Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I almost linked to this cartoon yesterday, because I approved of the over-the-top tone:

Israeli tank, with a menorah replacing the main gun, and the legend 'Happy Hanukkah From Israel'.

Anyway, I guess Harper's is now doing a sort of letters to the editor feature for their web-only content, and the third comment in this "Replies" post calls the cartoon anti-Semitic. I don't see it, but I did have trouble figuring out exactly what Mr. Fish was trying to say, so who knows.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Why Conservatives Don't Still Advocate Monarchy, Mostly

Matt Yglesias jokes about how Bill O'Reilly's 17th century analogue would have fought against the War on Christmas by "shouting monarchist slogans." It's just a joke, but there is an interesting element there that I've been thinking about recently, which is that "conservatism" is a pretty old idea that you can observe through history, despite the fact that what conservatives of any given era have taken their conservatism to stand for has varied considerably.

Basically (and I don't think this is a novel observation), there has always been an identifiably conservative faction in society, but it has never been tied to any specific ideology. Conservatism, in any era, has argued that society's hierarchical structures should always resemble those of the current day, or possibly of one generation (but no more) previous. In the 17th century that might have meant supporting the divine right of kings, while by the 19th century it was enough to defend the institution of slavery.

It follows that there is no common principle uniting the conservative mindset of one era to another: one can recognize the constancy of the conservative attitude over time, the goal of preserving contemporary hierarchies; but an apology for landed aristocracy as a matter of principle would be as valid today as it ever was. Which doesn't mean there's no valid argument to be made in support of conservatism at all, just that it will be a practical rather than a principled one.

My best formulation of such an argument in defense of existing hierarchies starts from the counterfactual conditional that, if all the "stuff" in the world (money, food, natural resources, talent...anything and everything that contributes to a better quality of life) were to be divided evenly among the entire world population, then the amount of said stuff accruing to each individual would be insufficient to lift that individual out of abject poverty and its associated misery. That is, a purely democratic allocation of the world's wealth would leave everyone in miserable destitution.

Wouldn't a situation wherein a minority of the world population lives in relative comfort, at the expense of everyone else, be preferable? The majority are miserable, sure, but they would be miserable under the egalitarian alternative anyway: at least this way, somebody gets to be happy. The implication, then, is not that divine monarchy or primogeniture or limited suffrage are, in each of themselves, the linchpin holding this state of inequality together; but that any capitulation to democracy might trigger the collapse into the general democratic allocation of stuff that has already been judged unacceptable.

A leftist response to such reasoning would not so much dispute this argument as dismiss it as unjust: if indeed comfort for any can only be achieved on the backs of some others, then achieving comfort (even broad comfort) cannot be the animating goal of a just society. And I think this leads to a corollary regarding the conservative attitude, which is that justice is not a component of the conservative vision for society. (Or to put it another way, the conservative notion of justice relies on context: that which supports existing social hierarchies is just. So at one time it is just that the monarch own everything, while at another time it is just that each individual's private ownership of property is sacrosanct.)

One final note is that despite the long time spans used to illustrate the historical incoherency of supposed conservative principles, this is not a semantic quibble that can be sidestepped with anything along the lines of "well I wouldn't have been a conservative back then." A large number of today's mainstream conservative leaders, after all, are on the record having supported South Africa's apartheid government in the 80's, though none today endorse apartheid as a reasonable solution to ethnic conflict (e.g., none of the considerably heated opposition to Jimmy Carter's Palestine Peace Not Apartheid proposed anything along the lines of "peace by way of apartheid").

I think this is the cause of much disconnect between conservatives and non-conservatives. It's compounded by conservative rhetoric, which does make nominal appeals to principle; but in practice, conservative principles are fluid, adapting to fit the present circumstances in service of the real conservative project, the resistance of democratization.

Metal Birds Near My House

I have always enjoyed these metal silhouettes in a bricked-over window a block away from my house on Franklin:

Metal silhouettes in bricked-over window

(There is also a newer Swoon piece on the other end of the same block:

Franklin Ave Swoon piece
Not related, just thought it was cool.)

On Monday I noticed some more birds and a cat in the bricked-up windows of the building down my street in the other direction, between Bedford and Rogers:

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View Larger Map

I couldn't find it on Flickr, but it looks like it's from the same patterns as these birds and cat in Brooklyn Heights (embed disabled), and these golden birds in Dumbo:

Golden bird silhouettes in Dumbo

They're pretty cool can see the eyes on the golden ones, but the silvery ones have eyes as well, and it's a neat effect. And I like how they're always put in old windows. I tried asking Jeeves about who makes these, but didn't come up with anything. I did find a blog post about how the building on Franklin was sold and might be developed, but who knows if that's still on.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I am the Alan Rickman of chicken dickings.

The dickings are well-hung by the chimney with care.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Check, Please...CARD CHECK, THAT IS

I love the open admission that IT workers are mistreated. This is analogous to the "it would be a boon for trial lawyers" argument against the Lily Ledbetter fair pay act: the opposition grants that people would be helped by the proposed legislation; they just don't want them helped and prefer the status quo.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Winning the Non-Vote

Daniel Millstone thinks Democrats "need to connect to the non-voters more," if only to secure greater margins of victory in races already being won by turning out, you know, voters. I don't know where this thinking comes from...they don't vote! That's what makes them non-voters!

It may be true, in some abstract, academic sense, that non-voters are "Democratic in tendencies," but who cares: they are also non-voting in tendencies, which means they are of zero importance electorally. It might well be the case that 9 out of 10 anorexic people prefer Skippy peanut butter to Jif...Skippy would still be insane to base their marketing strategy on appealing to anorexics, because anorexics don't eat.

By all means, "connect" away to whomever you wish. But please let it stop at the point where one thin dime or volunteer hour, which could be otherwise spent persuading voters or turning out supporters, is dedicated instead to trying to appeal to people who by definition have no impact on elections.

Monday, December 15, 2008


I agree with what Atrios says, the real estate bubble and a lot of the stock market in general have always sort of been pyramid schemes. This dude seems to have gotten in trouble for giving the game away as much as anything else.

I mean, there was a period of several years during which people were quite publicly encouraged to buy more real estate than they could pay for, not just despite their prices being very high by historical standards, but because of it: the logic being that the continuation of recent pricing trends would mean they could sell in a couple years at even astronomic-er prices and recoup their investment and then some. And because everyone knows that home ownership is a great way to build wealth, and because brokers make money as long as stuff changes hands, it's win-win-win.

In the basic model of how stock investments are supposed to work, as I understand it, the shareholders buy their stocks from a company to help give the company a bunch of money to work with; the company uses that money to run their business and turn a profit; and the profit is then distributed to the shareholders as dividends. But then some stocks don't work that way at all, and actually the entire value of purchasing a share derives not from any predicted dividend, but from the expectation that at some point in the future someone else will pay you more for it than you did (because of their expectation that at some point further someone else will pay them even more...).

