Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Sarkozy's Speech Today

It's in French with French subtitles, which does absolutely nothing for Anglophone monoglots, but I'm posting it anyway.

Money quote for Withywindle:
It is necessary to continue because I remain persuaded that the world needs a strong, independent, and imaginative Europe.


In the context of the speech I think it helps your case more than mine because later on:
Finally, France will continue to act in Africa, in Asia, and of course in the Middle East where I will go Monday because it is the job of France to search everywhere for the routes to peace, as it's also her job to act for human rights.


FLG is curently listening to

Cock Of The Walk



h/t

Occasional Dissident Title

I found a good font for Alan's Blog, The Occasional Dissident, but I'm not sure what picture would be best. So, I threw it on my Key Bridge picture for display purposes only.

New Font

I found a new font that is pirate-esque. I kinda like it.

Passwords Continued

FLG has made fantastic progress upgrading his passwords and entering them into KeePass. He started with all his bank and financial accounts, which all now have passwords like:

b^~%2elxZLL7P5o"WUG~_7X

He's going around and changing his online store passwords now.

On Accents In Movies

I'm not going to see Valkyrie. However, the dumbest criticism I've heard of the movie is that the actors, particularly Tom Cruise, doesn't speak with a German accent as if that is somehow hokie.

Uh. Germans speak German, not English with a German accent. If all the characters are German and presumably they are all speaking to each other in German, then a good case could be made that the movie should be entirely in German with English subtitles. That would only limit the potential audience and the actors probably don't know German so it would be in German with English accents and that doesn't make any sense. That means we are left with a choice between English with no German accents and English with German accents. I find the idea of English with German accents far hokier than normal English. In fact, who would even think that speaking English with a foreign accent is somehow more authentic?

iPods and Free Trade

Free Exchange:
As long as America has a labour force of competitive, skilled workers, it will still reap the benefits of innovation and benefit from trade. An interesting question is what wages and jobs would have been if more [iPod] production had taken place in America. If that had been the case, iPods would have been more expensive. Apple would have faced less demand for the new models that are constantly being trotted out. This probably would have meant fewer well-paid skilled jobs.


Interesting analysis. This reminded me that the reason I chose to study economics is because my first economics class exposed how rudimentary the thinking of most people I knew and myself was.

Far too often people focus on the wrong things when trying to analyze the economic benefits and costs. Much of the time what they portray as benefits of their preferred policy would be true under the alternative as well or is just flat out wrong.

Credit Card Minimum Payments

Are they a bad thing?

Interesting evidence, but I'm not sold yet.

On Tax Loopholes

The key issue for tax loopholes is this -- if lawyers and accountants can find a portion of the law that makes it cheaper for rich people and corporations to pay them than to pay Uncle Sam, then people and corporations will always take advantage of tax loopholes.

The more the income tax is used as a tool of social policy the worse it gets. Higher marginal and corporate tax rates mean that the rich and corporations have greater potential savings by using loopholes. Creating tax breaks to encourage behavior gives the lawyers and accountants more room to work to find loopholes.

Obviously, this is not an either/or situation. The tax code could be redesigned so that there are less loopholes taken advantage of, but that would mean it must be used less to encourage or discourage behavior. However, the irony is, the people most upset about tax loopholes, the Democrats, are also the ones who frequently want to use the tax code as a social policy tool.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

FLG Favorite Movie Reference of 2008

You can't sell horse tranquilizers to a midget.

FLG has used that line numerous times.

Un Conte de Noël

I'll have to see if this is playing near me.

Israel and Gaza

Leave aside the legal and moral arguments, and assume for the purposes of this post that Israel is entirely justified in its actions. The question I have is -- Are they effective?

Israel bombs Gaza. Wipes out some Hamas leaders. Does it further their long-term security goals? Even if they send troops back into Gaza they will have to pull out again. World opinion, Israeli public opinion, and cost will force the withdrawal. In that context, what does this accomplish?

Now, I can hear the retort that it is better than no response. But are those the only two options that Israel had a few days ago? Military strikes or nothing?

I'm conflicted because I don't have an answer either. I would argue that Israel should try to publicize the unprovoked rocket attacks before responding in an attempt to win over world opinion. Whatever world opinion means. But that's tilting at windmills.

Was there no third option? Were third options attempted that I am unaware of? Something has to be more effective than this, doesn't it?

Chinese Urbanization Reversing?

CNN:
China's ocean of blue-collar workers is streaming back to the country's farming hinterland, bringing thwarted aspirations and rising discontent in tow as their city jobs, their paths out of poverty, fall victim to the global economic crisis.


The economic incentive to move from the country to the city is represented by the formula:

Wage_Urban X (The probability of finding employment)

or

Wage_Urban X (100 - Urban_unemployment_rate)

If this is greater than the Wage_Rural, then there is incentive to move. If this equation is smaller than Rural_wage, then there is incentive to return to the countryside. Rural unemployment is often assumed to be zero because people can usually contribute on a farm. As this article states, the urban unemployment rate has risen and it makes the countryside appear more attractive.

Note: There is also probably an emotional, spiritual, or familial factor as well that should also deflate the Wage_Urban as an incentive to move, but that's impossible to quantify. But the equation would look something like this:

Wage_Urban X (The probability of finding employment) - (Preference for rural)

These are simple, intuitive equations that are often forgotten or not recognized when people talk about urbanization in the developing world.

Economies can still develop while partially ameliorating the problems of urbanization if the rural wages can be lifted somehow. However, development will eventually result in urbanization regardless. It's just easier to produce things in a city that offers goods and services that are required for your business to thrive and grow.

A Conversation

Coworker: The Declaration of Independence does not contain the words, "merciless Indian savages."

FLG: I'll bet you ten dollars it does.

Coworker: Not separately. That exact phrase has to be in there.

FLG: That phrase. Ten dollars.

Chi-ching.

PetroSocialism Fails Like Normal Socialism

Economist:
DURING a turbulent decade in power, Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez, has been greatly helped by his own remarkable ability to inspire loyalty among ordinary Venezuelans on the one hand, and the sharp rise in the price of oil, the country’s only significant export, on the other. But the world price of oil has fallen from a peak of $147 last July to $40. And popular discontent with Mr Chávez’s corrupt and autocratic regime is mounting. So 2009 looks like being a difficult year for Mr Chávez and his “Bolivarian revolution”.

Not for the first time in Venezuela, a sudden fall in the oil price will reveal the economy’s structural flaws. Despite the government’s insistence that it will maintain social spending, the poor will once again bear the brunt of the downturn. According to José Manuel González, president of the main employers’ organisation, Fedecamaras, 75% of food is now imported. Unemployment, which stands at 6% by the official count, is being held down by government grants to educational “missions” and unprofitable co-operatives. Under Mr Chávez, too, the number of public employees has roughly doubled, to well over 2m, without taking into account over 1m public-sector pensioners. Just paying the wage bill, let alone subsidies and food imports, may soon become problematic.


He's now seizing gold mines to fund the revolution. That scent emanating from Venezuela isn't sulfur, it's the quickly rotting corpse of the Chávez regime.

Ribs

FLG is a huge ribs fan. His favorite are from the Rendezvous in Memphis. The Memphis Style Ribs in the Barbecue Bible (you bought it, right?) are the Rendezvous' recipe, and that's the reason FLG bought the book in the first place. Sometimes, however, it's tremendously inconvenient to get the hickory smoke and everything going out on the grill.

When that happens FLG makes his ribs, hold the rotten tomatoes, in the oven using this recipe. Hold judgment about ribs in the oven until you've tried it.

FLG is currently listening to

Quote of the day

NRO:
Burke set out to show — in an ironic mode — that an attempt to substitute “natural religion” for revealed religion would have revolutionary consequences for civil society.


Fantastic article.

