Creative Destruction

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.

December 31, 2007

The Off Colfax List Of Best Books Of 2007 That No One Has Heard Of

Filed under: Content-lite — Off Colfax @ 3:54 am

Well, here we are. Another holiday season gone by, and you were actually fortunate enough for your Great-Aunt Sue Ann to give you a gift card to Borders or Barnes & Noble or Amazon rather than the usual pair of puce and cream macramé socks. But what to get with it?

Here are my unsung, or sometimes sung at too low of a volume, gems of the past year. This won’t be a list with your Skinny Bitches and Looming Towers and Eat Pray Loves and Ann Coulters and Water For Elephants and Oprah Book Clubs and Age of Turbulences and James Patterson’s team of ghost writers and et bloody ceteras. (C’mon. You can’t tell me that you expect a single person to crank out 5 new novels in a calendar year without using ghost writers, even with such incomprehensible twaddle as Patterson usually releases under his name. That’s just crazy talk.) This is for the real book lovers that can venture beyond the best-sellers list.

I know what you’re thinking. Dude. How come this strange OC person could be qualified to judge what could be a good book, much less one of the best books of the year. Simply put, and most of you don’t know this, I’ve been working at the bookstores in Denver International Airport for the past 6 months. So I’m constantly picking up random books and leafing through them. And when I start unconsciously reaching for a handy place to sit, I know I have a good one. (Now all I need is a way to spot my manager before he spots me first.) (And no. I don’t get any kickbacks from these links. So click away without fear of accidentally supporting an anonymous blogger.)

First, for the occasional high-school girl that randomly gets to this page via the Next Blog button while still laughing at the incompetent emo threatening to cut his fingernails, I give you the Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac. Gabrielle Zevin brings us the occasional daydream of every high-school student: What if I was able to start here at school all over again? In this one, one high-school junior is is about to do so after falling down some icy stairs and waking up to zero memory of the last four years of her life. Remarkably well-written and highly accessible, even to those odd socialites that insist they only read the Clique series and are very stuck-up about it.

Next up on the list… Hmmm. Let me guess. You’ve heard of the Dangerous Book for Boys, right? And the Daring Book for Girls as well? Good. Now have you read the Dangerous Book for Dogs? I didn’t think so. This is every good dog’s essential companion in the ever-lasting quest to become the bad dog that they always wanted to be. From proper ways to get out of the yard undetected, to cat-chasing tips, to a taste comparison between Dolce & Gabanna leather slides and Kenneth Cole moccasin-stitched loafers, it’s all here. Pay special attention to the etiquette section on crotch-sniffing. Please. Your humans will thank you. (And yes. It is a parody. But I’m still waiting for the Daring Book for Cats to come out.)

Now, for you cooking fanatics out there comes this collection of sordid tales of the kitchen called Don’t Try This At Home. All of us have a war story about when things go horribly wrong in that strange place-where-food-is-put-together-place. (Yes, even when you accidentally microwaved the foil-wrapped leftovers because you were too hungover to notice. That counts.) With little of the pretension of Anthony Bourdain’s ego-stroke known as Kitchen Confidential, this collection of Murphy’s Law-related stories will cheer you up immensely. Whether it is the lobsters that are off or the kitchen is flooded or the cake is in 15 pieces on the Long Island Expressway, it is proof positive that the more (self?)important the chef, the larger the associated screw-ups.

Music lovers and musicians alike will enjoy this book by Daniel Levitin called This Is Your Brain On Music. A former music producer turned cognitive psychologist, Levitin delves into such obscure elements as neurobiology, neuropsychology, cognitive psychology, empirical philosophy, Gestalt psychology, memory theory, and neurochemistry; and all in language that is easily accessible to anyone, regardless of whether you can carry a tune in a bucket or not. Read it. Love it. Pass it on. Only try to get it back afterwards. Unfortunately, my copy is still in the hands of my manager’s family in El Paso. Hopefully I can get it back one of these days. (Then again, I’m on my 9th copy of Ishmael, 6th copy of Atlas Shrugged and 3rd copy of Shampoo Planet, so probably not. I have a habit of buying books that migrate.)

For us science-fiction lovers out there, a new release of an old trilogy has hit the shelves. The Chronicles of the Black Company, from way back in the ’80s, has returned to print once more. Not individually, mind you, but in an onmibus edition that will keep you well and truly happy with life for a serious stretch of time. This is one of those books that most of the “professional” booksellers never believe would sell, but it marches straight out of the store whenever new copies arrive, in lockstep with a very happy new owner.

