Saturday, March 31, 2007
Friday, March 30, 2007
I don't know why, as a literary feat, one could not write a beautiful lie. But all the skill in the world has, for me, only amplified the vulgarity of the lies I read.
I have taxes to do, a Torah portion to chant and just generally no time to blog. I know I won't stay away for long....
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
From Left is Right comes the least surprising surprise of my day. Sonofabush is a person of sub-normal intelligence. Being relatively stupid could be OK if the comparison is with US presidents of the last 60 years. But you rotten apple never falls far from your weak and wormy tree, the only other sub-normal president we ever had was Bush the first. You just pick the driver of a passing car stopped at the light or the random lady in the middle seat of row 14 on next plane you board and you will win bets by wagering that person is smarter than the leader of the freeper world. God help us. "Talent will out". Indeed.
There were other dismaying assessments of the dear leader's brain circulating to little notice a few years back. But if you read through the backup materials of the studies reported, its a fairly standard and widely used set of measuring techniques...not just some ornery librul in a bushbashing mood. But its been good for my mood.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Too late for half a million Iraqis and almost 3300 Americans but better late than never never.
But the underlying picture is much worse for Republicans than this, as Gary Kamiya observes. On the one hand, the Pew Survey shows that Democrats and Independents are becoming pretty similar in the views to people elsewhere in the developed world (such as Europeans) – liberal on social issues, moderately social-democratic in social policy, preferring peace to war and so on. Not surprisingly, this translates to a strongly negative view of the Republican party, just as it does everywhere else in the world.
On the other hand, Republican support is contracting to a base of about 25 per cent of the population whose views are getting more extreme, not merely because moderate conservatives are peeling off to become Independents, but also because of the party’s success in constructing a parallel universe of news sources, thinktanks, blogs, pseudo-scientists and so on, which has led to the core becoming more tightly committed to an extremist ideology.
The study has been reported earlier and by the usual sources but I just like to see in two paragraphs all the shit that has been done to us by the Republican party coming back to haunt them and their arrogance collapsing in on the selfish fools.
At the Pandagon thread, commenter Dr. Science suggested:
1) a Hollaback sort of thing, where guys are exposed and mocked for such behavior.
2) a bunch of A-list male bloggers taking a pledge to toss anyone making this kind of comments
I would like to elaborate on where I was going with my previous post by dropping the rest of my reply to DR Science in here. Basically, what I am looking for is a compromise between living like hermits, which is the opposite of the impact the Internet should have and supporting those venues within the web where the worst fantasies and sickness go unchecked as if they were behavior you would also act out on the streets. I call it unplugging but its really not that drastic.
The abuse of freedom is really hard to curb without curbing the freedom. The hollaback would be a good thing, but if it really worked, assholes would cover up their real identities faster than they cover their nuts in street fight. and spawning pseudonyms is too cheap these days.
there are two scenes for this kind of crime:
[a] your own place. This like the threats left on Kathy’s own blog
[b] supposedly neutral space eg AA, myspace, or the opinion/recommendation services like DIGG
In both places, the mechanism is the asymmetry of identity: unknown assailant can say anything to/about named victim. The usual lo-grade shitferbrains just gets banned. The ones who have already gone postal at first sight get their comments deleted…it was only Kathy coming forth that lets any of us beside the police know what has been going on. [And what do you think the police will do with the potential avalanche of hate speech and misdemeanor sexual threats that we all could corward to their in boxes?…I doubt they are eager to handle this] I am not enough of a criminal psychologist to figure whether the publicity is actually one of the goals of this gang of losers with cum-stained keyboards.
The listing and ranking of which sites promote or tolerate anonymous attacks and threats and slandering should be compiled. A commenter over at Majikthise suggested a DataBase. I am so tempted to suggest a crawler with a semantic analysis back end…but I get paid to do such things…it could be done and take very little human bandwidth to provide its warning service.
It would cover crime scenes in category [b]. Users who are committed to a high level of civility in the exchanges on the web might just decide to forgo the worst of these services entirely. I don’t really know that DIGG was so bad but it was not doing me any good and if I knowledgeable person like Scoble says it is a community with low standards, I unplug from it.
IF [its a big if for traffic dependent sites] you limit commenting to those who are willing to provide more than the casual identity of an email address.
IF[not quite so big but not free] you institute comment moderation and turn it over to a bot or do it by hand,
THEN you will be able to take control of crime scene [a] but you will lose some legitimate traffic.
That's what I mean by unplug. it is a diminishing of the general connectedness that is the web’s greatest strength. And the prospect of that diminishing I feel personally, a freedom we all enjoy is under attack here though not directly. It is a sad trade off to have to make. But not as sad as cancelling your appointments because you don’t know how seriously some quivering little pus-shooter intends his threats.
John: anonymity is a big part of it, yes. But, there’s just a culture of acceptance of making sexually crude degrading jokes online. You especially see it in the chat room on Justin.TV as well as on Digg.com and Slashdot.com’s discussion areas.
I think it +is+ a tech industry problem, by the way. Women quickly learn that they can’t participate in online forums (and, probably don’t feel safe coming to things like my Photowalking or geek/blogger dinners, which decreases their participation in this industry).
I reached that comment because it trackbacked to Kathy's post on how threats of sexual and other violence against her have mounted to the point that she is cancelling speaking engagements at technical conferences. I got to Kathy's post by way of my usual morning's read at Majikthise. Though I work in software, I had yet to encounter Kathy's clear and valuable insights on UI technology. So it its a pretty bad wreck in the Internet that casts flotsam and netsam that far across the hyperlinks. Its not new with Scoble and it wasn't new with me when I threw my two cents onto all the comment threads churned up in the wake of the hounding of Amanda and Melissa when they were elevated briefly to Edwards campaign staff: the anonymity is a little too abusable.
