March 31, 2004

Market forces and opinion diversity   {Comments: 0}

Vance over at Begging to Differ takes Jesse Jackson's Sunday morning talk show on a Clear Channel station in Oregon as a sign that things are working as they should - the invisible hand is leading the media to diversify. I'm not sure I'm convinced that this settles the question of media bias in talk radio, but my main gripe here has to do with the assumption that having market forces guide content in the press is a good thing.

If you hold individuals' preferences constant over time, then having a press that responds to demand would lead to a press that responds to those preferences. If the preferences are diverse, then coverage will be diverse. The problem is that the media has the ability to change or reinforce people's views; preferences may not be constant over time, and may reflect past coverage. In this kind of situation, market forces could well lead to less diversity, in both opinion and coverage, depending on the beginning state of things.

This is a pretty simplistic argument I'm making, and there's a lot more to be done along these lines... so maybe now is as good a time as any to announce that I'm going to be starting a group blog on public speech, markets, and democracy in the next couple weeks. The idea is to talk about issues like media bias, truth in advertising, intellectual property, and what part the availability (or over-availability) of information plays in the mechanics of democracy. If you're interested in contributing, there's still room; email me for details.

A recurrence of plague   {Comments: 0}

Ray Davis has a thoughtful analysis of blogs in light of some research on 18th century magazines. Basically, he uses the familiar sounding historical circumstances of 18th century magazine publishing to make some assertions about where blogs might be headed. I agree most of what he says - although I'm a little skeptical of his hope that "the low-cost grazing inherent in the weblog form could exert some tiny influence against social splintering and towards recognition of the commons."

My own sense is that the peer-review-through-linking process is leading people to be more and more insular in their reading. The blogosphere can be tremendously disorienting in the sense that it's hard to get a sense of where it extends from wherever you happen to be standing. The latest thing for me (and Davis hints at this in his piece too) has been the discovery of so many poetry blogs, a phenomenon that somehow escaped me despite the fact that I've been blogging for more than a year and am arguably a poet myself... [via bertramonline]

The perfect storm   {Comments: 0}

This is absolutely the piece to read on political strategy in the late stages of the Dean campaign. As Dean's pollster, Paul Maslin was one of the principals, and he illuminates both the candidate's foibles and the campaign's political miscalculations. What it doesn't really talk about is the transformative nature of the grassroots organization and internet campaign, but then again that hasn't been a big theme of the Kerry operation so far.

March 30, 2004

In midstream   {Comments: 0}

Apparently there's a little more to the story of why Bob Edwards is getting the boot at NPR, and it's not going over well with listeners. Strategies to save him include signing a petition and withholding donations from your local station. The latter feels like an awfully oblique attack, with a lot of potential victims at the local level; although apparently some of the pressure to get rid of Edwards came from local stations in the first place.

Isn't it odd, though, the way we treat anchors? We keep them around decades on end, unwilling to give anybody else a chance... is it really all just a matter of listener comfort? And what does this say about the news, if ratings are so tightly tethered to a single personality?

Share the load   {Comments: 0}

This is encouraging: Kerry may pick a running mate before the convention after all. I've been a little concerned, watching Kerry exchange blows with Cheney in the past couple weeks; having an "attack dog" would let him focus his attention on bigger targets. Plus, the free press will help. [via Political Wire]

March 29, 2004

Where to go for dinner   {Comments: 0}

If you and your friends are having difficulty agreeing on where to go for dinner, maybe you can use the method championed by one of my professors last quarter. The basic gist is that each member of the group narrows the pool of restaurants by some factor until only one is left. This might seem like a pretty obvious mechanical structure, but supposedly it sets the probabilities that any individual's favorite restaurant will be picked equal.

Of course, it's an a priori assumption that diners face a veil of ignorance with respect to others' preferences, which probably means you can't go out to eat with your friends! And it's not going to get you past Arrow, if you're concerned about such things. [via Gapers' Block]

The landscapes and cultures of half the planet   {Comments: 0}

Mario Vargas Llosa writes convincingly about Madrid and what the attacks there mean for Spain's political future. He's full of indignant talk about the clash of civilizations, and yet somehow it feels more considered coming from such as him. One of my favorite novels of the past few years has been his The Storyteller, which treats some serious cultural discord of its own.

