Creative Destruction

March 28, 2007

Just to add to the confusion…

Filed under: LGBT Issues,Science — Daran @ 7:32 am

Geneticists report ‘semi-identical’ twins:

Geneticists in the US have discovered a previously unknown kind of twins they have called semi-identical. The twins are identical on their mother’s side, but only share half of their father’s DNA.

OK, but then they say:

The twins are technically chimeras: that is, their cells are not genetically uniform. Some cells contain male cells with an X and Y chromosome, others have female cells bearing a double load of Xs. In the journal Human Genetics, the researchers report that the proportion of XY and XX cells varies depending on the kind of tissue being examined.

For the genes to be distributed in this way, two sperm cells must have fertilised a single egg. Some DNA from each sperm is present in each child.

That would make them identical twins surely? If each twin got the dna from a different sperm, then they’d be half-identical.

Or perhaps the proportion of cells of one type and the other varies from twin to twin as well as from tissue to tissue.

First, two sperm must fertilise a single egg. This does happen in about one percent of human conceptions. More often than not the fertilised egg does not form a viable embryo. This embryo must then split to form twins, who if they are to be identified as semi-identical, must subsequently come to the attention of scientists.

The Chimera aspect of this is more interesting than the twinning. For example, what would happen if the sperm were from two different men? Can a person have two fathers? Who would pay child support?

March 27, 2007

CENSORED

Filed under: Blogosphere — Off Colfax @ 3:44 am

There are times when my refusal to be vulgar on this blog are more than just highly constrictive.

This is one of those times.

But I’m not. I’m at home, with the doors locked, terrified. For the last four weeks, I’ve been getting death threat comments on this blog. But that’s not what pushed me over the edge. What finally did it was some disturbing threats of violence and sex posted on two other blogs… blogs authored and/or owned by a group that includes prominent bloggers.

Please continue to read Kathy’s post on your own time.

But turn your attention specifically to this:

It’s the threat that causes fear.

It’s the threat that leads you to a psychiatrist and tranquilizers just so you can sleep without repeating the endless loop of your death by:

* throat slitting
* hanging
* suffocation
and don’t forget the sexual part…

I have cancelled all speaking engagements.

I am afraid to leave my yard.

I will never feel the same. I will never be the same.

I am beyond angry. Beyond furious. Even beyond volcanic explosions of wrath, and gore, and destruction, and chaos, descending upon the heads of these unrighteous pigs that debase the very name of humanity by continuing to possess basic metabolic functions.

No. Instead I’ve gone to the dangerous place, where everything is calm while the storm rages around you, of it yet not in it.

So to those who find these things to be not vile, not inexcusable, not reprehensible, not a debasement of the foundation of our culture, I have only one thing to say:

Let that which you have done to others be visited upon you, threefold times threefold.

Carpe jugulum.

[Crossposted from Left Off Colfax]

March 26, 2007

We’ve made it!

Filed under: Blog Status,Blogosphere,Content-lite — Daran @ 5:24 pm

We’re Number 78 in the list of top wordpress.com. Not the 78th fastest growing (we’ve been on that list many times). The 78th blog out of more than 800,000.

Yay! The only way is up…

…except for the other way, which leads down.

March 24, 2007

Trans Florida City Manager Fired

Filed under: LGBT Issues — Robert @ 12:28 pm

Largo, Florida has proceeded to fire Steve Stanton, the city manager whose plans to undergo gender reassignment surgery and transition into life as a woman sparked an uproar. (I first read about this story via Alas.) (Despite Amp’s headline, Stanton wasn’t fired at the time; he has been fired now.)

Stanton has my utmost sympathy. Although I disagree profoundly with the theory of sexual identity under which people transitioning gender generally operate, as a fellow human being I sense his pain and unhappiness. And to be fired for such a thing is ridiculous. He isn’t a teacher, providing role modeling for young minds; he works with grownups in a grownup environment where gender, sex and sexuality are far removed from the daily concerns of his workplace.

The city leaders claim that they aren’t firing him for switching genders, but for performance and “trust” issues, issues that apparently never arose during his fourteen-year tenure in the job. That’s clearly crap, and on top of being ashamed of themselves for their hatefulness towards Stanton, they should also be ashamed for their complete cowardice in hiding their motive.

Best wishes towards Stanton, and may he find peace whatever his gender identity.

