend resufaces. Their presence brings back the memories that were there during their absence, but that seemed much less vital without a real person to reaffirm that those events did in fact happen. And it can be just silly stuff. The working together and the parties together and the general hangin' out probably weren't as fun as the memories seem now, but they were still pretty fun.

I think maybe we spend a lot of time trying to communicate to people in the present what we were in the past. Of course, we're only trying to communicate the times in the past when we were actually cool and not just acting like jackasses.

posted by sstrader at 10:16 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

April 4, 2005

Wal-Mart is evil

A female friend emailed Wal-Mart expressing concern about the recent rash of pharmacists refusing to fill birth control prescriptions. Here is Wal-Mart's reply (emphasis mine):

Dear Valued Customer,

Thank you for contacting us at regarding women?s prescriptions for birth control. Your comments and concerns are very important to us as we strive to meet your needs.

Wal-Mart does not carry emergency contraceptives. Our pharmacists may decline to fill a prescription based on personal convictions. However, they must find another pharmacist, either at Wal-Mart or another pharmacy, who can assist you by filling your prescription.

Again, we thank you for your comments regarding this issue.


Customer Service at

Continue reading "Wal-Mart is evil"
posted by sstrader at 12:34 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

April 3, 2005


A friend was fretting about the loss of her life after she had gotten cable with one of those on demand services. As if hours of channel surfing with crap is not enough, now she has to deal with the temptation of possible non-crap available at any time.

This is a thought I've been considering for a few weeks: maybe complete access would actually diminish our wasted time consuming excessive media. Part of all of that channel surfing involves the hope that something good is just about to start hurry change the channel don't miss it! It's seldom there, but we keep looking. If all content were always available, we could just go get the good stuff. Or at least we could get the stuff we're really interested in.

Of course, that ignores the fun of random discoveries. But really, how valuable or common are those discoveries to waste that much time? This argument is one of those "hey, maybe the exact opposite will happen," but I don't think it's too strained.

Continue reading "Demand"
posted by sstrader at 1:34 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

April 2, 2005

That old house

The wife spent the last two days working on renovating the living room of a couple we know, and now I have to suffer through her suffering ("I'm soooo sore!"). Our friends, Liz & Matt, applied to have the room redone by the kind people of HGTV's Designer Finals. Top design students face their final test—a real-life makeover with a minimal budget, a handful of helpers and advice from a mentor. The minimal budget was $3000, gratis, and the handful of design helpers cancelled at the last minute forcing Matt to call in the 'rents who, inconceivably, drove all night from FL to assist. Chaos ensues.

Continue reading "That old house"
posted by sstrader at 2:20 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

March 25, 2005

Bash Boing Boing day

So, I was listening to a discussion on the Google AutoLink mini-controversy and realizing what a debating jack-ass Cory Doctorow sounds like. His style seems to be interrupt and scoff. Repeat. Any good ideas are buried in hyperbole.

Then I read glassdog's ranty observation about BoingBoing draping themselves in the cloak of grass-roots as they fill every square inch of thier pages with ads and hire assistants, all the while insisting that they are only writing for friends and family.

It's nice that a hobby's paying off for them, but jeesh ... ads in the RSS feeds?!?

posted by sstrader at 5:24 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

March 23, 2005

The last word on feeding tubes

My New Fighting Technique is Unstoppable is sayin' what we're all thinkin'--only it's twice as offensive and three times as belligerent. NSFEO (easily offended).

posted by sstrader at 7:40 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

March 21, 2005

The great debate

There needs to be a word for this. I've encountered it and experienced it many times. Maybe it should be called the "anxiety of arrogance" a la Bloom's Anxiety of Influence. That phrase encapsulates the terror of any artist creating in the shadow of greats: how could you ever attempt to create something unique and compelling when such geniuses walked before? Similarly-but-different, so many of us lay-people are terrified about being critics. Either it's some aberrant Americanism where we don't want to imagine that some things aren't created equal, or some humbling modernism where we don't believe that we're qualified to know what's better even if our values weren't socially constructed.

What to do?

I suffer this new-fangled anxiety and generally err on the side of honesty. Being completely up front allows those in-the-know (or at least in-the-know-more-than-I-do) to occasionally slap me silly and send me on my way. Honesty has it's own flaws--the tendency towards arrogance when your idea doesn't get challenged because it's so idiotic, and you take that as affirmation--but that's the price of freedom. Be ever vigilant. No one wants to queer the deal, so they say they're "cautiously optimistic." Similarly, I'll say I'm "tentatively confident" about my opinions.

That being said: there is some Art that's better than others. I look at the extremes next to each other: the sublime next to the nauseating or the engrossing next to the prurient. There has to be something eternal in there. Some reasons are obvious (effortless skill next to inept pandering), yet when the extremes are narrowed it can become difficult to know where unique expression has given way to lazy experimentalism. Or simply too many adjectives.

posted by sstrader at 11:43 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

March 19, 2005


Two stories on NPR that caught my attention:

Gary Kasparov [Wikipedia] is retiring from chess competitions to get "involved in" Russian politics. When asked if chess has any relevance to politics, he pointed out that chess helps us understand the mechanism of decision-making and offers us strategical vision.

