You too will ask, "what the fuck was that sound?"

Deep thought

Given what we've learned about economic reality over the last six months, maybe it no longer makes sense to assume during contract negotiations that it is management rather than labor which is most concerned with the long term health of a firm.


Friday awesomeness

QR codes are 2D barcodes that can contain exponentially more info than a bar code. Cameraphones with the right software can read these codes, but so far they have been used for small things like URLs.

You can't cram a whole lot of info into something that can be captured by a cameraphone (yet), but these crazy Japanese people want to use the technology to distribute software, "over the paper."


"How quickly the world owes him something he didn't know existed until 10 seconds ago..."

It does put a few things in perspective.

(thanks to monk-ay)

Boom goes the dynamite

Researchers use functional MRI imaging to track brain activity as subjects play a simple game against a computer, and find that some areas of the brain become more active when told that their opponent is human, an effect that's more pronounced in males. | ours technical |

I just get bored with most single-player game experiences these days. Multiplayer keeps me interested. I don't know if this is the cause.


My baby's fooling around with a satellite

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland constructed a computer model to create a synthetic galaxy with billions of stars and planets. They then studied how life evolved under various conditions in this virtual world, using a supercomputer to crunch the results.

In a paper published recently in the International Journal of Astrobiology, the researchers concluded that based on what they saw, at least 361 intelligent civilizations have emerged in the Milky Way since its creation, and as many as 38,000 may have formed. |CNN|

The obvious question is, if intelligent life is so plentiful, why can't we get alien channels on the TV? To clarify my thinking on this question, I did some back of the envelope math, which I'd now like to share with you.

Let's start with some assumptions. The Milky Way is about 10 billion years old, intelligent species are on the galactic scene for about 100,000 years, and civilizations are distributed roughly equally across time.

I can't justify any of those, but I can say something about the last two. Taking the last first, this makes the math easier. With regard to the other, in the current pulp sci-fi I'm reading the assumption is 50,000 years, but that seems parsimonious. My thought is: it took human kind about 100,000 years to get to radio and surely we'll destroy ourselves within the next 100 milennia.

Given all that, and working with the upper bound of 38,000 civilizations, it turns out that you'd expect that there is an intelligent civilization broadcasting about 1/3 of the time.

What does all this mean? In a word, that even in light of this finding it should be no surprise that we remain mired in terrestrial programming.


Three Big Chiefs aka Laissez les bons temps rouler

Happy Mardi Gras. Don't get shot.

This was taken on Mardi Gras 2006. Btw, the guy dressed up as a Quaker is one Ed Skoog. More of his work here.


Grandmaster flash

Kiril Georgiev played a record-setting 360 simultaneous chess games today, going 284-70-6.

The man loves his Sicilian.

On blogging pseudonymously

Does anonymity cheapen, rather than provoke, the debate? Wouldn’t opinions and comments on a topic like this be taken more seriously if readers knew for sure who was offering them? | ? |

The answer to both is, "yes, most likely."

But for many of us, this activity is something to be pursued in parallel with another, unrelated career (or for some of us, two or three unrelated careers).

These careers have their own contours and challenges, and would not necessarily be helped by my opinions about politics, art, transhumanism, or video games being readily available to my colleagues in those other spheres.

So, we here choose pseudonymity. Speaking for myself, this is not in any way an abdication of responsibility for what I write here. I am willing to take my lumps if (er, when) I say something stupid. And I'm certainly not protected from libel suits by my flimsy guise of "Jason" the blogger. Anybody who really, really wants to know who Jason the Blogger really is has several ways to find out (including just asking me).

But in an age without privacy, I can at least shield these sorts of writings from a casual google search. When I am next looking for work, I can hope that my employer will see my sanitized internet persona (that's what Facebook is for, right?) rather this hot mess of a blog.


A question about transhumanism

Should improvement be imposed on the unwilling? Did we do the right thing by cutting our boy?



Saying "I told you so" isn't helpful

But it's just hard to stop! This is exactly what we were trying to tell everyone:
But ever since the 2001 recession, we haven’t really had growth in incomes. Instead, we’ve had asset-led growth. People who owned stuff already in 2001 saw the value of that stuff go up. Since they were now “richer” they were able to borrow more. And since they were able to borrow more, they were able to get more stuff. That had a similar result as if their incomes had gone up and they’d used the income to buy more stuff. But it was unsustainable. The lending based on higher asset values was based on the idea that the assets would keep going up in value. And the increase in value was driven by a combination of speculation, and buy the fact that consumption was creating economic activity. But now it’s all collapsed.

