June 28, 2009 - July 4, 2009 Archives
04 July 2009 10:53 PM
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Earlier this year, Congress passed a "Stimulus" Bill. It was 973 pages long. This past Friday, the House passed a "Climate Change" Bill. It was more than 1200 pages long.
This got me wondering: how long, exactly, is our Constitution? How many pages did it take our country's founders to lay out the structure and functions of our Federal Government?
Easy to answer. I found the Constitution online and copied it into a Word document, in Times New Roman 12 point type. So how long is it?
Including the preamble, all signatures and all 27 amendments, it's 20 pages.
Without the signatures and amendments, it's 11 pages.
Think about that. The entire foundation of our country - the complete design for our entire government -- is clearly explained in only 11 pages.
No single Amendment is a full page. Many are only a single sentence.
He proposes a brevity amendment to rein in our long-winded political leaders.
Even when they aren't motivated by politics or ideology, historians muddle what really happened. They have to: reality is too unruly to fit between the covers of one (or several) volumes. The historian picks facts the way a mountaineer finds a route across a boulder field: one fact leads to another and then another and yet another, allowing the historian to cross the ground in reasonable time. Important boulders are inevitably bypassed; rocks of lesser significance are included on the route for what they lie between.
Histories, moreover, require plots--the networks of causality that distinguish histories from mere chronicles. But causality, beyond the most trivial kind, is nearly impossible to prove. Most of us like to think we are rational, at least some of the time, and perhaps we are. But often rationality is a polite name for rationalization, and the stories we tell ourselves about our motives are simply that: stories. "So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature," Benjamin Franklin observed, "since it enables one to find or make a reason for every thing one has a mind to do." A. J. P. Taylor put the same point differently. "History is not another name for the past, as many people imply," the British historian explained. "It is the name for stories about the past."
Pawlenty, who was on John McCain's short list for vice president, is on every great mention list for 2012 GOP candidates. "I don't know what I'm going to do be doing three years from now," demurs Pawlenty, who announced last month he will not run for a third term next year. He says he wants to travel the country and speak out on issues, but beyond that, "I don't know what my future holds."
Pawlenty acknowledged that the GOP is struggling. The president is popular, the Democrats control the government, and the GOP is the victim of several self-inflicted wounds, namely Ensign and Sanford. "If the Republican party were a sports team and the coach and general manager were sitting here, he or she would say, 'It's a rebuilding year. We gotta get some new draft picks, we gotta make some trades, we gotta do things differently.' "
One question is whether Pawlenty, a married father of two who's a convert to evangelical Christianianty, would be able to claim that his is the party of family values. Pawlenty insists it can, but concedes that Sanford makes this positioning more complex, at least for now. "For Republicans and others, if you say you're about one thing and you do something else, people don't like that. It's a basic fact of life...We're going to have to earn back the support of the American voter, that's for sure."
Even though no less a figure than Neil Armstrong has been quoted recently as saying that the challenges to land on Mars are not as difficult as the Apollo pioneers faced, a manned mission to Mars seems beyond the reach of affordable technology and political will (not least because of the financial resources that would be required). What was possible in the 1960s to a technically less advanced generation may be out of reach to this and future generations, simply because of the change in attitudes and priorities and the vast increase in the thresholds of risk that are now seen as acceptable. This is one overhead that the Apollo programme did not have to face. Apollo could not be reproduced in the early 21st century, simply because the world we live in is so utterly different from that of only 40 or 50 years ago; sights have lowered as fears have increased. But the Apollo programme happened, men really walked on the Moon and drove their buggies over the lunar landscape and 40 years on we have to recognise the achievement that crowned an undertaking made to that very different world. It remains an inspiration.
The place has professionalized. Talking Points Memo used to be some unemployed writer's blog. Now it's a significant media institution. Atrios used to be the only guy articulating a certain set of progressive frustrations with the media. Now he's a fellow at Media Matters, a well-funded watchdog organization dedicated to tracking the media in excruciating detail. It used to be that people blogged in their spare time. Now kids graduate from college and apply for jobs as bloggers and, sometimes, internships as assistants on blogs.
The blogosphere isn't thrumming with the joyous, raucous, weirdness of the early years. And that's a shame. But the upside is that it's more careful. It reports and investigates and uncovers. My blog certainly isn't as fun to write as it used to be. But it's also a lot better than it used to be. And it certainly pays more. And so it goes. The blogosphere grew up and it got a job, or, to be more specific, lots of jobs. That made it less fun, but, like a frat house legend who now goes to work every morning, probably more useful to society.
...to Allen, local doesn't mean a rolling pasture or even a suburban garden: it means 14 greenhouses crammed onto two acres in a working-class neighborhood on Milwaukee's northwest side, less than half a mile from the city's largest public-housing project.
And this is why Allen is so fond of his worms. When you're producing a quarter of a million dollars' worth of food in such a small space, soil fertility is everything. Without microbe- and nutrient-rich worm castings (poop, that is), Allen's Growing Power farm couldn't provide healthful food to 10,000 urbanites -- through his on-farm retail store, in schools and restaurants, at farmers' markets and in low-cost market baskets delivered to neighborhood pickup points. He couldn't employ scores of people, some from the nearby housing project; continually train farmers in intensive polyculture; or convert millions of pounds of food waste into a version of black gold.With seeds planted at quadruple density and nearly every inch of space maximized to generate exceptional bounty, Growing Power is an agricultural Mumbai, a supercity of upward-thrusting tendrils and duct-taped infrastructure.
