7/31/07

Tuesday pedantry, philosophy of language edition

According to intentionalism, the meaning of an utterance or a text is whatever the author intended to communicate by it. This means that the correct way to interpret texts is to figure out what the author was trying to communicate. |Neil the Ethical Werewolf|


Follow the link for his discussion and argument. Here's what seems odd to me about the claim that meaning is determined entirely by speaker's intent. A speaker uses already existing words to mean things, and those already existing words come to the speaker with meanings already attached.

Now, I suppose that the reply has got to be that there are separable questions, one having to do with the antecedent meanings of words and the other having to do with the meaning of utterances. And as far as it goes this distinction isn't implausible, since it's far from obvious that the meaning of any given concatenation of words is reducible to the meanings of the words themselves.

But this seems to leave us short of the intentionalist absolutism asserted by our lycanthropic interlocutor, since it limits the power that a speaker's intentions can have to determine the meaning of an utterance. It is no longer possible to maintain that "the meaning of an utterance or a text is whatever the author intended to communicate by it." Instead, the strongest possible claim that can be made is that speaker's intention contributes to the meaning of an utterance.

KG

First off, I would have made the trade if I were the Celtics. That said, the people who think this turns Boston into an elite Eastern Conference team are nuts. Ray Allen and Paul Pierce play the same position, and neither defends it particularly well. There isn't a point guard on the roster. Wally Szczerbiak.

But just so this post isn't entirely negative, how 'bout them Rockets?

Addendum: I guess Rajon Rondo is a point guard. So I suppose I should have written, 'There isn't a legitimate NBA point guard on the roster' above.

7/30/07

A museum whose curator is a programmer

ZENPH takes audio recordings and turns them back into live performances, precisely replicating what was originally recorded. The software-based process extracts and encodes the details of how each note was played, including musical nuances such as volume, articulation, and pedal actions. The encoding is played back on an acoustic grand piano fitted with sophisticated computers and hardware, allowing listeners to experience the performance as if they were in the room when the original recording was made. This "re-performance" is then recorded afresh using the latest techniques. The result is a sonic rediscovery of an iconic twentieth-century recording.

So reads the promotional copy on the back of my newest cd. We'll see.

To tell the truth, I'm a little more interested in the prospect of seeing a re-performance live than in being able to buy a record of a re-performance. The Zenph website has a schedule of upcoming performances, but it's not exactly a coming to your town soon sort of thing. And anyway, it looks like their catalog is still pretty thin -- they've got one record each from Glenn Gould and Art Tatum, and one forthcoming from Isaac Albeniz, who I suppose I should have heard of but haven't.

I'm eager for the day when this technology can be extended to instruments other than the piano, and developed so that the re-creations don't have to be extracted from solo performances. I'm thinking in particular about some Sydney Bechet tracks I've heard that feature wonderful playing of the soprano sax but are marred by an atrocious rhythm section and low quality audio. It sure would be something to be able to pull out Bechet's playing and then pair up a Zenph/Bechet-bot with competent accompaniment.

7/29/07

Today is the day

CBS will be broadcasting a video game competition at high noon. I'm guessing that it'll be unwatchable. Because of CBS, not because of the watchability of video games. At any rate, I'd rather watch skateboarding.

Addenum: Yeah, it sucks. CBS is making the Olympic mistake. That is, they're trying to appeal to an audience that doesn't actually like the, uh, sport being covered. But those people have lives and won't tune in. On the other hand, anybody who actually plays the games that they're showing is going to be frustrated by the fact that CBS isn't showing enough of the game for you to be able to tell what's happening.

Double Plus Addendum: They have a panel of judges for Guitar Hero so that they can judge style. This is so unbearably, incredibly lame. Also, as a non-WOW player, that segment just made no sense, thus I declare the pandering to non-players to be a total and abject failure.

The Addendum to End All Addenda: For the record, live-blogging the network premiere of the World Series of Gaming does not even come close to being the geekiest thing I've done in the last week.

Last word: "The rockstar lifestyle is a lifestyle you live from the day you're born." -- nameless gamer, closing the broadcast and explaining that he'll be there at the next event, rocking.

7/27/07

The Republican noise machine, or "It depends on what the meaning of Terrorist Surveillance Program is"

Tony Snow at today's White House press briefing:


Compare that (not much contrast) to this morning's editorial over at the National Review:
As best as we can tell, here is how events unfolded. After September 11, the NSA began running wiretaps on suspected al Qaeda operatives. The surveillance program was reauthorized every 45 days. In 2004, however, Justice Department officials, for the first time, raised legal objections to the scope of the program. The resulting dispute within the administration led to the famous hospital scene, after which President Bush sided with the Justice Department officials and narrowed the program. Many months later, the New York Times revealed the existence of this now-narrowed program; President Bush then confirmed its existence and named it the “Terrorist Surveillance Program”; and Gonzales defended it.