And it seems to me that when you're in a position where actually quite a lot of stocks are traded based on those kinds of predictions, and when a lot of real estate is trading hands due to the widespread possession of a similar set of expectations (rather than because a given area is getting more or less popular as people move around and figure out where they want to live their lives), then it's a situation that is inherently unsustainable in basically exactly the same way a Ponzi scheme is: you need a greater number of people to pay into the system for each successive generation of investors to come out ahead, and at the end of the day there are only so many people and it collapses.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Fuzzy Logic on Facebook

I just clicked yet another "Maybe" button in response to a Facebook event invitation:

RSVP box with 'Maybe Attending' selected

The event shows 60 definite yeses and 57 maybes. For someone planning an event, that's a pretty big amount of uncertainty to take into account. You don't know how many of those maybes are "it's a weeknight, so probably not, but you never know" versus "I'll totally be there but can't commit in case someone offers me Elton John tickets at the last second."

The interface should have a slider input representing the user's best guess as to the probability of attendance. It would still show up as "Maybe Attending" to the event creator and any fellow invitees, but the actual likelihood of your attendance would be stored. Then that could be used to predict the number of attendees with a little more accuracy (three people 40% likely to attend plus one person 80% likely to attend equals two expected guests).

In addition, the software could recognize events that overlap. So if you give a definite "Attending" to one event and it sees that you've already said "Maybe" to another event at the same time, then it could prompt you to change the "Maybe" to a definite "Not Attending" (and if you demurred, the software could quietly downgrade your probability of attendance, so you could be on the record as "Maybe Attending," with all the social courtesy that implies, without distorting the expected guest count).

Actually, what would really be the most helpful would be to randomly send out surveys to people who create or are invited to events. Netflix does a similar thing when it asks you when a certain movie arrived, or when a return was mailed back. So every now and then you would get an email, "you said you would Maybe Attend event x; did you end up going?" or, "we predicted 73 attendees; was that too high, too low, or about right?" And then they could revise their attendance predictions, even taking into account things like whether an event is on a weekend or is really late, and how many conflicting events each invitee has.

Of course, maybe empirically people who are "Maybe Attending" just show up 40% of the time or something, and you can just use a heuristic and get just as accurate a result. But in principle, you know.

Monday, December 8, 2008


Religious Conservatives stand over the corpse of Gay Marriage, while the Press alters the crime scene to redirect the blame to African-Americans.

And the revisionist history continues, as Pam Spaulding reports.

Friday, December 5, 2008


Block of Castles

When I hit up the Key Food's over on Nostrand, I usually end up on the South side of St Marks by the time I get to the block between Rogers and Nostrand. So I usually check out some of these crazy houses across the street:

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The detached home in the middle is unique in the neighborhood, as far as I can tell...there are lots of big mansions, but they're all regular brownstones. That two-family home on the right is half boarded-up and half under renovation. So they're basically the castles of the neighborhood and I check them out when I go to grab groceries.

For some reason, on the way to Key Food's last night, I wasn't able to cross over from the North side of the street by the time I was on that block. And so I noticed this awesome apartment building on the South side of it:

View Larger Map

I love the six stories and then the teensy pitched roof all the way on one side. So crazy.

Anyway, the whole block is cool. There are some neat weird homes with storefronts as you get to Nostrand. Also, this blog post was inspired by just popping out to the grocery store, but I have to say that I'm loving the hi-res Jeeves maps. The future is now, APDTO (all praise due to Obama).

On the topic of people remodeling old castles of Crown Heights, in February This American Life did an episode that touches on gentrification. It's about the Plan to repopulate black neighborhoods across the US with white people, and it starts around 32:00.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Each of the last two times I've gone to the gym, I've lost something on my way back.

The first time, by the time I'd gotten to the bodega I was buying tortillas at, I realized that I'd lost a glove out of my pocket (I was warm enough coming out of the gym that I didn't need gloves right away and put them in my pocket).

The second time, I unlocked my bike, but had lost the key for the lock by the time I got to the wine store just up the street. I was close enough to the gym to circle back and look for the key, but I didn't see it anywhere. At least that one is replaceable for free, whereas the gloves I don't think are even sold anymore (they were my lobster claw style water-resistant shells).

Anyway, I think I'm subconsciously sabotaging my gym trips. I either need to put idiot strings on every single item I have with me or get my ass hypnotisted.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Detroit Possessive S

My brothers and I thought we were so hilarious when we talked about shopping at "Target's" and whatnot. It's a thing people say in Detroit, apparently. I wonder if we picked it up from our mom.

Monday, December 1, 2008


The Dallas on military-themed kids' toys. His addendum links to a story about Chinese workers rioting at a Nerf factory. You could do a pretty bleak satirical piece about a toy plant manager mystified by how surrounding employees with tens of thousands of toy weapons failed to produce a light-hearted work environment. Close with an allusion to similar problems at a Malaysian bean bag chair fabricator and boom, I just wrote an Onion story from 1999.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Solving the Homeless Problem

M. LeBlanc at Bitch. Ph.D. reports on the Chicago Transit Authority's crackdown on yoyo-ing, or "continuous riding." I read last week about a project inspired in opposition to similar anti-homeless measures. Preventing people from sleeping on bus shelter benches in LA is abhorrent enough, but kicking people out into the cold in Chicago is borderline sadism.

Anti-Lemon Law

This weekend I finally took a deep breath and took my car in for an oil change and general check-up, after having taken it to a shop for years that I eventually found out had a reputation for not actually doing what they said they were doing. Amazingly, the new place, which came highly recommended by the internets, found the car to be in great shape.

When I used to play golf in P.E. high school, I used to argue that my friends shouldn't take mulligans (I was sort of a dick in high school), because if they didn't think they should have to play an uncharacteristically bad drive then they should also not be allowed to play an uncharacteristically good drive; and nobody ever said "whoa, that was wayyyyy too long and straight for me (nullus), I should do that over."

By the same token, I seem to have been saddled with an anti-lemon. With 90-something,000 miles on it, and despite years of probable abuse at the hands of the mechanics in my old neighborhood, my car is still doing great (knock on wood (nullus)). By my own standards, I should make the inverse of a "lemon law" claim and pay the manufacturer a sum of money to compensate for its unexpected reliability.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Actually Awesome

Atrios links to Sarah Palin talking in front of a bunch of turkeys being slaughtered after she pardoned one of them. That is pretty funny, actually. It didn't occur to me before, but the whole turkey pardoning ritual has got to be as insensitive and mildly irritating towards hunters and farmers who raise animals for their meat as it is towards animal rights groups.

MSNBC blurring out the blood and warning parents to shield their children's eyes is just offensive if they're not going to take a stand arguing for a meatless Thanksgiving.

Anaglyph Games

The entries from Gamma 3D have been posted. I had only really read anything about a couple of them but I look forward to giving myself a headache playing them all.

John Ziegler

The other day Bol posted a video demonstrating how uninformed "Obama voters" are. (Of course he did. That's what he does.) And then I saw that Amanda at Pandagon linked to Nate Silver's interview with the guy who did the video and commissioned the Zogby poll on which it was based.

