Creative Destruction

March 15, 2012

Mayan Calendar Miscount

Filed under: Content-lite,Current Events,Geekery,Navel Gazing — Brutus @ 12:10 pm

This image has been making the rounds:

I admit to being initially taken in by the apparent discrepancy in counting methodologies, but as with so many things, I lack the expertise to fully evaluate the accuracy of the claims. It was no surprise that someone else did, however, as can be appreciated with this YouTube video:

Of course, I never believed in the first place that the Mayan prophesy meant the end of the world. Rather, it was merely the equivalent of the odometer on the car turning over 100,000 back when there was no display for the hundred thousands place, meaning it would reset to 00,000.0.

January 16, 2011

Esteem Needs

Filed under: Current Events,Ethics,Navel Gazing,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 1:09 am

I gave a speech a bit over one year ago that cited Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (physiological, security, social, esteem, and self-actualization), though I modified it slightly to conform to needs as we now experience them. Primary attention for many of us who identify with the dominant culture has shifted to esteem needs, which include personal worth, social recognition, and accomplishment. However, those values are frequently distorted by seeking empty and vacuous fame and false social recognition. This is especially prevalent among the young, whose physiological and security needs are typically satisfied by parents. Indeed, the young have difficulty imaging scenarios where those needs aren’t met passively, which is to say effortlessly, though the recognition is dawning on many in their 20s that the living standards enjoyed by their elders are difficult to replicate.

A recent study reported on in USA Today describes the very thing I mentioned in my speech, namely, that esteem needs for today’s youth trump other concerns. They prefer praise over things like sex, alcohol, money, or even a best friend. This comes as no surprise to anyone paying attention, as evidence abounds that an entire generation of people have been encouraged to believe the world revolves around them. Similar charges have been levied on baby boomers, but as narcissism indices show, the parents got nothin’ on the kids.

September 5, 2010

Driver Reeducation

Filed under: Content-lite,Navel Gazing — Brutus @ 11:29 am

The Globe & Mail reports on a new attempt to enhance traffic safety by displaying a 3D holographic image of a young girl chasing a ball in the street. The image below looks like a parking structure:

Although this initiative is reported to be temporary, it gives rise to all sorts of questions about unintended consequences, such as what happens when someone swerves to avoid the hologram and hits a pedestrian or ignores the supposed hologram and hits an actual pedestrian in the middle of the street. The question I have, which probably won’t be discussed, is why government agencies are using deceptive practices, in the name of presumed safety, to direct public behavior. Can similar deceptions be expected to trick people into paying taxes or voting for politicians, or going to war? Oh, wait. There’s no need to expect those things. We already have them.

August 6, 2010

The Mindless Crowd

Filed under: Blog Status,Navel Gazing,Philosophy — Brutus @ 2:46 pm

After more than two years without a new post, I decided that from time to time I will post new entries that are more brief and less analytical than those at my personal blog, The Spiral Staircase. Feel free to comment. Regrettably, I lack administrative access to change the blog theme and with it the stupid turtle head at the top of the page. Oh, well ….

This explanation of what happens when crowds panic is too interesting to pass up. Although many clumsy thinkers tend to explain crowd effects in terms of group mind or mob mentality, the explanation provided at the linked page supports the idea that individuals become mindless parts of the crowd, which is itself also mindless. Behaviors of the mob, including the so-called wisdom of crowds, are certainly observable and in some cases even predictable, but they don’t rise to the level of a hive mind or collective consciousness. That mistaken thinking is borrowed in part from observations of the social behaviors of insects and in part from the more imaginative stories of science fiction that examine human consciousness (albeit somewhat intuitively, not knowingly) by projecting collective consciousness on alien cultures.

February 3, 2008

Car Culture

Filed under: Navel Gazing,Personal Ramblings — Brutus @ 7:50 pm

The movement of middle class whites from city centers to suburbs in the 1950s and beyond is one of the many effects cars and their infrastructure have wrought on social organization and landscape. Those of us born in the baby boom and after (most of us at this point in history) have a difficult time imagining any other possible way of living besides climbing in the car every day and driving where we go. A handful of U.S. cities have significant enough public transportation to enable some to forego owning car, and I know a few die-hards who try to ride bicycles everywhere, even in the winter.

Jim Kunstler has a phrase he repeats from time to time for the acute blindness most of us share regarding the inevitable changes to the economics of owning and operating automobiles: happy motoring. We act as though the era before cars — the one we can’t remember or fully imagine — is permanently behind us and the availability of cheap energy, whether gasoline, ethanol, or electricity, will never disappear. Peak oil experts tell a different story, and because of that, Kunstler has prophesied that the suburb is already dead but we don’t yet realize it. All that remains to be seen, of course. What’s clear right now at least is that we’ve put all of our eggs in this one particular basket, and until the basket is irrevocably ruined, we’ll continue to act like there will be no end to happy motoring.