Friday, July 3, 2009
Who needs rollover minutes when you can connect without them? More
In the world of boxing, Kevin Rooney is famous for two things. He was Mike Tyson's trainer during the brighter half of Tyson's career, and, before that, in 1982, he was the victim of a spectacular one-punch knockout at the hands of Alexis Arguello. It was one of those perfect boxing moments, in which a crafty, technically brilliant, and heavy-punching champion sees an opening and exploits it. The punch itself was audible, if not visible. It was, in fact, too perfect. Rooney went down in a way that made the count, for everyone watching, a formality bordering on sarcasm. He was - spiritually, mentally - nowhere in the building. It was worrisome, actually, and Arguello was visibly worried. Instead of thrusting his hands up and prancing around the ring, he simply turned back to his corner for the length of the count and immediately came back to stand among Rooney's cornermen as they worked to rouse their fighter.
I bring this up because Arguello's legacy as a boxer - leaving aside his legacy as an anti-Sandinista rebel and elected mayor of Managua and, this past week, victim of an apparent suicide - tends to overemphasize his first big fight with junior welterweight champ Aaron Pryor. I say overemphasize because even before he went up in weight class to box Pryor, he was a singular fighter. If he had decided to rule as a lightweight for the rest of his career (he had started as a featherweight), his status in the pantheon would have been assured. There were divisions among boxing fans - especially when it came to Hearns and Leonard - but there were no divisions when it came to Alexis Arguello. Everyone loved Arguello. He was handsome. He was a sportsman and gentleman, sincere, modest, reverent toward his sport. And, in the ring, he called to mind, more than any other boxer of the time, what Richard Pryor said about Sugar Ray Robinson: "Sugar Ray? Sugar Ray fight so good it make your dick hard."
...while it's often true that hard news stories take a "great deal of time to write," the Internet has made the process much easier for many types of news. Most obviously, the laborious process of editing and typesetting stories on strict deadlines is being replaced by much more flexible editing using web-based content management systems. Many primary sources (court decisions, regulatory filings, government data) that once required a physical trip to obtain can now be downloaded off the web. Reporters also have access to a vast new universe of primary sources from user-generated media that simply didn't exist in the past.
It's possible that the absolute number of reporters doing "hard news" in the future will be lower than it was in the past. And certainly the next decade will be a tough one for print journalists. But there's nothing fundamentally broken about the "give away content, sell ads" business model. And we're not heading toward a dystopian future in which no one produces hard news.
I got my first reporting gig at an 80,000 circulation community newspaper in 2002. It is quite difficult to adequately emphasize how much more difficult my job would've been without the Internet. Mapquest alone saved me perhaps 30 minutes a day. Reporting before e-mail? I can't imagine it.
The BBC reports:
Argentine ants living in vast numbers across Europe, the US and Japan belong to the same inter-related colony, and will refuse to fight one another.
The colony may be the largest of its type ever known for any insect species, and could rival humans in the scale of its world domination.
What's more, people are unwittingly helping the mega-colony stick together.
...two more American families discover a truth as old as marriage: a lasting covenant between a man and a woman can be a vehicle for the nurture and protection of each other, the one reliable shelter in an uncaring world -- or it can be a matchless tool for the infliction of suffering on the people you supposedly love above all others, most of all on your children.
I have never bothered much about whether or not people will remember me when I am dead; but I am sure that as long as my generation lives, in various parts of the world someone will pause now and then to reflect, 'Wasn't that a great picnic we had that day with Michener?'That's from his masterpiece on Spain, Iberia.
I have lured my friends into some extraordinary picnics, for I hold with the French that to eat out of doors in congenial surroundings is sensible: in Afghanistan we ate high on a hill outside Kabul and watched as tribesmen moved in to attack the city; at Edfu along the Nile we spread our blankets inside that most serene of Egypt's temples; in Bali we picnicked on the terraces and in Tahiti by the waterfalls; and if tomorrow someone were to suggest that we picnic in a snowstorm, I'd go along, for of this world one never sees enough and to dine in harmony with nature is one of the gentlest and loveliest things we can do. Picnics are the apex of sensible living and the traveler who does not so explore the land through which he travels ought better to stay at home.
Is cycling bad for the bones? A number of intriguing studies published in the past 18 months, including Smathers', have raised that possibility -- an issue that has special resonance now, with this weekend's start of the 2009 Tour de France. Certainly, the toll of broken bones among top-level racers is high. Famously, Lance Armstrong broke his collarbone this year, while Christian Vande Velde, another of America's premier Tour hopes, fractured six bones, including three in his spine, during a crash at the Giro d'Italia in May.
Of course, slamming into the pavement at 40 miles per hour can be expected to break anyone's bones. But Smathers' research suggests that other factors may be at work as well. "If you have low bone mineral mass, you can wind up with a much more serious break from a crash" than if your bones are thicker, he points out.In his study, the bone density of 32 male, competitive bike riders, most in their late 20s and early 30s, was compared to that of age-matched controls, men who were active but not competitive athletes. Bone scans showed that almost all of the cyclists had significantly less bone density in the spine than the control group. Some of the racers, young men in their 20s, had osteopenia in their spines, a medical condition only one step below full-blown osteoporosis. "To find guys in their twenties with osteopenia was surprising and pretty disturbing," Smathers says.
Last month, Christopher Handley, a collector of comic books, pled guilty to federal charges of importing and possessing obscene cartoon drawings of children; he faces a maximum prison sentence of 15 years, for a crime involving neither actual children nor actual child porn. Last week, a Tennessee prosecutor charged Michael Wayne Campbell with aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor, for photo shopping the faces of three girls onto the nude bodies of three adult women. How might this constitute a crime (outside Iran)? The prosecutor explained: "when you have the face of a small child affixed to a nude body of a mature woman, it's going to be the state's position that this is for sexual gratification and that this is simulated sexual activity." It is also a crime - a federal crime -- to share your sexual fantasies about children in private communications with other adults: Two weeks ago, the 4th circuit court of appeals declined to review the conviction of Dwight Whorley for sharing fantasies about sexual abusing children in purely textual email exchanges between consenting adults. Like Christopher Handley, Whorley was also convicted of receiving obscene Japanese cartoon drawings of children. Be careful what you imagine.