The enemies of freedom   {Comments: 0}

Paul Bremer has gone and shut down a Shiite newspaper in Iraq:

The letter ordering the paper closed, signed by L. Paul Bremer III, the top administrator in Iraq, cited what the American authorities called several examples of false reports in Al Hawza, including a February dispatch that said the cause of an explosion that killed more than 50 Iraqi police recruits was not a car bomb, as occupation officials had said, but an American missile.
This seems like a pretty bad idea, even from the standpoint of promoting stability. Even if these rumors were malicious anti-American propaganda, won't shutting the operation down just fuel more rumors about American intentions? I'm sympathetic to the need to stabilize the country and achieve some consensus for democracy before the intermim government comes in, but compromising on speech makes us look a lot more like occupiers than liberators...
March 26, 2004

The fair-minded individual   {Comments: 0}

Will Baude thinks endowment effects should really be called transaction aversion, because people tend to be more risk averse with bigger transactions and take cues about prices from those around them, rather than their own rational preferences. These explanations are reasonable enough, but one thing that might be missing is an input for fairness/equity, which seems pretty important to Americans. There's plenty of evidence, for example, that the average American would rather be the richest in a world of poor people than the poorest in a world of rich people. So inequalities - of precisely the type that are in play when one person is buying another's place in line - might affect an individual's preferences. Note that this is quite different from reconsidering the value of a good in light of knowledge of how others value it; it speaks instead to the questions of how deserving people are and how property should be apportioned.

To the memory of myself   {Comments: 1}

The discussion continues on the question of whether Dmitri Shostakovich was a tool of the communists or not. I know very little about the history of his life, but I'm very fond of a couple of his works, and I've always found it impossible to believe he was some kind of communist propaganda machine. If you get a chance, listen to his second cello concerto, the deeply disturbing sarcasm of the first movement juxtaposed against the overwhelming sorrow of the second. Then there are his preludes and fugues echoing the Well-Tempered Clavier, which I've always read as a kind of escape into pure music, an almost religious statement about musical innocence and constraint.

In any case, despite the apparently overwheling historical evidence of his "moral courage and political disgust", I wonder if it might make even more sense in this case to judge the composer by his work. In a society where political speech is impossible, art carries an additional semantic burden, and music contains explicit messages. Shouldn't we listen to them?

Concentrated costs   {Comments: 0}

Daniel Drezner has an excellent piece in Foreign Affairs about trade and outsourcing. He gets right to the heart of the political and economic issues involved, from the basic problem of widepsread benefits and concentrated costs to the implications this has for political organization.

What he doesn't really deal with is the question of varying workers' rights across countries. These differences seem to be throught of by economists as part of the diversity that leads to gains from trade, even though from an equity standpoint the foreign worker's welfare (especially where foreign workers are exploited, or where they're children) should be an ethical concern. But from an American political perspective, the only effect is that it might shift trade to different kinds of goods or services.

Offshore outsourcing adds two additional political pressures. The first stems from the fact that technological innovation has converted what were thought to be nontradeable sectors into tradeable ones. Manufacturing workers have long been subject to the rigors of global competition. White-collar service-sector workers are being introduced to these pressures for the first time -- and they are not happy about it. As Raghuram Rajan and Luigi Zingales point out in Saving Capitalism From the Capitalists, globalization and technological innovation affect professions such as law and medicine that have not changed all that much for centuries. Their political reaction to the threat of foreign competition will be fierce.

The second pressure is that the Internet has greatly facilitated political organization, making it much easier for those who blame outsourcing for their troubles to rally together. In recent years, countless organizations -- with names such as Rescue American Jobs, Save U.S. Jobs, and the Coalition for National Sovereignty and Economic Patriotism -- have sprouted up. Such groups have disproportionately focused on white-collar tech workers, even though the manufacturing sector has been much harder hit by the recent economic slowdown.

So I guess he's also implying that white-collar tech workers are even more likely to organize politically because they are more conversant in the ways of the internet? This seems right, and it validates the sense a lot of people seem to have had that the tech sector is under the biggest pressure from outsourcing to Pune.

