Great Writer Trivia
July 31, 2010, 10:20 pm
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Q: What great writer dropped this piece of wisdom?

Like a snake shedding his skin after each shedding the project gets stronger and more vital. That old saying is so true: Writers don’t write, they rewrite. I’ve never been hung up on perfection the first time around. I leave that to the geniuses. I’d rather write with fiery exuberance rather than cold logic. That can come later.

A: Sylvester Stallone.

UPDATE: Just to clarify – because it’s often unclear, I know – I’m not being sarcastic in the slightest with this post. Also, please note that AICN has posted not one but five pages of Q&A with Stallone at that site. I have read them all and it was well worth it.

UPDATE 2: Because I can’t resist – more highlights.

On things happening for a reason and the casting of Talia Shire:

I think things happen for a reason or it’s a wonderful ‘disaster’ that turns out for the best. For example, the first four women chosen for ROCKY were Cher, Bette Midler, Susan Sarandon and Carrie Snodgress, who all passed. This left the door literally open for Talia Shire, who walked in at 8PM just days before filming and secured the part, which in my mind was the most important casting in the film. So sometimes initial failure is good and leads to an unexpected outcome.

On the fleeting nature of life and the expendability of heroes:

When Kennedy was shot, as a young man I surmised the world as we knew it would cease to exist and the earth would basically stop turning. But I found out through simple living and deduction that everything and everyone is expendable, not gods, not eternal, not a life force. Therefore when one realizes we’re here basically on borrowed time, that expendability applies to each and every thing, we are really grains of sand. So I made it my sworn duty to pack as much life as I can into my allotment and only wish others would do the same.

On action films as mythology:

Action films; past, present and future are really a device for maintaining modern mythology. In reality, evil quite often triumphs over good and its effects have devastating longevity. So I believe the action film supplies an outlet for optimism and the unwavering belief that heroes, under great physical threat, rise and vanquish the oppressors. I believe it’s a necessity that these sorts of modern day street fables continue to provide an example that perseverance and bravery prevail.

On Rocky Balboa and perseverance:

I truly believe that life is about absorbing punishment while still moving forward.

On giving it your all:

Therefore I struggled for 7 years to have ROCKY BALBOA made because that was the final note I wanted to go out on. I wanted to do it with dignity. The philosophy I adopted at the beginning of that film I now approach every movie with, as though it were the last. And when you think that this could be your final statement, you pull everything you have inside and you play it out for the world to see. So when your lying on your deathbed you can say ‘I gave it all.’ Now that may come off as overly dramatic, but if you approach anything as though it’s going to be the final chapter, you really pour your heart into it.

Do you see what I mean? This is a very intelligent and wise man.

Blog Names
July 30, 2010, 10:34 am
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It’s interesting to have witnessed the highly contingent trajectory of the blogosphere. One facet that goes underreported is how the name you give to your own blog can dramatically affect whether it becomes, like, one of the main blogs. We have seen this with many blogs.

Take “Instapundit”. Why on earth that blog is practically the center of the blog universe is impossible to explain or quantify rationally. Nothing against Glenn Reynolds or anything, seems like a good enough chap, but far as I can tell, he’s just some law professor from Tennessee. And he barely writes any actual commentary. Seeing his blog, and the traffic it gets, it’s entirely fair to shrug and say ‘I don’t get it’. So you’re left with the conclusion that his blog’s success has very little to do with any of the actual blogging, and everything to do with the fact that, way back when, he fortuitously and/or shrewdly decided to call his blog “Instapundit”, rather than, say, “Links From Tennessee” or “Law School Guy”. Because “Instapundit” was the hook that made that site what it is; seemingly, that’s all it took.

On the flip side, take this here blog. It’s never going to catch on. Why? Well, (among many, many other things) “Rhymes With Cars And Girls”. What does that even mean? And how on earth does it relate to the content? Doesn’t seem to. Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue or easily conjure any images.

Another blog-naming strategy, one whose boldness and arrogance always impresses me, is the Claim-Stake gambit. This is when someone who has no right whatsoever to stake a claim to be “the” anything, or to speak for this or that profession, hobby or point of view, just goes ahead and names his blog as if it does anyway.

Exhibit A might be “Economist’s View” by Mark Thoma. The unstated principle behind that blog name seems to be that if someone on the internet wants the economist’s view – i.e., wants to know ‘what would an economist think? – well, that’s where he should go. That’s where you’ll find it! Nevermind that Mark Thoma – again, nothing against him or anything – has a very specific point of view that not all economists would agree with, and doesn’t appear to be any kind of exceptional or noteworthy economist or anything. Let alone does he speak for economists in general. He appears to be just one of the thousands of guys who fit the job description ‘economist’, the only difference being that none of them had the bright idea to call their blogs ‘Economist’s View’. He staked the claim to it, so now it’s his, rightly or wrongly. (Notice he didn’t call it An Economist’s View.) So if some other economist wanted to make a blog which he would claim contained the economist view, he couldn’t. That’s all Mark Thoma now.