The guy is a talk radio host called John Ziegler, and he was the subject of David Foster Wallace's 2005 piece for the Atlantic, "The Host." Instant classic, natch, but so much of Ziegler's maniacal, outrage-fueled personality comes across in his uncut interview with Silver that you almost feel like DFW couldn't have gone wrong.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Business Case Against National Health Care

Atrios thinks private corporations' opposition to government-provided health insurance is purely ideological. But there is actually a logic to it, I think: employer-based health insurance means it is more difficult for people to switch jobs, which drives wages down. It doesn't make CEO's not-assholes, but it does make sense in economic terms.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Friday, November 14, 2008

Just Thought of This

For some reason yesterday I was like "hey, is Ron Paul still a congressman?" I looked it up today, and he is! That seems weird for some reason. Dennis Kucinich is still in the non-proverbial House as well.

I guess one strange thing about it is that some people's representatives in Congress have national profiles. Maybe I am just speaking for myself, but I feel like for most people, when they decide there oughta be some law or another and sit down to write their congressman, the first thing they have to do is look up who their congressman even is. And then not only are they national figures, but they are national figures with public reputations for being sort of crazy. I have no idea whether Rep. Letitia James would take a letter from me seriously, but I think I would sort of question whether a letter to Paul or Kucinich would make much of an impact if I weren't writing about the gold standard or peace crystals, or whatever.

Anyway, Congress is crazy, that's all.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Burden of Proof

Dave Neiwert has a post on Obama dictatorship conspiracy theories and how much they resemble the far-right paranoid fantasies around Bill Clinton.

You'd think this stuff would cease to have any fascination, the hysterical delusions of years past having failed to materialize. Not only was NAFTA emphatically not the first step in the creation of a socialist North American Union to rival the EU, but this year the majority of the Democratic primary contenders, including the eventual nominee, ran against the trade agreement.

Federal agents did not only round up nobody's guns, but when the Assault Weapons Ban expired without much fanfare (except among gun nuts), it did not become part of anyone's agenda to bring it back. "Y2K" was not used as an excuse to restrict any civil liberties at all, let alone establish martial law under UN peacekeeping forces.

Not only did the paranoia surrounding Clinton end up being unfounded, but liberals' fears of the wickedness of Bush proved to underestimate his administration's potential to cause harm almost across the board. As has been noted more than once, a straightforward account of the events of the last eight years (9/11, Iraq, Katrina, the financial meltdown) would have been seen as the most outrageous hyperbole, had it been presented in 2000 as a prediction of the consequences of electing Bush. "Had it been" being the key phrase, since nobody could have dreamed of such disastrous mismanagement: it was literally beyond the imagination of even the most rabid lefties that Bush could have been as bad as he turned out to be.

The lessons here seem obvious. First, that whatever horrific misdeeds are predicted of Obama by the right-wing can be safely dismissed as fever dreams. And second, that any fears harbored—by moderates, liberals, and far-left hard-liners with giant puppets—regarding the dangerous possibilities of future Republican rule should not be taken at face value, but rather amplified by an order of magnitude or two. This will make some attempt to bridge the "believability gap," between how bad anyone can imagine GOP governance could possibly get and how bad it ends up being in practice, and get you in the ballpark as far as making real predictions.

That there is any market at all for the black helicopter crowd after the last sixteen years, after having failed to meet any burden of proof whatsoever, is absolutely astounding.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Obama's new Office of Urban Policy is long overdue. Finally an administration that will meet the problem of teenagers wearing their pants too low head-on.

Monday, November 10, 2008

I Do Not Know What Color My President Is Because I Do Not See Presidents That Way

Jesse wastes his time (as he acknowledges) attempting to explain a rap song to the execrable Michelle Malkin.

Personally, I want to know how this "Young Jersey" fellow can harbor such horribly racist sentiments in favor of blue lambos. Many fine patriotic lambos that have given their rims for our American ideals happened to have been yellow.

Anaglyph Game

I had been playing around with making a little video game that makes use of 3D glasses, and I sort of ran out of steam on it so I thought I'd post up what I had. It's more of a proof of concept than a full game.

Welder Wait screenshot

It's just a regular side-scrolling platformer, but in addition you can use the up and down keys to move back and forth along the z-axis. With red/cyan anaglyph glasses on, you should be able to distinguish between solid blocks, spikes, and enemies that are at different depths, and plot your course appropriately.

I made it in the free version of Game Maker, which was super easy and fun. The full version might allow you to alter the low-level rendering routines to do the anaglyph offset at runtime, but I just made different versions of each sprite for the different depth levels and switched between them.

I was already playing with this stuff when I read about Kokoromi's Gamma 3D contest. Really interested to see what people come up with.

Anyway, here's the download link for Welder Wait 3D. The archive includes the Windows executable (Game Maker is Windows-only) and the Game Maker "source" file.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Stupid Opera Reviews

My lover and I saw the Met's new production of Doctor Atomic on Wednesday. We weren't familiar with it at all, but the timing was pretty perfect. It's an account of the days leading up to the first test of the nuclear bomb in Los Alamos, but penned during the beginning of the Iraq war, so there are all sorts of thematic references to more recent issues surrounding American hegemony, military dominance, truth, and ethics.

I appreciated being able to take in the performance with the knowledge that all of that is soon to be behind us. Watching the first production, in San Francisco in 2005, must have been a markedly different experience.

Anyway, I've been poking around different reviews since then. Most critics have loved it, declared it John Adams' masterpiece, &c., but there are some hilarious dissenting opinions.

One was Henry Stewart's L Magazine blog review: he found the score "academically impenetrable," saying that "Adams’ refusal to resolve any of his lines makes me crazy." This was actually a concern of mine going in, since I'm not a sophisticated music listener in general, and if I'd ever listened to an opera younger than 100 years old then it hadn't been by much. But I needn't have worried: the music was "modern," but at this point modernism is hell of old, and whatever radical musical ideas that can be found in Doctor Atomic have long since permeated popular music and film scores, to the extent that the kinds of people who would complain about Atomic's inaccessibility are the ones who still bemoan jazz's descent from Dixieland into bebop. "Call me a musical conservative," Stewart invites, but I'll demur: he's a straight-up curmudgeon.

He also has a beef with Peter Sellars' libretto being written in English: "Our bumbling tongue might sound mellifluous coming out of John Gielgud’s mouth, but it lacks the vowel-heavy singsonginess of French or Italian that gives the greatest classical operas their ethereal flow." I don't know what John Gielgud has to do with anything (Wikipedia says he's an actor), but someone should tell Stewart about this dude Wagner, who I hear tried to write operas in a language even bumblier than English. Seriously, I'm not going to bother mounting a full defense of the English language as a poetic medium here, but this is Europhilism at its most absurd: the transition of Oppenheimer's language, from harsh Anglo-Saxon gutturals as he muses on science and military power (the test bomb's nickname, "the Gadget," did not go unnoticed), to drawn-out Latinate roots when he interacts with his wife, is a feat simply not possible in other languages.

Ron Rosenbaum takes a different tack in his review (of the opera's first half) in Slate: he makes the bold, courageous argument that opera-goers are self-impressed snobs who don't know the first thing about real art. Indeed, he claims to be shocked with the discovery that his fellow audience members' "sophisticated taste" did not live up to his expectations, though not a moment earlier humbly confiding that he generally avoids opera because he "prefer[s] poetry and drama without orchestral distractions." Truly a man of the people, Rosenbaum.

