Digest 11

Another digest of worthwhile online reading you might have missed, mostly material from late November to mid-December 2010, which means it’s stuff archeologists have dug up. Offline I just finished reading Tom Russell‘s Riding with the Magi, and I’m listening to Patty Griffin, Rammstein, others. I haven’t included any Wikileaks stuff here; for that and more, check out my Twitter feed — plus, I’ll post a round-up of some of the best writings/videos on Wikileaks soon.

  • A terrifying article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, written under a pseudonym, gives an insider’s perspective on businesses that sell custom essays to students.

    You’ve never heard of me, but there’s a good chance that you’ve read some of my work. I’m a hired gun, a doctor of everything, an academic mercenary. My customers are your students […]

    In the past year, I’ve written roughly 5,000 pages of scholarly literature, most on very tight deadlines […] I will make roughly $66,000 this year. […]

    three demographic groups seek out my services: the English-as-second-language student; the hopelessly deficient student; and the lazy rich kid [who] is poised for a life of paying others and telling them what to do. Indeed, he is acquiring all the skills he needs to stay on top. […]

    you have no idea how deeply this kind of cheating penetrates the academic system, much less how to stop it. […]

    I’ve written essays for those studying to become school administrators, and I’ve completed theses for those on course to become principals. […]

    Say what you want about me, but I am not the reason your students cheat. […] You know what’s never happened? I’ve never had a client complain that he’d been expelled from school, that the originality of his work had been questioned, that some disciplinary action had been taken.

  • This UCF professor isn’t taking it lying down, though. The St. Petersburg Times reports he became a folk hero after taking a hard line on cheating when he discovered evidence of students’ dishonesty.

    [Richard] Quinn gave [his 600+ students] a choice: Confess and you had a shot at clearing your transcript. Don’t and you could be suspended or expelled. […]

    Calls and e-mails poured into UCF from as far away as Ontario, Maui and Tel Aviv. One urged Quinn to address Congress, another suggested he write a book on ethics. […]

    And a Michigan father of three wrote: “Finally, someone with some guts.”

  • A CowPi blog post mentions Ivan Kramskov’s 1876 painting The Meditator (aka The Contemplator).

    Ivan Kramskov’s The Contemplator (1876)

    A very beautiful painting, in my opinion.

    As the CowPi post notes, Dostoevsky refers to the painting in The Brothers Karamazov (Bk 3 Ch 6) while describing the character Smerdyakov:

    Yet [Smerdyakov] would sometimes stop in the house, or else in the yard or the street, fall into thought, and stand like that even for ten minutes. A physiognomist, studying him, would have said that his face showed neither thought nor reflection, but just some sort of contemplation. The painter Kramskoy has a remarkable painting entitled The Contemplator: it depicts a forest winter, and in the forest, standing all by himself on the road, in deepest solitude, a stray little peasant in a ragged caftan, and bast shoes; he stands as if he were lost in thought, but he is not thinking, he is “contemplating” something. If you nudged him, he would give a start and look at you as if he had just woken up, but without understanding anything.

  • From the department of weird, awe-inspiring astronomy stuff most of us don’t understand before, during, or after reading such articles as this NYT one. But there are pretty pictures.

  • Paupan tribes battle over a ringtone.

    Hundreds of Wamena tribesmen descended on members of the Yoka tribe on Wednesday morning in the Papua provincial capital Jayapura, after learning that Yokas were sharing a ringtone which insulted Wamenas.

    The ensuing clash reportedly left 23 houses burned to the ground, another 56 damaged and 12 vehicles set ablaze.

  • I approve of the blog Get Rich Slowly and of Beverly Harzog’s frowning take there on the Kim Kardashian credit card marketed to kids as young as thirteen. Though maybe they were prepaid debit cards? That’s right: were. The cards got terminated.

  • A brainy economist‘s dismal-science take on what US-China’s trade relations say about America’s future. I added his blog to my Google Reader.

    Consider America’s top exports to China. Leaving aside aircraft and soybeans (neither a sustainable basis for national advantage), America’s sole export of note is semiconductors. The rest? Plastics, steel, pulp, chemicals, copper, aluminum, engines, cotton–literally commodities. It’s hypercommoditized raw materials, of the lowest of value–literally just stuff, far from higher value goods or services. It’s not the picture of an economy humming with innovation, meaning, purpose–it’s the picture of a junkyard. […]

    [The US imports] toys, computer peripherals, apparel, footwear, TV’s. America put itself in hock for disposable, rapidly commoditizing, self-destructive, depreciating stuff, discount-rack junk–literally the lowest of low-grade “consumer goods”. […] It’s not the picture of an economy that’s investing in tomorrow: it’s the picture of Black Friday in a big-box store

    Some interesting dissent in the comments. Wish I understood economics better. Kinda what the Administration is saying these days.

  • One of my classmates from the Clarion West Writers Workshop (my CW2008 experience), Rajan Khanna, nabbed a literary agent. Congrats!

  • A WSJ article on the benefits of deep friendships. Its use of current gender stereotypes is annoying, but the info’s good.

  • NPR reports on (meatspace) college classes at midnight.

  • Well, this is stupid. And here’s the Sociological Images post about it.

    Blargh.

  • A post at LifeHacker considering the best domain name registrars. The comments are somewhat useful. I wish I knew more about SSL’ing this site, and about various registrars’ track record on resisting censorship.

  • Startling article in the BBC: anti-privacy vandals egg households in Germany that chose to opt-out of Google’s Street View service (i.e., that chose to have their homes blurred in the imagery).

    Local media report that homes in Essen, west Germany have been pelted with eggs and had ‘Google’s cool’ notices pinned to their doors. […]

    The German government took a hard line on the service, mandating that citizens be allowed to opt out, before pictures went live.

  • NPR talks about difficulties involved in raising a child who doesn’t eat meat.

  • In a 2-page Washington Post Op-Ed, Ted Koppel writes about changes in news (television and otherwise) across time:

    The transition of news from a public service to a profitable commodity is irreversible. […] Advertisers crave young viewers, and these young viewers are deemed to be uninterested in hard news, especially hard news from abroad. […] On the other hand, the appetite for strongly held, if unsubstantiated, opinion is demonstrably high. And such talk, as they say, is cheap. […]

    The need for clear, objective reporting in a world of rising religious fundamentalism, economic interdependence and global ecological problems is probably greater than it has ever been. But we are no longer a national audience receiving news from a handful of trusted gatekeepers; we’re now a million or more clusters of consumers, harvesting information from like-minded providers.

    I don’t think the picture’s that bleak, but then again, I’m a techno-utopian, not a person actually aware of what he’s talking about in this regard. But does anyone know much about the future of this disruptive Net technology?

  • Karl Marx Munchies? Two nonprofit Panera cafes open (NPR) with a third on the way (Zacks), each in a different state. These cafes have no cash registers; just donation boxes. Most patrons pay the suggested amount, but many pay less and many pay more.

  • I wish I had an award to give BUY THIS SATELLITE for expressing their plan so simply and succinctly; instead, I’ll chip in a tiny tiny tiny bit when possible. The plan?

    The owner of the world’s most capable communication satellite just went bankrupt.

    We’re fundraising to buy it.

    So we can move it.

    To connect millions of people who will turn access into opportunity.

    The video:

  • On the other hand, this important essay in the Boston Review says technology can help heal global economic inequality only when it’s joined with competent, well-intentioned people.

    technology—no matter how well designed—is only a magnifier of human intent and capacity. It is not a substitute. If you have a foundation of competent, well-intentioned people, then the appropriate technology can amplify their capacity and lead to amazing achievements. But, in circumstances with negative human intent, as in the case of corrupt government bureaucrats, or minimal capacity, as in the case of people who have been denied a basic education, no amount of technology will turn things around. […] Computers, guns, factories, and democracy are powerful tools, but the forces that determine how they’re used ultimately are human. This point seems obvious but is forgotten in the rush to scale [projects by adding more resources]. […] In every one of our projects, a technology’s effects were wholly dependent on the intention and capacity of the people handling it. The success of PC projects in schools hinged on supportive administrators and dedicated teachers. […]

    when a village has ready access to a PC—connected to the Internet or otherwise—the dominant use is by young men playing games, watching movies, or consuming adult content. […] these same users typically forsake software-based accounting and language lessons. What interventionists perceive to be “productive” use of technology is trumped by the “frivolous” desires of users. Even users in the developed world rarely take advantage of their technologies for purposes of self-improvement—the most popular iPhone apps are games and other entertainments, nothing that would improve productivity or health—but this tendency is exacerbated among those who have grown up with lessons of learned helplessness and low self-confidence.

  • The WSJ reports on Inspire, an online Al-Qaeda recruitment magazine. Huh?

  • Talking Points Memo calls it a Sign O’ the Times: Netflix goes into the S&P 500, the New York Times goes out. (original: Bloomberg).

  • Blogging at Talking Points Memo, Robert Reich keeps telling people what’s up. I gave his latest book, Aftershock, to a friend this Christmas, and procured a copy for myself while I was at it.

    The vast middle class no longer has the purchasing power to keep the economy going. (The rich spend a much lower portion of their incomes.) The crisis was averted before now only because middle-class families found ways to keep spending more than they took in – by women going into paid work, by working longer hours, and finally by using their homes as collateral to borrow. But when the housing bubble burst, the game was up.

    Read more from Reich in this McClatchy article.

  • Popular Science: Russia approves the first (publicized!) animal-to-human transplant. Insulin-producing pig cells into type I diabetes human patients. Xenotransplantation! Not just outta William Gibson; outta ye olde myths.

  • The NYT discusses how the Republicans won much of Congress in 2010.

  • A former health insurance executive pleads for more corporate whistleblowers, RawStory reports.

    Wendell Potter, the former Cigna communications chief who turned whistleblower and revealed the insurance industry’s disinformation campaign during the recent healthcare debate, is now urging other would-be whistleblowers to get off the fence and speak out. […]

    “I would tell people to take a risk, do the right thing, follow your heart and your conscience,” he said. “You’ll feel so much better.” […]

    “Finally, one friend said to me, ‘What is the worst thing that can happen?’ And I said, ‘Well, they could probably kill me.’ He said, ‘Is that likely?’ And I said, ‘Well, probably not. But I’ll probably lose my job, I’ll probably never work in corporate America again.’ He said, ‘Well, you can at least push a broom, can’t you?’ And I said, ‘Well, yeah.’”

  • Swiss company senseFly sells “safe and easy-to-use flying camera[s].” senseFly CEO describes their vision: “We want to allow people to capture data anywhere, any time, without heavy infrastructure or long preparation time.” There goes the neighborhood. Here’s one of their videos. Uh, before you buy a senseFly gizmo, be sure to check applicable laws in your state, nation, homeowners association…

  • Health.com, an outfit connected with Health Magazine, slideshows ten careers most associated with depression. Teacher? Check. Writer? Check. …

  • Life expectancy in the USA keeps going down. NPR’s on it.

  • Tinkering with your Xbox 360? RawStory reports on dismissed prison-term-carrying charges faced by a student whom an undercover federal agent reported for allegedly violating DMCA by “installing chips on Xbox 360 consoles that allowed people to run pirated DVDs and other unofficial content.” The student said, in RawStory’s words, “the purpose of modifying the Xbox consoles” — a practice he reportedly made a business out of — “was to allow people to use decrypted backup copies of their own gaming software.” He said “‘it’s a given that any game will be scratched in that [faulty Xbox console].”

  • I wish I had the time and resources to build a Hackintosh, and I wish I had the time and resources to implement these LifeHacker instructions so that the Hackintosh triple-booted OS X, Windows, and Linux.

  • The blog Get Rich Slowly tells you how to replace six vital documents and the best times of year to purchase particular items.

  • Cybertherapy avatars help with social anxiety, the NYT reports in a fascinating article.

    Researchers are populating digital worlds with autonomous, virtual humans that can evoke the same tensions as in real-life encounters. People with social anxiety are struck dumb when asked questions by a virtual stranger. […] And therapists can advise patients at the very moment those sensations are felt. […]

    “Even if this approach works, there will be side effects that we can’t anticipate,” said Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist and author of “You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto” […]

    “The figures themselves don’t even have to be especially realistic to evoke reactions,” said a psychologist, Stéphane Bouchard, who directs the cybertherapy program at the University of Quebec in Outaouais. “People with social anxiety, for example, will feel they are being judged by virtual humans who are simply watching them.” […]

    “You can see the possibilities already,” said Dr. Slater. “For example, you can put someone with a racial bias in the body of a person of another race.”

    These kinds of findings have inspired a variety of simple experiments. Dropping a young man or woman into the virtual body of an elderly person does in fact increase sympathy for the other’s perspective, research suggests.

    Thoughts: 1) I think cybertherapy could be a great thing; 2) People can also understand other perspectives through reading fiction; 3) Lanier’s quote above seems dumb: there can be unanticipated negative side effects for any good thing.

  • Politico on a new, “anti-Obamacare” Congressional Republican who wants his government-run healthcare to kick in at once.

    Republican Andy Harris […] reacted incredulously when informed that federal law mandated that his government-subsidized health care policy would take effect on Feb. 1 – 28 days after his Jan. 3rd swearing-in.

    “He stood up and asked the two ladies who were answering questions why it had to take so long, what he would do without 28 days of health care,” said a congressional staffer who saw the [closed-door] exchange […]

    “Harris then asked if he could purchase insurance from the government to cover the gap,” added the aide, who was struck by the similarity to Harris’s request and the public option he denounced as a gateway to socialized medicine.

    Welcome to most everyone else’s life.

  • Although I think Ruth Rosen underestimates recent efforts by progressive activists, her constructive points are spot-on in her Talking Points Memo post.

    What Obama, Democrats and progressives failed to do during this electoral cycle was to define and then proudly grab the terms of debate. If you look back at all successful social movements, all their great accomplishments, some of which changed laws, were to change the terms of debate. The Civil Rights movement forced Americans to question the truthfulness of racial supremacy and the fairness of racial inequality. The environmental movement asked whether we could protect the planet’s health and sustainability if we raped all of its resources. And the gay and lesbian movements, by encouraging people to leave their closets, forced Americans to recognize the ordinary humanity of their gay friends, neighbors, and relatives.

    Often I think Obama gets stuck in a bad place because he tries to play the roles of inspirer and lawmaker at one and the same time. If there were a prominent Dr. King or someone else to take over the inspirer job, or a Congress capable of handling the lawmaking one, I think Obama would have an easier time.

  • Watch this, read about it. He’s 15.

  • John Cassidy says in the New Yorker that much of what investment bankers do is socially worthless.

    no advanced society has survived without banks and bankers. Banks enable people to borrow money, […] they allow commerce to take place without notes and coins changing hands. They also play a critical role in channelling savings into productive investments. […]

    although certain financial activities were genuinely valuable, others generated revenues and profits without delivering anything of real worth […] If [many bankers] retired to their beach houses en masse, the rest of the economy would be fine, or perhaps even healthier. […]

    [Recently the most booming] place to work has been in [the financial] industry that doesn’t design, build, or sell a single tangible thing […] Wall Street has become the preferred destination for the bright young people who used to want to start up their own companies, work for NASA, or join the Peace Corps. […] In the first nine months of 2010, the big six banks cleared more than thirty-five billion dollars in profits. […]

    “Why on earth should finance be the biggest and most highly paid industry when it’s just a utility, like sewage or gas?” Woolley said to me […] “It is like a cancer that is growing to infinite size, until it takes over the entire body.”

    There is […] a blog, The Epicurean Dealmaker, written by an anonymous investment banker […] he cautioned his colleagues […]: “You mean to tell me your work […] is worth more to society than a firefighter? An elementary school teacher? Good luck with that.” […]

    “There was a presumption that financial innovation is socially valuable,” Woolley said to me. “The first thing I discovered was that it wasn’t backed by any empirical evidence. There’s almost none.”

