June 24, 2004
Haven't written much lately because 1) I've been insanely busy and 2) there are all kinds of real life changes going on for me that require real life attention. I guess it's too bad not to be blogging during such an interesting historical moment, after a good year of solid writing, but I'll be back in force sometime next month.
The biggest thing for me is that I'm getting married this Saturday. It's shaping up to be a gorgeous ceremony (my fiance is tip-top when it comes to this stuff) and I'm really looking forward to spending time with family and friends from all over the country/world. After the wedding, Carolyn and I are headed to Costa Rica for a much needed two-week honeymoon.
Meanwhile, I've just completed my Masters in Public Policy from the University of Chicago, and I've been spending every free moment on a somewhat unconventional job search process. More on that when I get back...
June 14, 2004
More Dean decompression
The Gadflyer has an interview with Matthew Gross, a central figure on the innovative internet side of the Dean campaign (more about this here). He has several interesting insights, but this assessment of where the advantage in grassroots internet campaigning lies especially caught my eye:
They've learned from the Dean campaign and they're investing heavily in the Internet. My greatest fear is that while Democrats wring their hands about how much control to give over to the grassroots, the Right will simply pour money into the net and overtake us. Our advantage at the moment is strikingly fleeting.
Let's hope this is wrong. My understanding of the Dean campaign was that money didn't really motivate people's involvement through the internet, and that the kind of grassroots activities people were participating in online had more to do with the level of distributed control within the campaign, their policy of individual empowerment, and most importantly just the enthusiasm of individual volunteers. Money might buy advertisements (and that seems to be Kerry's approach), but it's not going to generate a movement like the Dean camapign did.
Not much related, but here's an article on what Dean's up to now. For some reason I find myself liking him more and more now that he lost... I hope he ends up with a powerful position in the administration and gets to strut his stuff.
June 11, 2004
The utilisation of the land for national prosperity
It's not clear at all what is going on here. The article says that all farmland is to be nationalized
The Zimbabwe government has announced that all farmland will be nationalised, including all privately owned game parks, and private land ownership banned. The move has been described as the "single biggest shock" of President Robert Mugabe's rule since independence from Britain in 1980.
and criticizes the move harshly, but there's no explanation for why the government would want to take such an action. Apparently it has something to do with the desire to take farmland from white farmers and give it to black farmers, but there's no reason given for why the government doesn't just take this more limited action. Certainly it would be much easier; 200 white farmers shouldn't be all that hard to oppress! This article
gives a little more context, but it still doesn't give a mechanical explanation of what this is all about.
It's interesting that in all the discussion of the dog with the big vocabulary, nobody's talking about the wide variation in human intelligence. By this I mean: there are a few extraodinary human beings who can do certain things (with language or otherwise) extraordinarily well. This doesn't mean they aren't humans, but it also doesn't have too many implications for the average human being, does it? The fact that one dog can understand severak hundred words doesn't necessarily say anything at all about dogs as a whole. Maybe this Rico is the Nabokov of dogs. He barks like a dog, but thinks like a human!
June 10, 2004
Uniquely dangerous and creepy
There are a few disturbing facts hidden within the alarmist fearmongering at Gmail is too creepy, but I'm pretty much unfazed. I've been blown away by both Gmail's speed and the elegance of its interface, not to mention the massive storage space. I find the argument that somehow messages sent to a Gmail account have some peculiar expectation of privacy just a little bit bizarre. Aren't people aware of the dangers associated with electronic reproduction by now? I don't see how Gmail changes that picture. And anyway, do you really trust the proprietors of your hotmail or yahoomail account? Google has gotten things right on so many issues, and I trust them with my email. If you don't, there are always alternatives.
All Reagan, all the time
With everybody clamoring to put Ronald Reagan's mug on our money, whether it's the $10 bill, the $20 bill, or the dime, I guess it's time I put in my own two cents. I think Reagan should appear on a new $500 bill.
First of all, we need a $500 bill. Euros come in 200 and 500 euro denominations, which means it's much easier to transfer vast sums of money in euros now than dollars. It also means that euros are starting to overtake dollars as the currency of choice for black market and criminal activity. If you think this is a good thing for the greenback, you're wrong: there's a lot of prestige (read: confidence and stability) associated with being the black market currency...
So, we need a new $500 bill to counteract the effects of the 500 euro note. And who better to appear on it than Ronald Wilson Reagan? It would be the biggest bill, which seems fitting enough -- certainly a $500 bill wouldn't be much use to the poor. Plus there's this whole arms race feel to printing bigger and bigger bills (although maybe printing a $1000 bill would be more Reagan's style).
June 9, 2004
Passing the buck
It's not clear how much of a connection this really is, but combined with the memos circulating through Defense and Justice, it looks like this fiasco is going to get harder and harder for the Bush admin to defend. Of course, public outcry over the torture seems to have been overwhelmed for the moment by the orgiastic display of nostalgia for Ronald Reagan, and perhaps because no pictures have come out in a couple weeks. (I have to wonder why the government hasn't released all the pictures, given the public's short attention span. Won't this all just come back when more pictures are leaked?)
