Discussion question

Suppose you are watching a movie on DVD and find that from time to time you need to rewind because you've lost the thread. Suppose further that it is not an art movie. How many times would you allow this to happen before moving on to other diversions?



Returning to our sordid roots = the return of dumb game Friday

Time to start rooting for the Heat

Item: With the number two pick in the draft, the Heat select Michael Beasley out of KSU.

Item: With the fourth pick of the second round, the Heat acquire Mario Chalmers out of Kansas.

Item: Sports minded sister lives in Miami, sports minded father moving there soon.


No, it was Kenyan garb

[George "Captain EO"]Lucas did, however, have one definitive answer: Barack Obama would most certainly be a Jedi. “I would say that’s reasonably obvious,” he said.


The Silures continue to fight

If this blog were a child, and were developing at a normal rate, then we'd have acquired some significant capacities over the last year. For example:
  • Mastery of some basic rules of grammar
  • Speaking in sentences of five to six words
  • Speaking clearly enough for strangers to understand
  • Telling stories

Pretty impressive as it stands, but there's more. In the next year or so we could look forward to becoming more likely to obey rules, better understanding the concept of time, and standing on one foot for ten seconds or longer. All because this week The Bellman Blog will turn fifty one months old.

Fifty one is widely recognized as the most significant American number. From Area 51 to our manifest ambitions regarding Canada, fifty one is emblazoned on our future. Likewise, fifty one can also be found at significant points in our past. Federalist Paper #51 argues that a system of checks and balances must be embedded in the structure of our government. Article 51 of the UN Charter secures the right of states to wage war in self-defence. Perhaps most significantly, Richard Hatch was sentenced to 51 months in prison for tax evasion following his victory on Survivor's first season.

Among several minor tweaks to the template today, there is one small piece of added content. In the sidebar, just above the archives, I added the section The Lost Bellman. The five links there lead to five snapshots of the blog during its first six months of existence. Possibly unfortunately, there's not much to see at any of those links. On what is almost certainly the upside, we've now gone 30 months without a blog existence failure, and all of .jasonblog. remains extant.

Seminar: Five strategies for the labor movement

I'm a few days late, but I thought I'd chime in on this conversation. As penalty for my tardiness, I've only allowed myself four suggestions. More background here.

Without further ado:
  1. Commit to the use of organizing campaigns as a fundamental strategy (but don't make the mistake of thinking that all organizing campaigns look alike).

  2. Make decisions through processes of participatory democracy that push power as far down into the rank and file as possible.

    In my head, these first two hang together and have to do with what sorts of institutions unions need to be if they are to be associations that deserve public confidence. To have real power in the workplace, the union must run campaigns which emanate from and depend for their success on workers talking with one another about their working conditions and about the nature of their power in the workplace. For that power to have moral legitimacy, its use must be directed through democratic processes. This means lots of knocking on doors and lots of one on one conversations with the aim of increasing participation in the meetings where decisions are made about the direction of the union. But it also means that we have to obsess about the power dynamics that are present in those meetings, and in all interactions between those who are doing the work of the union. This is partly about leveling the distinction between rank and file and the activist corps, but also crucially involves thinking in practical ways about the impact of class, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, culture, and so on -- doing so is the only way to have discussions, make decisions, assign tasks, and create accountability under conditions of equality. Which gets me to the parenthetical. What I was gesturing at there is that having all of the conversations needed for the rest of this won't happen unless we're also working to forge a community out of the workers in bargaining unit.

  3. Invest heavily in organizing the unorganized.

    At the end of the day, the best way to increase confidence in unions is to increase access to union contracts. This is well trodden ground, so I won't say much more except to advocate for a massive national campaign targeted at Labor Ready, ManPower, Adecco, and the like.

  4. Drive the national conversation about social justice.

    See above. More to the point, labor is the Left's best chance to get back into the national conversation. To do that, labor needs to have a strong, independent, and progressive voice. We all like John Edwards' message, but the authenticity concerns are real. Why should labor's point of view depend for its expression on a trial lawyer turned politician? And while we're on the subject, let's shut up about the so-called corporate media. As Andy Stern could teach the rest of us, public relations isn't rocket science.


Privacy in a world bereft of privacy, part 2

Phoebe Connelly of Tapped:
Here's another example--when will the generation hit when a majority of young job applicants will have an online record of their youthful indiscretions? We're all warned to be careful of our Facebook or MySpace profiles, and I've watched friends hit the point where they pull down or (attempt to) scrub the internet of drunken photos and juvenile blogs. But as social networks explode, aren't we going to hit a point where a large number of high school students have lived a very public online life: Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc? Will there come a time when employers Googling a prospective hire turn a blind eye to your online record because, hey, everyone was young once?