Sometimes I think maybe I should do a Claim-Stake Gambit and change my blog name. I could call this blog “The [Profession] View” and insert my profession. The only problem is that, unlike Mark Thoma, I would be pretty embarrassed to do that…

Ok, I Think I’m Caught Up With The “Rock And Roll”
July 30, 2010, 2:33 am
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Sometime in the early ’00s I sort of stopped discovering new, how you say, “rock and roll” music to get into. The list of (a) non-retired bands that (b) I still liked had shrunk to a fairly stable and manageable handful, meaning that between their sporadic releases, I haven’t really had to buy very much music this decade. Certainly nothing like the previous decade, when music was probably my main expenditure after rent and Frosted Flakes. As a side effect, I also sort of stopped paying attention to bands that I had kinda liked, but weren’t quite in that upper echelon.

What this means is that I missed all of Green Day after sometime around Warning, and I missed the White Stripes entirely. But you will surely be massively relieved to hear that in the past six months or so I have rectified this via iTunes. And yes, I can report that Green Day’s last two albums (especially 21st Century Breakdown) have indeed been very good, and that the White Stripes really do rock (except for on the 2-4 songs every album where they are just stupid).

So anyway, now I’m basically caught up. That is, unless someone can convince me there’s any point in checking out U2’s post-’90s albums that are virtually impossible to tell apart, or all that post-The Bends Radiohead noodling jazz nonsense that everyone seemed to feel compelled to pretend to like for a few years. Because otherwise, really, what’s there been this decade? That bizarre Black Eyed Peas thing with the dancing Swedish girl? What is that supposed to be anyway? It’s like they just do commercials or songs for commercials or commercials that also happen to be sort of like songs or something. How anyone can even pay attention to them is beyond me.

But I’ll be sure and check back in with “rock and roll” sometime around 2020 and see what the kids have come up with by then. What strange new innovations shall the future bring. A fourth chord? I sure hope not.

What Motivates The Experts?
July 29, 2010, 2:26 am
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Reading the first few lines excerpted from Making Sense of the Climate Issue (via Mark Thoma), something jumps out at me:

What really bothers the climate worrywarts the most isn’t global warming at all. It’s the possibility that Smart People might not get their way on something.

It’s not the climate science at all. In fact most climate worrywarts don’t know jack diddly squat about climate science. And yet, armed with knowing precisely nada about climate science, they are nevertheless convinced that it’s highly important for the government to do something about global warming, and anyone who disagrees is an evil moron. More to the point, what seems to really dwell on their mind horribly is less the supposed effects of climate change per se than the simple fact that experts might not be able to get the government to do something.

The Experts might not rule! The Smart People might not be able to move the masses!

This is the stuff of nightmares – to Smart People.

That’s why you’ll see articles like this that make no attempt whatsoever to apprehend, grapple with, let alone defend the climate science behind the supposed urgent call for action. Instead what articles like this are all about are all the evil reasons why The Experts have been thwarted. What dark forces have thwarted The Experts here? What sinister special interests have prevented The Experts from dictating? This is what’s important, you see! We must figure out what has prevented the government from doing exactly what The Experts say!

This consideration is why an issue like climate-change-stoppage has gained such a zombielike cult following among the intelligentsia (not merely climate scientists). They all seem to instinctively perceive – perhaps correctly – that this is a battle over whether The Experts will dictate and thus that anyone who considers himself an ‘Expert’ – in something, anything – has an interest in that outcome.

What this is not about is the actual substance of the actual issue. It’s more like a test case: can The Experts get the masses to spend a bajillion dollars on something, merely on their say-so? The issue on which The Experts have rested their hopes happens to be climate-change. But really, it could have been just about anything. The important thing here – the thing which really motivates so many commentators – is to make sure The Experts can dictate – or if they still can’t, to analyze why not so that unhappy fact can be changed. Actual rational defense of the Experts’ position on the issue in question is clearly secondary to making sure the will of The Experts is the one that triumphs.

Americans, Feel Sorry For The Lifelong Leech Who Sued You
July 24, 2010, 1:17 pm
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I’m vaguely aware that there’s a controversy surrounding some government employee named Sherrod who was fired because she’s a racist but then she turned out to be not. But I didn’t know the details so I decided to Wiki it.

Reading about the controversy itself, it does seem as if this particular rap against her was unfair.

However, reading about the rest of Shirley Sherrod’s “career”, I think there are much worse things to charge her with:

She and her husband lost their farm when they were unable to secure USDA loans. Sherrod along with other activists sued the USDA in Pigford v. Glickman in order to protect the remaining black farms which were in danger of becoming shut down. The Department agreed to compensation which was to be paid between January 1, 1981 and December 31, 1999. The event was considered as “the largest civil rights settlement in history, with nearly $1 billion being paid to more than 16,000 victims.”

Translation: She wanted the taxpayers to chip in to give her a below-market-rate loan to buy her and her husband a farm. They didn’t. So she sued the taxpayers. She won and got the money from taxpayers. $1 billion distributed among 16,000 people (oh sorry “victims”) equals some $60k per person. Although what do you want to bet that her share was more than the arithmetic mean?