In the meantime, a couple curious behaviors related to car culture have caught my attention. In Chicago, we get a couple heavy snows each winter that pretty much grind traffic to a halt. Many people park on the street, and when they dig their cars out, all sorts of things appear on the street to claim the cleared spot: lawn chairs, broken furniture, orange hazard cones, milk crates and boards, etc. The unspoken contract seems to be “I cleared this spot, now you respect my labor and don’t park here.” It can’t possibly be legal to stake out a parking place, and it only happens in the winter after a snow, but it seems pretty clear that one would have to be pretty foolish to remove the lawn furniture, park in the spot, and then leave one’s vehicle worth several thousands (at the least) unattended and vulnerable to whatever vandalism the person(s) who cleared the snow might inflict.

Personally, I would never stake out a spot, though I’ve been disappointed a few times to lose one I cleared, and if I did stake one out, I’d never go the extra step and vandalize the car of someone who moved my lawn furniture out of the way to park. Do I expect others to exercise that restraint? Not on your life. I’m undecided whether this tradition is basically harmless or an instance of hoarding in scarcity. Since I have a dedicated parking spot, I guess I don’t have to decide.

The other behavior having partly to do with car culture is the line of vehicles on the shoulder of the highway into O’Hare International Airport. It’s obvious, I think, that folks are waiting in their vehicles 1-2 miles away from the airport for a phone call from the person they’re picking up rather than circling the terminal or parking and walking to meet their party. It seems like a reasonable approach until one considers that these cars are waiting on the shoulder alongside a highway where people routinely travel 60-80 mph. Blocking the shoulder may not be much of a problem, but merging into traffic from a dead stop is not a maneuver I trust most people to execute either respectfully or safely.

I don’t attend to the local media closely enough to learn that police are ticketing drivers waiting along the highway or that City Hall declared a moratorium on claiming parking spots after snow removal. Perhaps these behaviors pose no particular issue for most. Of course, I’m wondering what will happen when the price of oil spikes and few can afford to rack up 25k+ miles per year. If it’s anything like the horribly stupid movie Blood Car, it won’t be pretty.

November 16, 2007

Got Abs?

Filed under: Content-lite,Navel Gazing — Brutus @ 12:07 am

This post is truly about navel gazing. (Just trying to push Fuck Jew down the page ….) I learned about a new service called abdominal etching, which essentially gives the appearance of a washboard stomach without the need for crunches, sit-ups, and low body mass index. This WSJ article tells the story. This part in particular is pretty scary:

The procedure takes an hour or two. But pain can persist for days afterward. Swelling can last for weeks or even months. (The after picture was taken a little over a year after the surgery.) And there can be complications, such as infection and bleeding.

Here’s the picture that accompanies the story if you’re too lazy to click through:

abs

The part I really like about this is the obvious (yet unforeseen?) result when the 30-year-old guy who has this done turns into a 45-year-old couch potato with an etched beer belly. I want to see that picture in a few years.

November 15, 2007

Shameless self-promotion

Over at Sophistpundit I’ve written up a pretentious little call to arms against media regulation.  Enjoy!

September 9, 2007

Smoke Flavoring

Filed under: Navel Gazing,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 5:11 pm

Barbeque is one of those smells, like burning leaves, that immediately triggers olfactory memory and a host of associations. An outdoor public market in Rochester, NY, where I used to live, has a smoke house, and the smell of charred meat created such a sensation that omigod did I want some of that stuff right away. Barbeque isn’t a comfort food exactly, but something about it is so primal and satisfying that I’m always sure to try the ribs or brisket on a menu.

I was in Rochester recently, and although I didn’t go to the public market, I did go to its newest restaurant sensation: Dinosaur Bar B Que. (Franchises also exist in Syracuse and New York City.) Gotta say, it rates full and complete approval on the basis of the sampler I had. That was barbeque done right, the traditional way, in a smoker, without too much sugar in the sauce.

Which brings me to my wider point. Some chemist has figured out how to distill the smoke flavor in a bottle, which is now a typical ingredient in barbeque sauces such as this one. Maybe that’s an OK accomodation for the backyard barbeque enthusiast, but I’ve been to a variety of rib joints and barbeque shacks that use liquid smoke as part of their house sauce. Although liquid smoke may be a distillation of the real thing, boy oh boy does it ever taste artificial when added to bottled sauce. It’s sort of like an orange LifeSaver, which doesn’t really taste orange at all but is some chemical approximation of what an orange tastes like.

Which brings me to an even wider point: at what point should we insist upon authentic experience rather than experiences mediated and distilled through some process? Would you rather be in love or take a pill that gives you the approximate feeling of being in love? Would you be happy to take a virtual vacation or would you rather see and experience the real thing? Or on the flip side, do violent video games (or flight simulators, or drag racing games) stimulate in some of us at least a desire for real life thrills from violent and/or risky behavior?

