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Friday, October 30, 2009

Light posting the next few days while I attend the 2009 Society of Utopian Studies conference. Be back at full strength soon.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

This is why we can't have nice things: I've been thinking a lot recently about how the undemocratic composition of the Senate creates a major hurdle for progressive legislation in the U.S., and I was curious how this works in practice. The chart below takes the 2008 population estimates for all 50 states from the U.S. Census and checks the populations represented by the Democratic and Republican caucuses against their actual representation in the U.S. Senate. (Click to enlarge.)

As you can see, the distortion created by having two Senators from every state regardless of its population means that Democrats should have 4.2 more Senators than they currently do, and Republicans 4.2 fewer. (Since you can't have two-tenths of a Senator, the number is really five. But call it four.) This is to say that in a properly representative Senate, even if you kept the filibuster—itself an anti-democratic Senate institution—with 64 senators in the chamber Democrats would be able to pass their agenda easily.

But it gets worse.

The six problem senators on health care, the six most likely to support a Republican filibuster—Mark Pryor, Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landrieu, Ben Nelson, Evan Bayh, and Joe Lieberman—together represent only 3.59% of the total population of the country, which means that in a properly representative Senate the Democrats could lose all six votes and still beat a filibuster.

In short, it's the distorted apportioning of the Senate itself that is progressives' largest legislative problem. Article 5 of the Constitution makes it almost impossible to eliminate the Senate outright, but (as I wrote the other week) depowering and discrediting the legislative roadblock called the Senate should be at the top of the long-term political agenda for progressives. In the meantime, these population distortions will continue to dominate all political outcomes, and continue to thwart all progressive change.

I am a Leninist. Lenin wasn't afraid to dirty his hands. If you can get power, grab it. Do whatever is possible. This is why I support Obama. I think the battle he is fighting now over healthcare is extremely important, because it concerns the very core of the ruling ideology. The core of the campaign against Obama is freedom of choice. And the lesson, if he wins, is that freedom of choice is certainly something beautiful, but that it only works against a background of regulations, ethical presuppositions, economic conditions and so on. My position isn't that we should sit down and wait for some big revolution to come. We have to engage wherever we can. If Obama wins his battle over healthcare, if some kind of blow can be struck against the ideology of freedom of choice, it will have been a victory worth fighting for.
Another Žižek interview.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Is California finished? Some discussion at MeFi.

1989 nostalgia is in full effect. MetaFilter and The New York Review of Books have your opening bids.

Nobody's talking about it,, but at least the ambitious senior senator from Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter, hasn't forgotten about reconciliation.

SPECTER: Well as I have said I would consider that as a last, last, last, resort. I think that the institutional safeguard of 60 votes is a very important one. … [M]oving away from that institutional 60 votes is something I think would be a last, last, last resort. You might have to fight fire with fire when there are so many filibusters. The number is now 81. And a lot of nominations are being blocked and action is being blocked. …

On the issue of fighting fire with fire, maybe so, but I think that we are not going to come to this. I think we can muster the 60 votes and not have to face the reconciliation.

Q: Senator if I have this correctly, as a last resort, you would not oppose using reconciliation…

SPECTER: As a last, last, last, resort I would consider it, yeah.
I guess I missed it, but apparently Reid called it an "option" at the big press conference on Monday as well. Glad to see it.

I learned on Poli-Sci-Fi Radio this week that the Canadian single-payer health-care system came about after its successful adoption in a single province, Saskatchewan. It's this fact of history that makes me think progressives should be directing much more money and support to groups like the single-payer movement in California, organized around support for SB 810.

It is one thing to support something imperfect but functional. But it is another thing to support something that is imperfect, decidedly non-functional, and that has the potential for additional destruction. The problem Lohmann and other critics of carbon trading recognize isn’t merely that it’s flawed, or that it won’t work, but that it actually introduces a new and uniquely social threat to the atmosphere: the legal right to pollute it.
Via Vu, a must-read piece on why cap and trade could be worse than doing nothing at all. The only sensible neoliberal policy option remains steep carbon taxation, but despite decades of evidence about what we're barreling towards the political will still isn't there.

Bringing a gun to a gunfight: why the opt-out public option compromise is great politics, if not ideal policy.

Gov. Schwarzenegger: All class.

In fairness, I love this.

The Daily Show went back to the Bush well last night, and the results, it must be said, were pretty hilarious. (UPDATE: Forgot to mention Colbert went there too.)

Also: the Whole Foods Boycott and a fluff interview with one of the Superfreakonomics authors. Jon Stewart has apparently never watched a science fiction movie, because he thinks geoengineering can't go wrong.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
George W. Bush Hits the Lecture Circuit
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

'Just World' bias in action: A Harvard psych study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology shows that when people are present during torture, they gradually come to believe the torture victim is guilty as a way of assuaging their consciences for their complicity in torture.

A few other late-night links.

* Philip Roth has surrendered to television on behalf of the novel.

"I was being optimistic about 25 years really. I think it's going to be cultic. I think always people will be reading them but it will be a small group of people. Maybe more people than now read Latin poetry, but somewhere in that range."
* Chris Ware in the New Yorker.

* If Harry Potter Was Made in the 1980s, and Starred David Bowie.

* 'Man who threw feces in courtroom draws 31-year sentence for robbery.' Live and learn.

* The Telegraph covers the laws of internet discourse.
7. Pommer’s Law
Proposed by Rob Pommer on in 2007, this states: “A person's mind can be changed by reading information on the internet. The nature of this change will be from having no opinion to having a wrong opinion.”
* Scientology convicted of fraud in France. See also.