Then a year ago the government hired her to be “the Georgia director of rural development” whatever that means. And so now the whole thing is, we’re supposed to be mad because she then got fired over bogus racism charges.

Questions for discussion:

Why did the taxpayers need to start paying a salary to this woman who had already bilked them out of a billion dollars. What exactly is this woman doing for taxpayers that they should happily give her a sinecure. Like literally what sort of tangible, actual work has she been literally doing. And why is she so important that her brilliance in particular is required to be a Georgia director of rural development. Out of all the possible people to approach to hire to be a Georgia director of rural development, why the hell did the USDA approach a woman who had sued them out of a $1 billion dollars. For that matter why do we need a Georgia director of rural development at all. In what respect does Georgia need to be rurally developed that it requires this wonderful, hard-working, selfless woman’s brilliance. How much more money are taxpayers required to pay to this woman in order to prove we’re beyond racial issues. Generally, why on earth should I care or want to hear anything about this apparently useless, worthless, leeching person who has created nothing of her own but rather appears to have made a life’s work of sucking wealth out of her countrymen.

Okay, I admit, these are really just rhetorical questions I guess. But these kind of people (like this person) just royally piss me off. I work fucking hard, fucking long, and will never get as wealthy as people like this have gotten by being worthless, scum-sucking leeches navigating the government teat for personal gain. It’s enough to make you say fuck it.

A Blog Post With Some Links In It
July 24, 2010, 12:09 am
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It’s been a while since I’ve thrown a bunch of links into a post and posted the post as a blog post. Let me remedy that.

  • A theory of the cause of cancer that I hadn’t heard before and can’t immediately debunk and which is potentially frightening as hell.
  • Well-meant reform has unintended consequences. Go figure.
  • Aretae on science and Bayesianism
  • Clint Webb’s got my vote, for his honesty:

    HT Anarchangel

  • Paul Graham explains how to lose time and money
  • What is Job Creation? by Arnold Kling.
  • Is there a cupcake bubble? I think so. Money quote:

    “Did they really think cupcakes were different than cake?” the world will ask after the cupcake market implodes. “Why did they wait in those ridiculous lines just to buy cake?”

  • Steve Sailer makes an important larger point here, that is more widely applicable:

    What we’ve seen in America is the emergence of a Winner’s Class of people who, while they may endorse enthusiastically all the 1960s changes for other people, they don’t actually follow them themselves. They don’t have a child out of wedlock, they do get married, they stay married, they live amidst others like themselves, they send their kids to schools with the children of other people like themselves, and the wife often downshifts her career to invest more time in her children and in her husband’s career.

    It’s almost as if ‘liberalism’ is a stealth method of sabotaging poor people to keep them that way.

  • Someone really loves chocolate.
  • Borepatch on scientific credibility.
  • I like Morgan Freeman even better than I already did:

    HT House of Eratosthenes

We’re All Geoengineers Now
July 22, 2010, 2:54 am
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Gentle reminder: If you think society should actively work to consciously alter/guide the future earth climate (e.g. because you think it’s gonna get too hot if we don’t), then guess what: you’re in favor of (gasp) geoengineering. This is the case even if the method you suggest involves taxes and regulation rather than seeding the atmosphere with particles or giant orbital space mirrors.

It is just grating whenever I see someone who objectively favors geoengineering running around arguing against…geoengineering.

Democracy Failure
July 21, 2010, 3:38 am
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This post by David Foster at ChicagoBoyz has turned into a pretty useful roundup of opinions and contributions on the ‘progressive’ class of elitists that many of us seem to have independently/simultaneously been identifying and complaining about. (In true progressive-class fashion, my linking to that link is partially self-serving and incestuous, because it links to me….).

I’d like to think that I got this ball rolling way back when I first started writing about Smart People. I’d like to, but of course that’s not really true because these ideas are really nothing new.

The left is fond of the concept of market failure (e.g. ‘pollution’). This is usually not because they are well versed in the technical meaning of market failure per se, nor do many demonstrate the ability to identify and intelligently argue for market failures. Rather, the left perceives (probably correctly) that calling something a ‘market failure’ might be a cheap/easy means of cajoling and swindling a decisive chunk of the populace into letting them use government to intrude upon, distort, and control markets, which, of course, is what they really wanna do regardless.

But the concept of market failure is intellectually sound, namely, the possibility of market patterns in which everyone pursuing their self-interest rationally leads to an overall outcome which is worse than some other possible outcome (to be precise, not Pareto-optimal). The classic example is a factory that pollutes, the pollution being an externality borne by society at large that won’t be priced into the factory’s product (absent some sort of Pigovian tax). It can be debated whether this or that cited example of a ‘market failure’ really is one, or whether its definition begs the question, but the concept is worth thinking about.

I think nowadays we need a twin concept: democracy failure. Presumably, democracy, like markets, is supposed to optimize outcomes for people in some way or another. (Otherwise, why do we have it?) So then, just as with market failure, democracy failure could be defined along the lines of, a (self-sustaining or sustained) pattern that can emerge in democratic governance in which the outcome is undesirable in some appropriately-measured way.