The big question I have is what these people's political affiliations are and how they're changing; from the way the Bush admin is triangulating its position, maybe we can infer that they're independent to conservative? Just anecdotally, I would have expected them to have pretty libertarian views, which fits with this.

March 23, 2004

Collective authority   {Comments: 0}

I've found myself using Google more and more as a usage and spelling guide, basically relying on the number of instances of different variations as a sign of correctness. For instance, today I was arguing with someone about email/e-mail, and (for me at least) a couple quick Google searches resolved the question: e-mail gets 21.9 million hits, while email gets 279 million. Does taking the surface web as a usage authority have its pitfalls? Of course. But if people are using email 12 to 1 over e-mail, then maybe the standard-setters have it wrong. Anyway, I'd be interested to know if other people are using Google this way... certainly it should appeal to a democratic sensibility, to a conception of language as living, changing.

MORE: Mark Liberman (a professional!) is using Google the same way, and referring to Google hits as ghits.

Ruby slippers   {Comments: 0}

Here's Laura Kipnis exhorting women not to take it so seriously when men make unwanted advances - laugh it off, she says. Reasonable enough, except that when the actors are the greatest American literary critic and an undergrad in an English class, the explicit power imbalance makes it a little harder to sustain. Kipnis breaks it down like this:

The photos running alongside Wolf's article tell an interesting counternarrative: Wolf at 20, rather gorgeous; Bloom - at least in this undated photo - one of the less attractive men on the planet. Wolf may begrudge Bloom for trying to use her for validation (or sex, or both - yes, shockingly, sex is sometimes used for such purposes). If so, what she's resenting, ironically enough, is the fact that she has power over him. For her looks and youth instead of her poems? Maybe - and he has power over her because of his fame and literary prowess, not his visage or physique. (And not just because he collected a paycheck from Yale.) What isn't clear is that one fantasy is any more objectifying than the other.
So, 20-year-old Naomi Wolf really should have exercized her power over poor, ugly Harold Bloom? Please. The suggestion that Bloom the English professor was being objectified for his poetic sensibility while he was interacting with one of his students is an insult, and downright anti-feminist.
March 22, 2004

Linguistics of scale?   {Comments: 0}

Microsoft is releasing Windows in Welsh and gets some props for championing linguistic diversity (Catalan and Tamil are also on the list). Ernest Miller's not impressed, and neither am I. Catalan and Tamil are spoken by huge populations with considerable political heft; it's not like they're dying languages! What's more, both languages are major points of ethnic identification for their speakers. From a business standpoint, this is the only thing to do.

The best that can be said is that they're getting more sensitive to local culture after the inept way in which they handled the situation with Hangul in South Korea. In that case, they tried to take over the local word processing software in order to replace it with Microsoft Word, adapted for Korean. But the Korean alphabet, which is also known as Hangul, is a point of tremendous national pride in Korea, to the point where they have a national holiday to celebrate it. Because of Hangul's complexity, the Hangul program was seen as something of a miracle, and Microsoft's attempt to replace it led the public to rally around their local product. Eventually the takeover bid failed, severely damaging Microsoft's Korean reputation in the process.

The point here is that taking local cultural and political realities into account can be good business, and that's what's going on with Windows in Tamil or Welsh. When they put it in Lakota or Jaqaru, then we can talk about linguistic diversity...

By the way, I wouldn't waste a lot of time worrying about whether Microsoft is going to be the arbiter of language prestige in the near future. The availability of internet content is way more important to that, and unless they can develop a dominant search engine, Microsoft won't have much effect there.

Everywhere you look   {Comments: 0}

Phil Brennan suggests that Brazil may be on its way to having a nuclear program, but his only evidence seems to be Brazil's denials on the point and the fact that Lula da Silva has communist sympathies. This "no means yes" business we've seen before (wasn't this the backbone of our intelligence in Iraq?), but the equation of communism with nuclear proliferation is totally unfair. Brazil is far from a communist country - at the moment its policies are moving to the left, but only through the process of democratic election (and because neoliberalism is broken). But suppose for a minute that this paranoid view of Brazil as the foundation of a new communist bloc is correct. There's only one reason a Latin American country would need nuclear weapons: to defend against US aggression.