Venkat Balasubramani thinks this has been a good week for Bush with the UN victory and all the talk about Iraqi sovreignty. This may be right, but I suspect it will be short-lived... the handover is just around the corner, and it's hard to imagine things not getting worse before they get better.
Losing the war on spam
My failure of late to blog consistently has been matched by a similar laziness in prosecuting the war on spam here at locussolus. In the past couple months the comment threads of posts long archived have been overwhelmed with advertisements, mostly for penis enlargement. Barrett of Too Many Chefs wrote yesterday to say he's closed down certain comment threads altogether on order to avoid all the spam, which would be a reasonable enough solution for me if I had the time to go through all 1000+ old posts and "fix" them. But doing so piecemeal just leaves me unsatisfied and depressed.
The latest version of MT might offer a solution, but the free version probably won't meet my needs, and the price is awfully steep for a blog I haven't even been maintaining. Plus I think requiring comment registration is overkill -- wouldn't a global comment editing mode like the current "power editing" for posts or even a feature that automatically closed comment threads after a certain date make all this management pretty easy? Maybe not for the big fish, but certainly for me.
Anyway, the point is that I've mostly given up for now... I'm not going to waste any more of my time cleaning up old comment threads, and I'm not going to worry about what's posted there. If you see an ad for penis enlargement, please be aware that it does not come from me... I'm washing my hands of it.
Oh, and one other thing. I happened on this bit of information via a friend in the business -- it's the phone number of Scott Richter, who I'm told is responsible for a lot of the email spam having to do with penis enlargement. I've never called the number, but I publish it here for your personal edification, and as compensation for my unwillingness to delete comment spam in the future: (303) 464-8164. Have fun...
June 7, 2004
Voiceovers and alter egos
Brad Neely has taken the original Harry Potter movie and created a whole new soundtrack with a completely different story:
As imagined by Mr. Neely, the three main characters are child alcoholics with a penchant for cognac, the magical ballgame Quidditch takes on homoerotic overtones, and Harry is prone to delivering hyper-dramatic monologues.
But the best part is this paragraph about the industry's response:
"The long-term strategic threat to the entertainment industry is that people will get in the habit of creating and making as much as watching and listening, and all of a sudden the label applied to people at leisure, 50 years in the making — consumer — could wither away," [Jonathan Zittrain, co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School] said. "But it would be a shame if Hollywood just said no. It could very possibly be in the interest of publishers to see a market in providing raw material along with finished product."
It would indeed be a shame. Creating and making as much as watching and listening? This could be the perfect remedy for our passive, bloated, consumption-driven culture. I'm not vouching for the quality of this particular film (which I haven't seen), but the idea that the ease of digital capture might lead to a legal remedy that restricts creative production (speech) where it wasn't restricted before is extremely disturbing.
Everybody is doing it, so I might as well link to a couple of pieces on Reagan. First is Timothy Noah, who takes some of the cuddliness out of the Reagan legacy by picking at the unkept promise to decrease government spending. Then there's Juan Cole, who takes apart the Reagan legacy piece by piece with some much needed attention to Reagan's tragic, reductive dismissal of the effects of poverty during the 1980s. Finally, Slate republishes a great debate between EJ Dionne and Dinesh D'Souza about whether credit for the 90s boom belongs to Clinton or Reagan.
My own take on Reagan is mixed up with the nostalgia of growing up in a Republican household -- I can't help but rememeber him fondly because he was my father's hero. Our dog was even named after the man. Of course, a little education has helped me understand what his policies and ideologies (more the latter, I guess) meant, and what their consequences have been -- I'm certainly very sympathetic to the critiques above, especially those levelled at his handling of American poverty and the gross inequalities that have arisen in the past 20 years. (The revolution is coming.) I also blame Reagan for much of the disaffection Americans have today for American politics; running against Washington has had profoundly negative effects on the way Americans approach their government, and this is probably for the worst. In this context at least, his optimism failed.
By the way, I've been somewhat awed by the wall to wall coverage of Reagan's death, but (and not to say the coverage isn't deserved) there's a reason for it. Reagan's death has been anticipated by the media for years, and this content has been ready to go for some time. Similarly, when I worked at the Social Security office, I remember several of the employees complaining that Ronald Reagan was still alive. This was during that long stretch early in the year when there are no federal holidays, and they were hoping he would kick it so they could get a day off of work. I guess now they'll get their wish...
June 6, 2004
Criminel de guerre
Roger Cohen has a comforting piece about the sohpisticated view in France that George W. Bush doesn't represent the true America -- the America honored today for its contributions sixty years ago to the freedom of Europe. Cohen treates every side to a healthy dose of sarcasm, but I think there's something to this -- certainly Bush doesn't have the strong support of the people today. The other side of the coin is that if we reelect Bush, it will legitimize every action he has taken in the past four years and marry America to that grand strategy in the eyes of the world.
To the nines
Michael Quinion has an article in the Telegraph (it looks like it will be a recurring feature, too) debunking some myths about the provenance of certain idiomatic expressions but not necessarily clearing things up. It's from a British perspective, which means I wasn't even familiar with all the expressions, but the historian in me still found it amusing.