The Germans have created a soccer ball with a tracking device that will flawlessly signal when a goal is made. Apparently, because of the speed of play and the absence of instant replay, there are many debatable calls. One of many soccer players interviewed agreed with Freddy Adu [Wikipedia], who feels that such devices are unnecessary and that wrong calls were a part of the game that you should accept. The interviewee stated simply that it makes you a better person. Perhaps it helps a player to accept the influence of outside forces.

posted by sstrader at 11:48 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

March 15, 2005


Stating the obvious, but now backed with research, from Editor & Publisher:

Fox News journalists offer their own opinion in seven out of ten stories on the news channel, versus less than one in ten stories on CNN and one in four on MSNBC.
Continue reading "Bias"
posted by sstrader at 7:49 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

February 19, 2005

Today's reading list

  • The Rise and Fall of Rock and Roll Graphic Design
  • This Is Why Your Game Magazine Sucks (part one)
  • Skulls may be oldest known human remains
Continue reading "Today's reading list"

February 17, 2005

Today's reading list

  • Wil Wheaton: So, ASCAP to *license* podcasts? Readers respond.
  • Composing at the keyboard
  • Groupware
  • Color Rules of Thumb
Continue reading "Today's reading list"
posted by sstrader at 1:45 PM in Art , Culture & Society , Music , Today's reading list | permalink

February 15, 2005

More on the grail

The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) has an article on the Priory of Sion [Wikipedia] brouhaha. Remember? Dan Brown and Jesus' blood and secret societies? Anyway, in the current issue, Massimo Polidoro did some investigating to see if there was anything behind the legend that Jesus Christ survived the crucifixtion and lived his remaining days at Rennes-le-Chateau [Wikipedia] in France. The research is as fascinating as the fiction.

(Oddly, a previous article I had posted that debunked the Priory mystery was written by Massimo Introvigne. Apparently, Italians named Massimo have something to prove.)

The CSICOP article closes with an Umberto Eco quote from my favorite novel of his, Foucault's Pendulum [Amazon]:

Believe that there is a secret and you will feel an initiate. It doesn’t cost a thing. Create an enormous hope that can never be eradicated because there is no root. Ancestors that never were will never tell you that you betrayed them. Create a truth with fuzzy edges: when someone tries to define it, you repudiate him. Why go on writing novels? Rewrite history.

It is a classic postmodern story of people fabricating a fantastical reality that, although untrue, they desperately want to believe. I recommend it even though it is sometimes a dense read.

[ via Arts & Letters Daily -> Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal ]

Continue reading "More on the grail"
posted by sstrader at 1:44 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

February 11, 2005

Convergence of source material

Google Inc. has made a proposal to host some of the content of the Wikimedia projects.

I had recently commented on the importance of Wikipedia as a universal source of reference (irregardless of its failings). If you need an external definition for a Web document because an inline definition would be too extraneous, you should use Wikipedia as a first source. I suspect that Google may be looking to integrate this principle in their search results. They already have the very useful define: operator (I regularly use that when faced with unknown or technical lingo). Wikipedia entries could be used to give a richer set of results for that--maybe a wikipedia: operator.

[ via BoingBoing -> Wikimedia ]

Continue reading "Convergence of source material"
posted by sstrader at 2:13 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

February 8, 2005

Over-emphasis of military negligence?

Yesterday, I complained about the complaints about the $900 nuisance-suit a lady won against two teens. I felt that it was an outlier [Wikipedia] event that shouldn't be held up as the norm. Today, I'm reading about generals who think it's fun to shoot some people and soldiers in Iraq who are making Marti Gras look like a tea party. Should these be considered events to not consider as important and telling?

Continue reading "Over-emphasis of military negligence?"
posted by sstrader at 11:08 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

February 7, 2005

Over-emphasis of non-news

So, a couple of teenagers baked cookies and delivered packages of them to their neighbors as a gift. One neighbor became terrified by the unanticipated and unknown visitors and had an anxiety attack. She eventually sued the teens and won a $900 settlement. Chaos ensues on the Internets.

I suspect the same people that are overgeneralizing this event into a touchstone of the selfish corruption of our society are those that also complain about the worthlessness of most major news sources. Cats in trees and water-skiing squirrels. Why is one $900 settlement by an obviously unstable and too-much-time-on-her-hands person held up as a representation of the whole of society or our justice system? This is more justifiably News of the Weird and little else: an oddball occurrance that in a world of 6-billion-plus would be weird if it didn't happen in the sub .00001% range.

Continue reading "Over-emphasis of non-news"
posted by sstrader at 11:16 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

January 30, 2005

Emergent communities and taxonomy

Looking at bobafred's recent photos from our wonderful Atlanta ice storm and reading his brief explication of his decision to use flickr to host the images. I have decided to scrap writing my own photo logic for the site and use Flickr. The reasons for this decision were: storage/bandwidth, easiness, they take PayPal, and I like the community feel of Flickr. This is important.

Continue reading "Emergent communities and taxonomy"
posted by sstrader at 1:38 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

January 27, 2005

Sexy beast

RobotJohnny is out-o'-control with his post of Bugs Bunny in drag (high quality captures, too). Be sure to check out the resulting diatribe in the comments (concerning Focus on the Family's attack on SpongeBob) between David and Candy, how she kicks his ass, and the eventual revelation from Junior Detective i b joshua that David actually did work for Focus on Family.

Bugs was stacked.

hotchi motchi! Continue reading "Sexy beast"
posted by sstrader at 11:28 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

January 26, 2005


In the article "The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience" from Christianity Today, Ronald J. Sider examines the materialist corruption of evangelicals.

Then the pollsters started conducting scientific polls of the general population. In spite of the renewal movement's proud claims to miraculous transformation, the polls showed that members of the movement divorced their spouses just as often as their secular neighbors. They beat their wives as often as their neighbors. They were almost as materialistic and even more racist than their pagan friends. The hard-core skeptics smiled in cynical amusement at this blatant hypocrisy. The general population was puzzled and disgusted. Many of the renewal movement's leaders simply stepped up the tempo of their now enormously successful, highly sophisticated promotional programs. Others wept.

Although I have to question being called a "pagan," I appreciate it when the sensible devout examine the hypocrisy of their culture with such pathos and logic. Here are a few notes:

Continue reading "Scandal"
posted by sstrader at 10:39 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

January 24, 2005


Jared Diamond's answer to a quick final question posed by Brian Lehrer on WNYC [RadioWave]. What one policy change would you make to start us off in a better direction?