HT: Irish Elk

Monday, December 29, 2008

FLG is currently listening to



FLG is catching up on some reading

With all the baby concerns, FLG has been neglect in his Rooked reading. He wishes he had read it before the jolly fat guy came by the house:

I suspect that, dating back into antiquity, this mysterious character studied long in the mystery schools of ancient Egypt and grew as an adept in the cult of Osiris and managed to find the key to living an unnaturally long life. He travelled extensively in the ancient world and was involved in many adventures and is probably responsible for many Biblical accounts of anomalous activities; most notably Ezekiel’s Wheel and, even more astonishing, that he stole the Ark of the Covenant as the prototype for his sleigh. And he probably played a not-so-insignificant role in the burgeoning legend of the Passover, since he seems to have developed an inordinate interest in children and moving about stealthily in the dead of night. I suspect he was abducting them for use in blood sacrifice ceremonies to Baal and various other golden calves of the day.

Caroline, like, you know, Update

Telegraph:
Caroline Kennedy's campaign to claim Hillary Clinton's Senate seat has taken another downturn after an interview in which she said "you know" 142 times.


142 is an awful lot. FLG has verbal crutches. He says cocksucking motherfucker all the time, but not 142 times in an interview. Ten, twelve tops.

FLG is currently listening to

FLG is currently listening to

ENA

This interview in Le Monde reminded me to post something on the École Nationale d'Administration.

Imagine the pretentious pricks that Harvard would produce if admission was based upon a standardized exam that claimed to be meritocratic and the most prestigious government jobs were reserved for its graduates by law. That's how I view énarques, which the graduates of the school are called.

Withywindle on NATO

Withywindle enumerates his thoughts on NATO here. He's got some good points.

1) The issue of the preservation of NATO remains of great importance. Europe and North America together still constitute half or more of the world’s economy, trade, and military power; the question of whether they should be obligated to mutual defense is one of great weight. One shouldn’t treat the matter lightly.


Agreed. But then isn't there a strategic interest in defending Europe extrinsic of NATO? If so, then the question becomes whether the character of alliance is beneficial or detrimental to US national interests.

2) A good conservative should be wary of tampering with an institution, for fear that it preserves far more than is apparent to our limited knowledge. One should presume that our interests are bound up in NATO in many small ways that are not immediately obvious.


Damn good point. However, the stated purpose of NATO was to defend against a now non-existent enemy and, this is the crucial part, nobody can tell me what its purpose is since that enemy went away. Everybody is searching for a new purpose. I'm willing to risk tampering with it because nobody makes a very persuasive argument about what it is doing. But still, everybody could be wrong or miss something important.

3) NATO scarcely seems needed for its avowed mission: the collective defense of Europe and North America (“America” hereafter, as I relegate Canada to its traditional oblivion.) America faces no threat—and neither, by and large, does Europe. The Muslim Mediterranean littoral presents zero military threat to Europe. Russia seemed this summer to present a threat to Eastern Europe—but the collapse of the price of oil seems to reduce that threat....To preserve NATO essentially to defend the Baltic States from Russia seems disproportionate.


Right. And I would still argue that the European Union would be a better vehicle for protection of Eastern Europe. Granted the European Union would have to transform into a more narrowly-focused monetary/defense union, but I think adding more and more members will actually push them that way eventually. But that's a whole 'nother post.

4) NATO also has an unpleasant tendency to expand mindlessly — to wit, the clamor to incorporate Ukraine and Georgia. If we have a marginal interest in guaranteeing the independence of the Baltic States, we have no interest in guaranteeing the independence of Ukraine and Georgia. If no moderate policy is possible—if we cannot maintain NATO at its current size, but must choose between its disbandment and its expansion, the attraction of disbandment grows considerably.


Agreed.

5) FLG (not alone) argues that NATO allows the Europeans to act as irresponsible free-riders, and so should be disbanded to encourage them to take responsibility for their own defense, and to improve their national characters. I am not sure that I agree with his premise. NATO is useless, after all, because Europe faces no military threats to their homelands; since it faces no military threats, they have no need to spend in their self-defense. So far as defensive military spending goes, the Europeans therefore are correct to keep up a barebones military...The formal existence of NATO I think has trivial effects on European military policy. Furthermore, should a clear and present danger emerge, I think Europe will re-arm at more or less the same rate, regardless of the existence of NATO.


I disagree. The formal existence of NATO I think has marginal effects on European military policy. This means that on the margins of policy decisions the Europeans decide to forgo guns in favor of butter because they know the US military is there if there's ever a threat. This influence at the margins of many policy decisions has a non-trivial effect on European budget priorities.

6) A different line of argument — I think Alpheus argued this a few years ago, and/or Gowanus — is that NATO inhibits the reform of America’s military — preserves serried tanks and fighter jets on the German plain, still vigilant against Soviet attack, calcifies military planning in the Pentagon...Perhaps NATO inhibited American military reform during the 1990s; I think that will not be the case again.


Agreed. Institutional culture in the various services is the problem. The Air Force in particular has the biggest problem with reform.

7) NATO serves unstated purposes. This has always been the case: NATO is meant to keep the Russians out, the Germans down, and the Americans in, was the traditional quip. So NATO serves purposes beyond its stated remit. Perhaps this is hypocritical — perhaps it is Rube Goldberg — but because it is so, NATO should only be dissolved if a substitute institution for these unstated purposes can be secured first.


Of the three things listed, only keeping the Americans in seems to be a concern. Russia ain't goin' anywhere in Europe despite its bluster. The Germans have become a nation of pacifists as a result of the horrors of the last century.

Unstated purposes, in general, are tricky. To be addressed they would have to be stated, and to have been unstated in the first place implies they are impolitic.

8) The NATO guarantee secures the democratic political culture and the stability of various European countries. It captures various European security bureaucracies, aligns them with American bureaucracies and interests, and Americanizes them. It prevents a long-term drift of Europe away from the American alliance. It gives the Britons, Poles, Czechs, etc. an anchor to prevent their drift into the hostile, unAmerican political culture in the Franco-German axis.


This point is a good one, but I disagree. The primary issue here is how strong one thinks the democracies in Europe are, and Withywindle and I disagree on that point.

9) NATO provides an anchor for American air and naval dominance in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Our naval bases and deployments of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean fleets depend on, among other things, our bases in Greenland, Iceland, Britain, the Azores, Spain, and Italy — which in turn depend (to some indeterminable extent) on the NATO alliance. Our dominance of the Mediterranean littoral — a crucial part of our projection of power into the Muslim world — relies upon a Sixth Fleet that in turn relies on this chain of naval bases and allied countries. To the extent that the defense of Israel remains in our interest, that too relies upon this chain of naval power, and the NATO alliance.


I'm not sure that NATO is required for this. The Seventh Fleet is based in Japan, who is not a NATO member. If we dissolve NATO the United States could easily arrange a long-term agreement with one or several European nations for naval and air bases. Does NATO offer a more firm guarantee and provide political cover for these basing agreements? Sure. Does NATO prevent the Europeans from dictating that the US Navy will not use its bases to protect Israel? Yes. However, I find that possibility unlikely. And the proper solution would be to arrange for bases in several countries via bilateral agreement. This is not a reason to keep NATO around.

10) NATO provides a base for power projection abroad. Our deployment in Iraq depends on a resupply chain via our bases in Britain and Germany, overflight privileges, hospitals in Germany, etc. (By the by, there’s the value of NATO for you: the number of wounded American soldiers whose lives were saved because of our hospitals in Germany.) NATO provides the infrastructure for the deployment of American power farther into Eurasia and Africa — and although our European allies can veto such deployments (see the Turkish veto in 2003), NATO’s institutional architecture essentially means that they have to positively veto such deployments rather than positively permit them. Most Europeans opposed the Iraq War; NATO meant that America could use European territory as a base for that war regardless of that opposition. NATO shifts European political inertia significantly to our military advantage.


