December 31, 2004

You're older than you've ever been (and now you're even older)   {Comments: 0}

The New York Times has a piece on Social Security's predicitions for changes in life expectancy. A couple observations. The article doesn't go out on a limb to suggest what projected lifespans should actually look like, but the implication early in the piece seems to be that if lifespans rose by 30 years in the last century, they'll rise by a similar margin over the next hundred years. But it goes on to say that most of that change reflected decreasing infant mortality, which has basically no effect on Social Security (those who would have died get benefits if they live, but they also pay into the program for 40 years). The past 40 or 50 years are a much better benchmark for changes we'll see in the next century, but the article never indicates how much lifespans have changed over that period.

Also, we should probably keep in mind the fact that Social Security itself has had a huge impact on lifespans over the past century, and what we decide to do with it now will have an effect on lifespans in the next. Someone needs to run a regression to find out just how much of an effect Social Security has had, but my hunch is it's significant. Having a decent baseline income (and stress-free) changes your whole outlook, and at the beginning of the 20th century a huge proportion of American elderly were living in poverty.

No question though that we need to be considering lifespan estimates carefully, especially since major changes are in the works. And the predictions can be perilous: I'm reminded me of the article David Appell linked to here (apparently the link's lifespan is already passed) about Aubrey de Gray's prediction that a baby born in 2029 will have a lifespan of 5000 years. (You can see Aubrey de Gray's picture here.)

MORE: Something I've always wondered about life expectancy -- do the estimates for years past (ie the estimate for those born in 1976) change with time and technology? That is, does my expectancy get longer with each passing year not just because I've lived another year, but because of technological changes? Or is some projection of technological progress built into the life expectancy built into the estimate? (And if so, how well is that estimate tracking the actual march of technology?) The new year is almost here; I guess I've got mortality on my mind.

December 30, 2004

Appropriations   {Comments: 2}

Yesterday I stumbled on this archive of news stories relating to the University of Chicago (scroll down, middle column), and I was amazed to see that not only are news stories being republished there, but the relevant webpages are mirrored on site as well. The code seems to have been snatched whole from the Trib, New York Times, etc, so the images and even the ads are hotlinked (ie they load directly from the, or wherever).

I'm no big defender of property rights when it comes to content published free on the web, but this is really pretty extreme. First of all, the university is stealing the stories themselves, since many are no longer available free after a few days. It's also stealing bandwidth by hotlinking. And it's also stealing ad revenue: either the news service isn't being paid ad revenue for its stories because they appear at another location, or (if clicks or hits are somehow being counted through the hotlinking) the advertising client is paying for its ads to appear on a U of C server, but at rates calculated for a different location entirely.

Anyway, I was just amazed at the shameless theft, and the (naive) attempt to control the web's unpredictable transience by physically appropriating it. There are certainly less intrusive ways to keep track of things, and the whole thing seemed a bit out of character for U of C...

MORE: Along the same lines, what exactly is this? Is my content actually stored on a disk somewhere, or is it acquired at the moment you click the link through some fancy php action? And to what end is it being republished? Surely one copy of this blog is enough...

Peer pressure?   {Comments: 3}

Sean Carroll quotes this passage from Richard Posner (guest blogging at Leiter Reports):

[T]he sort of political discussion in which political philosophers, law professors, and other intellectuals engage is neither educative nor edifying; I also think it is largely inconsequential, and I am grateful for that fact. I think that what moves people in deciding between candidates and platforms and so on certainly includes facts (such as the collapse of communism -- a tremendous fact), as well as a variety of "nonrational" factors, such as whom you like to hang out with -- I think that's extremely important in the choice of a political party to affiliate with. When a brilliant philosopher like Rawls gets down to the policy level and talks about abortion and campaign financing and the like, you recognize a perfectly conventional liberal and you begin to wonder whether his philosophy isn't just elaborate window dressing for standard left liberalism.
I don't disagree that it's a bit odd to see major philosophical figures applying themselves to mundane (!) political issues like abortion or campaign finance reform, but I'd like to hear a more conclusive argument about people's political views being determined by "nonrational" factors. It's an argument that's been made frequently over the past year, as far as I know without any evidence. It sounds reasonable enough on the first pass, but doesn't it ultimately deny a lot of the complexity (and will!) of the individual? I don't think it's surprising to find that people associated with others who have the same political views, but I can certainly think of other explanations: the most obvious is that both one's political views and social interactions are related to the same underlying set of preferences. I haven't seen an argument yet for why it should be otherwise.
Insensitive   {Comments: 6}