    Here’s The Epicurean Dealmaker blog. Yup, added to my Google Reader.

  • The NYT reminds you how stupid the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are.

  • Nature discusses, among other brain things, research into drugs for pre-empting or forestalling schizophrenia in people assessed as at high-risk for the condition.

    a brain that can’t consistently organize either its electrical activity or its thoughts: the shattered mind of schizophrenia […]

    Particularly contentious is the idea of clustering schizophrenia’s early whisperings into a diagnosable ‘prodrome’ period during adolescence. […]

    The impact could go far beyond inappropriate use of antipsychotic drugs, she says. It could negatively affect how families, friends and the broader community treat that person, as well as their self-conception […]

    Freedman thinks the state of knowledge requires caution and humility. “Schizophrenia research is full of people who are sure they know what they’re doing, and only later do we understand that the whole paradigm was off. Then we look back in amazement at how wrong they had it. I like to think everyone in my generation would be well aware of this history, and be reluctant to say we’re there.”

  • NPR translates Federal Reserve gobbledygook into plain English.

  • Slate with a discussion of Barry Hannah’s ecstatic fiction. The article says his “gobsmacked juxtapositions of language betray a perceptive apparatus in constant, boyish awe before the world. The intensity of Hannah’s prose comes off [as] a faithful rendering of ecstatic perception. Reading him, one encounters a man exponentially more alive than most.”

  • The URL says it all: “Laptop bought on eBay contains details of every UK soldier serving in Afghanistan province.”

  • Slate explains the philosophical underpinnings of David Foster Wallace’s fiction.

    [Wallace] hoped he would ultimately be bold enough to give up philosophy for literature. […] “The world, the reference, of philosophy was an incredibly comfortable place for young Dave,” [Costello] said [of Wallace]. “It was a paradox. The formal intellectual terms were cold, exact, even doomed. But as a place to be, a room to be in, it was familiar, familial, recognized.” Fiction, Costello said, was the “alien, risky place.” […]

    Wallace’s solution was to pursue both aims at once. […] “I had this idea that I could read philosophy and do philosophy, and write on the side, and that it would make the writing better. [But] There wasn’t time to write on the side—there was 400 pages of Kant theory to read every three days.” […]

    Wallace felt Markson had done something that even Wittgenstein hadn’t been able to do: he humanized the intellectual problem […] That was something only fiction, not philosophy, could do. […]

    Explaining a disheartening[?] realization [at the conclusion of Wittgenstein’s philosophy], Wallace said that “unfortunately we’re still stuck with the idea that there’s this world of referents out there that we can never really join or know because we’re stuck in here, in language, even if we’re at least all in here together.” […]

    the biographical literature suggests that Wittgenstein was perfectly at ease with the solipsism of the Tractatus, as well as oddly, even mystically consoled by its suggestion that ethical, aesthetic, and spiritual truths are unutterable.

  • Boing Boing mentions a white paper discussing pre-emptive defense for presumably forthcoming intellectual property law attacks on 3d printers. The paper has a great name: “It Will Be Awesome if They Don’t Screw it Up: 3D Printing, Intellectual Property, and the Fight Over the Next Great Disruptive Technology

  • The WSJ with a feature story titled “Assembling the Global Baby” — about international surrogacy.

    In a hospital room on the Greek island of Crete […], a Bulgarian woman plans to deliver a baby whose biological mother is an anonymous European egg donor, whose father is Italian, and whose birth is being orchestrated from Los Angeles.

    She won’t be keeping the child. The parents-to-be—an infertile Italian woman and her husband (who provided the sperm)—will take custody of the baby […]

    PlanetHospital’s most affordable package, the “India bundle,” buys an egg donor, four embryo transfers into four separate surrogate mothers, room and board for the surrogate, and a car and driver for the parents-to-be when they travel to India to pick up the baby. […]

    Laws are vague and can conflict from country to country. In 2008, baby Manji was born to an Indian surrogate just weeks after the divorce of her Japanese parents-to-be. […] According to a Duke University case study in legal ethics, it led to a tangle of Indian and Japanese law that first prevented the little girl from being issued a birth certificate, and later made it difficult for her father bring her home to Japan. Months went by. To fix the problem, Japan issued a special humanitarian visa.

  • NYT: New rules have taken effect thanks to the Affordable Care Act (2010 health insurance reform): insurance companies now have to spend most (at least 80-85%, depending) of their premiums income on providing medical care to you and me and less of it on CEO compensation, profit, marketing, and other overhead.

  • Thanks to Mind Hacks, I found MacLean’s article on a pair of conjoined twins who see through each other’s eyes and share silent thoughts.

  • Via Boing Boing, and originally posted at The Balloonist, the greatest comic book cover ever.

    “WOULD HE USE HIS POWERS TO SAVE THE WORLD”?

And that’s a wrap! Look for future digests to be way shorter and way more frequent. Unfortunately, also look for flying pigs.

Digest 10

This digest is a trip back to about a month and a half ago — the distant past, as far as Internet info-junkies are concerned. Cool online reading you might have missed from September’s second half. Posting this, I excised stuff that wasn’t sufficiently evergreen, as journo slang goes. Back in ye oldie days of late September, offline I was (as I recall) moving from William Gibson’s Zero History to Deidre McNamer’s Red Rover for fiction-reading, and for music, I was moving from I’m not sure what to I’m not sure what, either, so I’ll just suggest you check out James McMurtry and Dan Dubuque for your ears.

  • At Talking Points Memo, Robert Reich (economist & former Secretary of Labor under Clinton) continues to explain just how doomed the American middle class is. Yo, if you’re in the USA reading this, he’s probably talking about you!

    The problem isn’t the cost of capital. Most businesses can get all the money they need. […]

    The problem is consumers, who are 70 percent of the economy. They can’t and won’t buy enough to turn the economy around. Most don’t qualify for more credit given how much they already owe […]

    Without consumers, businesses have no reason to borrow more. Except to speculate by buying back their own stock and doing mergers and acquisitions […]

    Say the White House and Ben Bernanke got everything they wanted to boost the economy. At some point these boosts would have to end. […]

    After three decades of flat wages during which almost all the gains of growth have gone to the very top, the middle class no longer has the buying power to keep the economy going. It can’t send more spouses into paid work, can’t work more hours, can’t borrow any more. All the coping mechanisms are exhausted. […]

    So what’s the answer? Reorganizing the economy to make sure the vast middle class has a larger share of its benefits. Remaking the basic bargain linking pay to per-capita productivity.

  • You want to look at this headline-and-picture-only page at The Onion, really, you do, after reading the above; it’ll make you laugh.

  • This nine-minute cartoon (with audio) by the Kaiser Family Foundation does a good job of explaining the new healthcare reform law (Affordable Care Act, as amended). (I noticed it thanks to the blog Alas.)

  • Thomas L. Friedman in the NYT can haz what appears to be legit economic troof:

    China is doing moon shots. Yes, that’s plural. When I say “moon shots” I mean big, multibillion-dollar, 25-year-horizon, game-changing investments. China has at least four going now: one is building a network of ultramodern airports; another is building a web of high-speed trains connecting major cities; a third is in bioscience, where the Beijing Genomics Institute this year ordered 128 DNA sequencers — from America — giving China the largest number in the world in one institute to launch its own stem cell/genetic engineering industry; and, finally, Beijing just announced that it was providing $15 billion in seed money for the country’s leading auto and battery companies to create an electric car industry, starting in 20 pilot cities. […]

    Not to worry. America today also has its own multibillion-dollar, 25-year-horizon, game-changing moon shot: fixing Afghanistan. […]

    In this (October! I’m cheating!) full transcript of an interview with (timid?) progressive bloggers, Obama says the same and similar international competition worries him.

    What keeps me up at night is China, Germany, India, Brazil — they’re moving. They make decisions, we’re going to pursue clean energy, and the next thing you know they’ve cornered half the clean energy market; we’re going to develop high-speed rail in the span of five years — suddenly they’ve got high-speed rail lines going; we’re going to promote exports, here’s what we’re going to do — boom, they get going.

    And if we can’t sort of execute on key issues that will determine our competitiveness over the long term, we’re going to fall behind — we are going to fall behind.

  • This ~3 minute audio+video NPR animation, which I noticed on Boing Boing, tells about the highways miles above our heads, where billions of bugs travel daily. For me, the video and the information both are strangely moving. There’s always something to learn. And, we hope, life goes on.

  • The Onion reports that the Department of Defense has unveiled a new $83 million thing that shoots.

    Lynn also emphasized to reporters that the new device will only shoot at bad people.

  • In a NYT op-ed, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons brainily bust up self-helpers who make money off people’s hardwired cognitive biases. You know, THE SECRET and THE POWER and &tc, which take advantage of

    the [problematic] human tendency to see things that happen in sequence — first the positive thinking, then the positive results — as forming a chain of cause and effect. […] If we hear only about the crazy coincidences (“I was thinking about getting the job offer, and right then I got the call!”), not the unconnected events (“I thought about getting the offer, but it never came” or “I wasn’t thinking about the offer, then I got it”) or even the nonevents (“I didn’t think I would get the offer, and indeed I didn’t get it”), then we get a distorted picture. […] When Byrne tells her readers to “make a connection” between the good things they do and the good things that come to them, she is focusing their attention on positive examples of the law of attraction, thereby reinforcing the illusion that it actually works.

  • Lifehacker says Google’s Chrome browser continues to gain favor over Firefox among the Net’s power users (who these users are, I’m not sure, but Cory Doctorow has to be among them, though at last check he’s still a Firefoxer). Me? I use Firefox, for now. Or rather, I POWER-USE Firefox. Anyway, the LifeHacker post offers some reasons for Chrome’s ever-increasing power-popularity.

  • Speaking of Cory, here he is in The Guardian talking about artists’ e-biz.

    The sad truth is that almost everything almost every artist tries to earn money will fail. […] Consider the remarkable statement from Alanis Morissette’s attorney at the Future of Music Conference: 97% of the artists signed to a major label before Napster earned $600 or less a year from it. And these were the lucky lotto winners, the tiny fraction of 1% who made it to a record deal. […]

    If you’re an artist and you’re interested in trying to give stuff away to sell more, I’ve got some advice for you, as I wrote here […]

    But I don’t care if you want to attempt to stop people from copying your work over the internet […]. I mean, it sounds daft to me, but I’ve been surprised before.

    But here’s what I do care about. I care if your plan involves using “digital rights management” technologies that prohibit people from opening up and improving their own property; […] if your plan involves bulk surveillance of the internet to catch infringers, if your plan requires extraordinarily complex legislation to be shoved through parliament without democratic debate […]

    And this is the plan that the entertainment industries have pursued in their doomed attempt to prevent copying.

  • Boing Boing gives you a glimpse inside a stolen credit card site. Users purchase stolen credit card information using gray-market, anonymizing currencies such as Belize-based Webmoney.

  • “A team of researchers from Facebook,” starts this SmartBlog on Social Media post, and here I have to stop to evoke the image of a bunch of profile pics becoming self-aware and creeping across cables to gang together all for the purpose of doing research on actual humans: “A team of researchers from Facebook.” Sounds like a horror movie. Anyway. The researchers in question have found a way to predict Facebook users’ ethnicity by fiddling with name data and Census data. Among the team’s findings:

    The ethnic makeup of Facebook users has steadily become more diverse and now generally reflects the U.S. population, unlike a few years ago, when Caucasians and Asian/Pacific Islanders were over-represented.

    Users are more likely to be friends with, and communicate most often with, people of the same ethnicity.

  • The NYT praises a new documentary about Glenn Gould, the eccentric and genius pianist who specialized in playing JS Bach.

  • Wired reports the FBI stuck a GPS tracking device on a car to spy on an actually innocent 20-year-old student in California. In his private driveway. Apparently without a warrant.

    His discovery comes in the wake of a recent ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals saying it’s legal for law enforcement to secretly place a tracking device on a suspect’s car without getting a warrant, even if the car is parked in a private driveway.

  • Dan Ariely, a Duke Professor of Psychology & Behavioral Economics, author of The Upside of Irrationality and the NYT Bestseller Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions, and Psychology Today blogger, (whew!), writes of forcing people to save, saying, among other things:

    I was impressed with [Chile’s] system and wondered how it would fly in the United States, where our own mandated savings program—Social Security—undergoes sporadic efforts to privatize it.

    I suspect Americans would consider the Chilean system heavy-handed and limiting—a flagrant example of nanny-state control. […] Paradoxically, we happily accept deeply controlling (and expensive) regulation on our behavior in other areas with little thought or protest. […] Wear a seat belt. Drive this speed. Bear the cost of air bags. Pollute only this much. Don’t text while driving.

    Why do we accept so much government intervention in driving but chafe when it comes to a few simple rules that would help us make better financial decisions? It’s probably not because we think we’re smarter about finances than driving. I think the reason has to do with our ability to imagine negative consequences.

    Not to mention disinformation designed to make the rich richer and the poor poorer; recently, Rick Perry (unfortunately the Governor of Texas) has called for allowing states (including Texas) to secede from (federal) Social Security and health care delivery.

  • Several states, including Texas and California, have outsourced some (formerly) public libraries to a private company, LSSI. The company chooses the library books.

    Under the new contract, the branches will be withdrawn from county control and all operations — including hiring staff and buying books — ceded to L.S.S.I. […]

    “There’s this American flag, apple pie thing about libraries,” said Frank A. Pezzanite, the outsourcing company’s chief executive. He has pledged to save $1 million a year in Santa Clarita, mainly by cutting overhead and replacing unionized employees. “Somehow they have been put in the category of a sacred organization.”

    Maybe the Old Spice guy can stop the privatization of libraries.

  • A Salon article calling for a repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which stops federal funds from going toward abortion.

  • Writer John Scalzi’s hilarious review of Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged.

    Rand is an efficient storyteller that way: You know early on what the rules of her world are, she sticks with those rules, and you as the reader are on a rail all the way through the story. […] Basically, I find her storytelling restful, which I suppose isn’t a word used much to describe her technique […]

    That said, it’s a totally ridiculous book which can be summed up as Sociopathic idealized nerds collapse society because they don’t get enough hugs. […] Indeed, the enduring popularity of Atlas Shrugged lies in the fact that it is nerd revenge porn — if you’re an nerd of an engineering-ish stripe who remembers all too well being slammed into your locker by a bunch of football dickheads, then the idea that people like you could make all those dickheads suffer by “going Galt” has a direct line to the pleasure centers of your brain. [… Rand’s heroes] disappear into a crevasse that Google Maps will not show because the Google people are our kind of people, and a year later they come out and everyone who was ever mean to them will have starved. […]

    All of this is fine, if one recognizes that the idealized world Ayn Rand has created to facilitate her wishful theorizing has no more logical connection to our real one than a world in which an author has imagined humanity ruled by intelligent cups of yogurt.

  • With a 7-6 vote right in time for Governor Rick Perry’s unfortunate re-election, Talking Points Memo reports, the Texas State Board of Education has warned textbook publishers to get rid of allegedly “pro-Islamic, anti-Christian” teachings. (NPR’s version.) One parent supporting the move said:

    she read through a section of her son’s history book and found four pages on Islam and only one reference to the Bible. Asked by a board member what the section was titled, she replied, “Life in the Eastern Hemisphere.”

    Don McLeroy, one of the board’s “most conservative members” said

    textbook publishers have been biased in favor of Islam for years. He argued that “one of the greatest gifts to the world was medieval Christendom,” citing an essay he had written in 2002 titled “The Gift of Medieval Christendom to the World.”

    Crusades, anyone?

    Many worry that because of the size of the Texas market, the State Board of Education’s warnings to publishers have nationwide implications. (A dissent on this point: Secretary of Education Duncan).

  • It turns out Bill Clinton eats a “plant-based diet.” Video and transcript at the link; Boing Boing discussion here.