For you current affairs fanatics, I have three words for you: Band of Sisters. With the ever-increasing number of females serving in the military, and particularly in the Iraqi theater of operations, this is one of the first books to chronicle their stories. If I had time, I could wax poetic for hours about this book, but I would run out of metaphors far too quickly for my taste. Pick up a copy at the next possible opportunity. Just don’t ask me for one. I’m sold out.

And finally, for those fiction lovers out there, comes my one extraordinary odd choice: The Gum Thief. Of course, for those that know the Me-Behind-The-Keyboard, any Coupland novel is far from an odd choice. I’ve been a raving fanboy since I first read Generation X in college. It’s practically expected that I love and promote a new Coupland novel, sometimes before I even read it. Which, unfortunately, was what I was doing with JPod, which I tossed aside in disgust at the self-aggrandizing and self-promotion even while chortling at the occasional self-abuse. In the Gum Thief, he returns to what he does best: real people in real situation talking about their real lives… and how much they really suck. Most people wouldn’t expect a novel about a 40-something alcoholic and 20-something overweight goth girl, both working at a Staples, to be interesting. Most people would be sadly mistaken.

So what are you still reading this for? Go and read something with quality for a change. G’wan. Shoo.


December 30, 2007

Yeah, Right, Whatever ….

Filed under: Current Events,Human Rights,Politics — Brutus @ 4:34 pm

I learned a few days ago that a group of Lakota Indians residing in South Dakota have seceded from the United States and disavowed all past treaties. They are apparently demanding recognition as a sovereign country and have cited, among other things, the UN Resolution on Indigenous Peoples, which I blogged about earlier this fall.

This is pretty astounding. Secession! But not surprisingly, the news of it has hardly been noticed. A quick Google search reveals that none of the usual mainstream media have created articles about it. Further, the U.S. State Department was notified and their nonresponse thus far amounts to a big, fat “yeah, right, whatever ….”

If there is any true revolutionary spirit still alive within the U.S., I’d have to say that Native Americans (to use the politically correct term) have a far more compelling claim to moral authority than any other group of which I can think. Only a few days ago, the group’s website was called Lakota Freedom. I see that it now redirects to Republic of Lakota.

I for one will be interested to see if this movement gains any traction. There are rumors that Russia will recognize the Republic of Lakota, though one has to wonder whether that’s just a means of jabbing a figurative elbow in the ribs of the U.S. State Department. (Considering how many think of international politics as mere gamesmanship, I wouldn’t be surprised to see others enjoying the opportunity to poke at the U.S.) It would also be curious to see how land claims dating back to the middle of the 19th century are sorted out, as the Lakota intend to reclaim their ancestral lands and revert to open plains populated by bison. I can’t imagine for a moment anything really coming out of Lakota secession, but I’m oddly sympathetic to the notion of letting them go and seeing what happens.

December 24, 2007

Wilkinson’s Family Restaurant

Filed under: Business,Humor — Brutus @ 7:02 pm

Presented without comment:

December 22, 2007

Political Stratagems

Filed under: Politics — Brutus @ 2:28 pm

This got my attention in regard to the recent report that the Republican minority in Congress manages to hold sway through filibuster:

… Republicans in the congress are willing to take the heat for obstructing popular legislation, even when they have an unpopular lame duck president of their own party who could veto it and let them off the hook. Normally politicians, survivalists that they are, would be trying to distance themselves from a 30% president by this time and he would be forced out there on his own. But here you have them racing over the cliff right along side him. That they have maintained such solidarity in the face of dramatic failure is quite impressive.

After identifying this puzzling behavior, the article offers this comment:

If one assumes that we are dealing with a party and a political movement that operates as the constitution expected politicians to operate, this would all be very odd. But they aren’t. The modern Republican party has somehow managed to create movement loyalty that supersedes not only the national interest but their own political self-interest.

The final justification for all this, according to the article, is that disgraced politicians feel secure that whatever their short-term losses may be, they will always end up landing on their feet, which is to say, there is no real disgrace. Lose one job or office and one is subsequently offered another position of influence. There doesn’t even appear to be personal finance consequences worth considering.

This may all be true, of course, but in explaining the what, how, and why of conservative politics as practiced today (and indeed for the last 30 years), the author misses perhaps the most obvious explanation: the conservative movement is populated by true believers. The willingness to put their reputations and livelihoods on the line suggests to me a hardened ideology rather than the knowledge that they’re secure taking a few personal hits before moving onto the next thing.

December 16, 2007

Insomniac Wanderings

Filed under: Blogosphere,Election 2008 — Off Colfax @ 8:39 am

So yeah. I can’t sleep. And nothing is working. The melatonin isn’t even trying to show up tonight. Warm milk got cold feet. and the old standby of a purring cat? It helps if they would even stay in the room.

So what to do? Simple. Get up and start surfing political sites and try to bore myself to sleep.