I say "stunned" because though I knew it was bad, I knew that flame wars and generally inflamed arguments do break out in situations where anonymity is used as cheap insurance against being accountable for antisocial behavior...I didn't have the sense, as Mr. Scoble does, that antisocial and misogynistic behavior are wide spread and enjoy any degree of a "culture of acceptance". That is some busted shit of a "culture". If community standards and a modicum of respect and self restraint are not part of the culture then what you get is a casting about for police powers to quash abuse or, as Scoble has done in protest and sympathy with Kathy, just drop out of the community and the conversation. Both of those are the death of the party. If that is all the options the abusers have left us, I am gunning for some abusers. This little party of engaged minds that has been the blogging and surfing experience as I have known it is too much a part of my life and my liberty. Those who disrupt it are the only fly in this ointment that needs any swatting.
Beyond issues of endangered freedoms, this abuse is directly an assault on the careers and incomes of its victims...which clearly appear to include a disproportionate number of women. I have worked on some software teams that had brilliant people doing the UI, and, they were, like as not, women(that is for you, JC, I know you are out there somewhere). So I went and read a few of Kathy's posts. She is now on my short list of RSS feeds for software. She is that good. I like her better than Jakob Nielsen, she is on a par with Apple's wizards and I see she's been at it as long as TOG. So scaring her away from a an O'Reilly [the publisher of great software manuals, not the fount of flatulence for Focksnooze] conference presentation is money out of her pocket the same as bowing out of the Edwards gig was money out of Amanda's pocket.
The mystery to many will be "what did she do?". If you seriously ask that, you ought to check in with a therapist. You just can't get by with presuming in all cases that gods and rapists alike are logical and apply their power only for cause. Quite simply, the existence of a victim is NOT like a marker down on the field where you should wait to hear some referee tell you what foul provoked it. Only if you think a post like this justifies death threats is there any "cause" to be found. That would be a cause found only in the festering brain of the person making the threat.
I was telling a blogging friend, Sister Novena, that Digg made my ass look fat and proved to the casual observer they had stumbled upon an unpopular blog. Always happy to find that I agree with giants, I think Scoble's characterization of Digg "culture" a far better reason to drop DIGG than my own embarrassing unpopularity. DIGG is gone from the template. You never noticed it anyway.
While I was squinting at URLs and typing this with my labored arthritic blogger-fu, Sheelzebub and Zuzu got in ahead of me but I think, for a change I am at least as annoyed and angry as that hornet's nest of bloggers. Maybe its the software connection, whatever.
If the anonymity all by itself is the only root of the problem then why isn't a professional/social site like AutoAdmit as plagued by slanderings of male law school grads as it is by slanderings of female grads? The culture cannot be dragged into court. The anonymity can only be destroyed. Some other way must be found. Unitil better norms are observed, those tools that invite the worst abuse of the anonymity should be shunned. The pushback on AutoAdmit,after the dead reputations were found in its refrigerator and the back seat of its car, did force at least one resignation. And who knows, perhaps in booting Digg, I am doing something rather than complaining and passing around other's complaints. It would be a bigger deal for some blog that depends on links for its author's living to cut some of these link inflating ties. But on the other hand, we seem to be facing a growing crisis where the lower quality and greater prevalence of abuse might become the reputation of the reputation brokers themselves and so they have links but no clicks. As of right now, I am not a user of any of these "services" like Digg. If I add any in the future, I will go read first and see if any kind of honesty or decency seems to be a norm among those who provide links and opinions.
And as for the culture...I wrote this in an E-mail of support to Kathy:
I think conservatives feel personally unsafe if any of their idols or strictures are belittled. The difference is subtle but profound: us liberals are inclined not to feel unsafe ourselves but rather to feel sympathetically, the fear of our fellows if any one of our number are threatened.
I hope the difference, finally, will be in the response: correction rather than repression is how cultures progress.
Monday, March 26, 2007
First, I want to have a word with you sinners about your cellulose. The only unquestionably justifiable cellulose consumption is the fiber in your celery and cereal and such. As for your magazine subscriptions...over that, you should feel a bit guilty. Its hard to get away from the tide of dead trees that comes sluicing at you through your mail box, I know.
But I have whittled away at the stream with some success so let me give a few pointers.
- Get a post office box. That way the spot where you receive junk mail is two paces from the location of a commodious paper recycle bin that someone else must empty.
- Do not become interested in publications that have no on-line presence or edition. Just don't, its not fashionable.
- To wean yourself from the ink-on-paper love affair most of us have indulged since our 1st grade teachers beat the reverence for the printed word into our skulls, buy a gorgeous hi-res flat screen monitor. Locate it where there is no glare.
- Let all your paper subscriptions lapse. Its true that the volume of renewal notices will initially match the tonnage of the periodicals you were taking but trust me: it tapers off after a few years. Subscribe to the online editions of things. After all, you aren't still getting your porn through the US Mail are you?
- Install a bidet [we will be revisiting that T-paperless aspect of green style in a later post]
- Make paper recycling easy for yourself. Have receptacles handy indoors and huge outdoors to avoid the inevitable bouts of inertia that cause you to toss paper in the trash out of laziness or because the bin is overflowing.
- Bring your own reusable cloth shopping bags to the grocery...or any...store. Damp produce that must go in a plastic bag gives you an opportunity to reuse the bag as a trash can liner.
- Your xmas cards could be e-mails, your bar mitzvah, wedding etc. invitations could be evites or your own tasteful PHP/mySQL app if you are handy. No more "we didn't get it, it must have been lost in the mail". You were keeping BOTH address books up to date weren't you? People who won't give you an email addy will just have to phone you once in a while to find out whats going on...drop 'em.
- The best of paper is the worst of paper: unglossy newsprint B&W with soy ink can be used in your wood stove. All that other chemically altered, clay filled crap really is a disposal problem.
On line editions are down loadable to that empty 250 Gbyte hard drive and they are searchable, even the PDFs. I have 30 year old stacks of Scientific American in the basement slowly turning into nests for rodents and I can never find the articles I vaguely remember to be in those stacks.
The bidet pictured was bought second hand from a plumber and, installation included, cost us less than $500 in 2006 dollars because it went in to new construction, by design. New appliances retrofitted would set you back closer to $2000 and up.
