Monday, July 31, 2006

The Unveiling of an Anti-Semite

Mel Gibson's recent DUI arrest is unfortunate, I'm glad that he's admitting he has trouble with alcohol. He's not alone, millions of Americans have a destructive relationship with firewater.

The anti-semitic comments by Gibson are sad, but I took some hope from them. I had entertained the notion that Gibson might run for president. He has dual citizenship and would be eligible, unlike Arnold Scharzenegger.

After Gibson made The Patriot, I was a bit concerned about him seeking political office. I didn't care for The Patriot, but I thought Mel did a great in We Were Soldiers.

But I think the DUI combined with the anti-semitic slurs will make a presidential bid unlikely. I think Gibson would be pretty conservative as a politician and (of course) totally unqualified for the role.

On the other hand, Dubya didn't have any real qualifications either, and look at how splendidly his presidency of turning out.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Zombies, the New Urban Blight

The Strawman asked me what I thought of the recent arrest of several zombies by the Minneapolis PD and whether this constitutes profiling the undead. Of course it's profiling.

But this raises the more complex issue of why profiling is bad. Police are allowed to be nosey and they need to assess all of the facts available to them in determining if a crime is being committed. These facts including someone's race, age, gender, socioeconomic status, etc. Cops are also privy to recent crimes and often can spot general tendencies of criminals, drug addicts, prostitutes, pimps, slackers, phreakers, etc. And if a certain demographic is known to eat brains, well, that's surely a warning sign.

What's wrong with profiling, it seems to me, is that the biases that cops use don't necessarily reflect people's true levels of threat. Not all Arab men are terrorists, not all blacks are car thieves, not all white guys are meth-heads, not all well-dressed men are gay.

Cops acting on bias rather than reason harass law-abiding citizens when they should be looking for real threats to the commonwealth.

We expect the police to use their eyes and ears to detect trouble. But when they start busting young people for having a good time and acting a little odd, they're really cracking down on creativity and enforcing conformity. And that is certainly not the job of the police. That's the job of school teachers.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Browser Wars Redux

The popularity of Firefox has re-ignited the race for the title of most popular broswer.

Now a new generation of browsers are coming out. Luckily has a comparison chart for Firefox 2, IE 7, and Opera 9 for your edification.

I've been using Flock and Opera some recently, while I still like Firefox the best, one feature I like about Opera is that when you re-open the browser it recalls the pages you last had open and re-opens them all.

One interesting feature of Flock that I like is that when I save a bookmark (to use an anachronism) it automatically adds that link to my page.

Quote of the Day: Iraq's incipient civil war heats up

The Lebanon sideshow has largely distracted the MSM from the situation in Iraq. The death tolls are so high that it's hard to grasp the magnitude of the violence. Then today I saw this statistic in the BBC and it really illustrates how badly things are going there: "An average of more than 100 civilians per day were killed in Iraqi violence in May and June, according to the UN." |Link|

Cell phone networks presage non-neutral net

Newsforge has an nice, short piece on what could happen to the Internet if Net Neutrality is abandoned. James Glass writes:
Net neutrality proponents foretell a grim future for the Internet if net neutrality is scrapped: one where technology stagnates because of high entry barriers and one where a small oligarchy controls what consumers can and cannot experience. Those who want to eliminate neutrality dismiss this as alarmist, and claim that net neutrality would remove the incentive for broadband providers to build the next generation of Internet infrastructure, which all agree is sorely needed in the US.

With such wildly divergent ideas about the effects of a simple policy, wouldn't it be nice if history provided some guidance from which to evaluate these claims?

It turns out that we have a privately owned and controlled network all around us, one that closely mirrors the technical functionality of the Internet, but where there has never been a requirement for net neutrality: the US cellular phone network. |Newsforge|

Monday, July 24, 2006

Darwin's Waiting Room

An anthropology professor is suggesting that primates developed color vision to deal with the threat posed by snakes.

That seems reasonable to me and reminds me of Harlan Ellison's commentthat anyone who has ever seen the movie Jaws knows the reason that our ancestors climbed out of the seas was to get away from those damned sharks.