That's Salmon, via Yglesais, reiterating what everyone needed be hearing circa 2001 to 2006.


Eric Holder, fuck yeah!

In a blunt assessment of race relations in the United States, Attorney General Eric Holder Wednesday called the American people "essentially a nation of cowards" in failing to openly discuss the issue of race. |CNN|

In fuller: "Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards."


These Futurama movies have been disappointing

There, I said it.

Nobody could have predicted

Kevin Drum:
What to do? I mean, does anyone believe this is the end of the bailout requests? I certainly don't, and I doubt anyone else does either. On the other hand, the alternative is allowing GM and Chrysler to fail in the middle of a recession. Nobody wants that. But on the third hand, even if we bail them out, what are the odds that they can survive in the long term anyway?

In the end, I suppose we'll continue bailing. But this whole process shows up one of the big pitfalls of government action like this. My own guess — and this is obviously just a personal hunch — is that while GM is at least arguably salvagable, Chrysler is a hopeless basket case. So if we're going to do anything, we should probably bail out GM but let Chrysler go under. That would save the taxpayers some money and reduce overcapacity in the auto industry at the same time. Unfortunately, politics being what it is, the Obama administration probably feels like they can't pick winners and losers and needs to treat them both equally.

This is almost certainly dumb, but it's what's most likely going to happen. So the American public will end up pumping $10 or $20 billion into Chrysler in order to help it become, basically, the North American subsidiary of Fiat — a partnership that does the U.S. auto industry little good and will itself almost certainly crumble and fail before long in any case. What a mess.


In return, the two companies also promised to make further drastic cuts to all parts of their operations, in the hope that they can eventually strike a balance between their bloated cost structures and a dismal market for new car sales.

G.M., for example, said it would cut 47,000 more of its 244,000 workers worldwide; close five more plants in North America, leaving it with 33; and cut its lineup of brands in half, to just four: Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC and Buick.
There’s a business case for big layoffs. GM is hardly the only firm undertaking them. But if spending tens of billions of dollars on a jobs program makes some sense, spending that kind of money to help keep the management and marketing infrastructure of the firms in place as they layoff and furlough their workforce doesn’t. But you sort of need to choose what you’re doing here—are taxpayers creating makework jobs to prevent the rust belt from becoming the new dust bowl, or are we trying to provide assistance to our “national champion” firms and help them compete? If it’s the jobs we care about, we’d probably be better off spending the money giving different jobs to auto workers—spend $14 billion+ on Detroit to Chicago high-speed rail or something (ditches, anything)—which would have the same beneficial employment effect, avoid bailing out shareholders and managers, and help reduce auto industry overcapacity thereby lending a helping hand to Ford and to U.S. production of “Japanese” cars. Otherwise, if every country around the world insists on sinking more and more money not into its nation’s car companies instead of into its people who work for car companies then we’ll have a situation where the whole industry just keeps shrinking and sinking slowly. | yglesias |



Яolcats is "English Translations of Eastern Bloc Lolcats." A taste:

via the most daring fireball


Speaking of the Datona 500

Have fun with that!

"Will you rule out reimposing the Fairness Doctrine?" asked Wallace.

"I'm going to leave that issue to Julius Genachowski, our new head of the FCC, to, and the president, to discuss," Axelrod said. "So I don't have an answer for you now."

In June, press secretary Michael Ortiz told Broadcasting & Cable that "Sen. Obama does not support reimposing the Fairness Doctrine on broadcasters."

That's clear enough. But since becoming president, it's been difficult to get such a definitive statement. | politico |

I love it. Believe me when I say that nobody on our side cares about messing around with regulating radio to try and dilute the relative supremacy of crazy wingnuts in that medium. It may have seemed like a good idea to some liberals during the Clinton years (although I never heard anyone talking about it), but these days there is absolutely no appetite for it.

First of all, trying to regulate free speech is distasteful even when it is Constitutional (and here I don't think it should be ruled as such). But really, there's just no point. Everybody knows that the future is the internet, and right now our side is winning over here.