Now, there is something to be said for the ability to invest in long-term infrastructure at a place like Ramstein Air Base in Germany without the threat that Germany will have oversight of every mission from there. I'm sure this could be resolved through other means, but Withywindle does have a very good point.

11) NATO allows for organized military bluster along its perimeter. This is particularly in reference to Russia: if the Russians are not going to invade Europe, they are perfectly willing to bluster and bully their neighbors — spy, use cyberwarfare, cut off oil, send subs and planes scouting into NATO waters and buzzing NATO ships — as a way to maximize their power in Europe. NATO organizes counter-bluster — e.g., preserving Estonia’s political and economic autonomy from Russia rather than its formal independence. Here, I think, is where FLG’s criticism is particularly telling: NATO allows the Europeans to run down their military bluster capabilities, and to depute it to the Americans. They’re not entirely toothless, but largely. It’s possible that abolishing NATO would give the Europeans incentive to improve these capabilities — but this is a narrowly defined advantage.


This may be a narrowly defined advantage, but it is crucial when one thinks of the European geopolitical ideal. They want to use soft power, which is a total crock and is almost entirely ineffective without a military threat. The NATO alliance permits them to live in this delusion. Abolishing NATO would wake the Europeans up to the fact that it is a cold world out there and that their warm, fuzzy soft power theory is bullshit. They would then develop a legitimate force projection capability that could at least deal with problems in Africa so that the United States isn't the world's cop anymore. I have no fear that Europe would develop a global power projection capability to rival the United States, but one that could deal with things in Africa or the Near East and deter a potential resurgent Russia without US involvement would be hugely beneficial.

12) NATO allows for organized offensive military expeditions. This is completely unwarranted by the charter, but it so happens that it does work out that way, and this is a non-trivial advantage. Granted, not much better than trivial — European weeniness makes the NATO deployments against Somali pirates, or against the Taliban, rather pathetic. Still, they’re better than nothing — and there’s no reason to believe that absent NATO you’d get better than nothing. But then, NATO provided a framework for rather effective (largely American) air-strikes in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, to decisive effect. This argues that this offensive capability has real potential value. Granted, the Europeans contribute little to this offensive capability — but again, I don’t think NATO inhibits the development of this capability. To develop real offensive capability, the Europeans would have to invest some percentage points of GDP for a generation into their militaries — and this requires a political decision by a bipartisan majority of the various European countries. So NATO allows for offensive American expeditions with marginal European military support and more significant European political cover. All in all, a plus.


I would argue that a 10 years after NATO was abolished the Europeans would possess the capability to deal with something like Bosnia and Kosovo without US involvement. To the extent that the existence of NATO prevents that possibility it is a problem. And I think that NATO changes the calculus in thousands of policy decisions.

I would be happy to be argued out of a belief in the utility of NATO, so I could leave the Europeans to their own devices. Alas, interest seems to argue for a continued intertwining of our affairs.


Yes, but it doesn't have to be an explicit alliance with a permanent, large, problematic bureaucracy searching for things to do for decades because its initial mission disappeared.


Thanks Withywindle. That really helped me clear up some things in my own mind even if that clarity didn't end up on the page.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Doubt

The FLGs saw Doubt on Christmas and loved it.


FLG is a huge PSH fan.

Password Management

FLG is currently changing all of his passwords to stronger, randomly generated values and storing them in KeePass. That and returning to his workout routine are his New Year's Resolutions.

Make Work Bias

Alan, like many people, suffers from make work bias.

We give credit to companies who modernize and reduce their labor force. But it is also good that companies do all they can to maximize the number of people they employ and support—good for the local community and good for our country.


Really? Well, then let's ban bulldozers and backhoes and require all holes be dug with shovels and all earth moved by wheelbarrow. That will create more jobs. Scratch that. Forget shovels. Let's ban those too and give everybody spoons. Then a bunch of people will be employed.

See the problem is that one person with a bulldozer can move more dirt and therefore is more productive. Hence, the company he works for can afford to pay him more than a person digging with spoons.

Alan then goes on to argue that unionization of Alabama autoworkers would be beneficial:
Dear citizens, labor unions have a history of mutual support with the Democratic Party, making enemies of the Republican Party as a consequence. That would change, we might expect, if a Republican like Senator Shelby supported unionization in the Alabama automotive plants. Alabama’s and America’s workers and economies would improve as a result. Those foreign car companies eventually would provide benefits equal to those in Detroit and, while they would still export their profits, would begin to rise above their second-rate status. Their contributions could exceed mere investor returns. The automotive manufacturers in Detroit, their workers, and the region’s economy would all be protected and supported by this act. We are, however, headed in the opposite direction.


There are so many holes in this logic I don't even know where to begin. One set of automakers is failing and one is not. One has unions and one does not. It seems pretty clear that the non-failing, non-unionized group shouldn't adopt a measure that, while certainly not entirely to blame for the failure of the other, is a large contributor to its problems.

What ultimately determines worker salaries is the productivity of the workers. Political organization cannot overcome that basic fact. Sure, workers can organize and get more money, but it is unsustainable over the long-term unless the workers increase their productivity. Increasing productivity requires investment in capital by the firm, which the increased labor costs constrain. Therefore, unions, like almost all political policies which endeavor to redistribute economic benefits from one party to another in time period 1 reduce overall economic growth and the benefits to all parties in time periods greater than 1.

If you say to pay all the workers who dig with spoons more money, then the company can't afford as many shovels. Yet, a person with a shovel can move more dirt. If you say to pay all the workers with shovels more money, then the company can't afford a bulldozer. Yet, a person driving a bulldozer can move even more dirt. The amount of dirt moved, the productivity, ultimately determines the salary of the workers. If you demand more money for workers, then you constrain the company's ability to buy shovels and bulldozers. If you constrain the ability to buy shovels and bulldozers you constrain the future productivity. If you constrain future productivity you constrain future worker income. So, that pay raise demanded by the union, while it appears to have been extracted from the evil management to the benefit of workers, in fact hurts workers later on. You just don't see it because the loss was income foregone.

And that -- the analysis of only one time period as if the economy was static -- is the ultimate weakness of dirigiste economic policy.

Witch Mountain Rock

I can't believe they are making another one of the Witch Mountain movies 30 years later. Has Hollywood completely run out of ideas? Don't answer that.



I always thought the room that Mr. Bolt had for the kids was cool. Jump to like the 3:00 mark:


But let's be honest, The Rock is no Donald Pleasence.

Maryland Drivers Continued

why.i.hate.dc hates them almost as much as FLG does.

FLG's Reading

So, FLG spent most of the morning in the hospital. Routine tests. All okay. Go home, come back in a couple of days. However, he was able to catch up on some Economist reading.

This article on Angels was interesting, but the author cannot contain his empirical disdain for people who believe in them.

FLG found this article on chili peppers fascinating, but is frightened of the pepper Tesco has started selling. It's 3 times hotter than a habanero and roughly 75% as hot as pepper spray. Who would want to eat that?

This article reminded FLG that he hasn't been skiing in a very long time. Too long.

This article had the best opening line:
IF THERE is one thing Congress excels at, it is finishing its tasks late and over budget.


This article on Sufism was enjoyable, but then again Sufism intrigues FLG anyway.
The stringent, legalistic creeds of the Taliban and other revivalists are on the rise in South Asia, but only a minority follow them. Most of the 450m Muslims in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh—nearly a third of the Islamic world—practise a gentler, more tolerant faith, in which pre-Islamic superstitions are still evident. It is strongly influenced by Sufism, an esoteric and, in theory, nonsectarian Muslim tradition, which is strictly followed by a much smaller number of disciplined initiates. In its popular form, Sufism is expressed mainly through the veneration of saints, including self-styled mystics like those in Lahore, canonised by their followers.