This would all have to be firmed up, and there would be the usual disputes over definitions and all, but for starters it seems worth pointing out that today we observe in our ‘democracy’ some patterns that seem both self-sustaining and sub-optimal: the rise of the ‘Smart’ crowd or mandarin class controlling bureaucracy and perpetuating their own power; wealth massively accruing to the capital city chasing privilege, rent-seeking and corruption in a time of recession and deprivation for the middle class; on the voter/’buy’ side, large swathes of the electorate electing a man they knew virtually nothing about to be the chief executive primarily because of his skin color, fantasies they had made up about him, and/or this fluffy-opiate Youtube video; rising inequality concentrated in a super-rich class characterized by massive self-indulgence and waste combined with a state of utter denial about their self-centeredness that usually goes hand in hand with a belief in their own benevolent progressivity. (Arnold Kling has more charges in his docket against the state of our democracy here. )

The point is that these patterns and tendencies all tend to feed on each other and sustain – increasingly so, it seems – a certain malign social arrangement. In this arrangement we see

  • an elite ‘progressive’ class of super-rich, condescendingly supersnobbish elites on top with ever-increasing power (smoothly bouncing between corporations and government, blurring the lines between the two, living and passing on to their children lives of unprecedented comfort, prestige, and privilege), with
  • credentials to ‘certify’, and ‘correct’ ideologies that flatter them, that they deserve that power and ratify the highly delusional views they all have about their benevolence and ‘progressive’ superiority, which
  • insulates them with an ironclad sense of entitlement to their high status and wealth (they deserve it because they care, or are Smart, or aren’t racist, or…), even as
  • their privilege and comfort is fed by extracting – more and more in violation of the rule of law and the social compact, but rather due to cozy arrangements and privileges – ever more wealth, power and status from an electorate, an electorate made up mostly of people who are either
  • simply unable to remove this elite from power and claw back some of their rights/property, or
  • actively and willing ceding power to this elite due to various romantic or fantasy views they have about governance and society, views that can be very seductive (because they flatter those who hold them into thinking they are Smart), views which are
  • nurtured – at times consciously – by the elite for obvious self-serving reasons: the more the democratic electorate holds these romantic views, the more power/wealth will accrue to the progressive elite, to the ‘Smart People’.

Read down this list and then start back at the top. Repeat a couple of times. Each seems to feed on the previous. There seems no way out of this loop, either. So imagine what sort of society these tendencies will perpetuate. Is it the sort of society of equally-protected rights, rule of law governed by a blind justice, opportunity for all, and widespread prosperity usually connoted (rightly or wrongly) by the term ‘democracy’?

One key here seems to be that in this setup the elite progressive class is always, in everything they do, convinced they are doing good. This frees the conscience as they get super-rich and super-adulated while they constrain the rights, movements, and property of regular people in the name of their supposed ‘liberal’ ideology. It’s like cancer: individual cancer cells are just perpetuating themselves and reproducing, actions which taken in isolation may be supposed to be characteristic of good health and life. Yet the net effect is a tumor that gets bigger and bigger and overwhelms the body. And (or, it could be equally said, because) the body’s natural immune system doesn’t fully recognize, or at least cannot counter, the threat.

Our progressive elites obviously don’t think they’re doing anything wrong, nor do a large percentage of the people from whom the rents are being extracted. And that is part and parcel of the problem. Our democracy is susceptible to this Smart People tumor, to this form of progressive-elitism. A problem which, seems to me, is an example of democracy failure.

What’s the remedy for democracy failure? Well offhand I’d say if the cure for market failure is democratic government, the cure for democracy failure ought to have something to do with markets. But I’ll have to think about it a bit more, because I’m sure there’s got to be more to it than that.

But maybe not much more.

Netflix Fatigue
July 20, 2010, 4:05 am
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I seem to be running out of movies to watch. My Netflix queue, which used to consistently hover up there in the 70-80s, is threatening to drift below 40. And I’m not that excited about seeing any of those 40. Either Netflix’s recomemendation algorithm just isn’t that good, or I’ve literally seen all the very good movies there are (anyone know of any I may have missed?).

I literally had to change my plan from 3-at-a-time to 2-at-a-time simply because I can no longer find any decent movies to add to my queue, and when I do get sent a disc I barely want to watch it, so 3-at-a-time is a waste. So I’ve cut back on my plan.

I wonder if that’s a crisis of aggregate demand? Maybe I need to be stimulized by the government into changing my Netflix plan back up to 3…

America’s Ruling Class
July 19, 2010, 1:41 am
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One of the best and most important articles I’ve read in a long time.

America’s Ruling Class — And the Perils of Revolution

UPDATE: I’ve reconstructed where the HT should go, and that is to Photon Courier.

July 19, 2010, 12:23 am
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A pretty little ditty by Joy Division.

What Problem Did Obamacare Solve?

On Obamacare, I think it’s worth stepping back for just a second and trying to look at the big picture. As Matthew Yglesias – correctly, I think – pointed out,

the basic structure—an individual mandate to buy subsidized, regulated insurance that will be offered to all customers on a non-discriminatory basis—will be with us for a long, long time.