  • The NYT Editorial Board reminds you healthcare reform isn’t causing the spiking premiums you might be seeing, with few, minor exceptions.

    you can blame economic reality. The cost of medical care continues to soar upward, and the recession led many healthy people to drop coverage, leaving less-healthy enrollees who cost more to insure.

    As for health care reform, the major elements, and major costs, don’t even kick in until 2014. The only provisions with the potential to affect premiums right now are a handful of consumer protections that are popular with the public, and not especially costly to implement.

  • Sociological Images blogs about ethnic maps of cities made by Eric Fischer. Here’s what he says about the Fort Worth map (which applies, I presume, to the others as well):

    Red is White, Blue is Black, Green is Asian, Orange is Hispanic, Gray is Other, and each dot is 25 people. Data from Census 2000. Base map © OpenStreetMap, CC-BY-SA

    And here’s the Fort Worth map itself. Notice the segregation caused by freeways.

  • Found at Boing Boing: Netflix pays live actors to praise, in disguise, the company to the press at an event.

  • The American Prospect discusses real-world tyranny: America’s secret killing program directed at its own citizens who aren’t charged with anything and who have no due process. You think I’m wearing a tin foil hat? Read on.

    This is the sort of thing that belongs in repressive dictatorships or dystopian sci-fi movies; Tea Partiers like to blather about the injustice of their tax dollars going to poor people, but this — the unrestrained exercise of violence by the state — is an actual perversion of America and its values.

    The Prospect excerpted Glenn Greenwald’s original article at Salon, which says:

    In response to the lawsuit filed by Anwar Awlaki’s father asking a court to enjoin the President from assassinating his son, a U.S. citizen, without any due process, the administration late last night, according to The Washington Post, filed a brief asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit without hearing the merits of the claims. That’s not surprising: both the Bush and Obama administrations have repeatedly insisted that their secret conduct is legal but nonetheless urge courts not to even rule on its legality. But what’s most notable here is that one of the arguments the Obama DOJ raises to demand dismissal of this lawsuit is “state secrets”: in other words, not only does the President have the right to sentence Americans to death with no due process or charges of any kind, but his decisions as to who will be killed and why he wants them dead are “state secrets,” and thus no court may adjudicate their legality.

  • The freshly minted US Cyber Command is calling for a government VPN! Well, sorta. More like a darknet.

  • Have you ever wondered the best strategy for surviving an elevator plunge (can I use “wondered” as a transitive verb? Does my poetic license extend that far?)? I used to think you were supposed to jump right when the elevator hit the floor, but NPR (actually, Mary Roach, quoted) says jumping only delays the inevitable. Instead you should lie down, on your bottom.

  • Another noticed off Boing Boing: Al Jazeera feature story on the US drones now patrolling the entire US-Mexico border.

    James K Polk, America’s former president, claimed in 1846 that Mexico “invaded our territory and shed American blood upon American soil”.

    It wasn’t true, but no matter. The lie justified a war […]

    “The border patrol has gone from about 10,000 to 20,000 agents in less than a decade, [and] many of their new hires are coming directly out of military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq or other theatres in the ‘war on terror’,” says Geoff Boyce […]

    The predator drone itself is “leading the situational awareness revolution” with “surveillance, reconnaissance and hunter-killer missions over land and sea”, according to manufacturers. The drones on the US-Mexico border are to be used for surveillance, not targeted killings, but the Predator B model can be equipped with weapons capability. […]

    when Janet Napolitano, the US homeland security secretary, announced new drones and other “security” measures on August 30, she admitted that crime rates were low along the border.

  • Via Boing Boing (once more!): Columbia law professor Tim Wu, who coined the term Net Neutrality, speaks in this ~35min video about the Google-Verizon alliance against it. Despite what FOX says, Net Neutrality promotes four freedoms: the right to access any internet site, use applications one chooses, hook up one’s gadgets to one’s other gadgets freely, and be dealt with transparently. Google was the most powerful advocate for it in DC, and supposedly they still are, but their interest in the smartphone market (i.e. the pressures of $$$) seems to be reversing their position in actual practice.

    As to Net Neutrality: Do you want a choice of, say, only three smartphones, which block you from accessing the other smartphone companies’ websites, and from accessing, say, Wikileaks or Al-Jazeera or whomever DC might want blocked in exchange for granting the companies’ near-(effective)-monopoly power? It’s an ideological war, and smartphones, Wu says, are the computers of the future.

  • Mother Jones reports on whether your favorite organic egg company is a factory farm in disguise. They researched and produced a handy scorecard grading organic egg companies on such things as outside verification.

  • The culture of hackers, politely explained at the Atlantic, by means of a syllabus.

  • In the NYT teaching assistants give great advice for incoming freshmen. For outgoing humanities undergrads, on the other hand, there’s this animation:

  • Andrew C. Revkin at the NYT blogs on the question: “In Pursuing Progress, Should Borders Matter?.” A commentator told him:

    The only moral obligation we have is to first help those in our country. After that, should we have the time and money, we can help in the third world. But there is no moral obligation.

    Revkin replied:

    This is one of the fundamental issues of our time: Figuring out where borders of various kinds end. When your pants are made in Bangladesh, your cellphone components require minerals from gorilla habitat in Congo, your next deadly flu threat comes from a poultry/pig farm in China and your (and China’s) emissions (slowly) influence the climate and coastal future around the world, where do your interests — and responsibilities — end?

    My answer in support of local altruism (as opposed to altruism aimed at foreign recipients) is, despite my preference for a citizen-of-the-planet approach, basically that engagement with one’s community leads to better benefits overall: you get to know more people who can help, you can personally vouch for the success of your charity, you can see the results and adjust your strategies, etc. I don’t have the maths to prove my sense of it, and I imagine a lot of this will continue to change with them thar globalization…and utilitarianism doesn’t seem to cut it in any ethical case…

  • At Salon, Laura Miller discusses the literati’s fight over the use of the present tense versus the past tense in fiction.

    So is this much ado about nothing? Not if you teach creative writing or judge literary contests. Whenever I find myself talking to people who have done either, I ask them if they’ve noticed any trends in subject matter or form. On three separate occasions recently, this has prompted long, exasperated rants about the present tense. “They can’t even say why they’re doing it,” remarked one writing teacher of his students. “They just see it a lot and start using it because it seems ‘literary’ to them. It’s a mannerism.” I judged a literary prize myself last year, and can testify that a preponderance of enervated, present-tense fiction made up the daily portion of entries I slogged through.

  • From Wired, noticed off (where else?) Boing Boing, a pamphlet authored by “federal law enforcement” contains tips for spying on your neighbors to see if they’re terrorists — authoritarian snitching culture. Tips include suggestions such as: Watch for “the adoption of a new name”; Watch for “behavior that could indicate participation in surveillance of potential targets”; etc.

  • I like the blog Alas, but here the comments school the blogger, in my opinion, on the original post’s philosophical meanderings about public schools. I’m glad for the post, though; the discussion was worthwhile, and if everyone’s posts had to be perfect, there wouldn’t be any posts.

  • The best editorial cartoon on the need to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

  • NPR on the Stuxnet malware, perhaps the first shot in cyber-warfare. Here’s the take at Boing Boing. Some think (thought?) it was/is aimed at Iranian nuclear facilities. Totally something out of Neuromancer.

  • Speaking of Neuromancer, here’s a duo of interviews with its author, William Gibson, currently promoting his latest, Zero History. Interview #1, at Maud Newton’s place.

    [Gibson:] Someone said that if a fourteen-year-old boy writes a novel, it’s got to be set in a post-apocalyptic world, because a fourteen-year-old boy doesn’t know anything about how the world works (laughs). But if you smash the shit out of it, it’s easy to depict, and he can do a rather convincing job of depicting how people would behave in it.

    I think I was in somewhat that position when I began to write. I didn’t have the confidence to depict more complex emotional characterization. Some people have unkindly assumed that this is characteristic of much genre SF and fantasy anyway. So it could have something to do with science fiction having been my native literary culture. But as I’ve gone along, with quite a bit of effort, I think I’ve been able to widen that bandwidth a little. […]

    I see [the blurring/mixing of meatspace and cyberspace] as inevitable. I mean, in order to stop it, something so drastic would have to happen that none of us would be having a good time at all! It’s just what we do. We live in a world in which change is primarily driven by emergent technology. We live in a world in which, I suspect, technology trumps ideology, every time. I think that’s where it’s at, as people used to say in the sixties. It isn’t as though I have any space in which to stand and say “This is loathsome!” or “This is exciting!” It seems an awful lot like Frederic Jameson’s definition of the postmodern sublime, which if I recall correctly is the mingled apprehension of dread and ecstasy.

    Our reaction to these things is amazingly similar to the reaction of the Victorians to technologies like the railroad and the gramophone. If you go back to first-person accounts — diary entries of individuals encountering those things — it wasn’t like, “Wow, that’s wonderful!” They were scared shitless. They were reeling with the shock of the new. They didn’t know where anything was headed, and it made them sort of angry, often as not. I think it’s the way we react to these things.

    Interview #2. At an event hosted by Intelligence Squared, Gibson and Cory Doctorow had a wide-ranging hour-long discussion; the complete audio is embedded below (check the link for a pop-out with additional functionality), as is the teaser video; to (legally) watch the full video, you have to pay serious dough to join Intelligence Squared, which you can do here.

  • And a bonus. CuspTech from the WilliamGibsonBoard.com snapped a picture with himself, Zero History, and the 2010 marker for the South Pole.

  • In step with recent moves by regimes such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, the Obama Administration wants — the NYT originally reported — to press for sweeping new legislation in early 2011 that requires any and all communication devices (including the ‘Net) to respond (via backdoors) such as to allow the US government to be “able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages.”

    As best as anyone can make out — including, I surmise, Wikileaks — end-to-end AES-256 encryption is (now and perhaps forever) an absolutely unbreakable cryptography scheme that allows private citizens to say to one another “Neener-neener, NSA” or to have cybersex with one another or to communicate whatever without being surveilled/wiretapped by the powers-that-probably-shouldn’t-be-and-who-don’t-care-about-warrants. But if your comm gadget sends un-encoded (“plaintext”) messages through the backdoor to the authorities at the same time as it sends top-secret encoded messages to your buddy, your encoding (crypto) efforts are in vain. The NYT says “unscramble encrypted messages” but given AES-256 it seems “bypass encrypted messages” is more what is meant.

    The EFF reports on this hopefully-not-forthcoming 2011 backdoor plan, and security expert & civil libertarian Bruce Schneier tears the plan apart:

    Formerly reserved for totalitarian countries, this wholesale surveillance of citizens has moved into the democratic world as well. Governments like Sweden, Canada and the United Kingdom are debating or passing laws giving their police new powers of internet surveillance, in many cases requiring communications system providers to redesign products and services they sell. More are passing data retention laws, forcing companies to retain customer data […]

    Obama isn’t the first U.S. president to seek expanded digital eavesdropping. […] Since 2001, the National Security Agency has built substantial eavesdropping systems within the United States.

    These laws are dangerous, […] government eavesdropping reduces privacy and liberty; that’s obvious. But the laws also make us less safe. […]

    Any surveillance and control system must itself be secured, and we’re not very good at that. Why does anyone think that only authorized law enforcement will mine collected internet data or eavesdrop on Skype and IM conversations?

    These risks are not theoretical. […] The most serious known misuse of a telecommunications surveillance infrastructure took place in Greece. Between June 2004 and March 2005, someone wiretapped more than 100 cell phones belonging to members of the Greek government — the prime minister and the ministers of defense, foreign affairs and justice — and other prominent people. Ericsson built this wiretapping capability into Vodafone’s products, but enabled it only for governments that requested it. Greece wasn’t one of those governments, but some still unknown party — a rival political group? organized crime? — figured out how to surreptitiously turn the feature on.

    Now that the midterm elections are over, stopping all this will probably become my next civic-responsibility project.

  • A concluding item: Norm Mangusson’s I-75 art-activism project, which I learned about off the blog Sociological Images. Two pics should give you the gist.

That’s all, folks! Return to your November world, so far away!

Digest 9

Once more, my futile quest to read everything online and bring you the best of what you didn’t catch from, ah, last month. Offline I’m still finishing Spook Country — I read slowly — and I’m listening to my iPod shuffle everything.

  • But first! Are my aggregation digests even legal? Kimberley Isbell has a paper on it, and fittingly, the paper’s aggregated by Nieman Lab.

    In many cases, Blog Aggregators will have the strongest claim of a transformative [and therefore legal] use of the material because they often provide additional context or commentary alongside the material they use. Blog Aggregators also often bring to the material a unique editorial voice or topic of focus, further distinguishing the resulting use from the purpose of the original article.

  • Newt Gingrich, a clever moron, is worried we might refer such legal questions to an imam. He’s called for federal legislation banning Sharia law. In related news, his fans probably don’t get out much.

  • Some guy in a park, probably a Gingrich admirer, threatened to burn a Quran. But skateboarder Jacob Isom is too awesome to let that happen.

    “I snook up behind him and took his Quran. He said something about burning the Quran. I said ‘dude you have no Quran’ and ran off,” Jacob Isom tells NewsChannel 10.

    The 23 year-old says he is an Atheist and will not follow any spiritual guidelines written down in a book. However, he does believe in religious freedom.

  • The NYT Editorial Board isn’t happy with a California plan “to tag preschoolers with radio frequency identification chips to keep track of their whereabouts at school”:

    Surveys have found that most Americans believe, incorrectly, that many common techniques used by corporations to keep track of their online activity are illegal. Though it may seem innocuous to attach a chip to our preschoolers’ clothes, do we really want to raise a generation of kids that are accustomed to being tracked, like cattle or warehouse inventory?

    But if this TIME article has its info right, the NYT is a bit late with the “do we really want to raise a generation” line:

    Government agents can sneak onto your property in the middle of the night, put a GPS device on the bottom of your car and keep track of everywhere you go. This doesn’t violate your Fourth Amendment rights, because you do not have any reasonable expectation of privacy in your own driveway — and no reasonable expectation that the government isn’t tracking your movements.

    That is the bizarre — and scary — rule that now applies in California and eight other Western states. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which covers this vast jurisdiction, recently decided the government can monitor you in this way virtually anytime it wants — with no need for a search warrant.

    It is a dangerous decision — one that, as the dissenting judges warned, could turn America into the sort of totalitarian state imagined by George Orwell. It is particularly offensive because the judges added insult to injury with some shocking class bias: the little personal privacy that still exists, the court suggested, should belong mainly to the rich.

  • The WSJ has a feature on the American Computer Museum, which is in Montana and which has a museum-crusty website.

  • In 1970 James Gunn interviewed Rod Serling, and thanks to this person, the long-lost recording of the interview now sees light/pixels/whatever.

  • All over the place, lack of sleep is being linked with obesity, including in this NPR article.

  • This Business Insider article says it all in the headline: “CHART OF THE DAY: A Huge Chunk Of The Old Stimulus Hasn’t Even Hit The Economy Yet.”

    Data from ProPublica

  • From NPR, noticed off Boing Boing, an article about what parents should worry about for their children (car accidents, drownings, suicide) as opposed to what they do worry about (terrorists, kidnappers, snipers):

    As for children, Barnes says that overprotectiveness will hurt them in the long run by making them less resilient. “We’re teaching them to be helpless,” she says. “And because we’re so afraid of the world, we’re teaching them to be afraid of the world.”

  • The stock market makes no sense, the economy makes no sense, we’re all going to die. That link’s to a Talking Points Memo re-post of Robert Reich saying:

    The stock market has as much to do with the real economy as the weather has to do with geology. Day by day there’s no relationship at all. Over time, weather and geology interact but the results aren’t evident for many years. The biggest impact of the weather is on peoples’ moods, as are the daily ups and downs of the market.

    The real economy is jobs and paychecks, what people buy and what they sell. And the real economy — even viewed from a worldwide perspective — is as precarious as ever, perhaps more so.