FLG also enjoyed Charlemagne's review of France's EU presidency.
PONDERING a moment of futile British courage—the charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava, during the Crimean war—a French general, Pierre Bosquet, concluded that “it is magnificent, but it is not war.” The phrase comes to mind again judging France’s rotating presidency of the European Union under the leadership of Nicolas Sarkozy.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Nitpicked

Nick Troester nitpicks me. He has reason on both points. On the first point I didn't articulate what I was trying to express particularly well. On the second, I was being a petulant ass and deserved to be rebuked.

Dude You Need To Chill

I hadn't seen this before. He's right. He's not a dude. He's a fucking asshole with a power trip.



This one's for you copper.

Title Font Change

Giving a new font a whirl. I think I like the previous one better. In fact, new poll. Which font is best?

A:


B:


C:


D:


E:


F:


Original:

The Western Canon

An important aspect of the Western Canon is that it is a large body, corpus if you will, of thought on almost any imaginable topic relevant to the human condition. The most important aspect is that it is a shared corpus.

If I've read the The Bacchae and you've read The Bacchae I can use it to illustrate a point about chaos versus order. You could then use Friedrich Nietzsche's take on Apollonian and Dionysian as part of a counter-argument. Again, if we both have read his writings. Likewise, one could even reference Atticus Finch when talking about justice. Or...well...you get my drift. Alluding to shared works let's us use rhetoric that is simultaneously more concise and rich.

The choices made regarding what books are part of the canon obviously contain normative value. If I say the Iliad is part of the canon and that a feminist, lesbian, Latina migrant worker's story is not, then that attributes more value to the Iliad than the other. And one could, and many have, argued that this is a problem because it gives more value to the work of a dead white man than a living, lesbian, Latina woman author, but that's a stupid argument. The Iliad has more value because it has demonstrated its worth by remaining relevant for thousands of years. It contains themes and messages that are universal in the human condition.

I guess one could counter my statement by saying that there are no universal themes, and that we can only get at Truth through shared experience with as wide a range of voices as possible. And I agree to a point. We should all endeavor to understand as many people's lives as possible. But when it comes to what to teach in a curriculum with limited time and resources those limited time and resources are best spent teaching classical, time-tested texts that have survived through the centuries. That way we have a shared literary tradition to reference, and we can subsequently debate the merits of other works using references to that shared corpus.

Will this necessarily constrain the debate? Yes, but it provides a framework with which to understand and express our thoughts on other works to each other and ourselves. I might even say that it adds a bit of Apollonian order to the Dionysian chaos of human existence, but that would presume that you were familiar with Greek Mythology and Drama, as well as Western Philosophy...

The problem is that the most important thing to me about the Western Canon, what makes it most useful, is that other people know it too. If others haven't read much of it, then it loses much of its value. To the extent that it is no longer taught or there is less interest in reading it, it dies.

GRE

The GRE computer took a huge fucking shit after I typed two fantastic essays. Long story short, it's a nationwide glitch and I need to reschedule my test. Well, I need to get it done soon and with the baby coming I'm not sure when to schedule it.

On an unrelated note, Maryland drivers are universally cocksucking motherfuckers. All of you bastards. No exceptions. Why the hell do you insist doing 85 in the fucking right-hand lane when nobody is next to you and FLG is trying to merge onto the highway in the Fear and Loathing Mobile? Yes, I deliberately swerved over and tapped the brakes in front of you just to fuck you over. Serves you right. You and all your friends from that awful state had better chiggity-check yo'selves before FLG wriggity-wrecks you.

I'm out, yo.

GRE

I'm taking the GRE right now. Given the hubbub with the baby and all I wonder if I had time to study. I say wonder because I am posting this well in advance.

Quote of the day

NYTimes:
According to Pew’s August survey, only 39 percent of Christians believe that the Bible is the literal word of God, and 18 percent think that it’s just a book written by men and not the word of God at all. In fact, on the question in the Pew survey about what it would take to achieve eternal life, only 1 percent of Christians said living life in accordance with the Bible.


In fairness, when you read something like this it's hard to take literally as a guide to Heaven:
32 come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.
33 And they made their father drink wine that night: and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.
34 And it came to pass on the morrow, that the firstborn said unto the younger, Behold, I lay yesternight with my father: let us make him drink wine this night also; and go thou in, and lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.
35 And they made their father drink wine that night also: and the younger arose, and lay with him; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.
36 Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father.

A Conversation

M Street. Georgetown. It was freezing.

Greenpeace Person: I can tell you care about the environment.

FLG: Where's your global warming now? I could use some.

Greenpeace Person: You don't understand. Short-term fluctuations...

FLG: Blah, blah, blah. In cold weather you guys say short-term fluctuations. In hot, the end is nye. I would never give to Greenpeace anyway.

FLG passes the person.

Greenpeace person mixture of scorn, shock, and frustration: Why not? You must hate the environment.

FLG stops and turns around.

FLG: No. I don't hate the enviroment. I hate the insane tactics that your fanatical group of zealots use, which I can only assume are rationalized in your minds by the ends justify the means and the pursuit of ideological purity. Why don't you get off the fucking street and get a fucking real job instead of standing here in the way of people asking for money for an idiotic organization? Or go work for the Sierra Club. I like them a lot. Good day.

Friday, December 26, 2008

This Didn't Happen To Pirates

Telegraph:
HMS London sank in 1685 after exploding without warning in the Thames Estuary near Chatham Docks in a blast which killed 300 people and was recorded by diarist Samuel Pepys.

But now one researcher believes the blast may have been triggered by the noxious accumulation of methane from the scores of sailors who relieved themselves in the bowels of the ship.

Picasa

I highly recommend Picasa to organize digital photos. If you have a Mac just stick with the native photo thingy.

Which reminds me, if you don't perform regular back-ups of the photos and documents on your computer, tsk-tsk, you should do so before the New Year. No particular reason why the New Year, but if you put it off you'll forget.

Second Worst Commerical Ever

Mrs. and Miss FLG

...are fine.

Doctors said to go home and come back twice a week. They scared the shit out of us for nothing. We even bought a bassinet and got the baby's room all ready. (The crib we ordered has been delayed and has not arrived as yet.)

Anyway, things are okay. FLG will be studying for the GRE, which he is taking tomorrow, so blogging will be lite. However, the posts he had queued up a few days ago will still be posting themselves.

The Government Is All Too Often Like The DMV

I've probably said this before, but I used to believe government conspiracy theories were possible. That was until I started interacting with the government at various levels. Anybody who has cannot come to any other conclusion than the large bureaucracies, petty bureaucrats, and general incompetence make government conspiracies highly unlikely. In fact, dealing with any government agency, or even a large, poor corporate bureaucracy, is like going to the DMV.

If you have a standard transaction, then it all depends on how long you wait because once you get somebody to help you they plow through it like mindless automatons. If your transaction is even slightly off from the norm, then forget it. You are will have to deal with 17,000 people. Each of whom will require you to explain the story in detail. Their initial response will be for you to talk to somebody else because either they are either incapable or too lazy to deal with anything other than their proscribed, rote paper processing.

Despite all this FLG was interested in working for the government in one of several capacities related to his recently acquired degree. He wanted to see the other side of this equation, but the entire process made it worse. The process of getting a government job is so terrible that we can't possibly be getting the best and brightest. Now, you may object that FLG is one of the best and brightest, but this is his little anecdote.

He applied for several jobs between January and March. He heard back from the first job on June, six months later, after he had already found employment. But the worst is that he received word that he was consider qualified for an economist job that he had applied to in March on Monday. That's right. Apply to a job in March and hear back in December. How the heck do they fill these positions?