The ICS is down to four hard copy subscriptions, one purposely taken for its value as kindling, the others: Wired, Nutrition Action and Tikkun. Plenty of other stuff does show up unsolicited. As each comes up for renewal, we will elect to take the online versions. I have begged for AAAS to deal with me only in bytes but that Science subscription just seems stuck in reverse at PAPER. Scientific American and Nature, quite graciously switched over. I am burning my collection to CD...heirloom stuff, I tell ya. Wired editorial in this month's edition:
...we discovered the WIRED Uncertainty Principle: Some of you hate uncertainty! We tell you what we don't know, and you answer "God" And then you ask why we left the Big Guy out. We had to. Whether a supreme being exists or not, invoking one to answer a question extinguishes inquiry.How cool is that? I can't let that subscription lapse but I am simply not taking it on dead trees: much more than the carbon in the copy is at stake in decreasing the volume of the paper stream. Now WIRED is a great mag to leave on your coffee table, casually opened to the editorial page. I will just print that one page, in large font to catch the visitor's eye. The ICS has this silly idea that coffee tables really ought to have room for coffee.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
The tiny circle is for insders to keep others out. The large circle is for outsiders to keep themselves from getting in.
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Friday, March 23, 2007
You may have a better caption: commenting is enabled.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
In fact, I am beginning to see that so deeply held an opinion about children when, in a reasonably egalitarian society, having children is optional, must be mirrored by others who lack that urge and are, as I am in my own way, lucky enough to know children are not their fate or future. Repeat after me: the assignment of this urge is arbitrary. The assignment of this urge is arbitrary. And it is but one of many that may glow within the pilot lights of our midbrain. The fact that only one sex actually bears children is the link between failing to recognize we are dealing with a wish only some people bear in their heart and failing horribly to operate as a just society around procreation roles and issues.
It is sometimes difficult to detect the feelings that give rise to the reasons. One should always be suspicious at their seeming absences and look carefully. Science tries to proceed on that basis but the rest of our pursuits should be engaged in the certainty that we don't necessarily know why we want the things we want. As the best of scientists has put it “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.” All I can do then is to speak of rationalizations and not of reasons because I am damn sure feelings are running this show.
I am going to sort out all the rationalizations I am aware of to see if any have a hope of bearing the load a reason could carry.
The rationalizations for biological parenting come armored in the appearance of flawless logic: you would not be here and we humans, by simple induction, would have no future without people having babies. There are gaping chinks in this armor. The confusion of the race communally and its fate with the individual and her obligations is a sufficiently deep flaw to put this away for good. Attempts to couple these two are an affront to individuality and were always a pretext for the dominance of some creed or other. The most common rationalizations for baby making have been inflexibly entombed in religious dogma, to our unending strife: multiply and be fruitful is a dreadful law to all who don't actually happen to enjoy the same feelings I have. The urge to have kids, whether you have positively felt it and see it as a natural gift or you are comfortable with it in spite of considering it a learned appetite, is desperately in need of liberation from dogma.
The rationalizations for biological parenting have non-bioparenting analogs that a person might prefer:
- Following Carl Sagan's observation : We have evolved enough brain that extra-genetic heritage in our arts and sciences mean a person leaves more to posterity that his or her brats.
- I personally suspect some pet owners of sublimating or of needing a partner who just never talks back but still, maybe all the more needs you feel can be sopped up from your Dachshund...go for it. [You do realise that some conversations are actually interrupted monologues because you needed to rehearse a line of thought or model a feeling, don't you?]
- Easily the most morally supportable analog is to actually parent and provide the resources that turn a baby in to a productive and happy human:adoption
I am not so familiar with the rationalizations against. And my reaction to them is generally emotional and negative. Of the rationalizations Amanda Marcotte offered against, most to me seem selfish or flippant. They only say what I expect: "this person does not feel like having babies". No quarrel with that. Its a right but its not a reason. It is certain that fools can have babies but I have to question how many prospective parents** don't know about diaper changing and procreate, in affluent America, with the idea that it will make the wealthier or leave them more time to indulge their hobbies. Few if any, I'd say. Still, Amanda gets the prize. She has the rationalization that stands like a reason: there are too damn many of us on this planet and the decision to have even one child is an enormously vain and selfish calculation. To her rationalization, I could only add the medically obvious: you should not breed if you are likely to produce sick and miserable creatures with diseases that will cost you, your partner and all society money and tears.
So, there you have the table of rationalizations, weighed and one reason found. BUT just remember: None of these,pro or con, are morally binding because the root of the matter arises from emotional wiring you can't do much about and have a perfect right to act upon.
**BTW, I explicitly exclude accidental parents from this line of reasoning...they should have emergency room priority but that's not happening in our fecundamentalist society.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
You can not go to work, read this sentence or cook your breakfast without leaning all your weight on the technical sinews of our world. You can hardly afford to be conscious of the ubiquitous utilities devised by people who you are even less conscious of. NYTimes reports that John W Backus has died. The name is fairly obscure outside of computer science curricula. He invented one of the earliest computer languages, Fortran, and led the team that developed it. He was an indifferent student in high school, finally a drop out, who still managed to get into the math program at Columbia U by blowing the top off of all aptitude scoring when he tried to enlist during WWII. The army sent him to school. The job interview that led to his work in computer languages at IBM would be a minor legend, at least among us geeks, if anyone knew it. [That is written up in the linked obit.]
He did more than design one of the most widely adapted language compilers in the history of computing; he invented, with Peter Naur, a language in which to describe computer languages in such a way that compilers can be automatically generated for the language so described. It is called "Backus Naur Form", BNF for short and sometimes, incorrectly, "Backus Normal Form". Normal forms are also mathematical notations for syntax rules that have various constraints or stipulations that guarantee any conforming language can be parsed with a particular class of algorithms. This whole line of meta-tool inventing has been immensely but invisibly fruitful. No use of computers you are now dependent upon does not rely to some degree on outcomes of this work.
I think it is fitting and a bit ironic to use the most visible layers of the computing world, the indispensable Google, to demonstrate how invisible one of its founding thinkers has become. I searched the web for references to the tool used in the context of several current programming languages. Clearly, BNF is ubiquitous to this day in the labs and back office cubicles where your computing infrastructure is forged. You may have heard of some of these languages even if you don't code. The count of matching pages are indicative but the older languages precede the WWW era and may be somewhat under reported.
- 302,000 English pages for BNF Java translator
- 241,000 English pages for BNF perl translator.