    And: more stuff about the stock market that makes no sense (Boing Boing).

  • Are you merely skimming this post? In a new study mentioned on Brain Mysteries, scientists used gadgetry that tracks the eye movements of readers to determine who was paying attention and who was not. I need me some of that gadgetry.

  • A Talking Points Memo post reports on Obama’s off-script comment at a Milwaukee union rally. Obama needs to go off script more. See for yourself:

  • But all is not well in leftist (center-left?) land, because Glenn Greenwald is always there at Salon.com pointing out failings of the Obama Administration from a progressive standpoint. Check out those headlines Greenwald mentions. Nevertheless, I fall into the group of those leftists who think Obama’s probably doing the best he can given powerful interests, known and unknown to us, that he can’t successfully combat. (For instance, see this enigmatic tweet from Wikileaks.) Nevertheless, I realize my position basically boils down to “Have faith in the guy,” which isn’t good citizenry; therefore, regardless as to how progressives read the tea leaves for Obama’s motivations, they should keep up pressure on politicians, maintain inquiry and doubt, and vote.

  • This next item takes away a big chunk of my “Have faith in the guy” sentiment. I haven’t kept up with the news on extrajudicial killings much, mostly because the idea horrifies me, but Glenn Greenwald encapsulates my opposition to them neatly:

    Obama supporters who are dutifully insisting that the President not only has the right to order American citizens killed without due process, but to do so in total secrecy, on the ground that Awlaki is a Terrorist and Traitor, are embracing those accusations without having the slightest idea whether they’re actually true. All they know is that Obama has issued these accusations, which is good enough for them. That’s the authoritarian mind, by definition: if the Leader accuses a fellow citizen of something, then it’s true — no trial or any due process at all is needed and there is no need even for judicial review before the decreed sentence is meted out, even when the sentence is death.

    I don’t think the executive branch should have carte blanche to secretly kill American citizens who aren’t charged with crimes and who aren’t allowed recourse to the judicial system. I don’t understand why this is controversial.

  • danah boyd [sic] muses on parents considering SEO (Search Engine Optimization) when naming kids.

    I’m not at all sure if it’s better to give a kid a unique name so that they can stand out like a shining star or to go with a more generic name so that they can quietly stay invisible if they want. There’s definitely something to be said for naming a child at puberty instead of at birth, but, well, that’s not really how American society is structured.

    In 2004 I started using my first name, Douglas, as opposed to the nickname Andy off my middle name, Andrew. For both my byline and for personal use. I didn’t ask people who’d called me Andy before to change; sometimes I wish I’d had. I’ll blog about why I “changed” my name someday.

  • Especially as someone who chose the humanities in college, I get peeved when people (often bitterly) allege that the humanities are a bad choice of study because they aren’t sufficiently lucrative. This letter-to-the-editor to the NYT says the right thing about the benefit to society from humanities education.

    [the humanities] also provide the knowledge and wisdom by which we in the present can better question the values that we live by and those that are imposed on us by organizations, government and society […]

    Undervaluing the humanities leads to citizens who are not willing to confront the moral challenges that make them good citizens and protect their freedoms.

    Not every humanities major is going to become a great advocate, and many who don’t study the humanities will become so, but without the humanities, everyone would more often encounter the problems mentioned in the excerpt above.

  • Brain Mysteries blogs about the application of fMRI to the free-rider problem in economics and other fields:

    incentive to lie is at the heart of the free-rider problem […] It’s a problem that professionals in these fields have long assumed has no solution that is both efficient and fair.

    In fact, for decades it’s been assumed that there is no way to give people an incentive to be honest about the value they place on public goods while maintaining the fairness of the arrangement.

    “But this result assumed that the group’s leadership does not have direct information about people’s valuations,” says Rangel. “That’s something that neurotechnology has now made feasible.” […]

    the scientists tried to determine whether functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) could allow them to construct informative measures of the value a person assigns to one or another public good. Once they’d determined that fMRI images-analyzed using pattern-classification techniques-can confer at least some information (albeit “noisy” and imprecise) about what a person values, they went on to test whether that information could help them solve the free-rider problem. […]

    In fact, the more cooperative subjects are when undergoing this entirely voluntary scanning procedure, “the more accurate the signal is,” Krajbich says. “And that means the less likely they are to pay an inappropriate tax.” […]

    This changes the whole free-rider scenario, notes Rangel. “Now, given what we can do with the fMRI,” he says, “everybody’s best strategy in assigning value to a public good is to tell the truth, regardless of what you think everyone else in the group is doing.”

    I’m all in favor of honesty overriding almost all other concerns (I can understand some wiggle room for etiquette-ish white lies). I wonder, though, if such fMRI tech would someday get co-opted and mis-used to trick people. Or if it’d help save the day. Stay tuned?

  • Homeland Security is gearing up to use iris scanners to identify people, says USA Today.

  • Talking Points Memo says Republican Mike Huckabee opposes insurance for people with pre-existing conditions, calling it impractical.

  • You know that Gallup poll I mentioned in an earlier digest that showed Republicans as having a historic 10-point lead on the generic Congressional elections ballot? Now Republicans and Democrats are tied on the same poll. Yeah, sometimes polls are quite ephemeral. It ain’t over until the final chad disappears. You’re still going to vote! Here’s the Gallup graphic:

    Data from Gallup

  • How, chronologically speaking, are waking events incorporated into dreams? NYT has answers.

    First there is the “day residue” stage, in which emotional events [from some particular day] may work their way into a person’s dreams that night. But that is followed by the more mysterious “dream lag” effect, in which those events disappear from the dream landscape — often to be reincorporated roughly a week later.

    I noticed the dream lag effect when I was keeping a dream journal, which I hope to get back to doing. Dream researcher Van de Castle also mentioned the dream lag effect in his book on the subject of dreams. In my dream journal I noticed many more dream themes playing out across week-blocks of time than when I tried to find them in single isolated dreams.

  • Scribner is trying the iTunes 99c/song model to sell individual essays, the NYT mentions in its Arts Beat.

  • danah boyd argues Craiglist’s closing of its adult services section actually causes an increase in abusive situations.

  • Boing Boing posts a video of an ant death spiral. My understanding of the ant death spiral is that ants sometimes dumbly follow each other’s scent-trails in circles until they all pile up in the center, dying. I believe that from their perspective, they’re walking in an straight line (think of Flatland). The comments on the Boing Boing posts are interesting and funny.

  • The AP (via NPR) reports on a study that says making more money typically stops increasing happiness (day-to-day happiness, and overall happiness) for Americans once a person hits an income of about $75,000. After that it’s diminishing returns, a hedonic treadmill of lifestyle inflation and consumerism, etc. I guess any additional dough over $75k should mostly be socked away as savings, plus trips &tc.?

  • A NYT feature discusses a new approach to studying academic/intellectual material that’s an old hat approach for athletes and musicians. Actually, I’ve always studied this “new” way, for the same basic reason:

    For instance, instead of sticking to one study location, simply alternating the room where a person studies improves retention. So does studying distinct but related skills or concepts in one sitting, rather than focusing intensely on a single thing. […] Forcing the brain to make multiple associations with the same material may, in effect, give that information more neural scaffolding.

  • Daniel Ellsberg, heroic leaker of the Pentagon Papers that helped stop the Vietnam War, was interviewed on MSNBC again about Wikileaks. Can’t figure out how to get an embed of this one on here; check out the link.

  • A clever Toronto Star reporter gave pre-paid credit cards to panhandlers to see 1) if they’d return them as asked, and 2) what they actually used them for (gauged by online transaction history) as opposed to what they said they’d use them for. (LCBO is Ontario’s Liquor Control Board.)

    Card 1: $50, handed to Jason. Spends $8.69 at McDonald’s. Returns card. […]

    Card 3: $75, to Joanne. Card is stolen. Over two days, $24.95 spent at McDonald’s, $38.35 at the LCBO. […]

    Card 5: $75. Laurie buys $74.61 worth of food, phone minutes and cigarettes at a gas station convenience store. Returns card.

  • Boing Boing mentions a new iPhone app, an augmented reality one, that promises to identify flight information for planes you point your phone at.

  • Darmouth researchers are building EEG headsets that connect with your phone (plus its GPS, gyroscopes, etc.) and reads your mind to automatically update your social networking, to update the scientists who are studying you, etc. Like seriously. For real. I’m not making this up. A commentator says:

    This however seriously scared the crap out of me.

    I wonder what Jaron Lanier will have to say about this. You Are A Gadget, quite literally. Lumbering meat relays for Twitter data, in the omnipresent, omniscient God Machine.

  • The Dallas Morning News reports on the Texas education board’s new move to change Islam’s portrayal in textbooks.

    Members of the board’s social conservative bloc asked for the resolution […] A preliminary draft of the resolution states that “diverse reviewers have repeatedly documented gross pro-Islamic, anti-Christian distortions in social studies texts” across the U.S. and that past social studies textbooks in Texas also have been “tainted” with pro-Islamic, anti-Christian views.

  • The Pope’s astronomer confirms he’d baptize a space alien if it asked him to, regardless of however many tentacles it had. (From the UK Guardian.)

  • The New Yorker exposes the Koch brothers, who’ve funded libertarian organizations (such as think tanks including Cato, tea parties, etc.) for decades from behind the scenes.

    The Koch brothers, after helping to create Cato and Mercatus, concluded that think tanks alone were not enough to effect change. They needed a mechanism to deliver those ideas to the street, and to attract the public’s support. In 1984, David Koch and Richard Fink created yet another organization […] Its mission, Kibbe said, “was to take these heavy ideas and translate them for mass America. . . . We read the same literature Obama did about nonviolent revolutions […] We learned we needed boots on the ground to sell ideas, not candidates.” […]

    [Koch brothers’] Americans for Prosperity launched “Porkulus” rallies against Obama’s stimulus-spending measures. Then the Mercatus Center released a report claiming that stimulus funds had been directed disproportionately toward Democratic districts; eventually, the author was forced to correct the report, but not before Rush Limbaugh, citing the paper, had labelled Obama’s program “a slush fund,” and Fox News and other conservative outlets had echoed the sentiment.

  • Salon.com interviews Aaron Kupchik, author of Homeroom Security: School Discipline in the Age of Fear.

    Buy from indiebound

    The book seems really interesting; especially as a substitute teacher, I WANT! From the interview:

    We’re teaching kids what it means to be a citizen in our country. And what I fear we’re doing is teaching them that what it means to be an American is that you accept authority without question and that you have absolutely no rights to question punishment. It’s very Big Brother-ish in a way. Kids are being taught that you should expect to be drug tested if you want to participate in an organization, that walking past a police officer every day and being constantly under the gaze of a security camera is normal. And my concern is that these children are going to grow up and be less critical and thoughtful of these sorts of mechanisms. And so the types of political discussions we have now, like for example, whether or not wiretapping is OK, these might not happen in 10 years. […]

    I acknowledge I don’t have to deal with 30 unruly kids as I teach in front of a class. So I have great sympathy for teachers who have to struggle with that misbehavior. That’s not their fault. But what I’m saying is that we have evidence-based ways of dealing with that misbehavior that are much more likely to stop it, and we don’t use them.

    The longest I’ve worked in any one particular classroom as a substitute has been a full week; most of the time I see a class only once. So I don’t have the experience most teachers have with students where they get to know each other well across several months. Nevertheless I can say I consider myself good at classroom management, aka crowd control, aka discipline. Managing a classroom comes down to capturing the students’ interest, and being fair, patient, and kind. Too many teachers I watch up close (and I worry that Kupchik lets them off the hook, as the interview excerpt seems to suggest he does) fail by trying — unsuccessfully — to scare the kids with meanness, including empty threats, which undermines what authority these teachers might have.

  • I find this New Yorker profile of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg completely fascinating, much more fascinating than I thought I would. But for now I’ll keep the privacy setting as to why I find it fascinating checked, since I don’t want to go there myself, much less bring you there. Whatever ‘there’ is. Anyway.

  • This lengthy NYT feature on if and how language shapes thought is also fascinating:

    When your language routinely obliges you to specify certain types of information, it forces you to be attentive to certain details in the world and to certain aspects of experience that speakers of other languages may not be required to think about all the time. And since such habits of speech are cultivated from the earliest age, it is only natural that they can settle into habits of mind that go beyond language itself […]

    some languages, like Matses in Peru, oblige their speakers, like the finickiest of lawyers, to specify exactly how they came to know about the facts they are reporting. You cannot simply say, as in English, “An animal passed here.” You have to specify, using a different verbal form, whether this was directly experienced (you saw the animal passing), inferred (you saw footprints), conjectured (animals generally pass there that time of day), hearsay or such. If a statement is reported with the incorrect “evidentiality,” it is considered a lie. So if, for instance, you ask a Matses man how many wives he has, unless he can actually see his wives at that very moment, he would have to answer in the past tense and would say something like “There were two last time I checked.” […] Does the need to think constantly about [this sort of] epistemology in such a careful and sophisticated manner inform the speakers’ outlook on life or their sense of truth and causation? When our experimental tools are less blunt, such questions will be amenable to empirical study.

  • The NYT mentions augmented reality’s arrival at DC bus stops:

    Smart phone users will use QR reading apps to snap a picture of [barcode stickers at bus stops], then their phones will be shown relevant real-time information corresponding to the bus stop they are at.

  • The military, which has forbidden its servicemembers from looking at the Wikileaks website, even if the servicemembers are good and eat all their dinners, has now purchased and destroyed 9500 copies of the 10,000-copy uncensored first edition of Operation Dark Heart, CNN says, trying to keep the information from the citizenry. Some of the 500 copies the military didn’t manage to destroy (burn?) have sold for around $2000 on eBay. A censored second edition is out now, and of course the uncensored first version is available on them thar interwebs.

    the manuscript contained secret activities of the U.S. Special Operations Command, CIA and National Security Agency […]

    In the memoir, Shaffer recalls his time in Afghanistan leading a black-ops team during the Bush administration. The Bronze Star medal recipient told CNN he believes the Bush administraton’s biggest mistake during that time was misunderstanding the culture there.

  • The Daily Mash says existentialist philosophers are staffing video game stores in anticipation of the new Halo release:

    BUYERS of the highly-anticipated Halo Reach will be served by staff trained to ask them what exactly they are doing with their lives. […]

    there is no ‘respawn’ in real life and that regret is not an option once your overdeveloped thumbs are rotting in the ground […]

    Some game creators have pledged that future releases will display real-life achievements in the corner of the screen that players could have managed while they have been playing, including reading a book, forming a meaningful relationship […]

    But software developer Wayne Hayes said: “If I was an overweight teenager living in an identikit provincial pisshole with a tawdry family, no social skills and a horrifying IQ, I think I’d want to be a space soldier from the future, too.”

  • 3d-printing, right outta Cory Doctorow’s novel MAKERS, is “spurring a manufacturing revolution,” says the NYT.

    A 3-D printer, which has nothing to do with paper printers, creates an object by stacking one layer of material — typically plastic or metal — on top of another […]

    [3d-printing] is giving rise to a string of never-before-possible businesses that are selling iPhone cases, lamps, doorknobs, jewelry, handbags, perfume bottles, clothing and architectural models. And while some wonder how successfully the technology will make the transition from manufacturing applications to producing consumer goods, its use is exploding. […]

    MakerBot Industries sells a hobbyist [3d-printer] kit for under $1,000 […]

    the concept may seem out of place in a world trained to appreciate the merits of mass consumption

  • Using Wikileaks as context, Peter Ludlow at The Nation discusses the hacktivist ethic. Note: Wikileaks contests the article’s brief assertion that five human rights groups disapprove of Wikileaks disclosures. From the Nation article:

    The political compass of these hacktivist groups has never pointed true right or true left—at least by our typical way of charting the political landscape. They have been consistently unified in their adherence to the basic hacker principles as outlined by Levy and The Mentor in the 1980s: information should not be hoarded by powerful constituencies—it needs to be placed in the hands of the general public. […]

    As described in Khatchadourian’s New Yorker profile, Assange’s philosophy blends in seamlessly with the hacktivist tradition: it can’t be characterized in terms of left versus right so much as individual versus institution. In particular, Assange holds that truth, creativity, etc. are corrupted by institutional hierarchies, or what he calls “patronage networks,” and that much of illegitimate power is perpetuated by the hoarding of information. […]

    This is not a one-man or even one-group operation. It is a network of thousands motivated by a shared hacktivist culture and ethic. And with or without Assange, it is not going away.

