Creative Destruction

January 28, 2008

Not-So-Simple Questions And Possibly Dangerous Answers

Filed under: Blogosphere,Election 2008,Politics and Elections — Off Colfax @ 12:57 am


Yes all political junkies dream of the brokered convention. It would be exciting!! But I started to think about how the news media would deal with such a thing if it were necessary. The primaries are early. The convention is in August. Between the primaries and the convention the bobblehead discussion would be unbearable. I don’t know how the campaigns themselves would deal with it. They couldn’t go dark, but they couldn’t campaign as the presumptive nominee either. There’d be calls and pressures from various quarters for one of the candidates to “do the honorable thing” and bow out for the sake of the party, or Tim Russert’s Nantucket vacation, or whatever.

Aside from the last part about Tim Russert’s vacation plans, which is obvious snark, this is a highly substantive statement from Teh Atrios. How will all three of the substantive candidates currently in the Democratic side of the race remain until a brokered August convention can sort things out? Can fundraising from the left maintain three mostly-idle campaigns at the national level at the same time while we wait to see what will happen in Denver? And if they do maintain that level of life-support, will any of them be able to start that mad, pell-mell sprint for November 4th at the sound of the cannon? All of these are important questions that we must ask ourselves, the party as a whole.

(And all of them are very good questions that could just as easily apply to the GOP side of the bracket this year, judging by my own personal (and probably amateurish) pre-primary analysis of both Florida and Terminal Tuesday when neither McCain or Romney can pull far enough ahead to keep the other down, much less force Huckabee out of the race. That’s just a prediction, and will not factor further into this post.)

Yet his next post, not ninety minutes later, puts a completely different spin to this line of thinking. And not one to the benefit of Teh Atrios, either.

The existence of multiple candidates in the Democratic primary race means that the party is hopelessly splintered.

As a moderate in this party, I read this as saying the following:

Shut up. Because you’re not picking my candidate, you’re sinking us all. Take MY hand, Luke!

Suddenly I am reminded of what was happening in the Connecticut Senate primary in 2006 between Joe Lieberman and Ned Lamont, when the party really WAS hopelessly splintered. An incumbent Senator lost the primary, yet remained in the race and eventually recaptured his seat. So the question is: why did the party splinter in Connecticut?

Of course, the answer could never be that out-of-state activists like Duncan Black himself, as joined by Jane Hamsher, Markos Moulitsas, and their attendant casts of thousands simply loathed and despised Joe Lieberman and everything he did and said. The answer could never be that they would attempt anything in their power to influence the election of a Senator not in their state. The answer could never be that, without their constant and unwavering support, Ned Lamont would not have defeated Lieberman in the primaries in the first place. The answer could never be that they themselves designed the blueprint for the hopeless splintering of our party when they scribed a bright dividing line, between the moderate wing and the progressive wing, that none shall pass without suffering near-permanent damage to their political careers.

And now I see Duncan Black himself sitting there, bemoaning the fact that the party is “hopelessly splintered”. (Insert prima donna-ish back-of-hand-to-forehead Oh Whatever Shall We Do! pose here.) And I hear this suggestion in the back of my head, one that he wants the rest of us to simply ignore our own decisions and throw ourselves behind the Clinton44 campaign, which he supports with all his heart and body and soul. And all of this simply so that we present a united front in the fall.

Pardon me whilst I call shenanigans here. I’d call something stronger, but all the cow pastures in Wisconsin wouldn’t hold enough of it to add up to the sheer amount of what I’d really prefer to call.

I have seen the dangers of letting the loudest sections of a political party have their way while ignoring the rest. With the GOP, it gave us the rise of religious conservatism. With the Democrats, it is giving us the rise of progressive liberalism. With both, those whose politics are in the middle are effectively disenfranchised and removed from the political process. And from both sides comes great damage to this country’s political structure.

My response is simple. Do not allow anyone, regardless of who or why or where or when or how, tell you who should or must or need receive your vote. Your vote is yours, and yours alone, to cast for whomsoever and whatsoever you so freely decide. No one is allowed to take that away from you. You should not allow them to even passively take it from you, such as by following the advice of a divisive pundit like Duncan Black by voting their way at their own fervent insistence.

If you want to vote for Hillary, then please do so. If you want to vote for Barack, then please do so. If you want to vote for John, then please do so. If you want to vote for Mike Gravel, then please do so. But let it be because you so desire and not because some bobblehead, whether the televised or the virtual variations of the species, told you to vote for Candidate X rather than Candidate Y.

For when you allow someone to choose your vote for you, you allow yourself to fall victim to the most dangerous form of disenfranchisement around: the passive surrender of your vote to a third party.

The concept that an individuals’ personal choice is what truly matters is the philosophical heart of a Democracy. Without it, a Democrat might as well be a Republican.

January 23, 2008

Human Evolution

Filed under: Media Analysis,Science — Brutus @ 3:31 pm

The BBC News has an article reporting that scientists have found evidence to suggest that human evolution is “speeding up.” Scare quotes are used for speeding up in the title of the article for good reason: it’s a reckless remark that can’t be proffered with a straight face. The study on which the article is based

looked specifically at genetic variations called “single nucleotide polymorphisms,” or SNPs. These are single-point mutations, or changes, in the genetic sequence of DNA on chromosomes.