That seems right. After all the struggle and debate, these features are very likely to be with us, for better or worse:

  • The government will force you to buy an ‘insurance’ plan, or fine you if you don’t.
  • The government will define (further) what ‘insurance’ plan means, i.e. what it must cover.
  • The government will force all ‘insurance’ companies to offer this ‘insurance’ to any comer, or effectively force them out of business if they don’t/can’t.
  • The government will have to subsidize ‘insurance’ companies for them to continue existing, due to the unsustainable economic hit they will take from the above.

A final feature – the insurance market will effectively disappear, replaced by a one-size-fits-all government system – can be argued as the most likely logical end result. But that’s a different discussion. My point here is, now that we agree, both left and right, that the above key features of Obamacare are likely to be a permanent part of America, I have just one question:

What problem exactly did all that solve?

As I’ve said before on this issue, it would be nice if means could – just once – be plausibly linked up with ends. And the means created above serve no legitimate, widely-stated-and-longed-for ends that I can see.

  • If the problem was poor people not being cared for, the solution is Medicaid. That’s what Medicaid’s for. Isn’t it? If it’s not for that, why the hell do we have it? And EMTALA in effect covers poor people for emergencies. So why was all this Obamacare machinery necessary and how does it even help? Why not just shore up Medicaid (if it needed it – did it? says who?)
  • If the problem was the middle class pays too much for health care, how does forcing the middle class to buy something, fining them if they don’t, and forcing them to get coverage they may not want/need help anything? ‘Make them pay more money’ is simply not a solution to the problem that something costs too much.

And yet, from what I can tell Obamacare was sold to the country (variously) on the strength of one, or the other, or both of the above arguments: we need to protect poor people and we’re paying too much for health care.

It solves, and was necessary to solving, neither of those problems.

So if you’re a left-wing thinker who supported Obamacare, you can either

  1. explain exactly what problem it does solve,
  2. admit that you don’t really know what problem it was meant to solve but just like the idea of anything resembling nationalized health care, or
  3. acknowledge that you’re a machiavallian liar who sold the country a bill of goods based on lies – lies such as telling incredulous suburban middle class voters that you wanted to save them money and then turning around and writing into law a bunch of fines and mandates on them.

So which is it, 1 2 or 3. You tell me?

Help Me Out Here
July 17, 2010, 11:04 pm
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I’m in the mood for that totally nonmemorable Leonardo DiCaprio movie where he’s like a cop or something in some foreign country, and in the movie poster he’s holding a gun downward. I think it started with a “B”. You know the one I’m talking about, right?












Actually, maybe I have that wrong. I do know that he was some sort of cop in the movie however. Which was good casting, I must say. Cuz when I see Leonardo DiCaprio, I think “cop”. And – oh! – I think this might help: the poster was like just based on his giant face, and he was all scowling, with pointy-down eyebrows and facial hair and everything.

Cuz he’s a badass, that Leonardo DiCaprio!

So anyway, what was the name of that movie anyway, can anyone help me out here? You know the one I mean.

I Preferred The Original Dragon Tattoo

Pop culture is weird sometimes. Lately I keep being forced into a vague awareness that there’s a book (or something) called The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I see people reading it on beaches and the subways. It’s featured prominently in all the bookstores. Go to Amazon and it will be somewhere there. Go to some other website and you’ll see an Amazon ad for it. I think it’s going to be made into a movie. Or already was. So movie people talk about the coming (or already made) movie. Because supposedly that’s interesting too.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against it, whatever it is. It’s just that for the life of me I can’t begin to picture or imagine what’s supposed to be such a big deal about this book. I know zero about it so in my mind I suppose I can imagine it being anything from a softcore romance to a serial-killer slasher. I’ve just temporarily filed it mentally under the same compartment into which I placed The Kite Runner a few years back and The Da Vinci Code before that.

But still, whatever it is, surely it can’t possibly merit the attention and high profile it’s been given. I mean, can it? From the way it has become ubiquitous in the media, it pretty much has to be the best book (it started out as a book, right? or was it originally a children’s TV show or something?) of all time to live up to it.

Because if not, I do resent being forced into awareness of this book I’m pretty sure I’ll never read. Now, you’re going to say (maybe), “Sonic Charmer, it’s a good book. You see, there’s this girl, and she has this tattoo, and they…well the government, you see…I mean there’s this ancient bloodline, and…well anyway there’s a lot to explain, but just read it. You’re prejudging. It’s really good!”

Okay, maybe you have a point, imagined interlocutor. Maybe. But even if it’s like a pretty good book and all, so what? Does that mean I have to keep not being able to not be aware of its existence all the time? What’s the big deal if I don’t read or have any knowledge of some pretty good book? Aren’t there other good books for me to be aware of and not have time to read? Leave me be.

Here’s the other thing. To me, the phrase “dragon tattoo” always and forever will inherently have only one connotation, and it’s a Fountains of Wayne song. Mind you, it’s a very good Fountains of Wayne song. Indeed, that’s the problem: I simply can’t imagine the book version possibly measuring up.