Q. Once you've got a great story, by luck or pluck, how do you tell it? Given your successes, the answer will probably be of interest to folks who make their living as media professionals -- I'll certainly take note -- but I imagine just about everyone could benefit from the storyteller's skill set, whether the midcareer professional in a job interview, the best man preparing his wedding reception remarks, or the grandmother who loves nothing more than captivated grandchildren gathered at her feet. What does one do to get better at storytelling?
I have spent a long time looking for short cuts to the answer to this very question. But I haven't found any. So, begin by over-reporting and over-researching everything. If the story involves talking to people, talk to them as long as they will stand to have you around and then talk to them some more. Keep reading. Outline a structure to the piece. Set that aside for now. Realize you don't know enough. Go over all your interviews and research notes again, only this time, make a laundry list of all the great details, large and small, along with the best quotes. Look at that list a lot. Begin the process of re-reading all of your research. Bail out of re-reading all of your research by convincing yourself that what you really need is a long walk to think about "structure." Walk toward your shoes and look at them. Blow off the walk altogether. Descend into a shame spiral. Now, catch up on your HBO tivo'd backlog. After several hours, take another ride on the shame spiral. Lumber over to the desk and go over the interviews again. Make notes of your notes in tiny scrawl so that they can fit on a single sheet of paper. Look at the details. Write down the big ideas that form the superstructure of the piece. Realize you are a pompous git for thinking that ideas have anything to do with it and go back to that list of details. Set it aside. Read some blogs.
The next day, re-read the single sheet of paper with the notes of your notes and wonder, what does this shit even mean? Then outline a structure. Indulge in a nice long afternoon of intense self-loathing. Start to write according to that outline. Throw that draft away. Write a new outline. Go over your notes. Re-interview a few people. Realize, as if you hadn't realized this a thousand times before (most recently, a few minutes before) that your own big ideas about this story are pathetic, but this list of details and the more decent quotations from the interviews--there's some pretty good stuff in there. Fiddle with writing a few more paragraphs. Microwave your cold cup of coffee for the third time. Go over your notes again. Yell irrationally at your spouse/child/dog/a bare wall. Now, kick the wall. Limp. Review all the transcribed interviews one more time from beginning to end. Paste a large sheet of paper to a wall and, standing up with a fresh cup of coffee in your hand, outline the piece in really big letters. Realize that you've misunderstood the point of the entire story all this time. Scream the word, "fuck" really loud in an empty room. Do this about 40 times. Wipe off the flopsweat. Look at the notes on the single sheet of paper and realize just how brilliant they are, or moronic. Espy the grime on your bike chain--it could use a good cleaning with some WD-40. Start writing the lead paragraph again. Set that aside. Find that single cartoon frame from "Peanuts" that you keep in a box somewhere, the one in which Snoopy is reading a publisher's rejection letter for his novel that goes, "Has it ever occurred to you that you may be the worst writer in the history of the world?" Read it and laugh. Later that day, read it again and not laugh. Feel really, really sad. Go over your notes one more time. Look at earlier drafts and passages and realize that maybe this stuff here is the lead, actually, and then if you follow that outline from seven outlines ago, it just might work. Re-read the last couplet of the first strophe of Philip Sidney's Astrophel and Stella. Look at those riffs in the earlier draft again and realize some are not that bad. Convince yourself that your bike chain really does need another good cleaning and what's that gunk on the inside of the rear fender? Read the latest draft-like substance and think that, with a little work, maybe this won't be too embarrassing. Feel mildly excited that there could actually be something here worth reading eventually. Look at the list of details again. Re-read the edited draft and start to feel better. Or, if not, set it aside and then repeat all of the above instructions, only this time, after each step, masturbate.
Q. I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you to recommend some of your favorite stories. Any books, magazine stories, radio segments, or great stories in any other medium that interested readers ought to hunt down?
I used to read by subject matter. Now, if I see or hear certain bylines--Susan Orlean, Michael Pollan, say--then I know I'm fixing a cup of coffee, ordering the nearest kid to leave dad alone for the next fifteen minutes unless her hair is on fire, and kicking back with a magazine (or glowing computer screen--I don't care about that fight anymore). I was going to provide some names here, like Melissa Fay Greene, or Lawrence Weschler, or Scott Carrier or Sarah Vowell, but the problem is that this kind of anthologizing is painful. Sometimes you know one or two of these people, and even if you don't, the whole listing thing seems vaguely butt-kissy and confessional in an icky, governor of South Carolina sort of way.
So, rather than carry on with this list that I thought I said I wasn't going to start, discover the writers you really like and then read them. It doesn't really matter what they're writing about. And if there's time enough at the end of the day, check out the early Esquire pieces by Terry Southern--they're just brilliant--and never forget to dip into that S. J. Perelman complete works you have on the shelf there. How he continues to hold up is one of the more pleasant, ongoing mysteries.
Jack Hitt is one of America's best storytellers. His credits include Harper's, The New York Times Magazine, This American Life and Rolling Stone. You can buy his most recent book here.
Taser International Inc. has released a new shotgun-ready projectile similar to its other stun-gun products, but with twice the range and the first with wireless capabilities.
Taser (Nasdaq:TASR) released the eXtended Range Electronic Projectile on Tuesday, along with a customized shotgun from O.F. Mossberg & Sons Inc. capable of firing the device.
The wireless device has the same effect as Taser's other products, but can be fired from up to 100 feet away. It also can be used by other 12-gauge, smooth-bore shotguns, although the Taser-produced shotgun is designed only for the less-lethal projectiles.
Any guesses as to how long it takes for this to make it on YouTube?
What's the story?
For $25,000 to $250,000, The Washington Post is offering lobbyists and association executives off-the-record, non-confrontational access to "those powerful few" -- Obama administration officials, members of Congress, and the paper's own reporters and editors.
The astonishing offer is detailed in a flier circulated Wednesday to a health care lobbyist, who provided it to a reporter because the lobbyist said he feels it's a conflict for the paper to charge for access to, as the flier says, its "health care reporting and editorial staff."