Done!

Digest 8

It’s totally been too long since I posted one of these digests of what I’m reading online. So think of these selections as “recent-ish news stuffs you might have missed.” Offline: I’m reading Spook Country by William Gibson in preparation for his new, related-but-standalone novel Zero History, and I’m listening to the first cello concerto by Shostakovich as well as, ah, the song “#1 Crush” by Garbage. Now, let’s have at it:

  • Der Spiegel has a leaked German military study that says Earth’s supply of oil is already in permanent decline (has already passed the “peak oil” point); global security will probably be impacted sometime in 2025-2040, the leak says, as market economies worldwide collapse. Have a nice day!

  • Salon.com has two ex-CIA confirming Bush knew Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction. Of course, Bush knew Saddam had oil!

    On Sept. 18, 2002, CIA director George Tenet briefed President Bush in the Oval Office on top-secret intelligence that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, according to two former senior CIA officers. Bush dismissed as worthless this information from the Iraqi foreign minister, a member of Saddam’s inner circle, although it turned out to be accurate in every detail. […]

    “The president had no interest in the intelligence,” said the CIA officer. The other officer said, “Bush didn’t give a [expletive] about the intelligence. He had his mind made up.”

    The NYT is pleased with Obama’s Oval Office speech declaring an end to the war, but wishes he’d give more speeches in general.

  • If you’d like to worry about running out of things lighter than oil, apparently we’re facing peak helium, too. From Boing Boing.

  • Since apparently the Defense Department has never heard of the Streisand Effect, they haz a plan, according to the NYT: “buy and destroy all 10,000 copies of the first printing of an Afghan war memoir [alleged to contain] intelligence secrets […]”

    veterans of the publishing industry and intelligence agencies could not recall another case in which an agency sought to dispose of a book that had already been printed.

    Army reviewers suggested various changes and redactions and signed off on the edited book in January […] But when the Defense Intelligence Agency saw the manuscript in July [it set] off a scramble by Pentagon officials to stop the book’s distribution.

    Such a plan, the Streisand Effect says, will backfire because the publicity will just cause more people to purchase the book. Is the plan some sort of reverse psychology to get people to buy Operation Dark Heart, or are the planners just that stupid?

  • Is this all pretty upsetting? Well, have some chocolate (Sociological Images) — for moments when your aspirations to perfection fall short, an advertiser says; because, like, they couldn’t just say that it’s okay to be imperfect, that perfection is, after all, impossible. They gotta sell the stuff, you know. And you gotta buy it, too. Here’s more worthwhile hating on advertising, from the Psychology Today blog Ulterior Motives.

  • Ok, everyone, I am trying to get something positive in here. I know! A cat!

    Old Enough to Drink

    “Mrkgnao!”

    The cat snuck onto a Dublin DART, was re-united with its human via Twitter, and received a genuine rail pass for being awesome. Thus spoke RTÉ news.

  • People the length and breadth of the land have talked about Obama’s privately-funded redecoration of the Oval Office, but USA Today (also know as USA? OKAY!) gives the five quotes Obama picked for the rug:

    1. “The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt

    2. “The Arc of the Moral Universe is Long, But it Bends Towards Justice,” Martin Luther King Jr.

    3. “Government of the People, By the People, For the People,” President Abraham Lincoln

    4. “No Problem of Human Destiny is Beyond Human Beings,” President John F. Kennedy

    5. “The Welfare of Each of Us is Dependent Fundamentally Upon the Welfare of All of Us,” President Theodore Roosevelt

    Well, that’s some hope (sincerely!).

  • The NYT reports that Republican operatives have recruited homeless people in Arizona to run as Green Party candidates (in a Republican attempt to split leftist votes, of course).

  • Lifehacker with instructions for turning a thumbdrive into a portable computer privacy toolkit.

  • Slate.com with a 10-chart slideshow of income inequality in the States, with accompanying article:

    Incomes started to become more equal in the 1930s and then became dramatically more equal in the 1940s. Income distribution remained roughly stable through the postwar economic boom of the 1950s and 1960s. […] The deep nostalgia for that period felt by the World War II generation—the era of Life magazine and the bowling league—reflects something more than mere sentimentality. Assuming you were white, not of draft age, and Christian, there probably was no better time to belong to America’s middle class.

    [This] ended in the 1970s [hi, Nixon!]. […]

    Why don’t Americans pay more attention to growing income disparity? One reason may be our enduring belief in social mobility. Economic inequality is less troubling if you live in a country where any child, no matter how humble his or her origins, can grow up to be president. […] But when it comes to real as opposed to imagined social mobility, surveys find less in the United States than in much of (what we consider) the class-bound Old World. France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Spain—not to mention some newer nations like Canada and Australia—are all places where your chances of rising from the bottom are better than they are in the land of Horatio Alger’s Ragged Dick.

  • In 1964 Arthur C Clarke explains why communication will change cities and the future.

    Oh, and suggestions for how to center these object embeds within the li bullet point, anyone? Because I’m that OCD.

  • Russia’s finance minister has a very unusual scheme, mentioned in UK’s Daily Mail. Talking of what we in the States call “sin taxes,” he says:

    “If you smoke a pack of cigarettes, that means you are giving more to help solve social problems […] People should understand [that] those who drink, those who smoke are doing more to help the state”

  • As I return to substitute-teaching, this Lifehacker how-to for remembering names already is coming in handy. If you’re just meeting a Sasha and exchanging names, Philip Guo advises:

    [Typically] you totally forget Sasha’s name because your mind is too pre-occupied thinking about the next thing you’re going to say to carry the conversation forward, or too focused on listening to Sasha talk […] As soon as you hear her name, start repeating SASHA in your head loudly a few times [even as you give her your name] — SASHA, SASHA, SASHA. If you want to practice saying it out loud a few times, ask her about her name. “Sasha, that’s spelled S-A-S-H-A?” […] The purpose of these questions is to simply get you and Sasha to repeat her name a few times to help you to remember.

  • Talking Points Memo mentions a Newsweek poll showing most Republicans (52%) believe that Obama “definitely” or “probably” wants to impose Islamic law (Sharia).

  • Lefties paying attention to politics are seriously worried about the Democratic base’s “enthusiasm gap” which, at this point, has contributed strongly to the Republicans’ record-breakingly huge 10-point lead (at the moment) in the midterm election generic Congressional ballot, and has increased fears of a November of Doom: if Republicans win the House, Obama in many ways can’t get much good lawmaking accomplished. In The Nation, Thomas Geoghegan advances some obviously good proposals and some good but risky (to my mind) proposals to excite the left and up voter turnout. Here are some of the obviously good ones:

    1. Keep it simple. […] Every initiative should be capable of being put down [summarized?] in a single sentence or two.

    2. Make it universal. People on the left have all sorts of ideas for programs that turn out to be available only to a select few. By contrast take FDR’s big ideas, like Social Security. […] Likewise, Medicare: we’ll all get there.

    3. Make it add up to a plan. […] FDR did not end the Depression, either. But people were patient because they knew he had a plan. He was rebuilding the economy from the bottom up, and it paid off, not in the 1930s but in the unionized, high-benefits postwar decades after he died […] People will be patient with us and keep us in power if they think we have a plan.

    Regardless of his wise advice, Geoghegan’s article is quite a bit harsh, and in the regard I sent a letter to the editor about some of my quibbles (they’re not connected with the excerpt above), so I’ll let you know if anything happens with that. And concerning explanations for Democrats’ dismal poll numbers, Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo snarks:

    everybody picks the theory that validates their assumptions.

    Dems and Obama’s poll numbers are so bad because …

    Republicans: Terrible policies and he’s probably a Muslim.

    Right Democrats: No CEOs in the administration. And why does he keep getting into the black thing?

    Down-the-Line Obamaites: Economy’s bad. Nothing he could do. Give it a rest.

    Left Democrats: He wasn’t liberal or tough enough and me and my eight friends are deeply disillusioned.

    Politico: Chronic failure to win the morning.

  • Too much politics! Well, William Gibson’s trying to get back into blogging, and we fans wish him all the luck. You should read this great, 2-page interview Gibson did with Vice Magazine for more on his new novel and his ideas.

  • NY Daily News reports on CuteCircuit’s new dress, the M-Dress (Mobile Phone Dress): you insert your SIM card into the dress label, and voila, one of your sleeve’s palms is now also a cell phone. Pop singer Katy Perry wore it some event(s) or other.

    You Know You Want One. Wifely @cckaty82?

  • Brain Mysteries adapts a meatspace-meets-cyberspace press release by the FECYT – Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology, saying:

    Researchers at the University of Barcelona have created a system which measures human physiological parameters, such as respiration or heart rate, and introduces them into computer designed characters in real time. […]

    The system […] uses sensors and wireless devices to measure three physiological parameters […]. Immediately, the data is processed with a software programme that is used to control the behaviour of a virtual character who is sitting in a waiting room.

    “We maintain that the linking of subjective corporal states to a virtual reality can improve the sensation of realism that a person has of this reality and, eventually, create a stronger link between humans and this virtual reality”, [researcher] Groenegress concludes.

  • This is heartbreaking. The WSJ reports that many Japanese men, who already play the game Love Plus+ in which they maintain relationships with virtual girlfriends, can do well enough in the game (with tasks such as virtual exercise for attractiveness) to win a trip to the real-life resort town of Atami, where they pretend to be on a date with their handheld virtual girlfriend.

    In Atami, the Love Plus+ fans—mostly men in their twenties and thirties—stand out. Unlike the deeply tanned beach crowd wearing very little, they are often pasty and overdressed for the heat in heavy jeans and button-down shirts. […]

    “There isn’t a lot of romance in my life and this helps me cope with some of the loneliness,” said Mr. Fukazawa

  • Also in Japan and also in the WSJ — mostly paywall’ed (info can hurt you!) — a report on automated billboard advertisements that see you with cameras and then modify themselves to target you, the individual consumer, more specifically by auto-analyzing your demographic categories.

  • Cynthia Shearer with a post about Reo Fortune’s The Mind in Sleep, a book I’ll most certainly check out — if, given the cost, only at the library.

  • From the description of this YouTube video — I noticed the video on Boing Boing — “Alex Halderman and Ari Feldman replaced […] voting software with Pac-Man. They did this in three afternoons, without breaking any tamper-evident seals. It would be easy to modify the software to steal votes, but that’s been done before, and Pac-Man is more fun.” You can learn more about their hack here. Give the video a watch:

    You’re still going to vote!

  • Boing Boing with a post roughly about how drones are now patrolling the entire US-Mexico border.

  • Scientist J. Craig Venter, who famously sequenced the human genome and also created a cell with a synthetic genome, is now going after, well, just read it, from the NYT:

    At Synthetic Genomics, [Dr. Venter] wants to create living creatures — bacteria, algae or even plants — that are designed from the DNA up to carry out industrial tasks and displace the fuels and chemicals that are now made from fossil fuels.

    “Designing and building synthetic cells will be the basis of a new industrial revolution,” Dr. Venter says. “The goal is to replace the entire petrochemical industry.”

    His star power has attracted $110 million in investment so far, in addition to hundreds of millions of dollars in research financing […] “If you think of an iconic, Steve Jobs character in the life sciences field, he comes to mind,” says Steve Jurvetson […]

    Synthetic Genomics is also exploring the use of algae to produce food oils and, possibly, other edible products. […]

    The Vatican […] cautiously praised [Venter’s synthetic biology] work as a potential way of treating diseases, saying it did not regard the synthesis of DNA as the creation of life.

  • Brain Mysteries, adapting a news release by the Elsevier, notes that in the cases studied, oxytocin — sometimes perhaps-too-broadly called the “trust” and the “bonding” hormone — affects new fathers just as much as new mothers. No more teasing Wifely @cckaty82 about oxytocin. (NO! We are not pregnant.)

I have many more links, but I’ll have to carry them over to my next digest, which I’ll try to make happen sooner rather than later.

I’d really appreciate hearing in the comments if people are finding these digests useful. They help me keep track of interesting info stuffs; but, at the same time, they’re a lot of work.

Tschuss!

Digest 7

A digest of what I’m reading online. Offline, still finishing up William Gibson‘s novel Mona Lisa Overdrive, and also, I’m listening to Joey Ramone‘s solo album. Has anyone else noticed we’ve had some slow news days lately?

  • This NYT op-ed on the timeline of the attacks against the NYC multi-use community center that’s near Ground Zero is a must-read. (Laurence Lewis at the DailyKos gives his take on the motivations behind the attacks here.) From the NYT op-ed:

    In the five months after The Times’s initial account there were no newspaper articles on the project at all. It was only in May of this year that the Rupert Murdoch axis of demagoguery revved up […] inspiration was a rabidly anti-Islam blogger best known for claiming that Obama was Malcolm X’s illegitimate son. Soon the rest of the Murdoch empire and its political allies piled on […]

    These [self-identified] patriots have never attacked the routine Muslim worship services at another site of the 9/11 attacks, the Pentagon. […]

    A recent Wall Street Journal editorial darkly cited unspecified “reports” that Park51 has “money coming from Saudi charities or Gulf princes that also fund Wahabi madrassas.” As Jon Stewart observed, this brand of innuendo could also be applied to News Corp., whose second largest shareholder after the Murdoch family is a member of the Saudi royal family. […]

    Were McCain in the White House, Fox and friends would have kept ignoring Park51.

  • The comments on this fun LifeHacker post/thread about what people carry in their always-with-them backpacks led to a post that highlights the top five comments — itemized descriptions of five personal backpacks.

  • Stealing this CNET lede: “A Pennsylvania school that was caught secretly snapping photos of students via laptop Webcams will not face criminal charges in the case.”

    The allegation brought to light that the district had activated the Webcams on student laptops over a 14-month period through the use of a remote control system. School officials said that the tracking system was set up only to locate lost or stolen laptops, but they soon admitted that the software had stayed active even after a laptop was found. As a result, the program took images every 15 minutes, capturing a total of 56,000 pictures in total

  • A scuffle over Target’s donations to an anti-gay Republican prompts a discussion in the NYT about disclosure and transparency in campaign financing.

  • Gawker.com reposts a video from space shuttle mission STS-124 “taken from a tiny camera mounted on one of its solid rocket boosters. The booster separates at around 146,000 feet [about 2 minutes into the video], eventually drifting to Earth via parachute.” In other words, this is basically what it’d look like if you jumped out of a spaceship — relatively close to Earth where there’s enough atmosphere for sound — and fell to our planet.

  • NPR reports that the economy seems to be worsening again, with rising unemployment insurance claims appearing to indicate more employers are laying off workers.

    In a healthy economy, jobless claims usually drop below 400,000. But the recent increases in claims provide further evidence that the economy has slowed and could slip back into a recession. Many analysts are worried that economic growth will ebb further in the second half of this year.

  • A Boing Boing post concerning studies of “a parasitic fungus that infects ants, affects their behavior, then sends them to a fungus-friendly death.”

  • Given this BBC article, maybe one shouldn’t mess with Wikileaks, because they have INSURANCE.

    it seems [wikileaks] may be using encryption as insurance against legal and other threats to the information it holds.

    The insurance.aes256 file has been posted alongside the already published leaked war logs and can be downloaded by anyone.