Equally likely is that many employers will use this as leverage against their employees. I think it will take at least a generation to work out a new balance once there is an almost complete lack of privacy.

In the short term, I expect that more savvy parents will impress upon their kids from an early age that it is very, very important to use pseudonyms whenever possible, and not to trust the privacy controls of their social networking sites.

(Photo is of Tapped's Connelly, left, perhaps an example of the sort of thing about which she is talking)


"The Incredible Hulk" really sucks

I'm sorry to report that it is far worse than the Ang Lee version. This does not bode well for the proposed Avengers movie.

How does it suck? Let me count just a few of the many ways:

* The action pieces are boring, poorly composed, and full of jump cuts that were probably supposed to mitigate the CGI, but succeed only in making it hard to see what's going on.

* The character's motivations, especially for the most important decisions in the movie, were nonsensical.

* Tim Roth is probably an understated supervillain in real life, but other than his, the acting was really bad.

* The Hulk's CGI face was expressive enough to reveal that even its acting was terrible.

This is just one blogger's opinion. Have you seen it? What did you think?


Got to have space in the rotation now

I went to see Gilberto Gil a few days ago. It was an uneven show, I thought, but the highlights were worth the price of admission.[1] Among those highlights were covers of a couple of Bob Marley tunes. Which reminded me of two things. First, Bob Marley recorded a whole bunch of great tracks. And second, that I never much listen to Marley's music.

Relatedly, Yglesias posted this yesterday about Nirvana:
In general, for a much-praised and undoubtedly influential band, Nirvana strikes me as shockingly little listened-to in practice. Perhaps that's because the band actually sucks and people don't like them, but in my experience people are almost always surprised by how good Nirvana actually is when their stuff comes on. In short, they're not just a band that people say was great -- they're actually great

That all seems right to me, and I'm wondering what other musical artists fit this paradigm: widely known, widely recognized as great, influential, actually quite good, but not much listened-to in practice.

Nominations in comments.

1 - Although there are opportunity costs to consider. Willy Nelson played the next day, and I couldn't go to both shows, so I had to pick.

A guy walks into a doctors office with a carrot in his ear and a piece of celery up his nose. The doctor told him he wasn't eating right.

I see that IHOP is running a special featuring, among other things, 'Kansas Carrot Cake'. I can't say for certain that I've ever had carrot cake outside of Kansas, but then again the only places I can recall encountering carrot cake are weddings, funerals, and university dining halls. Anyway, I find myself wondering: in the American culinary imagination, is carrot cake associated with Kansas?

I find it hard to believe that it could be so. Truth be told, I can't think of any distinctive foods of Kansas. I guess you could make a case for sunflower seeds, but it's not like there's a sunflower seed festival in Topeka[1] or anything.

Somewhat relatedly, I've lately been craving a runza. Which, of course, is the distinctive delicacy of Nebraska.

1 'Topeka', according to folk Kansas etymology, means 'a good place to dig potatoes'.


The only letterboxed cheeto porn you'll ever see.

I'd recommend watching this all the way through, but I skipped around.

(Double hat tip)


...those who constantly remind us that giving “offense” is commensurate with “hate speech,” and as such, is worthy of special remedies (”diversity training” for benighted “haters,” a rather nuanced reconsideration of free speech that turns “tolerance” on its head, or — at best, the rise of “free speech zones,” which are nothing more than a progressive attempt at Jim Crow-ing the First Amendment) |Protein [ahem -- ed.] Wisdom|

Emphasis added.

I just don't understand what is being alleged here. As far as I know, so-called 'free-speech zones' have uniformly been created by entrenched power in an attempt to isolate and disempower[1] dissenting voices. Do the wingnuts really think that this is a progressive idea? More to the point, what the Hell could possibly be meant by 'Jim Crow-ing the First Amendment'? Is there a literacy test involved? Could this test be used to ban particularly stupid bloggers?

1 No, I do not believe 'disempower' to be a real word. Yes, I do despise myself for using it in a sentence. But, you know, if the meaning fits...


The Corner does fashion

And it's hilarious:
As a distant observer of fashion, but a close student of the semiotics of female power, I am a little puzzled by Michelle's frequent choice of sleeveless dresses at official moments. She is an attractive woman, whose height gives her a commanding presence, and it is clear that she puts effort into toning those upper arms. So the dresses look good; but this is not about pretty. She is in her forties, and the sleeveless sheath is the province of younger women, and/or socialites; it works for cocktails or a barbeque, but not church or work. (And yes, she is clearly channeling Jackie Kennedy. But Jackie's clothes — and everyone's in the early 1960s — were a lot more grown up and sophisticated.) The sleeveless bit seems too casual, and maybe a little too revealing for the role she is currently playing, and the one to which she aspires. Successful First Ladies — and here Laura Bush is a good model — manage to convey a careful mix of distance and familiarity.
Emphasis--of the parts I find most amusing--mine.