* Will D.C. let J.J. Abrams have a crack at Superman? After the success of the Star Trek reboot this seems like an obvious move—and it would certainly be better than all their other attempts so far.

* Is your city recession-proof?

* Why your dryer sucks. More here.

* And Ezra Klein puts the politics behind the public option very well:
For the real liberals, the public option was already a compromise from single-payer. For the slightly less radical folks, the public option that's barred from partnering with Medicare to maximize the government's buying power was a compromise down from a Medicare-like insurance plan. For the folks even less radical than that, the public option that states can "opt out" of is a compromise from the straight public option. Access to the public option will be a political question settled at the state level. It is not a settled matter of national policy.

In many ways, this is a fundamentally conservative approach to a liberal policy experiment. It's only offered to individuals eligible for the insurance exchanges, which is a small minority of the population. The majority of Americans who rely on employer-based insurance would not be allowed to choose the exchanges. From there, it is only one of many options on the exchange, and only in states that choose to have it. In other words, it has been designed to preserve the status quo and be decided on the state level. Philosophically, these are major compromises liberals have made on this plan. They should get credit for that.

The big news yesterday was, of course, Joe Lieberman's threat to join the Republican filibuster on the health care bill, proving right my suspicion of everything that guy does. Never a popular figure in the progressive blogosphere, Lieberman is especially loathed today; see Steve Benen, Open Left, Steve Benen, Nate Silver, Steve Benen, Kos, and Steve Benen, for starters. I confess that Jonathan Chait's take is pretty close to my own:

He's not a Democrat and won't be running on the Democratic ticket in 2012. Moreover, my read on him is that he's furious with the party, resentful of President Obama (who beat his friend in 2008) and would relish a Democratic catastrophe.
Lieberman strikes me as a creature of spite with a long list of enemies, and I think he'd happily be the lone vote to scuttle the sixty-year dream of health care reform if he thought it would hurt Ned Lamont voters. I've never trusted him as a reliable vote and I question the wisdom of continually bending over backwards to keep him "happy" when it makes no apparent difference in his actions. The man spoke at the Republican National Convention, for heaven's sake. He's not on our side.

For what it's worth, Ezra Klein says it's probably a bluff, and I hope he's right.

Sadly, Lieberman's threats are emboldening the other conservative Democrats to make similar threats.

I sure hope reconciliation is still in the tank if Reid's miscalculated.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Windsuit base jumping is your new favorite extreme sport. (via Fiona)

Tuesday links.

* I do feel a bit like my characters from one movie could walk into another one of my movies and it would make sense, whereas people from other peoples’ movies would probably feel a bit uncomfortable there. Wes Anderson interviewed in Interview. There's also a profile in this week's New Yorker, apparently, though it's not online. (via Rushmore Academy)

* Case Studies of Comic Book Medicine. More here.

* Graduating during a recession can have a lifelong impact on your earnings.

* Also from Yglesias: Cable monopolies are killing your internet access.

* Infinite Thought has Engels on entropy.

Millions of years may elapse, hundreds of thousands of generations be born and die, but inexorably the time will come when the declining warmth of the sun will no longer suffice to melt the ice thrusting itself forward from the poles; when the human race, crowding more and more about the equator, will finally no longer find even there enough heat for life; when gradually even the last trace of organic life will vanish; and the earth, an extinct frozen globe like the moon, will circle in deepest darkness and in an ever narrower orbit about the equally extinct sun, and at last fall into it. Other planets will have preceded it, others will follow it; instead of the bright, warm solar system with its harmonious arrangement of members, only a cold, dead sphere will still pursue its lonely path through universal space. And what will happen to our solar system will happen sooner or later to all the other systems of our island universe; it will happen to all the other innumerable island universes, even to those the light of which will never reach the earth while there is a living human eye to receive it.
The quote is from 1833's The Dialectics of Nature, and goes on to suggest a kind of eternal return:
It is an eternal cycle in which matter moves, a cycle that certainly only completes its orbit in periods of time for which our terrestrial year is no adequate measure, a cycle in which the time of highest development, the time of organic life and still more that of the life of beings conscious of nature and of themselves, is just as narrowly restricted as the space in which life and self-consciousness come into operation; a cycle in which every finite mode of existence of matter, whether it be sun or nebular vapour, single animal or genus of animals, chemical combination or dissociation, is equally transient, and wherein nothing is eternal but eternally changing, eternally moving matter and the laws according to which it moves and changes. But however often, and however relentlessly, this cycle is completed in time and space, however many millions of suns and earths may arise and pass away, however long it may last before the conditions for organic life develop, however innumerable the organic beings that have to arise and to pass away before animals with a brain capable of thought are developed from their midst, and for a short span of time find conditions suitable for life, only to be exterminated later without mercy, we have the certainty that matter remains eternally the same in all its transformations, that none of its attributes can ever be lost, and therefore, also, that with the same iron necessity that it will exterminate on the earth its highest creation, the thinking mind, it must somewhere else and at another time again produce it.
* And Boing Boing has your Scooby Doo/zombie apocalypse mashup of the day.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Classic bad news/good news situation: Sure, Iceland's economy has completely collapsed, but at least it caused McDonald's to leave the country.

Credit to Harry Reid, a person to whom I rarely give credit: a public option (albeit with opt-out) will be in the final Senate bill. Schumer is happy. Dodd is happy. Rockerfeller is happy. Gibbs says Obama is happy. Josh Marshall is happy. Durbin says the progressive wing made it happen. And Max Baucus is on-board. In fact, Open Left's whip count suggests that Reid has sixty votes for cloture, with only Blanche Lincoln still publicly non-commital.