Pretext   {Comments: 272}

All the words have been removed from these photographs. Here's the (wordy!) justification:

With the removal of all traces of text from the photographs, the project explores the manifestation of power between large groups of people in the form of public and semi-public language. The absence of the printed word not only draws attention to the role text plays in the modern landscape but also simultaneously emphasizes alternative forms of communication such as symbols, colors, architecture and corporate branding. In doing this, it serves to point out the growing number of ways in which public voices communicate without using traditional forms of written language.
It's quite alienating, especially if you're familiar with the locations (all in Chicago). [via Gapers' Block]

MORE: By sheer coincidence, I happened to walk into the Museum of Contemporary Photography today, where these photographs are hanging at the moment. The museum is inside Columbia College; I was there for a work meeting.

March 18, 2004

An obvious abomination?   {Comments: 0}

Here's PG on vegetarianism in America and non-meat in meat's likeness. I understand where she's coming from - I too am a purist at heart, and if I were vegetarian, I wouldn't be one of those who replaces everything with faux-meat products.

At the same time, is it really fair to expect Americans to eat like Jains? I don't want to sound like a hopeless post-colonialist, but doesn't the food we eat have a lot to say about our cultural identity? Maybe meat isn't central to American identity, but there's no question that not eating meat or meat substitutes really limits a vegetarian's ability to participate in culinary culture. Add to this the fact that New American cuisine is all about mixing - finding ways to incorporate dsparate elements in a coherent way - and the idea of tofu in egg salad makes a little more sense. Eating vegetable protein that only vaguely approximates meat because you miss the taste of bratwurst might be questionable. But finding an elegant way to use tofu or a vegetable where one expects meat might even be a culinary coup.

Corporate blogmap   {Comments: 0}

I haven't mentioned it here in a while, but I've been quietly updating the chicago blogmap for the past few months, and it's up to 125 blogs (not bad, though I suspect there are several hundred in the city). Anyway today I got an interesting request to link to a couple of blogs attached to businesses here in Chicago. I did so - it's been my policy not to ask questions about why people want a link, or even whether they really live in Chicago - but it did give me pause. By linking to these blogs, am I contributing in some way to their business? And if so, is there something wrong with that? Adding a link to the Blair Hull blog a couple months back made me similarly uncomfortable, but in that case at least I could feel like I was providing a public service (and anyway, it doesn't look like their strategy had much of an effect).

Just curious what people think about this. I should point out that I don't mean to disparage the blogs in question, which are actually kind of fun.

March 15, 2004

Wider zones that pricked his scars   {Comments: 0}

This is everywhere: that a new planet(oid) has been discovered, about 2x as far out as Pluto and not quite as big. There's plenty of talk about whether the new object (they're calling it Sedna, after the Innuit goddess of the sea) is really a planet, and about the implications for Pluto's somewhat controversial status as such.

What I haven't seen though is any word on whether this new planet/thingy has the same elongated, z-adjusted orbit that Pluto has, or whether it behaves more like the other 8 undisputed planets. This would certainly seem relevant to the question of planethood, and to our reconception of the solar system. I guess they haven't known about it long enough to make any generalizations about its orbit?

MORE: My astronomy fix answers half of the question: Sedna's orbit is so elliptical that its distance from the sun varies between 6 and 84 billion miles. A single revolution takes it about 10,500 years.

The next big thing   {Comments: 0}

En Banc has reconstituted itself de novo, with a couple of interesting twists on the group blog concept. There's also a post from Unlearned Hand about his reasons for shutting the project down last month. I still don't understand why it couldn't have been handed over to the others, but it's good to see they've found a new venue.

March 14, 2004

Reverse pyschology   {Comments: 1}

Bjørn Staerk discusses the logic of attacking Spain just before its elections for the sake of disrupting the coalition in Iraq. Since Spanish voters seem to have toppled their government, potentially in favor of leadership which has promised to withdraw troops from Iraq posthaste, one might say (actually, many are already saying) the attacks have achieved their goal, and that the Spanish are in a sense capitulating to implicit and explicit terrorist demands.