Yes, he finds the libretto "pedestrian, speechifying, and painfully simplistic (when not embarrassingly schlocky as in the 'love scenes')." Welcome to the opera! And herein lies his real complaint, I think, not with Atomic but with opera and opera fans as a whole: but if there is anything more pretentious than bitching about the phoniness of opera fans than I can't think of it. Oh, and one more thought on the libretto:
Do words not matter in opera? It's not something I'd thought about, because opera is so often in a foreign language, which discourages close reading.
I don't even know what to make of this. Apparently La Traviata, for example, is in foreign-ese as some sort of a ruse? So people like Rosenbaum won't notice how banal it is? And Rosenbaum approves? Your guess is as good as mine.

Anyway, I thought it was great. I just ordered the DVD of the original production, performed in the Netherlands. I don't think there's a CD of just the music yet, but it'll be neat to see the other choices in staging anyway.

Oh Awesome

Sadly, No! finds some of the best wingnut hyperventilating I've seen. Especially loved this bit from Misha:
And here is the good news: At the top of that hierarchy, they have a neophyte empty suit now. A clown who...has absolutely zero experience in how to run a country. Or a hot dog stand, for that matter...He’ll fuck up so bad every day that it’ll almost be too easy to skewer his ignorant ass. That dumbass fuckhead is in so far over his head that it’s not even funny.
Trust me, not nearly as fun as it sounds.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Goddamn it, Obama, you didn't make me give up two whole Saturdays with this for no reason, did you?

Although actually, out of state Democrats converging on PA could only help sell it, so maybe I should consider it time well spent. It was fun, in any case!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Elactabiliteez Nutz

Atrios has a post on how, whatever happens today, Obama's campaign has clearly put the lie to arguments made against his electability and demonstrated at least the capacity for victory. I completely agree, and electability considerations were never part of my calculus in supporting Clinton for the nomination.

For one thing, my instincts about who is and isn't electable are far, far off base from reality: my model of how the voting public thinks led me to believe that Bush was un-re-electable in 2004, and that Rudy was a lock for the GOP nomination in 2008. My perception was that the electability argument cut against Clinton: she was a well-known bogeyman of the right and the press actively despised her (an especially critical dynamic going up against St. Barbecue). It was only my awareness of my own faint grasp on true electability that allowed me to put aside those worries and support Clinton.

So I think this makes me some sort of genious.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Doing Work in Video Games

Via a link post, an interesting Steven Poole essay criticizing the way a lot of games set players up in an "employment paradigm." Favorite parts:
Today, the most common paradigm for progress in games, for example, is the idea of “earning”. Follow the rules, achieve results, and you are rewarded with bits of symbolic currency — credits, stars, skill points, powerful glowing orbs — which you can then exchange later in the game for new gadgets, ways of moving, or access to previously denied areas...It is, you might say, a malignly perfect style of capitalist brainwashing.
I had some thoughts along these lines working on a reimagining of Paperboy that I sort of lost steam on. It's an interesting idea, though.
Remarkably, the WipEout games, for example, even count points for your “loyalty” to a particular team, be it Auricom or Feisar. The idea of inculcating loyalty to an entirely fictional organization is fascinating. In the modern “flexible” labour market, where people may be fired on a whim and companies rename themselves or merge from one day to the next, it might be thought useful to train the population in an idea of “loyalty” that is instant, portable — and, of course, unrequited.
I don't know about other games quantifying loyalty like this, but it is bizarre how many games take the player's devotion to some arbitrary cause for granted, despite taskmasters who are not merely oblivious to the hero's efforts, but in many cases outright hostile. (Getting back to Paperboy, you'd think any possibility of loyalty to the newspaper would evaporate when the editor demonstrates a willingness use the front page to publicly shame former employees following their termination.)

One thought I had is that this kind of blind loyalty, which requires one to deliberately overlook the contempt in which an employer figure holds the player, might have a distinctly Japanese character to it. What values have a generation of Americans absorbed growing up in an environment in which the vast majority of games share assumptions about deference to authority rather than, for example, class solidarity?
Nothing could be a more perfect advert for what is sometimes called the “American way” than The Sims. Buy a Sim a large mirror and she will be happier, by virtue of being able to gaze at her reflection. Buy him a new oven, and he’ll become more popular after giving dinner parties. Help your Sim climb the slippery pole of a career as a politician or scientist. This is a game in which the brutal rules of free-market capitalism are everything.
Apparently this paragraph is from an earlier essay of Poole's, linked to by a commenter, on implicit political messages in video games. Good stuff. I think I'll start reading his blog.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Sort of Slept on Halloween This Year

Down to the wire, I had this idea...put it together during my lunch break Wednesday, did the papier-mâché that night, and painted yesterday.

Basic hat structure:
Added a cone (a coolie hat?):
And a stem (a pumpkin?):
Bulked it up with some crumpled newspaper (a...pumpkin still?):
A thin layer of papier-mâché (still a pumpkin?!?):
Some brown paint:
And inked in details:
And here I am in my ACORN costume:
I printed out a bunch of these for people dressed as fictional characters or celebrities to fill out:
If I encounter any Republicans then I'm sure it'll be the scariest costume they see all night.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


The night of the last game of the World Series, I had a dream I was looking for a snack and found myself next to Shea Stadium. I went in for a hot dog and a beer. Weird that I wasn't even following the Series, and yet somehow Shea found a way to say goodbye...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why Not Organize When Things Are Good?

Via GameSetWatch, a blog post from someone at a UK game maker on organizing in the games industry.

The author essentially comes down on the "give unions a shot" side of the debate, while noting that both sides are really arguing from a position of ignorance given that nobody in the industry has really tried a unionized workforce. This statement does seem strange, though:
At this point in the discussions, the cry is usually "why don’t you just join [a union] and start the ball rolling", which for me is equally frustrating. Of course, I am in fact management, and not just an employee. So it doesn’t make sense for me to be a union member. And my team, not being generally mistreated, feels no need to join a union either.
You'd think, actually, that that would be a great sort of place to give a game making union a shot: you start out with employees that are content and a basically union-friendly boss, and the union is just there to keep things in that peaceful state. It's unfortunate that there's a perception of unions as a necessary evil that only come into play where workers are horribly abused.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cryptic Crossword

I had an idea for an amusing (to me) cryptic theme the other day, and then yesterday I found this program and downloaded the demo. So here's my first attempt at a complete puzzle:

Dirty Scrabble
By tps12
Entries at 1- and 23-across, and 6- and 7-down, are valid Scrabble words that nevertheless do not appear in the Official Scrabble Players' Dictionary. The reason for their absence is explained by a two-word phrase (7,7) that describes them, and which appears in the circled squares in anagram form.
Clued answers include one foreign word. As always, mental repunctuation of a clue is the key to its solution. 