The offer -- which essentially turns a news organization into a facilitator for private lobbyist-official encounters -- is a new sign of the lengths to which news organizations will go to find revenue at a time when most newspapers are struggling for survival.
This is a bad idea. The Washington Post Company is behaving far better when it subsidizes its reporting by preparing upper middle class kids to game the SAT. But I can't say I'm surprised. America can have a press that assiduously avoids these ethical mine fields, but only if we pay for it. The information gathered by newspapers, the skill set of reporters, and platforms of societal influence have value. If citizens aren't willing to pay for it, owners and workers in media are going to find some other way to be compensated, regrettable and unwise though some of their decisions may be.
"LKM" stands for Larry King Minutes --the number of broadcast minutes that Larry King would devote to your death if it occurred today. Michael Jackson has set a very high standard, swamping all other coverage from Larry's show and triggering hours and hours of extra programming from Larry.
What began with the Twilight Saga, the luridly romantic young-adult series by Stephenie Meyer, followed by "Twilight," the movie, has become a pandemic of unholy proportions.
Is it a wonder?
Rarely have monsters looked so sultry -- or so camera-ready. No small part of this latest vampire mania seems to stem from the ethereal cool and youthful sexiness with which the demons are portrayed. Bela Lugosi they are not."The vampire is the new James Dean," said Julie Plec, the writer and executive producer of "The Vampire Diaries," a forthcoming series on the CW network based on the popular L. J. Smith novels about high school femmes and hommes fatales. "There is something so still and sexy about these young erotic predators," she said.
...an increasing number of borrowers are turning to "peer to peer" networks that connect individual borrowers directly to lenders, cutting out the banking middleman. These networks have now financed nearly a half a billion dollars in lending. This is still a long way from the $931 billion in loans and leases that Bank of America had on its balance sheet in 2008, but it's growing rapidly. Peer-to-peer lenders describe themselves as a solution to many of the banking sector's current weaknesses, from the lack of small-business finance to the evils of payday lending (which now serves as financing of last resort for those shut out of formal banking altogether).
Economists have been studying these peer-to-peer lending programs from the beginning, and their findings are now starting to show up on the Web. They've discovered that while the sites may be useful for some high-risk borrowers--those who stood little chance of attracting loans from traditional banking institutions--these credit markets also result in loan decisions tainted by human frailty and bias. It seems that the middleman--with his credit models and balance-sheet analysis for evaluating prospective borrowers--may provide some value after all.
Let's consider that a "no." (Note: the answer to any question posed in the headline or subhead of a magazine story is almost always no.)
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Now more than ever, undergrads should be thinking beyond Wall Street. More
Rod Dreher sides with Rome: "Fidelity and orthodoxy are beautiful things."
In the last four decades since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, many American nuns stopped wearing religious habits, left convents to live independently and went into new lines of work: academia and other professions, social and political advocacy and grass-roots organizations that serve the poor or promote spirituality. A few nuns have also been active in organizations that advocate changes in the church like ordaining women and married men as priests.
Some sisters surmise that the Vatican and even some American bishops are trying to shift them back into living in convents, wearing habits or at least identifiable religious garb, ordering their schedules around daily prayers and working primarily in Roman Catholic institutions, like schools and hospitals."They think of us as an ecclesiastical work force," said Sister Sandra M. Schneiders, professor emerita of New Testament and spirituality at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, in California. "Whereas we are religious, we're living the life of total dedication to Christ, and out of that flows a profound concern for the good of all humanity. So our vision of our lives, and their vision of us as a work force, are just not on the same planet."
My own view, as someone who has written negative reviews and been on the receiving end of them, is that if you want to put your thoughts before the public and be paid for it, you simply have to accept, as part of the deal, that some people won't like your writing. When your response to a negative review is to shout for all the world to hear that the reviewer is an "idiot," or, worse yet, you tell the reviewer directly that "I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make" -- well, you simply give the impression that you are full to overflowing with preening self-regard.
Of course it hurts to have a book you've slaved over slammed or dismissed. And in those cases there's nothing wrong with letting off steam with your family or friends. I think "dismissed" is probably worse than "slammed": among the responses to my books, the one that most bothered me was Adam Gopnik's cursory kiss-off in The New Yorker of my biography of C. S. Lewis, and I may have made the odd unkind comment about Gopnik over pints with my buddies. However, I can honestly say that I do not hate Adam Gopnik and do not want to see his career destroyed. And more important, I didn't share my every uncharitable thought with the whole world. Some websites may be disappearing, but this much is for sure: if you've said anything online that really, really embarrasses you, it'll be available forever.
Via erstwhile debate compatriot turned awesome academic Steve Maloney, I discover the "weak man" argument, which actually seems far more prevalent than the better-known straw man. Making a straw-man argument, of course, involves misrepresenting a position opposed to your own so that you can beat up on it easily. The Internet makes it somewhat harder to do this credibly because people expect that you actually link to an instance of the argument you're attributing to your opponents. With a "weak man," you don't actually fabricate a position, but rather pick the weakest of the arguments actually offered up by people on the other side and treat it as the best or only one they have.A close cousin is the evil critic argument, where you deflect criticism from yourself by drawing attention to the critic who treats you most unfairly. (See electoral strategy, Palin, Sarah.)
Arguably, I shouldn't be expecting too much culinary authenticity from a pizza vending machine. But this vending machine is in Italy. My understanding is that putting, say, pineapple on a pizza in Italy is punishable by death, or at least by loud exclamations accompanied by energetic hand movements. Which is, of course, how it should be.
But back to the vending machine. "The machine does not just slip a frozen pizza into a microwave," reports the New York Times. "It actually whips up flour, water, tomato sauce and fresh ingredients to produce a piping hot pizza in about three minutes." Impressive! But...how?