But the flaw here is simple enough. It is not necessarily capitulation to do what the terrorists want, if it's the right thing to do. That is, Spain shouldn't stay in Iraq just to spite the terrorists. They should leave because it was an illegal war, embarked upon because of serious miscalculation/lie about the presence of WMD and the connection to al Qaeda. Or, they should stay, because somebody has to see this thing through and not abandon the Iraqis after ousting their government and demolishing their infrastructure. But to allow terrorists to make this choice for you, whether it's by "toppling your government" or "hardening your resolve", is the real mistake. We, and the Spanish, must make our choices rationally.

MORE: Matt Yglesias deals with some of the same issues.

March 11, 2004

When we dead awaken   {Comments: 0}

I hadn't intended to write another post on this, but Hei Lun over at Begging to Differ has gone and called my pet option - ie using she as the unmarked third person pronoun - "butchering the English language". First of all, this has become standard in a lot of social science literature, so it's not really surprising that Hei Lun's professor used it. But the fact that it was used in reference to a hypothetical president makes all the difference - this is precisely the context where it's important.

Most people would accept: he/she = unmarked/marked. The problem is that he also has a marked sense in other grammatical contexts, so there's the danger that he will be seen as exemplary rather than gender-neutral. Using she as the unmarked form has precisely the same problem, except that there's a benefit too. He/she = unmarked/marked is dangerously close to male/female = unmarked/marked. Using she offsets the language from that underlying conception. When you're talking about the president, the underlying idea we (or at least I) don't want to match with our language is that a woman couldn't be the president. Saying he reinforces it.

By the way, I should say that I'm not at all opposed to the use of they in this context. My sense is that even without all the historical and reference book evidence people have cited, it's clear just from the variation that we're in a period of linguistic change on this point. I have no doubt that eventually they will be standard. I just don't see anything wrong with using language to encourage social change in the meantime...

MORE: BTD Greg points out (in comments) that Hei Lun wasn't referring to presidents generally, but past presidents, who are all male. And Will Baude emails to say that Shakespeare uses they even in cases where the antecedent has a determined gender:

There's not a man I meet but doth salute me,
As if I were their well-acquainted friend.
Is this from a time when man was an unmarked form too? If so, why not just use he? Appropriately, the quote is from Comedy of Errors.
Winning chances   {Comments: 0}

These military researchers are trying to draw general military conclusions from chess. They aren't studying the standard form of the game; instead, they've modified the rules in various ways, so that for instance you can't always see your opponent's pieces. I guess it'll be interesting to see if the research yields anything valuable (for either war or chess), but I suspect any valuable new insight will be a function of the modifications they've made to the game, rather than chess's similarity to actual combat. Chess may be a good, abstract model for war, but all of the facets of that abstraction are lessons a good officer should already know. (Do check out LI's post on models, in this case economic.)

Speaking of chess, I have an interesting assignment at the moment. A friend of mine is working on a novel about his experiences in India (more or less), and he's asked me to come up with a chess problem to insert at a certain moment, complete with what pieces should be on the board, etc. It's actually proving to be quite difficult, mostly because the position needs to be plausible as an actual game. If I can find a decent chess utility, maybe I'll post it here when I have it. A contest, maybe?

Madrid   {Comments: 0}

Iberian Notes has up to the minute details about the bombings in Madrid. I hope Venkat is OK... although I guess it's not so likely he would be on a commuter train. What a tragedy.

March 10, 2004

In the bedroom   {Comments: 0}

Andrew Sullivan publishes an interesting take on how the Federal Marriage Amendment might affect the implicit constitutional right to privacy. The post is a couple weeks old, but the important insight was new to me: the FMA, by proscribing certain kinds of private behavior, might make the constitution as a whole a more explicit on privacy, thereby endangering those rights achieved through precedent. It's good to remember how precarious some of these things are...

Organ pedagogy   {Comments: 0}

Bad news: the music school at Northwestern University is closing down its organ program, which I understood to be one of the best. It will be a real blow to church music, one of the few really dynamic areas of classical music nowadays. And it's hard to understand... the resources necessary for a program like this amount to one single professorship, possibly part-time and likely attached to the piano faculty. The cost of practice organs is almost certainly sunk.

(Part of the reason I mention this is that I actually know two of the people in the article: Doug Cleveland, the organ prof who just left, used to be the asst organist at the church I grew up in; and Nick Fennig, who I hope will get to finish his degree, was a chorister there. Also, I don't think I've mentioned this before here, but in high school I was the organist at this church for a while.)