That didn’t work. But only because I found something that was actually interesting.

Meet John Tomlin. The rest of the time, he’s a student at Union College. But for this primary season, he dons the secret identity of John Tomlin, Credentialed Reporter For Complete with daily videos, he will be following the action until Super Duper Tuesday. Or Incredible Tuesday. Or Terminal Tuesday. Or whatever we’re actually calling the massive influx of primaries and caucuses that happens on February 5th, when the races will be all but over.

Is this the smoothest operation on the planet? No. Is this the best operation on the planet? Again, no. Is this the coolest thing to happen so far this election cycle? Damsure.

And if you want to see what else he’s done so far this month, here is his YouTube page. Look. Listen. Watch.

Very interesting stuff happening this election cycle, hether it be Ron Paul’s record-setting single-day take or Mike Huckabee’s meteoric rise in the polls or even Mike Gravel’s existential silent film. And not all of what is interesting is coming from the campaigns.

Check it out.

Presented Without Comment

Filed under: Ethics — Off Colfax @ 4:12 am


Hoax. Link in comments.

[T/S: Insty]

December 14, 2007

Lies and Insistent Lies

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Current Events — Brutus @ 2:36 am

Anyone with an iota of sense has got to believe that despite vehement denials, many if not most top athletes are currently taking or have taken performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). Cycling is one of the worst offenders, but it appears to be widespread in other sports as well. (There’s a blog about everything, of course, and Steroid Nation follows the news on this issue.) Recent admissions by Marion Jones that she had taken PEDs — unwittingly, perhaps — and lied to cover up the fact have resulted in her recently being stripped of her records, medals, and now reputation. Much as I’d like to feel sorry for her, it’s difficult to be sympathetic when she filed a defamation lawsuit against her supplier after she apparently knew that she had been doping. So not only did she lie (repeatedly), she insisted upon her lies in a lawsuit. (Similar insistence by Bill Clinton during his impeachment had the same hubris. Indeed, the cynic in me believes most people will lie out of expediency and insist on their lies when pressed. No shock there.)

Being a poor judge of character, I don’t know whether to believe pro athletes when they protest they’re clean. But I can observe that competition is so intense that there is often no way to compete successfully unless they join the doping ranks. It’s a shame, of course. Marion Jones isn’t the only athlete to pay a high price for the illegal steps she took to achieve her success, and doubtlessly others will admit their transgressions over time.

All this is a good reason to turn our collective attention away from professional sports for a while, not that I expect that ever to happen. When the superhuman feats demonstrated by athletes are revealed to be the result of widespread drug abuse, what pleasure remains for spectators? Or we could decide the opposite: throw competition open to achieving results by any means possible and let athletes decide what they want to do to their bodies. The record books may not represent a level playing field in terms of historical comparison, but within any given year, the top competitors would have no unfair advantages, since no PED would be off limits. And at least the charade would be over.

December 11, 2007

Bullying Cops (Diatribe from Comments)

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Politics — Brutus @ 12:41 am

A visitor to this blog posted a short diatribe in the comments to a post unrelated to his concerns, which understandably has gotten no reaction. I thought I’d pull it forward into the body of a regular post and offer anyone the chance to respond. I’ve edited slightly for grammar and spelling.

Mike says:

I’ve been looking to post this somewhere. I do apologize if this seems like I’m hijacking this thread. I just needed to write about the way I feel. Anyway, here goes…

Look, cops are bullying fascist scum across the board. The real reason someone would join the [police] force is that they like manhandling people, wielding authority, and inspiring fear. These people otherwise would be excellent for running the electric chair. Or the gas chamber. I can’t believe that anyone who is “progressive” would support them. If you are a “leftie” who does, please leave and go join the right wing. I don’t want you in my ideology. A peace activist was arrested for riding a bike on the street. An unarmed immigrant was shot by the cops when they thought he was reaching for a gun. There are so many more stories like these I can tell you about. This is not a case of a few bad apples. This is more commonplace every day. Don’t fall for the “protect and serve” crap. More things are becoming illegal every day, so more and more average people can get shafted, and the injustice system can economically profit. Wake up, America. You are living in a corporate police state, where eventually the only truly legal you can do is shop. You could be turned in by a neighbor who doesn’t like you even if you did nothing bad. Oh, wait, sorry, I think we are there already. What is wrong with some of you liberals who support taking guns away from citizens, but you still want the government to have guns so that they can “protect” you. Those who believe that “safety” is more important than freedom! I’m not saying this to be mean, but I’m saddened and scared by the direction this country is taken. We all deserve better than that.

Please respond to my post. I haven’t been able to get any responses, positive or negative. I want to get a sense of where people are on this. Thanks.