- 242,000 English pages for BNF python translator
- 233,000 English pages for BNF c++ translator
- 209,000 English pages for BNF ruby translator.
- 134,000 English pages for BNF pascal translator.
- 126,000 English pages for BNF fortran translator
- 86,700 English pages for BNF ada translator
- 73,200 English pages for BNF algol translator.
By contrast, If you search for the name of the man who invented BNF, and eliminate false matches to men with identical names who taught acoustics or ran investment banks, you get fewer hits. 55,900 English pages for "john backus" -woodwind -music -acoustical -acoustics -"managing -partner" -"technology -investor" -entrepreneur. And that probably over-reports due to other false matches. If you demand a precise full name, Backus' presence shrinks to what amounts to nonentity beside the presence of his accomplishments.
- Leave a comment naming the person who gave the name "bug" to the concept of a programming error or computer fault.
- For extra credit, leave a comment naming the brilliant hardware designer who, among many contributions to computer engineering, accelerated the Computer-Aided-Design that makes possible our multi-million transistor computer chips...but who was near suicide and forced out of a stellar career at IBM because of a sex change operation.
UPDATE: when I published this morning, the google of "john w backus" got only a few thousand matches. I see Mr. Backus has been slashdotted. Most of the hits are dated from a crawl done late yesterday and what looks like a majority of them are just quotes of NYTimes. I don't think that fully accounts for the explosion to 1.15 million hits. That would NOT equate to "insignificance"!. Every RSS feed in the world has echoed it too. Am researching.
UPDATE of UPDATE:yesterday morning it was 82,000 hits. Yesterday evening it was 1.15 million, this morning it is 2.1 million hits. What we have hear is a census that is capturing the way a topic explodes on the internet. You will just have to take my word for it: your 15 minutes of internet fame may only follow your death. We executioners are observers of these effects.
UPDATE of UPDATE of UPDATE: Wheee! the "nonentity" link now finds 3.48 million. Is that a phenomnon you could explain to your grandparents? I feel like Winnie the Pooh ominously discovery more and yet more heffalump tracks in the snow with each turn round the bushes. The crawl-and-index engines at google must be pulling enough juice to dim lights all up and down the west coast.
If you are geeky enough to want to read Backus' original papers, he donated them to the Library of Congress two years ago and they were just indexed last month.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
There is nothing good about this new jumbo jet
unless it's flying means an equivalent tonnage of less fuel efficient planes are kept out of the air. All this adulation and excitement is a tad shortsighted. I was a youngster attending the Reno Air Show when the Boeing 747 took one of its debut flights for the crowd. It was impressive, forcing ooo's and aahh's when we finally exhaled. It was especially impressive when the pilot rolled the monster on its back an streaked across the sky upside down. Nice. But have you any idea how many million tons of carbon that line of planes have enshrouded our planet with in the years since that flight? How incomplete is the thought of markets!
If the claimed fuel efficiency of the new plane is no better than that of a car, and that automotive efficiency is what brought our planet to its current overheated condition, what's to celebrate?
Since its something I am good at, let me do the math for you:
The take-away for innumerate: Airbust sucks my Honda's tailpipe....and it will suck the air out of our skies.
Big voices and Little voices like mine, the Gray Lady, more specially informed voices like Shokai's, Real Climate Authorities, Career climatologists and most science journalists in any area of geoscience have been sounding this alarm for years so there is nothing whatsoever new in this news except for the high rank of bush bum that is confessing it. A chieftain in the oil tribe whom Bush thought would be the best upholder of the science of air quality has confessed to snipping up the science that came across his desk:
THE Bush administration diluted scientific evidence of global warming, one of its former high-ranking officials has admitted.
That coverage is from The Australian but most papers had coverage that surfaced in Google news. NYTimes stuck to the facts and that is damnation enough, but you should read the journals like New Scientist. One publication that is loosely labled and losing millions a year as a newspaper chose to cover only Hansen's testimony and then treat it as suspect and just one man's belief. The Washing Times can't launder out the stain of politics or spin away the tampered science. They see no cover up and report as if only Hansen sees it. If there were a god, as the owner of the washing times profess, the mention of "liberal bias" in that ink wasting article would have brought down at least a bolt of lightning. That rag is a harmful and clumsy propaganda organ if used for anything but paper training your puppy.
[And I would suggest that sort of warpped coverage and the late exposition by most outlets of how extensively our government has lied to us is why you NEED to be reading TruthOut or any of a dozen green blogs.]
Abu Gonzales gets the "yer doin' a heckuva job" call
There are about 1000 straight forward reports that Google finds on the web this morning concerning Gonzales state of knowledge and involvement in the firings and retentions of US attorneys based on their adherence to political agenda. Many of them top off with the report that the sonofabush has just given a call of "firm support" for his embattled Atty General. Its interesting then, that even Google puts a Wonkette post on the matter at the top of the page. When the sarcasm rings more like the truth than do the facts, whose fault is that?
[And I would suggest that sarcasm is not coming from the sources who first asked the questions with which Congress is now battering DoJ, but the from the bizarre discrepancies in the emerging answers.]
One of the things you sense is that people on both sides of the issue of ending the war are desperate for all of these deaths to mean something. If more of us just faced the simple facts of what has actually been "accomplished" in the Bush/Cheny/Rumsfeld war on Iraqis, we would admit these deaths mean little, we would be humiliated and angry. We would stop doubling down or even pulling chips out our children's futures to put them on the table. We who support peaceful means lost the fight not to fight and war has had its way for 4 years. Those who supported bloody means have also lost their fight but refuse to see it.
The coverage was on the front page of the Boston globe.
At dusk, more than 100 protesters braved snow and gusty winds to span the Longfellow Bridge between Boston and Cambridge for a candlelight and flashlight vigil.
Many held signs, including placards that read, "Bring Our Troops Home," "Kill one person and it's murder. Kill thousands, and it's foreign policy," and "War is terrorism with a bigger budget."
Monday, March 19, 2007
Sunday, March 18, 2007
I didn't know I was missing her but I just read The Heidi Chronicles. She died too soon to finish telling a version of the American post-war cohort story that I found sad, recognizable and compelling. I ache to see how it all turns out and I shall never quite know.