Food court   {Comments: 0}

The US House of Representatives has gone and banned fast food lawsuits, even after the revelation that obesity will likely overtake tobacco as the biggest (!) preventable killer in the US by 2005.

It may seem like common sense that people should be responsible for their own behavior, and it's not exactly a new scientific discovery that eating too much junk food can cause you problems down the road. But taking away all liability on the part of fast food companies removes the only incentive they have to change their ways. Those incentives are working now, to some extent, at least. [cross-posted at Too Many Chefs]

March 9, 2004

No flag, no belly, no cry   {Comments: 0}

Check out this article on the trend upward in bipolar disorder diagnoses. Maybe what interests me most is the way the availability of new treatments seems to push doctors into diagnoses they might not have made before — it's as if the drug is offering a new paradigm for human behavior. This is certainly what we've seen with Prozac et al. I'm tempted to blame advertisments/marketing for the phenomenon... profit motivates everything these days, even how we understand ourselves.

But I think that might be unfair. In the case of bipolar disorder, as with other psychoses, we know so little about what causes the condition that the treatments can tell us more about what's wrong than the condition itself. In a scientific atmosphere where diseases are clinically defined as the condition that responds to x treatment, it's easy to see why doctors might start diagnosing this or that where there's neither.

The common defense   {Comments: 0}

The interim constitution is signed, but if you read the fine print, it's clear who will be in charge. It's pretty hard to think of a government as sovereign if it can't even command its own military. Article 59 (B):

Consistent with Iraq’s status as a sovereign state, and with its desire to join other nations in helping to maintain peace and security and fight terrorism during the transitional period, the Iraqi Armed Forces will be a principal partner in the multi-national force operating in Iraq under unified command pursuant to the provisions of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1511 (2003) and any subsequent relevant resolutions. This arrangement shall last until the ratification of a permanent constitution and the election of a new government pursuant to that new constitution.
The complete text is worth reading, if you're at all interested in institutional design. Thanks to Joshua Claybourn for the link.
March 8, 2004

Aid and comfort   {Comments: 1}

I can't figure out why this story isn't getting more play. If it's true, then Brad DeLong is right to be calling for Bush's impeachment. But it's already been several days since the article was published, and apart from bloggers, nobody seems to be paying attention. Was the story discredited somehow, or did it just pass under the mainstream press's radar? It's kind of hard to imagine how a story this big could go unnoticed.

Codeswitching   {Comments: 0}

A couple interesting links: first, via languagehat, an article from the Trib about William Fulco, who translated Mel Gibson's paean into Aramaic, Latin, etc. He apperently had the time of his life working on the project... let's just hope God didn't understand all that funny business.

And via the xlnt Language Log, coalition soldiers in Iraq are using a translator-enhanced instant messenger to communicate about war stuff. There's nothing in the press release about how accurate the system is, but it sounds like it's more effective than whatever system they were using before. Maybe the EU should look into it...

More accurate than faith   {Comments: 0}

Via Kevin Drum, here's Stephen Unwin's expert assessment of the odds on God's existence. He uses the Bayes Theorem to incorporate historical events and observations about the world, and ends up at 2:1 for God. I wonder: does this mean we're going to see a new field of theological-economy? A little rational, self-interested calculation and we all have to start believing: multiply Mr Unwin's proportion by eternal damnation and you come up with a pretty awe-inspiring expected value...

March 7, 2004

Aping a bourgeois lifestyle   {Comments: 0}

This article adds some depth to the gay marriage question, complicates matters. While I unambiguously support gay marriage (out of the belief that different kinds of partners should be treated equally under the law), I've often said that a better solution would be scrap marriage altogether. This would address not just the grievances of the gay community, but also thousands of years of implicit gender inequality.

One indication we should be reassessing the marriage institution more generally is all this talk about "civil unions", a term which implies that there's something beyond the civil in a marriage. Why not civil unions for everyone? So far I've resisted the temptation to spring this possibility on my fiancé... as far as I know we don't even have them in Illinois, but are civil unions even open to hetero couples in for instance Vermont?

MORE: Jeff Alworth makes a similar argument about civil unions for everybody, on church-state grounds.