Notwithstanding Mike’s own attempt to bully folks into awareness, I agree with his general thrust. I support the notion of law and order, but I don’t think we’re getting it from law enforcement agencies in the fashion we should. The recent spate of unnecessary tasering people is a good snapshot of how police respond to citizens who pose little real threat.

We have also given up a lot of civic responsibility and personal rights in the process of becoming fat and happy Americans. Many of us have considerably more fear in the last, say, 15 years about being in the wrong place or saying the wrong thing and suffering the wrath of law enforcement, which is ostensibly intended to serve and protect us (as the slogan goes). Authorized users of state violence (police, FBI, CIA, and branches of the military) are often no longer trustworthy with the use of lethal force or even more mundane things like investigating suspects, which now routinely involves illegal surveillance. Over time, law enforcement has gotten to be paranoid about internal threats, so it resorts to questionable crowd management techniques and propaganda campaigns to quell dissent, among other things. It’s a sad state we’re in. But before we develop a consensus that the citizenry needs to act (by voting, or perhaps something more direct) to stem the tide of creeping fascism, there is no solution. We get the government we deserve.

Anyone else with an opinion?

December 9, 2007

More on Scouts and Gays

Filed under: Blogosphere — Robert @ 3:19 pm

Over at my personal blog I have a somewhat lengthy post up talking about Scouting and gay rights. I would crosspost it but it has a bunch of links, and I don’t want to trackback-spam the blogs I’m linking to, so I’ll just point you in the right direction. Or the wrong direction, depending your point of view 😉

December 2, 2007

It’s a Wiki Wiki Wiki Wiki World

Filed under: Blogosphere,Education — Brutus @ 6:07 pm

The so-called wiki phenomenon — where you set up a website based on a niche database and let your users create all your content while you do very little — has become widespread in the last few years. Though not the first wiki, the granddaddy of them all, of course, is Wikipedia, which has by now spawned Wiktionary, Wikiquote, Wikibooks, Wikisource, Wikinews, Wikispecies, Wikiuniversity, all of which fall under the Wikimedia umbrella. Other wiki-style websites include YouTube and Flickr (and doubtless others of which I haven’t yet heard). The fanciful word wiki is Hawaiian and means fast, which refers not to the rapid growth of such websites but to the software and style of communication they use.

Critics of Wikipedia point out that because the source is editable by users who may not possess proper academic training or credentials, the content found there is often unreliable. The website is replete with disclaimers that facts have not been checked or verified. Indeed, enough examples of editing wars between competing writers promulgating their own versions of content have been observed that some editors have been banned and some articles have been locked and made uneditable. It has also been observed that some articles have considerable political influence brought to bear on them.

Last year, the U.S. Patent Office banned Wikipedia as a source to aid in the determination of the patentability of inventions. More recently, teachers and librarians at schools in Easton, Pennsylvania, have adopted policies similar to those at Centenary College and Lehigh University to discourage students from consulting or citing Wikipedia. Some schools have gone so far as to block access to Wikipedia from their computer networks.

We have discussed the uses of Wikipedia in this venue in the past, and as memory serves, most commentators were favorably disposed. Without launching into a major epistemological debate, I pause now to observe that perhaps the worm has turned and academics have begun to insist on the integrity of their sources of information. I for one heartily agree. As for the straightforward entertainment wikis such as YouTube and Flickr, well, by all means enjoy without conflict.

Off Colfax Eats Worms: And Other Phrases Designed To Remind CD Bloggers That They Really Should Title Their Posts

Filed under: Content-lite — Off Colfax @ 12:32 am

Am I the only one that immediately thinks of this Monty Python sketch when this video starts playing?












(Sound: Missle launch, explosion, bells diminish)

M: Did I ‘it it?

W: Yes, right up the aisle.

Yeah. Probably I am the only one that thought of that. Because I’m weird like that.

[Turn Signal: ITA]

November 24, 2007

Lessons of History

Filed under: Economics,Politics — Brutus @ 3:02 am

The oft-repeated trope is that those ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it, to which most most of us laconically reply “So what? Big deal.” We’ve taken our eye off the ball and don’t really care anymore about history, being contented with the illusory belief that our current stage of historical development can and will continue undisrupted into the middle of the century, which is probably the longest time horizon we really care about. But there are still plenty of academics and pundits studying history, drawing lessons from it, and sounding the klaxon regarding some threat or imminent transformation or collapse. Actually rousing citizens out of their satiated lethargy is undoubtedly too difficult a task just yet, but the alarm calls at least make for some interesting reading.