A few Monday links.

* NJ-GOV Watch: As yet another ethics scandal hits Chris Christie, a poll shows him down 42-33 to Corzine. I think this particular poll is probably an outlier, but nonetheless I think Corzine may actually win this thing.

* Looking through Steve Benen's newsfeed this morning I was struck by how many stories he's found in the last few days about Republicans baldly misreporting clearly labeled satire as fact. Glenn Beck: Nancy Pelosi to ban Fox News! Rush Limbaugh: Obama's nonexistent thesis hates America! Of course, they just make things up, too.

* Airlock Alpha says Battlestar Galactica: The Plan is worse than Razor. That's too bad, because Razor really wasn't very good. The reviewer makes a great point here:

At the same time, the most interesting parts of the Cylon story were cut out or not even considered for this film. Really!

I mean, look at this way. You had the Final Five who show up in the middle of the first Cylon war. They offer the Centurions evolutionary advancement in terms of resurrection and becoming more like their human creators, so the war ends. After the skinjobs are created, the Cylons try to simply live their lives away from the humans, but Cavil wants revenge.

When the Final Five get in his way, he kills them, and then resurrects them, depositing them all over the Twelve Colonies, giving them a front-row seat to the holocaust he's about to unleash.

This is great storytelling by itself. Except we only get the end of this tale in "The Plan." We don't get to see the Final Five arrive, we don't get to see Cavil's betrayal. Instead, we pick up with Cavil already having deposited the Final Five in the Colonies and go from there.
It's very odd to see them go the clip-show route when a better story really was just sitting there unused.

* And via Atrios, Detroit can't give away land. The unemployment and outmigration numbers in Michigan are just staggering. From a policy perspective I have no idea how you fix this.

Who mourns for Geocities? SEK. xkcd.

It's being reported today that Reid's bill is ready and is being sent to the CBO for budget impact. Here's the Wall Street Journal on its likely contours:

Details of the legislation could change, but its broad outlines are becoming clear. Employers with more than 50 workers wouldn't be required to provide health insurance, but they would face fines of up to $750 per employee if even part of their work force received a government subsidy to buy health insurance, this person said. A bill passed by the Senate Finance Committee had a lower fine of up to $400 per employee.

The bill to be brought to the Senate floor would create a new public health-insurance plan, but would give states the choice of opting out of participating in it, a proposal that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada backed last week.
Of course, in the kabuki dance that is the American legislative process, neither this bill nor the House bill will actually become law, but rather the House/Senate conference bill, which will be some sort of amalgamation between the two.

For more on this subject, Steve Benen has another post this morning concerning cloture, suggesting Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln are the holdouts. As far as I know Evan Bayh is still uncommitted as well. Stay tuned.

"Do not be afraid, join us, come back! You've had your anti-communist fun, and you are pardoned for it – time to get serious again!"
The Guardian reviews Žižek's First As Tragedy, Then As Farce.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Using a high-speed camera that photographed people flipping coins, the three researchers determined that a coin is more likely to land facing the same side on which it started. If tails is facing up when the coin is perched on your thumb, it is more likely to land tails up.
How to flip a coin.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Saturday night.

* The first eight minutes of the ABC V remake. Some of this footage you've probably seen before.

* Canuxploitation!: your complete guide to Canadian B-film.

* Dollhouse ratings dip back down again after a week off. My thoughts on this week's episode here; in general I thought it was very good but not as good as everyone else seems to want to think. The show, never all that certain what it wanted to be about in the first place, is showing serious strain from being pulled in so many different directions at once. Is it a critically acclaimed loss leader or is it supposed to have high ratings? Is it an Eliza Dushku vehicle or an ensemble show? Is it serial or episodic? Are its characters tragic or villainous? Is it a feminist critique of late capitalism or a machine for generating sexy girls in miniskirts?

* Glenn Greenwald considers why debt matters for domestic spending but not for military spending.

Beltway elites have health insurance and thus the costs and suffering for those who don't are abstract, distant and irrelevant. Identically, with very rare exception, they and their families don't fight the wars they cheer on -- and don't even pay for them -- and thus get to enjoy all the pulsating benefits without any costs whatsoever.
* And, via Vu, Žižek explains hipsters.

Ryan Dunlavey's excellent comic strips mashups.

Guns N Roses for your baby.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Dollhouse, Flashforward, and a few SF links.

* Both Dollhouse tonight and Flashforward yesterday were noticeable improvements over a string of weak episodes, but problems persist. On Flashforward, the characters remain essentially interchangeable ciphers, with almost no tension or mystery surrounding their relationships or their individual participation in these events. (This is perhaps the one area where the show really should have cribbed more from Lost.) But the tease that China may have been involved is a nicely paranoid reading of the disastrous consequences of the Flashforward for the Western hemisphere and a clever post-9/11 twist on the novel, which has no such subplot—and the connection of the isolated L.A. office to a larger investigatory framework has been much needed. And the episode was just more fun.

The Sierra episode of Dollhouse was good, but I can't help feeling as though the show is being quietly retooled yet again; the actions of most of these characters just aren't commensurate with either half of last season. In particular, most of last season was devoted to a multi-episode arc in which the Dollhouse staff struggled to stop the dolls from "glitching"—but now the exact same glitches are considered perfectly acceptable to everyone involved. Echo is allowed to openly discuss her newfound continuity of memory without consequence or even particular interest from the staff, while Victor and Sierra are apparently now allowed to openly date. What has happened to account for this radical shift in Dollhouse policy? Dr. Saunders's disappearance and the generally chaotic atmosphere that plagues the Dollhouse week to week should incentivize them to keep a closer eye on the dolls, not give them freer reign.