    From the file name, it is believed that it has been encrypted using the AES256 algorithm – described as “extremely strong” by Professor Whitfield Diffie […] could prove too tough even for US intelligence agencies to break.

    While no-one knows what the insurance file contains

    From the department of Related News, the NYT reports on the war of words between the Pentagon and Wikileaks.

  • As I continue to work on my office, I need to neaten the cables. Lifehacker has some how-to in this regard.

  • Frustrated by the two choices of gender that hegemonic society allows you? (‘Scuse the Eurojive.) Yeah, so’s Sociological Images, a recent post of which goes off on the B&N screenshot below:

    Keep It Simple, Stupid

  • One component of newlywedhood is getting all your official stuffs in order; Wifely and I have done some of that, but we haven’t yet turned to the morbid. For anyone getting around to it, however, here’s a Lifehacker post about how to ensure your estate’s executors can do what you want them to with your cyberspace identities after your meatspace identity goes kaput. (Un?)fortunately, Maas-Neotek hasn’t yet designed you a biochip box to live in.

  • Newt Gingrich stinks.

  • National Park visitors are causing more trouble due to technology, according to a NYT report.

    “Because of having that electronic device, people have an expectation that they can do something stupid and be rescued,” said Jackie Skaggs

    “Every once in a while we get a call from someone who has gone to the top of a peak, the weather has turned and they are confused about how to get down and they want someone to personally escort them,” Ms. Skaggs said. “The answer is that you are up there for the night.”

  • Some cognitive benefits afforded by wine benefit only women, not men, says CBS11. (Video.) Summary from the CBS11 RSS feed:

    “Women looking for more ‘mental muscle’ may only need to lift a glass of wine, according to a recent study. Wine, the study says, can give women an intellectual edge over men.”

  • First the genes, then the memes, and now the temes, as Susan Blackmore philosophizes about them in the NYT.

    Each request to Google, Alta Vista or Yahoo! elicits a new set of pages — a new combination of items selected by that search engine according to its own clever algorithms and depending on myriad previous searches and link structures.

    This is a radically new kind of copying, varying and selecting, and means that a new evolutionary process is starting up. This copying is quite different from the way cells copy strands of DNA or humans copy memes. The information itself is also different, consisting of highly stable digital information stored and processed by machines rather than living cells. This, I submit, signals the emergence of temes and teme machines, the third replicator.

    What should we expect of this dramatic step? It might make as much difference as the advent of human imitation did. Just as human meme machines spread over the planet, using up its resources and altering its ecosystems to suit their own needs, so the new teme machines will do the same, only faster

    Well, most techno-philo/socio/anthro/othero-pology stuff I read seems phony — buzzwords mixed with second-rate Eurojive (lit crit talk); this piece, I’m not sure about either way, because I’m hungry right now and can’t really concentrate on abstractions, just low-level sensory data: FOOD FOOD FOOD. I’m definitely a low-tech replicator.

  • Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at Seti — Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence — says Seti’ers should start looking for artificial alien intelligences, not just biological alien intelligences.

    Dr Shostak says that artificially intelligent alien life would be likely to migrate to places where both matter and energy – the only things he says would be of interest to the machines – would be in plentiful supply. That means the Seti hunt may need to focus its attentions near hot, young stars or even near the centres of galaxies.

    The first message from the alien artificial intelligence, of course, will be HELLO WORLD!.

  • Some worry with the recent USA healthcare reform legislation that insurers will over time raise rates in response to (or perhaps “in response to”) the new consumer protections &tc. But we can haz a plan for that, and also other related plans, one of which is coming into effect imminently:

    under the new federal law, insurance companies will be required to justify to federal and state regulators “unreasonable” rate increases before imposing them. Companies also will have to post that information on their websites. […]

    Last week, federal officials distributed $46 million of $250 million in grants to the states. The $1 million that Texas received was expected to go toward developing the data required for the greater number of rate reviews.

  • The NYT on presidential vacations.

    A big sign on a hotel dominating Main Street read:

    Mansion House Inn Believes Anyone Who Has

    Passed Health Care Reform

    Signed Economic Stimulus Bills

    Recast America’s Global Image

    Commands Two War Zones

    Won the Nobel Peace Prize

    Named 2 Supreme Court Judges

    Overhauled Financial Regulations

    DESERVES A GREAT VACATION!

  • Great DailyKos post about the multi-use community center near Ground Zero; explains a lot.

    It should come as no surprise that as the November election draws closer, the conservative movement would choose to stop focusing on things that legislators are responsible for (such as what sort of legislation to pass–and focus instead on something they have no control over (such as where a private entity builds a community center and house of worship). Democrats may be unpopular right now, but Republicans are just as unpopular. Meanwhile, the last thing conservatives want is to have a fight about actual legislation; they tried running briefly on the idea of repealing health care reform, but that fizzled. They certainly can’t run on opposition to Wall Street reform, or the Lily Ledbetter Act, any other of the good pieces of legislation passed by the Democratic Congress and signed by President Obama […]

    The Republicans are trying to go back to the playbook from 2004 and 2006 and use the Park 51 project as a referendum for exploring how concerned Democrats are about “national security” and “protecting America” […]

    Democrats have an opportunity to use their support for Park 51 to reinforce their existing narrative about supporting the little guy. Democrats support the right of middle-class moderate Muslims to worship in peace for the same reasons that we support extending unemployment insurance for those hard-hit in these economic times. For the same reasons that we support the right of the LGBT community to get married. Because even when it’s slightly unpopular, our fundamental values is to stand up for people’s basic fundamental rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

That’s it for now, folks!

Digest 6

Another digest of what I’m reading online these days. Offline I’m reading William Gibson‘s novel Mona Lisa Overdrive and listening to Marcus Miller.

  • CBS11 News video (warning: autoplays) on civic-minded teenager C.J. Lechner’s speech to the Fort Worth City Council in defense of the Fort Worth Public Library’s Ridglea branch, which is threatened with closure from budget cuts.

  • Galleycat says the Freakonomics documentary comes out on iTunes a month before it hits theaters.

  • The excellent Talking Points Memo reports (I’m stealing half their lede) that “former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has taken up the cause of reforming state judicial campaign and election systems”; she wrote the forward to a report on the subject. (Text below from TPM.)

    The report highlights some of the most blatant examples of overly cozy relationships between judges and their campaign donors, which can lead to corruption or the appearance thereof. One coal executive spent $3 million to elect a West Virginia justice, and the law firm Beasley Allen in Alabama gave over $600,000 to Judge Deborah Bell Paseur’s unsuccessful run for the state Supreme Court, but never appeared on her contribution records.

    Authors of the report said the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case poses a “special threat” in judicial elections, because it overturned bans on election spending from corporate and union treasuries.

  • Lifehacker has a fun thread asking what you carry in your daily backpack; I tote a backpack around all too often, unfortunately; it’s not the most stylish thing — oh well.

  • The BBC covers Frederick Forsyth’s assertion that US spies attacked his wife’s laptop in Guinea-Bissau. I’m pretty sure his novel The Day of the Jackal was the first adult book I ever read, or it might have been Stephen King’s It; I can’t quite remember which. I remember really liking both; then again, I was what, seven?

  • Tom Scott offers a print-your-own PDF of journalism warning labels that you can stick on newspapers or whatnot. Ready for Avery’s Letter-size 5160 labels or equivalent.

    Caveat Publicus!

  • News Corp (parent company of FOX News) donated $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, according to this NYT article. Murdoch has to pay his actors somehow, right? In response (Politico), Democratic Governors Association Executive Director Nathan Daschle writes to Fox News chief Roger Ailes:

    In the interest of some fairness and balance, I request that you add a formal disclaimer to your news coverage any time any of your programs cover governors or gubernatorial races between now and Election Day. I suggest that the disclaimer say: “News Corp., parent company of Fox News, provided $1 million to defeat Democratic governors in November.” If you do not add a disclaimer, I request that you and your staff members on the “fair and balanced” side of the network demand that the contribution be returned.

    Does anyone have any legit info on other news or ‘news’ orgs’ political donations, if any? UPDATE (19 Aug 2010): Talking Points Memo haz info on other orgs’ donations.

  • The WSJ reports on the wary dance between Google TV and big content providers such as ABC, CBS, Fox, etc.

    The Google software aims to play any video that runs anywhere on the Web, from clips on YouTube to full-length TV episodes that media companies distribute on their own sites. That open pipe has some media companies worried that their content will get lost amid a range of Web content, including pirated clips, according to people familiar with the matter.

    I still haven’t read Cory Doctorow’s nonfiction book Content, about such subjects. Actually I recently dropped that book in the bathtub; then, pursuant to a Lifehacker article, I stuck it in the freezer, removed it later: this repaired most of the wet pages. But I still haven’t read the thing.

  • This NYT post discusses recent record temperatures in connection with global warming. Meanwhile, the Navy and Marines (sez the NYT) are working on increasing use of renewable energy sources:

    “Within 10 years, the United States Navy will get one half of all its energy needs, both afloat and onshore, from non-fossil fuel sources,” he added. “America and the Navy rely too much on fossil fuels. It makes the military, in this case our Navy and Marine Corps, far too vulnerable to some sort of disruption.” […]

    Last year the Navy launched its first electric hybrid ship

    If memory serves, I’ve read in the NYT that the Pentagon’s SOP for futuristic war games is to take global warming into account. They’re not joking around, unlike Joe Barton (R-TX).

  • Beloit College has published a “mindset list” every year since 1998 to describe its new incoming students’ zeitgeist for their teachers. (Also useful info for fiction writers!) Here’s some excerpts from the Class of 2014 list:

    27. Computers have never lacked a CD-ROM disk drive.

    40. There have always been HIV positive athletes in the Olympics.

    41. American companies have always done business in Vietnam.

    43. Russians and Americans have always been living together in space.

    46. Nirvana is on the classic oldies station.

  • A Reuters article says indie bookstores flourish, even in the digital age, when they emphasize their local relationships.

    Bookstore owners say the industry has found new life with the locavore movement, which puts a premium on locally grown or raised food. The trend has brought farmers markets and by extension breweries and craft soap factories to cities.

    “People are rediscovering the value of an independent store that’s connected to their neighborhood and understands them and their tastes,” said Jessica Stockton Bugnolo, who opened Greenlight Bookstore this year.

  • Lifehacker lists resources for free online academic educational content.

Hey, this digest is actually fairly positive! Keep it up, world!

Digest 5

Digest the Fifth. Some items are several days old; others are fresh. For my next digest I plan to post a wikileaks special edition rounding up links about them. For now, have fun! Or not, as the case might well be. Some of this stuff is pretty bleak, folks. Any comments from y’all on how I should or shouldn’t post digests differently are welcome; this is still unfamiliar, and somewhat awkward, territory for me.

  • The BBC reports that a tech security expert demonstrated the possibility of creating booby-trap websites that, as I understand it, imitate your (local) computer asking your router for its Media Access Control (MAC) address; once the website successfully acquires your router’s MAC address, the website couples it with geolocating info from your browser and then with Google Street View database info. In short, the booby-trap website now knows where you live, down to “nine metres” in at least one case.

    “This is geo-location gone terrible,” said Mr Kamkar during his presentation. “Privacy is dead, people. I’m sorry.” […]

    “The thought that someone, somewhere on the net can find where you are is pretty creepy,” [Mr Hypponen] said.

    “Scenarios where an attack like this would be used would be stalking or targeted attacks against an individual,” he added.

    “The fact that databases like Google Streetview […] can be used in these attacks just underlines how much responsibility companies that collect such data have to safeguard it correctly,” said Mr Hypponen.

    If there’s one thing with the Net that by now should be obvious to everyone, it’s that, uh, it’s really easy to copy stuff digitally. All that data mentioned above, I think, just plain isn’t going to be safeguarded successfully against the human element in the long run. You know those periodic news stories about hackers stealing portions of credit card companies’ databases and the like? What do you think happens to that copied information, even if the hackers are eventually arrested? I think we can presume it’s copied again, and again, and again. Probably resides on darknets, and will eventually make its way out to the public; we’ll all be astonished — until non-privacy becomes the new norm. The sooner you adjust yourself to this forthcoming reality the better off you’ll be. Read science fiction to prepare, e.g. William Gibson, Cory Doctorow.

  • Timbuctoo was a real, secret town, NPR’s All Things Considered explains; it was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

  • Were you too once a middle-schooler sequestered in a computer lab forced to play The Oregon Trail to kill time? Then watch this trailer on YouTube for an (hypothetical? imaginary?) Oregon Trail movie.

  • Brain Mysteries adapts a Stevens Institute of Technology news release about research to be conducted testing the ability (or inability) of crowds to evolve creative solutions to problems.

    “We think that the crowd can innovate, providing new and specific solutions to broad social problems, such as those related to our need for energy.”

    To test this conjecture, Nickerson and Sakamoto will perform a series of graduated experiments. First, members of the public will be asked to generate, evaluate and modify ideas, without any interaction with each other. Next, members of the public will interact with each other while creating the ideas. Finally, the public will be asked to design its own unique creative process and pursue its own problems.

  • According to Talking Points Memo, Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, Republican, implied Muslims might not be entitled to freedom of religion.

    “Now, you could even argue whether being a Muslim is actually a religion, or is it a nationality, way of life, cult whatever you want to call it,” Ramsey said. “Now certainly we do protect our religions, but at the same time this is something we are going to have to face.”

  • Do you really need Bristol Palin – Levi Johnston drama? If so, NPR haz it.

  • The WSJ mentions eBook antitrust scrutiny rumbling in the distance.

  • Republicans are calling for hearings on repealing the 14th amendment, which gives automatic birthright citizenship: if you’re born in the United States, you’re automatically a citizen, regardless of your parents’ legal status. About the Republican idea of hearings, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat, said:

    The authors of the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed citizenship to all people “born or naturalized in the United States” for a reason. They wished to directly repudiate the Dred Scott decision, which said that citizenship could be granted or denied by political caprice. […]

    Then Reid said of Republicans pushing the issue, “They’ve either taken leave of their senses or their principles.”

    Am I the only philosophy nerd for whom that last statement’s specificity — “their senses or their principles” — sounds as if Reid’s been brushing up on his 17th-18th century Western philosophy? =p

  • More on those Republican 14th Amendment attacks. The Service Employees International Union says that not only would calls for mass deportation of illegal immigrants remove “12.6% of the US population” (where do they get that 12.6% stat, I wonder?), but also putting an end to birthright citizenship would have meant the following Americans never would have been citizens: Olympic Gold Medalist Henry Cejudo; Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; Republican National Hispanic Assembly Minnesota Chapter Chairman Rick Aguilar; USA NASA Astronaut Jose Hernandez; more. Talking Points Memo points out that without the 14th Amendment, people could be born without citizenship with any country.

  • Wifely @cckaty82 found this NYT note on lima bean cooking. Actually I was showing her a NYT post on something — probably wikileaks? — and she pointed to the sidebar with the lima bean link and told me to click there.

  • Education experts push for Texas to hire more minority teachers, the Associated Press reports.

    “The research shows that if you can match the ethnicity and race of teachers and students, teachers tend to be more effective,” said Ed Fuller, associate director of the University Council for Educational Administration at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s important for role modeling and pushing those students to go to college. Of course, you want to make sure teachers are well-qualified and not just thrown into a classroom because of race or ethnicity.”

    For sociology statistics, it’s important to remember that there always individuals who for whatever reasons break a trend, e.g., a minority student who seems to perform better with majority teachers. But humans, as for any other animal, plus human cultures, exhibit patterns in behavior, including in response to environmental influence. And so many people deny how much the environment contributes to their makeup; acknowledging it would make them feel less in control. It’s important to take charge of yourself, but also important to acknowledge the influence of your environment — and to acknowledge both in political decisions, too. Yes, this is an axe I like to grind. Honestly, though, it’d be useful for anyone uninformed (including me) to read good material on how sociological statistics work … Labeling, for instance, can give rise to excuse-making (rightfully and wrongfully).