It is not a lie to characterize a cohort by putting in their mouths the words they only wish they had said.
Its a drama. Nearly everything is in caricature in this play. But it is like seeing an Al Hirschfeld drawing. All the uninformative average features and filler have been left out so effectively that the stylish blobs and swept lines of the remaining picture, which no computer could match to the person, are instantly mapped to the subject by us humans. Wasserstein seems on the surface to have only a little pity for herself and even less for the somewhat iconic characters that play through her life in flashbacks.
The sadness is not in the wistful recounting of uncommitted lives that miss their potential to connect. Such stuff could fuel the drama's of any age. The sadness is the way the self-anointed generation who rang doorbells for Eugene McCarthy and who flooded the streets to shout down the establishment folly of the Viet Nam war gradually became the establishment, turning their own slogans into babble and losing their souls. There is no one line in the play where such things are said and yet that was very much the impression that had settled into my mind before the last scenes. Critics knocked this Pulitzer winning play for its contrived ending. I don't see how it could be honestly called that since this is an impressionistically autobiographical play and that last scene is, at the plot level, an exact quote from Wasserstein's life.
I'd like to imagine that everyone of a certain age and inclined to browse about in the left lobe of the blogosphere has read this play. Not really a baby boomer, not New Yorker enough, not Jewish enough or feminist enough to have picked it up yet? Such labels are almost characters in this play but it is not about any of those identities. Nor should one treat it as foreign for its reliance on period rock music or names from the news of each decade: every generation grows up. Do get the play and enjoy looking in on a generation, as it would have expressed itself.
Friday, March 16, 2007
[Has the executioner been drinking? Perhaps he should take it up?]
And it occurs to me as well that the miracles come not a minute too soon and the strength of democratic principles and participation in my local politics are particularly a blessing because they will have to pull more than their share of weight to salvage the rest of our so-called democracy.
Now, you may be wondering where my lucky neighborhood is so you can come bask in its beneficence. Well, yeah, I live in Massachusetts but it has become equally important that I live in YOUR neighborhood: the net roots are the delivery of the best promises of the "global village".
My Massachusetts and netroots neighborhood came together physically last night at an all-too-brief "Open House". My state legistlative representative has been giving and getting straight dope on all sorts of issues via this series of public lecture+Q&A sessions for a decade now. BTW, Kaufman has better ideas about overhauling health care than American politics can even begin to discuss. I just got blown away by some remarks he made to a knot of folks before proceedings got under way on that topic but I digress.
This month, he got Eli Pariser to speak to us on how MoveOn got started, the nature and purposes of its current form and where it might be headed. Eli is just a kid fer crysake!
The evening was all Eli's. I will put down more of my impressions in my next post, but wanted to justify the title of this post.
In my involvement with Operation Democracy and MoveOn, I get to see who sticks with it and who gets burnt out as we try moving the heavy wheels through the grass roots. And in watching this I kind of concluded that part of the new magic of MoveOn was that it found a way to get "action" from people even when they only had five minutes to devote to politics of change. Eli had worked for "dot org", i.e. non-profit, groups doing organizing before we were all on the web [he must have skipped school!]. Although he was as surprised as anyone by the amazing "hundreds of thousands of signatures in a week" response to his first web site devoted to a multi-national response top 9/11, he grasped that the response betokened a previously untapped way to spread political knowledge and focus political will among disaffected liberals and others marginalized by machine politics...and he dived in.
He did not say so in exactly so many words but he did, to summarize one of many things he talked about, that lots of little actions can be harnessed to the same effect as the big players, small money from many people instead of fat checks written by people-to-whom-you-must-then-listen was a way to get a significant political voice. And he did say that he knew they had on board many who only had time to click through on a sign-an-email campaign.
Why are liberals so damn busy? Who told you guys you could have a life?
Thursday, March 15, 2007
What would you say to stop the war? We will stand in vigils on Monday and I want some kick-ass slogans for the signs.
Bush, Cheney and friends gladly interpret silence as "yeah, go ahead, stay the course".
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
This sounds presumptuous but look around you: I doubt that most people have done the amount and intensity of study and soul searching regarding the belief systems they espouse to give a passable defense or explanation that bears any resemblance to rationality. That is why I would expect to enjoy hanging out with a few old Jesuits who teach science or philosophy at Boston College but fear for my safety if locked in a room with some of William Donahue's pet parishioners.
Not that one can't say they believe a thing they don't really know well or understand. That is the power of "what would the neighbors say", not the power of god. So any time I run into someone claiming they do X because they "believe" Y, I just don't turn over that rock. A don't ask, don't tell policy regarding other people's jumble of hope and received imaginings avoids disturbing us both. It is rare outside of the liberal blogosphere for people to just come out and say "[insert deity name] hasn't shown her face in MY world. So sorry to disappoint, but I gotta move on". That breaks the don't ask, don't tell protocol and when you force the issue that way, all the folks who won't even look inside and ask themselves, get their fur up. Once you break the charmed silence of the don't ask, don't tell, or what I also think of as "tolerance through willed ignorance" you can either go into respectful dialog or, if even one party has insecurity about their grip on faith or even one party flunks the reciprocity test ["you live in my world as much as I live in your world"], an asymmetry built on what sounds like absolutist beliefs springs up. Then don't ask, don't tell breaks down to some veiled form of inquisition: "do ask, do condemn".
Discussion of whether a person "believes" in some deity, let alone the one you happen to envision or perceive is fruitless friction if not conducted between minds enlarged by a friendship more confirmed and trusted than one's own ideas about god. [ and yes, as you may detect, in my experience (call it a "belief" if you need to throw rocks in my direction), chevruta, study groups and other communal states of mind with or without aid of much ritual are the equivalent of "religious experience" but with the great benefit of being explainable.]
What you have read so far is just a paste-in of a comment I left at Majikthise. A few of us discussed there the folly of conventions and popular notions about if and where one dares to be an atheist in America. Some of us were born tired of arguing about the acceptability of atheism in public life. Others seem certain it will be important to them even after they die.
Given the purpose of the Templeton prize and Northwestern Professor Charles's Taylor's various herculean efforts to make the relationship between politics and religion "hand in hand" rather than "hand to hand", its probably about time he won the Templeton.