Likewise, the idea in the episode that the Dollhouse staff had been "misled" about Priya's situation—a fairly clear attempt to retcon one of the characters' most heinous crimes—doesn't really hold up to scrutiny; patients in mental institutions can't consent to secret medical experimentation (or, for that matter, sex slavery) any more than kidnapped women can. There's no excusing what's been done to Priya either way, and that Topher supposedly believed he was somehow "helping" her barely qualifies as a fig leaf. I think I preferred the harder edge of Original Recipe Adelle and Topher 1.0.

Other things rankle, too. The violent final scenes in the Evil Client's House are well-acted, but the sequence of events makes little sense outside the heat of the moment. What did Priya and Topher think was going to happen, and why were they so utterly unprepared for what obviously would? Topher would have given her a ninja update at the very least.

Seeing so much praise for this episode from critics and the Twittotubes just shows again how badly people want this show to be better than it really is. I'm still enjoying Dollhouse, but abandoning the 2019 arc and failing to sign Amy Acker as a regular are starting to look like fatal flaws for the series. Even an heavily hyped episode that (for once) didn't focus on Echo doesn't compare to last season's stellar second half (1.6-1.11 and 1.13). I hope the upcoming focus on Senator Wyndham-Price and the inevitable introduction of Summer Glau help pick things up.

No new episodes until December, in any event.


* Harlan Ellison has won $1 from Paramount Pictures in his suit regarding Star Trek's "The City on the Edge of Forever." In fairness, $1 was all he asked for.

* Christopher Hayes reviews Ralph Nader's "practical Utopia," Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!.

* And Gregory Cowles reviews Jonathan Lethem's Chronic City for the New York Times.

Lethem’s Manhattan is an alternate-­reality Manhattan, an exaggerated version where an escaped tiger is rumored to be roaming the Upper East Side and Times readers can opt for a “war-free” edition dominated by fluffy human-­interest ­stories. Instead of terrorist attacks, an enervating gray fog has descended on the financial district and remained there for years, hovering mysteriously. (Mysterious to the novel’s characters, anyway; investigators may want to subpoena DeLillo’s airborne toxic event.)
Looks good.

My favorite poet has a piece, "Albanian Virgin," in poemeleon's "Gender" issue. The poem (if I may defile it with Wikipedia links) concerns the "sworn virgin" custom in Albania in which a woman (for instance, a family's only child) lives her life with the social privileges of men in exchange for foreswearing sex. Checking my tags I find I've linked to this piece on the practice in the New York Times before.


* The ping-pong match in the press over the public option continues. Nobody can figure out whether or not Pelosi has the votes, whether or not Obama supports an Olympia-Snowe-style trigger, or just what will happen with the cloture vote in the Senate. Ezra Klein compares the likely House and Senate bills, which leads Matt Yglesias to suggest a best-of-both-worlds approach. Meanwhile a Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll shows that public support for the public option remains steady at around 60%, which would be important if the Senate were a properly representative body.

* Lots of buzz today about Neill Blomkamp's next film after District 9, described by SCI FI Wire as a balls-out sci-fi epic.

* 'A Mid-Atlantic Miracle': Keeping public university costs down in Maryland.

* A judge has ruled the war crimes case against Blackwater/Xe will go forward.

* 'Living on $500,000 a Year': Reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's tax returns. John Scalzi compares Fitzgerald's income and lifestyle to a writer's today.

* Fox News CEO Roger Ailes for president? This would take "fair and balanced" to a whole new level.

* And your entirely random chart of the day: The Population of Rome Through History. Via Kottke.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

News keeps rolling out about the public option today; ABC is reporting that a public option is likely to be in the final Senate bill (about which Max Baucus is said to be "apoplectic"), and Open Left's informal whip count has 58 votes for cloture. (Most Important People in the Country by this count: Mary Landrieu and Evan Bayh.)

Open Left also discusses reports that suggest Pelosi's "robust" version will pass the House. Genuine health care reform seems very close today.

UPDATE: Steve Benen has some thoughts on Mary Landrieu and her stated opposition to the public option. Of course the real question is not whether she'll vote for the bill but whether she'll vote for cloture—and call me a pie-in-the-sky optimist but I find it hard to imagine, when push comes to shove, that any member of the Democratic caucus would cast the lone vote to destroy health care reform by denying it a floor vote. (Landrieu or Bayh would basically have to switch parties if they did, and no one jumps onto a sinking ship.) Because he's a proud member of the notoriously independent Connecticut for Lieberman caucus, I've been much more worried about Lieberman's loyalty than anybody else's—so I'm glad to see he's already confirmed he'll vote for cloture.

UPDATE 2: Apparently Landrieu announced today that she won't support a Republican filibuster. If Open Left's count is right, that just leaves President Bayh.

Thursday afternoon!

* It looks as if Fox will burn off what's left of Dollhouse in December. Bright side: Joss should then be free to start a beloved, long-running cable series next fall.

* A short story set in Iain M. Banks's Culture universe will be adapted for film. This could be good, though io9 is nervous.

* Viktor Mayer-Schonberger argues in a new book that the true problem of memory in the digital age is not preservation but remembering how to forget.

* And Grist says environmentalists may finally have the "big mo."

On deaccession: What should museums throw out?

Via MeFi, it's I Love Comix.