When Gonzales said that “there has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed,” then, he was referring to the later, narrowed version of terrorist surveillance, and as far as we know he was correct. Other disputed Gonzales comments appear to follow the same basic pattern.

Thursday afternoon, the press and the Democrats started to play up testimony by FBI director Robert Mueller about the hospital-room meeting, testimony that supposedly contradicts Gonzales. But all Mueller said was that the meeting concerned a legal disagreement over the NSA’s surveillance. If our account of the chronology of the program is correct, there is no contradiction here. |link|

Good to see that everybody got the memo.

7/26/07

Pop culture bleg

Where was the phrase 'your funky bad self' first attested? Where was it first attested ironically? Must it always be preceded by 'get down with' (or some variant thereof)?

Woo Hoo!

I just saw the Simpsons movie. It is hilarious. If you have ever enjoyed the show, you will enjoy the movie.

Attention Patriots! Remove those yellow ribbon magnets immediately!!!

I think there's some confusion here. "Supporting the troops" is the left's slogan, and was designed to square the circle of being proudly anti-war without appearing anti-military. I don't need formulations of artful dissembling. I support the mission. |The fever swamp|


(at the protests that I went to, 'Support Our Troops!' was shouted at the lefties, who would turn it into a call and response 'support our troops / bring them home')

Addendum: Also, speaking as a lefty, I always read the 'support our troops' slogan as a somewhat sleazy right wing attempt to pretend that criticism of the mission was tantamount to criticism of those charged with carrying it out.

Explain this to me

I bet it's hard to tilt


Yikes:
I've never found pinball to be all that exciting, but I'd probably think differently if the balls were flying right at my face and my head shook at every paddle hit. The Furminator makes pinball just such a first person, immersive experience. By sticking a force-feedback helmet on your and putting the paddles right in front of your eyes, it makes the game a hell of a lot more intense.

That sounds like a lot of fun! Click through if you want to watch the video.

(Please... no jokes about balls flying right at my face.)

7/25/07

It ain't no trick to get rich quick...

...when you've got that there work ethic.

posted from my iPhone

For no other reason than that I can.

If you skip only one post today skip this one

I made some minor changes to the template. As always, let me know if anything blew up in your browser.

New links:

esculent

[Origin: 1615–25; from Latin '√©sculentus', edible, full of food]

adj.
Suitable for use as food; edible.

n.
Something edible, especially a vegetable.

OS X Dictionary bleg

I was playing around with OS X's dictionary app this morning and I noticed that it allows me to specify which dictionary the app uses. This, presumably, means that I should be able to download dictionaries other than the one provided. Which would be nice, both because the default dictionary isn't as robust[1] as I would like and because I'm all about the multiple sources. But if there are other dictionaries available, I can't find them. Little help? And, yeah, I'd pay a fair amount for the chance to use the OED on my Mac, but...

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1 Which, supposedly, is the Oxford American but which lacks the scope I've come to expect from Oxford branded reference works.

7/24/07

That was the week that was

Maybe not tragic, but a loss nonetheless.

Friday dumb game blogging, Tuesday edition

Stateris

(via)

This is why we call it dope

Ad Ignorantiam, anyone? See paragraph five.
ROME (AP) -Italian cyclist Alessandro Petacchi was cleared of doping charges Tuesday by his national federation, which ruled that he used an asthma drug for legitimate medical reasons.

Petacchi had registered a "non-negative'' test for salbutamol after winning the 11th stage of the Giro d'Italia on May 23.

The Italian cycling federation said it understood that the drug use was only for "therapeutic'' needs and "did not constitute a violation of the existing anti-doping rules.''

"It's one of the most beautiful victories of my life,'' Petacchi said.

The Italian Olympic Committee said in a statement later Tuesday that it would appeal the ruling. CONI's anti-doping prosecutors said there was no proof that Petacchi hadn't been negligent in taking the substance.

I would have just written burden of proof but, you know, the guy's Italian.

Picking up on an earlier thread about elbow surgery and steroids (trans-sportspersonism?), while I might envision steroids making baseball more exciting, I can't imagine doping making cycling more exciting. Except that it might make a race end sooner?

This post is not about politics

Laughter is as historically contingent as any other kind of language. And farts are a kind of language. They are inherently social in a way that defecation is not. They tend to take your companions by surprise. Furthermore, farts are an occasion for self-examination, for questioning the extent of our freedom and the nature of self-mastery. We can't help farting; it is a question of need. So part of what the Middle Ages wrestled with when people were talking about farts was this constant reminder of the needs of the body. Farting carries this reminder that the body behaves on its own, and there is nothing you can do about it. It reminds us that our bodily freedom is limited.