  • Working wonkishly on the data of problems like these would make for a curious life, I think. From this NYT piece on the infrastructrure in Iraq as a reflection of the country’s state:

    What is clear is that Iraqis’ expectations of a reliable supply of electricity and other services, like their expectations of democracy itself, have exceeded what either Americans or the country’s quarrelling politicians have so far been able to meet. […]

    The United States has spent $5 billion on electrical projects alone, nearly 10 percent of the $53 billion it has devoted to rebuilding Iraq, second only to what it has spent on rebuilding Iraq’s security forces. It has had some effect, but there have also been inefficiency and corruption, as there have been in projects to rebuild schools, water and sewerage systems, roads and ports.

  • Also in the NYT, Wikipedia and the FBI’s spat over Wikipedia’s use of the FBI seal.

    Cindy Cohn, the legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, called the dust-up both “silly” and “troubling”; Wikipedia has a First Amendment right to display the seal, she said.

    “Really,” she added, “I have to believe the F.B.I. has better things to do than this.”

  • A WSJ piece reports on the increased number of illegal immigrant deportations by the Obama Administration.

    Matt Chandler, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said the administration had “fundamentally reformed immigration enforcement using our resources to focus on identifying and removing criminal aliens who pose a threat to public safety.”

    Critics said the administration’s numbers were misleading.

    “It is a misrepresentation to say that these are criminal aliens,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, an immigrant-advocacy group in Los Angeles. “Many are just regular workers driving with broken tail lights or stopped and don’t have a license,” Ms. Salas said.

  • Speaking of illegal immigration (“undocumented workers”?), here’s a college professor explaining how his voluntary work on a small organic farm is apparently illegal because he’s doing it for free.

    I was up at 5 AM, working by 6 AM, and dead tired by noon, but it was a tiredness I could live with and not the mental fatigue that I experience as a college professor. I learned about farming by farming. I believe that all Californians and indeed all Americans could learn about the value of small, organic farms by going to farms to plant, weed, cultivate and harvest. It’s just what our society needs – ordinary citizens getting away from their computers and into the outdoors to work with their hands alongside farmer workers.

    I have to admit that I’ll stick to cutting vines out of my crepe myrtles. The vines have grown back quickly, by the way, as eerily as plant-monsters in a Stephen King story. Think I’ll now have to go after the root of the problem, pun intended. Maybe I’ll present Wifely the root/trunk like a head on a platter.

  • Krugman says in the NYT that the recession isn’t going to get any better without stronger government intervention. Ever since Krugman’s surprise appearance as himself in the otherwise lowbrow comedy flick Get Him to the Greek, I’ve paid his real work special attention. Call me a consumerist defeated by branding — or just call Krugman awesome for having a sense of humor.

  • Indonesia tries to censor Internet porn, but one technical worker trying to implement the government demands finds it “almost an impossible task” — welcome to the Internet. Apparently in response, (horny?) hackers managed to broadcast porn for 15 minutes into the Indonesian Parliament while they were in session. I have some jokes, but I’m trying to keep Babel Krieg PG-13 or so, although parental discretion is always advised.

  • Rachel Maddow, in the context of racial and gender segregation in the military, lectures on the difference between inalienable constitutional rights and mob democracy (originally via Sociological Images):

  • Google has just made it possible to have multiple accounts running at once without complex rigging; for instance, you can have your personal Google Reader account open at the same time as you’re using you and your Wifely’s joint Google Calendar account to schedule a dinner party with cooked lima beans. LifeHacker explains how, and hopefully I’ll soon get around to implementing what for me would be a very useful option. Because someday the lima beans are coming, I bet.

  • Iran’s Supreme Leader says “promoting and teaching [music] is not compatible with the highest values of the sacred regime of the Islamic Republic”; apparently he’s been reading Book X of Plato’s Republic. And by the way, I often link to Boing Boing instead of directly to the source article because 1) you can click through Boing Boing if you want, and 2) the comments on Boing Boing are worthwhile — usually pretty amusing.

  • I’m not an atheist, not really, and I don’t like militant atheism, but this xckd comic is excellent:

    XKCD comic

    Yay for xkcd’s Creative Commons licensing allowing me to easily figure out I could embed the cartoon without running afoul.

  • For its Internet Explorer 8 browser (use Firefox instead!), Microsoft undermined privacy settings for the express purpose of benefiting advertisers. Because advertisements are really improving our society. Right?

  • Publishers Weekly reports that Williams-Sonoma is partnering with Omnivore Books; PW calls it a coup for the indie bookseller.

    Cookware heavy hitter Williams-Sonoma is acknowledging the expertise and power to move books of one independent bookseller. […]

    Williams-Sonoma initiated the partnership

  • The NYT mentions the military using thriller fiction-writers to entertain troops.

  • The blog Oscillatory Thoughts says EEGs were invented to test psychical phenomena.

  • Saudi Arabia joins India and United Arab Emirates in Blackberry-banning efforts. The countries are having a hard time surveiling Blackberry communications; my understanding is that they come by default, for their local drives at least, with unbreakable encryption. The New Yorker has good discussion:

    because the devices are simply too difficult to monitor. It’s as if the Bush administration had come right out and confiscated our home phones because, really, wire-tapping was such a pain. The announcement is a hard-line statement of authority that also sounds oddly like an admission of incompetence.

    One of the more troubling aspects of the story was that the U.A.E. made little attempt to conceal the reason for the ban

    Don’t forget your Fourth Amendment, folks:

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    It’s unreasonable for governments to surveil the Internet, as they do, regardless of a few people living in caves who sometimes succeed with terrorist attacks. Why? The chilling effect that turns necessary freethinking into thoughtcrime is more destructive of democracy, not to mention individuals; and, remember those databases in the first bullet-point above? What happens when governments’ surveillance of citizens spills its way to the general online public, if unredacted? Furthermore: America, in conformed, frightened obedience, seems to be ditching the notion of warrants altogether. Uh, people? Didn’t you read 1984? The goal of terrorists is to terrorize; victory over terrorism means not being afraid; destroying civil liberties means we’re afraid; ergo, cutting off civil liberties means the terrorists win.

  • A gamer gives a thoughtful response to Roger Ebert’s strong (and also thoughtful) criticism of the notion that video games are art.

  • In 2004 sportscaster Mary Carillo really showed how to fill dead air time, improvising a very clever and surreal imaginary story about backyard badmitton.

  • Sociological Images discusses a NYT article about the intense competition between especially smart Manhattan kids entering public and private … kindergarten.

    Whereas at one time teachers recommended students to these programs, today entrance to both public and private schools for gifted children is dependent entirely on test scores. […]

    The owner of Bright Kids confesses that “the parents of the 120 children her staff tutored [this year] spent an average of $1,000 on test prep for their 4-year-olds.” This, of course, makes admission to schools for the gifted a matter of class privilege as well as intelligence.

  • Tipping tends toward sadly predictable patterns, says a study discussed by The Cornell Daily Sun.

    Though most customers say they reward service, Lynn reports that quality of service has less than a 2-percent effect on the actual tip.

    Instead, he found that waitresses with larger bra sizes received higher tips — as did women with blonde hair and slender bodies.

  • Joan McCarter at the DailyKos says almost every state faces forthcoming, budget-cutting teacher layoffs, some facing layoffs of between 2000-5000 teachers. But Republicans haven’t signed up to vote for a “modest health and education funding bill” that’d help, and neither has conservaDem Ben Nelson.

  • A NYT article discusses the perils of statistically analyzing differences between generations, and some of the consensus that has been reached about my generation (sort of; born in 1982, I’m at a threshold), the Millennials, also known as Generation Y — the current crop of twenty- and thirty-somethings.

    In recent years some have sketched a portrait of the current crop of twenty- and thirty-somethings that is low on greatness and high on traits like entitlement and narcissism. […]

    the Millennials are more tolerant of people of other races and different sexual orientations, research suggests. They appear to be more likely than previous generations to do volunteer work […]

    [But] researchers tend to work with samples, like college students, that are not representative of the generation at large. Nor is it even clear that outside events can alter a person’s fundamental traits by much. […]

    In short: Generation Y’s collective personality, if such a thing exists, is not likely to be much different from other generations’. Still, small differences may matter.

  • NYT discusses an inclusive school district in Madison, and the effects of such inclusion on students with and without autism.

  • A seventh-grader and her genealogist grandfather discover that all USA presidents except one — Van Buren — are distantly related and have a common ancestor: John “Lackland” Plantagenet, a king of England and signer of the Magna Carta. What Van Buren did wrong (or right?), the KSBW article does not say.

  • Matt Zoller Seitz at Salon.com says that though many online anonymous comments are terribly vicious, at least they expose us to the full range of humanity instead of social masks.

  • The Huffington Post interviews James Hynes (Twitter), the novelist behind NEXT. I found this part helpful:

    Hynes: Right from the beginning, I knew Next was going to be a day-in-the-life novel (which, I only just learned, is also called a “circadian novel”), and I knew I’d finally have to read Ulysses all the way through, if only so I could answer questions like this one. I’d tried two or three times before and failed–but manfully, even heroically, with no shame attached. I was the Ernest Shackleton of Ulysses readers. But finally, with the help of a couple of books about Ulysses (one of which was Anthony Burgess’s Re: Joyce, which I recommend), I made it all the way through.

  • Northwestern University, Brain Mysteries says off a press release that “when researchers knew in advance specifics of the planned attacks by the [role-playing] ‘terrorists,’ [the researchers] were able to correlate P300 brain waves to guilty knowledge with 100 percent accuracy in the lab.” I’m not a terrorist, but since this stuff freaks me out in general, pardon me while I go stock up on tin foil.

  • A NYT report on New Delhi police crowdsourcing traffic-coppery via facebook.

  • The NYT says students’ perceptions of plagiarism are blurring in the digital age. Maybe for some, but having worked at a university writing center, I don’t buy it, litcrit about intertextuality notwithstanding … not for most students — except maybe undereducated freshmen. In my admittedly limited experience, students plagiarize because they’re short on time, maybe because of outside employed, but what I not infrequently observed was nothing more than kids wanting to go out and get drunk and party and call that higher education. Meanwhile we have this aggravating piece of barely-disguised bragging from Salon: “I will write your college essay for cash: I’m a broke writer who can’t find a gig in the recession, so I decided to save myself — by helping students cheat.” I cannot abide by this. JuliaCollier has wise, and impressively empathic, words in the Salon comments:

    I know what it’s like to struggle as a freelancer but what you do is dead wrong on so many levels. If you want to stay in the middle class, give up on these $100 cheat fests that are bad for your soul and bad for your clients and bad for your portfolio. Living and working in bad faith is wrong. As a longterm strategy to stay economically viable it’s a waste of time since it will pay for a few days’ rent but can’t be leveraged into progress in your field. Find another career and fast. It’s not going to get better for you as a writer in the years ahead; on this path, you’ll end up broke and soul-sick when you need to have money and a clear conscience when you’re older.

Digest 4

My fourth digest linking to what I’ve recently been reading online. First, the customary now-playing and now-reading: Computer Love by Kraftwerk, and actually, I’m between books at the moment; wifely Kate put Gone with the Wind on a reading list for me, so I think I’ll take up that one next.

  • A Japanese paper says the hikikomori, or shut-ins, are a problem that has reached the stage of crisis.

    There are approximately 230,000 people [in Japan] who almost constantly shut themselves in their rooms except to go to nearby convenience stores, according to a survey conducted by the Cabinet Office. […] the statistics have raised questions about the future of Japan.

    Hikikomori are defined as those who shut themselves in their homes for at least six months but are not involved in child care or housework even though they are not sick.

    Problems involving shut-ins have been pointed out over the past 15 years, but only experts and nonprofit organizations have worked on the issue, with little public support.

    I’ve heard good things about Michael Zielenziger‘s book on the subject.

  • Requisite rightwing lunacy: former Republican Colorado Representative Tom Tancredo, once a Republican presidential candidate who’s now stated his intention to run as the Constitution Party’s Colorado gubernatorial candidate, has advocated the impeachment of President Obama for “wanting to destroy the Constitution,” calling him “a more serious threat to America than al Qaeda” — that’s from his op-ed in the Washington Times, where he says:

    [Obama’s goals constitute] the utopian, or rather dystopian, reverie of a dedicated Marxist — a dedicated Marxist who lives in the White House.

    Because of the power he wields over budgets, the judiciary, national defense and even health care, his regime and his program are not just about changing public policy in the conventional sense. When one considers the combination of his stop-at-nothing attitude, his contempt for limited government, his appointment of judges who want to create law rather than interpret it – all of these make this president today’s single greatest threat to the great experiment in freedom that is our republic.

  • “On the other side of the aisle,” as the phrase goes, Van Jones, former White House green jobs special advisor, tells the netroots — pretty much the progressive blogosphere — to quit beating up on Obama.

    “I can’t stand it. President Obama volunteered to be the captain of the Titanic after it hit the iceberg,” Jones said at Netroots Nation […]

    “This is harder than it looks. Having spent six months in the White House, it’s a totally different experience when you’re sitting there and the missiles are coming over the horizon at you,” he said. […]

    Jones said the netroots need to realize they are up against an “epic” force with the conservative media movement, which is trying to “bury everything you fought for everything you believe in,” and comparing it to the Lord of the Rings.

    Much as I wish for more progressive results, I have total sympathy for Van Jones’s view: it’s easy to backseat quarterback and complain when you don’t have the full view of entrenched interests and whatever other enemies Obama faces. On the other hand, acknowledging that can slippery-slope to a “just trust the President you like” position, and since that isn’t viable overall, government should be more transparent. And really, if you aren’t activist-ing in some way (e.g., How to Call Congress, How to Snailmail Congess), your cynicism probably isn’t getting anyone anywhere.

  • For his part, the President asked Netroots Nation via a video address to seriously credit his Administration for its accomplishments so far:

  • No? You don’t want to do anything for the mid-term elections because they’re not as dramatic as the Presidential ones? Here, read this CBS piece about Minnesota Republican Representative Michele Bachmann, who “said yesterday that if Republicans [win] the House in November, ‘all we should do’ is subpoena and investigate the Obama administration.” She’s also called for “100 percent repeal of ObamaCare” and the “big mother of all repeal bills.”

  • To me, anything regarding the Apollo space program is automatically interesting. For instance, recently a customs officer was charged with stealing Neil Armstrong’s signature. Bidding for the recent signature rose over $1000 before the auction was halted.

  • A College Board study ranks Texas as one of least educated states, with only 27% of Texans holding university degrees. Actually, that’s a higher figure than I would’ve guessed. No disrespect.

  • Something less depressing, please? Wallpaper made from newspaper, a Boing Boing find.

  • Better: super zoomed-in, short, silent video, also found on Boing Boing (initially via Nothing to Do with Arbroath), an ant drinking from a rain drop. It might take a moment to download before you can play it.

    Amazing how the rain drop doesn’t just collapse instantly.

  • If you want to spy on the Wall Street Journal, here’s their take on Netroots Nation:

    How nervous are liberals about the November election and how angry are they at conservatives? Plenty, to judge from this year’s Netroots Nation gathering of 2,000 liberal bloggers and activists.

  • The great Clarion West Writers Workshop in Seattle, which I attended in 2008, has announced its set of six instructors for 2011. (For another 36 hours or so, you can donate to the workshop by sponsoring me; $5 through PayPal, quick!)

    We’re pleased to announce that our instructors for the 2011 Clarion West Writers Workshop will be Paul Park, Nancy Kress, Margo Lanagan, Minister Faust, L. Timmel Duchamp, and Charles Stross, the 2011 Susan C. Petrey Fellow.

    General background on the Clarion West Writers Workshop can be found here. Check back with us in September for more information on next year’s instructors and on applying to attend the 2011 session.