While the hated Yankees look likely to win the World Series, Mets fans can take solace in the fact that at least the Mets may not have lost money to Bernie Madoff.

By popular demand, Politics Thursday.

* Health care madness: Olympia Snowe says she won't vote for cloture if there's a public option in the bill, while Ben Nelson says he'll support an opt-out. (By my calculations this once again makes Joe Lieberman the Most Important Person in the country.) It seems clear we'll get some sort of health care reform, but its specific content is still really unpredictable. Fingers crossed.

* Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Daggetmentum has topped 20%, with Jon Corzine now slightly leading Chris Christie as a consequence.

* Nate Silver crunches the numbers on the marriage equality referendum in Maine and concludes it all comes down to turnout.

* When You Marry: a 1962 handbook.

* Ryan's Facebook feed had this link to a random manifesto generator. I now feel ready for any particular revolution that comes along.

* T. Boone Pickens explains why the U.S. is "entitled" to Iraqi oil. Could anyone have doubted it?

* And an increasing number of Americans want to legalize it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sid Meier wants to destroy your productivity forever.

This one's local interest, but anyone in the Triangle who is interested in an "Ecology and the Humanities" working group sponsored by Duke's Franklin Humanities Institute and administered by the Polygraph 22 editors should shoot me an email for details about our first meeting on Nov. 12. We're reading Radkau and Dana Philips the first week.

Even more Wednesday links.

* Not just talk: Reid and Schumer will introduce legislation to yank the health insurance industry's antitrust exemption.

* Conflicts of interest we can believe in: Hank Paulson. The original version of this post, which was up for about two minutes, confused Paulson with Timothy Geithner, who I also don't like, but who I guess is a step up.

* Among other things, this YouTube video of a Normandy Beach veteran speaking about marriage equality speaks to the (often underutilized) power of American exceptionalism in the service of progressive political causes. It's quite moving.

* 'Papers reveal Gabriel Garcia Marquez was under Mexican surveillance for years.'

* Duke Plans To Become ‘Climate Neutral’ By 2024.

* And Maureen Ryan at the Chicago Tribune says the next two weeks of Dollhouse will not disappoint. I've been pretty disappointed all season, so I hope she's right.

Wednesday catchup 2.

* Duke University researchers have proven that Barack Obama kills Republican boners.

* Also in Republican news: only 1 in 5 Americans now identify as a Republican. These numbers are terrible. It's hard to believe, but could we really be seeing the end of the GOP?

* An interview with the prop master for Mad Men.

* Chasing down the earliest common ancestor and the secret of abiogenesis. More at MeFi.

* From universal literacy to universal authorship?

* The House Next Door reviews The Yes Men Save the World, saying it's everything Capitalism: A Love Story wasn't.

With delightful wit, the Yes Men are saying, “Yes, we can!” to the making of a better world, doing what’s right on behalf of the corporations that do so much wrong. Instead of the Moore strategy of passively shaming, they actively participate in change, as when Bichlbaum, in the guise of a Dow Chemical spokesman, goes on the BBC in front of 300 million viewers to announce that the Bhopal catastrophe, the largest industrial accident in history, will finally be cleaned up by his employer. This simple act is a million times more radical and risk-taking than Moore’s noisily wielding a bullhorn in front of AIG headquarters. Moore may be responsible for the highest grossing documentary of all time, but not one of his films ever led to a two billion dollar drop in share prices in 23 minutes as this Yes Men stunt did!
* Lionel Shriver: "I sold my family for a novel." I had no idea this market existed! Obviously this is why my novel has stalled.

Unexpectedly busy day yesterday. Here are some links.

* One of Flashforward's creators has apparently been fired, suggesting the show might get better soon. Nerds may also rejoice at the news that Brannon Braga isn't actually involved with Flashforward at the moment, as he's off driving 24 further into the ground.

* "Good Ol' Gregor Brown" and other "Masterpiece Comics."

* The future of academia? UNC Chapel Hill has made Spanish 101 online-only.

* More bad news for NJ's Chris Christie in advance of next month's election: federal prosecutors gave the New York Times specifics on how one of his former assistants, to whom he made a large, undisclosed loan, may have improperly helped his campaign. Lautenberg isn't an independent observer by any means, but for what it's worth he's called for a federal investigation.

* Columbia has suspended its environmental journalism program. Because the environmental crisis is so 2008.

* A new book called Manthropology makes a lot of claims about the "inadequate modern male" that don't seem right.

Many prehistoric Australian aboriginals could have outrun world 100 and 200 meters record holder Usain Bolt in modern conditions.

Some Tutsi men in Rwanda exceeded the current world high jump record of 2.45 meters during initiation ceremonies in which they had to jump at least their own height to progress to manhood.

Any Neanderthal woman could have beaten former bodybuilder and current California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in an arm wrestle.
Also, "manthropology"? Really?

Monday, October 19, 2009

As a general matter, pursuit of these priorities should not focus federal resources in your States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana. For example, prosecution of individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses who use marijuana as part of a recommended treatment regimen consistent with applicable state law, or those caregivers in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state law who provide such individuals with marijuana, is unlikely to be an efficient use of limited federal resources.
The potheads have taken over the asylum: Attorney General Eric Holder has released new guidelines for federal prosecutors regarding medicinal marijuana. I admit I was initially lukewarm on Holder's appointment, but he's sure doing a lot of the heavy lifting on "change."

Aw, crap: 'The path to tenure begins in the first year of graduate school.' Academic career advice from Crooked Timber's Eszter Hargittai.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Tim Lambert: Why Everything in Superfreakonomics About Global Warming Is Wrong.