Three recent articles make comparisons between the current state of America and historical conditions here and abroad in an attempt to draw out the lessons and perhaps inspire changes necessary to stave off the collapse of our cherished institutions (read: the American way of life). In no particular order, the first in The Guardian appears to be a prepublication summary by Naomi Wolf of her new book The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, which compares fascist shifts in history to current America. The second in The Philadelphia Inquirer is an opinion column by Chris Hedges, author of American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, which column describes the decline of the so-called American Empire. The third is a transcript in The American Prospect of Robert Kuttner, author of The Squandering of America: How the Failure of Our Politics Undermines Our Prosperity, giving testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services regarding parallels between fiscal policy in the 1920s and now.


November 22, 2007

Code Blue: Paging Dr. Thompson

Filed under: Election 2008 — Off Colfax @ 4:55 am

I just can’t do it. The iron has been in the fire for too long. The pigs have yet to come out of the tunnel. The political zombies have marched on their roads of bones, and then went out for barbecued brains.

I believe every political junkie passes this point in time. Too many long hours pounding through databases to find that one perfect moment that will, for the love of God, finally let you make up your mind. Too many meaningless speeches in front of county fairs, local Kiwanis, and roadside diners. Too many press releases, those myriad tons of utter and complete garbage foisted upon the unsuspecting voter.

Too much feeding the fix, begging for that political smack dripping from our USB cables and oozing into our hearts and lungs and toenails and tonsils, drugging us into that vague stupor caused by imagining that we actually could possibly know what the hell is going on in the universe, much less our own minuscule corner.

But why. That is the question. Why.

Simple question. Simple answer.

We started too early. My God, was it too early. Normally, by this sheer concentration of political news, the fat lady would be warming up while the rest of us are staggering our way towards the voting booth, looking for that magic lever that will end it all. We seek it. We want it. We caress it like a lover waiting in the moonlight. We desire it like it was a loaded shotgun, there to finally end our agony after decades of pain.

But we are denied. Eleven long months of the political season gone, and we aren’t even to the halfway point yet. Even after all this, we still have 47 miles of barbed wire left to crawl, and that live cobra around our necks is still waiting for us to move too fast. Or too slow. Or blink. Or force-feed Wolf Blitzer into a secure-systems document shredder.

Feet first. So we can hear him scream.

Lord, how long? How long must we suffer? Like Aquitaine after the Vandals. Like Londinum after Boudica. Like the floor of a Dropkick Murphys show. Like a confused emo with the complete discography of Sunny Day Real Estate on his iPod, plus Jimmy Eat World’s first album.

Okay. Scratch that last one. We aren’t that bad. Yet.

But there is still time, Bubba. Still time left for the Chinese water torture to take full effect. And it will. It’s been going for almost a year now with no sign of slowing down. He said. Drip. She said. Drip. They said. Drip. We said. Drip. Every. Drip. Single. Drip. Second. Drip. Every. Drip. Single. Drip. Day. Drip.

And we call waterboarding cruel and unusual torture. Should make them actually listen to all the feces-coated garbage being hoovered up by the junkies of the world.

And I… I need a news vacation. A media break. A stay at the Betty Ford Clinic for the Incurably Informed. A brief spell away from the political porn that suffocates our lives.

What do you mean, Bubba? Why do I say “our lives”? You mean you ain’t crawling through this one with me? You mean I did all that for me? Wait, Bubba! Why did you write “Blow Me, Kemosabe!” on this fax! I have to know! Thousands and thousands of people depend on us! We make the news! They just star in it! C’mon, Bubba… I’ll even let you take the next few miles. But I’m keeping the cobra. He likes me.

No deal, huh? Figures. Didn’t think you were that dumb.

When the weird turn pro, the going gets weird. Isn’t that how it’s written? If not, it should be. And the weird have turned pro for this one. So the only truth is that not only have things gotten weird, but there is more weirdness yet to come.

Death to the weird. I’m on vacation.

November 18, 2007

The Strategic Vote

Filed under: Election 2008,Politics and Elections — Brutus @ 1:34 am

Over at Wash Park Prophet, Andrew Oh-Willeke cites the one-word dismissal of so-called vanity candidates at Daily Kos’ round-up of Democratic presidential candidates and offers his agreement, though with a bit more explanation. I’ve been planning to blog on this rather bizarre notion for about a month, and Andrew has provided the nudge I needed to sit down and do it.

I simply don’t accept that the only worthwhile vote is one for the eventual winner or one that reflects a strategy to defeat an opposition candidate by casting a vote for someone nearly equally wanting. We complain perpetually that we don’t have good options, then we adopt Machiavelian strategies or misconstrue the results, thus ensuring that our options remain limited.


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:


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!

November 10, 2007

Fuck Jew!