Never again!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Quote of the Day: maclash

“macs are for jews and liberals”

Well, macs and education. |Link|

Gotta love sarcasm. Also, check out the Microsoft response to Mac's advertising campaign at the top of the page.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

WSJ vs. the Bloggers

I just ran across this 2005 article from Wired that suggests that the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) is becoming irrelevant because of its subscription only model.

The author, Adam Penenberg, suggests that the WSJ risks irrelevance because it doesn't show up in Google results (just like the New York Times) and that bloggers have stopped reading it because they can't link to it. Not surprisingly, some other bloggers agree with him. |See Churbuck and Brad DeLong|

I think all three of these bloggers are living in never-never land. The WSJ doesn't need the (arguably worthless) blogger market because they've sewn up the (lucrative) CEO market.

Italian slave labor camp raided

Organized crime is a perennial problem, but the arrogance of the bastards is shocking sometimes. I hope these guys get to spend a long time in a small cell.
Polish farmworkers who travelled to southern Italy were kept in a "concentration camp" where they were fed on little more than bread and water, expected to labour in the fields for up to 15 hours a day, and beaten by guards who called themselves kapos, it was revealed yesterday...

Poland's police chief, Marek Bienkowski, said: "Workers were beaten with cudgels and monitored by armed guards with dogs. Cases of rape have also come to light." He said some of the workers were forced into prostitution by the criminal gang that had lured them to Italy.|Guardian|

The fact that they called themselves kapos after Nazi concentration camp guards is especially troubling. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but it makes me think that racism is alive and well in Europe.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Vertigo Video: New Portal game by Valve

This is a pretty trippy demo of a new game called Portal by Valve.

I saw this over at Ars Technica.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Blogger's buggy spell checker

The Bellman linked to one of my previous posts which lead me to re-read it and I discovered some horrible typos. But these weren't the sort of typos that I'm prone to making.

Looking at the odd errors I realized that these looked suspiciously like the spell checker dispaly in Blogger. I think that it must've inserted the extra characters, perhaps when I quit out of the speel checker...

Has anyone else noticed this? I feel a bit embarassed that the posting was so garbled, but I didn't think I needed to proofread it again since I had even bothered to spell check it as well.

Well, no more spell checking for me!

Der stürmische Präsident

Crooks and Liars has video of Dubya giving Germany's Angela Merkel a surprise backrub during the G-8 Summit. He's so suave.

You can also see the stills over at Taylor Marsh. has coverage in German. Stürmische is translated as tempestuous in the resources I've found, but I'm guessing a more liberal translation would be less kind.

Thanks to Sean for the links.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

If you love Jesus, kill the planet

Since I'm on the topic of apocaplyptic Christians, I thought I'd share this:

Many Christian fundamentalists feel that concern for the future of our planet is irrelevant, because it has no future. They believe we are living in the End Time, when the son of God will return, the righteous will enter heaven, and sinners will be condemned to eternal hellfire. They may also believe, along with millions of other Christian fundamentalists, that environmental destruction is not only to be disregarded but actually welcomed -- even hastened -- as a sign of the coming Apocalypse. |Grist|(emphasis added)

Even without the whole book of Revelations bit, I think that messianic religions that believe in an afterlife (e.g. Christianity and Islam) are likely to value the planet less than religions that believe in reincarnation on this orb (e.g. Buddhism and Hinduism).

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Troubled Middle East & Apocalyptic Christians

Unless you've been living in a cave, you're aware of the military operations conducted by Israel against Hamas and Hezbollah throughout Lebanon. I hesitate to call this a war because Hezbollah and Hamas operate in small cells and hide among the civilian population. It's asymmetrical warfare rather than traditional warfare with two armies facing off against each other.

A friend and I were discussing the unfolding conflict last night. She thinks Israel is a racist and illegal regime. I think it's less racism and more religious bigotry on both sides of the conflict. I also think it's questionable to claim that Israeli occupation of Palestine is any better or worse than the British occupation that preceded it with many atrocities being committed on both sides.

From my perspective, Israel is just a small (barely habitable) stretch of desert. There are plenty of places to live in the world that are lush and inviting. It's religious fervor that drives all of these groups to fight to control the holy land. Of course, the Christians in this country are adding fuel to the fire because of their apocalyptic visions.