1.       Remove hydrogen from coin, releasing pressure. (7)
7.       Lite-Brite cheese? (4)
8.       Donuts, says conservative. (4)
10.     Austere podium holds spokesperson. (3)
11.     Final letter in adze end. (3)
12.     Breathes in, disappoints. (5)
15.     Reeds out by old eerie stream, initially. (5)
17.     Cinder has got knocked around. (3)
19.     Polish end of water board. (3)
21.     Fashion demo. (4)
22.     New York alien is no Russian. (4)
23.     Good-for-nothing ruined showing, offensively just like a foreigner. (7)

2.       The art of the English bum. (4)
3.       Cropped misguided steer. (5)
4.       Item: motherless disciple. (3)
5.       Rearrange Korg, understand? (4)
6.       Loser gets scoop with runaway success. (7)
7.       Emeril refrains, puts game preserve inside for breasts. (7)
9.       The French love the lion. (3)
13.     It sounds like you sing on drugs. (5)
14.     Train part in middle of l'escargot. (3)
16.     Second rank, below forehead. (4)
18.     Calls in jailhouse escape. (4)
20.     Arranged EKG for quantity of beer. (3)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Two Dissonances Don't Make a Cognition

A friend happened to link me to a Megan McArdle post on how the economic crisis might mean trouble for New York City. It's a mess of course, but in sort of an interesting way.

First, there is the cognitive dissonance implicit in the assertion that "the City and State of New York are remarkably business-unfriendly places." I don't know if you could find a more perfect example of the doctrinaire libertarian observing that reality and dogma are in conflict, and deciding that reality has gotten it wrong. I have absolutely no doubt that New York does indeed "usually end up ranked at the very bottom of the league tables in terms of the ease of doing business there": at the top are certainly Antarctica and the Moon.

Combine that with the current financial meltdown, the demonstration of corporate deregulation run amok so perfect that no capitalism skeptic could have invented it in their wildest fantasies. It goes without saying that no sounder rebuke to vulgar libertarianism has occurred in McArdle's lifetime. And yet, it is this very same economic disaster that McArdle muses might finally cause the scales to fall from the eyes of all those misguided New York businesses who were so foolish as to choose the business-hostile isle of Manhattan in which to thrive.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Good These Nuts

My lover and I have been wincing in unison whenever John McCain has brought up the "goodies" that Obama's favorite piece of legislation procured for oil firms in a debate. Just something about an old white dude talking about "goodies" is incredibly off-putting.

But today Matt Yglesias muses on "goodies for Israel" and John Holbo mentions the "extras and goodies" that come with some web page subscription. I do not at all approve of this term catching on.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Don't Think I'll Make This

But this DOT presentation on the intersection of Flatbush and 4th Ave sounds interesting. That intersection is indeed a nightmare, and I'd be very interested in what they think can be done.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Evaporating Obama Landslide

Maybe I am just being pessimistic, but the GOP consultant Ken Silverstein quotes echoes some of my concerns (granted, from his perspective they are hopes). Two in particular:
Obama has a lot more enthusiasm, but a reluctant vote for McCain counts the same as an enthusiastic vote for Obama.
There’s been a lot of hype about [the youth vote], but it’s not going to materialize on Election Day.
It doesn't seem likely that either of these factors will come into play to an extent that McCain actually wins (youth turnout and, well, desperation rather than "enthusiasm," but it was a similar argument, were both supposed to be a factor in Kerry's 2004 victory, but that was an argument made against popular polling and the prediction markets whereas now all the indicators are in Obama's favor). But I think it does suggest that a landslide coupled with massive gains in the House and a filibuster-proof Senate are not in the cards.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Joe the Neurosurgeon

Matt Yglesias dreams of a world where rogue plumbers slip silently through the night, fixing leaks and then escaping before the government can catch them and bury them in paperwork.

Any honest and humane opposition to licensing bodies must necessarily begin by targeting the traditional professions. The AMA's stranglehold on medical education vastly outweighs the effects of state licensing electricians in terms of economic, let alone public health and safety, terms.

You will always find anti-licensing allies in big business as long as you are trying to undermine trade unions, but they have no interest in any principle beyond that of broad opposition to organized labor. Licensing requirements for all sorts of occupations may be problematic in theory, but it's short-sighted to make common cause with anti-labor forces to do away with specific forms of licensing in isolation of anything else.

Responding to McCain's Tortuous Policy Changes

Digby has a post on how annoying it is that Obama express admiration for McCain's stand on torture legislation during the third debate. Obviously, she's right on the merits: that John McCain demonstrated his political cravenness by selling out his principles to provide cover for the Bush administration's pro-torture policies. But I think the Obama campaign made the right tactical decision here.

First, the facts of the situation aside, making the public case that McCain helped facilitate torture would be incredibly difficult. It goes against every entrenched media narrative about McCain, and will more likely than not be dismissed as a smear by most people unwilling to reevaluate their assumptions about McCain.

Second, in a situation where McCain is widely viewed as playing dirty in his negative campaigning against Obama, it allows Obama to take the high road and look gracious in contrast, driving home the "change" theme of the campaign.

Finally, it sends a message to McCain, who knows better than anyone the depths of his betrayal on torture. Obama didn't just say "good job on that" when the subject came up: he brought up torture himself for the specific purpose of saying, to McCain, "we both know that you sold out to Bush on what is supposedly one of your core principles, so watch it with this 'I'm not Bush' stuff." It's an intimidation move. Not really a threat, since he can't make good on it for the two reasons mentioned above, but a way of needling McCain by reminding him of his own lack of principle.

That's how I read it, anyway.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Dear Senator McCain

By all means, spend as much of the next three weeks as possible attacking Barack Obama for wanting to "spread the wealth around" and for being too concerned with "health of the mother" exceptions to late-term abortion bans.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Anaglyph Painting Thing

I came across a link to this neat Flash program where you paint in 3D. I had actually been playing around with something like this myself, a paint program where each layer is rendered with a different offset between the red and cyan parts of the image depending on its depth. This one takes a different approach, of actually positioning each drawn object in a 3D space, leading to some really fun and intuitive zooming and panning behavior.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Future Is Soon

Via Amanda Marcotte , political bloggers' recommendations for election season science fiction. Not really much to say about it (Jonah Goldberg is, as always, retarded), except to note how amazing it is that Glenn "Going To Live Forever By Downloading Brain Into Robot Body" Reynolds is the only one to recommend a book based on its being an accurate prediction of the future.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Atrios Trolls Bob Somerby

Not only is it "reasonable to ask" what the deal is with John McCain's face, Atrios declares, but one wonders if it might even be unreasonable not to. We here at Baseball Nooby do not pretend to know why McCain may have winced while delivering a televised speech (for our part, it looks like he may have had an itch), and although we cannot know what is inside Atrios's mind, we do have to wonder whether he isn't trying to get Bob Somerby's goat in retaliation .

You Literally Cannot Argue With That

Tristero quotes a creationist in a news story :
"I wasn't here 2 million years ago," Fanti said. "If evolution is so slow, why don't we see anything evolving now?"
That's a really good point.