* John Lanchester: More general conditions involving gender abnormality affect one in three thousand people – which, globally, is two million people. There are more human beings who are in some degree intersex than there are Botswanans. (via Vu)

* I have no idea what to think or say about Marge Simpson's Playboy spread.

* swaps gendered language on websites. Here's my site regendered.

* And, in non-gender news, the Freakonomics folks are facing tons of criticism in the blogosphere over their new book, including Krugman, Brad DeLong, and a four-part series at Climate Progress. The authors have posted a response at the Freakonomics blog, but as Matt Yglesias and their own commenters note, it's fairly limp. I liked the first book, but it looks like I'll skip this one.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Why Charlie Stross hates Star Trek.

Four for Friday.

* Rabbits are terrorizing the public parks of Stockholm, so Swedish officials have decided to kill them and burn them as fuel. That's socialism for you.

* The One Comic Joss Whedon Reads: The Walking Dead, of course. See also: The 5 Hardest Parts of Being a Joss Whedon Fan.

* The Nation looks at Corzine's resurgence in the context of his apparent left turn.

* Some days I kind of like this Obama guy.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thursday night links!

* I saw Zombieland tonight and was impressed with how well America kept its Big Cameo secret. (I won't spoil things either.) The movie itself is pretty fun, if less funny than it thinks and a little cartoonish at times. I find in general that I prefer my zombie movies to be psychologically realistic and thematically bleak, with roughly two-thirds of the film devoted to the building of systematic fortifications and the last third devoted to the spectacular destruction of said fortifications.

* This is a great blog and Imma let you finish, but MetaFilter has the best Balloon Boy thread of all time. Don't miss what could be the exciting start of Phase 2: "You guys said we did it for the show."

* Why Your Idea to Save Journalism Won't Work.

* Nice to see Mad Men getting some press in the Atlantic, but couldn't they have found someone who actually gets the show?

Mad Men’s most egregious stumble—though seemingly a small one—involves Betty Draper’s college career, and it is generally emblematic of this extraordinarily accomplished show’s greatest weaknesses, and specifically emblematic of its confused approach to this poorly defined character. Betty, the show establishes, was in a sorority. So far, okay. Pretty, with a little-girl voice and a childlike, almost lobotomized affect; humorless; bland but at times creepily calculating (as when she seeks solace by manipulating her vulnerable friend into an affair); obsessed with appearances and therefore lacking in inner resources; a consistently cold and frequently vindictive mother; a daddy’s girl—Betty is written, and clumsily performed by model-turned-actress January Jones, as a clichéd shallow sorority sister. (Just as Don’s self-invented identity is Gatsby-like, so Betty, his wife, is a jejune ornament like Daisy, though without the voice full of money.) But she’s also a character deeply wronged by her serial-philanderer husband, and she’s hazily presented as a stultified victim of soulless postwar suburban ennui (now there’s a cliché). So, perhaps to bestow gravitas on her, or at least some upper-classiness, the show establishes that she went to Bryn Mawr. But of course Bryn Mawr has never had sororities. By far the brainiest of the Seven Sisters—cussed, straight-backed, high-minded, and feminist (its students, so the wags said, preferred the Ph.D. to the Mrs.)—Bryn Mawr was probably the least likely college that Betty Draper, given to such non-U genteelisms as “passed away,” would have attended. So much for satiric exactitude.
As I complained in the MeFi thread, Betty's problem isn't that she's bland, humorless, or stupid but that she hates her life.

* Chicago and the Great Flood of 1992.

* How the Freaknomics authors blew a chapter on climate change in the book's new sequel, Superfreakonomics.

* “The original Gauntlet was released with no ending. The hundred or so levels were randomised and looped for as long as play lasted. Atari saw Gauntlet as a process, a game that was played for its own sake and not to reach completion. The adventurers continue forever until their life drains out, their quest ultimately hopeless.

"Both rings were round, and there the resemblance ceased": Tolkien as Wagner's shadow.

Top 25 censored stories of the year. Don't miss:

2. US Schools are More Segregated Today than in the 1950s
3. Toxic Waste Behind Somali Pirates
4. Nuclear Waste Pools in North Carolina
10. Ecuador Declares Foreign Debt Illegitimate
15. World Bank’s Carbon Trade Fiasco
18. Ecuador’s Constitutional Rights of Nature

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Karl Hans Janke is your artist of the night. More here.

If I'm reading this article correctly, science has proven that emotion is merely a special case of smelling.

Wednesday night quadruple threat.

* Maybe my favorite science story ever: A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists have suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the [Large Hadron Collider] before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather. I love this story so much I don't care that they're only half-serious.

* Why Are Insurers Exempt From Antitrust Laws? Ezra Klein investigates in light of Harry Reid's statements on the Senate floor today.

* Wes responds to his FMF critics. (Via Eli Glasner)

* One thing that's being lost in all this discussion of the Saudi proposal that oil-producing nations be compensated for declines in oil demand is, as Jaimee reported for the Indy not that long ago, energy companies in the U.S. want the same thing.

Wednesday triple threat.

* The Gervais Principle for corporate organization.

* Congratulations to John Glenn High School for an absolutely 100% legitimate victory over hated rivals Plymouth Wildcats.

* Neilalien explores the monster-carrying-unconscious-woman visual trope with a series of links.