It's incredible to me that there's a political controversy now over how quickly Bush had a response/statement after the tsunami. This seems like a political no-brainer to me: why not just come out and make a statement immediately? Steve of BTD quotes this "witty" retort from a White House staffer:

"The president wanted to be fully briefed on our efforts. He didn't want to make a symbolic statement about 'We feel your pain.'"
But that's exactly what was needed: a symbolic (and gracious) gesture. Can it really be that the Bush administration doesn't understand symbolic statements are actually consequential -- especially on the international stage? Just for future reference: empathizing with this awful situation, which marries good will with telegenic humanitarian need (even some white people died!) is what you call a slam dunk.
December 28, 2004

The thought that counts   {Comments: 0}

Lots of things bug me about Christmas, but this year what's bugging me most is the sense of obligation: the feeling that you have to give somebody a gift, and the further complication that it has to have about the same value as what they get you. For me it has about the same flavor as mutually assured destruction, except that in the end you get to consummate it in an orgy of shiny gift wrap and wanton expenditure. Don't get me wrong; I actually do enjoy giving (and getting!) gifts. But if it's really true that it's the thought that counts, doesn't that mean Christmas gifts -- which are essentially mandated -- pretty much don't count?

Holiday miscellany   {Comments: 0}

1. For some reason I've had several coversations recently about the consentual cannibalism case, so I've collected some links here: the first report, more details, and the verdict.

2. Waddling Thunder reminisces about his defeat 8 years ago at the hands of the new US chess champion, 16 year old Hikaru Nakamura (pictures in that last link, apparently with no cheese puffs). By the way, 16 really is old for a grandmaster, at least by some standards.

3. Also at Crescat: my holiday recipes.

4. And Legal Affairs has an interesting piece on the economic effects of common law vs civil law systems. A friend familiar with this research mentioned that one major problem with it is that "countries with French legal origin had if anything better financial systems a century ago, and only sometime after WWII did the ranking become what it is now."

December 20, 2004

The path to the nest of spiders   {Comments: 0}

The unscrupulous (apparently) Will Baude has invited me to camp out at Crescat Sententia this week -- not bad as far as Christmas presents go. I won't be double posting, or at least not everything, so be sure to look for me over there with the gargoyles this week. The first post is here.

MORE: The rest of the posts: In memoriam, Consumer confidence, Mergers and acquisitions, Questions, Daddy sang bass, Killing Christmas dinner, Pecan Bars, and Flip Christmas.

December 19, 2004

Musee des beaux arts   {Comments: 0}

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking
     dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculouss birth, there must always be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martydom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Brueghel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

--WH Auden, 1940 (Pieter Brueghel's Icarus is here)

December 17, 2004

New blood   {Comments: 0}

Here's a piece on the ambitions of young Democrats and the generational differences that split the party. It talks about issues more than strategy, but I'm guessing a look at strategic thinking would reveal a very similar split, with technology assisted grassroots activism a la the Dean camapign championed by the young (who according to the article count "the flowering of the internet" among their formative politcal experiences). Getting younger activists in place at every level to implement these strategies may be just as important to the party's health as changing the issue base -- certainly it will help avoid this kind of embarassment. Now is just the right moment for political and strategic risk taking, and a new, younger leadership is the place to start. [via Political Wire]

December 14, 2004

The demented legacy of the Nixon administration   {Comments: 0}

1. In light of the whole debate over Social Security privatization, LI takes on the Chilean pension system and Pinochet's economic record.

2. Consummate consumer Will Baude defends bigtime Chicago wine retailer Sam's, both against charges of extorting kickbacks from distributors, and as the best place around Chicago to get wine.

3. Howard Kurtz seems optimistic about's model for hyperlocal content: "Build it and they will post." But hasn't it already been built? I have yet to see a model for the "new media" that really acknowledges and respects the blogosphere's potential on this score. Also, the folks at Metafilter are skeptical.

4. Tom Tomorrow's tale about the rewards of writing for Slate will make you glad you're not a professional. [via Matthew Gross]

5. And Christopher Hitchens (writing in Slate!) has a suprisingly sober assessment of the war on drugs and its relationship with the war on terror and the future of Afghanistan.