Farts carry anxiety and humor and disgust. People see themselves in the reactions of others and are thus intensely aware of themselves in those moments when farts manifest themselves. When you smell somebody you are closer to them than when you are just looking at them, but you are farther away than when you are touching them. Farts can create these moments rich with insight. I think much of the humor of farting is located on this very ordinary, humble level. |Valerie Allen|

No, I didn't watch the debate

But what's going on with this riduculously front loaded election cycle? It's tempting to think that this isn't a one off phenomena, but is part and parcel of a significant change in our political culture toward the so-called permanent campaign. On the other hand, at this particular moment in time the sitting president is so deeply unpopular and intransigent that it's impossible to have any kind of forward looking political discussion that doesn't start with the premise that any change that might happen won't happen until he leaves office. Which is sort of a recipe for obsessing about the 2008 election years in advance.

7/23/07

John from Cincinnati thread (episode 7)

Just watched episode 7, and I still have no idea what's going on. Some folks seem to think that it's all very Catholic, which it might very well be, although I would be disappointed if it were that reductive.

As for the symbol that John keeps drawing, we finally saw it drawn in a medium (concrete), and now we know it looks like this:

I have no idea what's going on, and I'm hoping it's not entering Twin Peaks territory, but it just might be. Random thoughts:

John Monad is a piss-poor Christ, if that's what he's supposed to be. Although he did seem unhappy about hanging with dad, which I guess I might be if I were Christ.

I'm sick of this camera chick. Three episodes now she's been whacked out of her mind on whatever John did to her, and so basically right now she's a non-character... a non-character we have to watch when we could be watching something more interesting.

Post your thoughts, if any, in the comments.

First impressions of the Democratic debate

Any of you watch the debate? Post your thoughts in the comments.

This was the first one I've seen, and it was eye opening.

The YouTube format was actually pretty cool. Pretty much anything other than YouTube that uses the word "YouTube," including the friggin iPhone, seems like a gimmick, but user-video questions had some advantages.

Joe Biden is trying very hard to come off as the hard-eyed realist, but, for me at least, it's not working. I still think he's a little bit of a clown

Hillary kicks ass. She's doing a great job. I don't want to vote for her, but I have to acknowledge that her performance--in the past few weeks up through tonight's debate--has been very good. She sounds like a hawk, and I think she is a hawk, and I'd really prefer that somebody else be president. But right now it seems like she'll be president.

Bill Richardson lacks the polish I would hope he had, but based on limited information, he's still my pick for the one who would make the best president. I like his answers. I like that he seems fundamentally honest in his answers, but maybe that's why he doesn't seem so polished.

Ah, Dennis Kucinich. I love that little guy. He he is loudly and articulately spouting pure sanity from the podium, mixed in with some terrible, terrible gimmickry. I guess he feels like the gimmicks are necessary to break out of his fringe-candidate status. But it seems to me it's exactly those gimmicks that are hurting him. I mean seriously, text "peace" to 73223? What is that supposed to....

... whoops, sorry to trail off. I was busy texting.

John Edwards kicks ass, but he just doesn't have a chance, I think.

Chris Dodd, Mike Gravel... I like both these guys, but,... meh... they aren't adding anything to the debate.

Obama... I don't know what to say. i still think he's all style and no substance. I'm willing to see the substance if it comes, but, where is it?

A measured response

A brief notice on the University of Kansas ResNet site explains the university's new position very succinctly. "If you are caught downloading copyrighted material, you will lose your ResNet privileges forever," reads the notice. "No second notices, no excuses, no refunds. One violation and your ResNet internet access is gone for as long as you reside on campus." Presumably, the University is referring to illegally downloaded copyrighted material, as there is plenty of copyrighted material that can be downloaded legally.

Cory Doctorow says:
The law doesn't require universities to spy on their students' network use. It doesn't require them to bear the enforcement costs of the RIAA's business model. Students' tuition is being spent to subsidize giant corporations bent on subverting the rule of law, free speech and free inquiry, and now, students caught in the entertainment industry's fatwa will be locked out of the network.

Honestly -- doesn't the University of Kansas have a law-school? What the hell is wrong with Kansas?

I'm not sure that I endorse Cory's view that these giant corporations are "bent on subverting the rule of law," but I'm a lot closer to his point of view than I am to the RIAA's.