Monday, September 29, 2008

No Way To Run A Business

I was over at the National Alliance Review blog trying to get a read on the different partisans' reactions to the bailout failure (consensus: the House GOP chose to demagogue rather than pass a bipartisan bill and now the Democrats are free to pass a progressive dream bill along party for me). One of the fascists over there posted this hilarious reader email on a different topic:
My husband’s business is a canary in the coalmine...[A]t the mere thought of a President Obama, he has paid off his debt, canceled new spending, and jotted a list of whom to "let go."...
My husband will make sure that we’re okay, money-wise, but he won’t give himself a paycheck that will just be sent to Washington...[H]e will not spend his money, not show a profit, and scale his workforce down to the bare minimum.
Multiply this scenario across the country and you’ll see the Obama effect: unemployment, recession, etc.
Amazing. It is apparently the "mere thought" of President Blackazoid, and not, say, the descent of the actual Republican-helmed economy into the actual economic shitter, that is to blame for a small business's financial hardship. Pray that the mighty captains of industry don't picture Bill Clinton's penis or we'll all be doomed.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Friday, September 26, 2008

956 Pages!

I just put The Recognitions on hold at the library this week. I was aware Gaddis was "difficult," but I guess the comparisons I'd heard to Pynchon had me picturing something along the lines of Crying of Lot 49, lengthwise, for his first novel. But it is not so.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Means of Production

I understand Atrios is joking here, but I think it's worth noting that insurance megacorporations are exactly the sorts of inefficient entities that are unique to capitalism. Insurance and banking don't produce anything and wouldn't exist under the Socialist Utopia.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Harley Girl
John Kerry on a motorcycle

Schwinn Guy
George W. Bush with a bicycle

Not Socialism

Pam at Pandagon on the AIG bail-out:
What do you think the direct return on investment is going to be for the American people? And how many other “too big to fail” companies have whimpering executives already sitting at the table with the government begging for their turn on the teat?
That whole free market, let-the-markets-decide philosophy works—until it doesn’t. Then it becomes socialism - has conservatism completely failed or what?
I see what she's getting at. An economic system that's "free becomes socialism" is a pretty dead-on description of what was originally termed capitalism: the state existing to defend and promote the interests of organized capital.

Laissez-faire claptrap notwithstanding, the recent state interventions attempting to prop up the financial industry are not deviations from the principles capitalism, but rather their fulfillment.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Interesting Choice of Phrase

From the long Times article on Sarah Palin from the other day:
Ms. Palin handled the crisis with a street fighter’s guile.
(Hyperlink added by me.)

Monday, September 15, 2008


Ezra links to an interview with Paul Roberts (whose End Of Oil I found incredibly eye-opening and despite its title not at all Peak Oil/end-is-nigh-ish) on his newest book, The End Of Food, about the increasing energy costs of food production.

One of his commenters points out early on that the per-calorie energy costs of meat and other animal products dwarf those of long-distance shipping of vegetables. That got me thinking that it would be nice if there were an easy way to cut down on the animal products you consume without necessarily going whole hog, cold turkey.

For example, the milk in my coffee every morning: if I have to choose between continuing my present dairy consumption and switching entirely to soy, I'll probably stick with the status quo. But the same way in some parts of the country you can fuel your car with different mixtures of gasoline and ethanol, you should be able to buy milk that is some combination of cow and soy. That way you could sort of ease into a more responsible diet instead of having to make a single drastic change from which you may be more likely to relapse.

Unprofessional Behavior

BAGnews has a post on the story of Jill Greenberg's deceptive photo shoot with John McCain for the Atlantic. Basically she took unflattering photos of him for the magazine's cover and then put the unused images on her website, altered and captioned to highlight the candidate's odious politics. On the magazine's blog, the author of the cover story responds, and I think his final line says it all: "What I find truly astonishing is the blithe way in which she has tried to hurt this magazine."

Yes, heaven forbid anyone ever do anything to tarnish the sterling record of the vaunted Atlantic. By all means, let us put aside the distasteful question of whether John McCain is, in fact, a bloodthirsty warmonger, and focus on the real victims here, those noble truth-seekers who so wisely and soberly beat the war drums as the US geared up for Iraq, and who never miss an opportunity to undermine progressive values at every turn.

It is no surprise that the likes of Jeffrey Goldberg find words such as "bloodthirsty" so very unseemly when applied to McCain. The Atlantic's entire editorial board has blood on its hands, and it is only by hyperventilating over a photographer's startling lack of professionalism that they can forget their own complicity and sleep at night.

Greenberg's actions were "unprofessional" in that she allowed her humanity to trump the genteel detachedness of professional journalism: she refused to treat John McCain as a decent man, because he is not a decent man. That kind of behavior is also known as integrity, and to the extent it is in conflict with professionalism, we should be very, very concerned with the question of whether "professionalism" is something we should value in journalism.


As an avid reader of liberal political bloggers, I've long been familiar with the concept of "working the refs," usually in the context of describing how constant whining from Republicans about media bias creates an environment in which the media are afraid to go after conservatives even (especially!) when it's justified.

But until a week ago, I thought "refs" was short for "references," and meant that GOP operatives were going through their rolodices, calling every media figure they knew to air their grievances. It wasn't until just a few days ago that someone extended the metaphor sufficiently that I understood that it was about working the referees.

What a moran.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Put A Fork In Me, I'm Done

Stuck a new fork on my bike and trued the shit out of my front wheel. Should be ready to go again after the crash:

Front of bike with new carbon fork

As I was tightening up the brake, I noticed something a little scary...there's actually paint from the taxi that cut me off on both my brake lever and the bell mounted on the other drop:

Brake with taxi paint
Bell with taxi paint

Friday, September 12, 2008


Okay, elephants are crazy. Their nose is as long as a whole person, there is no reason for that. Do not tell me that shit evolved.

Food Porn

Harper's has made Frederick Kaufman's 2005 article, "Debbie does salad," about the parallels between cooking shows and pornography, available for free on their website. This is one of my favorite pieces to run in the magazine since I became a subscriber.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Feeling Pessimistic

Dday at Hullabaloo has a post on the Obama and Republican ground games. I'm not feeling very positive.

Kerry was going to turn out newly registered and young voters in unprecedented numbers too. For all I know Al Gore had the same intent. It doesn't work...they're newly registered because they weren't registered before, and they weren't registered before because they don't vote. Relying on non-voters to put you over the top is a losing strategy: voters are going to trump non-voters in any sort of voting-related competition.

In contrast, focusing on people who do vote, and who vote for Democrats, and then denying them the ballot, is an excellent approach for Republicans to take. If they can get away with it, and by every indication they certainly can, it is just an eminently more sensible approach to winning an election.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Oh Shit

Via Bike Snob, I totally didn't believe this was going to happen, but it looks like the Sturmey-Archer fixed 3-speed hub is going to happen. So awesome/ridiculous. Apparently they are calling it the S3X. I guess 8008135 was taken.

Anyway, I'll order one when they come out with a fixed 3-speed with a dynamo.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Can Tony Hawk Take Off From A Treadmill?

The alt-text for today's xkcd comic refers to a traditional internet flamewar of which I had not been aware: whether an airplane can take off from a treadmill.

After looking into it, it seems like one of the most convincing intuitive arguments supporting the correct answer involves pulling oneself forward over a treadmill while on a skateboard or while wearing roller skates. I seem to remember that the airport level in Tony Hawk 3 featured some moving walkways, but I can't remember whether they affect your ground speed when you roll over them.