Louis Sahagun wrote in the LA Times on June 22, 2006 that:
For Christians, the future of Israel is the key to any end-times scenario, and various groups are reaching out to Jews --— or proselytizing among them -- to advance the Second Coming.

A growing number of fundamentalist Christians in mostly Southern states are adopting Jewish religious practices to align themselves with prophecies saying that Gentiles will stand as one with Jews when the end is near.|LA Times|
I ran across a discussion on Frontline that indicates that the US has long been the destination of choice for people fleeing religious persecution for their unusual beliefs.
[O]ne of the global functions of the American experiment is to serve as a safety valve for the release of pressures that, in other times and places, might have produced millennial movements...I once asked [a European] about the current state of millennial expectations in European society. His reply was: "We don't have these people in Europe, or not so many of them, because we sent them to America." ...

Imagine a cosmic hand reaching down and shaking the European continent, jarring loose all of the misfits and oddballs and folks who are dissatisfied with the religious/political status that they, or their children, drift westward, coming to America to work or to join religious groups and voluntary associations, sometimes to ponder the prophecies and invent new religions--such as Mormonism, a quintessentially American religious group. (The westward drift still holds; I live in California, which seems to be the last stop and end-of-the-line for many of these folks.) It seems to me that we have focused a lot on the notion of apocalyptic time in our study of millennialism, but that in understanding American movements of this ilk, we need to pay attention as well to apocalyptic space, or millennial geography...because of the simple fact that we, uniquely among Western cultures, had the room to expand (once the natives were killed off or subjugated) and places for these groups to set themselves up without disturbance.|Frontline|(emphasis added)

The apocalyptic Christians (along with the Israeli lobby) ensure that America's destiny is tied to Israel's future and therefore we fund and defend their military regime. I think there is little hope for changing this fact in the current political climate.

These problems in the Middle East are long-standing and appear intractable. Previously I'd held the niave belief that if we could just get people to overcome their religious bigotry, that we could resolve some of these problems. But I've recently come to realize that religious freedom is a fundamental human right and that religion addresses central questions of the meaning of life and defines the good life for most people. These beliefs are the most deeply held values for most people and messing with them is playing with fire.

I no longer think there are any easy answers. I think we just have to watch this play out and hope for the best.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Surviving Saint Louis

I am back in Saint Paul. I enjoyed the AALL conference, but it was long conference and it's always nice to sleep in your own bed again.

Our A/C went out while I was away, I replaced the thermal (bi-metal) fuses that had blown and the A/C now runs, but it isn't very cold, so I'm going to be learning how our home warranty works (or doesn't...).

I'm still unpacking and want to make it up to work this evening, but will blog about my thoughts on the conference and other current events as time permits.

UPDATE: The A/C is fine, it turns out. The fuse relay in the fusebox was fried and that's what blew the fuses. (It also blew them again after I replaced them, which explains why the air started out cold and then turned warm.)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Packing and Unpacking

Tomorrow I leave for the annual conference of the American Association of Law Librarians in Saint Louis. Since we just moved, things are still a bit scattered and it took me a while to even remember where we put the suitcases. Once I found the suitcase I wanted, it turned out to be full of snow boots, gloves, and wool hats.

In July it seems almost impossible to me that it could ever get that cold again. One part of me knows that in a few short weeks Minnesota will begin its descent into winter, but another part doesn't believe it.

FBI Computer woes continue

A consultant working for the FBI hacked the FBI's network to basically do his job. This is not reassuring.

Colon's lawyer said in a court filing that his client was hired to work on the FBI's "Trilogy" computer system but became frustrated over "bureaucratic" obstacles, such as obtaining a written authorization from the FBI's Washington headquarters for "routine" matters such as adding a printer or moving a new computer onto the system. He said Colon used the hacked user names and passwords to bypass the authorization process and speed up the work....

The FBI's Trilogy program cost more than $535 million but failed to produce a usable case-management system for agents because of cost overruns and technical problems, according to the Government Accountability Office.

While Trilogy led to successful hardware upgrades and thousands of new PCs for bureau workers and agents, the final phase — a software system called the Virtual Case File — was abandoned last year. The FBI announced in March that it would spend an additional $425 million in an attempt to finish the job. The new system would be called "Sentinel."....