The premise of his work repulses me somewhat. Much of his career is involved in a passionate campaign to restore what he conceives of as the lost primacy of our spiritual nature and the way our institutions used to tend to that aspect of our characters. If he weren't quite so convinced that religion is the only way for humans to express and harness that spirituality, I bet I'd be buying his books. In the NYTimes coverage of the prize, you would get the impression that his life's work is to prove the divide defined in C.P. Snow 's "Two Cultures" thesis is not only real but that the evil half is not the humanities.
But as of now, I don't really know what opinion of Taylor's work I would hold if I had read much of it. This doubt has come to unshackle me from my initial certainty by the accident of having heard Taylor interviewed on NPR as I left work today. The NPR web intro is not heartwarming either:
Professor Taylor has written extensively on the sense of self and how it is defined by morals and what one considers good. People operate in the register of spiritual issues, he said, and to separate those from the humanities and social sciences leads to flawed conclusions.
“The deafness of many philosophers, social scientists and historians to the spiritual dimension can be remarkable,” Professor Taylor said in remarks prepared for delivery at the announcement of the prize at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York this morning. This is damaging because it “affects the culture of the media and educated public opinion in general.”
He disputes the rationalist approach that regards morality and spirituality as anachronisms, as well as those who use moral certitude or religion to justify righteous violence.
The transcripts have not yet gone up on NPR.org. If I listen to the linked audio at the NPR page, this post will never get out. When I get that transcript, I will see if I only hear what I hope to hear. I only recall three of the many questions posed. I paraphrase the answers and Robert Siegal's questions:
- Did he think America gave sufficient consideration to religion it its national dialogs? Yes but only if superficial treatments are what count.
- What did he think of the outing of the "highest ranking atheist in office in the US"? He doubted highly that this congressman was alone. There is a huge amount of hypocrisy covering up most people's actual beliefs with far more shallow professions of belief and of disbelief than well earned positions on these matters.
- Is Intolerance not some inescapable curse of having religions? Not at all. The people most thoroughly studied up on their religion are among the most tolerant of other religions.
People smart and honest and diligent enough to have earned their opinions have by that sole achievement earned my ear. It is so quiet here sometimes but Taylor is a man I can at least listen to. After all, he gets a million pounds sterling for saying some of the same stuff I said.
UPDATE: The transcript went on line [for a fee] this morning...I think I heard it about right:
SIEGEL: Do you think that political discourse in the United States actually suffers from a deficit of talk about God or religion?
Prof. TAYLOR: Well, I think it suffers from a deficit of maybe serious talk about God and religion. I mean, religious belonging and God and the Bible are used as kind of clubs to beat other people over their head with. If you have religion without an absolute, you know, touch of self-criticism, then you have some kind of, I think, distorted religion.
SIEGEL: On the other hand, I noted this week that a group that advocates - and I’m not sure how they used the word, whether it’s secularism or atheism - determined by survey that it had found the highest ranking nonbeliever in the U.S. government - or the highest ranking, self-confessed nonbeliever. And he’s a veteran California Democratic congressman, Fortney Stark, Pete Stark, who admitted that he does not believe in a higher power. The fact that one could find no higher than that…
Prof. TAYLOR: Yeah.
SIEGEL: …in American politics suggests that indeed our politics don’t suffer form the lack of religious belief.
Prof. TAYLOR: Well, maybe it proves the - and maybe it proves that there’s a high degree of hypocrisy about all this because there are demands made by religious-believing voters on people that they can’t possibly get elected unless they declare themselves. And I think that probably what you have here is a very high hypocrisy level… (Soundbite of laughter)
SIEGEL: You suspect there are more than a few agnostics and atheists in the closet in American life.
Prof. TAYLOR: I would lay some serious money on that proposition. But we’ll never know, because they won’t want to shoot themselves in the foot by admitting it.
SIEGEL: Can there, do you think, actually be a level of diversity of religious - and for that matter - nonreligious ideological beliefs within society in which people are devoted to what they believe in, sufficiently so to act on that belief, and sufficiently so to actually regard in utterly different concept of humanity’s place on earth or the order or the universe with a truly generous Democratic spirit? Or ultimately, if people are wedded to very powerful beliefs, are they ultimately going to be intolerant of ideas that are completely and philosophically at odds with their own?
Prof. TAYLOR: Yes, that’s - in my experience, intolerance and depths of religious commitment just don’t correlate at all. I mean, and even perhaps the opposite. I’ve known lots of people who are kind of - let’s say - lax agnostics, where they aren’t very invested into it but they just take for granted that religion is passe and so on. And they are, in some ways, incredibly intolerant. Certainly, they have no understanding for what they’re denying. And then there are people that are very, very profound believers, but are interested in the fact that people are atheist, that there’s some kind of very deep position here which has driven people to that.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
But just so you would think a bit: I also know for a fact that I have spilled enough data in enough places that any enterprising snoop with access to even half of my traffic could figure out my identity. The creative interpretation of Patriot act privacy limitations just revealed by the FBI are only the latest. FISA is meaningless law from the ignored branch of government. ATT and who knows how many other backbone carriers have caved to NSA and friends ...you, my Internet friends, are as naked as a jay bird. And so am I. In fact, I have signed acknowledgements, as many of you may have, that a condition of my employment is the inspection of all communications I may engage in from work. I have heard not a peep about my politics or habits and I just have to wonder: do they only keep quiet because to do otherwise with such a piddling protester as myself would tip their hand and reveal exactly how far they have gone down the police state road? Just thinking out loud here.
Yo, Bush! I'll see your reputation and I'll raise you a lie.
The state of the union is threatened by those who have blinded themselves or forgotten that:
- The party is NOT the government,
- The government is not the nation.
- This is NOT Stalinist Russia...the irony here is excruciating that cold warriors in search of an enemy have done more to become what they fought than they can ever see.
Perhaps I dream. Perhaps there was never a time when it was a benign mistake to blur the distinctions between the government and the people of this nation. We are now dragged to a low point of adultered administration where further confusion of those two is as harmful as any sedition.