She sifts in sunlight   {Comments: 0}

David Hockney says photography is dead as an artform because it's too easy to manipulate images now. This strikes me as a very strange criticism. He seems most interested in the way photography in the past has been able to make claims to truth, apparently because of the naivete of popular perception. But I don't see how any sophisticated reader can look at past photographs as truth: photographers clearly have always made choices about what to photograph, how to contextualize it, how to light it, how to focus it, etc. Aren't these manipulations? I could imagine someone saying only certain manipulations can be called photography, but that isn't Hockney's argument at all.

Call me a relativist, but photography — the art which captures perhaps most directly what's going on in the real world — seems like the best possible foil for this notion that somehow we can make artistic statements that directly and perfectly communicate the world around us. The "art" of photography is in that manipulation; to the extent that the subject itself is artistic, we can understand it as a matter of framing and selection. If the entire creative enterprise exists in this space between the real world and the image produced, won't digital manipulations simply expand that space, and increase the range of artistic possibility?

March 5, 2004

An evil wind   {Comments: 0}

I found this thoroughly engrossing... basically it's a photojournal (commentary in broken English) of the author's trips through the Chernobyl dead zone. Life goes on, I guess, but quietly.

MORE: I've spent a quite a bit of time trolling the web for more information about the Chernobyl accident, and it's incredible how much variation there is. I still can't tell you with any confidence how many people were affected, and how severely; the numbers are all over the map. Part of the confusion has to do with the high profile energy agencies authoritatively playing down the effects (for obvious reasons). Only 41 deaths?

Smoke signals   {Comments: 0}

Just a brief, pissed off post to say: what the fuck is wrong with the University of Chicago? The email system has been down for almost a day now, for everyone at the university. And it's not the first time: last year the system went down for a couple days right in the middle of finals week. Are they just too cheap to roll out a reliable system? This kind of thing never happened when I was at Indiana University, and that was 5 years ago.

I think the problem is actually institutional: they don't seem to recognize that there are (why not put it in terms they'll understand?) serious returns to scale in system administration. So for instance, each school maintains its own computer clusters, and there's no strong, expert central authority. What they need is a good dose of command and control, and I told them as much in an email last year. But of course, I can't print their response, since the server is down...

March 4, 2004

Picking a senator   {Comments: 0}

The Democratic candidates for IL's open senate seat had a lively debate tonight (the GOP candidates debated too, and it's worth noting that they rated Chicago's ABC affiliate while the Dems had to make do with public television). I thought Barack Obama and Dan Hynes both looked good, but especially Obama, whom I've supported from the start. Polls show him leading now, after endorsements from the Trib and the Sun-Times, although voter turnout is a big question mark.

By the way, check out newcomer polis for great coverage of the local scene. And: old hand Archpundit has a new location/look...

From the halls of Montezuma   {Comments: 0}

Some of Roger Noreiga's testimony was on the radio today, and pairing it with Aristide's own declarations on the subject, it seems clear now that the US gave him an ultimatum. I don't believe, as some do, that the US was behind the rebellion to begin with, or that this was some nefarious plan to achieve regime change. But it made sense for the Bush administration to find a quick end to this situation — one that wouldn't lead to a refugee crisis in an election year. Aristide stood in the way of that, so he was strongarmed: now the marines are running the country.

It's obvious that Aristide wasn't a strong or particularly legitimate leader. Should the US be acting to hasten the demise of weak, corrupt, gangland regimes? Perhaps. But taking such action in the absence of any coherent policy, without planning or consideration, and in response primarily to political considerations in the United States seems like a pretty damn bad idea.

MORE: Randy Paul is concerned too, specifically with the way Aristide left and how it will be viewed internationally.

March 3, 2004

The fundamental spirit of the net   {Comments: 0}

It turns out it might be illegal to share username/passwords even for free sites like the New York Times. I haven't been a big offender on this, but I'm definitely with those who see this as an intrusion. Next it'll be considered fraud to fabricate that personal data...

Ceteris paribus   {Comments: 0}

We had an interesting discussion in class the other day about Social Security as Ponzi scheme. It very clearly is a Ponzi scheme: money collected now is used to pay beneficiaries now, on the assumption that more money will be available to pay the current payers later.