August 27, 2007

Awkwardly entering from stage left

Filed under: Navel Gazing — Adam Gurri @ 5:21 pm

Hey there guys. I know, I’m surprised I’m still alive too.

Have recently redoubled my blogging activity, and Robert asked where the hell I’d been. So, uh, here I am. Expect something with a little more substance in the near future…

…but not too much more substance.

UPDATE: In lieu of real content, I give you the “blog” of “unnecessary” quotation marks.

June 24, 2007

Reverse Psychology

Filed under: Content-lite,Navel Gazing — Brutus @ 7:56 pm

I suppose it had to happen eventually. As reported by the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, a number churches have begun to use reverse psychology on billboards to attract attention to their, um, cause (?). The billboards sport quotes attributed to Satan such as these:

“I Hate Victory Family Church — Satan”
“CedarCreek Church Sucks — Satan.”
“Victory Family Church stole my kids — Satan.”

I’m not too sure just yet how smart or stupid it is for churches to be (presumably) quoting Satan. In today’s culture, of course, there is little propriety left that would instruct us to regard quoting Satan as anything other than reprehensible, so I expect that lots of folks would look upon these stunts with the ideology of the day — pragmatism — which is to say, “if it works [to bring people into the church or closer to god], then it’s OK with me.”

June 5, 2007

Given up?

Filed under: Blog Status,Navel Gazing — Daran @ 4:20 pm

Dianne:

Have you given up posting on CD?

Do you want me to give up posting on CD?

Would you take my place here if I did?

Would Mythago come back?

Truth is, I’ve been somewhat busy with real-life[*] just recently, hence not able to give as much attention as I’d like even to my new baby, let alone here.

But I haven’t intended to give up. Maybe I should crosspost more.

[*]That annoying thing that keeps people away from blogging.

May 21, 2007

Too Tired for Leisure?

Filed under: Economics,Navel Gazing — Brutus @ 2:27 pm

Yahoo! has a brief article called Worker Burnout Threatens Vacations, which delivers these curious statistics:

Nearly half of the respondents (49%) said they feel “burned out” by their jobs, and many did not fully use vacation time as a remedy. Out of 1,800 professionals surveyed, 45% said they did not use all of their vacation days allotted in 2006, and 39% said they were too tired to take a “real” vacation during their days off.

The article doesn’t examine causes and effects in any depth at all. This further tidbit, though, caught my attention:

There is an expectation, sometimes unspoken, that people will come to work under all but the most extreme circumstances.

It’s unclear what may be driving trends toward worker burnout and failure/refusal to take vacation days as vacations, but I have a few suspicions. The article mentions taking vacation days as “mental health” days to cope with stress. Most of us are familiar with that approach. I suspect a complex mixture of factors keeps people tied to their jobs, which nets obvious diminished returns that are still apparently preferable to the alternative (giving and enforcing more time off).

Comparisons of benefits and productivity of different nations usually rank the U.S. pretty low in benefits (a quality of life measure) but high in productivity. Is the conventional wisdom that productivity = long hours on the job really true? And if productivity comes at the expense of leisure and health, is it really worth it?

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.

February 5, 2007

Steamrollers

Filed under: History,International Politics,Navel Gazing,Philosophy — Brutus @ 7:53 pm

I remember watching the street in front of my boyhood home being repaved. The bulk and power of the construction equipment made a lasting impression on me, as bulldozers, cranes, steam (or hydraulic) shovels, pavers, and dump trucks are pretty imposing pieces of machinery. But the one that really fascinated me was the steamroller. What the steamroller lacks in majesty, compared to the glacier anyway (a natural process, I note), it makes up for in fanciful temporal reconceptualization. Watching the steamroller work requires one to think in terms of slow process. It’s also a well-worn cliche in cartoons that villains and heroes alike are frequently flattened by steamrollers only to reappear in the next scene no worse for wear. Roadrunner, Tom and Jerry, The Naked Gun, A Fish Called Wanda, Austin Powers, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? all have steamroller bits in them, always slapstick in tone.

The implied threat of the steamroller, which is different from other heavy equipment, is not merely the specter of death but a slow, agonizing, bone-by-crunching-bone crushing accomplished not by stealth, strategy, or speed but by slow, steady, obvious, undeterred, mindless force. I don’t know of any sort of irrational fear that stems from steamrollers, though, unlike the silent scream or catatonia some experience faced with other looming threats. Because the steamroller works in slo-mo, one feels safe knowing that it’s possible to play in the streets and alight out of harm’s way at the last moment. So being caught under a steamroller represents either a grave miscalculation or the mark of rather extreme stupidity.

So what steamrollers are figuratively bearing down on us at the dawn of this new millennium? I can think of a few. (more…)

February 2, 2007

Some fun statistics

Filed under: Blog Status,Content-lite,Navel Gazing,Statistical Method — Daran @ 4:12 pm

According to this post, there were 2.22 million posts and 1.3 million comments to WordPress.com blogs in January. That’s a little over 1 comment for every two posts.