The last of our pictures from Michigan and Indiana are now online at Flickr. There's a lot, but keep in mind we had at least two cameras going at all times. Special shout-outs to the Labor Legacy Monument, one of the best monuments to anything I've ever seen, and Ann Lislegaard's SF-centric project "2062" at MOCAD. Oh, and zombies.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The airlines that added bag fees most quickly and on the most bags last year are exactly the ones that had the largest year-over-year revenue fall in this year's first quarter. Good. Via Kottke.

A memo from Adelle DeWitt concerning client acquisition and retention.

An early Vonnegut story on longevity and overpopulation, apparently out of copyright, via Pete Lit.

Mysteries of the swine flu: "There's almost two diseases. Patients are either mildly ill, or critically ill and require aggressive ICU care. There isn't that much of a middle ground."


* Elsewhere in actually existing media bias: Rupert Murdoch supposedly wants to buy NBC Universal, for what I can only assume is pure spite.

* Yesterday's bogus insurance industry "bombshell" seems to have backfired, galvanizing support for reform and making the passage of some sort of public option more likely. Olympia Snowe just cast a vote for the Senate Finance Committee bill on its way out of committee, saying, "When history calls, history calls."

* This American Life is doing back-to-back shows on the same topic (health care) for the first time in its history this week and next. This week's episode on the doctor- and patient-side pressure that contribute to rising costs is quite good, if perhaps a bit generous to the insurance companies; next week's episode, promisingly entitled "Somebody Else's Money," will focus on the insurance companies themselves.

* If classic games had achievements.

* At the core of the C.T.E. research is a critical question: is the kind of injury being uncovered by McKee and Omalu incidental to the game of football or inherent in it? Part of what makes dogfighting so repulsive is the understanding that violence and injury cannot be removed from the sport. It’s a feature of the sport that dogs almost always get hurt. Something like stock-car racing, by contrast, is dangerous, but not unavoidably so.

In 2000 and 2001, four drivers in Nascar’s élite Sprint Cup Series were killed in crashes, including the legendary Dale Earnhardt. In response, Nascar mandated stronger seats, better seat belts and harnesses, and ignition kill switches, and completed the installation of expensive new barriers on the walls of its racetracks, which can absorb the force of a crash much better than concrete. The result is that, in the past eight years, no one has died in Nascar’s three national racing series. Stock-car fans are sometimes caricatured as bloodthirsty, eagerly awaiting the next spectacular crash. But there is little blood these days in Nascar crashes. Last year, at Texas Motor Speedway, Michael McDowell hit an oil slick, slammed head first into the wall at a hundred and eighty miles per hour, flipped over and over, leaving much of his car in pieces on the track, and, when the vehicle finally came to a stop, crawled out of the wreckage and walked away. He raced again the next day. So what is football? Is it dogfighting or is it stock-car racing?

* And bad news, everyone: we're post SF again.

The superb Daily Show segment I was tweeting about last night, about CNN's total refusal to do even basic fact-checking, is now online.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
CNN Leaves It There
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorRon Paul Interview

Monday, October 12, 2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox Director of Photography Tristan Oliver is sorry for saying mean things about Wes Anderson. APOLOGY NOT ACCEPTED. Let the tar and feathering continue apace.

By the numbers, Alex is in the 99th percentile for height and weight for babies his age. Insurers don't take babies above the 95th percentile, no matter how healthy they are otherwise.
Of all the health insurance obscenities I have heard recently, this is the worst. My college roommate (a bonafide doctor!) and I were ranting about this sort of thing in Indianapolis just this weekend—whatever the merits of private insurance vs. single payer for adults, why do children have to pay for health care?

Slow motion bullet impacts.

Dollhouse fandom can't figure out if it's getting good news or bad news. With DVR numbers, it turns out Dollhouse's ratings are 50% higher. But this only puts the show's total viewership about even with the live viewership during mid-season last year. Fox is promising to air all 13 episodes, which is also a good sign—but a strong "And that's it" seems to be fairly loudly implied. And Stargate Universe beat it again.

At least last Friday's episode was decent—best of the season so far, though not near the heights of episodes 1.6-1.11 or "Epitaph One."

Elsewhere in televised SF news, ABC is so happy with Flashforward's ratings they've ordered 9 more episodes. Who mourns for Bill Simmon?

This week's blog icon is a photo I took at Detroit's amazing Labor Legacy Monument. More photos from my trip to come after I get home.

'The woman who can't stop orgasming': Boing Boing has first-person testimony from a woman suffering from Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fifty years of space exploration. Via MeFi.

The Star-Ledger has endorsed Chris Daggett over either Chris Christie or Jon Corzine for New Jersey governor. As we've discussed, in terms of his path to reelection this is probably the best news Corzine could have received.

We're off to sample Detroit today. While we're waiting for showers to finish here are a few links I never got around to yesterday.

* Dollhouse 2.3, which I haven't seen yet, ticked upwards in the ratings, managing this week to beat reruns on ABC. Related: Ten TV Spin-offs That Were Better Than the Original Shows includes Angel—I agree in the main—Daria, Xena, DS9, and, The Simpsons. Also related: Flashforward is falling fast, endorsing Bill's thesis that the show is blowing it. Related and ridiculous: "Is science fiction becoming feminized?" Mary Shelley will be heartbroken.

* Josh Marshall on the Nobel: [T]he unmistakable message of the award is one of the consequences of a period in which the most powerful country in the world, the 'hyper-power' as the French have it, became the focus of destabilization and in real if limited ways lawlessness. A harsh judgment, yes. But a dark period. And Obama has begun, if fitfully and very imperfectly to many of his supporters, to steer the ship of state in a different direction. If that seems like a meager accomplishment to many of the usual Washington types it's a profound reflection of their own enablement of the Bush era and how compromised they are by it, how much they perpetuated the belief that it was 'normal history' rather than dark aberration. More from Steve Benen.