Update, of sorts:

Let's focus on the bad news

Via Apostropher, I found out these internals from the Quinnipiac Swing States Poll:
Florida: 19 percent of those who backed Clinton in the primaries now support McCain.

Ohio: 25 percent of those who backed Clinton in the primaries now support McCain.

Pennsylvania: 24 percent of the voters who supported Clinton in the primaries now back McCain.

Those are higher percentages than I would have expected. I'd like to see how the numbers break down. Surely some of these voters were convinced by the Clinton campaign that Obama is all flash and no substance, some are working through resentment at Obama for taking away Clinton's golden ring, and others are driven by dissatisfaction with Obama on trade, taxes, or whatnot. But how many Democratic primary voters just aren't going to vote for a black man? I'm inclined to think that the number is fairly significant, though I'd also be inclined to think that most of those voters would glom onto some other issue rather than admitting -- even to themselves -- that race plays a role in their voting behavior.


The new release is making me uncomfortable. Too fancy. Especially the radio buttons with their (internet)fashion forward concavo-convex stylings. But my real question is this: Is the firefox icon that appears in the address bar when you visit the firefox download site supposed to look like a fox? Or maybe a fox on fire? Because to me it looks like the logo for the Arkansas Razorbacks.


Belated Top Chef blogging

Watching the finale the first time, I found myself wondering who the buffoonish white dude dinner guest was. Turns out, he's Tim Zagat, famous for his Zagat Guide empire. Come to think of it, that's the sort of enterprise you'd expect to be founded by a buffoon.

Tuesday philosophy blogging: Wittgenstein in 60 seconds

Take almost any problem from the philosophical canon. What is the source of the problem? In many cases, it is that we have convinced ourselves (or have become convinced by others) that something we take for granted can only be true if something else, something far more exotic, is also true.

Take, for example, the so-called problem of free will. Here, what we take for granted is that we act and make choices. Many of us, however, are also convinced that action and choice require that there exist a faculty of will which is capable of operating independently of outside causal influence. The problem arises because we are physical beings, and as such, we cannot possess a faculty that operates independently of outside causal influence. And so it becomes tempting to either adopt an extravagent metaphysics or to say that we don't really act or make choices -- that it is all an illusion.

What Wittgenstein pushes on here is the idea that we need to identify some kind of occult faculty -- the will -- in order to provide a grounding for our talk of action and choice. We can, Wittgenstein points out, talk perfectly sensibly about actions and choices. Trouble begins only when we start introducing concepts that can't be talked about sensibly.

Both eyes glassed over

Lately I've taken to buying LPs even though I don't actually own a turntable. The idea is to create sufficient psychological pressure to force myself to make the purchase. In the meantime, all of my new music is on vinyl, which means that I'm desperate for fresh sounds.

Naturally, this means that I'm finally getting around to listening to a pile of burned cds that Jason gave me in, I'm guessing, December 2000. Some of them are pretty good, some not so much. Right now I've got a Knife in the Water disk in and it's mostly boring. I did like track 8 a bit, which goes to show that you should listen all the way through.


Evolution observed in the lab

... for the first time! And, amazingly, it's repeatable:
...Lenski turned to his freezer, where he had saved samples of each population every 500 generations. These allowed him to replay history from any starting point he chose, by reviving the bacteria and letting evolution "replay" again.

Would the same population evolve Cit+ again, he wondered, or would any of the 12 be equally likely to hit the jackpot?

The replays showed that even when he looked at trillions of cells, only the original population re-evolved Cit+ – and only when he started the replay from generation 20,000 or greater. Something, he concluded, must have happened around generation 20,000 that laid the groundwork for Cit+ to later evolve. [That's the one that God touched, of course! --Jason]

Lenski and his colleagues are now working to identify just what that earlier change was, and how it made the Cit+ mutation possible more than 10,000 generations later.


One LP to rule them all

Say that I didn't own any rock music of any kind on LP, and that I were going to spend some time at the record shop tomorrow. What rock titles should I be looking for?


This one is for the little people.

Two Phrases That Destroyed American Culture

It sounded relaxed and informative in a manner I would not have expected from this measured performance

Julia Dudley, age 10, had this to say about the PlayStation 1[1,2]:
You can play multiple games on it, like Mario, Zelda, and many more. You control the characters with a special remote control that you hook up to the PlayStation. There are multiple other PlayStations by Sony as well. There are even games for girls on it. This is how you play the game of your choice: First, you insert the game CD-R and hook up the memory chip to your PlayStation, then hopefully, the CD will not be defective, and you press Menu, and press what you played last (if you saved your last game). Lastly, voila, you can play your game leisurely until your mom calls you off to dinner (hopefully not spinach).