Take environmental and population problems seriously instead of blowing them off as something that is opposed to the economy.
Continue reading "Serious"
posted by sstrader at 11:44 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

January 22, 2005

Hackers and Painters

In my recent job interview that was outstanding-but-somehow-went-horribly-wrong-because-they-did-not-offer-me-the-position, one of the developers (Everett?) recommended Paul Graham's book Hackers and Painters [Amazon]. The graphic design guy for the team was also in on the interview and the book came up after I mentioned to him that I have a BFA in painting.

Continue reading "Hackers and Painters"
posted by sstrader at 12:25 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

January 21, 2005

Faith, private and personal

Yesterday, I caught the end of Terry Gross's interview with Rev. Jim Wallis of the religious group Sojourners. He had some wonderful points about religion and society--many very different from my own.

Continue reading "Faith, private and personal"
posted by sstrader at 11:58 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

January 4, 2005

Gift cards

According to a Wired article, several sites (including eBay) have already set up exchange centers for gift cards. Nifty.

posted by sstrader at 10:58 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

January 3, 2005

Hotly contested

Two days ago I read Larry Sanger's piece against Wikipedia in Kuro5hin. This morning, /. commented on and contributed to the debate.

Continue reading "Hotly contested"
posted by sstrader at 12:09 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

December 29, 2004

New book by Jared Diamond

I had first heard about Jared Diamond in the seminal yet long defunct magazine Lingua Franca (Google Lingua Franca magazine for the full story). His book Guns, Germs, and Steel was revered and given a high place among its most influential books of academia.

He's recently released another book, similar in scope, called Collapse. Yet where GG&S focused on how Western society survived, Collapse examines those that failed and attempts to explain why.

Check out the Malcolm Gladwell review in the recent New Yorker and this excerpt I had forgotten about from Harper's June 2003 issue.

Continue reading "New book by Jared Diamond"
posted by sstrader at 11:41 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

December 23, 2004

Genius idea #4

Someone needs to create and exchange center for gift certificates and gift cards. If you have a $20 Target gift card but could really use an Amazon gift certificate, you would go to the exchange Web site, check the exchange rate, and request a transfer. You would then send in your card and get an Amazon gift certificate sent or emailed to you. Some cards would have low demand (RadioShack?!?), so their exchange rate would be worse. Some cards lose value depending on how long ago they had been purchased. Cards could always be exchanged for cash at a lower rate--basically simplifying two trips to the store to purchase an item and then return it for cash.

Continue reading "Genius idea #4"
posted by sstrader at 11:32 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

December 16, 2004

Watchmen and annotation

Matt G. just sent me this site that annotated every panel of Watchmen [Amazon]. I had previously posted about an annotation of V for Vendetta. The reader definitely benefits from such Cliff Notes to accompany the detailed research of Moore's writing and all that's added by the artists.

Continue reading "Watchmen and annotation"
posted by sstrader at 12:00 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

December 9, 2004

Real suicide clubs

Who could've expected it? According to this BBC article, there are real suicide clubs in Japan that help people meet others who want to die.

Continue reading "Real suicide clubs"
posted by sstrader at 12:43 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

December 4, 2004


NPR recently reported on the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster [Wikipedia]. The victims and survivors suffered greatly and those responsible--Union Carbide and Dow Chemical and the politicians in both India and the US who protect the corporations--are unlikely to ever come to justice. Bastards.

posted by sstrader at 8:23 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

Custom news

This article is reporting that the editors of the Chilean newspaper Las Ultimas Noticias (The Latest News) decide on content based on the popularity of online articles. More page-views for a specific story will prompt follow ups and work on similar stories. This is a good idea for People and Us but a bad one for The New York Times--and one which I doubt they would ever adopt.

Continue reading "Custom news"
posted by sstrader at 8:12 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

November 30, 2004

On (a collection of) point(s)

Wired News is reporting about the recent unveiling of Wikinews. I mentioned Wikinews back in October when it was still a glint in the Wikipedia creators' eyes. And just last week, I pointed out Wired's editorial about the downfall of newspapers. USAToday has a related editorial reporting that newspapers are popular in Japan (aren't they supposedly cyber-savvy?!?). The Independent questions when and if online news will stop being free.

I love Google News because I feel that it can normalize editorial bias in single news organizations. Wikinews--although still a nascent effort--may do that one better.

Continue reading "On (a collection of) point(s)"
posted by sstrader at 10:26 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

November 26, 2004


You know Picasso's famous Guernica. Now you can enjoy Wizznutzz's soon-to-be-famous Aubernica.

[ via BoingBoing -> Wizznutzz ]

posted by sstrader at 12:31 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

More Chariots of the Gods?

Bletchly Park [Wikipedia], center for British codebreaking in WWII and central within Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, has gathered solutions to the Shugborough code mystery [Wikipedia]. The monument, created between 1748 and 1758, contains an as-yet undeciphered enscryption that many felt pointed to the location of the holy grail!! Representatives from Bletchly Park have narrowed the most likely solutions down to either an acronym for a dedication to the deceased or--more likely--a reference to a secret order popular at the time called the Priory of Sion [Wikipedia].

However, according to Wikipedia, the Priory of Sion only goes back to 1956, and any older history was concocted to give them greater credibility. Is Wikipedia wrong? Or is the Bletchly Park announcement a hoax?

[ via BoingBoing -> Bletchly Park ]

Continue reading "More Chariots of the Gods?"
posted by sstrader at 12:00 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

November 24, 2004


Just as a Wired editorial declares that [y]oung people just aren't interested in reading newspapers and print magazines, the Internet receives a transmission from the future (in the form of a Ken Burns documentary?!?) revealing that a chimera composed of Google and Amazon will shut The New York Times down by 2014. It's a compelling argument that would've been better served as a simple essay and without the dystopic melodrama.

Continue reading "Paper?"
posted by sstrader at 11:40 AM in Culture & Society | permalink


Get Up Stand Up has a(n almost too easy) comment on Limbaugh's take on the Piston's brawl.