Faceless Transactions vs. the Human Touch

Filed under: Content-lite — Brutus @ 11:57 am

I’ve grown weary over the years of the number of ways corporations have taken human interaction out of regular business transactions. The most irritating example for me is the telephone customer service line. It frequently takes a ridiculously long time to navigate through the maze to “Press 3 for all other inquiries” to get to an actual person. It’s an utter waste of time. Other examples include the ATM, the self-check out lane at the grocery, and the venerable vending machine.

I’m not wholly opposed to every time-saving efficiency dreamed up by technologists. Vending machines, for instance, never bothered me, and the ATM is pretty good, especially when banks charge “teller fees.” However, there is something to be said for simple face-to-face human interaction, which machines simply can’t replicate. Given a choice, I’ll stand in line a few minutes at the grocery before I go to the self-check out. Why? It’s purposely so that I can exchange a few words and jokes with the clerk. It’s a simple gesture, but I want to feel like a person rather than a mere transaction, and based on the positive response of most clerks, they appreciate being treated like real people, too, rather than being reduced solely to the function they perform by customers who treat them like machines.

In the comments to a previous post, Brandon Berg wrote:

[I]f you really want to spend the extra time and money just to have a chat with a stranger about his daughter’s soccer game, you can always call up a travel agent. But really, the world runs a lot more smoothly when we don’t insist on making a box social out of every transaction. Then we can take the time and money we save on faceless transactions like these and spend them with the people we really care about.

This logic is unassailable, but the ethic behind it strikes me as cold (not particularly so but in that blithe, passive sense of people who don’t ordinarily care about others as people). Not every social transaction, if you will, is deep and sincere, but even small, quaint interaction with others beats the anonymity and indifference we experience in most human society.

When I first began riding the Chicago L to work everyday, I was surprised how folks, even when pressed close to each other in a full train, adopt a strictly no conversation, no eye contact wall of impassivity. Outside of rush hour and when the train is stopped due to some delay, it’s curious to see how that rigidity breaks down and people start recognizing others around them in various ways. We become social animals again, but only after specific triggers that experienced riders internalize over time. Under normal conditions, we act as though essentially alone in a crowd.

Another revealing microcosm is the lunchtime gauntlet at the various fast food franchises featuring what I call sandwich builders. It could be Subway, Chipotle, Pot Belly’s, or some other joint where you enter on one end, bark your selections to the builders, and eventually pay up and get out of the way. The business model is to serve as many people between 11:30 AM and 2 PM or so, while downtown is populated with workers, because many of the franchises aren’t even open at dinnertime (downtown empties out). So the sandwich builders push the materials through the assembly line as quickly as possible and extract only the needed information from patrons (mayo? lettuce? black beans or pinto?). Pity the poor diner who doesn’t have a quick answer. Even worse, pity the poor sandwich builder, who is limited to a dreary function. Once in a while, it’s possible to observe that they interact with each other in a sort of esprit du corps, but they almost never speak to people ordering food in any significantly human manner.

All of this goes to a collapse of community we in large, efficient, modern cities experience every day. (Fast food in small town America is much more leisurely, in my experience.) The effect is chronicled in a book by Robert Putnam titled Bowling Alone. It’s on my reading list and I haven’t gotten to it yet, but I’m sympathetic to the ideas in the book as described by the book reviews and reader comments. Most of us appear to be willing to trade social networks and the human touch for greater efficiency. Few of recognize what we’re giving up in the process.

If the RIAA told it like it is

Filed under: Current Events,Popular Culture — Daran @ 11:33 am

University tells RIAA where to get off

Dear University of Nebraska

Your computer network is being used to infringe the copyrights in our music. Our investigations into how this has come about has revealed two principal causes.

1. YOUR decision to set up YOUR computer network to best facilitate YOUR purposes.
2. OUR decision to sell copies of OUR music to untrustworthy people.

We could prevent the infringement by not distributing our music, or by limiting the distribution to people we could trust, but we wouldn’t make much money doing that. In fact, we figure we can make the most money by selling copies to anyone who can pay, and by getting other people (i.e. YOU) to protect US from the negative consequences of OUR decision to do so. You can do this by setting up YOUR computer network to best facilitate OUR purposes, and by doing the investigation necessary to determine which of OUR customers are untrustworthy.

Naturally we don’t intend to pay you for this service, and we think YOU should bear all the costs incurred.

Yours sincerely

RIAA

PS, we want to know who our untrustworthy customers are so we can sue them. We don’t intend to stop selling them copies of our music.