  • An account of a military contractor’s corruption has made many rounds already, but it’s so offensive it bears linkage (NYT) and excerpting:

    more than $6 million in personal expenses [were paid out] on behalf of [contractor] Mr. Brooks, covering items as expensive as luxury cars and as prosaic as party invitations, Ms. Schlegel testified.

    Also included were university textbooks for his daughter, pornographic videos for his son, plastic surgery for his wife, a burial plot for his mother, prostitutes for his employees, and, for him, a $100,000 American-flag belt buckle encrusted with rubies, sapphires and diamonds.

  • The Wall Street Journal discovers there are languages other than English. Actually — this feature piece about how various languages influence perspective seems good:

    many other ways to organize time exist in the world’s languages. In Mandarin, the future can be below and the past above. In Aymara, spoken in South America, the future is behind and the past in front.

    In addition to space and time, languages also shape how we understand causality. For example, English likes to describe events in terms of agents doing things. […]

    if you change how people talk, that changes how they think. If people learn another language, they inadvertently also learn a new way of looking at the world. […] if you take away people’s ability to use language in what should be a simple nonlinguistic task, their performance can change dramatically.

  • Boing Boing once more brings us teh happy, picking up a post from Lowering the Bar about muggers accidentally encountering, in the course of their crime, a real-life team of avenging ninjas.

  • Oprah Magazine mentions The Alexander Technique, a bodywork method of which I’m a fan; see AlexanderTechnique.com for more, including an instructor finder.

    Research published in the British Medical Journal found that patients trained in Alexander technique, which teaches proper posture and everyday movement habits to reduce strain, experienced an average of 18 fewer days of back pain over four weeks

  • A WSJ article reports that the United Arab Emirates called the Blackberry smartphone a “security risk.” And Blackberries have very powerful encryption built-in.

    BlackBerry was operating “beyond the jurisdiction of national legislation,” the U.A.E.’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority said in a statementi ssued on Sunday.

    “As a result of how BlackBerry data is managed and stored, in their current form, Certain BlackBerry applications allow people to misuse the service, causing serious social, judicial and national security repercussions.”

    India jumped in, too, according to the India Times:

    The home ministry, which has time and again shared with DoT its concerns over the security agencies’ inability to de-crypt messages shared over BlackBerry, has now asked DoT to sound out Research in Motion (RIM), the Canadian firm that makes the BlackBerry device, that its services in India will face shutdown if its e-mail and other data services do not comply with formats that can be monitored by security and intelligence agencies.

    Cory Doctorow’s novel Little Brother uses phone encryption in its plot a great deal.

  • NYT reports on Britain’s debate over decentralizing their health care system. Meanwhile, the US Department of Health and Human Services announces the opening of the national Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (see more at HealthCare.gov):

    The Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, which will be administered either by a state or by the Department of Health and Human Services, will provide a new health coverage option for Americans who have been uninsured for at least six months, have been unable to get health coverage because of a health condition, and are a U.S. citizen or are residing in the United States legally.

    Created under the Affordable Care Act, the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan is a transitional program until 2014, when insurers will be banned from discriminating against adults with pre-existing conditions, and individuals and small businesses will have access to more affordable private insurance choices through new competitive Exchanges. […]

    In order to give states the flexibility to best meet their needs, HHS provided states with the option of running the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan themselves or having HHS run the plan. Twenty-one states have elected to have HHS administer the plans, while 29 states and the District of Columbia have chosen to run their own programs.

    Starting today, the national Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan will be open to applicants in the 21 states where HHS is operating the program. […]

    The Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan will cover a broad range of health benefits, including primary and specialty care, hospital care, and prescription drugs. The Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan does not base eligibility on income and does not charge a higher premium because of a medical condition. Participants will pay a premium that is not more than the standard individual health insurance premium in their state for insurance that covers major medical and prescription drug expenses with some cost-sharing.

  • The Federal Register website gets an upgrade.

  • Business Insider discusses the destruction of the American middle class; the article has an anti-global perspective I don’t like (because building walls around yourself isn’t a long-term answer), but the article’s worth the scary read:

    no matter how smart, how strong, how educated or how hard working American workers are, they just cannot compete with people who are desperate to put in 10 to 12 hour days at less than a dollar an hour on the other side of the world. After all, what corporation in their right mind is going to pay an American worker ten times more (plus benefits) to do the same job? The world is fundamentally changing. […] the American middle class is being systematically wiped out of existence as U.S. workers are slowly being merged into the new “global” labor pool. […]

    The truth is that most Americans are absolutely dependent on someone else giving them a job. […]

    36 percent of Americans say that they don’t contribute anything to retirement savings. […]

    Only the top 5 percent of U.S. households have earned enough additional income to match the rise in housing costs since 1975. […]

    For the first time in U.S. history, banks own a greater share of residential housing net worth in the United States than all individual Americans put together. […]

    More than 40% of Americans who actually are employed are now working in service jobs, which are often very low paying. […]

    The bottom 50 percent of income earners in the United States now collectively own less than 1 percent of the nation’s wealth.

  • Yikes, time for the funny papers. TV Barn posts about cartoons displayed at Comic Con 2010 that Bill Watterson (of Calvin and Hobbes fame) sent to Berkeley Breathed, creator of my favorite comic strip, Bloom County from the 1980s. In other comics news, the great cartoonist John Callahan, another favorite of mine, died today.

That’s all I can manage for today; for the news I’m a few days behind, but hopefully this digest will let you catch up on some good items you might have missed. Tschuss for now!

Digest 3

Several items in this digest are a few days old, but some are quite current, too.

  • You should read this entire New Yorker commentary on illegal immigration:

    [Illegal immigration apprehension numbers along the Arizona border] are sharply down, according to the Border Patrol — by more than sixty per cent since 2000 […] Illegal immigration, although hard to measure, has clearly been declining. […]

    The problem of illegal immigration isn’t a matter of violent criminals storming the walls of our peaceful towns and cities. It’s a matter of what to do about the estimated eleven million unauthorized residents who are already here. The mass-deportation fantasies of some restrictionists notwithstanding, the great majority of “illegals” are here to stay. That is a good thing, since they are, for a start, essential to large sectors of the economy, beginning with the food supply — the Department of Labor calculates that more than half the crop pickers in the United States are undocumented. National business leaders have no illusions about these basic facts of economic life.

    There are reasons to be uneasy about illegal immigration. In some industries, dirt-poor newcomers lower wages. State and local budgets suffer when workers are paid under the table. The fact that people lack legal status is itself disturbing. […] Yet anti-immigrant backlashes don’t always track closely with actual immigration. They track with unemployment, popular anxiety, and a fear of displacement by strangers. They depend on woeful narratives of national decline, of which there is lately no shortage. Scaremongering works. […]

    Projections show white Americans becoming a USA demographic minority in the 2040s. Anyone got an idea what, with present voting trends, that’d do to current Republicans? I think that has a lot to do with the rightwing’s anti-illegal immigration position.

  • At Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow mentions a £1,000-prize fiction-writing contest that insisted, for the alleged betterment of humankind, that contestants handwrite their entries and avoid science fiction. Nobody entered the contest.

  • INCEPTION’s tangled plot conflicts Nancy Kress:

    INCEPTION is, in microcosm, the state of much current [science fiction]. It is so complex and self-referential that much time is spent figuring out what is happening, rather than inhabiting what is happening. Is this good or bad? I guess that depends why you like stories. […] If you want them to be reflections of human experience, then INCEPTION is still good but not as good as it could have been […] judging from the enthusiastic audience reaction last night, puzzles are what is wanted. People applauded at the end.

    Kate and I haven’t seen it yet. Despite Roger Ebert and William Gibson complimenting the movie — those two would make a great movie-reviewing duo — we might not get around to seeing this one at all. And, I have to say that right now I’m really enjoying the Kress novel Beggars in Spain.

  • The NYT praises health reform implementation thus far.

  • The Washington Post publishes its two-year project exposing the Top Secret America surveillance and intelligence industry. In case you’ve forgotten about it, here’s the Fourth Amendment:

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

  • Literary agent Nathan Bransford with his top 10 myths about our eBook future.

  • Sleepwalking woman on Ambien sends emails about her dreams — Discover Magazine can haz it, or the protagonist from INCEPTION can, I guess.

  • New interview with Ted Chiang, spear-famed writer of quite brainy science fiction:

    I started submitting stories for publication when I was about 15, but it was many years before I sold anything. I don’t make my living writing science fiction so in that sense I’m still not a pro. Writing for publication was always my goal, but making a living writing science fiction wasn’t. […]

    Science fiction is very well suited to asking philosophical questions; questions about the nature of reality, what it means to be human, how do we know the things that we think we know. When philosophers propose thought experiments as a way of analyzing certain questions, their thought experiments often sound a lot like science fiction.

    Buy his short story collection!

  • My Clarion West ’08 classmate Carlton Mellick III and the rest of the Bizarro writer army make The Guardian and Boing Boing. Carlton was a fun guy, extremely talented, and extremely sincere in a way that was still informed — not dewy-eyed.

  • A Boing Boing post discusses The Bechdel Test, a few quick questions that help evaluate the representation of women in any movie.

  • At GalleyCat, novelist Bret Easton Ellis says writers will make more money due to eBooks, not less, in part because of the decreased costs of producton allowing for higher royalties.

Done!

Digest 2

The second digest in my aggregating/anthologizing experiment. Basically, what I find especially interesting in my day’s Internet reading. Here’s the digests category of my blog. Without further ado — oh, wait. The “What I’m reading and listening to” bit: Today I’ve been reading more of Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress and listening to Kraftwerk’s “Computer Love,” Metallica’s “Fixxxer,” and REM’s “Shiny Happy People.”

  • At ReaderCon 2010, Eric Rosenfield and JF Quackenbush of Wet Asphalt conducted quick video interviews with several big names mostly asking variations of the same questions: What’s the future of publishing? and What’s the future of genre?. In his interview, Peter Straub said: Although “people will continue to write books” — of course! — publishing is becoming “less centralized, more electronic” and publishers are “infinitely less willing to take gambles.” Also: “blogging’s going to become an essential element of a brand” and “that’s just the way things are going, you know? Adapt or die.”

    The interviewer asks Straub about publishing his latest novel The Skylark through a small press to preserve an artistic vision not chosen by the major press editors of the book’s incarnation as A Dark Matter (unfortunately I’ve yet to read either, though I own ’em!); the interviewer specifically asks, “Do you think small presses are going to be much more important in the future in taking up the reins of preserving the artistic vision of writers, and that major presses are just going to advocate anything that — lowest common denominators?” Straub answers — it’s hard to hear given the crowd noise — that he thinks “megabooks are going to antiquate[?] the concept of catering to writers of unproven earning capacity; that means small presses are going to reap an enormous benefit […] and become more commercial.”

    Ted Chiang takes the studied-neutrality view on publishing’s future: “There will be publishing […] I expect that there’ll probably be something that no one right now can predict” and says that though genre’s boundaries “aren’t going to go away,” they’re “fading.”

    John Kessel, asked about the future of genre (particularly with recognition of his efforts toward pushing the academy into accepting genre fiction), comments: “I think there always will be something that presents[?] as science fiction written. […] As a separate genre, [science fiction] will probably persist still. […] But also more and more writers seem to be dealing with [*inaudible*] science fiction concepts without being part of the subculture.”

  • Writer and editor Scott Edelman captured and/or published footage of a recent panel, also at ReaderCon 2010, that focused on Theodore Sturgeon, perhaps my favorite writer. Scott Edelman’s YouTube page offers Part 1 and Part 2 of the footage, and I hope more parts were recorded and will be published. From the YouTube descriptions:

    On Sunday, July 11, 2010, Samuel R. Delany, Paul Di Filippo, Barry Malzberg, Noël Sturgeon, and Diane Weinstein appeared on the panel “From Microcosmic God to Slow Sculpture: The Short Fiction of Theodore Sturgeon.”

  • At DailyKos, Meteor Blades (whose handle sounds like a Final Fantasy spell) writes a worthwhile post on economic inequality in the States, employing statistics and charts impressively.

  • In time for this coming Tuesday’s 41st anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, Ryan Brown at Salon.com interviews Stephen Pyne about his recent book Voyager: Seeking Newer Worlds in the Third Great Age of Discovery which starts with “the first sputterings of Sputnik and reach[es] all the way to our recent space shuttle disasters.” Although Pyne is inclined away from manned space exploration, he says:

    Science fiction actually preceded [space exploration], and many people involved in the program had grown up reading these books and took the ideas within them very seriously. I think that what made the literary side so potent was that it gave space exploration a sense of story. It helped us answer those big-picture questions: What does this all mean? How can we understand what is unfolding?

    […]

    [The Voyager spacecrafts] are each equipped with a gold-plated phonograph record and instructions (if anyone is able to decode them) on how to play it. They’re filled with sounds and greetings in most of the earth’s languages.

    You can hear the global music recorded on the Golden Record; it includes the best performance of Bach’s 2nd Brandenburg Concerto, 1st Movement — by Karl Richter’s Munich Bach Orchestra — that I’ve ever heard. It’s at a very fast tempo, yay!

  • NPR reports on the high number of job seekers hoping for jobs with the federal government. Excerpt:

    With a 9.5 percent unemployment rate reported in June, there aren’t a lot of job opportunities for recent graduates. But the federal government is looking to fill an estimated 50,000 entry-level positions in the next year, according to the Partnership for Public Service, and public sector work is looking better and better to some people as private sector job growth remains anemic.

  • The NYT wonders about the French government and digital piracy since

    “President Nicolas Sarkozy proposed what was to have been the world’s toughest crackdown on illegal file-sharing [… yet] not a single warning has been sent out; not a single broadband connection has been cut.”

    Like many, my thoughts on digital copyright are mixed and currently not very useful, so here’s some copyleft stuff to read — Cory Doctorow’s nonfiction collection Content — and some far copyright stuff to read — Abjectivist Greg Perkins on intellectual property. Further, there’s the studied, tumultuous-change-is-inevitable neutrality (if I’m not mistaken) of William Gibson and Clay Shirky. Learn more than I have and make up your own mind! I will say, however, that some writers (such as myself) who loudly specify that they don’t write for profit also overly fret about digital copyright, and that seems contradictory to me, unless they’re worrying about publishers/presses affording their costs of production, or about making sure authentic versions of their texts are reliably available to readers as opposed to tampered versions — presumably there’s tech for the latter problem?

  • Letters to the NYT Editor debate the value of Teach for America.

  • This one will probably anger some of my readers especially. The United Farm Workers union has issued a job-offer call to unemployed American citizens as rhetorical defense for immigrants. In response, the NYT opines on immigration:

    It is safe to conclude that few if any Americans will take up the [UFW] offer, no matter how hungry they are. The campaign is a sly attempt to draw attention to the push for immigration reform, particularly an effort to legalize undocumented farm workers. With anti-immigrant resentment running hot, many accuse immigrants of stealing American jobs. The union replies: How can immigrants steal jobs nobody else wants?

  • My Clarion West ’08 classmate Kristin Janz praises a Realms of Fantasy short story about zombies. I hope Kristin keeps on blogging! (Also, here’s her brave post attacking annoying habits some fiction editors have). Hope you don’t mind the liberal excerpting, Kristin:

    The [Realms of Fantasy story] also hinted at a parallel with the way western culture often attempts to experience other cultures, stealing bits of the other cultures and incorporating them into their own in a misguided attempt to understand them, perhaps ruining or at least diminishing the original culture as part of the process. “… that was the zombie way. Forever to yearn for new things. Forever to absorb them and turn them into the same old McHuman.”

    Of course, this tendency is hardly unique to American, Canadian and modern European culture. I think of the ancient Romans borrowing from Greek culture. Or the Mughal conquerers of northern India (especially Akbar) borrowing from Hindu culture. And I’d also question whether it’s entirely bad.

  • Tim Shorrock posts about the Corporate Intelligence Community

That’s a wrap, folks! I hope readers are enjoying these digests.