Now, I would have to quit a job that I've been in for seven months, take approximately a 50% pay cut to take a job I applied for in March. No wonder the government is filled with so many dolts. Oh, and I've got a few government employee readers. It's not that all of you are dumb, just most. And the bureaucracy seems to suck the soul and intellect out of the remaining people.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Barrrrh-B-Q

Pirate BBQ and steak sauce.

FLG is staunchly pro-BBQ sauce and anti-steak sauce. A good steak needs nothing more than salt and pepper. Perhaps a small pat of butter. But nothing more. Steak sauce is a crime against good steak and spit in the eye of the chef.

NY Senate Seat

dave.s. wrote:
Andrew Cuomo is widely disliked. So, they are trying to keep him out of it. Besides, Pinch thinks she's swell.


I vote for Chris Cuomo. He's got a JD, and he's on GMA, which is almost as important as the senate.

Technology Is Not Magic Continued: Digital Photography

I've received several emails over the past year asking when the title picture was taken. Sometimes, the question is follow by "How much has Georgetown changed since then?" It's as if people think the picture was an original Matthew Brady daguerreotype. The answer is that Georgetown has not changed much since the picture was taken because it was taken by me on August 5th, 2007.

Here's the original:


I then used picasa to make it black and white:


And then a film grain:


Next, I cropped it using gimp, which is a program like Photoshop -- but free:


And added text:



Finished product took approximately ten minutes.

Title Font Changes

The title font will be changing over the next few weeks as I experiment.

Merry Christmas and Joyeux Noël

The White House at Christmas:

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Is that a mummy in your pocket?

Telegraph:
An Australian man has been arrested at Cairo airport after security staff found ancient Egyptian animal mummies in his luggage, reports say.


FLG actually knew somebody, a long time ago, who made money dealing in Egyptian antiquities. It was legit. Well, as legit as something like dealing in another country's ancient cultural treasures can be. Big money in Near Eastern antiquities.

NORAD and Santa

NORAD, the military organization tasked with detecting a nuclear strike, and Google will be monitoring Santa's progress around the world.

HT: Lifehacker

Wordpress

I'm tinkering with Wordpress. That site is apt to change dramatically without warning and contains no content.

If I decide to switch over I will let you know. However, wordpress doesn't appear to allow CSS editing for free and blogger does. So, I might be able to do everything I want over here at blogger.

Caroline Kennedy

I haven't posted on the possible Caroline Kennedy senate appointment because, well, the whole thing astonishes me. Of the 19 million people who live in the State of New York the best the Democrats can come up with this Caroline Kennedy?

Maybe she's smart, capable, yada, yada, but she's lived a life roughly equivalent to Brooke Astor's. She's done charity stuff, which we all know is what sophisticated, wealthy, privileged women do because they don't want or need a real job. Maybe she is really smart and dedicated. Who cares? Are the Democrats saying that in the most populous Democratic hotbed in the country, New York City, they cannot find anybody better to be senator than a woman whose major claim is that she contains the genetic material of a former president? Are they that pathetic?

Ten Annoying Americanisms

Telegraph:
10. "Not so much."
[I like this one, so bite me you British pricks.]

9. "Can I use your bathroom?"
[Agreed. May I use your bathroom? is the correct form. What's a lavatory?]

8. "Oh my gosh!"
[Agreed. This phrase sucks.]

7. "Good luck with that."
[Again. Fantastic phrase. I thought the Brits invented sarcasm.]

6. "How are you today?"
[Ambivalent.]

5. "Let's visit with each other."
[What the fuck are they talking about? I have never, ever heard any American say this.]

4. "Do the math."
[This phrase sucks because pretentious MBA-types use it the most. "Run the numbers" is also in this category.]

3. "You're welcome."
[It's polite.]

2. "Have a Nice Day."
[Ok. Cliched. Meaningless. But again, polite.]

1. "Happy Holidays."
[Agreed. Wholeheartedly.]


I wonder what Basil thinks.

The Next Six Months Will Be Interesting

Chatham House (PDF):
PERHAPS THE MOST OUTSPOKEN EUROSCEPTIC senior politician in the European Union, Czech President Vaclav Klaus has long characterised the EU as an elitist, ‘rent-seeking’ bureaucracy which should be scaled back at the earliest possible opportunity to an intergovernmental, free-market, free-trade zone. He believes that the ultimate cause of the international financial crisis has been too much regulation, not too little. He regards the climate change agenda as a hoax and, needless to add, thinks the Lisbon Treaty is at best pointless.


The Czech EU presidency will be the best thing to ever happen to the organization.

Miss FLG

Yesterday, Mrs. FLG's OB sent her to the hospital. There's some concern about the baby. Mrs. FLG is home now, and we go back in on Friday for another test. They'll decide whether to get Miss FLG out then, which they said was the probable outcome. I've actually queued up some posts that will go up automatically over the next few days, but I won't be around.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Overcomplicating Things

IHT:
Germany called Tuesday for an international court to be set up to prosecute Somali pirates who have attacked scores of vessels this year, threatening global trade in one of the world's busiest shipping lanes. Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung of Germany said suspected pirates should face an international court. "It needs to be an international authority. No one wants a 'Guantánamo on the sea,"' Jung said in Djibouti, where he saw off 220 German troops joining a European Union anti-piracy mission.

We don't need another international court or a Guantánamo on the sea.  Get some rope and a yardarm and your problem is solved.

Parents Impede Social Engineering

Telegraph:
In the past generation, The Parent has become a different sort of animal altogether – much more interested, mobilised and demanding for its child when it comes to educational opportunity. This is, of course, a good thing for schools – those with parents who are involved, supportive and, crucially, fund-raising will of course achieve more. But it is also a problem for the social engineers. Because every time they come up with some initiative to help the less advantaged student, the cannier parent is, like Raffles, one step ahead.


I've always taken Plato's Republic as an argument that social engineering can only be truly successful if one acts completely immorally. Society would have to create a lottery to make sexual intercourse totally random, but then rig the lottery without telling the citizens to arrange suitable couplings, and then separate parent and child such that neither even knows who the other is. You know, act completely contrary to every basic human instinct.

Bob Herbert's Sleight-of-Hand and Sophistry

NYTimes:
Ms. Weingarten was raising a cry against the demonizing of teachers and the widespread, uninformed tendency to cast wholesale blame on teachers for the myriad problems with American public schools. It reminded me of the way autoworkers have been vilified and blamed by so many for the problems plaguing the Big Three automakers.


First, people don't blame teachers. They blame bad, lazy and incompetent teachers. To the extent that unions and tenure protect bad, lazy and incompetent teachers people rightfully blame the unions. Second, people, at least me, aren't blaming the autoworkers, I'm blaming their union, but only partially.

The Big Three were a powerful oligopoly after WWII. The union negotiated deals with these companies that distributed the oligopolic profits to the workers. I'm okay with that. But things changed somewhere between 1975 and 1985. The Japanese entered the market, and people liked their cars. Part of this demand for Japanese cars was obviously driven by the fuel crises, but a bigger issue is that Detroit as an industry had been made fat and lazy by 25-30 years of easy money.

Once the Japanese entered the market the auto industry had to change. Most people think Detroit's problem was that they didn't make cars people wanted, but that's not the whole picture. Detroit needed to and currently needs to make the cars people want at a price they are willing to pay. The Big Three got into financing to game the price people paid for cars, but that only works for so long, and not at all during a financial crisis.

To the extent that unions blocked necessary cost reforms they are responsible. This does not mean that all reforms proposed by Big Three management were correct and that therefore all the union's actions in protection of its members interests were wrong, but the Big Three needed to get smaller and more lean to compete with the Japanese. The union constrained this in a big way, and not to long after the US government had to bailout Chrysler just like it is doing now.