Filed under: Content-lite,Political Correctness — Daran @ 6:53 am

I haven’t permanently abandoned CD. Honestly, it’s just that I’ve been struggling to do any blogging at all recently. But while I’m passing through, here’s the first of a couple of quickies for you.

This is old, but probably still current:

Following is a table of the offensive language, this year’s ranking and its chart position two years ago…

WORD 2000 1998
Cunt 1 1
Motherfucker* 2 2
Fuck 3 3
Wanker* 4 4
Nigger* 5 11
Bastard 6 5
Prick 7 7
Bollocks* 8 6
Arsehole 9 9
Paki* 10 17
Shag 11 8
Whore 12 13
Twat 13 10
Piss off 14 12
Spastic 15 14
Slag 16 18
Shit 17 15
Dickhead* 18 19
Pissed off 19 16
Arse 20 20
Bugger 21 21
Balls 22 22
Jew 23 24
Sodding* 24 23
Jesus Christ 25 26
Crap 26 25
Bloody 27 27
God 28 28

The list can be divided into two groups: expletives, such as “fuck!” and “Jesus Christ!”, some of which have acceptable non-expletive uses; and epithets, such as “Nigger”.

But where does “Jew” fit in? I’ve never heard of it being used as an expletive, for Jew’s sake! So it must be an epithet.

But if we can’t call a Jewing Jew a “Jew”, what the Jew can we call him?

Suffer the Rich

Filed under: Economics,Geekery — Brutus @ 2:27 am

In his short story “The Rich Boy,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.” I haven’t read the story in a long time, but as I recall, Fitzgerald goes on to describe the character of the very rich with an acute perceptiveness hard to imagine with today’s cluttered, distracted literary aesthetic. Writers simply don’t have the time and focus anymore to work out character the way writers of the past did. Being a product of this era, I’m also at a loss to describe the character of the rich accurately. But like power, I’m pretty well convinced excessive wealth has an absolutely corrupting influence.

Forbes magazine recently released its 25th annual ranking of the 400 richest Americans, so the idea of what constitutes being very rich thrust itself upon me with some renewed vigor. The article states that it now takes $1.3 billion just to make the list. So, um, pardon me, and believe me when I say this is not out of envy, but isn’t it rather obscene that there are 400 people in the U.S. who each possess that much wealth? Forbes says the collective amount is $1.54 trillion.

Numbers like those are just a snapshot, and I certainly don’t possess the wherewithal to comment meaningfully on something so far beyond the reckoning of an average wage slave. Still, what is one to make of this article by Reuters, reporting on the sorry fact that living well — that is, having a super luxurious lifestyle — now costs more than ever? Forbes actually keeps an index, not unlike the Consumer Price Index, called the Cost of Living Extremely Well Index (CLEWI), which tracks the price of a selection of luxury goods. That cost is apparently rising faster than the Consumer Price Index. So let me be among the first to shed a few crocodile tears that it’s increasingly difficult for the superrich to distinguish themselves from the merely rich.

If citing Fitzgerald isn’t obvious enough to the uninitiated, he lived during the Jazz Age, which followed behind the Gilded Age (roughly 1870s to the 1890s). The Gilded Age was characterized by radical polarization of wealth, not unlike our situation today. So Fitzgerald had the advantage of perspective and hindsight on the peculiarities of a certain class of people. If we’re currently in the midst of another Gilded Age, it may take a decade or two for some insight on the those whom we might think twice before admiring.

November 7, 2007

And Truth Comes Out

Filed under: Reproductive Rights — Off Colfax @ 2:19 am

Abstinence is out.

Programs that focus exclusively on abstinence have not been shown to affect teenager sexual behavior, although they are eligible for tens of millions of dollars in federal grants, according to a study released by a nonpartisan group that seeks to reduce teen pregnancies.

“At present there does not exist any strong evidence that any abstinence program delays the initiation of sex, hastens the return to abstinence or reduces the number of sexual partners” among teenagers, the study concluded.

The study, conducted by Douglas Kirby, a senior research scientist at ETR Associates, also sought to debunk what the report called “myths propagated by abstinence-only advocates” including: that comprehensive sex education promotes promiscuity, hastens the initiative of sex or increases its frequency, and sends a confusing message to adolescents.

None of these was found to be accurate, Kirby wrote.

And I hear about social conservatives that complain about liberal policies being based on junk science. Yet what I have read from the study [PDF warning, 5.7Mb] is well-researched, with all the scientific method’s Is dotted and Ts crossed.

Read the study and see for yourself.