Assuming the Pareto principle applies, we can infer that 1.78 million posts got just 0.26 million comments, which means that 1.52 million posts got no comments at all.

CD has 556 posts and 4946 comments according to our stats page. This gives us comment to post ratio of 8.9.

Interesting. That’s us.

January 31, 2007

Does the Internet Push Down Wages for Freelance Writers?

Filed under: Economics,Navel Gazing — Robert @ 9:25 pm

Yes and no.

The freelance writing business is in both a boom and a bust. It’s in a boom because the bottomless mouth of the Internet means a lot of work out there wanting to get done – a joyous prospect for the impecunious freelancer. It’s in a bust because the wages offered for this work are pretty low. (And even with the very low rates, there are complaints of high costs by Web content buyers.)  Overseas competition has put a downward pressure on domestic wages.

On the other hand, the volumes available mean that the writer who can generate content quickly and competently in volume now has a major advantage over the finicky artist. (Even more of an advantage than they used to have.) Increasingly, it’s possible to make a decent living by just working hard at a keyboard. So while per-word rates might be lower, per-week paychecks go up. Some writers would rather work 50 hours and make $500 than work 10 hours and make $200. So the content boom is good for the production writers.

The artists, of course, suffer, but they enjoy that, so it’s all right.

January 29, 2007

How did you get here?

Filed under: Blogosphere,Navel Gazing,Personal Ramblings — Daran @ 12:52 pm

(Crossposted between all three blogs I write for.)

It all started for me with a link from The Register to Seth Finkelstein’s Infothought blog. I found him to be an interesting, somewhat out-of-the-box thinker, so began reading him regularly. Sometime later Lis Riba popped up to ask his advice on getting a high Google Rating for one of her pages. And so she became my second regular read in the blogosphere. High on her blogroll was Alas a Blog. (I knew there was a reason for giving your blog a name beginning with ‘A’.) Unable always to comment as freely as I would like there, I began to comment on Creative Destruction. Shortly thereafter, a messenger arrived at my door bearing a handwritten missive enscribed upon the finest vellum, and laid upon a silken pillow, exhorting me to become a blogger here. (It was either that, or Amp sent me an email, I don’t recall which.)

At that time, WordPress automatically gave you blog if you created an account with them, and obviously I needed an account to blog at CD, and so the blog that was to become DaRain Man was born. I started substantive blogging there after being evicted from Alas during a little flamewar, and I realised that I needed an independent platform of my own. Later when Aegis/HughRistik accepted my offer to co-blog, it was clear that our joint enterprise was going to outgrow the ‘personal blog’ concept. We decided go for a dedicated URL and hosted environment right from the start, rather than go through the agony of changing addresses later, when we were established. Hence Feminist Critics was born.

That’s my story, but how did you get here?

January 12, 2007

Semi-Open Thread: Where Did You Come From?

Filed under: Navel Gazing — Robert @ 5:09 pm

Dianne suggests an open thread to discuss where people’s political orientation and beliefs came from. So, here it is. Please feel free to tell us your origin story (“Bitten by a radioactive spider from Richard Nixon’s basement…”) whether you are a contributor, a regular commenter, or just some random freak off the street. I’m calling this a semi-open thread because I would like to limit the discussion to people’s histories and perspectives; if you want to argue with Dianne about why she’s wrong to be a hippie communist, do it somewhere else, please.

November 29, 2006

Bachelorhood and the Impossibility of Being Wrong

Filed under: Content-lite,Navel Gazing — Brutus @ 12:43 am

I just moved over the weekend. I used to move every year, but I’ve stayed put the last seven years until now. So it’s a considerable difference from routine to move my household. I had some help with some heavy things, but it was mostly my own labor spread out over the four-day holiday. What struck me is that the planning and execution of the move was totally up to me. I’d repeatedly stand and stare around the room trying to decide what to pack/lift/carry first. The conclusion I eventually came to was that it really didn’t matter much and that in the absence of another’s input it was actually impossible to make a wrong decision. Whatever I decided, that’s what I went with, and if an adjustment was required, well, I adjusted. I did inadvertently lock myself out of the old apartment tonight, which was meant to for gathering the last bit of stuff and cleaning, so I did make an error and will have to go back tomorrow, but it’s not quite the same as being wrong.

In the new place, I face a similar inexhaustible set of choices what to unpack and set up first, second, etc. Again, there is no right or wrong about it, merely choices. Most of my stuff is still sitting in piles and boxes in utter disarray, whereas I already set up the computer and stereo to keep myself entertained. It will probably be a month or more before I get everything situated. It’s not that I’m lazy about it. I just don’t care to have it done right away. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

November 2, 2006

Beat that!