(Obviously, the physics in Tony Hawk demonstrate rigorous adherence to reality in all other regards.)

Friday, September 5, 2008

Take Debate

On Wednesday I attended a debate between the two politicians running for the state Senate in next week's Democratic primary. It was sponsored by the Citizens Union, who were going to base their official endorsement on the debate's outcome. They said a couple times at the beginning and end of the event that they would post their decision on their website the following day—Thursday—but as of noon Friday there's still no word.

The debate itself was a blast. I went in uninformed, undecided, and leaning towards the young challenger, Daniel Squadron. But the incumbent Marty Connor really just wiped the floor with him, I thought. Squadron has marketed himself as a reformer, but Connor's not corrupt and not part of the Brooklyn machine, so the race has mostly amounted to discussions over things like "energy" versus "experience."

The Gotham Gazette (a Citizens Union publication)'s Wonkster blog reported on the debate, and acknowledged the "little difference" between the two candidates "policy-wise," and then makes no mention of the promised CU endorsement. My guess is that CU expected to endorse Squadron (as the Times and Paper have), but found themselves so unimpressed with his vague promises of "change" during the debate that they're not sure which way to go.

One other weird note in the Wonkster coverage is the idea, at the end of the piece, that the primary battle "could be a microcosm of this year’s election as a whole." Surely this can only be true at the most superficial level: one older candidate having held office for some time versus a younger opponent promising change. But nothing in the presidential race parallels the dynamics of the state Senate going Democratic for the first time in 35 years, the possibility of which has reverberated throughout the primary; and nobody could possibly pretend that Obama and McCain are anywhere close to one another "policy-wise."

Friday, August 29, 2008

I've Been Biden My Time

But it seems to me that McCain's veep pick has got to Palin comparison to Obama's.

I really just don't think Palin was a very good choice. I know she lives in Alaska and I know Alaska is a state, but it has the look of McCain going off to find someone from some sort of foreign, exotic place. He should have looked for someone from the heartland.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Travel Reviews

I hate when someone is writing something that is ostensibly some sort of report from some out-of-town event they are attending but then you read it and it turns out to mostly be complaints about air travel.

I understand that if you do not travel frequently then the fact that you have to wait in lines and take your shoes off and don't get enough to eat on the airplane seem like big deals, especially when a whole day went by and all you did was get pissed off in airports and you feel obligated to report on something since you did get time off work and everything.

But if you think about it, anybody who might actually be informed by this kind of griping is by definition someone who also does not travel by air very frequently. And by the same token, not likely to find said gripes very useful in their own lives.

You see this same kind of thing when dorky movies come out and get "reviewed" by nerds on the internet who have not been to the movies since Superman. Like the entire first half of the review is all this vitriol regarding how expensive movie tickets and popcorn are and then the second half is about how somebody's cell phone went off during the pod race, none of which are newsworthy or very upsetting to anyone who actually attends movies on a regular basis.

And then there's a postscript about Jar-Jar Binks, and nobody's learned anything.

Senator Biden on the Democratic Side

Did anything ever come of the Biden-Payne connection? That was well-publicized enough that I imagine the Obama campaign would have looked into it during the vetting process, but I'm just curious.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Good Old Days

Jesse Taylor finds Glenn Reynolds rhapsodizing about the good old days back in the 1950's, when kids respected their elders, women didn't have to work, everyone was white, and...high school students packed heat?

This does prompt the idea of a kind of Dirty Harry/Leave It To Beaver mash-up, where a wholesome youngster bucks the generous wisdom of his benevolent teachers and parents to take back his school from the light-hearted pranksters whose charming mischief has overtaken the community by whatever means necessary. Yes, it's Dirty Beaver.

Also, for my money, the classic portrayal of the wholesome but well-armed suburban American family has got to be the tourists who smuggle James Coburn out of DC in The President's Analyst.

An International Shame

I'm sure that baseball fans have heard that Olympic baseball is, with the completion of the Beijing Games, not again to return for the foreseeable future. This is a huge misstep, in my opinion, especially in the context of an Olympic Games which continues to include soccer, one of the dullest and most pointless team competitions in the world of sport.

In the US, soccer (which is known in countries such as Britain and the United Kingdom by the misnomer "football," and sometimes abbreviated to the less formal "footsie") is mostly considered a juvenile pursuit: it's what young children play before they are old enough to participate in regular sports such as baseball and (actual) football.

But to the uninitiated observer, the gameplay, which consists largely of grown men in collared shirts running around after a small white ball, more closely resembles an activity with which one might entertain a beloved family pet. (One does hope that soccer coaches at the international level are at least capable of generating encouragements for their players that rise above commands to "fetch," but who knows.)

At the Olympic level, soccer's major event is known as the World Cup, a sad overstatement for a game whose popularity doesn't extend far beyond the Irish foothills and a handful of third-world backwaters. The sport joins a long list of topics (including breakfast cereal, the works of Shakespeare, and Episcopalianism) afforded attention far exceeding that which they are due, by dint of their origins in the late British Empire and Her colonies. This competition has generated no major stars of more than regional acclaim, and certainly no international idols on the level of a George Foreman or a Muhammad Ali.

The Olympic Soccer World Cup is for all intensive purposes a meaningless bit of pageantry, a bone thrown to also-ran nations with an attitude that would be considered insulting condescension were it directed at a state with half a teaspoonful of self-respect. That the Olympics have continued to support this parody of decent sport, while jettisoning the intricate and beguiling subtleties that infuse the international game of baseball, only underscores the Olympic Games' continuing descent into irrelevance.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Free Market Principles

Kathy G posts on the Supreme Court's legalization of minimum price setting by manufacturers. I particularly enjoyed this bit—
Economists associated with Chicago school argued that price-fixing can promote the free market, since "minimum pricing strategies" would
prevent no-frills discounters from getting a "free ride" from marketing efforts of rival retailers that charged higher prices to spend more money on promotion
—said "free ride" sometimes going by the name "competition." Which, like any aspect of real free markets, is only desirable in the eyes of Chicago types when big corporations want it to be.


Atrios approves of enjoying a nice refreshing box of wine. I cannot cosign this strongly enough, and note that my own box of wine intake this summer has been somewhat lacking. Maybe I will pick up a box of wine sometime this week.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Switch Plates

Some of the light switch plates in our new apartment are messed up: cracked, or smudged with old paint, and then there's one dimmer switch we want to replace so we can use CFLs without flicker.

Obviously, my first instinct is to go with a classic:

That's for use with a standard toggle switch:

But our whole apartment uses those low-profile rocker switches, like this:

So I had the idea to make a big poster-sized adaptation of the David switch plate:

You'd have to find a switch far enough from the nearest door so there's enough room, but I think it would be a funny gag.

Friday, August 15, 2008


Amanda muses on McCain's criticism of Obama's being "too cool and popular." I'm in the midst of Rick Perlstein's excellent Nixonland, and McCain's approach here is exactly along the lines of Nixon's politics of resentment.

Nixon's motivating insight (or instinct) was that, by dint of the nature of popularity ("popular" only makes sense as a relative term; if everyone were equally popular than nobody would be), vastly more people have necessarily experienced feeling left out and looked down upon by the popular than have experienced actually being popular. And so rather than participating in a popularity contest that you are doomed to lose, you can instead attack the contest itself and get people to identify with your unpopularity.