1 - Dudley, Art. "Sony PlayStation 1 CD Player." Stereophile, Vol. 31, No. 7 (July 2008): 73-81.

2 - Shoppers note: "This was a first generation machine, the only model to have the RCA output jacks and the AKM AK 4309AVM 16-bit sigma-delta DAC chip. My son Harry has a third generation PS1, and SCPH-7501, which has the multi-pin A/V output only and a different DAC chip; I measured that sample, but it was very much worse in most respects than the SCPH-1001."




This business of calling Obama a 'street organizer' is going to end up being part and parcel of a larger wingnut narrative in which Democratic dominance in urban areas is attributed to thuggish election crime. Also, future historians will refer to this year's race as 'the dog whistle election.'



Thursday dumb iPhone game blogging

As you can see, my kingdom is enjoying a period of rapid conquest expansion. Soon, my knights will go forth once again, sallying and whatnot, to capture land and gold from other, lesser kingdoms.

Kingdom Game.

Disturbing summary

How Do Neurosurgeons Use Cell Phones?

Not held against their ears.


Have I mentioned...

...Organizing Grievances?

The race is not always to the swift


[Middle English, from Latin 'concessiō', 'concessiōn-', from 'concessus', past participle of 'concēdere', to concede]

The act of conceding or yielding, as a right, a privilege, or a point or fact in an argument.

That was some kinda speech.

Which brings me to something James Fallows suggested the other day. Namely, that there is a deep explanation for why Clinton remains willing to continue her hopeless campaign despite the fact that it appears to needlessly damage the Democratic nominee, and that explanation goes something like this:
The Clinton team doesn't worry about hurting Obama's prospects of winning in the fall, because they assess those prospects at zero. Always have. Obama might not win if he leads a bitterly divided party, but (in this view) he was never going to win. Not a chance. He would be smashed like an armadillo in the road* by the Republican campaign machine, and he would be just about as ready as the armadillo for what was coming.

When Clinton still had a plausible shot at the nomination, this assumption removed all guilt from beating up on Obama. As in: "I have a lifetime of experience that I will bring to the White House. I know Senator McCain has a lifetime of experience to bring to the White House. And Senator Obama has a speech he gave in 2002." By whittling Obama down, the Clintons were saving the party from a suicidal mistake.

And now that Hillary Clinton no longer has a plausible chance, she (and Harold Ickes etc) don't need to wake up in the middle of the night and worry: Oh no! Maybe we're paving the way for George Bush's third term! They are sure that Obama's nomination means exactly that, no matter what they do. So by definition they can't be making things worse. It is like sticking pins into a corpse -- you're not really hurting it any more. And if these efforts in fact make Obama's victory less likely -- well, then, reality will conform to their preexisting view.

Possibly, although that doesn't explain why so many of Clinton's supporters are sticking with her. I heard something on today's Diane Rehm show that was suggestive to me. A panelist, I missed his name, was reporting on conversations he had had with female Clinton supporters and he said something along the lines of, "He's a character they recognize from their own lives lives, the sort of flashy younger guy who steps in and takes over."

I'm not sure why[1], but I hadn't ever really put the experience critique through a feminist lens in the way the comment suggests, and having done so I have to admit that it resonates. The narrative isn't seamless -- to see Obama as a flashy interloper would seem to require granting that the nomination was something that Clinton had a prior claim to -- but the archetype being described is real enough, and there is no doubt that many, many women have been pushed aside in the way that the narrative suggests.

In any case, the question of the day seems to be, how can Obama wrap this thing up? So far, the idea seems to be to treat his nomination as accomplished fact. While this strategy is refreshing in its verisimilitude, it doesn't do much to bring Clinton's base to Obama's side. Clinton's idea, of course, is that her name should be on the ticket. What I'd like to see is some kind of summit between the two where they work out the Democratic legislative agenda for the 111th Congress. Maybe it turns out that they work well enough together that there's room for Clinton in the administration. If it doesn't, she's still a prominent Senator who played a key role in developing the Obama administration's agenda.

1 yeah, yeah, I've actually got a pretty good idea why.



[from Latin 'ubī', where]

The condition of being located in a particular place.


The L. Ron Hubbard school of extraordinary rendition

I hope Reprieve turns out to be wrong about this:
Reprieve, a human rights organization (UK branch, US branch), claims that the United States is using prison ships to keep prisoners outside legal jurisdictions. They say that there have been more than 200 new cases of rendition since 2006, when President George Bush declared that the practice had stopped.

A US Navy spokesman denied that such things were happening. Members of the British Parliament are calling for an investigation.
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