But by all means, right wingers... please continue to obsess about something that's never going to happen! We'll just be over here fixing the country.

img via



So in his first few weeks as President, Obama has moved boldly to keep many of his campaign promises that he can do via executive order, he's signed S-CHIP, and he's achieved a breathtaking legislative achievement in the stimulus bill that features a bunch of liberal spending (or, as we like to call it on this Blog of Record, "good ideas"), rewards traditional Democratic constituencies, and may even help prevent the worst case economic scenario.

And the public still thinks he's bipartisan as heck.

I'd say he's doing quite well. And I'd reiterate what I've said previously: Barack is playing a long game with Republicans, and they are getting rolled. Those of us who have been trained by the last 16 years to analyze events in frames like "who won today's news cycle" are likely to mistake what he's doing.

UPDATE: Matt Cooper agrees: "I don't underestimate what lies ahead but I'm pretty amazed by how despairing the tone on the left has been in the wake of what was a very significant passage of legislation. "

img via


It is not known whether Angel Sandoval will be granted entry into the Hall of Fame

“Things have changed,” Angel Posadas Sandoval, 74, finally confessed, not going into specifics but nonetheless making himself abundantly clear.

He was talking, however obliquely, about the free Viagra the government is giving away to poor men age 60 and above.

With midterm elections looming in July, Mayor Marcelo Ebrard has been rather creative in his attempts to make life more livable for the people of this sprawling metropolis, which finds itself clogged with traffic, overwhelmed by smog, prowled by criminals and reeling from the global financial crisis. |NY Times|


... 26 dollars in my hand

In honor of our new Drug Czar, here's a little post about addiction. From metafilter,
Addiction: thousands of studies have been done claiming that it is a disease, often using rats in isolated cages with a bar-press system of delivery, showing they will repeatedly get high even if it means starving to death.

Rat Park showed that a rat’s environment, not the availability of drugs, leads to dependence. In a normal setting, a narcotic is an impediment to what rats typically do: fight, play, forage, mate. But a caged rat can’t do those things. It’s no surprise that a distressed animal with access to narcotics would use them to seek relief."

Bruce Alexander recently finished a book synthesizing these findings into a much larger picture. "The Globalisation of Addiction" is his attempt to broaden the scope of this new understanding, applying it to the world at large. From the description, "[this] book argues that the most effective response to a growing addiction problem is a social and political one, rather than an individual one. Such a solution would not put the doctors, psychologists, social workers, policemen, and priests out of work, but it would incorporate their practices in a larger social project. The project is to reshape society with enough force and imagination to enable people to find social integration and meaning in everyday life. Then great numbers of them would not need to fill their inner void with addictions."

Humans are more complicated than rats, and so I don't think there are cut and dried lessons here. But my own observation of the addicts I've known makes the overall conclusion ring true: The physically addictive nature of the drugs--and even the pleasure of the high--are far less powerful reinforcers than people generally think.


Brave new world

A local convenience store delivers pizza, sandwiches, and select groceries:
$3.99 Haagen Daz Ice Cream
$3.99 Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream
$4.99 Butter
$2.49 Eggs
$4.99 Oreo Cookies
$4.99 Chips Ahoy! Cookies
$3.49 Triscuit Crackers Original
$3.49 Wheat Thins
$0.99 Doritos
$3.79 Tostitos
$0.99 Microwave Popcorn
$0.99 Snickers
$0.99 M & M's
$0.99 Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
$0.99 Kit Kat Bars
$4.99 Beer Cups
$5.99 Ping Pong Balls
$2.49 Power Bars
$2.49 Tooth Brushes
$3.99 Tooth Paste
$3.49 Kleenex
$2.49 Dish Soap
$3.99 Cheer Laundry Detergent
$4.49 Paper Plates
$5.99 Advil
$5.99 Motrin
$6.99 Sudafed Sinus
$1.89 Paper Towels
$2.89 Charmin Toilet Paper
$3.49 Tampax


The juice

A-Rod. Another martyr for the movement.


The future offers great promise for workers in our common sectors

The new issue of LaborNotes has an interesting, if surprisingly bloodless, article about the struggle for control of UNITE-HERE. In broad strokes, here's the background. UNITE and HERE merged in 2004. UNITE needed the merger because the industries it primarily represented -- textiles -- had shrunk dramatically and continued to shrink. HERE needed the merger because the industries it represented -- hotel and restaurants -- had become increasingly consolidated among a few large corporations, and UNITE's control of Amalgamated Bank meant that the merged organization would have the resources needed to take on those companies. Under the terms of the merger, UNITE President Bruce Raynor took the helm of the new organization, and HERE President John Wilhelm took a back seat. There have been tension all along, but things are coming to a head now because the union is about to have its first leadership election since the merger, and Wilhelm and HERE are poised to take control.