I have been and will be busy this week preparing for peace vigils so posting will be light and may continue in the rather screechy political vein it has taken on of late. Our efforts to end the wasting of lives and money seem dulled by an unresponsive government. I remind you who the architects of that national numbness are. One head that should roll is bald, fat and jowly...and not among the fired attorneys.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
In my best "Tom Sawyer describing the excitement and challenge of white washing fences" salesmanship, I am soliciting a little help. It fell to me to make the placards we will hold up at the rallying places. We have chosen a few busy urban and suburban interesections and will be carrying shortest meaningful messages we can paint on foamcore posterboard. So...here is your chance to get in to the action: Wit is appreciated but terse and unambiguous and potently motivating slogans win the prize. Leave your suggestions in the comments and I will get back to you after the rallies to say which flags flew. Or, you could tune in to the Boston area evening news on March 19th and see if your words made it to the small screen.
Thanks for the thinks,
The indictments and convictions that were making all the news in the run-up to Nov. elections were almost entirely [Jefferson was the exception] against republicans. It seems unsurprising in hindsight: the administration knew full well at the outset that it had a boatload of scumbags among its own ranks and gave DoJ marching orders to drum up counter examples among the Dems or at least distractions. I had no clue. Where was there a word in the news about this ratio of investigations?
Even more damning, and in a way that amuses the heck out of me: given the yield of indictable cases from this investigatory blitz, the paucity of prosecutable findings against Democratic office holders means one of two things: Democrats really don't suffer from the "culture of corruption" or the DoJ, like just about any other administrative branch the bush league tamper with, was as incompetent as the Three Stooges in 3-piece suits.
Its beyond disgrace, its more than alarming, its barely believable. In any other administration, I would seriously question the source of such news! This needs to be blogged and otherwise shouted far more widely. Blinking at the TPM headline about Paul Kiel raising questions won't serve. Dig for the facts or read those who have because the facts about the ratio of investigations make this story explode. From epluribusmedia:
Data* indicate that the offices of the U.S. Attorneys across the nation investigate seven (7) times as many Democratic officials as they investigate Republican officials, a number that exceeds even the racial profiling of African Americans in traffic stops.
Our paper explores the role of the fourth estate and others in detecting such profiling and concludes that what is really needed is transparency, the highlights of which are noted below.The current Bush Republican Administration appears to be the first to have engaged in political profiling. ...
Like I said...you can't get by on headlines: I now notice that me and my alarm are late to the party. While Keil was on the case days earlier, this scandle is exactly what Andrew Sullivan and, (far too visible for me to excuse not knowing), Paul Krugman were talking about. And, as I find my self saying more often lately, how bad does the administration have to be to have those two writers in agreement?
Friday, March 09, 2007
MoveOn provided its members a link to the NV Democratic party inbox, I used it:
The eyes of the nation are upon you, Democratic party leaders. In myDD, I read that you "don't know who" make the choice to fox up your debate. Yeah, Right.
My eyes are never upon Fox news and you ought to know that by now. Drop them for the lies they have told [or do you too think Mark Foley was a democrat?] drop them for the lies they will tell. They need Democrats for credibility and market share a heck of a lot more than you need them for exposure to Bill O'Reilly's audience. Wise up. Don't Fox up.
myDD provided contact for Sen Reid and the Democratic hopefuls who would have debated on Fox. I used that contact:
I admire Sen. Reid's responses to Bush war mongering, especially in the heat of the recent congressional elections. I grew up in Reno and have been watching Ried since he lost to Laxalt in '74 by 600 votes. That left an impression on me that grass roots and voter turnout have always been the heart of politics. But Fox considers politics a spectator sport manipulated for its effects on ratings, exactly the opposite of grassroots. Fox needs legitimacy way more than Dem candidates need exposure to Bill O'Reilly's audience. I am puzzled and troubled that he would consent to using Fox for anything. That network has stretched scant facts and sources to tar the Senator. That network broadcast images of Mark Foley labeled as a Democrat. Why is the Senator giving any aid at all to a network that is hardly more than a big cog in the right wing media machine?Edwards set what finally was the trend by refusing to lend legitimacy to Murdoch's contingent of the right wing noise machine: he refused to debate if Fox was the broadcaster and Fox was staging the debate and providing the panel who would ask questions of the candidates. It is very much to Edwards credit...either he is one candidate who really has the courage of his convictions or is actually very shrewd and sees how much the Fox News network needs the stamp of legitimacy for its brand of propaganda to staunch its declining ratings. Fox, in my opinion had much more to gain than did any Democratic candidate. By 10:00 PM the Edwards campaign had emailed its netroots supporters to describe the first shots of a Fox backlash
You may have heard by now that John Edwards was the first candidate to officially say no to the Fox News debate in Nevada—and because of the hard work of so many grassroots and netroots Democrats, news is breaking tonight that Fox is out.Really. What can Fox do? Make up more miscaptioned videos? Have O'Reilly say something outrageous, distorted or slanderous about a Democratic candidate? They do all that already and have got their just dessert. They are out of ammo. If I could tell my cable company to unbundle Fox from its basic package, I'd never see a minute of their tripe again.
Fox has already started striking back at John for saying no. (There's a surprise—Fox attacking a Democrat.) Last night, Roger Ailes—the life-long Republican operative who is now Chairman of Fox News Channel—said that any candidate "who believes he can blacklist any news organization is making a terrible mistake" and "runs a real risk of losing the voters."
The original justification held out by Tom Collins of the Nevada Dem party was the intent to "reach a wider audience" and he cited backing by labor unions who approved of Fox. By now it should be clear that there are some unions with rank and file who listen to Limbaugh and vote Republican...why didn't Collins know the likely hood of gaining many votes for Democrats among the Fox audience was vanishingly small? Fortunately, Fox itself, in the person of its new President Roger Ailes, entirely in character for the network provided some fresh offenses against Obama that gave Collins a way to scuttle his former position without losing face.
There is justice. Let Fox go for a year without repeating Republican lies, just report the stuff that actually gets said by news makers, then offer to broadcast a political event where media neutrality is an absolute requirement. Go ahead Fox, your move. Keep lying or start being what you claim you are, a news network. As of midnight, Google news can't find this story but by tomorrow, the papers will finally mention the netroots in some way or other.