I don't know if this can work for McCain, who I believe has always relied on genuine popularity, especially among the press. But it is far from unprecedented.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Classic Video Games

Mighty Ponygirl wonders whether old video games were really as difficult as people remember them. A couple years ago my brother Josh and I were playing old games in a Nintendo emulator and taking advantage of the load/save features to help with the tricky parts. Even with unlimited saves, nobody could get past the hotel in Ghosts 'n Goblins. It's sort of stupid how hard that game is.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


I hadn't thought before about the "donation levels" commonly specified with fundraising solicitations. One point is especially intriguing:
Scenario 1 An organization I have given $200 in the past sends me a solicitation letter. The letter requests gifts of $100, $250, $500 or "some other amount." Since in previous years I've given $200, I probably wouldn't decrease my gift to $100. But because they've asked for $250, I'd probably scrape up some extra money and give at that suggested level. Lesson: set your ask levels in a way that will encourage people to stretch their giving.
It is already pretty normal to get solicitation letters that are customized with your name. If there is indeed a psychological mechanism at work that would prompt people to give a little more than last time, but not a lot less, then it would be trivial to customize fundraising letters so that each donor gets recommended donations tailored to their own previous giving.

So f.f.'s letter would have the levels she gives in her example, but since I only gave $40 last time, my copy of the same fundraising letter would have levels of $25, $50, and $100.

Anyway, I'm sure this is already being done. I'll have to pay more attention in the future so I don't get's like when I learned to stop ordering the second most expensive entrée and the second cheapest wine when eating out.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I Got Hitten and Ran

By a taxi, natch. Shortly after midnight last night, I was crossing Delancey on Bowery and a cab coming the other direction turned left into me and sent me over their hood. No injuries, thankfully.

A motorist and two pedestrians saw what happened and stopped to make sure I was okay. They confirmed the guy just hit me and took off.

I should have reported it, and I should have gotten contact info from the witnesses. I know and knew this, but I just wanted to get home and be done with it.

This morning I am a little sore, but nothing serious. My fork was not so lucky:

Bent fork

I haven't checked out the wheel and brake yet. Everything else looks okay.

I'm not zealous on the issue of helmets, but I'm glad I was wearing mine, as I smacked the right side of my head pretty hard on the street when I landed. Check out the crack it left in the foam:

Crack in helmet foam

I hadn't been in a crash with a car before, and I hadn't been in a crash that wasn't at least partially my fault before, so both aspects have shaken me up a little. Also, I know that it happens every day, but it is still depressing to me that a motorist could hit someone like that and keep driving. I don't know what else to say about that, it's just disappointing.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Battlestar GaWACKtica

Agh, what? This damn show isn't over? Boooooo. At least my brain gets a year to recover.

The Power of Naming

God let Adam name everything to give Man dominion over Creation.

There is a magic to naming.

The Greeks called it λογος: word, but also knowledge.

To name something is to control it.

Thus I find myself unable to source one of those little bolt thingies that goes in the bottom of the one half of a double door and latches into the floor to keep it from moving around when you use the other half. You know those things? What's that thing called?

Update: It's just a slide bolt. Some models specify that they are designed for vertical or horizontal mounting, others can be used either way.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Oh wow, I didn't even realize what the tire gauge thing was all about: I thought Obama had said something like "we could save a lot of energy by keeping our tires properly inflated" out of nowhere, and thought he was being mocked by the McCain campaign for making the kind of weenie statement that Jimmy Carter did when he went on TV in a cardigan (that happened, right?).

But, via Majikthise, Obama's point was that everyone keeping their tires inflated wasn't a huge deal when it came to conservation, but that even so it would save as much energy as off-shore oil drilling would, and at much lesser cost, which showed just how stupid the pro-drilling argument was.

I think the correct Obama response to this has to just go further along this same path of ignoring everything that came before your opponent's most recent response: John McCain is giving out tire gauges because he has realized that keeping people's tires inflated will be twice as effective in reducing energy costs as the off-shore drilling he has been talking about.

Diagonal Brownstone

I was poking around on web forums and found a thread on the brownstone at 323 Prospect Place, which is notable because it's built at an oblique angle relative to the surrounding street grid. Someone in the thread linked to a LOST Magazine article on how it came to be built that way. So cool.

Update: Okay, looking at a regular map, this actually isn't that amazing. The mysterious "lost road" the building was built to line up with now goes by the name of Washington Avenue. So while most other buildings in the immediate vicinity of 323 are aligned to the street grid, there are actually a lot of others that are built square to the old Flatbush Turnpike. My apologies.

Weird Switches

Sarah and I spent some time at our new apartment this weekend, moving in some boxes and getting things ready for painting. At some point I realized that something weird was going on with the switches for three overhead lights in the kitchen, bathroom, and the hallway connecting them.

Here is a perfect scale rendering of that part of the apartment:

The lights are labeled A, B, and C; and the switches are W, X, Y, and Z.

Switch Z is actually behind the gas range, and requires slender fingers to operate. When I had first tried it out, it flipped the kitchen light, A, on and off, but then when I tried to turn that light on again later in the afternoon, it didn't appear to do anything.

After some experimentation, we realized that X, Y, and Z were each tied to a specific light, with switch W acting as a "master" switch that can kill them all. In logic terms,

A = W + Z,

B = W + Y, and

C = W + X.
I don't know why someone would set things up that way: either you keep W constantly in the on position and have to reach behind the stove every time you want to use the kitchen, or you keep Z constantly in the on position and have to turn on the kitchen light when you get up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Beside the Point

Via Game Set Watch, some d-hole in the internets lays out his case against the legality of Scrabolous. He obtusely sticks to the technical legal points while refusing to engage what would seem to me is the common sense argument that: copyright exists to encourage people to create stuff; nobody is going to be discouraged from making anything because Hasbro can't make enough money selling a centuries-old board game.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Respect Is A Deuce-Way Street

Via Tristero, an Andrew Sullivan reader on PZ Myers' Catholic-baiting:
If the Catholic church can get away with desecrating what others consider sacred (or, for those of us who have no concept of sacredness, at least special) - if they can call a loving union between two gay men or women an "abomination", if they can call the union into which I hope to enter someday a "perversion", then damn it, I reserve the right to desecrate what they consider sacred also. Respect is a two-way street - if they want my respect, they must give me theirs.
What this misses is that while only a small minority of Christians (some Catholic, others not) use words like "abomination" and "perversion" to describe gay relationships, the gleeful public desecration of the host is offensive to a vastly larger number of Catholics, for many of whom Catholicism is primarily an ethno-cultural identity.

Furthermore, the display of antipathy towards that symbolic ritual in particular evokes a long history of anti-Catholic demagoguery, typically perpetrated by the sorts of fire-breathing Protestant fundamentalists and bigots whose intellectual heirs today build their careers on the demonization of Muslims and, yes, gays.

Anyway, I guess I would say that people's beliefs don't necessarily deserve respect, but on the other hand being a jerk about it is kind of...jerky.