Some 150,000 jobs at General Motors, Ford and Chrysler have vanished outright through downsizing over the past five years. And like the members of Ms. Weingarten’s union (and other workers across the country, whether unionized or not), the autoworkers are prepared to make further sacrifices as required, as long as they are reasonably fair and part of a shared effort with other sectors of the society.


Those jobs should have disappeared twenty years ago, not in the last five years. And what do "reasonably fair" and "shared effort with other sectors of society" mean? This is what I am talking about when I mean unions constrain adjustment. Unions are at their core political organizations. They turn economic decisions into political ones. Without the unions people would have been laid off. No negotiation. No protests. It would have been heart-wrenching to the workers who were laid off 25 years ago from a downsizing auto industry, but they would have found other jobs and the economy would have adjusted. Unions resist these adjustments to protect their members, but the problem is often these adjustments are necessary.

The U.A.W. has been criticized because its retired workers have had generous pensions and health coverage. There’s a horror! I suppose it would have been better if, after 30 or 35 years on the assembly line, those retirees had been considerate enough to die prematurely in poverty, unable to pay for the medical services that could have saved them.


I object to the appeal to emotion, but the point is that these benefits make selling a car at the price people want almost impossible. When the companies have to pay for generous packages for workers who aren't working, and almost as importantly they need to downsize their existing workforce as it is this creates an insurmountable problem.

Now, some will argue that management signed these contracts with the union. Therefore, they should live up to them.

Many of these benefits were arranged when both management and the unions were dealing with an oligopolic car market. The hubris of management delayed the recognition of the need for vast reforms until well after the need had arisen. Unions, doing their job of protecting existing jobs, salaries, and benefits, were a a major impediment to reform. Those contracts, even ones signed recently, contain benefits from contracts signed during the halycon days. Those days are gone.

Hebert calls this a race to the bottom. It's not a race to the bottom. The problem is that the US shouldn't be making cars anymore. It's just not in America's comparative advantage. Even if the Big Three reform, in 10-20 years China's car industry is going to come along and wipe it out. American workers need to get into industries where America has advantages, not protecting existing jobs through the political organization known as unions.

Unions made sense in the industrial age, but the industrial age is largely over in the United States. Now, they represent reactionary protection of a quickly disappearing status quo, and in the process impede the transition. This opposition hurts their members and the American economy over the long-term.

PS. The teachers unions are better off, from their perspective and worse from mine, because they do work in a monopoly industry.

But of coure she is

NYTimes:
Even before taking office, Hillary Rodham Clinton is seeking to build a more powerful State Department, with a bigger budget, high-profile special envoys to trouble spots and an expanded role in dealing with global economic issues at a time of crisis.


The key question is whether this is simple fiefdom building or a strategic vision. I see a good argument for expanding State, but I'm sure fiefdom building is playing a huge part in this. Her ambition to be in charge of things, even though everything she has been in charge of has been a disaster, is an all-consuming mania.

Dear Warner Music and the Rest of the Music Industry,

You have to be one of the dumbest companies ever, at least from a long-term, big picture, strategic point of view. Your insistence that YouTube pay you more money to place music that you publish on the Internet has to be the most myopic, short-term focused (Read: most idiotic) decision taken by a major company since Xerox gave away the secrets of its Palo Alto Research Center to Apple for free.

The thing about your product that I believe you misunderstand is that people need to sample it before they buy it. Radio worked well as a solution, and then MTV. However, the Internet provides a different model. If you try to squeeze every single penny out of every single broadcast of your product, less people will hear it, and in turn less people will buy it.

At some level I feel sorry for you. You are a bit like the Big Three Automakers twenty-five years ago. There's a new game in town, the Internet not the Japanese, and you don't know what to do about it. Your strategy has been to be more of what you already are, which means bullying and overpriced. I blame it on your lawyers and accountants. Neither profession is good at strategic thinking. They're just pedantic little people who know their narrow little niche. Oh, the lawyers will balk and argue that their training allows big picture thinking, but don't you believe them. You're only hope is to get somebody with some real vision to guide your industry, and you just don't have anybody. My advice: Find out what Steve Jobs' price is to leave Apple. Whatever it is, it will be worth it.

It was nice knowing you, but I don't like who you've become lately.

-FLG

Monday, December 22, 2008

Do People Realize How Stupid They Sound?

Will Marshall, President, Progressive Policy Institute:
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is the most successful defense alliance in history. Today, however, the alliance is stumbling blind, and it badly needs a new sense of common purpose. As America's next president, you will face no more important task than defining a coherent mission for NATO in the 21st century -- a mission that transcends the alliance's origins as a strictly regional pact and reinvents it as a force for global stability.

NATO was founded nearly six decades ago to protect Western Europe from a militant and expansive Soviet Union. Since the collapse of the USSR, NATO has grown and the world has shrunk. Now, in an era of growing interdependence, the vital interests of America and Europe -- and the threats to those interests -- are literally everywhere, from the melting ice of the Arctic to the killing fields of Sudan.

No longer confined to North America and Western Europe, the "free world" now encompasses liberal democracies on every continent. Asia's surging economic growth, now centered in China, has moved the world's center of gravity eastward. NATO has failed to keep pace with these changes. As an almost exclusively Western club, it is an anachronism in today's multipolar world.

You should seize the opportunity to lead NATO's transformation from a North American-European pact into a global alliance of free nations. By opening its doors to Japan, Australia, India, Chile, and a handful of other stable democracies, NATO would augment both its human and financial resources. What is more, NATO would enhance its political legitimacy to operate on a global stage.


Okay. Let's fix these pargraphs.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was the most successful defense alliance in history. Today, however, the alliance is stumbling blind, and it badly needs to be abolished. As America's next president, you will face no more important task than explaining the obvious: that a coherent mission for NATO in the 21st century -- a mission that transcends the alliance's origins as a strictly regional pact and reinvents it as a force for global stability is a freakin' pipedream.

NATO was founded nearly six decades ago to protect Western Europe from a militant and expansive Soviet Union. Since the collapse of the USSR, NATO has grown irrelevant and the world has shrunk. Now, in an era of growing interdependence, the vital interests of America and Europe -- and the threats to those interests -- are literally everywhere, from the Indonesia to the Mahgreb.

No longer confined to North America and Western Europe, the "free world" now encompasses liberal democracies on every continent. Asia's surging economic growth, now centered in China, has moved the world's center of gravity eastward. NATO has failed to keep pace with these changes because it is completely irrelevant. As an almost exclusively Western club, it is an anachronism in today's multipolar world. Ergo, it should go away.

You should seize the opportunity to stop at all costs NATO's transformation from a North American-European pact into a global alliance of free nations. By opening its doors to Japan, Australia, India, Chile, and a handful of other stable democracies, NATO would become an unwieldy mess. What is more, NATO would enhance its ability to stumble around haphazardly on a global stage.

Why can't people just recognize that NATO worked against the USSR because the bipolar world focused the minds of its member states against a common enemy? NATO was merely a vehicle for the West to protect itself from the Eastern Bloc. The idea that the same focus and urgency can be turned toward amorphous, non-vital threats across the globe is laughable.

If you think about Mr. Marshall's logic for more than, I dunno, five seconds, it falls apart. Let's look at one sentence in particular:
the vital interests of America and Europe -- and the threats to those interests -- are literally everywhere, from the melting ice of the Arctic to the killing fields of Sudan.


First, if threats were vital and shared, then a temporary alliance to overcome the issues would form itself whether NATO exists or not. Because vital interests focus the minds of countries. So, if they are vital, then no need for an established NATO. If they are not vital, then NATO is needed. But why are we keeping an obsolete alliance around to pursue non-vital interests?

And so we arrive at the crux of the issue. Global warming and the killing fields of Sudan, despite the seriousness of both, are not vital security interests of the United States or Europe, which is why they haven't done anything about them.