Since I have cast myself as a moralist more or less, I have made the detection of principles my business when I read: are any consistent rules about right and wrong showing or to be inferred?
Your principles and any claim to have principles may be a crock if you can't see the same problems as others who, though with different principles, do operate from a principled rather than a dumbly partisan view of the world.
These days, the professional conservative Andrew Sullivan writes, with increasing frequency, the same damning posts about how the administration is promoting rot in areas of rule-of-law, civil liberties, etc as many of us progressives have been writing all along. Don't be alarmed, cats have not started sleeping with dogs and Sullivan still says good things about the war in Iraq, George Will and GOP presidential hopefuls...I'm just saying he's not blind [and I am loving the well deserved trashings with which he repays the coultergeist.]
So these are the days when those with a few scruples are to be distinguished from those with a stake in the current climate of corruption. I say current. We vanquished hopelessness last November but have yet to accomplish much else in turning the tide of anti-democratic meddling and abuse of privilege that creep toward fascism. Andrew is not flunking here, not at all.
We look moment by moment for new revelations of tampering with justice by the administration but I have to stop and think what these events say about the character of the sacked attorneys. I take back every nasty generality I may ever have uttered against lawyers as a profession. The Attorneys fired by Gonzales for for not executing political dirty tricks were all appointees of that administration: All lawyers by training who recognized a greater allegiance to law and the rule of law than they do to the raw cult power and pyramid of fealty that bushco thinks should be the real force in government. In a way, I have actually made this apology to lawyers once before, but here we have a proving incident to cite. If that does not redeem lawyers in the eyes of any of you who still crack lawyer jokes then consider how close you are to the right winger's position on such matters: long before the coultergiest barfed up her latest slurs against Edwards, there was a right wing campaign against him as a VP candidate wherein the wingers expected us to find Edwards a questionable person because he was (oh horrors!) a "trial lawyer". Not that Gonzales didn't got to law school too but you really have to wonder what marks he got in Ethics.
These few attorneys who bucked the coercing to execute a directive that was wrong in their eyes paid a high price but earned my respect. There are people in the administration who operate on principle....and they are systematically being weeded out.
So how will we choose who are the frontrunners before anyone has voted? How will candidates impact the polls in order to swell their coffers? The early primary date means that the virtual primaries that will designate the frontrunners will be held on cable television, the Internet, and talk radio. The Republican Virtual Primary will be held on Fox News, the Limbaugh, Hannity, and other conservative talk radio shows, and the right-wing websites. The Democratic Virtual Primary will be held on National Public Radio, PBS, a handful of liberal talk shows, the network news programs, and websites like MoveOn.org where liberals congregate.[my emphasis]
Should I be miffed that a prominent conservative political columnist cannot accurately characterize one of the new voices in American politics or happy that, not having our address down, misunderstandings he fires at us will land unexploded in a vacant lot? Neither yet both: Better I should be apprehensive that the misunderstandings will be cordially received as accurate with the NewsMax audience...who I am glad to see stay as ignorant as their gurus. If he had mentioned DailyKos, I'd have nothing to write.
Challenging information never changes the conservative mind.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
While you were all distracted with botched wars, cover-ups of fudged intelligence ops and "massacres" of prosecutors who were either getting too close to a republican or failed to respond to hints they should drum up cases against Democrats, (certainly enough to keep your attention), the bush league have been giving away national heirloom resources that should have been community property of US citizens for generations to come. And they had to muzzle quite a few scientist to do it.
In today's NYTimes, there is a report of Bush appointees silencing scientists who were trying to protect your forests and wildlife even though that is exactly what the scientist's were hired to do. The article reminds of us of similar clumsy censoring of climate science at NASA last year. The bush league has mounted a steady assault on resources, environment and the people who study them. NRDC cataloged the repealed protections, exploitative grants to industry and suppression of science in 2003 and 2004: it takes 100 pages just to list the damages done. Perhaps biologists should be next to go on the endangered species list since they seem, by trade, to be stationed between environmental hen house and the republican foxes. It was this way back in the reign of Bush the 1st [I am amazed such controversial old e-mails still exist on the web]. For a contrast, consider that in the middle of the Clinton administration, US Forest Service employees were [a] recounting the coercion of their former Bush I bosses and [b] writing their own whistle blower guidelines.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
- Juxtaposition of the modernity of space flight with the primitive passions, the seamy familiarity of domestic violence shot against the exotic backdrop of an orbiting space shuttle.
- Juxtaposition of the image of uber-competent, quick thinking, steel nerved astronauts with the tale of an unthinking astronut unhinged by affections any high school kid could summon with little help
- The surprise on the part of some readers that a jilted woman would single-handedly take physical and potentially violent action to bandage her love-wounds...isn't it always the jealous ex-boyfriend or ex-husband that does mayhem when the prop of love is pulled out from under them?
But our soured astronaut was/is in a love triangle. For that more specific motivation, which I will characterize as trying to heal a self inflicted wound by smashing the knife, the statistics tilt slightly toward gender parity. The FBI keeps a separate line for that in its Uniform Crime Report statistics. You have to cross check three different tables in this FBI report to find the info. It may work to hit this link to the cached page where "Romantic triangle" is highlighted. Roughly speaking, the story told is this:
- The victim is far more likely to be the rival than the significant other of the aggrieved lover [table 2.11]
- In order of preference: guns, knives and in distant third, blunt instruments [table 2.12, our astronaut packed all three...these astronaut types are well versed in the value of back-up systems]
- 78 female to 22 male victims out of 100 [table 2.14, for the latest year, less than 100 victims total]
Conclusion: This violently jealous astronaut is not so unusual after all.
Advice: If you are fooling around, don't get stupid with your email.
Afterthought: I feel sorry for the woman. The signs are that she feels she has lost everything and is desperate. But really, she should think more deeply: of exactly what is she the victim? Of exactly what is she in control?
Note: since posting, I discover via Pandagon that March 8th is blog-against-sexism day. Amanda tells us where she's coming from [Alpine TX;] and in the comment thread there, many are confessing the roots of their feminism, such as it may be. Here is a bit more of my perspective.