Money City Maniacs
July 17, 2010, 7:23 pm
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This is just about a perfect rock and roll song.

“If you’ll admit that you were wrong, then we’ll admit that we’re right.”

Bad Blogger
July 17, 2010, 7:15 pm
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Went and added a bunch of links to my blogroll. My method was to use Google Reader’s stats to figure out which blogs I read and/or star a lot, and (unless it is something giant not worth linking to, like Instapundit…) add it.

In most cases they turned out to be blogs that I’d assumed I must have already had on my blogroll but didn’t. Can’t for the life of me understand why I didn’t have links to Bookworm Room and House of Eratosthenes for politics/general, McCovey Chronicles for baseball, Mish’s for econ, The House Next Door for film, and Jack Pendarvis for just all-around genius. I guess it’s because I’m a bad blogger.

Anyway, rectified. Not the being a bad blogger part. The not even having these blogs on my blogroll that I totally read all the time part.

Let’s Go Read In The Darkroom, They All Said Excitedly
July 17, 2010, 2:35 pm
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One of the problems with being an introvert is that, while I’m not shy, the world really just isn’t set up to make it easy for me to socialize. Socializing scenarios are (quite understandably) set up for and catered towards the needs and preferences of extroverts. So it’s as if I’m a tennis player who could be good on clay, but bylaws in place require that all serious tennis is played on grass courts only.

Take bars and clubs. People go to bars and clubs to socialize. Me, I like the drinking part fine, but I’d do better socializing anywhere else. I gather that to an extrovert, a bar is actually thought to be a good environment for socializing. Not only that but a bar with few people, which is quiet, is ‘dead’ whereas if it is packed with people, and ridiculously noisy, and you can barely stand anywhere without being in someone’s way or someone being in your way, that’s a ‘cool’ place. Now obviously I understand that to some extent this preference just stems from people who are single and want to maximize potential hookup options. Nevertheless this is all baffling and upside-down to me: I would prefer the exact opposite of all of the above. And clubs are even worse, because they will be flooded with pulsating music, and to a first approximation everyone is just standing around like sardines (I know, most of them are ‘dancing’, which as far as I’m concerned is just an obnoxious/inconsiderate form of standing designed to attract mates). It seems that the places that extroverts all want to go to in order to socialize are always like this: packed, uncomfortable, and noisy.

In other words, it’s almost as if they are engineered to handicap and sabotage introverts’ ability to socialize. How am I supposed to socialize if I can’t hear a damn thing anyone is saying? How can I focus on what one person is saying, which I can barely hear to begin with, if everyone else around me is yelling at the same time (and so many distractions, like that guy behind me is trying to get to the bathroom, the bartender needs a credit card, and look at that hot girl over there how distracting, etc)? How can I relax if I have no personal space and am always in someone’s way or someone’s in my way?

Going to a packed noisy club to socialize, for introverts, can make about as much sense as going to a darkroom to read a book, going to a solarium to develop some photos, going to a construction site to enjoy some chamber music, going to a college basketball game to study mathematics, going to the beach to make ice sculptures….it’s bass-ackwards.

So it’s almost perverse (not that it’s anything intentional) that this is the only type of place where extroverts want to go. This is precisely where they think it will be fun to go, and they assume universal agreement. They want to go to the places that will turn out to be the most noisy/crowded (if you suggest somewhere else, somewhere that’s ‘dead’ so that you can at least find somewhere to sit, actually talk, spread out, focus, not be bothered/distracted by other people, etc, it won’t appeal to anyone). And if you don’t want to go, you’re ‘antisocial’. If you do go and struggle, you have bad social skills. And there is no other option. It’s either grass courts, or no tennis.

Hamster Music
July 17, 2010, 3:15 am
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I saw an intriguing ad on TV a bit earlier. It featured hamsters dressed as ‘gangstas’ driving around in cars and doing weird dances to rap music. It was so striking (was this a dream?) I made mental note of the company for which the ad was for (Kia). This is already noteworthy as most of the time my reaction to a TV ad (if I notice it at all) not knowing what it was an ad for. So on a certain name-recognition level, the ad had already succeeded on me. Here is the ad:

It also struck me that this ad was racist. I was instantly confident that if I googled ‘hamster kia racist’ I would get plenty of hits. Notice that in the age of google, we have this method of testing our ideas/reactions to things. This strikes me as good for mass mental health or at least self-knowledge. Are my ideas original? Are they common? Am I just insane? Just google the right phrase and see if you get hits. In this particular case, I was pretty sure I wasn’t insane, and that my reaction to this ad would be far from original; and I got confirmation of all this when I googled – NOT insane. Phew. Another bullet dodged. In times past I guess people would be left to wonder whether it was just them and they were insane. Night after night. At best they could try to ask their friend at work the next day over the water cooler. And that would only be minor confirmation at best. Maybe the friend was insane….