Filed under: Content-lite,Navel Gazing — Daran @ 3:40 am

You paid attention during 100% of high school!

 

85-100% You must be an autodidact, because American high schools don’t get scores that high! Good show, old chap!

Do you deserve your high school diploma?
Make a Quiz

(via)

November 1, 2006

A Whiney Post About Faking Respectful Discourse

Filed under: Navel Gazing — Ampersand @ 3:47 pm

At Balloon Juice, long-time Republican John Cole writes:

In short, it really sucks looking around at the wreckage that is my party and realizing that the only decent thing to do is to pull the plug on them (or help). I am not really having any fun attacking my old friends- but I don’t know how else to respond when people call decent men like Jim Webb a pervert for no other reason than to win an election. I don’t know how to deal with people who think savaging a man with Parkinson’s for electoral gain is appropriate election-year discourse. I don’t know how to react to people who think that calling anyone who disagrees with them on Iraq a “terrorist-enabler” than to swing back. I don’t know how to react to people who think that media reports of party hacks in the administration overruling scientists on issues like global warming, endangered species, intelligent design, prescription drugs, etc., are signs of… liberal media bias.

And it makes me mad. I still think of myself as a Republican- but I think the whole party has been hijacked by frauds and religionists and crooks and liars and corporate shills, and it frustrates me to no end to see my former friends enabling them, and I wonder ‘Why can’t they see what I see?”

There’s more – it’s worth reading the whole thing. John Cole is a Republican I have a lot of respect for. It’s hard to name many others.

I’ve been trying for years now to approach political disagreement with respect for my opponents; to remember that I might be wrong, and to treat even those I disagree with as inherently deserving of decent treatment from me. Lately I’ve been losing that conviction. The Republicans are the party that tries to win elections by bashing gays, and by trying to lower black voter turnout; they are the party that believes that the President should have the right to throw people in prison indefinitely and have them tortured without representation, trial or oversight; they are the party that supports censoring inconvenient scientific findings.

I can’t respect any of that. And I have a lot of trouble respecting anyone – even people I genuinely like and consider friends – who votes for the current Republican party.

So where does that leave me? Can I really justify my participation in Creative Destruction, which is (as I understood it) predicated on the idea of right-wingers and left-wingers disagreeing in a forum where mutual respect is practiced? On the other hand, I still see no benefit to the kind of discourse that is common in the blogosphere; treating other people like crap, calling people who disagree “wingnuts” or whatnot, etc.. I agree with most of the left-wingers I read on the substantive issues, but I don’t like the arrogance, the spitefullness, and the contempt. (Most right-wing bloggers exhibit these same traits, too.)

I think that kindness and respect is better than being hurtful. I think a style of discourse based in hatred and power-over is supportive of everything I hate, and that trying to treat everyone decently is profoundly more radical than othering and cruelty. I don’t think that acting like arrogant jerks with no regard for anyone but our own group actually creates change for the better in any way: it doesn’t reduce racism, it doesn’t reduce inequality, it doesn’t fight sexism, it doesn’t do anything but support bullying and power-over relationships.

So I think it’s better to treat people we disagree with, with kindness and respect, when we can. But I’m not feeling much respect, lately. I’m faking it.

And I think it’s worth faking it; I think it would be a better world if everyone faked respect for other people, even when they’re not feeling it. But I have a lot more doubts about that than I did a year or two ago.

I’m honestly distressed by the rule changes in Congress over the past six years; rule changes that are about reducing oversight on the executive, and about cutting Democrats out of meaningful discourse entirely. This is not how American government was designed to work. It is not how any previous congress in living memory, Republican or Democrat, has acted. And it shows, I think, a profound lack of commitment to the ideals of representative government, of checks and balances, and of intellectual humility.

There’s an image of a donut of discourse. Inside the donut hole are the principles that everyone in the society who is at all respected, agrees on: A constitutional democracy is better than a dictatorship, racism is bad, cheating on elections is wrong, etc.. The donut itself is contested areas; issues that people can disagree with and still be seen as reasonable, rational, and deserving of respect. In this area we find the controversies – abortion, affirmative action, socialized medicine, war on Iraq, etc.. Finally, there’s the areas outside of the donut: 9/11 was a plot orchestrated by Jews and the Bush administration, Nazism is good, and so on.

I’m beginning to think that my picture of the donut looks radically different than the conservative picture of the donut. And if that’s so, is there really much basis for discussion?

October 18, 2006

Americans Too Stupid to Act Democratically

Filed under: History,Navel Gazing,Philosophy — Brutus @ 12:43 pm

Are there are certain thresholds necessary for the operation of democratic institutions? The founding fathers certainly thought so. Our participation in the electoral process, public debate, and other community action is predicated on being informed and educated to at least, say, a high school level. One acid test performed periodically is polling Americans to see how many believe that the sun revolves around the earth. The number changes a bit depending on how and when the question is asked, but the usual finding is that 1 in 5 believe that the sun revolves around us.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the scientific community muddies the waters by periodically redefinining planets and stars or introducing evidence that the earth has a second moon. But still, a fifth of Americans have a basic concept of our place in the universe discredited centuries ago by the Copernican Revolution?