Some people have argued that we should be investing money now, because the interest on the investment would be the best way to pay for future benefits. The problem with this is that interest rates are generally lower than population and economic growth rates. That's why Social Security was set up the way it was: if you put the money away now, it will grow at the interest rate; but if you just wait, the tax base will get bigger, and at a faster rate than interest.

Obviously the problem with this is that the population doesn't grow at a constant rate, and that lifespans and healthcare costs are changing thanks to technology. But it's worth taking a moment to admire how smart the initial design was: over time, it's a money maker both for the beneficiaries (taken in aggregate) and the government. Notice how it's been running a surplus for most of its history.

How people talk   {Comments: 0}

Unlike Matt Yglesias, Will Baude is all for wielding the word slut (where appropriate):

I do think that words matter, and that it's important to be polite to people, but I don't like the tendency to strike offensive words out of our vocabularies entirely. Just because it's not nice (let's say) to call someone a slut, does that mean we should stop talking about sluts at all, even when what we wish to do is defend sluttishness (or at least defend the right to sluttishness)?

As a quick perusal of the OED will show, word usage changes a whole lot over time. Archaic terms can be co-opted for ironic or affectionate use, others fall by the wayside, or acquire intriguing poetic and dual meanings. Striking a word from even abstract polite discourse is likely to crystallize the word's meaning as it is. Letting people keep using it, albeit with caution, is likely to let the word keep changing and growing. I think the latter is a good thing.

I tend to agree that meddling in people's usage is silly, but I'm not sure that I buy the argument that taking a word out of direct circulation will crystalize its meaning any more than politicizing or contextualizing it will. What does it even mean to use a word "with caution"? It sounds so clinical. Is the idea that you can't use the word in its current, politically charged sense anymore? Are you restricted to talking about the word? Or are you supposed to come up with novel uses? I'm not sure how you would execute any of these strategies, much less what their effects would be. But somehow it seems just as meddlesome...

People can be pretty creative, even with words in a social/political shadow. The words nigger and cunt spring to mind here — both can be incredibly offensive, and yet they've been ingeniously co-opted/reclaimed by some in the black and feminist communities. The power of these words in their new contexts is directly related to the fact of their recent social/political history.

I'm not sure slut could be analogous. But I have to admit that I've been slightly uncomfortable using the word lately, for precisely the reasons that Matt mentioned. This discomfort (if others share it, enforced a la "with caution" or not) might change the meaning of the word over time, but I'm not sure this would be a bad thing. If the word gets politicized, it ends up with a more specific meaning, but probably also a deeper one.

All together now   {Comments: 0}

Just wanted to point out that I've imported the archives from painpill so that everything's in the same place. Worked like a charm, don't know why I didn't do it before...

March 2, 2004

Editorial protest   {Comments: 0}

Shanna Compton is facilitating an interesting protest over at Rebel Edit. The Bush administration has decreed that Cuban, Iraqi, Sudanese, Iranian, and Libyan works can't be edited by American citizens; she's doing it anyway. Thanks to languagehat for the link.

March 1, 2004

Poor passing facts   {Comments: 0}

One more comment on Bloom and his accuser, and then I'm done. I find it odd that nobody has really mentioned the political subtext here, namely that Bloom has been one of the most outspoken critics of the feminist project in the humanities, cultural studies, and the postmodern academy. From his intro to The Best of the Best American Poetry 1988-1997:

Culturally, we are at Thermopylae: the multiculturalists , the hordes of camp-followers afflicted by the French diseases, the mock-feminists, the commissars, the gender-and-power freaks, the host of new historicists and old materiaists--all stand below us. They will surge up and we may be overcome; our universities are already travesties, and our journalists parody our professors of "cultural studies."
Does Naomi Wolf's confrontation of Bloom indirectly confront his message as well? Bloom the sexual predator (gender-and-power freak?) certainly wouldn't have the same credibility as arbiter of the canonical; instead, he'd be the perfect foil for those with a cultural agenda. It's worth pointing out that this comes at a time when cultural studies and feminist politics are in relative decline on campus. But of course Wolf hasn't made any mention of Bloom's politics, and Bloom himself has declined to respond on any level. So, the political undercurrent stays hidden.