December 13, 2004

Knowledge base   {Comments: 1}

Google has announced (and on the same day as an announcement from Microsoft, per their usual strategy) that they're going to be digitally encoding the entire store of human knowledge -- or at least, the slice of it contained in libraries at Harvard, UMich, Stanford, and the New York Public Library. This seems very cool, especially after my visit to the highly restrictive and controlling (ie I couldn't get on the internet) Oak Park Public Library earlier this evening. One question though: is it really wise to commit the entire store of human knowledge to the Google-Yahoo!-Microsoft competitive complex? I suppose we can still go back and look in the stacks if it all comes crashing down.

MORE: Thoughts on where this is going from Chapati Mystery.

The war is a riff   {Comments: 1}

Jonathan Jones offers improvisation as America's most important contribution to the arts, naming Marlon Brando, Jackson Pollack, and Charlie Parker its chief representatives. He equates the artistic "freedom" of improvisation with American freedom, and reaches some sweeping conclusions about this country.

The big problem for me is that he doesn't bother to define improvisation, and seems to use it in at least a couple different senses. Musically, improvisation isn't just making up the notes as you go along -- rather, it's about navigating a structure within tight parameters, using sequences that have been practiced and practiced until they live in your fingertips or your inflections. It may be freer than other music in some sense, but it's a far cry from Jones's description of Pollack's "pure improvisatory expressions, with no given form, no figurative constraint." If Pollack was improvising, it was a completely different improvisation than Bird's.

It also seems a little unfair to talk about improvisation as an American contribution, since there are earlier, even ancient examples that are just as stunning. Much of Indian music is improvised, and Bach was a master improviser on the organ (a good Christmas gift for me if you can find it: a copy of Marcel Dupre's Improvisation a l'Orgue). The Homerian epics are believed to have been improvised by bards of the time, which explains all those wonderful descriptives (rosy-fingered Dawn, gray-eyed Athena) that fit so neatly into dactyllic hexameter and gave them breathing space to think up the next line.

I don't have much to say about acting and painting, but maybe what made bebop so unique was the use of improvisation to actually usurp the dominant musical culture. Charlie Parker improvised over popular tunes of the day so that they were no longer recognizable except in structure. When he ran into legal troubles playing a popular song in this way, he'd just write a new melody against the same old harmonic sequence... all the musicians would know. Isn't this explicit appropriation of the dominant forms really the more novel (and more influential) contribution of bebop? It sets up a completely new relationship between text and pretext (!) that leads inevitably to hip-hop, cultural studies, and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. (Two out of three isn't bad!)

December 12, 2004

More opting out   {Comments: 2}

Just for fun, I calculated the net present value of my Social Security benefit, based on the (admittedly heroic) assumption that I'll earn $40,000 every year until I'm 62. According to this chart, the life expectancy of a male born in 1976 is 69.1, but that average includes some folks who are already gone, so I plugged some information (weight, non-smoker status, driving habits) into this page and apparently I'm going to live to be 82. I calculated my Social Security benefit amount in today's dollars with this benefit calculator from SSA, and I used a discount rate of 4.3% per year based on the the average of all the figures listed here (if you look closely you'll notice the rates aren't evenly spaced, but plugging the dates in was more work than I wanted).

The results? Under the assumptions above, in today's dollars I would pay in 12.4% of $40,000 for the next 35 years, a total of $173,600. I would receive benefits of $1007 per month for 20 years, a total of $241,680. But when the inputs are discounted (ie future values are weighted less than current values, because in the present we have the option to earn money by investing), the taxes I'd be paying have a net present value of $92,498, and the benefits only $38,029. This means I should be willing to pay up to $54,469 today to get out of Social Security and into some private investment plan instead (since $-54,469 is the net present value of the tax and benefits under Social Security.

Of course, that's not the whole story, because Social Security provides some things I haven't included in the calculation. One is the security of knowing that I'll get my benefit regardless of how long I live -- so, if I should be lucky enough to live longer than 82 years, I'll still have a Social Security check coming every month. If I'm risk averse, I might therefore value Social Security more than the alternative. Also, Social Security provides millions of people with a disability benefit, and it's hard to figure the value of that into my calculation. And this analysis won't even consider the externalities imposed on "the rest of us" by the impoverished elderly (in terms of welfare payouts or degraded moral values) since the individual has no incentive to consider these problems in making a decision.