One of my favorite authors, Morris Berman, has a new book called Dark Ages America. I’ve not yet read it, but the blurbs and reviews say that Berman paints a picture of America’s entry into a new dark age and its imminent collapse, at least in part because of its inability to maintain the very democratic institutions that brought it to prominence. It isn’t just the dominance of the Right Wing in politics or fundamentalism in culture, though; it’s that we’ve returned to a sort of shuttered mind characterized by magical thinking and outright denial of scientific knowledge.

There is good evidence that logic, reason, and other Enlightenment values may not be all they’re cracked up to be, that for all their utility they don’t provide substantive human meaning and lead only to a soulless, technocratic society. However, American-style democracy cannot survive without them. If there is a new paradigm forming around us — and many believe there is — it cannot plunge us into a mindset that foresakes what we have learned and achieved in the last 400 years. Rather, we need a synthesis that reincorporates human value, not one that irrationally places man again at the center of the universe.

August 22, 2006

The Legacy Of Happy Harry Hard-On

Filed under: Blogosphere,Navel Gazing — Off Colfax @ 4:57 am

Sixteen years ago today, a movie hit the theater screens. At the time, it was not well noticed, just another movie to be reviewed through Hughes-colored glasses, to use the words of one writer. Yet today, Pump Up The Volume has a meaning, and message, much more appropriate than those innocent summer days of 1990.

For those of you who have never seen the movie, first let me say this. What are you, crazy? Go now. Rent it. Buy it. Amazon it with next-day air. Because for us here in Blogville, it personifies our raison d’être in a way that nothing else out there can.

Right now, there are 51.8 million blogs being tracked by Technorati. Each and every single one of us started off as a lone voice crying into the wilderness. We had no audience. We had no feedback. We had no clue that anyone even knew we existed. Yet still we sat, sending our missives into the vast emptyness of inner space, not caring that there was no ears to hear our cries.

Certainly we all have our own vast and varied reasons for starting in this enterprise. Yet, when it’s all said and done, our reasons are eventually reduced to one: getting things out of one’s own head. Regardless of how we do so. (Or how often.) Regardless of the programs we use. (Even Myspace. Ugh.) Regardless of the time we do it. (No fair glaring at the timestamp, people.)

For the average blogger, we will eventually find that we have an audience, however small or large it may be. Like-minded souls (or sometimes opposite-minded ones) who found our words to hold a certain something: a deeper meaning, an excellent analysis, an interesting turn of thought, or whatever comes to mind. And soon, where there was once wilderness, tiny villages of interaction are formed.

Some remain static and remain as they are, small outposts still able to contribute to the whole like my own little island of inane rambling. Some become shining beacons, providing direction and certitude to a vast multitude, like Glenn Reynolds and Duncan Black. Some, like ourselves here at Creative Destruction, become crossroads, bringing together those of us who, by ourselves, would never have thought to cross paths. Some grow beyond all imagination, creating entire civilizations of thought and discussion, such as DailyKos and Little Green Footballs.

Yet still, the basic concept remains the same regardless of how big or small our traffic counters become. These are our thoughts, our emotions, our ideals, our philosophies, our selves we set into these pages. By doing so, we have taken control of an entire medium of our own creations. (Although who was first on the scene seems to be up for debate.)

And as such, we have fulfilled the battle-cry of Harry.

Sieze the airwaves. They are ours. Pick a program. Choose a name. Find your voice. There is nothing that they can do to stop us. They can try. And they may stop some of us. But they will never stop us all.

And the day will come when they will look inside themselves and see us waving up at them.

Naked.

Type hard.

August 20, 2006

Advertising and Sponsorship Everywhere

Filed under: Education,Navel Gazing,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 12:51 pm

Maturation of marketing and branding practices over the past 25 years or so has led to increasingly intrusive demands for our attention in order to make a brand impression. As the Communications Revolution of the 90s expanded the media available for advertising, advertising expenditures grew and a media event without advertising and/or sponsorship became unthinkable. This table shows data for the years 2002-2003 indicating the greatest increases in media that existed only modestly 25 years ago. Further, stunts such as tattoos on foreheads (here and here), printing on eggs , and ads on stairs are indications that there is no space beyond the reach of advertisers in their desperation to raise their messages above the din that the deluge of advertising has created.