Link

Noted without comment

Castleberry's Food Co. is expanding its recall of hot dog chili sauce and canned meat products to 88 human products and four canned dog food products due to the threat of botulism. |CNN|

7/20/07

When I saw colors, you saw pigs

Awhile ago I blogged about my iPod's disappointing quality as an audio source, even when using lossless compression. One of the things that perplexed me then was that I'd read an awful lot of praise for the quality of the Apple Lossless Codec in the audio press. Those folks are definitely more discerning than I am, so what gives?

I think the answer is that I've got a third generation iPod, and with the 4th generation Apple switched to a higher quality Digital Analog Converter. Is that right?

Relatedly, if I'm going to use the lossless codec on my iPod, I need more than the 20 gigs I've got now. So it looks like an upgrade is in the offing some time in the next year or so. Which brings me to this. Overkill?

Enoughus alreadyorum

Pardon my elvish, but I am fucking sick to death with this Harry Potter shit. And no, it's not Rowling envy. There, I just had to say that.

Of course, without this cultural force at work, we wouldn't have very amusing things like this to laugh at.

Keep the kids off drugs!

While examining a 17-year-old pitcher for a knee injury last year in Nashville, Dr. Damon H. Petty was asked a chilling question by the teenager and his father: If reconstructive elbow surgery were performed on his healthy throwing arm, might he gain some speed on his fastball?

Dr. Petty said he dissuaded them, explaining that was a myth, a “dangerous notion to entertain,” and that ligament reconstruction on a healthy arm would not improve his pitching “one iota.”

The procedure is commonly known as Tommy John surgery, named after the former major league pitcher on whom it was first performed in 1974. The surgery has become so reliable, with a success rate of 80 to 85 percent, that it has prolonged the careers of hundreds of major leaguers. About one in seven pitchers in the major leagues this season has had the surgery.|NY Times|

No evidence of any kind is given for the claim that the performance enhancing reputation of Tommy John Surgery is a mere myth. Maybe it is, but there sure are a lot of anecdotal reports of major league pitchers who throw harder after the surgery than before.

Leaving that aside, do you think we can assume that if one in seven major league pitchers have had the surgery, it wasn't medically necessary in all cases? And that when the surgery wasn't medically necessary, it was sought because it was thought (perhaps wrongly) to increase velocity?

Twitter much?

Just curious: Do any of you use Twitter? Is it useful? Is it fun?

7/19/07

Another reason Austin may be the greatest place on earth

This. Anyone care to join me Saturday?

in a word

[idiomatic English, first popularized by Alexander Pope c. 1730[1]]

Briefly; to sum up.

"I knew that all the ships from Europe, which sailed either to the coast of Guinea or to Brazil, or to the East Indies, made this cape, or those islands; and, in a word, I put the whole of my fortune upon this single point, either that I must meet with some ship or must perish." -- Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, Ch. III

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1 Though Robinson Crusoe was published in 1719, which just goes to show that you shouldn't trust the etymological information provided in free online dictionaries of idioms.

7/18/07

The nuclear option


I'm not a big believer in vast corporate-media conspiracy theory, but how else can one explain why reporters seem to have such short memories?

A quick search of Google News reveals that absolutely no mainstream media outlets are bothering to point out the fact that--not very long ago--the same Republicans who've been using the filibuster all year were ready to change the rules of the Senate to eliminate the filibuster. In fact, the only applicable Google News result mentioning "the nuclear option" is from Think Progress. At least they do a nice job of it, offering up the following quotes:
Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS): “[Filibustering] is wrong. It’s not supportable under the Constitution. And if they insist on persisting with these filibusters, I’m perfectly prepared to blow the place up.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) spokesman: “Senator McConnell always has and continues to fully support the use of what has become known as the ‘[nuclear]’ option in order to restore the norms and traditions of the Senate.”

It's incredibly frustrating!

It's not Punk Rock Monday...

...but it'll do.

7/17/07

One of these kids is doing his own thing

So I'm about to log onto (ugh) myspace, and I see this:



I got nothing to add.

(Except: Note that I did not create a "Joe Biden" tag, because hopefully, hopefully, we won't need one.)

Department of lame excuses department

Given that we let so many ugly policies go unremarked, I'm not so sure that I believe in punishing people for using ugly words. Be that as it may, the excuse given by Ralph Papitto, former chairman of the Roger Williams University board, for his (somewhat) recent use of the n-word at a board meeting is the most ridiculous thing that I've ever heard.
Barbara Roberts, then a board member, said Papitto became irate when he discussed pressures to make the board more diverse, at one point using the slur to refer to black candidates to the board.

She said he then told the board he knew he couldn't say that because of Don Imus, the radio host who was fired after referring to Rutgers University women's basketball team members as "nappy-headed hos."