Global warming is not a security interest to either because, well, it's not. It's a weather thing, not a defense thing. Yes, you can make tenuous arguments about how it will cause droughts and famines and that the disruption and conflicts caused by those hypothetical droughts and famines are security issues. But, and this brings us to Sudan as well, those will happen over there. And by over there I mean not in the US or Europe. And you might say that's cold-hearted and mean and that the United States has a moral responsibility to do something, but I hate to tell you this, even if that's true, we aren't going to do anything about it. NATO or no NATO. The last large-scale humanitarian intervention in Africa was what? Somalia? That was almost 20 years ago. Okay, 16 years ago. Rwanda, Sudan, Congo, and still Somalia are issues everybody weeps over, but the West does nothing about. Why? It's not a direct threat.

A major humanitarian issue in the Balkans, you know on the European continent, that's taken care of. If there was a major humanitarian issue in Mexico, you can bet dollars to donuts the US will intervene. But Africa? Nope.

Now, you may be saying, this sucks, and we should try to do something. Maybe NATO can fix these things. Let me clarify this for you. NATO is a monstrosity that needs to be put out of its misery. No alliance or international bureaucracy is going to change the fact that these issues aren't, despite claims to the contrary, vital interests of the United States and Europe.

HT: Yglesias

Bûche de Noël

Sydney: I can't believe you talked me into this. There's a thousand places I'd rather be than here on Christmas Eve.

Humphrey: I wasn't goin' come alone.

Sydney: Why is he having a Christmas party anyway? Isn't he Jewish?

Humphrey: Beats me.

Sydney: You owe me. Big time. I guess we might as well head on in.

Knock. Knock. The door opens with a creak.

Peter: Merry Christmas. I'm so glad you made it. Please come in.

Sydney: We brought you some wine.

Peter: Excellent. Please, make yourselves at home. Jimmy and Frank are in the study.

Humphrey: Frank!

Frank waves. Sydney and Humphrey walk over.

Frank: Hey. I thought you'd never should up. What gives?

Humphrey: I had to stop for cigarettes, and Sydney drives like an old maid.

Frank: I'm meeting some beautiful birds later. Wanna come out?

Humphrey: I gotta stay for a bit. If I don't it will be hell working with Peter.

Frank: His eyes give me the creeps. And the voice...

Humphrey: You get used to the voice, but the eyes -- never. Where'd you get the drink?

Frank: Have this one. I'll get another.

Sydney: Could you get me one too?

Frank: Why not.

Jimmy: Hey everybody, come to the window! I think it's snowing!

Frank: It don't snow in LA.

Jimmy: B-b-but I think it's snowing.

Humphrey: You're blitzed. You should lie down.

Peter: He's not seeing things.

Sydney jumps.

Peter: I'm sorry. I didn't mean to frighten you. I asked a friend from the studio to setup a fake snow machine outside. What do you think?

Various Mumbles: Great. Fantastic. Good idea.

Peter: I have some marshmallows. I thought we could roast them over the fire. I got a special yule log for the occasion. He points to the fireplace. It's burning perfectly.

Frank whispers: I'm not gonna take much more of this. When you wanna split?

Humphrey: Peter, maybe later. Let's have some drinks right now.

Peter: Perfect. I'll get the hot chocolate!

Frank: That's it. Let's go.

Humphrey: Alright.

Sydney: Don't you leave me here alone.

Humphrey: You've got Jimmy. Jimmy tell him about the new picture you're making. What's it called again?

Jimmy: It's a Wonderful Life.

Frank: It certainly is. Let's go. Dino's waiting for us with the girls.

They sneak out quietly.

Peter: Who wants hot cocoa? I've got enough for everybody. Oh...rats.

Technology and Magic

Every few months, I am reminded that most people have no idea how the Internet or computers work. It usually occurs when my crescendo of frustration has reached its zenith. I finally lose it and somebody admits that this whole computer-interwebs thingy is like magic to them. And then, as I did today, I dig up an old John C. Dvorak column that I read years ago.

Dvorak:
Readers of this column understand the inner workings of their computer and the Internet. But many people don't understand these and most other modern technologies. The general public considers these technologies magic, although nobody would admit that publicly.

Let's look at it from the perspective of someone with no cultural clues—say, an alien or a hermit. You have a screen, a keyboard, and a mouse. You move the mouse, and a cursor magically moves around the screen. You have a keyboard on which you push buttons in various sequences, commanding something somewhere to produce a visual image on screen. This image may contain information you seek. It may show you a movie. People from other parts of the world can talk to you.

By any traditional definition, this is magic. Real magic, not trickery or stage magic.


How the Internet works shouldn't really be that much of a mystery to people. So, I will endeavor to explain the important parts. I will start at the beginning and end at the end, as best I can.

The foundation of the internet is a thing called an Internet Protocol address, which is more commonly known as an IP address. Think of it as your street address.

It is a set of four numbers between 0 and 255 separated by periods. My IP is currently 192.168.1.10. This IP happens to be in a special IP range because it starts with 192.168., but to keep it simple let's say that everybody on the whole internet has a unique address just like your street address.

Now, you know your address, but what good is that? Well, not much if you want to go somewhere else. So, you need to know how to get where you are going. That's why there is something called a subnet mask and default gateway (sometimes called a default route.)

The subnet mask tells your computer what's in your neighborhood, to continue the street address analogy. Your computer can find it's way around the neighborhood easily. Now, also imagine that your neighborhood happens to be one of those planned developments with a front gate that is the only way in or out onto the main road. Anytime you want to leave the community, whether to go to the grocery store or Alaska, you have to go out the front gate. The default route is like that front gate. Anytime you visit something that is not in your neighborhood, you go to the default route.

There's a person standing outside the front gate that gives directions. He's called a router. You go out the front gate and tell him where you want to go, and he either knows the directions, in which case he sends you in the right direction. Or he doesn't know and instead says, I don't know where you want to go, you need to take my default route.

Let's say that the router does not know the directions to where you want to go, and you take his default route. You then come to another router, tell her where you want to go, and the process repeats itself. Either she knows and she sends you in the right direction. Or she doesn't and you take her default route. Either way, eventually somebody will know how to get where you are going. The best part about all this is that the routers are monitoring the roads, and good ones will send you around traffic jams or roadblocks. Furthermore, the computer takes care of all of this and it happens almost instantaneously. All computers on the internet talk to each other this way.

However, going from one IP to another is not terribly useful to human beings. You as an internet user probably don't know your own IP. How the heck are you going to keep track of everybody else's IPs? Somebody invented a way to solve this problem, and it's called the Domain Name Service (DNS).

At some point either you or whomever configured your computer entered two IP addresses for DNS servers. Whenever you type a domain name into your browser or send an email, your computer connects to one of those DNS servers by the process I just described above with the routers.

Your computer says, "Hey, DNS server, somebody told me you know everybody's street address. Can you tell me Google's?" The DNS server now has to find the IP address for www.google.com so that it can tell your computer where to go.

Well, the DNS server doesn't actually know everybody's street address. It just knows the people to call to get it. There's different people to call for .com, .org, .gov, etc and he has a list. In this case, he's trying to find www.google.com, so he calls the .com guy.

"Hello, .com guy?"

"Oh, hi DNS server. What can I do for you?"

"I'm looking for google.com. Do you know him?"

"Sure, great guy that google.com. Here's his address..."

"Thanks."

Your DNS server then goes and talks to the Google.com DNS server.

"Hello, the .com guy said that you are the google.com server."

"Yep. That's me. How can I help you?"

"I'm looking for www.google.com. Do you know his address?"

"Absolutely. Here it is."

"Great thanks."

After all that your DNS server has www.google.com's IP address and tells your computer. Your computer then connects to www.google.com.

