October 24, 2005

A devil's bargain   {Comments: 0}

Nick Taylor has a heartfelt complaint about Google Print and copyright. Compare it to the heartfelt email Jason Kottke got from Meghann Marco, and then note which author is established and which is struggling.

A horrific embarassment   {Comments: 1}

Can you trust Wikipedia? The Guardian has several experts review Wikipedia entries on subjects in their fields. It's too bad none of them seem to have delved into their entries' histories at all, but I suppose any iteration at all is fair game.

Picture pages   {Comments: 0}

Another Flickr hack (see also here) allows you to create and play sudoku puzzles with your photos. [via Crooked Timber]

October 21, 2005

Lying in the guise of truth   {Comments: 0}

"Even if all the reports on violence and rapes had proven to be factually true, the stories circulating about them would still be 'pathological' and racist, since what motivated these stories were not facts, but racist prejudices, the satisfaction felt by those who would be able to say: 'You see, Blacks really are like that, violent barbarians under the thin layer of civilization!'"

Common sense revolts at the idea   {Comments: 0}

Venkat has an extended (but premilinary, he says) discussion of the legality of Google Print vis-a-vis established copyright law. I disagree that existing law need always be the starting point for this sort of discussion, though, and in this case it seems clear that Lessig's goal is not to try to work within existing law at all, but rather to reimagine it.

October 20, 2005

Beelzebub's dope house   {Comments: 0}

Via LI, here's a very sensible (and informed) op-ed from a former police chief calling for legalization of everything -- heroin, meth, pot, etc. I'm still wondering what happened to this more modest (but still promising) proposal here in Chicago. Meanwhile, there's this.

Truth to power   {Comments: 0}

It looks like there's a possibility the president's suspension of Davis-Bacon (see also here) won't stand. Here's hoping.

Repetition   {Comments: 0}

There's probably no need to announce in a post that I've changed the background color back to what it was before (although I'd be interested in knowing -- from anybody who has an opinion -- just what to call the color, besides #999900). But I do want to point out that I've added comments to the short posts at the request of a number of folks. I'm not entirely happy with the way these posts have worked for me, but I do intend to keep experimenting with them, and maybe the comments will mean more feedback.

100000000000000 blogs   {Comments: 0}

In light of stAllio!'s spam problems, a link to this informative post from Jean Veronis about splogs seems to be in order. At least the folks at Google are working to solve the problem. Also, apropos of my post yesterday on getting rid of copyright, note that many of these splogs make use of "real texts" that have been appropriated from other sources.

Not the preferred nomenclature   {Comments: 0}

Last week Bill Poser and Geoff Pullum marveled at the strangeness of Michael Tortorello's use of the word micturate (and I don't disagree), but I've since found that a surprising number of my acquaintances know the word, even if they don't use it regularly. Meanwhile I was already familiar with it because of its appearance in The Big Lebowski, and of course I've learned not to underestimate the ability of a cult movie to motivate usage.

Also, I think Bill's numbers (in Ghits) for usage of pissed in this sense might be slightly off, because while he subtracts out cases of pissed off, he doesn't seem to take into account cases of pissed X off, of which there are over a million. Of course, that search isn't perfect either, as it would probably catch, for instance, the first clause of this paragraph.

That's not art!   {Comments: 0}

"People who complain about conceptual art always do so on the grounds of craft. Anything that has no painterly or sculptural skill is not art, because anyone could do it. But when people object to individual pieces, it's almost always because of the subject matter." (Naturally, the piece mentions Duchamp.) UPDATE: stAllio! has more.

Malic molds  

Here's an interesting motivation of Duchamp's Large Glass. I've actually been looking for just a good high-res digital reproduction of the work, to no avail.

October 19, 2005

Other stimulating measures (updated)   {Comments: 0}

I'm really glad to see a piece that offers some suggestions for how to do without copyright. A few obvservations and reiterations:

The idea of originality and owning content is peculiar to the past couple centuries of Western civ, in particular it's an outgrowth of the whole Romantic movement in art. This conception of creation as such an inward and personal act (and of our various works as possessions) has to be the biggest barrier to any kind of change in copyright law, because copyright law is just its outward manifestation. I don't know how our ideas about this could change (it's certainly hard for me to imagine), or whether it would even be a good thing if they did, but it does seem to be a prerequisite for this kind of major shift in law.