* Something, something, something, Detroit.

* The big Moon bombing appears not to have gone so well. Did the aliens step in?

* Iceland, an epicenter of the last financial crisis, looks to recover with data centers that offer free air-side cooling.

* The L.A. Times discusses the Fantastic Mr. Fox directing controversy. (via)

* Some bad news: Universe To End Sooner Than Thought.

* And more bad news: time has not ceased its unrelenting march.

Friday, October 09, 2009

In a move that seems a bit premature, even to me, Barack Obama has been awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Saw this in the Dawn Treader while waiting for Vu's flight to get in, had to get it. Could this be the world's most perfect comic? Superman vs. Terminator.

Still waiting.

* It's not exactly Douchiest College honors, but Duke is #14 on the Times's ranking of top 200 universities worldwide.

* Bitter Laughter reports by way of Nate Silver that public option opt-out may be a compromise that can actually get through the Senate—and Steve Benen agrees it's not a bad thing.

* Also in health care: Olbermann's hour-long "Special Comment" from last night, which wasn't nearly as unbearable as I imagined it would be when I heard it was coming.

* A second NJ-GOV poll—albeit one taken before Fatgateshows Corzine up, this time by three.

* Lots of talk today about this New York Times genealogy of Michelle Obama, focused on an enslaved ancestor who was raped by her owner.

* Pee before you fly. It's funny how low-cost, outside-the-box carbon solutions—like Stephen Chu's suggestion that we paint our roofs white—are never taken seriously. It's like our society has a death wish.

* The literary journal is dead. Long live the literary journal.

Waiting for Vu in Ann Arbor with the South Lyon blues again.

* The end of fish. Via MeFi.

* I must be getting old—it's the second day in a row I've agreed with a conservative on the Supreme Court. And this time it was Antonin Scalia!

"The cross doesn't honor non-Christians who fought in the war?" Scalia asks, stunned.

"A cross is the predominant symbol of Christianity, and it signifies that Jesus is the son of God and died to redeem mankind for our sins," replies Eliasberg, whose father and grandfather are both Jewish war veterans.

"It's erected as a war memorial!" replies Scalia. "I assume it is erected in honor of all of the war dead. The cross is the most common symbol of ... of ... of the resting place of the dead."
I think he's right about this; it seems to me to be a pretty clear (and frankly inoffensive) case of civil religion, which is historically acceptable in our legal tradition. Dissenting views from Steve Benen and Pharyngula.

* Also via MeFi: results from OKCupid data that suggests race's impact on online dating behavior.

* George Saunders lives in a tent city for GQ.

Not my year: Romanian-born German poet Herta Müller has won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature.

We're out of town for the weekend, so blogging will be light. Be back Monday.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


Watching the video of Sean Hannity's interview with Michael Moore makes me rethink a bit my criticism of the appeals to Catholicism in Capitalism: A Love Story. At both the beginning and end of the interview Hannity is put on his back foot by Moore's citation of Christian teachings, and by the end Hannity is essentially forced to admit his politics are anti-Christian. I don't find appeals to religion to be generally useful or advisable from the left—aside from the central political importance I attach to (methodological) atheism, I tend to think religion is territory the right just owns and there's nothing we can do about it—but that's not to say they don't sometimes have their uses.

BREAKING MUST CREDIT GERRYCANAVAN.BLOGSPOT.COM: Bill Ayers just told me he is Barack Obama's real father. Developing...

Megan Fox is also not the main character; and she's not the boy hero's plucky sidekick (there are no boy heroes in this movie). Instead, she's the toothy, gory, puke-soaked object of repulsion and disgust. In short, she is the monster.

And she's a very specific kind of monster, too. She embodies one of the scariest demons who haunts girls' dreams: The popular, pretty girl who pretends to be your friend while secretly trying to steal your boyfriend, your pride, and your life. Written and directed by women, Jennifer's Body is a film made in a women's genre about women's problems. It's a movie about why women want to stab Megan Fox in the tit with scissors.
An otherwise fairly illuminating io9 post linking the box office failure of Jennifer's Body to misguided, male-centric marketing contains this surprising (for me) statistic: the built-in audience for horror is predominantly female. In this context using hot Megan Fox pictures* to market a film about dysfunctional female friendships written and produced by the writer of Juno is even more misguided than you'd otherwise expect.

I, too, might have seen the film if it hadn't been marketed as porn.

* not Google search bait

Fox is reportedly developing an "epic Western with a sci-fi twist." Sounds like great television; why hasn't this been done before?

I must say I thought Colbert was unusually on last night—perhaps he was just excited to talk to the Mountain Goats. Watch the whole episode here.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Road Ahead in Afghanistan - Lara Logan
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMichael Moore

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Formula 401: A Star Is Born
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMichael Moore

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Tuesday night.

* First on the Threatdown: coyotes!

* Winooski, Vermont: Great Domed City of the North.

* "How Health Care Reform Won."

* Is Metroid Prime the Citizen Kane of video games? Hard to pick Metroid Prime over, say, Ocarina of Time, just in the GameCube category alone.

* CNN, always three weeks behind the story, asks whether Obama has lost his mojo in the very moment it becomes apparent that his polls numbers are again rising.

* Also in poll news: contrary to Nate Silver's recent NJ-GOV analysis it does seem clear that Corzine is moving sharply upward in the polls.

* "Wall Street’s Near-Death Experience."

* And Life celebrates dumb inventions of the 1950s and '60s.