You know, Limbaugh has a point about the thin-skinned, respect-protecting complexes of NBA players. But, and correct me if I'm wrong, listeners, isn't that a quality also true of the SUV-wielding, gun-toting, get-offa-my-lawning, this-is-my-tree-standing part of America, too (i.e. the rest of it)? Heightened protection of self-identity is hardly a trait exclusive to professional basketball players (Limbaugh-code for black people), it's a trait that practically defines our macho culture! Maybe if we didn't operate foreign policy with our cocks out we could stay out of each other's faces once in a while.

Limbaugh basically said that the brawl was caused because of black athelete's involvement in hip hop culture (he's probably trying to ride the wave after the Vibe Awards melee). He spews these idiotic, one-dimentional analysis, people listen passively because it's "entertainment," and simplistic arrogance is perpetuated. How can anyone listen to him? Do you need a heightened ability to hold two, mutually exclusive concepts in your mind?

posted by sstrader at 11:21 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

November 20, 2004

Egyptian language and script

This entry is a review of the different forms of the Egyptian spoken language and its related written scripts.

Continue reading "Egyptian language and script"
posted by sstrader at 4:14 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

November 16, 2004

Osiris and Isis

The opera The Magic Flute contains many references to the myth of Osiris and Isis [Wikipedia].

Continue reading "Osiris and Isis"
posted by sstrader at 7:33 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

Gladwell on copying

I read Malcolm Gladwell's recent article in The New Yorker on copyright and ownership called "Something Borrowed." It echoes many of this discussions I've seen recently around the Internet but that I hadn't read. Open-source, DRM, file-sharing--I'm immersed in it, yet I don't have a complete opinion or complete grounding on the subject.

Continue reading "Gladwell on copying"
posted by sstrader at 5:52 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

November 13, 2004


Malcolm Gladwell has a new book coming out in January of next year called Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking [Amazon]. Gladwell wrote my 30 September 2004 Currently Reading item, The Tipping Point. Tipping Point analyzed how popular trends become popular--labeling that transition as the tipping point. He classified the way that trends tip into three areas: the law of the few, the stickiness factor, and the power of context. His ideas have that quality of obvious-yet-unstated. Why hadn't someone codified this before?

Blink should be equalling intriguing. IT Conversations has a streaming presentation by the author. A simple, obvious statement he makes at one point in the presentation, our feelings about something are extraordinarily unstable, hints at the conclusions arrived at by social construction [Wikipedia]. We're making choices every day, many of which we think are normal and absolute, yet we will change our choice--sometimes to the exact opposite--when context changes.

[ via BoingBoing -> IT Conversations ]

Continue reading "Blink"
posted by sstrader at 12:35 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

November 11, 2004

Zombie survival

Jest Magazine has a Zombie Apocalypse Survival guide. It shouldn't be confused with The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead [Amazon] by an SNL writer.

The Jest article is sometimes funny (This is going to be a long apocalypse. If you have only guys looking down the barrel of an apocalypse, you are going to have a sausage fest. Nobody likes a sausage fest.) and sometimes just goofily grim (Look to your left and right. These people will probably die.). The photo opening the article is pretty funny though.

It did remind me of an article from The Straight Dope that I had read a while back titled When the zombies take over, how long till the electricity fails? It is written with a sincere effort to answer the question with statements like Combined-cycle gas turbines would likely operate unattended for a shorter length of time – perhaps only a day or two, depending on the age of the plant and the degree of automation. And includes references to government sites on energy management. Neat-o. The Straight Dope site has many other interesting slightly waste-of-time type articles.

I don't feel any safer about zombies though.

Continue reading "Zombie survival"
posted by sstrader at 12:08 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

November 9, 2004

Happy streaming

WXYC out of Chapel Hill just celebrated its 10-year anniversary of Internet broadcasting on November 7th. They were (barely) the first station to do so, with Atlanta's WREK coming in at a very close second. WREK began on the same day but didn't publicly announce it.

Some of the initial comments are interesting (e.g. "this is not what the Internet was intended for!").

[ via BoingBoing -> WXYC Simulcast ]

Continue reading "Happy streaming"
posted by sstrader at 9:07 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

November 3, 2004


Satellite radio (which I predict, like Xerox and Kleenex before it, will eventually be known as XM) keeps getting cooler and cooler. Sirius has a new portable for < $100 called the Sportster.

Sirius Sportster

Also check out their many other affordable portable units. XM has fewer options but similar prices.

[ via PC Magazine -> Sirius ]

Continue reading "Sporty"
posted by sstrader at 5:41 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

October 28, 2004

Fresh Air interview with Josh Rushing

This interview wasn't broadcast today--I heard an ad for it on the way to work today and assumed that "3:00 PM" meant 3:00 PM today. Keep an eye out for it; it should be interesting.

Terry Gross will be interviewing ex-Lieutenant Josh Rushing today at 3:00 PM on Fresh Air. Rushing was the Marine CENTCOM representative in Iraq during the invasion and appeared in the amazing documentary Control Room.

Continue reading "Fresh Air interview with Josh Rushing"
posted by sstrader at 10:01 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

October 26, 2004


Holy crap! Wikimedia is planning on starting a news site. I've gushed before about Wikipedia--it's my primary source of external reference for this site--so I'm very curious about this project. Honestly, my first response was more tentative (why move from knowledge to current events?), but I'm beginning to think it might be a perfect fit. Who better to vet news stories than the people who have access to accurate data that is globally authored and edited? They understand this concept along with its subtle concerns:

Our fourth requirement for Wikinews is therefore that there must be processes in place to ensure that original reports are accurate and legal in the country of publication (and possibly the country of the primary readership, but this is left for individual Wikinews communities to decide in agreement with the Wikimedia Foundation). We cannot rely on the wiki process to improve articles after they are published, because, unlike an encyclopedia article, a news article has a limited lifetime: it receives very high exposure for a very brief period of time. Articles must be accurate and legal at the time of publication.

Their proposal is worth reading. It should be a facinating experiment.

[ via Boing Boing -> Wikinews ]

Continue reading "Wikinews"
posted by sstrader at 3:16 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

October 15, 2004

Hersch on the war

Why is Seymour Hersch on the fringe? Or rather: why does he appear to be on the fringe? For someone like me who despises both Bush and the war, Hersch is one of the most stalwart, informative journalists out there. Why then is his reporting only in The New Yorker or presented in locales such as Berkeley where he was recently interviewed? Both outlets have cachet, but the quality of his work should not be marginalized in liberal-land.

Continue reading "Hersch on the war"
posted by sstrader at 12:06 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

October 14, 2004

Gibson's back

William Gibson signed off his blog September of last year for eminently reasonable reasons:

I’ve found blogging to be a low-impact activity, mildly narcotic and mostly quite convivial, but the thing I’ve most enjoyed about it is how it never fails to underline the fact that if I’m doing this I’m definitely not writing a novel – that is, if I’m still blogging, I’m definitely still on vacation. I’ve always known, somehow, that it would get in the way of writing fiction, and that I wouldn’t want to be trying to do both at once. The image that comes most readily to mind is that of a kettle failing to boil because the lid’s been left off.

He's back and has opened with a bit of political wordsmithery:

[T]he creative intelligence of my friend from the DoD prevailed not at all in the face of ... a certain tragically crass cunning with regard to the mass pyschology of the American people.
One actually has to be something of a specialist, today, to even begin to grasp quite how fantastically, how baroquely and at once brutally fucked the situation of the United States has since been made to be.

Well, I never said it was cheery wordsmithery.

[ via BoingBoing ]

posted by sstrader at 11:44 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

September 20, 2004

Faux garde, faux mo

From the introductory column covering the avant garde in the New York Times, titled Pushing Boundaries in Search of Vision:

Postmodernism ... drives artists to mine the past constantly - and flagrantly.

And from an article in the Sept/Aug 2004 issue of the cinephile magazine Film Comment (thanks for the subscription!):

Following the copyright controversy surrounding The Grey Album--in which DJ Dangermouse [sic] remixed The Beatles' White Album [Amazon] with Jay-Z's Black Album [Amazon]--paranoia has reared its ugly head. The fear, in some quarters, has been akin to the horror of miscegenation, as "white" mingles with "black," and record-industry lawyers attest to the sullying of the purity of the original (among other things). It's a fertile time, then, for Paul Miller (aka DJ Spooky) to premiere his spin on D. W. Griffith's 1915 Birth of a Nation [IMDB], a film that glorified the birth of the Ku Klux Klan in the face of a cultural/genetic remix sanctioned by the end of the Civil War. Miller calls Rebirth of a Nation a deconstruction of the film, but it's unclear what he means [emphasis mine].
Continue reading "Faux garde, faux mo"
posted by sstrader at 12:20 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

September 14, 2004

Year of Glad

David Foster Wallace would be proud. Or scared.

Continue reading "Year of Glad"
posted by sstrader at 1:35 PM in Culture & Society | tagged david foster wallace | permalink


Oprah is normally not even a blip on my radar. The mild brouhaha over the Jonathan Franzen novel was the last time her name came up in conversation beyond a generic pejorative for mindless, empty consumption.

Well, with this latest stunt, she's outdone herself in tasteless self-absorbtion and egotism. She--get this--she gave a car to every member of her studio audience the other day. 276 cars.

When actors or rock stars or playboy millionaires throw around money, it's humorous decadence. They don't pretend any selflessness and we don't expect it. Their selfishness is selfish, but it's honest. Oprah may give to charities and may be truly philanthropic at times, but a stunt such as throwing her spare change at a grateful audience and basking in their praise is bad taste at best. At worst, as others praise her, it's a sign of a morally shallow America.

posted by sstrader at 10:28 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

September 12, 2004

What you got, homes?

I left work early on Friday (at 4:00) and got to listen to Fresh Air. They broadcast an earlier interview with Father Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest who runs a company called Homeboy Industries. With it, he attempts to train and employ ex-gang members. Wow. The story was so refreshing, so human. The last time I was as touched was when I had read about the work of Mother Theresa. Father Boyle was very humble and had such a desire to help others.

I've been on panels with born-again folks who will say things like "I don't know why we're talking about economic justice and jobs when what we really need to be telling these kids is that Jesus is their personal saviour." No one would be more horrified by that that perspective than Jesus. He would say: "What are you talking about?" This is about rolling up your sleeves and really walking with folks who are having a hard time. It's about concrete help. It's not about inserting a message in their ear lobe, it's about somehow imitating the god you believe in.

Cool. Listen. His ideas on living a life that helps others are well-expressed and inspiring.

Continue reading "What you got, homes?"
posted by sstrader at 1:32 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

September 4, 2004


A wonderful article from P. Z. Myers defending a liberal arts education (damn straight!) from a critical article that appeared in the recent issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education. The criticism is ... Neanderthalish. At best. It's gotta be a joke written by someone who is just setting up an idiotic counter-example to be easily torn down. Or maybe not.

I thought taking English meant improving my writing skills, that taking Spanish meant that when I went to Mexico I’d be able to converse, that studying history would be an exercise in learning about the past. Wrong on all three counts!


Continue reading "Education"
posted by sstrader at 4:00 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

Jon Stewart cracks me up (again)

Recently commenting on a blatant non-truth from Cheney:

Mr. Vice President ... I believe your pants are on fire.

And his classic line regarding the war:

Why do the facts hate America?
Continue reading "Jon Stewart cracks me up (again)"
posted by sstrader at 3:33 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

August 31, 2004

Get your Greek on

Adam Howitt (of Cold Fusion fame and fortune) originally pointed me to this BBC site for basic language study. Here's the section for studying Greek. A group of us will be in Athens and Santorini for a little over a week starting the 22nd.

I'll be updating this entry with my notes on conversational Greek. To display Greek characters, I'll use the Greek code charts from this site providing a draft standard for Unicode Greek characters on the Web. It's a little tedious, but it's more readable than the beta code I had used when studying ancient Greek.

This'll just be simple stuff to help me remember the basics.

Continue reading "Get your Greek on"
posted by sstrader at 2:14 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

August 25, 2004

That's gold Jerry, gold

Bump pointed me to a site that compared a country's number of Olympic medals to its population. The intent is that population size should be considered when ranking how successful countries were at the Olympics. Australia and Slovakia have a clear lead, with the US in 30th place.

Continue reading "That's gold Jerry, gold"
posted by sstrader at 12:01 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

August 16, 2004

Review: Da Vinci's (restaurant) (3/5)

This is becoming my new favorite restaurant: it's open till 2:30 AM every night except Sunday, it's got a good selection of wines and inexpensive Italian food, and the bartender is hot--and she knows us by name already. Cool.

Continue reading "Review: Da Vinci's (restaurant) (3/5)"
posted by sstrader at 12:32 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

August 14, 2004

Friendly skies

Patrick Smith over at Salon has been continuing his assault on that crazed woman who saw terrorists in a group of Syrian musicians. I assumed the story played itself out and is now, appropriately, forgotten. Have I not been paying attention? Well, in case I haven't, here are local copies of his original and three follow-up articles.

Continue reading "Friendly skies"
posted by sstrader at 7:46 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

August 11, 2004


This is facinating. Or scarey. Nokia has some software for your phone and PC called Lifeblog. You use it to record and notate whatever-it-is you do all day.

Continue reading "Life"
posted by sstrader at 1:05 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

August 9, 2004

Letter to Dave Sim

My response to a challenge from Cerebus creator Dave Sim via Neil Gaiman's journal, offering fans a free signed issue of Cerebus and saying that most people will be too lazy to send in a letter. I'll let this sit here a couple of days, re-read it a few times, and then send off for ma' free issue o' Cerebus!

Continue reading "Letter to Dave Sim"
posted by sstrader at 9:33 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

Dear Cerebus, give me stuff.

So, Neil Gaiman's got a blog--the Neil Gaiman who's mostly famous for his writing on the Sandman comics but who's written quite a bit more than that--and Dave Sim recently wrote him a letter. The Dave Sim who wrote Cerebus and recently finished the 300-issues, 27-year run. Aaaaand, Sim's offering a free, signed Cerebus to anyone who'll write him, a letter not an e-mail, requesting one.

BoingBoing passed this news along from the Neil Gaiman entry.

Continue reading "Dear Cerebus, give me stuff."
posted by sstrader at 10:48 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

August 8, 2004

V for Vendetta

One of Alan Moore's graphic novels, V for Vendetta, is being copiously annotated by Madelyn Boudreaux.

Continue reading "V for Vendetta"
posted by sstrader at 4:41 PM in Culture & Society | permalink


The author of Maus, Art Spiegelman, has a new graphic novel out called In the Shadow of No Towers. The New York Times interviews him about it. The interview's not too enlightening, but it's a quick read.

This character — me — got so shaken up. I think like a typical American who can get narcotized by the mass media. For me, politics was always put in a strange box, sort of like "baseball for nerds." But since Sept. 11, that bubble has burst.

Thanks, BoingBoing.

Continue reading "Towers"
posted by sstrader at 1:08 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

August 7, 2004

To serve man

Are arguments based on altruism (presented to correct an opinion based on flawed logic or false information)? Or on arrogance (originating from hubris and vanity)? And what is the basis of the cause of the argument, the original statement? Ideas can exist in our minds as easily as in a public place. Why was the idea put out there in the first place? Altruism or arrogance?

Continue reading "To serve man"
posted by sstrader at 3:46 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

August 1, 2004

Be creative

A wonderful list titled "How To Be Creative."

Funny cartoons, too.

posted by sstrader at 3:29 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

July 28, 2004

Box turtles. Yes, box turtles.

This is a little old (old for blogs: over two days), but the last minute of the clip is sooo worth it.


Jon Stewart on the Senate debate over the gay marriage ban.

Continue reading "Box turtles. Yes, box turtles."
posted by sstrader at 12:43 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

July 27, 2004


The usually uninteresting Salon series about airlines etc. has an hiLARious critique (no reg mirror here) on the woman who thought she spotted some Syrian hijackers. Here she is, quoted in the Salon piece:

So the question is ... Do I think these men were musicians? I'll let you decide. But I wonder, if 19 terrorists can learn to fly airplanes into buildings, couldn't 14 terrorists learn to play instruments?

Ahh, the intelligent electorate. Read and enjoy. Never have I seen such self-important, alarmist melodrama.

Almost never.

Now Snopes has made a statement about this.
Continue reading "Hysterical"
posted by sstrader at 12:55 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

Are they discriminating against men?

I almost don't know what to make of the "I had an abortion" t-shirts. At first, I loved the subversiveness of it all. It's daring on so many levels--none subtle. After that, I began to cringe at the potential (certain) conservative backlash. If there's any reason conservatives will hold up American liberalism as degenerate, it will be for this. At least it'll take the heat off the arts.

Finally, I think of all of the callous comments made by conservatives in rebellion against the straw man they built called "political correctness." And their Whoopi bad, Dennis Miller good duplicity is amazing.

Just as Death Cigarettes were a Goth fad (too narrow a market to be sustained), these shirts will probably spark some interest in the snarky Garafalo crowd.

Two thumbs up.

posted by sstrader at 12:23 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

July 25, 2004

I know you are, but what am I?

The introduction to the essay How NOT to Talk! inadvertently contains two examples of the type of language it recommends you avoid.