November 1, 2007

Horserace Politics

Filed under: Blogosphere,Election 2008,Politics and Elections — Brutus @ 11:33 am

I picked up the term horserace politics from Ampersand (who may have found it elsewhere). The term describes political coverage framed not in terms of the issues or platforms of the parties and candidates but in terms of the sheer competition, the race. I’ve opined that such thinking has made the practice of politics into a perpetual campaign. If the reorientation of the political sphere into a contentless swamp of personality and misfocus is not fully apparent, a report on a new study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism paints a pretty stark picture of how the mainstream media covers politics. This table shows what the public wants:

table 1

This graphic shows what the public gets:

table 2

It may be impossible (and probably pointless) say whether this discrepancy is more the fault of the media or the candidates themselves. No doubt, both are contributing to the syndrome. (Specifically, the avoidance of many candidates to take positions on political topics makes it impossible for journalists to restate the candidate’s positions coherently.) The blogosphere may be an antidote to the failure of the mainstream media to provide enough useful political coverage. Indeed, many believe that the blogosphere has at least partially revitalized the public sphere, which has been largely corrupted in the for-profit media. I tend to agree.

October 29, 2007

Daylight Saving Time is a Trap

Filed under: Content-lite — Brutus @ 12:41 am

I got caught this morning by Daylight Saving Time. It’s a public menace. The proper time to reset clocks is always the last weekend of October. So without checking, I shifted my clock last night and missed a 5K run I was meant to do because I arrived 15 min. into the race when I thought I was 45 min. ahead of time. I haven’t made the mistake of forgetting to reset my clocks in years.

The Wikipedia article has more information that I care to investigate. I find the whole business infuriating. The rationale behind DST is beyond me, I guess. It seems like a meaningless anachronism, like the academic year that still has space (summer vacation) for the harvest when only a tiny sliver of the population works in agriculture compared to the late 19th century when upwards of 90% did.

So I pouted all day long and am now taking it out on the blog. Grrr.

October 24, 2007

Presented Without Comment

Filed under: Human Rights,LGBT Issues — Robert @ 11:11 am

Foster parents to 28 forced to resign.

They are Christian and do not want to tell their foster charges that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle, which is apparently required by new UK government parenting guidelines for foster families. (Edited to add: the family is not fostering 28 children at the same time. They have, in the past, fostered 27 kids and are currently fostering one, an 11-year old boy who has been with them for the past two years. That boy will be removed from their care this coming Friday, and will go to a “council hostel”, which I assume is the rough equivalent of an orphanage for kids of his age.)

October 23, 2007

GMU Econ Bloggers

Filed under: Economics,Education — Adam Gurri @ 6:08 am

Arnold Kling has up a list of GMU Econ bloggers, including faculty, students, and alumni.  It’s quite substantial.

Huge Numbers of Unqualified Students Attend Elite Colleges…

Filed under: Education,Race and Racism — Robert @ 2:41 am

and it isn’t who you might think. About 15% of the freshman slots at the nation’s most prestigious institutions of higher education are going to students who do not meet the institutional criteria for admission – specifically, athletes and legacy admits, the bulk of whom are white.

Consistency time. I’m opposed to strong (quota-based/preferential) affirmative action. This is no better – worse, in fact, since at least preferential AA can be plausibly motivated by a desire to help people who are behind the eight-ball. Admitting unqualified students to boost a sports team or placate donors is cronyism and hypocrisy.

It’s bogus either way. If the institution is going to have standards-based admissions, then publish the standards and admit students who reach them – and nobody else. No more preferential AA – not for the “disadvantaged” sons of upper-class blacks, not for the genuinely disadvantaged in the slums, not for the talented but dim football star, not for the well-connected scion of privilege.

Admit by merit – or acknowledge that the institution is not interested in merit, and has some other agenda in mind.

A fair liberal (or conservative, for that matter) might then ask, “ok, but then how do you help the genuinely disadvantaged?”

My answer is, by providing a first-rate education to every student who wants one in the primary and secondary grades, ensuring that the disadvantaged have a shot at learning things of value and increasing their human capital. And then create scholarships for the poor – of whatever “race” – but worthy student. Not perfect, but it gets us 80% of the way there without hurting anyone at all – a Pareto optimal situation, or close to one.

(I have an old friend on a discussion list who is an absolutely devastatingly good scholar on proving that Pareto optimality never really happens, in the service of arguing against the unbridled market’s efficiency. She’s right; it almost never does. But we very often get what I’d call a “Pareto good enough” – a situation where there’s a big benefit and most people aren’t hurt by it.)

In the case of affirmative action of the preferential variety, there is a definite benefit. Though we may quarrel about the existence and magnitude of the ratchet effect, I agree with liberals that strong affirmative action does help the people it is designed to help, overall. Unfortunately the negatives to specific people are large enough, I think, to break even my relaxed standards for Pareto goodness.