"There was, like, this complete and utter silence, and I was shocked beyond belief and very angry," Roberts said.

Papitto, who has given the school at least $7 million and whose name is on the only law school in Rhode Island, said he had never used the term before.

"The first time I heard it was on television or rap music or something," he told WPRO. |CNN|

7/16/07

The curious demise of Left2Right

Once upon a time a bunch of well-respected academic philosophers started a blog. The participants had high hopes for the endeavor. Their mission statement said that the contributors had "come to believe that the Left must learn how to speak more effectively to ears attuned to the Right" and that they all shared "an interest in exploring how American political discourse can get beyond the usual talking points."

Despite the terrible name, Left2Right captured an immediate readership. Some hoped that Left2Right would develop into a kind of think tank for the liberal blogosphere, but the promise of Left2Right never quite materialized.

If you followed the link above to Left2Right, you would have seen that the most recent post is dated June 9, 2006. It's not clear whether or not that was the final post, however, since all of the posts by the blog's most frequent contributor, David Velleman, have been removed. What happened?

Probably lots of things. From the beginning, Left2Right had an uneasy relationship with its commenters, so much so that it quickly became commonplace for contributors to close their posts to comments, a practice which led to the establishment of a fan run comment blog in July of 2005. It's also true that despite having twenty two authors listed on the masthead, few of the contributors to Left2Right found that, when it came down to it, they had much to say to the public. Even though Left2Right was never updated with particular frequency, a (now deleted) housekeeping post from March of 2006 declared that, "Most of us found the first year's pace unsustainable."

And then there's the case of the NYU Graduate Employee strike. The strike began in October 2005 and early on David Velleman staked out an anti-union position.[1] He continued to post occasionally about the strike through the fall and into the winter. Since so much of the content at Left2Right was contributed by Velleman, the upshot is that Left2Right became increasingly identified with the view that graduate employees should not be granted access to collective bargaining. This was not, to say the least, a popular view[2] among Left2Right's core constituency.

Was that it? Did Velleman's apostasy bring about the end of Left2Right? Or was it just a bad idea to begin with? An idea that had run its course? A bunch of academics who weren't cut out for the hurly burly of the blogosphere?

Anyway, it's gone now.

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1 Incidentally, I've been spending some time going through the archives here at the big bad grad union and can testify that David Velleman has been an anti-union asshole for a long time. I also have it on good authority that he's a pleasant person otherwise.

2 Nor was it Velleman's only unpopular view. More recently Velleman's argument against gay marriage raised some hackles.

Distinction with a difference

Can you imagine Mallard Filmore or Day by Day providing this sort of balance?

Let's have a caption contest


(Image via)

7/15/07

The beat goes on

Maybe internet radio won't die tomorrow after all:
SoundExchange, which has been playing hardball until now, made another interesting concession, according to Pandora founder Tim Westergren: "SoundExchange has committed to not putting webcasters out of business while negotiations are ongoing." |Stereophile|

7/14/07

Gonna need a button for this

There's now an RSS feed for the comments on this blog. Here's the long URL:
http://feeds.feedburner.com/CommentsForTheBellman

Addendum: I've added a recent comments widget to the sidebar. Let me know if it blows up in your browser or significantly affects load times.

Double Plus Addendum: I'm not even remotely sure that it works, but I tried to build an RSS feed including both content and comments. Here's the long URL:
feed://www.rssmix.com/u/23378/rss.xml

7/13/07

I learn something wonderful every day

Owlsey's acid was even purer than the LSD made by Sandoz in Switzerland, the company that invented LSD and supplied it to the US Government as a tool of psychological warfare. Owsley's LSD was so pure that you could shake a beaker of it and it would glow -- its crystals were piezoluminescent.

Emphasis added, with feeling.

Profile of famed LSD chemist Owsley

Speaking of the creeping advance of fascism

Well, where does the state get this right to imprison? The long answer requires the invocation of lots of dusty books, historical developments and weighty philosophical arguments. The short answer is it gets it from the same place it gets the right to execute murderers. Or, as the reader puts it, "the state just does." |Jonah Goldberg|

This is one of those places where the far left and the far right use the same words but may have different meanings in mind. Goldberg, as much as he sounds like a Marxist here, doesn't seem to have any doubts whatsoever about the legitimacy of state power.

Is it even worth noting that accepting this intellectually lazy picture of state power as self-justifying makes it impossible to coherently criticize torture? Or that Goldberg himself is about to (unironically) publish a book called Liberal Fascism?

This is the end

Congress's attempt today to broker a deal between webcasters and record labels will amount to nothing, according to a SoundExchange representative, because Wednesday's decision by a federal court of appeals made the new online radio royalty rates "etched in stone."

The representative used that expression twice before referring me to SoundExchange's May 1 press release about the Copyright Royalty Board's decision to raise royalty rates, base them on the number of songs each listener hears, and charge a minimum fee per channel that will kill services like Pandora this coming Sunday. |Wired Blogs|

7/12/07

Don't let Ghost Rider near it


Wouldn't it be nice if only things like this made the headlines?

Another small step down the road to fascism

“As President, my most solemn responsibility is to keep the American people safe.” -- George W. Bush, today

No. As President your most solemn responsibility is to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. Please check the oath.

Ours was built by monks


Uh-Oh. It looks like Ypsilanti's reign as the town with the most phallic building in the world is under threat.

(via)

Money changes everything

$282 million bank robbery. Naturally, it happened in Baghdad.

Incidentally, if you won a $282 million jackpot in the lottery and chose the cash option, your payout would be $141 million. Of that, you'd owe $35 million in federal income tax.

7/11/07

Wrecking all things virtuous and true

It seems like Automatic for the People is playing everywhere I go these days. Yesterday I heard a track from the album while having my teeth cleaned. On Saturday I heard a different track at the supermarket. And last week I went out to dinner at a bar and grill and they played the album all the way through. Twice. What's up with that? I would have thought that if there were an R.E.M. revival in the offing it would focus on the peppier stuff.

7/10/07

HBO smackdown

I'd rank the quality of HBO's dramas as follows:
  1. The Wire
  2. Deadwood
  3. The Sopranos
  4. Entourage

Agree? Disagree? Where would Weeds fit? Six Feet Under? How many consecutive sentences can end in a question mark?

Bzzzzzz

Do you people know about mosquito tones?
The short version, A tone outside the audible range of hearing of most people over 30. This means that you can get phone calls and receive text messages in class or school without teachers hearing it.

Follow the link for sample tones, but count me a skeptic. As a fuddy duddy 36 year old, they say I'm only supposed to hear the tones up to 14.9khz. As it turns out, though, I can hear every tone up to 22.4khz. Except, that is, for 15.8khz where there's either a hole in my hearing or my speakers.

Fact checking

The federal excise tax on gasoline generates annual revenues which equal approximately 2/3 of the amount the federal government spends yearly on highways.

Please note: (1) Federal monies for road building and maintenance are not limited to highways, so the total federal spending on road building and maintenance exceeds excise tax revenues by more than the 50% that these figures taken alone would indicate; and, (2) The federal gasoline excise tax is not used exclusively for highways, so contributions from the general fund amount to more than 1/3 of the federal highway budget.

Sources: 1, 2, 3



Addendum:

dr: I think public transportation should be free. Actually, no. There's research showing that people undervalue free services, so there should be a nominal charge.

sp: But then how would you pay for public transit? Taxes on people who don't use it? That wouldn't be fair.

dr: But we already pay taxes for lots of services that we don't use. For example, lots of federal dollars go to building and maintaining roads. So we're already subsidizing transit.

sp: All of the money used for roads comes from gasoline taxes.

dr: That's ridiculous. Do you have any idea how much money the federal government spends on roads?

sp: The gas tax is really high. That's why gas is so expensive.

dr: The gas tax isn't high, and it isn't why gas is expensive.

sp: nyah! nyah!

7/9/07

Bowling alleys all look the same

I think suburbia is a great (maybe the great) American socioeconomic achievement, whose virtues far outweigh its vices, and that using the levers of government to encourage families to leave the suburbs would represent a deep betrayal of what I take to be the heart of the American Dream. (Which is a cliche, sure, but also a reality.) When it comes to global warming, therefore, I'm all for telecommuting and fuel-efficient cars and various other ways to reduce our carbon footprint; I'm not for any plan that stands athwart suburbanization, yelling stop. |Ross Douthat|

But what is this great thing about suburbanism that makes it 'the heart of the American Dream'? Ross doesn't specify, but here are a few possibilities:
  • Good schools
  • The opportunity to own one's own house
  • That the house has a yard
  • Safe neighborhoods
  • A final factor which shall remain unmentioned, but which I shall evoke by asking you to imagine the filling of an Oreo cookie

That's all I can think of. For what it's worth, I tend to think that good schools, lawns, and safe neighborhoods are the main things that pull people out to the suburbs and that except for lawns all of those things are unmitigated goods. But I also think that we could make urban schools better and urban areas safer if we had a mind to. As for owning one's own house, I have to ask: is it really so much less satisfying to own a condo?

Addendum: The trick is to follow the links.
For Kotkin, these are all good things, overall. The suburbs are a triumph, not a torture chamber: They're the place where "we've created the first mass middle class in the history of the world where people own their own land and their own homes," which is an achievement to be celebrated and sustained, rather than denigrated and abandoned. People love living in them: Suburbanites are happier and enjoy a more vibrant civic life than other Americans, and it's not just bigoted whites hiding out in gated communities; immigrants, in particular, are voting for the suburbs with their feet, to the point where the best ethnic cuisine in the country is increasingly served way out in the exurbs. And America's more suburbanized, multipolar cities are democratic in a way that places like New York and Boston and San Francisco aren't, because middle and working-class families can afford to live there, and there's none of the social bifurcation that divides, say, Manhattan between the super-rich and the service-sector poor who wait on them. Suburbs were originally championed as a progressive innovation, Kotkin pointed out, by everyone from Engels to Thomas Carlyle to H.G. Wells, and in spite what Desperate Housewives, Weeds, American Beauty, The Ice Storm, Pleasantville, and a thousand more chronicles of bourgeois anomie would suggest, their expansion remains a sign of progress rather than the reverse.

Dilemma

On the one hand, this looks like just the kind of self-consciously artsy fartsy film that makes me want to soil myself. On the other hand, it's hot today, and if I go to the movies after work my apartment might be tolerable by the time I get home.

I suppose I could go see SiCKO again.

7/7/07

Sincerity is the new irony

"My position is irony is dead (...) but at the same time, just to return to old-fashioned sincerity, and particularly the kind of sentimentality that that draws in with it...we don't need it. So that's why we've created the New Sincerity. A perfect example of the New Sincerity is Evel Knievel. There's no way to take Evel Knievel literally. It's impossible. The man has a leather jumpsuit and he drives a rocket car. The leather jumpsuit has red, white, and blue stars and stripes on it. It's absolutely preposterous. On the other hand, there's no way to appreciate Evel Knievel ironically. He's too awesome. He has--I don't know if we've mentioned this--a leather jumpsuit with the Stars and Stripes on it and a rocket-powered car. That's why we appreciate Evel Knievel with the New Sincerity."


link

It's post-postmodernism. It gives you the ability to be in a Journey tribute band - and really mean it.

7/6/07

John Derbyshire agrees with me

... almost.
The main reason the 1950s looks so good to so many of us is that in moving from the old order to the new, we lost much of our civilizational confidence. You may say that that confidence was misplaced, or an illusion; you may even say that it was obnoxious, and good riddance to it [yeah, something like that --ed]; and you may be right on all points. There is something awfully attractive about civilizational confidence though. Like innocence, once gone, it can't be recaptured. Those of us who recall it shouldn't be blamed for missing it.

The lack of confidence might have began with the dirty, stinking hippies, but at least Derb and the gang still had the Cold War to keep them going. Without the Cold War, they are really in a fix.

But is it good on rice


Oh my god, they're breeding an army.

gymnosophist

[Origin: 1400–50; late Middle English from Latin 'gymnosophistae', Indian ascetics from Greek 'gymnosophista√≠', naked philosophers]

n.
One of a group of Jainist philosophers, existing from ancient times to c1000, characterized by refusal to wear clothes and the abandonment of caste marks; a member of the Digambara sect.

Annals of strange behavior

While walking around this afternoon I came across a man standing on a street corner taking pictures. His camera was a lot like my dad's old Pentax, so naturally I looked at it pretty closely while waiting for the light to change. It had what looked like, at first glance, a long telephoto lens. But it wasn't! I guess you could call it a periscope lens. The glass at the end was fake. Or, rather, it was real glass but it wasn't a lens. Instead, there was an opening near the end with an angled mirror peeking through it. He was pretending to take pictures of something across the street, but was actually taking pictures of the people who stood next to him while waiting for the light to change. Odd.

7/5/07

She's not bitter

`Michael Chabon has spent considerable energy trying to drag the decaying corpse of genre fiction out of the shallow grave where writers of serious literature abandoned it.' Ruth Franklin (Slate, 8 May 2007)

Something woke her in the night. Was it steps she heard, coming up the stairs -- somebody in wet training shoes, climbing the stairs very slowly ... but who? And why wet shoes? It hadn't rained. There, again, the heavy, soggy sound. But it hadn't rained for weeks, it was only sultry, the air close, with a cloying hint of mildew or rot, sweet rot, like very old finiocchiona, or perhaps liverwurst gone green. There, again -- the slow, squelching, sucking steps, and the foul smell was stronger. Something was climbing her stairs, coming closer to her door. As she heard the click of heel bones that had broken through rotting flesh, she knew what it was. But it was dead, dead! God damn that Chabon, dragging it out of the grave where she and the other serious writers had buried it to save serious literature from its polluting touch, the horror of its blank, pustular face, the lifeless, meaningless glare of its decaying eyes! What did the fool think he was doing? Had he paid no attention at all to the endless rituals of the serious writers and their serious critics -- the formal expulsion ceremonies, the repeated anathemata, the stakes driven over and over through the heart, the vitriolic sneers, the endless, solemn dances on the grave? Did he not want to preserve the virginity of Yaddo? Had he not even understand the importance of the distinction between sci fi and counterfactual fiction? Could he not see that Cormac McCarthy -- although everything in his book (except the wonderfully blatant use of an egregiously obscure vocabulary) was remarkably similar to a great many earlier works of science fiction about men crossing the country after a holocaust -- could never under any circumstances be said to be a sci fi writer, because Cormac McCarthy was a serious writer and so by definition incapable of lowering himself to commit genre? Could it be that that Chabon, just because some mad fools gave him a Pulitzer, had forgotten the sacred value of the word mainstream? No, she would not look at the thing that had squelched its way into her bedroom and stood over her, reeking of rocket fuel and kryptonite, creaking like an old mansion on the moors in a wuthering wind, its brain rotting like a pear from within, dripping little grey cells through its ears. But its call on her attention was, somehow, imperative, and as it stretched out its hand to her she saw on one of the half-putrefied fingers a fiery golden ring. She moaned. How could they have buried it in such a shallow grave and then just walked away, abandoning it? "Dig it deeper, dig it deeper!" she had screamed, but they hadn't listened to her, and now where were they, all the other serious writers and critics, when she needed them? Where was her copy of Ulysses? All she had on her bedside table was a Philip Roth novel she had been using to prop up the reading lamp. She pulled the slender volume free and raised it up between her and the ghastly golem -- but it was not enough. Not even Roth could save her. The monster laid its squamous hand on her, and the ring branded her like a burning coal. Genre breathed its corpse-breath in her face, and she was lost. She was defiled. She might as well be dead. She would never, ever get invited to write for Granta now.

link, probably via boingboing.

7/3/07

Quote of the day

"As with so much of the Clinton presidency, the act was tawdry but unthreatening to a Republican Form of Government." -- Sanford Levinson

It was not I that sinn’d the sin, the ruthless Body dragg'd me in

You behave son or we'll throw away the key

Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush was asked directly how he could be certain that all 120-odd executions he has presided over as governor of Texas were carried out against guilty defendants. He replied that he was, indeed, certain that nothing like what had happened in Illinois had happened in Texas on his watch. "Maybe they've had some problems in their courts," he said. "Maybe they've had some faulty judgments. I've reviewed every case, . . . and I'm confident that every case that has come across my desk, I'm confident of the guilt of the person who committed the crime." |source|



"In terms of the detainees, we've had thousands of people detained. We've investigated every single complaint against the detainees. It seemed like to me they based some of their decisions on the word of -- and the allegations -- by people who were held in detention, people who hate America, people that had been trained in some instances to disassemble -- that means not tell the truth. And so it was an absurd report. It just is. And, you know -- yes, sir."
|George W. Bush, May 31, 2005|



"I respect the jury's verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby's sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison.

"My decision to commute his prison sentence leaves in place a harsh punishment for Mr. Libby. The reputation he gained through his years of public service and professional work in the legal community is forever damaged. His wife and young children have also suffered immensely. He will remain on probation. The significant fines imposed by the judge will remain in effect. The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant, and private citizen will be long-lasting."
|George W. Bush, July 2, 2007|

7/2/07

Morgellons Desease update: I got your vector right here


Interestingly, delusions, such as contagious diseases, can be spread from one susceptible person to another susceptible person. This is how the Internet can serve as a "vector" or transmitter of illness.

Sociologist Robert Batholomew recently suggested the "World Wide Web has become the incubator for mass delusion and it (Morgellons) seems to be a socially transmitted disease over the Internet."

While it's true that there has been an internet explosion of snake-oil treatments trying to cash in on folks who think they have Morgellons, I think it's a little early to conclude that the whole thing is a hoax. Let the CDC do their job, and then report on it. Jeeze.

Authority and influence


Related:

7/1/07

Jughead changed my life, and then Goober changed it back

I don't know if there are any hipsters out there wearing one of these hats ironically, but I caught a few minutes of the Andy Griffith Show last night, and Goober wears it with the kind of sincerity usually reserved for a ball cap or a kippah. Perhaps this was meant to reveal something about Goober's character. For my part, I couldn't quite get my head around the choice.
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