March 23, 2007

Like an Episode of Gulliver’s Travels

Filed under: Content-lite — Brutus @ 1:46 am

For the first time in a year, I took a trip via airplane last weekend. Man oh man oh man, if it’s another year before I fly again, I can stand the wait. I didn’t feel so much like I’m a giant or superhuman among the Liliputans, that I’m superior especially, but air travel has gotten to be a very strange culture that I no longer understand. That’s what makes me feel like Gulliver: the unfamiliarity of it all.

To start with, the general public announcements at the airport made a point of mentioning that the terrorism alert level had been raised to orange. Um, does that have any effect on anyone? Is there anything that we could or should do differently once a trip is underway? In some ways, that warning creates a niggling unease that’s probably worse than the preposterously intrusive charade that passes for airport security. (Maybe those folks know something I don’t about hiding dangerous stuff in personal hygiene products larger than 3 oz., but I rather doubt it.)

Many other travellers are just like me, getting from point A to point B with the least obtrusive and unremarkable behaviors possible. The thing is, though, they pass mostly unnoticed. It’s the ones that behave like nincompoops who attract all the attention and cause me to wonder what planet I’m living on. The first thing to notice is the utter lack of personal space. People crowd and jostle and act like their own place in line or in waiting areas is unrelated to anyone else. I also can’t get over the conversations folks have, usually on cell phones, fully within earshot of everyone and without the slightest sense of decorum. No doubt, there is a lot of needless “I’m at the gate” and “we just arrived” chatter that is merely functional or the usual banalities about weather and delays and getting to and fro. But the number of just insanely stupid things being said that I had the misfortune of overhearing was breathtaking. I also wonder whether folks can even choke out a sentence without using the word fuck at least twice. (“I left my fucking hair dryer back at the fucking apartment. Fuck.”)

Inevitably, airports struggle to manage the connecting flight situation very well. Outbound, I had 45 mins. to traverse 3 terminals — which felt like it was halfway across the state — to get to the second plane, and I was the last on to board (the door closed just behind me). Inbound, I had a 2.5 hour layover (I paid $19 for two tacos and beer, woo hoo!) and the gates were side-by-side. The herd of people stampeding the gate at boarding time is frankly embarassing. But I gues it’s no worse that the difficulty of getting your carry-on stowed and sitting down in the narrow confines of the passenger compartment. Again, most folks are quite cooperative and accomodating; it’s the idiots that rivet my attention, though they’re blithely unaware of anyone else.

The in-flight service is fine, I guess. It hasn’t changed much, other than peanuts being outlawed. In fact, the basics of flight really haven’t changed much in 30 years. It’s just the trappings and the behaviors of fellow passengers that now make it so foreign to me. Nowdays, the overhead bins have LCD screens to pacify the passengers during flight, just as the terminals have massive arrays of flat screens everywhere to ward off any hint of boredom. (Ironically, most of what’s broadcast is stultifying anyway, as evidenced by travellers’ blank stares and the pools of drool formed under them). It’s actually difficult to find a quiet place to escape the din of announcements and media vying for your attention. I was also disheartened (I’ve conditioned myself, unwittingly) that when I lowered my tray table, I was face with — what else? — an advertisement. I stewed over that for about 45 mins. Oh, and in the terminals, I saw pay-per-use recharging kiosks that I railed against in a post about Exciting New Market Opportunities.

The one positive comment I have to make is that the Internet and travel sites like Orbitz and Travelocity make booking travel, hotels, and rental cars much simpler and probably cheaper than in the past. It all worked seamlessly for me, except that I rather dislike the sense that I’m a number, some disembodied demographic, interacting with a computer rather than a person. The security and airline personnel certainly treat you as though you’re a cow or a pig being shuttled from pen to pen. That’s the price of being one of a mass of people. Crowd management becomes dehumanizing.

March 19, 2007

Cathy Seipp Passes

Filed under: Blogosphere — Robert @ 2:05 pm

Conservative blogger Cathy Seipp, who has been fighting cancer for many months, has been hospitalized. Her daughter Maia reports that doctors advise she has a day or two left. Godspeed, Cathy.

Update: RIP, Cathy.

March 17, 2007

When Bandwidth Meets Blogosphere

Filed under: Blogosphere — Off Colfax @ 1:37 am

Very interesting news on the wider blogospheric front today, with Ed Morrisey of Captain’s Quarters becoming the new Political Director for Blog Talk Radio.

In Ed’s own words:

Why Blog Talk Radio? After weeks of interaction with the owners and the staff, I have come to believe in the product and see it as the next frontier in the democratization of media. In a way, it has even more accessibility and enterprise than blogs did when they first began. For no cost, anyone with a decent broadband connection and a phone can host their own live “radio” show, streamed on the Internet, and accept callers and conduct discussions. When we start adding advertisements, hosts will earn money for their work in a revenue-sharing arrangement with Blog Talk Radio. To top it off, the show automatically podcasts itself and the replay stream is available within minutes of the end of the broadcast.