Anyway, here is one hit that came up which is on some Kia astroturf site. It has a bunch of commenters (many of whom pretty much have to be Kia employees in drag – who else would comment on that site?) praising how cool they think the ad is. They really like it! It’s so clever! But then along comes spoil-sport commenter black carl:

My GOD this is racist crap. You know very well the Rats are black people. All you KKK members think this is funny dont you? Black people breed like rats and have small minds like rats they shuck and jive around and ride Soul cars. As long as you give us black rats some speakers and name the car Soul we will buy it. What a load of crap. You KKK members must have lots of fun laughing at this commercial calling black people rats. My children are crying after seeing this. They said daddy how could kia make fun of black people like this and get away with it.

Note, I’m not one who usually cries ‘racist’ at everything, and I don’t subscribe to political correctness in any way shape or form, but I do agree with black carl, on everything except two minor points: (1) the part about his children crying, which I don’t believe for one second, but which is by now almost a de rigeur maneuver in internet complaining about stereotyping, so at least he’s keeping faith with the tropes of the genre, and (2) the part about him being black (I place it a 35% probability that it’s actually a white guy trying to add extra power-points to his righteous outrage by internet-posing as black).

Anyway, black or not, carl is correct: this ad is totally racist: it is characterizing black stereotypes as animal-like in nature. ‘See these animals. They are behaving like blacks. See how natural we can make these animals look when we make them behave like blacks. You look at these animals and think of blacks, don’t you?’ I don’t really know how else to describe this ad. Unless they want to hide behind ‘hey they’re not behaving like blacks. That’s you who applied those stereotypes. They could be any race…’

It also (as with most modern advertising) seems completely spurious, out of the clear blue sky, thought up by a drug-addled lunatic. Forget about any problems one may have with connecting black stereotypes to small rodents just for a sec. What on earth do hamsters have to do with driving a Kia in the first place. Why hamsters? And what on earth do black stereotypes or rap music have to do with driving a Kia either. Not that I would know necessarily, but the whole thing seems a little too overspecific. Don’t they want to sell cars to anyone else? It’s all so random. So the mind attempts to make sense of this gobbledygook and is led in short order to conclusion #1: this ad is trying to sell Kias to black people, by making it look like a cool thing for black people to buy, indeed by trying to create the impression that black people already think it’s cool to have Kias, on the view that if it becomes cool amongst black people that will spread to young hip white people.

But then, this conclusion then proceeds to come to a screeching halt when it smashes head-on into conclusion #2: Kia thought a good way to do this was to (instead of just using actual black people) dress up a bunch of hamsters as stereotypical black people. Which black people is that supposed to appeal to exactly?

So let’s revise our conclusion to #1a: Kia isn’t trying to sell to black people at all. They are trying to sell to white people who want to think they are as cool as black people but don’t actually like actual black people. In other words, they’re trying to sell to SWPL type white people (a group which is not only white people, it includes many Asians etc).

That makes much more sense actually. And after more timewasting internet digging 10 minutes ago, I figured out that this commercial is actually the continuation of a prior commercial where it was more clear how the ‘hamster’ analogy came about and what it was supposed to mean (namely, in what I guess was a ‘previous’ commercial, non-Kia drivers were depicted as hamsters on wheels running in place, whereas the hamsters in the Kia were grooving out to rap music on their radio). Well now. Now it all slides into place. This sales pitch was always just about coolness, nothing more. No wonder the commercial was afraid to show actual black people. That would just turn off SWPL whites. But showing dancing hip-hop hamsters in an abstractly ‘clever’ way, being like blacks, well that sort of seems like the sort of thing that someone might be able to plant the idea in some online forum somewhere of it being cool. This baseless impression might then catch on among SWPL’s until the self-fulfilling prophecy completes the cycle and now you suddenly (the hope is) have large numbers of consumers who actually do think, if only subconsciously, that hip blacks like Kias, without any of them ever having seen any visual evidence of any black person in or even near any Kia whatsoever (which would have just turned them off). A tricky tightrope to walk, but they’re trying.

At least, I think that’s the strategy behind this and similar forms of modern advertising. And it might not be wrong, either!

I don’t even know what else to say about this ad. I’m kinda speechless at this point. Apparently someone is trying to sue Kia, for what I don’t know exactly, but I hope it doesn’t succeed. I don’t think you can or should get sued for making racist commercials (I think you should be made fun of and run out of business). But what do I know. The rules have changed. Obamacare, etc.

When I was a kid I read a creepy, unsettling book called Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater. I don’t remember much of it (although I did read most of it later in a bookstore, and found it even more creepy if anything) except that it was a kid who would turn on the TV late at night and see lizards playing spacey jazz music, but no one else would believe him. That may not be how it actually was, but that’s what I remember. Part of the horror of it for me was the lack of context or explanation for it all. Who were the lizards? Were they aliens? Why didn’t any of the normal grownups acknowledge their existence and weirdness? Did they know of it but were hiding it?

I don’t know if the Lizard Music was meant to be a metaphor for something, some secret adult knowledge that an 8-year-old would find baffling but intriguing for reasons he did not understand (sex? drugs?), or something worse like an unspeakable adult crime (molestation? warfare?). It may have been – probably was – but I couldn’t figure it out. Which made it all the more unsettling.