It is problematical, to say the least, that we can’t escape advertising. Anyone with a whit of understanding knows that TV networks aren’t selling shows to advertisers. Instead, shows attract viewers, and it’s viewers who are being sold to advertisers. While we make modest attempts to protect children from cigarette and alcohol advertising on TV (which isn’t working), the ads themselves and the ubiquity of product placement in programming guarantee, according to this website, that children as young as two — before they can even read — recognize two-thirds of popular brand logos. Parents who plunk their kids down in front of the TV are effectively selling out their kids to advertisers.

One new practice that functions as a harbinger of doom is the placement of advertising in textbooks. Apologists offer that the upside of this practice is that students will soon be able to get textbooks for free when advertising and sponsorship replaces the revenue normally derived from sales. That rationalization is, of course, a sign that the battle is already lost. Economic utility (grooming pliant young consumers right in the schools) won out long ago (see here and here) over the broad educational ideal of instilling in young minds a love of learning. Another example of children’s education being sold out to commercial interests is the sponsored field trip — to stores. The pretense may be instruction in health, hygiene, safety, or history, but the underlying motivation of sponsors is selling.

One might hope adults are less vulnerable to advertising than the young. However, when our reality from birth is informed by the influence of advertisers, what hope is there really that we can form our ideas objectively and without the undue influence of those with a commercial agenda? Once coopted as a child, do adults really break free and operate independently? If the example of the SUV, marketed and sold to us as a desirable vehicle to own and operate, despite significant drawbacks, that answer has to be “no.”

August 9, 2006

The Peril of Boredom

Filed under: Content-lite,Navel Gazing,Philosophy — Brutus @ 11:24 pm

I overheard a mother at a bus stop trying to interest her son in the video iPod she was carrying, apparently loaded with the usual kid shows. He was having none of it, though he wasn’t causing any disruption or disturbance, while she was in effect a drug pusher. The scene got me thinking about how we soothe our boredom, especially that of children.

Almost every parent insists that children’s unrelenting need for both attention and stimulation is exhausting. Given the tools at hand, it’s inevitable that parents use various means of pacification, increasingly electronic distractions. Some parents recognize that plopping the kid(s) in front of the TV means selling their children down the river of advertising (training them as rapacious consumers), and for some, there’s a sense of guilt. Lately, kids have portable electronic distractions (e.g., GameBoys and iPods) so that even the relative wholesomeness of summer camp is no longer free of electronics. And it’s bleeding into adulthood. Never mind the countless hours routinely forfeited to TV; now a gaming system, an Internet connection, a cell phone, a DVD collection, and a BlackBerry also clamor for time and attention. Workouts, rush hour commutes, plane rides, and virtually any idle time must now be complemented by an iPod or DVD. Electronics makers must be rolling their hands and twirling their mustaches, having convinced most of the population to be plugged in at all times, just as soft drink purveyors convinced previous generations that a meal isn’t complete without a soft drink.

So what’s with the cavernous emptiness of boredom that screams to be filled, even if only with the most banal of stimulation? Why is it so difficult to be content in silence, alone with our own thoughts? Like the T-Rex that can only sense movement in its field of vision, we’re evolved to notice and seek change rather than stasis, which has turned into a fetish for novelty. Many of us are also so ill-equipped to use our own creativity as a source of self-amusement, whether it be writing, singing, or even thinking, that we must instead turn our attentions outward and, in our general laziness, gather whatever stimulation is most readily available. With our current electronics options, much of that stimulation is empty of meaningful content, such as the graphics on a news program that do nothing but temporarily tantalize the eyes, or the variety of new musical styles that are all hook and beat and thump.

It used to be that when a child complained “I’m bored …” to a parent, an aphorism was delivered: “Boredom is the mark of an uncreative and impoverished mind.” The implication of that rebuke was that, by using the imagination, one could dream up things to do that would provide amusement and generate enthusiasm. Perhaps some parents still instruct children that way, but in public at least, the complaint “I’m bored” is usually interpreted as a fire alarm, sending parents scrambling to find something to quench the fire before some mischief sets in. The restless mind of youth transforms into the mind at rest, like the effects of a depressant. And the habit is easily formed: the expectation that stimulation is done to a person rather than something a person does for him- or herself. Over time, one effect is that one’s enthusiasms are dominated by outer directedness, which is to say that we cathect with celebrities, consumer goods, sports teams, alcohol, and drugs, all of which release us from the torments of being ourselves.

UPDATE: I just came across this new product. It’s a shopping cart with seating for kids and a TV screen. For the love of all things holy, don’t look away from the TV screen!!

shopping cart

July 22, 2006

Beauty in the exchange

Filed under: Debate,Humor,Navel Gazing — Adam Gurri @ 5:18 pm

You know the worst thing about whining about the need for standards?

People hold you to it.

I haven’t had a debate this productive in a long time.  Nothing motivates me to learn like people easily pointing out when I’m out of my element.

I’ve been participating in a couple of discussion boards recently, and I find it striking how many points of view get represented there.  Sure, there are many that lean in particular ideological directions, but the really massive ones are truly free for alls in that respect.