If the mutation is advantageous then it will spread rapidly in the population, along with DNA on either side of the mutation.

It’s unclear to me whether it’s fair to conclude that evidence of a few changes in genetic sequence is tantamount to evolutionary change on the order of species change, which the article never states. Is there a term that describes minor genetic changes without meaningful change in the species? Put another way, isn’t a wide range of genetic variation within the species pretty normal without being evolutionary?

Researchers found evidence of recent selection in 7% of all human genes, including lighter skin and blue eyes in northern Europe and partial resistance to diseases, such as malaria, among some African populations.

This makes me wonder if the usual four mechanisms influencing evolution — natural selection, mutation, random genetic drift, and gene flow — shouldn’t be amended to include cultural election in the case of culturally preferred attributes such as skin type and eye color. (Nope, no suggestion of cultural bias or racial preference there. Move along.)

Also, if I’m not mistaken, when human evolution is discussed by regular folks without specialized training in genetics, the usual context is science fiction and the mode of evolution is either cultural (evolved minds) or biological (evolved bodies) or both. These are wildly divergent from a more narrowly defined science of genetic evolution, which apparently considers even modest change or variation evolutionary.

Without providing suitable context for the science and disclaiming the obvious associations with science fiction, the article invites credulous readers to infer that we’re pointed toward an a evolutionary breakthrough of some sort. What else could “speed up” suggest? The article muddies the waters further with these poorly framed quotes by Steve Jones, a genetics professor at of University College London:

“The general picture that evolution has speeded up in the last 10,000 years as we change from, to put it bluntly, being animals to being humans is clearly true,” he explained. “To suggest it is happening at this instant, I would suggest, is probably wrong.”

“At the moment we are in an evolutionary interval. We are in between two storms. One storm has more or less blown itself out, the storm of farming.”

I won’t bother to comment on the idiotic suggestion that humans aren’t animals. The more immediate problem is timescale. In evolutionary time, 10,000 years is almost nothing. Whether you believe in gradualism or punctuated equilibrium or some blend of both, it typically takes tens of thousands of years to observe changes to the genotype that aren’t merely chromosomal variations. Evolution is happening now, this instant; it’s always happening. But it isn’t instantaneous. Neither is a sunrise. Disclaiming such a thing is absurd to even a novice.

Perhaps it’s worthwhile to remind gentle readers not to get science news from the popular press. Whereas the study may have uncovered something meaningful to a geneticist, it holds almost no value to the general public the way it is reported and veers dangerously toward suggesting things from the realm of science fiction. Science is very good a discovering how things work. It’s not so good at predicting things or even extrapolating trends more than one step beyond the evidence. Take the “suggestion” of human evolution “speeding up” with a sizable grain of salt.

January 2, 2008

Zero Income

Filed under: Free Speech,Popular Culture — Off Colfax @ 4:42 am

This is well past the point of absurdity.

The industry’s lawyer in the case, Ira Schwartz, argues in a brief filed earlier this month that the MP3 files Howell made on his computer from legally bought CDs are “unauthorized copies” of copyrighted recordings.

Now, Brutus and I have disagreed about the subject of the RIAA many a time on these pages. His points are from the view of a copyright holder, which is very well and good for him. Unfortunately for him, however, the RIAA happens to hold and defend many of the exact same views. Therefore, he often sees my assault on the RIAA to be an assault on his own views.

Nothing could be further from my intent. Brutus is not overcharging his customers for senseless drivel. (Parody can be so similar to the truth these days.) Brutus is not preventing his customers from using the limited rights to music that they have purchased derived via the infamous “Betamax” decision. Brutus is not mandating that a higher percentage of profits from music sales go to the RIAA, under the category of Publishing Royalties, than to the musicians and artists themselves.

This has gone to the point where you can no longer even consider a reductio ad absurdum fallacy, for things have already gone beyond where pure absurdity is commonplace. The demonization of individuals who rip a legally purchased CD simply to place it onto their legally purchased MP3 player is what has placed them beyond the absurd.

There is only one legal response to this strategy:


Zero. None. Zippo. Zilch. Nada. Rei. Nol. Ling. And many other words that mean the same as ‘0’.

If you enjoy a specific song by a specific artist, download the inevitable free promotional MP3 from their website and/or MySpace page. If you enjoy a specifc artist, go to their concert and buy their gear. But do not buy the album.

As the above chart supplied by David Byrne and shows, only 1% goes to the artist from a given CD purchase. You can personally hand them a quarter on the street and they will make more money from your personal appreciation than they would via your purchase. Naturally, that would be insulting coming from a personal exchange. It would be demeaning. We give homeless people more spare change than that. So at least offer to buy them a beer.

But do it for them, and not for a record company that will turn around and try to make it illegal to move your own legally purchased recording from a physical format to a digital format.

Of course, there’s always Trent Reznor’s advice:

Game on.

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