For example, if the first of the article's suggestions were implemented, there wouldn't be any protections for anybody's writing anywhere. So if this post were immediately siezed and republished elsewhere, I would have no recourse in the law, even if whoever seized the content made a lot of money selling ads, etc. This is a serious problem for the claim that "the first to market has a time and attention advantage," since presumably attention will have more to do with some kind of preexisting reading habits, and small voices or voices without some privileged position (on the internet or otherwise) may get lost or simply appropriated wholesale. This is why I think the idea that the market will simply work things out fairly is a little naive. The blogosphere, which in a way is a sort of copyright-free zone, deals with this problem through a kind of honor-system of attribution that seems successful and helps spread the love around. In the absence of this kind of system, though, content creators become less powerful than aggregators, since they can't even control their own content. Note that this only matters if we have this idea of content creation as some kind of privileged act, per the romantics, but again that idea seems so central that we (or at least I) will have a hard time giving it up. (By the way, I should say that by proposing the above example about this post I am not by any means trying to suggest that this post or this blog are art; I do however think the article fails to draw a line between art and non-art, and that furthermore that line will be somewhere between highly problematic and impossible to draw.)

I think the article's second and third suggestions -- for the one year usufruct protecting works that require a large capital investment and the societal support of works that are unpopular respectively -- are pretty poorly fleshed out, and seem kind of lamely policy-oriented coming in the shadow of that first suggestion. I don't think the ideas are necessarily bad, but they do seem kind of tacked-on, and I wonder whether more revolutionary ideas might be needed here. The usufruct in particular seems unenforcable in a digital world, and while it might be a little embarassing to proponents, I think it's pretty obvious that the push for a copyright-free world is as much about the recording industry's enforcement problems as it is about some kind of liberal (or is it Marxist?) ideal for content.

CLARIFICATION: Just to clarify one of those twisted parentheticals above: I don't think the article failed by not drawing a line between art and non-art content; rather I think it missed a great opportunity to describe some of the difficulties in drawing such a line in the first place. The article is actually quite vague about the issue, or at least it focuses primarily on art, when actually it's almost impossible to draw a distinction between art and non-art content (imagine the difficulties you'd encounter if you made copyright applicable only to non-art). The point is that any reimagining of copyright will have to apply equally to all kinds of content production, from the journalistic to the technical to the whimsical.

October 13, 2005

Growing Turkish ambivalence about Europe  

A description of the plot of Burak Turna's new novel elicits contemputous laughter from the folks at Metafilter, but the book is a runaway best-seller in Turkey. Personally, I'm just disappointed that there isn't an English translation available.


Scientists have unearthed a 4000 year old pot of noodles in China that should finally settle the argument about who invented noodles.


Radley Balko wonders if Harry Reid is an evil genius. If he is, though, he's playing a dangerous game.

The legal limit  

If you're a casual drinker and you live in Washington DC, be advised that you can be arrested there for driving with any blood alcohol level whatsoever, because there's no legal limit. If you want, you can take comfort in the fact that, according to the DC police chief, "officers bring discretion to everything they do."

October 12, 2005

The overwhelming size of pop culture today  

How obscure do individual elements of popular culture have to become before they are no longer popular? Too bad the article doesn't make it to the real conclusion here, namely that popular culture actually serves to divide today more than to unite -- and that this is directly related to the development of sophisticated marketing techniques.

Eye on the prize  

This is either huge news or a major embarassment for the Huffington Post.

An exemplar of press freedom   {Comments: 0}

This proposed legislation has all kinds of implications, not just for bloggers and whether they are perceived as journalists, but for the whole project of American democracy and what it means to have a representative government:

A key reason some journalists oppose the popular federal shield proposal is fear that giving Congress the power to define who is and isn't a journalist could lead effectively to the licensing of journalists.

In other remarks about the legislation at IAPA's 61st General Assembly, Lugar acknowledged that the legislation could amount to a "privilege" for reporters over other Americans.

"I think, very frankly, you can make a case that this is a special boon for reporters, and certainly for their role in freedom of the press," he said. "At the end of the day what we will come out with says there is something privileged about being a reporter, and being able to report on something without being thrown into jail."

Maybe this understanding is naive, but I've always considered freedom of the press to be an institutional mechanism, one that allows the citizenry to know what it needs to know to choose who will represent it. The press has a key role in representative democracy not simply because it deals in information, but because that information is central to the proper function of the government. And all information is protected because the government can't be trusted to decide which information is relevant to the fundamental democratic function of choosing the government in the first place.

The various privileges afforded journalists now probably all boil down to two things: protection from retribution by the government, and access. The need for the former should be obvious if the purpose of the press is to make information available to the citizenry as described above, and it extends not just to journalists, but anyone who speaks, including me as I type this right now. The need for the latter is really an organizational question, a sort of democratic flow problem; since everybody can't have access to the White House press room, for instance, certain people are credentialled and have privileged access. In the past, this has also meant access to the means of publication, adn a whole profession and industry have developed as a result.

Now, access to publication is no longer an issue, or is only an issue insofar as universal access to the internet is an issue: Anyone can publish. There's still a physical flow problem for accessing certain kinds of information, so it still makes sense to have credentialled journalists who can go to the physical places where news is generated and report to the rest of us. But this is merely a convenience (ie the solution to a flow problem), and there's no reason that only the people with credentials can have protected sources; in fact it seems like such a restriction would have the potential to prevent information from reaching the citizenry, since information could only come to light if there were a credentialled journalist around.

The point of all this is just that if freedom of the press is really about getting information to the citizenry, then press protections shoudl apply equally to the citizenry itself. The exception to this is where there is an organizational problem, as there is now for questions of access to officials or sporting events or Gitmo or whatever the case may be, and as there has been in the past (but not now) for questions of access to publication. To the extent that this legislation limits the citizenry's ability to diretcly interact with its governement where that interaction would otherwise be feasible, it's an extremely dangerous bill.

Incidentally, I should mention that I don't think this bill is really necessary to protect people like Judith Miller, mainly because I am convinced by the argument here that since the leak in her case was not about illegal activity but rather was the illegal activity, she shouldn't be protected in the first place.

October 11, 2005

A bit of a tragedy  

Last night the clay archive storing 30 years worth of Wallaces, Gromits, and other models was destroyed by fire. More here on Aardman Animations.

A slight activity lacking in intellectual value  

More on Drezner's tenure denial here.

October 10, 2005

Doomsday scenerio   {Comments: 2}

I think I'm ready to agree with Will Baude's early assessment that Harriet Miers will be confirmed. Both sides have incentives to see her confirmed, and more importantly both sides have significant incentives not to see her withdrawn or rejected.

The Republicans can't afford to let the Bush admin lose its ability to function over the next three years, which is exactly what would happen if the president were to lose this battle, by either withdrawing the appointment or simply losing the committee or floor vote. The president's ability to govern over the past five years has been based on a certain perception among the public about his personal qualities, the most important of which is his steadfast resolve in the face of various obstacles. Politically, this is why he can never withdraw troops from Iraq, and it's also why he can't withdraw Miers's name now. The result would be a grievous political wound that would cut right to the heart of who Bush is, damaging both his agenda for the next three years and his legacy. And of course, if the Republicans reject Miers anyway, they will have completely emasculated their own sitting president, and they'll be easy pickings in 2006.

But there's also danger here for the Democrats. If Miers is not confirmed, it will be the result of a bloodbath for the GOP, but the winning side will certainly put forward a nominee impossible for the Democrats to stomach. They will then have the choice between accepting the nominee anyway, which will only serve to marginalize the party further, or resorting to the filibuster, which will probably force the weakened GOP to exercize that nuclear option. And of course the result in either case is a much more more conservative court.

I suppose from a strictly political perspective the decision tree is all about figuring out whose medicine is worse here, but I think there's enough uncertainty on both sides here to make a Miers withdrawl/rejection pretty unlikely.

King Sejong the Great  

Yesterday was Hangul Day, possibly the only (and certainly the biggest) holiday to celebrates the creation of an alphabet.

Familiar, if luxe  

Bon Appetit names the five best restaurants in Chicago and other cities. Alinea makes the list. [via Gapers Block]

October 9, 2005

A great indicator of happy citizens  

Six drinks that changed the world: "When you start packing people together in cities it's helpful to have a water-purification technology like tea."

Carefully measured generalities  

Michael Kinsley hopes the absurdity of the Miers nomination will force the senate to rethink its definition of advise and consent. [via Explananda]

Drop it like it's hot   {Comments: 2}

Good luck to Daniel Drezner, who has been denied tenure by the University of Chicago. I can't speak to his strict academic qualifications, but it amazes me that any school would turn him down, given the contributions he's made to public life via his blog (which, btw, he's worried may have been part of the problem). I suppose his contributions to the political discussion over the past few years haven't had the same rigor as traditional academic discourse, but he has nevertheless been hugely influential -- and moreso, I'll wager, than any of his colleagues.

Apart from his role in policy discussion, it seems like his expertise on the topic of blogging would be particularly relevant in political science, where some study of the blogging phenomenon and its implications for political organization and structure might be appropriate. Or maybe there are experts who already study this, but don't blog themselves?

Anyway, I hope that the blog didn't enter into this decision, or rather I hope it did enter into the decision, somewhere in the pro column. But I have my doubts -- there are just too many reasons for the academy to be hostile to blogs, just like there are reasons for the recording industry to be hositle to the formats it can't control. My guess is we'll see more of this sort of thing, and that it will have a chilling effect on blogging by those in the tenure track.

Freelance journalist  

Todd at Frolic has a gripping account of his recent return to New Orleans.


This piece draws some interesting parallels between Harriet Miers and Justice O'Connor, although I'm guessing the description of the controversy surrounding O'Connor's nomination is somewhat exaggerated.

October 6, 2005

More bardolatry  

Here's the latest theory on who might have written Shakespeare's plays. The article mentions a statistical correlation with Neville's other writings based on word frequencies; depending on what the data look like, I might find this persuasive, given how extraordinary Shakespeare's vocabulary was.

Old masters  

This book on the distinct creative processes of young geniuses and old masters reminds me of an old generalization about poets and novelists -- namely that poets usually do their best work when they're still young, while novelists excel in old age. That story fits nicely into Galenson's framework (as described in the Amazon synopsis) of revolutionaries and successive approximators if you think about the lyric/narrative distinction as formal/elaborative or metaphoric/metonymic. [via Marginal Revolution]

October 5, 2005

A troubling trend  

The market for used books is growing. Bad for the publishers (although not that bad, since you have to have new book before you can have used ones), but great news for readers and fans of efficient markets. UPDATE: Ditto for used cars.

Made from scratch  

I can't decide: is this a public health threat, to be forcibly quarantined, or a weapon of mass destruction, to be preempted?

Flickr hacks  

These Flickr hacks let you play Memory with tagged public photos or create banners that spell out anything you want. [via kottke.org and farkleberries]

Whatever else you might normally write   {Comments: 0}

This new Writeboard service (via this Monkeyfilter post on NaNoWriMo) has a lot of potential for the kind of collaborative creative applications that I'm interested in, but also for business productivity. Basically it's a scaled down, simplified wiki that's password protected and document-focused (as opposed to community-focused). It's the closest thing I've seen to an online word processor, with the infinite version history standing in for both the undo and track changes features. I think if they added in some basic but elegant formatting capabilities and a convert to PDF function, this would really be a killer app for the workplace.

As far as collaborative fiction or poetry, I think it might work well at the level of a few collaborators, where groups can enforce their own rules and procedures for how final decisions are reached. For large scale collaborations, though, I think some kind of administrative system would be required -- probably something like voting, though possibly built into the background via measures of user behavior (clicking, linking, and the like).

Everybody's doing it  

A link to George Will's definitive Harriet Miers op-ed seems almost obligatory. Other interesting views are here, here, here, and here.

Unexpected places  

Jay Rosen explains why the New York Times is no longer the greatest newspaper in the land, focusing mainly on its failures in the Judith Miller story.

So sexy it hurts  

Mark Tapscott is making a pretty convincing case about the recent suicide bombing at OU. I guess domestic terrorism just isn't sexy enough for federal authorities and the mainstream media?

October 4, 2005

The evidence speaks for itself  

This article assiduously avoids the conclusion that traffic cameras at busy DC intersections are actually causing accidents, but isn't that the common sense explanation for the effects described?

October 3, 2005

Concentration and focus  

"Contrary to popular belief, skimming is not a less engaged kind of reading; arguably, it requires even more concentration and focus. But if you skim effectively, if you direct your full attention to the parts of an assignment that deserve the most attention, you can spend less time reading and comprehend more of what you read."

The definitive Harriet Miers blog post  

Jacob Levy is right to call this "the definitive Harriet Miers blog post." But Ezra Klein's roundup of the conservative response (see also here) is pretty powerful too.

Pre-existing conditions   {Comments: 1}

I wonder if this story will get broader play. NBA commissioner David Stern is advocating genetic testing for players during rookie camp:

"Let's put it back in rookie camp. If you're thinking about drafting a player, you do blood [tests], you do X-rays, skeletal, you look for scars, for breaks, for weaknesses, for disease. I don't know what you would be looking for with DNAs, but given the size of the contract and the importance of the draft pick, I think that diagnostic testing that tells you whether you're making a good investment is not a bad idea."
He goes on to say that this information should be controlled by the player, but it's easy to see how not providing information like this could be damning if it starts to be the standard practice to submit it "voluntarily." My purely-a-guess is that only a very few athletes would actually submit to this kind of testing after a hard long look at the relative risks (on the one hand to their health and on the other to their careers). I don't say this to disaparage the value of life or athletes' respect for it, but rather to point out the vastness of the countervailing incentives in this instance.

As far as "the size of the contract and the importance of the draft pick," it seems pretty obvious that there's a slippery slope here for DNA testing -- where do we draw the line between work that requires you to be healthy and work that doesn't? How big does that contract have to be, and how important to whom? Ultimately this is a technological exploit for employers that annihilates the notions of equal opportunity and equal protection.

Red Crystal  

"The Red Cross and its Islamic cousin, the Red Crescent, could soon be joined by a Red Crystal."


Bill Bennett has resigned from his position on the board of K12 after his (hypothetical?) policy suggestion about aborting all black babies. Meanwhile, a Little Rock abortion clinic is offering free abortions to Katrina evacuees.

Is affirmative action justified?  

Is affirmative action justified? This piece makes the philosophical case (a similar, but also fundamentally different discussion is here).

4 8 15 16 23 42  

Through the magic of PageRank and open comments, Amardeep Singh seems to have become a leading expert on the mysterious number sequence on Lost. He has a possible explanation for the numbers here.

October 2, 2005

Change vs more of the same   {Comments: 4}

So you can probably tell that I've been messing around with both the design and the format of this site (other recent changes here and here). On the design front, I've actually recoded all of the templates to switch from the table-based structure I had before to a more purer CSS design that's both more elegant and more flexible. Apart from the background color, the outward differences are subtle, and I've tried to make it seem pretty much the same as it was before.

I'm also experimenting with a little bit of a format change: instead of having these occasional linky posts, I've used an MT plugin to create a second blog whose posts will appear inline with the rest of the content here, much like what you see over at kottke.org (it's a feature I've always wanted to replicate). For now the new posts appear without titles or comments, with little yellow-green boxes you can click on for permalinks. I've also added them into the XML feed, so if you're subscribed to that you should get everything. (My plan, unless someone complains, is to stop supporting RSS 1.0 altogether.)

At any rate, feedback and advice on all of this is welcome and appreciated. I have even more changes in mind, and I'll be sure to let you know when I make them.

Sheer fascination and drama  

Jim Amoss, executive editor of the Times-Picayune: "Nothing will ever surpass this in sheer fascination and drama and unpredictability and importance to the community that we serve."

The inner Bush  

Maybe you can gain some insight into the inner Bush from this comprehensive list of the president's nicknames for various people (a list of nicknames for Bush is here).

Krugman (D-NJ)  

Ezra Klein explains why Paul Krugman is a bad choice for senator. He's right about Krugman not being very telegenic, but I don't see what will be achieved by "keeping him at the Times," given that you can't read him there anymore.