Within a few years we could cool the Earth to temperatures not regularly seen since James Watt's steam engine belched its first smoky plume in the late 18th century. And we could do it cheaply: $100 billion could reverse anthropogenic climate change entirely, and some experts suspect that a hundredth of that sum could suffice. To stop global warming the old-fashioned way, by cutting carbon emissions, would cost on the order of $1 trillion yearly.Of course, there's a catch.
Ideas--the idea of ideas, anyway--have always held a lofty place in our political culture. But perhaps never before have they been imbued with such power as at this particular moment. Since last November, conservatives have been braying about their victory in the war of ideas, often with a whiff of Marxian assurance. "Conservatism is the ideology of the future," gloated Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman. "Republicans are driving the course of history with new solutions." A GOP operative, even while conceding President Bush's recent difficulties, noted that things would be worse but for the fact that "the Democrats are really brain dead and have nothing positive to put on the table."
Oddly enough, it's not just conservatives who say this. Liberals, too, widely attribute their minority party status to a lack of new ideas. "Feeling outmatched in the war of ideas," The New York Times noted last month, "liberal groups have spent years studying conservative foundations the way Pepsi studies Coke, searching for trade secrets." Or, as Washington Monthly Editor-in-Chief Paul Glastris wrote last December, "[Y]es, there is plenty of blame to go around, from an admirable but not widely loved presidential candidate to his stunningly ineffective strategists. But at this point, it requires a willful act of self-deception not to see the deeper problem: conservatives have won the war of ideas." Since the 2004 elections, liberals have earnestly set about writing manifestos, establishing new think-tanks, and generally endeavoring to catch up with a conservative idea machine.
The notion that conservatives are winning politically because they are winning intellectually has a certain appeal, particularly for those in the political idea business. And the aspiration of liberals to sharpen their thinking is perfectly worthy. As analysis, though, it's all deeply misguided. The current ubiquity of such thinking owes itself to the fact that liberals and conservatives have a shared interest in promoting it. (Liberals in the spirit of exhortation and internal reform, conservatives in the spirit of self-congratulation.) But, more than that, it reflects a na?fvet6 about the power of new ideas, one that is deeply rooted in long-standing misconceptions of how our politics operate.
Read the rest here.
In the 16th century, Portuguese seamen began leaving a Christian fundamentalist Europe to sail the seas in search of resources and spices to pillage. But as soon as they arrived in Goa, Malacca, Sumatra, and Japan, they also discovered an alternative sexual world where all their repressed longing could roam free. "On one side," Bernstein writes, "was Christian monogamy in which sex was shrouded in religious meaning and prohibition, and regarded as sinful when enjoyed out of marriage. On the other side was an Eastern culture wherein sex was strictly organized, especially when it came to women, but where it was disassociated from both sin and love."
Where the West tied sex to the marriage bed and felt ashamed when it broke free, the East unleashed its libido in the harem, the brothel, and a smorgasbord of sexual options. "In the East," as Bernstein puts it in gushing terms, "it was taken for granted there would always be a certain reserve of women, often supreme models of beauty, cultivation and charm, whose assigned role in life was to provide sexual pleasure for men." The Asian babe as dream-object was born. Rudyard Kipling wrote one of the first rhapsodies to her: "I've a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!/ On the road to Mandalay."
Since the 1970s--when Edward Said wrote his classic Orientalism, exposing the myriad ways in which the West had patronized and stereotyped the East--such fawning has been dismissed as exploitative, racist distortion. Western merchants depicted the East as a den of sin and depravity, according to Said, in order to justify colonizing the land and taking whatever else suited them, from spices to resources to women. But Bernstein argues that "the eroticized vision of the East carries a hard kernel of truth, which the followers of Said are loath to acknowledge."
The best thing about the new Firefox is that it gives us a peek at the Internet of tomorrow. Since 2007, the World Wide Web Consortium, the international standards body that sets common technical definitions for the Web, has been working on HTML 5, an update to the coding language that defines every page you visit online. Although the consortium has yet to publish its final specifications for the new standard, many browser companies have been incorporating features of the language in their latest releases. Firefox 3.5 offers the best implementation of the standard--and because it's the second-most-popular Web browser in the world, the new release is sure to prompt Web designers to create pages tailored to the Web's new language. In other words, Firefox isn't just an upgrade for your computer; it could well prompt a re-engineering of the Web itself.
The best way to appreciate what HTML 5 can do is to install the new Firefox and run the collection of demos put together by Paul Rouget, Mozilla's European evangelist and a Web developer extraordinaire. Rouget's pages show off one particular aspect of the new language--its facility with video, which has always been a second-class citizen on the Web. Today, most of the clips you encounter online require plug-ins that you have to install alongside your browser; when you go to YouTube, for instance, your browser calls on Adobe Flash, the platform that actually knows how to play the clip.
HTML 5 will alter this process. Firefox 3.5 allows designers to add videos that require no third-party plug-ins; the clips, which can be coded in the open-standard Ogg format, are processed by the browser itself. This allows videos to become just as interactive as every other part of a page: You can rotate a video while it's playing, have a clip show up in a circular frame rather than a square one, or have a video respond to data pulled in from other parts of the Web.
Q. A famous Joan Didion line is that "We tell ourselves stories in order to live." That idea appeals to me. I'm a radio listener who lusts after episodes of This American Life, a magazine reader who loves nothing more than a 15 page feature story by Michael Lewis, and a television viewer drawn in by ongoing sagas like those portrayed on Lost or The Wire. The examples I've cited attest to the appeal storytelling retains in our culture.
At the same time, long form narrative non-fiction seems less present than it once was, and among the magazine writers I know quite a few fear it's disappearing, whether due to financial constraints or a shortening of the American attention span. As one of the best in the business when it comes to storytelling in magazines and on the radio, what's your take on the present and future of nonfiction storytelling in America?