And poised is maybe too weak a work. In point of fact, Wilhelm and his allies are already effectively in control of UNITE-HERE's exec board. At the board's last meeting in December, the board made some decisions that UNITE loyalists strongly opposed, so much so that the UNITE partisans refused to participate in the vote and Raynor followed up with a lawsuit.

Which brings us to SEIU's dear leader, Andy Stern. Following Raynor's lawsuit, Stern made an offer:
Today it is apparent to us that the merger of UNITE and HERE has failed to meet its goals that both unions had hoped for and worked towards.

After four (4) years, we believe it is time as well as necessary for our movement, for both unions to reconsider their future -- including merger into SEIU as UNITE HERE or ending their merger and returning to their previous status and merging into SEIU as separate organizations. |source (pdf!)|

I'm going to go out on a limb here and theorize that the Stern offer was invited by Raynor, who has collaborated with Stern in the past to sign secret "growth agreements" with employers. In any case, it's pretty ballsy.


Now that the economic recovery is well under way and the threat of terrorism has receded, the time has come to confront the spectre of informality

For example:
“The Oval Office symbolizes…the Constitution, the hopes and dreams, and I’m going to say democracy. And when you have a dress code in the Supreme Court and a dress code on the floor of the Senate, floor of the House, I think it’s appropriate to have an expectation that there will be a dress code that respects the office of the President.”

Mr. Card went on to add that, while he would not criticize Mr. Obama for his appearance, “I do expect him to send the message that people who are going to be in the Oval Office should treat the office with the respect that it has earned over history.” |The Caucus|


February 9 my ass

While I wasn't looking, Labornerd launched.

Tom Daschle is not going to eat your children

For the sake of argument, let's imagine that Hyper-Evolved Giant Octopi (HEGOs) emerge from the ocean to live amongst us. And one opens an auto-repair shop down the street.

Now, you might not feel comfortable taking your car to that shop, because you just don't know that much about HEGOs. You can't really prove that an octopus wouldn't do a great job, but you wonder...

Will they understand how important this car is to you? Will they share your priorities about what needs fixing? Will their different perception of the world lead them to focus on emissions while perhaps causing them to miss the fact that your brakes are about to go?

That's pretty much how I feel about Tom Daschle. I can't really prove that he wouldn't do a great job fixing our health-care system, but he's divorced enough from what I consider ordinary life that I wonder... is he going to really be focusing on what matters?

This is completely unfair, I know. But I'm also with Lex Dexter: We've got bigger fish to fry, and I'm glad Obama didn't spend a bunch of political capital trying to keep that nomination alive.

How to do "theory"

Step One: Select a normal everyday concept that everyone is comfortable using and has a working understanding of. Possible examples include: reason, power, and saltiness.

Step Two: Construct a goldbergian edifice of pseudo-analysis which purports to explain the concept, but which is obviously incoherent on its face.

Step Three: In virtue of this incoherence, declare that our normal everyday concept must be put aside.

Step Four: Spill a lot of ink worrying over what is to be done now that we are no longer able to deploy such concepts as reason, power, and saltiness.


Just run-of-the-mill rendition

Under executive orders issued by Obama recently, the CIA still has authority to carry out what are known as renditions, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States.

Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said that the rendition program might be poised to play an expanded role going forward because it was the main remaining mechanism -- aside from Predator missile strikes -- for taking suspected terrorists off the street. | LAT |

Frankly, I'm not thrilled about this. But Obama's other executive orders seem to indicate that even these renditioned folks will:

a) Not be tortured

b) Not disappear... their whereabouts will be reported to the Red Cross.

c) Given due process.

So, while other countries might rightly consider rendition of their citizens an act of war, at least they will know when that act of war has occurred, and to whom.


UPDATE: Is it funny or disturbing that so many liberals are rushing to defend "ordinary rendition," in which we merely send our agents into a another country to illegally detain, interrogate, and ultimately imprison individuals because--drumroll please--we are at war.. at war against TERROR?


UPDATE 2: Hillzoy's Q&A doesn't really clear things up. I don't believe Obama needs to sign anything to authorize our continued extradition of criminals. This is something else.
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