Whatever the case, it strikes me that this commercial is essentially indistinguishable from the original Lizard Music concept. We have now reached the age of actual Lizard Music. An 8-year-old somewhere will turn on the TV late at night and see these hamsters rapping a Black Sheep song. No context, no rational explanation can be made, no adults acting like anything’s wrong. And in this case maybe it’s even worse because the whole thing is overlaid with a whole bunch of exhausting, noisy, headache-inducing pop culture – rap, city streets, mass-produced cars, the ‘previous hamster commercial’ we are all assumed to have seen but didn’t – that it takes a true savant to explain and sort it all out. The commercial is like an assault on our rational processes: we either have to learn a whole bunch of stupid pop culture stuff to try to make sense of it, or we just let it assault our senses and take the damage. Or, perhaps we go insane.

With the Lizard Music, it was creepy, and contextless, but at the end of the day it was just Lizards, playing music. In retrospect, there was a certain innocence to that.

Workplace Irony
July 17, 2010, 1:26 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Observations on the modern, collaborative, fast-paced, high-tech workplace:

  • Email is counterproductive. Email is friction, and friction slows things down. The time people spend ‘checking email’ is corrosive: it feels like work but is kinda not, which means people are less productive than they could/should be but (unlike with more standard forms of unproductivity) don’t know it. It’s also a method of time-delay. Emailing someone or some team that they should do or answer this, that or the other, is a method of not doing it yourself and/or kicking the can down the road. Now when you’re asked if you did it, you can say ‘well I sent them an email but they haven’t responded yet’. Wow how helpful. And they in turn might just bounce it to someone else. This can continue quite a bit. Now imagine it happening among people who are in different time zones. The telephone (if you can’t just talk to someone in person) is much better. Pick up the damn phone.
  • Do it yourself. Divvying up certain tasks to take advantage of ‘teamwork’ just makes what should be simple tasks use up way more man-hours. If there’s some basic but laborious task, I can do it myself, check it myself, see it through, and I’ll know that it’s right (or what’s wrong about it). Or, I can hand it off to a team and ask them to do it. This will result: (1) they will ‘split it up’ amongst the team, which just means it will get done as slowly and messily as the slowest/messiest person, (2) they will make errors which I will have to spend time checking, correcting, and sending back to them, (3) I will have to do nearly as much work in finding/checking for errors as if I had just done it myself, (4) the whole process ends up taking much longer.
  • Do new things slowly and carefully. Sometimes you’re asked to do something randomly, maybe a quick and dirty calculation, so you are tempted to treat it like a one-off and do it as quickly as you can, not sweating a bit of sloppiness. Fire and forget and move on! Boy you’re fast! Makes sense once or twice if it works, but the problem is that more often than not (unless it’s so bad as to be obviously unusable) you’ll be asked to do it again, with minor variations. And again. “Hey, you had that spreadsheet/data right? Can you dig that back up and refresh something for me?” Time after time after time. Like Dexter in the TV show, having to come back to the crime scene to revisit your sloppy/dirty handiwork. This is the punishment you get anytime you’re doing a passable job: you’ll have to repeat it over and over. With that in mind, set it up from the start as generically and user-friendly as possible – for yourself. Approach everything as if you’re going to be asked to do it all the time.
  • Play dumb. Make people explain what they’re asking you to do. See if they actually know what they’re asking you to do. It never hurts, because they may not! Or, once the problem is fully explained, you may be able to suggest another approach (one that doesn’t rely on you having to do anything or wastes far fewer peoples’ time).
  • Don’t trust numbers. Numbers and calculations are fine and good but you need to first understand and think about where they are coming from. Understand that many of them actually come from people, and if so, try to understand the chain (even to the point of physically observing it) that leads from some dude’s brain to an email he sends to someone else who saves the number in a database to a calculation keying off that number to the application that summarized that calculation to (etc etc) to the number you’re looking at. You may realize that you don’t need to treat that number as holy writ, and that tracking down every last digit or dotting every single “i” is a waste of your time. Every number more complicated than something like ‘today’s date’ has an implicit error bar around it.

Let’s summarize that again, more briefly, by simply listing the things I’m citing as bad and counterproductive:

  • Email
  • Teamwork
  • Speed in new tasks
  • Speed in requested tasks
  • Relying on data

Yup, that about covers it – that’s what I’ve learned about the modern, collaborative, fast-paced, high-tech workplace.

Multicultural Appreciation
July 16, 2010, 10:59 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

People are always asking me, “Sonic Charmer, why can’t you be more multicultural?”

Frankly I’m dumbfounded. Here’s an example. This is just an example. If you were to do a careful inventory, I bet you’d find that the vast majority of the goods in my household were created in and imported directly from the Orient. That’s how far away I buy things from; so I hope it’s clear that I have a certain, shall we say, appreciation, for the frugal craftsmanship of the artisans of the Far East. Now I’m sorry but it just doesn’t get much more multicultural than that.


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