You'd think that for as long as we have heard that our stories are disappearing, our attention spans shrinking, our children not reading and our teens skanking out at rainbow parties that by now we'd just be a nation of spastic bonobos. Long-form stories? I've never understood what "long form" stories are. Stories either hold your attention until you get to the end or they don't. If they don't, then usually an editor or someone with the remote control brutally reduces them to short-form stories.
I hear a lot about how television destroyed our attention spans 25 years ago with MTV and paved the way for the micro-information age of the internet. But that same lights and wires in a box has now given us the Wire, the Sopranos, the Shield, Deadwood, and Mad Men. If Charles Dickens were alive today, wouldn't he be collaborating with Richard Price or Barry Levinson? Half the plots on TV today owe a full frame screen credit to Jane Austen. This is not the fin de siècle of the long form; this is its siglo del oro.
As to the internet, a word that now means far less than what it is, doesn't it all depend on where you look?
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
No one with a smart phone should have to wonder where to find the next empty cab. More
But I think "the context" of Judge Sotomayor's "wise Latina" remark has yet to be sufficiently explored, and that the controversy speaks volumes about the different ways Americans are socialized on matters of race.
On mandatory minimum sentences: O'Connor suggested it was time for Congress to revisit mandatory minimums, which stipulate certain minimum sentences for certain crimes, often drug offenses. The result of mandatory minimums has been to limit judicial discretion in sentencing and to overcrowd the prisons with criminals who may have gotten 20 years for a first-time drug offense. "I don't advocate making drug use legal, but I do advocate examining the mandatory minimum" regime, she said. She also said that recidivism is so high because there's "a shocking lack of rehab efforts within prisons."
On the jury system: Some talk about how jury service is changing due to technology. The problem with juries, said Ogletree, "is not race or gender or class. It's the tweeting, blogging, texting jurors who want to find out more about the case [so they go online after hours] to see what this guy is really about." Judges already tell jurors they can't read newspapers or talk about the case with their neighbors. They need to extend those remarks, said Ogletree. "There's a flaw in the system that has to be addressed, and I think it's in the jury instructions: You can't tweet, you can't blog." O'Connor, who was a local trial judge at one point in her career, implied that good judges should be able to control their juries, regardless of the technology at issue.
On more women in prisons: "We think women can do all kinds of things," O'Connor said. "And I guess they can commit crimes, too."
Nuclear waste conjures up images of ultra-toxic green sludge, one spill away from poisoning the planet. In fact, all energy production generates waste, including some very dangerous wastes: not only carbon dioxide, but sulphur dioxide and coal slag. The waste from fossil fuels typically evanesces invisibly into the atmosphere, but that disappearance from view does not render it harmless. If anything, the very invisibility of fossil waste enhances its harm, by deluding us into imagining that what has vanished from sight has vanished from existence.The Atlantic has published various stories on the harms of nuclear energy -- and why it is essential to humankind's progress.
Democrats learned never to go to war against the combined forces of corporate America. Today, whether it is on the stimulus, on health care or any other issue, the Obama administration and the Congressional leadership go out of their way to court corporate interests, to win corporate support and to at least divide corporate opposition.This reminds me of an idea Peter Suderman had:
...what if the GOP fumbles around for a while, fails to develop a coherent message, continues to shout "Reagan!" in place of proposing policy, fails to find fresh political talent, and loses a series of elections, to the point where many begin to predict permanent minority status?
Meanwhile, the Democrats spend the next decade or so getting used to power in Washington. A lot of their agenda involves finding new ways to regulate various industries. As this happens, industry, looking for influence, naturally begins to fund Democrats and Democratic lobbyists more heavily (corporate donations are already shifting away from the GOP), and rent-seeking becomes even more prevalent on the Hill. It won't be long before Democrats, regulators, and the lobbying world have a very cozy relationship.
This opens up the opportunity for the right to exploit the anti-corporate outrage in middle America -- outrage we can already see boiling up in the crusades against earmarks (handouts to donors and corporate interests), against CEO pay, against hedge fund tax rates and oil company profits. But instead of running the traditional anti-corporate campaigns, which mainly focus on taxing and regulating big-business, the right runs against the way liberal politicians have gotten into bed with corporations. It's against the Washington favor-racket, against back-room politics, against collusion between business and government. This pleases libertarians somewhat and, if done properly, keeps low-taxers in the fold.
Someone certainly needs to say "down with big business."
-- Kevin Roderick, LA Observed
The Los Angeles Times now counts 565 editorial staffers, less than half its peak newsroom workforce. Cue the usual laments about all the news that won't be gathered, the beats that won't be covered -- journalists frequently air these concerns, only to be ignored by most everyone else.
Can you blame the average citizen for her skepticism? The Los Angeles Times did a poor job covering local news even at the high water mark of newsroom staffing. Its employees, like all professionals, sometimes overestimate the relative importance of their work. But the death of the California section, and the erosion of the editorial staff, poses daunting problems for local governance in Southern California, or so I hope to convince you by offering a very specific example of what happens when their isn't any beat reporter around.
In The Atlantic, Sandra Tsing Lowe cheats on her husband and ends her marriage (it is interesting to read that essay alongside this one). Ross Douthat opines on reckless romance in The New York Times -- America's meritocratic elite needs more of it, he asserts. Dana Goldstein isn't buying his argument.
Q. You've written for a long time at a blog called Postmodern Conservative, a project that I've always thought of as part politics, part philosophy. Recently, however, the blog got picked up by First Things, the "journal of religion, culture and public life." What is a Postmodern conservative, anyway? And what do they -- or at least, what do you -- have to say about religion in America?
People have asked "what's a pomocon" almost as long as I've been blogging at Postmodern Conservative. And the truth is, my wife bought me the URL for my birthday when we first moved to DC. In seriousness, all the intuitions that led me to blog as a self-styled pomocon also led me firmly away from the kind of Ideas For Dummies approach that seems to me one of the lamer things we mean to criticize when we criticize 'modernity'. We want to know how to be or do anything in only ten easy steps; my whole approach to philosophical reflection and political engagement resists this. But I was the kid who thought that instruction manuals were for those too mentally flat-footed or underinspired to figure out how to do it themselves as they went. Dive in first, impose order later. Chances are there's already a latent order present which reveals itself only upon unrehearsed and unquantifiable reflection. So at Postmodern Conservative I've appreciated the varying interpretations of pomocon brought to the table by our various bloggers.