I've used the word server several times, and should probably explain what it is. Imagine servers as stores with customer service windows. A DNS server has the DNS customer service window open. A web server has the web service window open. An email server has the email service window open. In fact, one server could have several windows open and be a DNS, web, and email server simultaneously. It's just a matter of choosing which windows to staff.

Each server has 63 thousand something windows. Each is numbered, and your computer knows which number relates to which type of customer service. So, your computer knows that window number 80 is the one to go to for web pages and 25 is the one to drop off emails. In computer speak these customer service windows are called ports.

So, to recap, when you connect to www.google.com, this is what happens:
  1. Your computer sends a request to your DNS server asking for the IP address of www.google.com.
  2. Your message arrives at a router, where it is either told the directions to the DNS server or where to go to ask for directions, until it eventually finds its way to the DNS server.
  3. Once at your DNS server the message goes to port 53 (the customer service window used for name requests).
  4. Your DNS server then sends a message to customer service window 53 on the .com root DNS server asking for the IP address of google.com's DNS server, and gets an answer back.
  5. Your DNS server then sends a request to window 53 at google.com's DNS server asking for the IP address of www.google.com, and gets an answer back.
  6. Your DNS server tells your computer the address of www.google.com.
  7. Your computer sends a message to customer server window 80 on www.google.com, and gets a webpage in return.
Note: All of this happens almost instantaneously and all of these messages are routed in the exact same way as #2. So, whether it's from a request from one DNS server to another or your computer to www.google.com, they are all sent from router to router until the message finds its way.

Anyway, that's a basic overview of how the internet works. It's not magic. It's just a lot of very tiny steps happening very fast.

Happy Hanukkah!

GEC and I were remiss in wishing our Jewish readers a very Happy Hanukkah yesterday. Enjoy your eight crazy nights!

Huh?

Why would a kid want a doll that poops?

Put her on her little pink plastic toilet. Press the purple bracelet on Baby Alive Learns to Potty. "Sniff sniff," she chirps in a singsong voice. "I made a stinky!"


I just don't get it. Even as a kid I would've thought that was a shitty idea. But-tum-bump.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

And Rightfully So!

Telegraph:
A clown wearing colourful pantaloons, huge comedy shoes and a flashing police helmet was strip searched by airport security guards who thought he was a security risk.

He was then stripped to his underwear and vest and had his plastic plastic scissors, toy camera, wacky glasses and bubble saxophone examined.

"I suppose they have to be really safety conscious nowadays, but I've never had this problem before when I've been to international clown conventions abroad."


Everybody thinks that somebody else likes clowns, but in reality nobody likes clowns. Maybe more strip searches will discourage people from becoming clowns. And for goodness sake, we need to do something about international clown conventions.

FLG has updated his nemeses list.

Note to Self: Don't Be A Fucking Moron Parent

WaPo:
When it comes to Santa Claus, my 9-year-old son is letting go in stages. The other day he made a key tactical concession.

"I've decided I don't believe that elves make all the Christmas presents," he announced. "But I do still believe in Santa himself." He spoke without catching my eye, in a tone that made it clear that the subject was now closed.
So how did I respond? With a parental panic attack, of course. The familiar questions came thick and fast: Were we wrong to let our son believe in Santa Claus? Will he be traumatized by the truth? Or feel so betrayed by us that he struggles to form relationships in later life?

These days, the Great Santa Debate isn't just about whether to pretend that every Christmas a paunchy old man in a red suit squeezes down millions of chimneys bearing gifts. Oh no, it goes much deeper than that. It feeds into a broader culture of parental hysteria.

With everyone from teachers and celebrities to parents and psychologists weighing in, the battle lines in this debate are starkly drawn. One camp dismisses the Santa story as a pernicious lie that commercializes Christmas, excludes non-Christians and ruptures the trust between parent and child; the other embraces it as a bit of harmless fun that reflects the imagination and wonder of childhood. On both sides, the strength of feeling can be startling. One blogger writes that lying to your children about Santa is a "form of child abuse."


Why is it that parents are convinced their kids can't deal with the same shit they did when they were a kid? Are they idiots?

FLG believed in Santa until about 8. He was more sad than mad when he figured out the jolly fat man was make-believe. What is with these people? Child Abuse? Children need a little whimsy because in case you haven't noticed adulthood can be a bit tedious, boring, cynical, and cold. The kids can handle it, and they will have enough time to deal with the reality later on.

The worry about Santa becoming more important than Jesus in Christmas is on firmer ground, but that's something best rectified by parents who are concerned about it. Want your kids to focus more on Jesus than Santa? Then make it happen. The whole world ain't gonna rebalance its focus to your preference. Suck it up. Maybe if enough people raise their kids to value Jesus more than Santa at Christmas then the culture will shift. But whining about it makes you sound, well, like whiners.

Kids are smarter and tougher than all these mamby-pamby adults give them credit for. They can handle it.

Pirates and Booty

Courtesy of Radley Balko:

Quote of the day:

“Once there was a girl . . . I loved her. I tried to approach her many times, but she rejected me. But since I became a pirate, she has tried nine times to get with me.

Just watch out for ninjas. They’re always sneaking up and trying to steal pirates’ babes.

Insert your own “booty” joke here.

How Do Feminists Reconcile Their Own Logic Within Their Own Heads?

Sometimes I am utterly astonished. I'm not sure why I still read Feministing because they are too frequently complete nutjobs, but I do.

Feministing:
Lisa Valentine's arrest on Tuesday is yet another example of the discrimination that Muslim women who wear hijab (headscarves) face on a daily basis.


Now, I could understand if the basic feminist logic was anything a woman wants to do is good and anything she is encouraged, discouraged, compelled, pressured, forced, whether justly or unjustly, to do or not do is bad. If one assumes that is the underlying logic, then about 95% of all feministing's articles make perfect sense even if they are totally fucking insane.

But then the multicultural aspect throws a wrench in the works. Non-Western cultures are somehow superior to Western culture. So, wearing a hijab, which if it were a Western tradition would without an iota of doubt be considered part of the mind fuck control apparatus of the heternormative-patriarchal conspiracy, is not only okay, but to be vociferously defended.

Last Post On Gay Marriage For A While

In the comments of a previous post, I mentioned that there are two requirements for marriage, but there are actually three - A man and a woman, only two people, no close relatives.

Challenge:
Offer a justification for gay marriage that does not also justify polygamy and incestuous marriages. Bestiality and pedophilia are also sometimes mentioned, but those are bullshit objections because animals and children cannot consent. This argument needs to be a universal argument, not a narrowly legal one based upon the text of the California State Constitution, for example.


The argument that gay individuals receive unequal treatment under the law and that therefore this needs to be rectified does not hold water for two reasons:
  • One cannot argue that marriage is offered unequally to gay individuals because gay individuals have exactly the same right to marry a member of the opposite sex as everybody else.
  • Close relatives could argue that they are treated unequally as well.


The argument that people should be able to marry whomever they want also allows incestuous and polygamous marriages. So, that's out.

One could argue, and I think that this is what Alan was trying to get at, that couples have a right to be treated equally with other couples. Ergo, gay couples have a right to be treated equally with straight couples. There are two problems here though. First, rights aren't typically granted to couples. Second, incestuous couple then would have a right to be treated equally as well.

I still have yet to see a convincing argument for why gay marriage should be permitted that could not be used just as easily to justify incestuous or polygamous marriage. I believe gay marriage advocates object to the inclusion of homosexuality with incest, bestiality, pedophilia, and polygamy, and therefore think those who bring up these objections are hateful people whose objections can safely be ignored. Furthermore, I think most gay marriage proponents see gay marriage as a self-evident right that requires no explanation. Both of these assumptions are dangerous.

We as a society need to know precisely why we are permitting gay marriage. under what logic and for what purpose that we are changing marriage.
 
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