I didn't play with the income levels, but people making more than $40,000 per year should have a net present value lower than $-54,469, people making less, higher. For people born on in 1961 and earning $40,000 throughout their careers, the net present value of their Social Security benefit should be around $0; those born earlier would want to keep their benefits.

Note also that the $5000 transition tax mentioned by Paul at Right Side of the Rainbow (more about this here) is almost exactly the amount of FICA tax paid in one year by someone who makes $40,000, which also happens to be right around the average income per year for an American. So, if all the workers in the whole country opted out at the same time, all the transition tax revenue would be about the same as the FICA tax revenue for one year. After that year, the government would still have to pay current Social Security beneficiaries' checks, but there wouldn't be anymore FICA tax revenue since everyone would have opted out! So there's an obvious financial problem there. If everyone paid $54,469 in transition taxes (and they wouldn't, since only people younger and richer than me would value opting out that highly), that would equal about 11 years of FICA tax revenues, still not even close to enough to cover current beneficiaries.

The fundamental stuctural problem with this idea is that it takes the people who will generate the most FICA revenue -- the young and the rich -- and removes them from the eqaation right at the moment that revenue is most needed. The Bush plan of letting people opt out of Social Security simply cannot be paid for without cutting current benefits or raising taxes.

December 11, 2004

Opting out (updated)   {Comments: 0}

Tyler Cowen speculates that Bush's Social Security plan might consist of a "transfer tax" that younger workers could pay for the privilege of not paying any more FICA, or at least putting that money in a private account instead. I don't think this is very likely (I have to cynically presume they'll just add the costs of privatization to the national debt), but even if they wanted to do this, is it even possible? How many Americans would pay a tax up front to opt out of the most popular program in American history? Even if private accounts have a bigger payoff (which I'm not ready to concede), explaining that to people will be a pretty daunting task, since most Americans don't have a finance background.

Even assuming some people would want to do this, it doesn't seem like most Americans have the kind of cash they'd need on hand to pay for this kind of option. Could you put it on your credit card? There's no way such a tax could be small and still offset the decrease in payroll tax revenue. But unless it were small (and perhaps even negative), how would it entice people to give up all the funds they've paid into Social Security already? It's hard to see how this could be a workable idea.

MORE: Paul at Right Side of the Rainbow makes some guesses about how many people would opt out of Social Security. For example:

There are 2.3 million millionaires in the United States, and many of them work. I'm thinking they'd opt out, yes? And they'd be joined by many of the hundreds of thousands of doctors, dentists, pharmacists, lawyers, architects and other well-paid professionals who either understand finance or have accountants who understand it.
But millionaires would tend to be older and closer to retirement age, so there's a good chance sticking with Social Security would be worthwhile for them. Wouldn't young people be more likely to opt out, people who haven't paid in anything yet and therefore don't have a benefit already waiting for them?
With an opt out tax of, say, $5,000 -- plus the prorated loss of equity in Social Security (the younger you are, the greater the loss) -- the Government would generate billions in revenue and savings with only a couple million buyers. And when you're facing transition costs of trillions for a partially privatized system -- and trillions more for doing nothing -- every little bit helps.
I assume he means minus the prorated loss of equity in Social Security, since leaving the program means leaving behind the money one's already paid in as payroll taxes (why would you a bigger tax for leavig more money behind?). And of course, it's actually the older people who are leaving more behind, since they've been paying into the program for a longer time and would therefore have to opt out of a bigger benefit.
December 8, 2004

The True North strong and free   {Comments: 1}

CNN helps market a company's tshirts, patches, and pins of the Canadian flag -- the line is designed for Americans going abroad who want their nationality to go undetected. Andrew Cline properly debunks the notion that foreigners hate American tourists here, but nevertheless there have been Americans travelling abroad as Canadians since at least 1997, when I met some in Europe. Whether their fears were founded or not I cannot say, but the idea of posing as Canadian certainly didn't originate with this New Mexico company. [via Political Wire]

December 7, 2004

Better blogads   {Comments: 156}

Michael Bassik looks at the success of Blogads this past election cycle and makes some suggestions for how to improve their reach and effectiveness. Among them: use a bidding model a la eBay for pricing (in fact, why not just use eBay to sell these ads to begin with?), label blogs based on political slant or geographic affiliation, and create a "run of the blogsphere" package to relieve buyers from the need to become experts on different blogs. All great ideas...

A wider range of views   {Comments: 0}

I don't know if this was the first major survey of artists about their views on internet file sharing, but the article certainly reads that way. It's kind of incredible that it would take this long for anyone to think of examining artists' views, given that the apocalyptic battle between consumers and the industry is being fought over their creative output.

But what's striking about the survey results is the open posture artists (filmmakers, writers, digital artists, and musicians were included) seem to have toward sharing. One might expect artists, who surely have the greatest investment in their work, to be jealously protective of their property rights. But overall that doesn't seem to be the case. Is this phenomenon about a progressive notion of intellectual property among artists, or is it just a sign of their sobriety about their chances for financial success?

Maybe it would be instructive to think about a veil of ignorance here -- after all, it's only a small group of artists who find commercial success, and the result above suggests that it's not the chance for astronomical gain that motivates artists' creative output. To my mind (and btw I'm also thinking about this as an artist with work on the market) we should probably be crafting an intellectual property policy that responds to the needs of those who are less successful, rather than more.

December 6, 2004

The war on terminology   {Comments: 0}

Yglesias writes about the need for a new term to describe the war on terror, focusing at first on the word war in a comparison with the term Cold War, but then on the word terror and the way it seems on its face to refer even to ETA and other noninternational terrorist groups. I have (of course) long despised the rhetoric of the war on terror, starting with its name, which seems like perfectly crafted made-for-TV fearmongering. But it's actually dyed in the wool neocons who talk about Islamofascists, radical Islam, etc. Is this widespread usage a tacit admission that the word terror really isn't up to the task, or are we just talking about different things?

I'd guess that the main problem for the Bush folks with the term war on terror is that half the electorate has effectively detatched it from the war in Iraq: polls leading up to the election clearly separated the two issues even though Bush expended significant effort trying to tie them together.

Google as infinite style guide?   {Comments: 1}

Mark Liberman defines thesaurusizing: using a thesaurus to spruce up a paper (or blog post!) with words one has never used before, and usually screwing up the usage since a thesaurus doesn't contain information about proper usage. Of course, nowadays you can just crosscheck usage with Google and avoid sounding incoherent or pretentious. It odd that these features can't be integrated -- ie there's no way (at least that I can think of) to get Google to spit out synonyms unless the synonyms are enumerated somewhere on the searchable net. I suppose it's because there relationship between two synonyms is semantic rather than grammatical?

I've never thought of it this way before, but Google's search results rely heavily on metonymic rather than metaphoric relationships between words -- that is to say, individual words are identified with words that are found in the same context (adjacent), rather than with words that have some kind of deeper similarity (beneath). Would a metaphor engine have any practical use?

Chicago edition   {Comments: 0}

1. The Chicago Blogmap has moved. For the last year or so it's been located in a subdirectory here at locussolus, but while I was changing my hosting this weekend I decided to pay the $8 to actually get The blogmap has been a big success, with 228 blogs listed so far (far short of what you'll find at Chicago Bloggers, but that site includes Chicago's suburbs). Anyway, if you have a link, please update it, and if you don't, well, you probably need to set one up!

2. If my directory of Chicago blogs isn't enough for you, there's a nice piece over at Gapers Block that can introduce you to some of the home grown political blogging here in Chicago -- although I have to wonder about the claim that "no other state has quite the breadth or depth of local political blogging, especially with the sort of laser-like focus and deep knowledge of the political system, its players, and its history."

3. And if you're a Bulls fan or ever were, this extensive article takes in the panorama of Bulls missteps after the departure of Michael Jordan and tries to explain what went wrong. By the way, I find it incredible that the Bulls are actually going with the marketing slogan "through thick and thin." I don't know if the strategy is to draw attention to their biggest weakness (ie the miserable "team") but if so it's working... [via Chicagoist]

Hosting matters   {Comments: 0}

Bloghosts is going out of business, and this has created a big mess for a lot of bloggers. It seems that Jace Herring, the proprietor of Bloghosts, registered everybody's domains in his name, which means that now they all have to be reregistered, and all of the reregistrations have to go through him. Since Jace has been flooded with thousands of these reregistration requests, it's likely that some of the names will not be reregistered before Bloghosts' servers go down at the end of the year. Even if he does get them all done, it will leave precious little time for people to make new hosting arrangements.

I mention this because it's meant major changes for a couple blogs I read frequently. One is Todd Price's A Frolic of My Own, which has simply vanished from the net at this point -- Todd has come to the conclusion that the old address is unsalvageable and is trying to move the site to an entirely new location. Too Many Chefs is having the same problem (although it's still up at the moment) and is already mirrored at, if you want to change your links now.

For my part, I'll probably have to relocate the opera website if Jace doesn't get back to me, which is a major annoyance, but fortuantely I had at least registered in my own name before this whole fiasco. So, moving this site's hosting from Bloghosts to Hosting Matters over the wknd was pretty uneventful (although if you noticed a service interruption, this is why).

December 4, 2004

Itching to deride   {Comments: 0}

He'd just love the internet...

'Tis hard to say if greater want of skill
Appear in writing or in judging ill;
But, of the two, less dangerous is the offence
To tire our patience, than mislead our sense.
Some few in that, but numbers err in this,
Ten censure wrong, for one who writes amiss;
A fool might once himself alone expose,
Now one in verse makes many more in prose.
--Pope Alexander Alexander Pope, from An Essay on Criticism
December 3, 2004

All happy families   {Comments: 1}

Caleb McDaniel is hosting a Good Writing Contest (cf the Bad Writing Contest I mentioned below) so if you know of any stunning passages that have been published in the past year, you should send them his way. On his way to the announcement, he spells out the interests that motivate this debate and tries to see beyond them:

Heated exchanges about academic writing have the flavor of a family feud: both sides claim to have the family's best interests at heart, and indeed, both sides may be right. The poststructuralists got their start trying to save the humanities from one of their former stalkers -- scientistic structuralism. What happens when one takes off the sheep's clothing to expose a wolf, and finds another sheep inside?

Call me an optimist, but I suspect the humanities are more hearty and hale as disciplines than many of their disciples seem to think. I boldly predict that something like the humanities will exist as long as humanity does. And I further modestly propose that for every sentence of "bad writing" one can point to in a journal of the humanities, someone else could produce countless counterexamples of "good writing."

All this may sound sensible enough, but he's already being warned in comments about the dangers of trying to arbitrate taste -- and this despite the humble disclaimer at the end of his post! Is it surprising that the idea of good writing should fall in so easily with the idea of bad writing? Look again at how naturally the critiques of the Bad Writing Contest could apply to Caleb's Good Writing Contest as well:
  1. bad writing allegations are as old as Socrates' denunciation of the Sophists, figures who, Ferguson recalls, "were foreigners, 'provincials' (in the eyes of Athenians) who lacked legal standing in Athens" (p. 15);
  2. the Bad Writing Award is unfair and high-handed, "a matter of bad faith to take a single sentence out of context and charge it with obfuscation" (Culler, p. 43);
  3. the clarity Dutton et al. prize is, in fact, an unstable political concept, always begging the question, Michael Warner notes, "Clarity for whom?" (p. 115); and
  4. the language of "good writing" is inadequate to "the experience of women and minorities" (McCumber, p. 66), who are bound to speak an unfamiliar language as they acquire equal rights and political power
Does this mean good writing is just as bad as bad writing? I don't know, but it seems clear that politics and aesthetics aren't working very well together. Perhaps figuring out how to write them both into the same sentence -- with or without all the offending commas and hyphens -- is a worthy preoccupation for the everlasting humanities Caleb boldly predicts? Keep this in mind when you send him your entries!
December 2, 2004

Late entry   {Comments: 0}

Microsoft's new blogging tool, MSN Spaces, has launched in public beta. My observations are here. It's surprisingly slow compared to some other public betas I've seen, although to be fair they're probably innundated with gapers and test drivers at the moment.

Blogs that actually think   {Comments: 0}

Yglesias writes about blogs as a new medium for think tankery, and the idea seems to be going around. He doesn't say so explicitly, but the most important point here is one he's made before: that it's not the medium that matters so much as what's being said. I do think blogs reduce transaction costs for some kinds of communication, especially when there's frequently new information to incorporate (ie news); but it would be silly to suggest that more than a handful of bloggers out there are think tank worthy, or that the sensationalistic way memes spread through the blogosphere would be at all conducive to good research...

Meanwhile Mark Glaser (via Personal Democracy Forum) envisions a new participatory media that sounds an awful lot like Blogosphere 2, this time with rules. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around some of the practicalities of these ideas, but naturally I find them attractive and tempting. I'm also struck by how utopian (ie planned) all of it is -- we're talking about a grand experiment in open source media, and yet the structure has to be carefully masterminded. I guess the larger open source medium -- the internet itself -- is too chaotic?