That said, I think there are some noteworthy overlaps.
Stuart W. Jones
GROUP A: Friends, Gossip Girl, The OC, House, Desperate Housewives, 30 Rock, Grey's Anatomy, Entourage, The Gilmore Girls, CSI: Miami.
GROUP B: All in the Family, Good Times, Sanford and Son, Three's Company, Family Ties, I Love Lucy, The Andy Griffith Show, The Flintstones, Roseanne.
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Investors could do a better job rating mortgage-backed securities on their own More
Writing in Foreign Policy, Reihan Salam joins those anointing this downturn a great "he-cession" (more links below) -- in which "the great shift of power from males to females is likely to be dramatically accelerated" across Europe and the United States.
Citing heavily disproportionate job losses among men, Salam notes that, by inflating a housing bubble and attendant blue-collar industries like construction, Wall Street's macho risk-taking may simply have masked longer-term declines in male economic power brought on by globalization.
Now, he writes, the world must figure how to handle a different macho problem: masses of "surly, lonely and hard-drinking men" without jobs, wives or much education, and more prone to mental illness.
If the premise is that women who wear the burqa are being robbed of their agency and dignity--and that even those who protest that they wish to wear it are victims false consciousness--how is the ban supposed to be enforced? By fining or detaining or otherwise harassing the very women who, on this theory, are the most oppressed? By barring them access to public places, government buildings, maybe even courts and police stations? I suppose you could direct the penalties toward their male relations, but that hardly seems like a good way to reinforce the concept of the equal agency of women. The only way this seems to actually work--and by "work" I mean "severely hamper religious freedom without still further harmful consequences"--is if it's like smoking bans, where you see rapid norm changes and widespread compliance with very limited need for actual sanctions. Except there's very little historical reason to expect it to go that way.
There are four strands of argument here: a technological claim (digital infrastructure is effectively Free), a psychological claim (consumers love Free), a procedural claim (Free means never having to make a judgment), and a commercial claim (the market created by the technological Free and the psychological Free can make you a lot of money). The only problem is that in the middle of laying out what he sees as the new business model of the digital age Anderson is forced to admit that one of his main case studies, YouTube, "has so far failed to make any money for Google."
Why is that? Because of the very principles of Free that Anderson so energetically celebrates. When you let people upload and download as many videos as they want, lots of them will take you up on the offer. That's the magic of Free psychology: an estimated seventy-five billion videos will be served up by YouTube this year. Although the magic of Free technology means that the cost of serving up each video is "close enough to free to round down," "close enough to free" multiplied by seventy-five billion is still a very large number. A recent report by Credit Suisse estimates that YouTube's bandwidth costs in 2009 will be three hundred and sixty million dollars. In the case of YouTube, the effects of technological Free and psychological Free work against each other.
So how does YouTube bring in revenue? Well, it tries to sell advertisements alongside its videos. The problem is that the videos attracted by psychological Free--pirated material, cat videos, and other forms of user-generated content--are not the sort of thing that advertisers want to be associated with. In order to sell advertising, YouTube has had to buy the rights to professionally produced content, such as television shows and movies. Credit Suisse put the cost of those licenses in 2009 at roughly two hundred and sixty million dollars. For Anderson, YouTube illustrates the principle that Free removes the necessity of aesthetic judgment. (As he puts it, YouTube proves that "crap is in the eye of the beholder.") But, in order to make money, YouTube has been obliged to pay for programs that aren't crap. To recap: YouTube is a great example of Free, except that Free technology ends up not being Free because of the way consumers respond to Free, fatally compromising YouTube's ability to make money around Free, and forcing it to retreat from the "abundance thinking" that lies at the heart of Free. Credit Suisse estimates that YouTube will lose close to half a billion dollars this year. If it were a bank, it would be eligible for TARP funds.
Today, the Google-Facebook rivalry isn't just going strong, it has evolved into a full-blown battle over the future of the Internet--its structure, design, and utility. For the last decade or so, the Web has been defined by Google's algorithms--rigorous and efficient equations that parse practically every byte of online activity to build a dispassionate atlas of the online world. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg envisions a more personalized, humanized Web, where our network of friends, colleagues, peers, and family is our primary source of information, just as it is offline. In Zuckerberg's vision, users will query this "social graph" to find a doctor, the best camera, or someone to hire--rather than tapping the cold mathematics of a Google search. It is a complete rethinking of how we navigate the online world, one that places Facebook right at the center. In other words, right where Google is now.
Here I want to take a look at the effect talk radio has on some of its listeners. It's useful to begin by referencing a May 28, 2009 segment on Mr. Levin's show:
MR. LEVIN: Mary, Westport, Connecticut, WABC, you're an independent. You don't like when I yell, do you Mary?Of course, on matters related to political discourse, Mr. Levin is anything but a regular guy. The average American male doesn't reach a nationwide radio audience, nor does he lose his temper and begin to yell angrily when confronted with people whose politics differ from his own.
MARY: No, no I don't. The point is this. I truly appreciate what you're doing. You have a clear mind, you present your arguments very clearly, you have background. But I want you every so often to step back. Because we need new people to listen to you. And if new people tune you in screaming, they're going to turn you off.
MR. LEVIN: Let me tell you something, Mary. Let me tell you, you're a very sweet Lady. But it takes all kinds. And the fact of the matter is, there are hosts out there that are NPR types. And they're out there. If you want to listen to them, listen to them. I'm very passionate about my views, and so I express them in a passionate way. I'm a regular guy. I'm a regular guy. (lowers voice) Regular guys don't always talk like this.(raises voice) Regular guys aren't cerebral 100 percent of the time. Regular guys are human beings. Get what I'm saying?