It is hoped that exposing these tactics will help muzzle the growing abuse in our conversational landscape.
See the sections "Bombast" and "Lunatic Fringe." And maybe even "Word Salad."
Use your imagination to think of how you (perish the thought) and others have used these techniques in the past.
See the sections "I'm Not Saying This" and "Cheap Shot."
posted by sstrader at 8:34 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

The fox and the crane

Lawrence Lessig posted an analysis of a debate, broadcast on Fox News, on whether the documentary OutFOXed (IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes) presented valid arguments against them. Their conclusion was predictable. Lucky for us, Lessig's around to set the record straight--but then "us" is a miniscule sub-section of the population.

Continue reading "The fox and the crane"
posted by sstrader at 6:22 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

July 24, 2004

And above all, LaHaye

Going through some Neal Pollack archives and found this entry on the Left Behind series. He then points to a Rolling Stone profile of the author, Timothy LaHaye, by Robert Dreyfuss. (Pollack's link was dead, but mine will hopefully stay valid.)

I previously blogged another of Pollack's alarmingly satirical entries on Bush + religion.

Continue reading "And above all, LaHaye"
posted by sstrader at 1:35 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

July 21, 2004

Review: Tierra (restaurant) (4/5)

Tuesday night we went to Tierra to celebrate the sister-in-law's birthday. It had the magic of a convergence of events consisting of the birthday, a one-day-a-week Chihuly exhibit at Atlanta Botanical Gardens, and 1/2-price off all bottles of wine $40-and-under. The gods smiled on us that night.

Continue reading "Review: Tierra (restaurant) (4/5)"
posted by sstrader at 11:47 PM in Culture & Society | permalink


I used Georgia's handy-dandy electronic voting machines yesterday. Although a friend had complained about the software usability, saying that the screens were too busy, I was happy with them. The layout was inconsistent and had an uncomfortable color palette, but beyond aesthetics (and suspicion about Diebold in general) the software flow was simple.

However, I was unhappy with two other aspects of the voting process.

Continue reading "Voting"
posted by sstrader at 1:18 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

July 19, 2004


New Details Surface in the infamous Senate language war of Cheney v. Leahy.

Despite the fact that both participants brought their A-game and succeeded in dropping mad scientifics, the bout seemed to end in a draw.


(In a related story, an AM talk-radio host in Billings, Montana, who expressed his disappointment with the behavior of Mr. Cheney and Mr. Leahy—on the air, he asked his listeners, “Do we taxpayers really have time for this kind of crap?”—was fined five hundred thousand dollars for violating the F.C.C.’s recent, Senate-approved guidelines prohibiting explicit references to human excrement.)


Continue reading "G"
posted by sstrader at 8:46 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

July 13, 2004

NEA funding

This page from the NEA site has some nifty JavaScript that outlines the grant process.

Here are the steps it describes:

Continue reading "NEA funding"
posted by sstrader at 9:04 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

Falwell on slavery

I'm sure many extremist conversations occur that I don't hear. I generally don't tune in to fundamentalist shows (although some are very entertaining) or read white supremacist writing (less entertaining). But every so often those conversations are injected into what I normally do listen to. This morning, Tavis Smiley had a discussion of the political dialog that surrounds values. The same-sex marriage amendment was his starting-off point, but he wanted to include all areas where values are at issue and he opened with a quote from Bush and a quote from Kerry stumping about values in their respective campaigns.

I don't know if I'm better or worse off because I didn't change the station when Tavis introduced Jerry Falwell as one of his guests to discuss the issue.

Continue reading "Falwell on slavery"
posted by sstrader at 9:26 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

July 7, 2004

Coffee klatch

Here's a 2001 article from The Washington Monthly with some detailed praise of John Edwards (article via Atrios over at Eschaton). The anecdote that Atrios quotes is a wonderful story of lawyer-as-hero, battling The (Corporate) Man. I found another quote from the article equally interesting, though on a complete tangent.

Continue reading "Coffee klatch"
posted by sstrader at 1:55 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

June 28, 2004

Heat Vision and Jack

Waxy's got the wonderful pilot of Heat Vision and Jack ripped to three MPGs. Heat vision and Jack is a show created in 1999 and directed by Ben Stiller. In it, Jack Black is an astronaut who develops super-intelligence after being [e]xposed to inappropriate levels of solar energy. Owen Wilson is the voice of his roommate who's been turned into a motorcycle. Together the travel the back roads and fight crime where they find it! All the time, they must avoid being captured by the evil Ron Silver, played by Ron Silver.

Continue reading "Heat Vision and Jack"
posted by sstrader at 1:06 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

June 22, 2004

Messages from the ether

Leave it to BoingBoing to make something interesting into something boring by waving the copyright flag. The band Wilco's label was sued by independent label Irdial Discs for a radio transmission of unknown origin included on Wilco's recording Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Irdial had released a recording of broadcasts found in the short-wave band from numbers stations. Wilco's sample is from one of the numbers stations. Numbers stations generally broadcast continuous streams of letters, numbers, the NATO phonetic alphabet, and other miscellany. The strong assumption is that they are used by various countries for espionage.

Here're some samples. NPR has an article with audio clips and links, and Salon had an article back in 1999. Both refer to a four CD recording called The Conet Project (put out by the above-mentioned Irdial Discs). $239.99.

posted by sstrader at 1:16 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

The White Rose

One of today's featured articles at Wikipedia caught my attention. The many stories of embarrassingly passive acquiescence to Hitler is a prejudiced but painful memory to Germans. The White Rose student resistance is an interesting contrast to that.

They rejected the Prussian militarism of Adolf Hitler's Germany and believed in a federated Europe that adhered to Christian principles of tolerance and justice. Quoting extensively from the Bible, Lao Tzu, Aristotle and Novalis, as well as Goethe and Schiller, they appealed to what they considered the German intelligentsia, believing that they would be intrinsically opposed to Nazism.