This is one kick-ass concept they’re talking about here. And Ed, who has been a major part of the conservative side of the ‘sphere for a very long time, is getting a very deserved reward for all the time and effort he has given this medium over the years.

Have I agreed with Ed? Maybe three times since I started reading blogs. (Which, by my math, comes out to about once per year.) Will I continue my frequent disagreement with him? Oh definitely. And can I respect a person that I disagree with on a frequent basis? Absolutely, so long as they are deserving of respect.

Congratulations, Captain. You’ve earned it. And may Blog Talk Radio be a greater success than you hope.

Now go say something dumb so I can rip you a new one.

[Turn Signal: The Moderate Voice]

March 15, 2007

Why Bother With Civic Involvement?

Filed under: Ethics,Navel Gazing — Brutus @ 5:34 pm

In response to comments by nobody.really in a previous post, I’ve been pondering (not very actively, I admit) reasons why I bother to participate in civic affairs. More specifically, I mentioned that I perform in public concerts, usually during the summer months, mostly without remuneration. He offered that I must derive some sort of satisfaction out of the activity, whereas I characterized it as work done at my own expense and sacrifice without much satisfaction.

I’m familiar with the twisted logic that altruism is really a mask for self-interest, but I don’t really want to argue that point. Nor do I want to make mistake of characterizing charitable work done for the public good as backbreaking labor. Both of those approaches are hyperbole. Rather, the question that needs to be addressed, in my view at least, is why bother making any contributions to the greater public good if no tangible reward accrues, be it financial or public esteem or self-esteem or what-have-you? My conclusion is simple: I’m not sure.

Being a musician is frequently a relatively anonymous activity. Whatever hours are spent onstage performing, multiply that by four or more for rehearsal time (in ensemble) and another two or three for practice time (alone in the studio or at home). It’s clearly a financial disincentive to bother unless you’re already among the relatively few superstars who are well paid and adored by the public. Rank and file musicians labor entire careers in nameless obscurity for the art, lost in the sea of faces on stage or hidden in the orchestra pit, and lots of them give away their time and effort to free concerts.

Why do I do it, specifically? I guess I’ve internalized the idea that if I don’t contribute my skills to underfunded (or simply unfunded) activities, and others similarly withhold their participation, then those activities simply won’t exist anymore. It’s already happening, in fact. Lots of municipalities used to approve, say, $100K for a summer park band, and because there are all manner of administrative bills to be paid first, little of that money went to performers. But it’s like sponsoring a parade or a fireworks display on July 4th, which is to say, it’s a public good that creates community and involves citizens in public affairs on some level. Well, lots of municipalities are now running sizeable budget deficits, what with prisons and schools and infrastructure, among other things, gobbling up chunks by the millions. So what goes unfunded? The summer band. Those administrative costs never do go away, so even if people were willing to show up totally for free, the event still won’t happen. The public tends increasingly to stay away, too, huddled in the living room around the TV or in the den at the computer. Live performance can scarcely compete with electronic media, and it’s slowly ebbing away.

In a wider sense, civic involvement is an aspect of being a good citizen. In childhood, I earned Boy Scout merit badges for Citizenship in the Community, Citizenship in the Nation, and Citizenship in the World. I no longer remember much about them, but the ideal has stayed with me, namely, that participation in different levels of the public arena is a worthwhile and necessary part of our being — even when (perhaps especially when) it required some sacrifice. For instance, I also participate in a free speech forum by researching and delivering speeches (topics may be political or merely general public interest). There is some gratitude and appreciation that comes my way, sure, but it’s all out of proportion (underwhelming) compared to the three months of preparation I do to be able to speak knowledgeably and without wasting the audience’s time. To the climbers among us, it’s a futile and quaint notion to bother investing time and effort for others’ enjoyment or edification. The controlling question is always “What’s in it for me?” My answer is “nothing” — at least not directly. The idea of being a community, society, or civilization means collective action toward the public good balanced against individual freedom from burdensome obligation. In my view, we’ve strayed pretty far toward one side of the continuum. My guess is that you can guess which one.

March 12, 2007

Acorns, Trees, Proximity, Etc.