I Could Use A Favor Or Two

Filed under: Personal Ramblings — Off Colfax @ 12:58 am

My father’s home is in the middle of the evacuation zone for Ramona, CA. And I’m just now hearing about it. I can’t reach him on his cell phone. He’s not registered on the Red Cross’ Safe And Well website. And I’m really fucking worried. So if any of you could say a prayer, light a candle, cast a spell, sacrifice a couple of goats, have the random fluctuations of the space/time continuum move aside or whatever method you use to communicate with Who/Whatever is actually out there, I’d appreciate it. So far, there’s no reported deaths from the Witch Fire. And I’d fucking love for it to stay that way.

Houses can be rebuilt. Business can be restored.

You only get one dad.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and frantically keep checking websites until either I find out something or I pass out at the keyboard.

[EDIT: 10.23.07 1103MDT]
Well, according to this map, and if it is accurate, my dad’s house remains. Missed him by about half a mile or so, but it remains. And when I make a call to my dad’s house, hoping that he has made it back by now, the phone rings rather than a busy signal. Which is another sign of confirmation, I hope. It wasn’t quite what I was wanting to know, but any information helps when you’re worried.

Still haven’t found my dad yet, but there are still no reported fatalities from the Witch Creek Fire so it’s just a matter of time. (But when I do get in touch with him, he’s grounded for a month for making me worry like this!)

Thanks to those folks at for taking time out of an already hectic night to put together information for the rest of us. And thanks to Bruce Webster over at And Still I Persist for the on-the-spot reporting even as the flames are headed towards his own home.

My candle is still lit over here. Yet now it is for the continued safety of the people throughout my old stomping grounds. Whether it be Ramona or Devore or Lake Arrowhead or Malibu or Santa Clarita or any of the other fires in the Southland, let folks stay safe.

And that goes triple for firefighters on the lines.

[EDIT: 10.23.07 2058MDT]
Finally got the chance to talk with my dad. He is currently in the evacuation center at Mira Loma High School. And he reported to me that, even with almost a million people displaced by the firestorm, the various agencies are still on top of things. FEMA, the Red Cross, CHP, San Diego County, veterinarians, animal shelters, and all the various and sundry city and community and town governments are working together very well. Aid is right there when it is needed.

For a direct quote: “Son, this is not like Katrina.”

Keep those candles lit for the people out there, and keep those prayers going for the firefighters, both those already there and those from all around the West that continue to stream into the area. No one is fully out of this thing yet.

October 19, 2007

Gonna Buy Me A Hammer

Filed under: Free Speech — Off Colfax @ 2:06 am

Being a responsible newspaper, we must note that this is a misdemeanor, a crime, a completely inappropriate way of handling a business dispute.


Heh. Indeed.

[Turn Signal: The Indeed of all Heh’s]

October 16, 2007

Competition Spurs Failure

Filed under: Business,Economics,Science — Brutus @ 1:38 am

As with Adam’s anticipation of the demise of the newspaper, the demise of the recording industry has been prophesied for some time now. Periodic transitions from one medium to another have been disorienting, but it wasn’t until the digital era, when ripping tunes and file swapping became ubiquitous, that the economic model of the recording industry got to be seriously undermined. (Others have disagreed with me on this point in the past.) The RIAA has made itself a scourge by acting to protect its members’ intellectual property, which I find a legitimate response but others insist is preposterous. This is a brief background to provide context.

What surprised me to learn was that the recording industry has had a larger hand in its own eventual failure than even I suspected. As this article describes in some detail, recording companies (labels, if you wish) competed to attract listeners and sell albums, but rather than focus on developing musical groups and creating the best possible musical product (or maybe in addition to those things), they adopted a subtle technological trick to harpoon listeners. Louder music (average level rather than peak level) tends to give the impression of better quality to typical listeners, so over time, the dynamic range of music was flattened or compressed while made louder overall. The side effect the industry should have foreseen is listener fatigue, which causes customers to turn off the music.

This competetive strategy looks conspicuously like the tragedy of the commons to me. A few thoughtless competitors abandoned their values for a temporary and illusory edge in the marketplace until the practice became so widespread that the music itself was compromised. I suppose there are plenty of examples of both principled competition and weaselly competition. In this case, the weasels sealed their own fates first by enabling infringers and then selling listeners short (not in that order chronologically). Oddly enough, neither of these practices has had the same effects in the classical and jazz markets, where the best possible medium and best possible musical material have always been used to stimulate listeners’ interest and album sales. What a shame those simple values are lost in mass markets.

Velly Interesting… But Stoopid

Filed under: Content-lite — Off Colfax @ 12:00 am

Now that is what I call durability.

My only question to them is:

Will it blend?

[Turn Signal: Teh Insty]

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