MARY: Yes, I do.
MR. LEVIN: All right, Mary, God bless you, my friend.
Unfortunately, some Mark Levin listeners imagine that his behavior is a model, and take it upon themselves to mimic the rhetorical style and attitude of the talk radio host in real life. One hardly needs to read between the lines to see that they aren't well served by doing so. Take the caller who conversed with Mr. Levin on his June 1, 2009 program. A fan of Los Angeles area talk radio host Larry Elder, he began the call by describing Mr. Levin as "Larry Elder with a bite, with a hard bite, and that's what I like about you."
The caller continued (emphasis added):
I'd just like to ask one more question. I'm not invited to a lot of parties anymore, because I hammer people and I try to get my point across, and I read your book, and I try to make people understand what's going on. But like you said they're drones, or they just don't care, they could care less where we're going. But my question is what the hell sacrifice has Obama made-- when the media is swooning over a $24,000 date he went on the other night with his wife, are we kidding? This guy is eating caviar on the back of the American worker, and he talks about sacrifice? It's sickening, we've got to figure out how to stop this guy, and I'd like to know from you, how do we stop him, or why do these people who've lost so much money already, why can't we stop him, and how do we do it?A responsible host might have said something like, "Look, if your attitude when you attend parties is to 'hammer people' with your politics -- and assume they're drones if they're unreceptive -- you're taking the wrong approach. Don't compromise your views, but try to communicate them respectfully, and do your best to understand where they're coming from so you can better convince them." But Mr. Levin can hardly preach the opposite of what he practices.
Or consider a Mark Levin listener named Cindi who I encountered in the comments section of a post on the blog Riehl World View. I'd criticized Mr. Levin for indulging a mean spirited sense of humor. In a followup comment, she began by saying that she too is a mean spirited person, and went on to say, "My humor, sarcasm is beyond the grasp of the liberal majority. This has cost me, have a few family members as well as friends who choose to cut me off. So be it."
I am hardly alone in observing that some people are entirely unpleasant if you get into a political conversation with them. Perhaps you knew someone in college like that? Or you have an uncle who ends up shouting about politics every Thanksgiving? These folks aren't all talk radio listeners, of course, but I do think that the rhetorical style employed by Mr. Levin and others with similar styles encourages listeners to imagine that political discourse is inherently adversarial, that politeness is a mark of insufficient conviction, and that bombast persuades better that pleasantly articulated arguments.
Common sense, electoral politics and personal experience lead me to the contrary conclusion that a conciliatory approach is more persuasive when addressing anyone who isn't already predisposed to accepting your conclusions.
To put it bluntly, the fiscal policy of the United States is unsustainable. Debt is growing faster than gross domestic product. Under the CBO's most realistic scenario, the publicly held debt of the U.S. government will reach 82 percent of GDP by 2019 -- roughly double what it was in 2008. By 2026, spiraling interest payments would push the debt above its all-time peak (set just after World War II) of 113 percent of GDP. It would reach 200 percent of GDP in 2038.
This huge mass of debt, which would stifle economic growth and reduce the American standard of living, can be avoided only through spending cuts, tax increases or some combination of the two. And the longer government waits to get its financial house in order, the more it will cost to do so, the CBO says
Q. In your writing on foreign policy, you've been quite convicted about two things -- that the United States cannot afford to have Russia as an enemy, and that a better world depends in part on a more muscular France. Neither nation is likely to top a list of countries that concern the average American. What is it that makes them so crucially important?
There's a real elephant in the room when it comes to our awkward and crucial relationship with Russia. Freddie DeBoer of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, turning a nice phrase, once suggested we call the acknowledgment of problems like these 'giving the elephant a peanut'. So here's my peanut: bad relations with Russia make us feel so uncomfortable because they challenge and undermine our most cherished narratives about the moral and social progress of the global white community. I know even suggesting that we think analytically in terms of an 'international white race' sets off alarms, but it's obvious that Russian disinterest in, or outright hostility to, liberal political norms is noteworthy primarily because virtually every other majority-white country in the world has embraced and institutionalized them. We (small-l) liberals recoil at the very idea that any white person could seriously appreciate or even live under a regime like Russia's, because this is a reminder that white people are not the charmed winners of Earth's civilizational marathon -- contestants who can rest easy now that they've completed the course and won the race
...it has become lore among cancer researchers that some game-changing discoveries involved projects deemed too unlikely to succeed and were therefore denied federal grants, forcing researchers to struggle mightily to continue.
Take one transformative drug, for breast cancer. It was based on a discovery by Dr. Dennis Slamon of the University of California, Los Angeles, that very aggressive breast cancers often have multiple copies of a particular protein, HER-2. That led to the development of herceptin, which blocks HER-2.Now women with excess HER-2 proteins, who once had the worst breast cancer prognoses, have prognoses that are among the best. But when Dr. Slamon wanted to start this research, his grant was turned down. He succeeded only after the grateful wife of a patient helped him get money from Revlon, the cosmetics company.
Monday, June 29, 2009
Just as Toyota was buoyed by jumping on the hybrid, GM can get an early lead on ethanol, with help from the government. More
Another Vinyl Village
The prefab conservative, or prefab-con, brings the same attitude to political discourse: rather than using reason and critical thinking to craft arguments that fit the real world, he trots out prefabricated memes, arguments and conclusions that are passably functional at best. All too often, they are even worse: the typical prefabcon lives in an intellectual house of ugly, wobbly walls that collapse on themselves in slight gusts. Undaunted, he throws up another structure on the same spot, though that wolf named reality is standing right there, ready to huff and puff again.
The best example of prefab conservatism occurred during the 2008 presidential race, when prefabcon Kevin James went on Hardball with Chris Matthews to discuss whether Barack Obama's campaign pledge to engage hostile countries in diplomacy amounted to appeasement.
Behold the prefab con: