Thursday, September 29, 2005

US$100 Laptops? Why not?

An MIT researcher, Nicholas Negroponte, is working to develop a $100 laptop [via Mom] with a pared-down Linux operating system, weatherproof case and hand-crank to supplement power. The intent is to spread information access and literacy to the underprivileged children of the world, but I suspect -- no, I guarantee -- that the rest of us will benefit as well.

As he notes, a huge portion of the "cost" of a computer in the industrialized world is in advertising and software licenses: strip those out, and make the hardware solid, and you've got a beautiful, cheap, reliable machine that costs less than a year's supply of textbooks. Existing education budgets, even in low income countries, could afford these in large numbers, and corporate sponsorship (which has been essential in the development phase, much to their credit) and developmental aid will certainly pick up some costs as well.

The world is changing...

Thursday Lyric: Bony Fingers

A less somber, if no less serious, song from the same Bread & Roses collection as last week. You've got to really belt out the chorus....

Bony Fingers
by Hoyt Axton

Rain coming down and the roof won’t hold her
Well I lost my job and I feel a little older
Car won’t run and our love’s grown colder
Maybe things will get a little better in the morning
Maybe things will get a little better

The clothes need washing and the fire won’t start
Kids all crying and you’re breaking my heart
Whole damned place is falling apart but
Maybe things will get a little better in the morning
Maybe things will get a little better
Work your fingers to the bone and what do you get?
Bony fingers, bony fingers
I’ve been broke just as long as I remember
Well I get a little money; I gotta run and spend her
When I try to save it pretty woman come and take it
Maybe things will get a little better in the morning
Maybe things will get a little better

Work your fingers to the bone and what do you get?
Bony fingers, bony fingers

Grass won’t grow and the sun’s too hot
The whole darned world is going to pot
You might as well like it cause I’m all that you’ve got
Maybe things will get a little better in the morning
Maybe things will get a little better

Work your fingers to the bone and what do you get?
Bony fingers, bony fingers

Rain coming down and the roof won’t hold her
Well I lost my job and I feel a little older
Car won’t run and our love’s grown colder
Maybe things will get a little better in the morning
Maybe things will get a little better

Work your fingers to the bone and what do you get?
Bony fingers, bony fingers

Work your fingers to the bone and what do you get?
Bony fingers, bony fingers

Caveat Lector! (Let the Reader Beware)

From the Singapore Straits Times
As far as I'm concerned, blogs are possibly the worst things about the Internet. Sure, pornography and other stuff rightly furrow the brows of parents, but the things some bloggers say go far beyond the pale.
The reaction, so far, seems to focus on the importance of teaching critical thinking and reading skills, to be applied to newspapers like the Straits Times no less than to blogs.

If I get up enough courage, and time, I might try doing a head-to-head comparison of blogging and pornography. Perhaps someone else will do it first so I don't have to?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Carnival of Poetry!

The third Carnival of Poetry is up. I didn't know about it in time to submit any of my doggerel, but it looks interesting. I'll let you know when I've had a chance to actually read a few of them.

Indefensible, but I scored 19!

"God forbid that any book should be banned. The practice is as indefensible as infanticide." -- Rebecca West (1928)
It's Banned Books Week. Looking at last decade's Top Hundred Challenged Books, I find that my Banned Book Readership Score is a measley 19.

If you're gonna count, be honest. You can't include the ones where you've just seen the movie, or read the reviews. Just the ones you actually read. Which one will you read next? Maybe I'll add some Stephen King to my bedside table... (See? They go after some great stuff!)

Update: Via Sharon Howard I find that I was looking at last decade's list. Last year's Top Ten is here, and I've only read two of them, which is almost exactly the same ratio that I had with the longer list. I suppose I ought to read some Steinbeck, now that I'm old enough to appreciate it (Grapes of Wrath in HS didn't make an impression, and I grew up on Dust Bowl songs)

Update: Apparently, I'm a lightweight. Also, I'm not getting due credit. Kevin Drum (14) doesn't cite a source, but he is known to be a reader of Cliopatria where I am cited as the source of this meme. Orac (19) cites PZ Meyers (47!) and Majikthise (29), but Myers cites Majikthise, and Majikthise cites Drum, who doesn't cite anyone. I find it interesting that all of them use the same "copy the whole list and highlight" method of The Little Professor (31) who got it from Ralph Luker, but she's not cited by anyone. It could be a matter of spontaneous generation -- neither counting up, nor listing are terribly original, I admit -- but I'm suspicious.

Update: Dave (26) points out that the list is more a reflection of educational anxieties than full-bore censorship. I suppose he's right, but not all slippery slopes are fallacious....

Monday, September 26, 2005

Strip clubs per capita....

Oregon has 93 such clubs, or 2.6 per 100,000 residents — second only to West Virginia's 53 clubs, or 2.9 per 100,000 residents.
In other words, you only need a population of 30-40,000 to support such an establishment. I figured the base would need to be higher. No word on what the national average is, and I'd love to see a "red-state/blue-state" breakdown...

Quotations #073

"Death never takes the wise man by suprise; he is always ready to go." -- Jean de la Fontaine (1678)

"Death must be distinguished from dying, with which it is often confused." -- Sydney Smith (18c-19c)

"Kill them all; God will recognize his own." -- Arnald Amaury, abbot of Citeaux, at the massacre of Béziers, 1209.

"You should never have your best trousers on when you go out to fight for freedom and truth." -- Henrik Ibsen, An Enemy of the People.

"What a country calls its vital economic interests are not the things which enable its citizens to live, but the things which enable it to make war." -- Símone Weil

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Thursday Lyrics: For Everyman

At some point I need to listen to more Jackson Browne. This is the only song of his I know well, because it was on the Bread & Roses collection which I listened to incessantly growing up. I post it today because we just bought the album via e-music and it's been going through my head.

We can't wait.

by Jackson Browne

Everybody I talk to is ready to leave
With the light of the morning
They've seen the end coming down long enough to believe
That they've heard their last warning
Standing alone
Each has his own ticket in his hand
And as the evening descends
I sit thinking 'bout Everyman

Seems like I've always been looking for some other place
To get it together
Where with a few of my friends I could give up the race
And maybe find something better
But all my fine dreams
Well thought out schemes to gain the motherland
Have all eventually come down to waiting for Everyman

Waiting here for Everyman--
Make it on your own if you think you can
If you see somewhere to go I understand
Waiting here for Everyman--
Don't ask me if he'll show -- baby I don't know

Make it on your own if you think you can
Somewhere later on you'll have to take a stand
Then you're going to need a hand

Everybody's just waiting to hear from the one
Who can give them the answers
And lead them back to that place in the warmth of the sun
Where sweet childhood still dances
Who'll come along
And hold out that strong and gentle father's hand?
Long ago I heard someone say something 'bout Everyman

Waiting here for Everyman--
Make it on your own if you think you can
If you see somewhere to go I understand

I'm not trying to tell you that I've seen the plan
Turn and walk away if you think I am--
But don't think too badly of one who's left holding sand
He's just another dreamer, dreaming 'bout Everyman

(c) 1973 WB MUSIC CORP

You can view other Thursday Verses here

Delurking Day!

Not being in the "cool kid" loop, I don't find out about these things until later, but apparently it's been declared "Blog Lurker Day." Lurking readers (humans, not spambots) are invited to reveal themselves, once, either here or, if you want to be known as a "Guest of Ahistoricality" for all time, here.

Frankly, this was an idea of a blogger -- a notoriously insecure lot -- not a lurker (about whom little is known for sure). If you don't want to reveal yourself, that's fine, too.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

It's not a Bully Pulpit; it's a Cash Register

Has the Bush Administration been following sales advice from professionals?
If you betray someone, it is often best to come clean. Accept responsibility for personal failure and personally apologize. Demonstrate how you will fix process failure, and offer compensation.

The alternatives to these recovery actions may cost you much more.

Note: A small betrayal can, in fact, actually help. The way it works is that you fail in a relatively unimportant way, then go overboard in recovery. The message sent is 'we care so much about you even for the small things (so just imagine how much we care about the bigger things)'. Done well, it can actually increase loyalty.
I'm thinking this explains a lot about the solidity of his base, FEMA, DHS....

How different from a religious view of betrayal:
He (Rabbi Elazar HaKappar) used to say, The born will die, the dead will come to life, and the living will be judged -- [so that] they know, make known, and become aware that He is G-d, He is the Fashioner, He is the Creator, He is the One who understands, He is the Judge, He is the Witness, He is the Litigant, and He will eventually judge. Blessed be He, for there is not before Him wrongdoing, forgetfulness, favoritism, or the acceptance of bribes -- for all is His. And know that everything is according to a reckoning. And do not let your evil inclination assure you that the grave is a refuge for you -- for against your will were you created, against your will were you born, against your will do you live, against your will will you die, and against your will will you stand in judgment before the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.
It's too bad Christian Conservatives (or Senate Majority Leaders or ambassadors) don't read Talmud more....

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

No matter how you look at it...

Apparently, every consistent moral philosophy ultimately justifies freedom of sexual pleasure. Taboos are like that. [via Positive Liberty, which I've stopped reading]

Slow but explosive....

Your Brain's Pattern
Your mind is an incubator for good ideas, it just takes a while for them to develop.
But when you think of something, watch out!
Your thoughts tend to be huge, and they come on quickly - like an explosion.
You tend to be quiet around others, unless you're inspired by your next big idea.
[via Claire who took it down immediately after I saw it. But she credited Natalie who is less skittish about these things]

Picture, meet words

It's true that a picture can be worth a thousand words. Though, I have to point out, not all irony is hypocrisy. Not all errors are incompetence. Every pain doesn't have a sadist at the other end. Not all injuries incur liability. The guy standing there doesn't necessarily own the problem.

If I was truly certain that this was the case, though, I wouldn't link at all. I just think we need to think. Snopes has different pictures as "undetermined" in status; I think the problem is not the credibility of the pictures, which seems fairly certain, but the degree to which the juxtaposition reflects deeper reality or simply snark.

Sometimes it is hypocrisy. Sometimes we need to think twice before sniping.

The Truth You Can Get

William James said that people have to take as much truth as they can get today, and be prepared to change their minds in the light of new information. So rarely does it happen, though, that it gets noticed. [via Sideshow]

Monday, September 19, 2005

Gun Owner of the Year Nominee

Mike Royko used to publish a column of really, really bad gun stories. Here is, without a doubt, a leading nominee for Gun Owner of the Year: a man who was beating his dog with a shotgun was himself shot when the dog's paw reportedly caught the trigger.

I don't remember, though, if Royko had an international division: it happened in Bulgaria. But in the modern age, global embarrassment awaits any who so distinctively screw up.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

There is no need to sally forth

. . . for it remains true that those things which make us human are, curiously enough, always close at hand. Resolve then, that on this very ground, with small flags waving and tinny blast on tiny trumpets, we shall meet the enemy, and not only may he be ours, he may be us. -- Walt Kelly, From the foreword to The Pogo Papers, Copyright 1952-53
I've been a Pogo lover for years, a habit I picked up when my father, who's old enough to have read the original strips, picked up a few used collections. I've got a very substantial collection, now, but I've looked in vain through his and my books for the infamous "We have met the enemy, and he is us" citation. No more. I've found it.

There's a double meaning to the title: I didn't find it by research. It came to me, nearly by chance. I wrote a post yesterday, which inspired reader (long-time or just arrived, I don't know) Sheryl Zettner to post a comment about her own quotation collection (which is extensive, and I'll mine it later).

Well, I don't get nice comments from new readers that often, so I checked out her blog (one of them, anyway) and halfway down I found this link to:This image comes from the ultimate Pogo site which includes this lovely capsule history of the use of the phrase, including the original text cited above and Walt Kelly's own recollections. So, after many years, I've found it!

Many thanks to Sheryl Zettner, my reader, and Marilyn White, proprietor of I Go Pogo, for bringing this quest to a happy conclusion. Now, I just gotta find one of those plaques or posters in my price range...

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Diet of the Penguins

We saw "March of the Penguins" and one of the most striking elements of the Emperor Penguin lifestyle has to be the extreme relationship to food: periods of fattening and periods of starvation in an annual cycle which regularly halves and doubles the body weight of both males and females.

Nearly simultaneously, my spouse and I had the same thought: Extreme Adventure Dieting! Perhaps Antarctic conditions would be inappropriate for all but the most truly extreme cases, but if you combine fasting with maternal/paternal caretaking duties, you might be able to convince some people that they're getting in touch with their inner Emperor ("getting in touch with your inner Penguin" won't market as well, trust me) and that will help them lose weight.

Here's the theory: you find a reasonably extreme environment, hot or cold. You give the participants something to care for, preferably something they need to shield with their own bodies for long periods of time. (eggs are good; plants work, too, and you can take them home more easily) Then you monitor their success and sharply limit their food intake. You'd have to include a meditative component (what do the penguins think about for months on end other than "It's Cold" and "Don't Drop It" I wonder? Or is that their limit?), probably drawn from one of the more salvationist traditions (in keeping with the caretaking aspects; people would love to be meditating on the salvation of Kuan Yin while carrying out a mission of mercy: they could empathize with Boddhisatvas and other saviors!) in order to keep people focused on the task and away from the food.

True Extreme Experience afficionados, of course, are already pretty thin sorts. For them part of the extreme experience would have to include fattening up, preferably in a predatory fashion. That's a whole other branch of the business, tied to the "stone age diet" plans....

[Welcome Carnival of the Vanities readers (thanks, Mark, for the suggestion....), Carnival of Comedy readers!]

Quotations #072

"If the devil does not exist, but man has created him, he has created him in his own image and likeness." -- Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamozov

"We do not experience and thus we have no measure of the disasters we prevent." -- John Kenneth Gailbraith

"Actions recieve their nature from the times,
and as they change are virtues made or crimes."
-- Daniel Defoe, "A Hymn to the Pillory" (1703)

"Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead." -- G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (1908)

"Our God and soldier we alike adore
Ev'n at the brink of danger; not before:
after deliverance, both alike requited
Our God's forgotten, and our soldiers slighted
-- Francis Quarles (1632)

Friday, September 16, 2005

Academic Bloggers Unite!

You have nothing to lose but your brains.

Seriously, though, (a)musings of a grad student is trying to collect comments on blogging by humanities and social science graduate students (since expanded to include untenured faculty and, in comments, grad students outside of the "liberal" disciplines).

Pass it on.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Thursday Verses: The Dodger Song

In honor, of course, of the artful dodging nominee...


Oh the candidates a dodger, a well-known dodger
Oh the candidates a dodger, and I'm a dodger too.
He'll meet you and treat you and thank you for your note
But look out, boys, he's a-dodgin' for your vote.
cho: We're all a-dodgin'
Dodgin', dodgin' dodgin'
We're all dodgin' out our way through the world.

Oh the lawyer he's a dodger, a well-known dodger
Yes the lawyer he's a dodger, and I'm a dodger, too.
He'll plead your case and claim you for a friend
But look out, boys, he's easy for to bend.

Oh the doctor, he's a dodger, a well-known dodger
Yes the doctor he's a dodger, and I'm a dodger, too.
He'll treat you and cure you for half you possess
But look out, boys, he's a-dodgin' for the rest.

Oh the preacher he's a dodger, etc.
He'll preach the gospel and tell you of your crimes,
But look out, boys, he's a-dodgin' for your dimes.

Oh the merchant he's a dodger, etc.
He'll sell you goods at double the price,
But when you go to pay him you got to pay him twice.

Oh the farmer he's a dodger etc.
He'll plow his cotton, he'll plow his corn
But he'll never make a living just as sure as you're born.

Oh the lover he's a dodger etc.
He'll hug you and kiss you and call you his bride
But look out, girls, he's telling you a lie.

You can see other Thursday Poems and Verses here.

Shame? Who Needs it?

Bald-faced lies and spin that's nearly transparent. If you check the facts that's all that's left of Republican "blame-gaming"....

On the other hand, while we're fact checking, they're sucking up the profits. As Harry Shearer said recently, "Looting? You ain't seen nothin' yet."

I'd like to thank my co-stars....

Orac's edition of the History Carnival includes the exchange between Mr. Jones and myself on historical judgements and comparative ethics. Since he's given it a TV theme, I'm working on my Emmy acceptance speech....

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

They're both right....

Yes, Indians seem to like us better.
81% of Indians vs. 44% of Chinese view Americans as hard working.
58% of Indians vs. 35% of Chinese view Americans as honest.
86% of Indians vs. 70% of Chinese view Americans as inventive.
43% of Indians vs. 57% of Chinese view Americans as greedy.
27% of Indians vs. 44% of Chinese view Americans as rude.
36% of Indians vs. 44% of Chinese view Americans as immoral.
39% of Indians vs. 61% of Chinese view Americans as violent.
Aside from pure marketing and mythology, this is irrelevant. What's important is that we are all of these things, and the ratio is something we need to work on...

"A Lawyer Is Not A Taxi"

As Eric Muller points out, and the NYRB piece noted earlier, Roberts doesn't get a free pass on everything he wrote in the Reagan and Daddy Bush administrations. "I don't recall" seems to be working pretty well for him, though.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Shorter Senate Hearings

My initial enthusiasm for So Quoted has been justified: Bill has done 1/10th scale MS Word autosummaries of the opening statements from yesterday, and they provide both a crucial distillation and, of course, unintentional humor.

I'm in No Man's Land

"Look, just don't say this stuff, no one wants to go there."

It's not quite a quiz. It's not a satire, either....

Monday, September 12, 2005

Ahistoricality Alert: Did Lincoln Violate the Geneva Convention?

Mr. Jones responds to a historical fallacy (selectivity) with one closer to my heart: ahistoricality, or, to use the more technical term, presentism.* It's true that Lincoln's orders during the Civil War often violate our present sense of the rules and morals of war, and individual commanders carried out what can only be called atrocities without punishment or even uproar. But this is one situation where relativism is required: the ethics of war -- Hemingway said that war, no matter how justified, was a crime, but neither he nor I are actually pacifists in any meaningful sense -- have changed dramatically over the 20th century. In fact, there wasn't much "Law of War" in the mid-19th century, particularly in the context of civil rebellion: in theory, the North could have considered every southern soldier a traitor and shot them on sight; Geneva actually would protect against that now, at least for uniformed combatants. Now there is a substantial body of law, largely based on avoiding repeats of past atrocities, which should bind the President against torture (which is pretty well defined, unless you happen to be willfully ignorant or Alberto Gonzales), unaccountability ("ghost" detainees), arrest of minors, etc.

The relevant question is whether Lincoln's conduct of war was bounded by the conventions and laws of the time, whether he violated existing guidelines, whether he restrained his troops from committing atrocities which they might otherwise have committed, legally or otherwise. The Order that Mr. Jones cites was a remarkably advanced statement of principles for its time, and that made it unlikely that officers trained under less restrictive rules, or soldiers hastily assembled, would follow them clearly and consistently. That the statement was accompanied by the repeal of Habeus Corpus, which, as Mr. Jones notes, dramatically reduces Lincoln's stature as a paragon protector of rights and legal ethics, but given the nature of the war being fought, it's not incomparable to the USA PATRIOT act....

* There's also a bit of selectivity in Mr. Jones' limitation of discussion of Bush war policy to Abu Ghraib and interrogation technique.

Of Course It's Political! It's Policy!

We need to make a sharp distinction between policy and politics:
LONDON (Reuters) - Make Poverty History (MPH), hailed as one of the most effective lobbying campaigns ever with its simple message and signature white wrist band, was banned on Monday from television and radio advertising in Britain.

Advertising watchdog Ofcom said the goals of its campaign, including an array of stars clicking their fingers to ram home the message that a child dies of preventable poverty every three seconds, were political and therefore outlawed.

"We have reached the unavoidable conclusion that MPH is a body whose objects are 'wholly or mainly' political as defined under the Act. MPH is therefore prohibited from advertising on television or radio," Ofcom said on its Web site.
They thought that global poverty was going to be solved without politics? That doesn't make it "political": it's a non-partisan policy group. Now, I know the rules in the UK are different, but I think it's safe to say that either the rules or the interpretation in this case are too broad.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Good Work: So Quoted

So Quoted is the blog of someone who apparently really enjoys looking things up and tracking things down. The Clarke's Third Law Corrollaries is worth the price of admission, for me. But there's more.

Friday, September 09, 2005

The Pollyanna President

Unlike Scrivener [via IHE], I don't really think that Bush is dumb in a straightforward intellectual sense. Odds are good he's as smart as I am, and in some ways (like remembering people's names and faces) he's probably considerably higher on the scale. Whether it's his ability to pick people or innate, he's a damned sight better at political strategy than I am (though, to be fair, I've never really been put to the test, as nobody has ever taken my political advice in an actual competitive campaign).

What he lacks is, in my view, two crucial things: empathy and compassion, a really strong moral sense, but that's not the issue here*, at least I don't think it is; and the sense that bad things can happen. Foresight, and the understanding that "risk" means that sometimes things go wrong, seems to be entirely lacking from the politics and policies of this administration. "No one could have foreseen..." is, as Scrivener and others have noted, flat out wrong, in addition to being prima facie evidence of the administration's failure to consider accident and failure as possibilities.

The entire Iraq war and reconstruction has been a whole series of high-risk policies which failed to go as planned, resulting in embarrassing retrenchments and redirections, not to mention unnecessary human suffering in the present and foreseeable (if you do that sort of thing) future. New Orleans was a high-risk city: everyone who seriously calculated the odds knew that disaster was a matter of time. New Orleans' great charm is not its luck, but its sang froid in the face of the inevitable. New Orleans is not a city of wishers and hopers, like our administration: it's a city of people who live in the past and present like there is no tomorrow. It would be an insult to the city to say that we have a New Orleans kind of president, because he insists on making plans for others, instead of living life for himself.

* Though, as Anne Zook says, "'Incestuous nepotism' doesn't even begin to describe these people and the inbreeding is producing some monstrous results." Though it would be somewhat hypocritical for Congress to impeach as incompetent cabinet members and agency directors they already confirmed, it's hypocrisy even I can live with. Repudiating the sins of the past is the right kind of hypocrisy. But they must redeem themselves: we can't do it for them.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Speaking Ill of the Dead

Alan Dershowitz is not someone with whom I agree with any regularity. And I disagree with his attacks on Rehnquist's youth and clerkship -- very unforgivingly one-sided view of events, it seems to me, cherry-picking character assassination -- though in proper context the incidents he cites might well mean what he says they mean. But it's his evaluation of Rehnquist's career as Chief Justice, which spans most of the time I've been aware of the Supreme Court as an institution, which rings true:
Rehnquist’s judicial philosophy was result-oriented, activist, and authoritarian. He sometimes moderated his views for prudential or pragmatic reasons, but his vote could almost always be predicted based on who the parties were, not what the legal issues happened to be. He generally opposed the rights of gays, women, blacks, aliens, and religious minorities. He was a friend of corporations, polluters, right wing Republicans, religious fundamentalists, homophobes, and other bigots. [emphasis added]
That Roberts clerked for Rehnquist shouldn't immediately disqualify him*, but that kind of partisanship, that regressive conservativism which is unworthy of the name, is not the kind of reliability which we should be looking for in a Supreme Court Justice, Chief or otherwise. [via Sideshow]

* Update: This, on the other hand, is the most damning review of Roberts' career I've seen yet, one that seems to actually distinguish between his "work-for-hire" and his fundamental views. [via Chapati Mystery]

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

It's easy to snark....

It's easy to put down criticism of the administration as "hindsight" and "feigned indignation" but there's lots of us who've been saying things about preparedness and resource management, cronyism and tunnel vision, responsibility and accountability for quite some time now. And there's lots of ways in which the ideology and methodology of the administration is so clearly unsuited to handling serious crises and complex issues; this isn't new, either.

No, we're being pretty damned consistent, actually. We called it before, and we're calling in that marker now.

Monday, September 05, 2005

New Fundamental Principle

"Any sufficiently complete incompetence is indistinguishable from malice"...

Friday, September 02, 2005

God and Katrina

I wasn't going to say much about the disaster, yet. If it's Jewish theological discussion of disasters and God's plan you're looking for, I'm with her.

Update: This is good, too. Though I would argue that we should distinguish wrestling with fate, accident and the injustices committed by fellow humans from our struggles to accept the justice of God, which is not limited to what we can see and understand in the present.