If there’s one thing I consider myself an idealist about, it’s discussion.  I believe that the best debates are between people who disagree on just about everything.  It’s why I obsess about method–I think that setting a standard up front has something of the effect of setting the rules of exchange.  Sort of like they have rules about the kinds of bat you can use in professional baseball–they’re all trying to beat one another, but no one would be willing to play if there was one team that used aluminum bats while everyone else had to use wooden ones.

Ampersand and I have essentially been looking at the Lancet article from the perspective of statistical methodology, and I’ve been three steps short of him the entire way–but I’ve learned a great deal from trying to keep up.

Whether it’s this subject or any other, CD has gone a long way to renew my faith in discussion as a tool for learning.

May 21, 2006

The Ugly American

Filed under: Navel Gazing,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 11:19 am

The Sydney Morning Herald has a brief on-line article about a new guide being prepared by the State Dept. in cooperation with U.S. industry (whatever that means) to try to improve the image of Americans abroad. It seems we’re not much liked (duh!) when we find ourselves within foreign cultures and act the same abrasive ways we act among ourselves in the U.S. The syndrome has been called The Ugly American for years already, although it was apparent intended more charitably in the novel of the same name.

I find it ironic that people need to be told things, by the government no less, that should be common sense on just about any grade school playground. Yet in my travels, I’ve witnessed many of the things addressed by the admonitions the Herald lists. Here are a few with my comments.

Think as big as you like but talk and act smaller.

I’ve always thought it best to keep a small footprint and go relatively unnoticed when outside of my comfort zones. My alertness level also goes up.

Listen at least as much as you talk.

I’m probably as vain and love the sound of my own voice as the next person. But I learned in college that listening was a much more powerful behavior than talking, and not just because I learned more. People respond better if given room in conversation to express themselves.

Save the lectures for your kids.

Way too often I’ve overheard Americans begin a conversation with “The problem with your country is ….” The implication is that we Americans got it right and everyone else should be like us. How insulting.

Think a little locally.

What’s the point of travelling if you don’t experience any local culture? I’ve known Americans who go abroad and eat exclusively at American fast food franchises (generally not hard to find) and speak only in English within their own group or family. How boring.

Speak lower and slower.

This is probably the hallmark of the American traveller (other than garb). We’re loud sons of bitches, especially the Texas variety. In our dominant culture we’re exhorted to live large. Many others find that sort of behavior excessively rude.

If you talk politics, talk — don’t argue.

Conversational styles differ among people, to be sure. Although we don’t normally think of it this way, generosity ought to be the underlying sentiment. Argument works in some context, but even there, it’s worthwhile to yield ground generously.

May 18, 2006

Yay!

Filed under: Navel Gazing,Popular Culture — Tuomas @ 5:22 pm

Ha! A good reason to watch the Eurovision finals. One sure sign of apocalypse would be Finland actually winning the contest. Lordi's music video here. For one, it stands out from the usual Europop fare.

Update: Meaning that Finland got in to finals.

Update 2: Hard Rock Hallelujah! It has been said that hell freezes over before Finland wins the Eurovision song contest. So, Satan… Do you need some warm blankets down there? Bwahahaha! First place, 292 points… crushing victory!

Thanks to all the good people in Europe (all grudges forgotten) who knew good music when they heard it, and voted (I couldn't, you can't vote your own). Truly this is a historical moment!

May 16, 2006

Technology to the Rescue!

Filed under: Humor,Navel Gazing — Brutus @ 12:11 am

With the sort of breathless excitement one would expect if a cure for cancer had been discovered, U.TV reports that we now have a solution for — um — plumber’s butt, or as it’s known in the U.K., builder’s bum.

It seems that Jockey has developed trademarked 3D-Innovations underwear that keeps one’s crack problem safely under control. The underwear stays contoured to his body as he bends and moves. Of course, the pic below doesn’t exactly present a high-tension test subject. I suggest an actual plumber might be a truer, real-world test.

Jockey

So for those of you living in quaking fear of the unsightly glimpse of the so-called coin slot, technology rescues us again. (Any comments to this post are encouraged to throw in other suitable euphemisms for this scourge.)

May 14, 2006

Adam’s Guide to making everything better

Filed under: Debate,Humor,Navel Gazing,Politics — Adam Gurri @ 2:21 pm

We recently talked about a test on how Kevin Drum/Atrios believe you could improve this country, with the notion that the more you agree with them, the more liberal you are.

So, I thought I would one-up them in self-indulgence, and just throw together a haphazard list of how I think you could make things better.

Take the test, and measure up just how deeply entrenched in AdamGurrism you are. Or, I suppose, how much of the opposite end of the political spectrum–a side which I will dub "jerkheadism"–you subscribe to. I understand that not all AdamGurrists will agree with everything that is said here, but I think that there's a pretty obvious consensus on the following.

(more…)

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