The Scholls and Probst were the first to stand trial, on February 22, 1943. They were found guilty of treason and executed by guillotine that same day. The other key members of the group were also beheaded later that summer. Friends and colleagues of the White Rose, who helped in the preparation and distribution of leaflets and in collecting money for the widow and young children of Probst, were sentenced to prison terms ranging from six months to ten years.

Apparently, there was a movie about them made in 1982.

Continue reading "The White Rose"
posted by sstrader at 1:28 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

June 15, 2004


Everyone's reading about Islam these days. I'm finishing up Eco's novel Baudolino, and our hero has headed off to one of the Crusades. Apparently, there were a lot of them.

I accidentally doubled-up on the links above: both pointed to Amazon. I fixed the Crusades link to point to Wikipedia.

The Crusades lasted roughly from 1095 to 1272. Here's an abbreviated synopsis from the Wikipedia article:

Continue reading "Crusade"
posted by sstrader at 11:43 PM in Culture & Society | permalink


Here's a nice, level-headed assessment of the Pledge of Allegiance case (via Slate). I remember from the earliest reports prior to the case that the biggest obstacle would be for Michael Newdow to prove that he had parental rights to present the charges. Yesterday the court decided that he did not.

When I read the news, I thought that the Monday's reporters were a little quick to label the Supreme Court as diffident, and Dahlia Lithwick in the Slate article says as much. Ms. Lithwick gave a reasonable summary of the oral arguments back in March. Newdow's case could have won--and should have won if he were the legal guardian of his daughter.

I remember when the case first appeared. I feel that "god" should be removed from every aspect of politics, but when I heard that some troublemaker was trying to take it to the Supreme Court I was skeptical ... that he was just a troublemaker. Then I heard his argument and appreciated his logic. Newdow wasn't a crackpot. He was someone who felt the same and had the impetus to follow through.

It's a shame it didn't work out, but it was a nice try.

posted by sstrader at 9:43 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

June 9, 2004

Transit of Mayans

A coworker pointed out the the cycle of the current Mayan calendar ends during the next transit of Venus. Well, sort of. The transit occurs on 6 June 2012 and the Mayan calendar ends either on 21 December 2012 or 23 December 2012 (depending on two different correlations).

The end of the calendar isn't the end of time, rather the beginning of a new cycle.

posted by sstrader at 11:09 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

May 31, 2004

Indian influence

I'm kinda tired of all of the "Engrish" influenced Japanese sites that have dominate the Internet Multiverse. For a change of pace, India may be taking over, and I hope it stays as fresh as these movies:

Vanilla Coke (click "View the Ice Creamy Thanda TVC" for the Best. Commercial. Ever.)

Absolut mini-Bollywood movie (~100k download, but well worth it, or check out the source site which offers streaming)

(Boing Boing gets full marks for the Absolut ad.)

Continue reading "Indian influence"
posted by sstrader at 11:41 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

May 26, 2004

TV Revolution

Just watched the "Black & White & Living Color" episode of Bravo's series TV Revolution. It is at times a surfacy, self-involved documentary ("TV has the power to change society"), but it covers enough material and enough of a time span to be entertaining. We watched the "Out of the Closet" episode last night, and tonight's evoked a similar feeling of historical shame. Maybe more.

Ossie Davis was one of the main commentators, and he discussed a clip of his from an episode of Bonanza where he was an ex-slave. Davis was emphasizing how monumental it was, and I rolled my eyes at the self-praise until they showed the clip.

Continue reading "TV Revolution"
posted by sstrader at 11:45 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

May 21, 2004

Comedian coincidence

When Jerry Seinfeld was on Jay Leno a week ago, he performed a very funny standup routine. As Kramer said, he "had some good observations." Check out his American Express video. He makes Superman/Puddy out to be a little bit too much of a rambling goofball at times, but it's still entertaining. Like a lost episode of Seinfeld.

Tavis Smiley had a comedian on this morning, Rodney Perry, who covered very similar material to Jerry's. It wasn't plagarism at all ... just a zeitgeisty sort of thing.

Continue reading "Comedian coincidence"
posted by sstrader at 11:52 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

May 18, 2004


Today is the 108th anniversary of the Supreme Court's 7-1 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson supporting the constitutionality of racial segregation. The argument, that it violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, was defeated with the assertion that equal, but separate, resources would still treat citizens equally. The economics of dual facilities hastened the breakdown of that argument.

And yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court's unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education. There, the Supreme Court decided that "separate but equal" in schools was detrimental to black students and therefore unconstitutional.

It took an embarrasingly long time for the logic behind Plessy to break down.

A couple of interesting historical points taken from Tavis Smiley's discussions:

  • One argument in Brown was against allowing the Supreme Court to reverse its Plessy decision, and therefore effectively change the meaning of the Constitution. If the Constitution wasn't treated as a living document, where would we be now?
  • The communist countries were using America's institutionalised racism to embarass it in the international arena. Whenever the U.S. accused them of human rights violations, they would respond with photos of KKK lynchings. No one should be above international policing.
Continue reading "Segregation"
posted by sstrader at 1:47 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

War update

The current state of WMDs, Colin Powell, and Nick Berg.

Continue reading "War update"
posted by sstrader at 12:15 AM in Culture & Society | permalink

May 12, 2004

Futurama reference

OK, no one's gonna care, but I'm throwing this out anyway.

In tonight's (TiVoed) episode of Futurama, "My Problem With Popplers," we find out that Lela's first name is Turonga.

No so much interesting in itself, but I think it's a weird reference (for no apparent reason) to Olivier Messien's orchestral work Turangalla-symphonie which the ASO just performed. It's like one of the major works of the 20th century, so listen to it if you get the chance. We were in NYC that weekend (rats).

I know, I know ... you'll find any number of coincidences if you're looking hard enough, but isn't that kinda weird?

Continue reading "Futurama reference"
posted by sstrader at 9:37 PM in Culture & Society | permalink