The FBI's struggle to modernize its computer system has been a recurring headache for [FBI Director] Mueller and has earned [the FBI] considerable criticism from lawmakers.

Better computer technology might have enabled agents to more closely link men who later turned out to be involved in the Sept. 11 attacks, according to intelligence reviews conducted after the terrorist strikes. |Seattle Times|

The Federal government was a leader in adoption of high technology back in the 1960's, but current government IT initiatives have been burdened by huge legacy problems and the sheer breadth of the federal government.

Sensory Overload

I ran across an article with the title: Brain May Be Hard-Wired to Track Team Sports, which was not a very accurate representation of the article's contents.

The article points out that humans (and primates generally) can only track 3 moving items in their field of vision at once.

We assign color to team members in sports (and soldiers in war) so that we can track the entire team by color as a single entity. But the limitation is that we can only track 3 teams at once.
But humans also have an upper limit when it comes to paying attention to sets, Halberda said, and it's the same as their tolerance for tracking individual objects -- three.

That could explain why, throughout history, people have stuck to games with just two opposing teams. "Our research suggests that if a game was devised with four teams playing simultaneously, it would just be too many for any spectator, coach or player to pay attention to," Halberda said.|Healthday|(emphasis added)
I wonder if that could also help explain why dichotomies and dualities are so common in rhetoric and literature, there seems to be a real aversion by many people to breaking the world down in categories more complex than good and bad, if it were rooted in our ability to comprehend complexity visually. So many of our metaphors for knowledge are visual, we often speak of seeing as knowing, such as "I see your point," or if something is confusing we joke that it's "clear as mud".

This visual limitation's affect on comprehension makes the limitation more understandable...if still unfortunate.
Unfortunate because so many of our intractable social problems (racism, poverty, crime, sexual violence, drug abuse, sexism, homophobia...) result from a significant number of causes rather than a single cause and our inability to understand the multivariate explanation* needed to identify the causes of these problems is part of the reasons we cannot adequetely address these issues.

* multivariate explanation: explanation of culture change, e.g. the origin of the state, which, in contrast to monocausal approaches, stresses the interaction of several factors operating simultaneously.|Archeological Glossary|

Monday, July 03, 2006

Happy Fourth of July: Viva la Revolution!

It's amazing to me how conservatives can wrap themselves in the flag and claim that they are the true bearers of the Founding Father's vision. Never forget that our Founding Fathers were gun-toting, hemp-growing, slave-owning, tax-dodging, ale-swilling, redcoat-killing revolutionaries.

If you love wealth more than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, depart from us in peace. We ask not your counsel nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you. May your chains rest lightly upon you and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen. —Samuel Adams

So celebrate the Fourth in true revolutionary fashion. Grab some pale ale, load up your assault rifle, and burn the nearest mall to the ground.

On Video Game Criticism

Girls With Guns: XXX
Originally uploaded by peter-noster.
Clive Thompson absolutely demolishes Chuck Kloesterman in his recent article about game criticism in Wired. In the process, he sketches out what makes games so different from other media.
Games aren't like movies or TV. They might have narrative in them, but what defines them -- what makes them games -- is not a storyline. It's that they create play. They thus have far more in common with basketball and backgammon than with a movie like Gone With the Wind. Every gamer implicitly knows this: We bitch about the fact that the Paladins in World of Warcraft are overpowered, that the damn guns in Halo 2 obscure the screen, or that the final boss in Tomb Raider: Legend is unkillable.

What we're most passionate about is the design of play -- the invisible rulesets that govern our virtual worlds. You don't write about Grand Theft Auto as if Rockstar has shot another Godfather. You write about it as if it Rockstar had created the next football.

With games, we're in the realm of ludology. It's an insanely rich field of human art and meaning, but it's utterly neglected. It's not taught in schools. It's not written about in newspapers. So we're just now scratching its surface. The game criticism of tomorrow won't look anything like the stuff that Pauline Kael wrote. It'll be some crazy, unruly spawn of sportswriting, gonzo journalism, analytic philosophy, memoir and investigative reporting. The Lester Bangs of gaming is going to be a philosopher of play. |Wired|