Filed under: Content-lite — Robert @ 1:29 pm

My daughter (Stephanie, 4) is watching “Tom and Jerry” cartoons in my office. (Of course I have a fully-equipped home theater in my office. This isn’t the Dark Ages.)

She’s actively rooting for the cat.

“Go, cat! Get her, cat! Eat her!”

(Update:  A degree of frustration with Tom’s lame performance as a mouser is beginning to set in. “She’s right there! Get her! Get her! Get her!”)

March 9, 2007

I’m Number 482!

Filed under: Content-lite,Humor — Brutus @ 1:04 am

Forbes (as reported by Yahoo!) just came out with its lastest ranking of the world’s billionaires. And wouldn’t you know it, I fell just a little below the cut-off point. With my kind of money to burn, though, what do I care?

March 7, 2007

Exciting New Market Opportunities

Filed under: Content-lite,Economics — Brutus @ 12:10 am

I’m not to most rabid consumer there is. I don’t expect something for nothing. But sometimes I have to pause and wonder about how craven some business models are. For instance, I blogged before about how it used to be a standard service for gas stations to provide a free air hose to customers — even those who might not be purchasing anything, such as a teenage bicyclist. (Advertising on air machines just adds insult to the whole affair.) Software companies that charge fees for assistance installing and debugging their products annoy me, too. And although they don’t make money at it, the endless voice trees one has to navigate to get to a real customer service agent (often overseas, natch) irritate the bejebus out of me. They’re using up my time without accomplishing anything.

So it was with some disgust that I learned that airports are now making money off of pay-per-use electrical plugs. Profit is king, apparently. Now, admittedly, there are a lot more folks these days plugging in, what with cell phones, laptops, iPods, etc., all of which need charging. And I suppose that the few stray outlets available to visitors to airport, bus, and train terminals have the potential to cause considerable problems in the mad scramble to recharge. But still, does every market really have to be cornered? Doesn’t the public good or customer service mean anything anymore, that a little bit of goodwill might be worth the expense?

March 6, 2007

Twittering Handheld Crapstones

Filed under: Humor — Robert @ 12:50 pm

This guy really doesn’t like his cell phone.

March 4, 2007

A Brief Moment Of Freefall

Filed under: Current Events — Off Colfax @ 2:36 am

This is fitting.

Stephen Hawking, the British cosmologist, Cambridge professor and best-selling author who has spent his career pondering the nature of gravity from a wheelchair, says he intends to get away from it all for a little while.

It couldn’t happen to a better man. And when he finally reaches for the stars for real, I hope to be on the ground to wish him godspeed.

Turn-signal: that Insty guy.

Ann Coulter Sucks

Filed under: Blogosphere,Politics — Robert @ 1:35 am

AKA, the Ann Counter Must Go roundup.

Longer version at Right Wing Nuthouse. H/T Insty.

And also at Betsy’s Page.

And Evangelical Outpost.

And Republic of Internets.

And ResurrectionSong.

And Messrs. McCain, Giuliani, and Romney.

And The American Mind.

Post ‘em as you see ‘em, and I’ll update this post.

March 1, 2007

Something I Need a Name For

Filed under: Content-lite — Robert @ 1:51 pm

I have invented a game. It needs a name. Here’s how you play:

Go to http://www.google.com. Type, in quotes, your name as you ordinarily use it in public life. In my case, “Robert Hayes”.

Of the first ten results (the first page), how many of the links actually point to you, or something tightly associated with you? In my case, 2 of 10. That’s your score. The higher, the better.

The philosophy of scoring is that we’re measuring how tightly Google binds your name’s text to your life’s presence on the internet. So an article about you or by you counts, a site you own counts, etc.

Some random folks from around the blogosphere, and where they stack up. For people with nicknames AND real names, I’ve listed both, and their real score should be the average of the two:

Barry Deutsch – 7 / Ampersand – 0 / Total: 3.5

Amanda Marcotte – 10

Glenn Reynolds – 10 / Instapundit – 10 / Total: 10

Jeff Goldstein – 8

We could handicap this game; if your name is John Smith and you have a score of 5, you’re obviously more tightly bound to your name than if your name is Pheno Q. Cranowitz and you have a score of 5. I don’t know how we’d do such handicapping fairly, of course. Do I get bonus points because there are a couple of well-known Robert Hayes out there who aren’t me? Does Amanda have points taken away because her high score is due to temporary notoriety?

My inclination is to avoid handicapping and let the chips fall. But I know how all you whiny liberals like to cavil about “fairness”, so I leave the option open to future generations.

Also on the agenda for this highly substantive post: there are cats who look like Hitler.

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