packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
SCENE: Robin (i.e. packbat) and David are playing chess in the ASME lounge. Ben enters.

Ben: Who's winning?

Robin: (mumbling)

Ben: Well, he's moved twice, so clearly he's winning.

Robin: I'll just tie it up then. [moves piece]

Ben: Tie goes to Black.

[beat. Robin looks up at Ben.]

Robin: This isn't affirmative action, man!
packbat: Headshot looking serious and superimposed on the Gettysburg Address. (gettysburg)
Okay - so you know how the new health care bill is supposed to charge people who voluntarily refuse health insurance (so as to encourage people to sign up)? And you know how emergency rooms have to provide care, even to the uninsured?

How about this: have insurers bid for their price to cover the costs of treating the uninsured in each state. The lowest bid gets their cost divided among the uninsured in that state. That way:
  • The cost to hospitals of emergency room care is paid, and
  • The cost to individuals of refusing health care is controlled by market forces.

    Any obvious flaws?
  • packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (quarter-rear)
    What is wrong with book-burning is not that a book has been set on fire - it is that the book is no longer available to be read.

    Consider a few cases:

    1. A government deems a particular book to be subversive literature and orders every copy burnt. Agents of the government seize all copies found in libraries, bookstores, or private residences and commits them to the fire. This is wrong.

    2. An ideologue arranges to purchase every copy of a rare book and burns them. This is wrong.

    3. An ideologue arranges to purchase several copies of a commonly-available book and burns them. This is not wrong.

    Apologies to everyone who got sick of the whole debacle over two weeks ago.
    packbat: Headshot looking serious and superimposed on the Gettysburg Address. (gettysburg)
    Via Making Light, Paul Cornell: Wish Me Luck, I'm Going In. What with the recent stalling of the Equality Bill in Britain, he's had enough.

    I wish there were a Christian organisation like British Muslims for Secular Democracy, who could liaise with the various gay Christian organisations, but also include those who aren't directly involved, who just think this cause is just. Then there would be a phone number for that liberal voice that the UK media could lay their hands on. If they ever wanted to call it.

    In the meantime, I've started a hashtag on Twitter: #godlyforequality. If you're on Twitter, go and have a look, and let's see if we can retweet the message a long way. It's only a tiny thing. It's the least I can do.

    I'm not a Christian, and I think that Christianity is factually wrong - but what he's doing here is fighting homophobia, and on those grounds he's fighting for the side of good.

    Good luck, Mr. Cornell. Do the right thing.
    packbat: Headshot looking serious and superimposed on the Gettysburg Address. (gettysburg)
    Hat-tip to [ profile] circuit_four here: HuffPost: GOP Senators Refusing To Work Past 2PM, Invoking Obscure Rule.

    ...two things.

    One: Key Republican Senators apparently (a) don't care about doing their job, and (b) believe the Democratic Senators do, and therefore (c) are willing to enforce a work stoppage to make the Democrats do what they want. This does not reflect well on the Republicans. The first metaphor that comes to mind is if a police department decided to blockade the fire station in order to get their 'support' for changes to the city budget.

    Two: How stupid are the Senate rules, anyway? You can't make Senators actually filibuster, you can't make Senators actually work more than two hours a day ... this is not how governance happens.

    Politics is an important, valuable activity - but this ain't.
    packbat: Headshot looking serious and superimposed on the Gettysburg Address. (gettysburg)
    A link to pass on: Slacktivist explains the lie Tony Perkins is telling for money about the expansion of hate crime legislation to cover LGBT persons. Money quote:

    The only extent to which hate-crime protections pertain to "thought" is in the way that all criminal law does, which is to say that motive matters. If you truly believe that the law should make no distinction between accidental manslaughter and premeditated first-degree homicide, because you truly believe that any such distinction constitutes the establishment of "thought crime," then I will accept that you are making this "thought-crime" objection to hate-crime legislation in good faith. (I'll think you're kind of an idiot, but at least a sincere idiot.) But you can't accept that distinction and still argue in good faith that hate crimes are "thought crimes."

    P.S. If anyone you know is concerned that hate crime legislation could infringe their freedom of speech, two words: Fred Phelps.

    P.P.S. On a related note, a riddle courtesy of eyelessgame in the comments: What terrorist organization has killed more Americans than al Qaeda?
    packbat: Headshot looking serious and superimposed on the Gettysburg Address. (gettysburg)

    From [profile] baldanders, here and there:

    Alan Grayson (D-FL) is my hero. Seriously, he tells it like it is, without fear of the insurance companies, and certainly not without fear of the Republican lie machine:

    "We as a party have spent the last six months, the greatest minds in our party, dwelling on the question, the unbelievably consuming question of how to get Olympia Snowe to vote on health care reform. I want to remind us all that Olympia Snowe was not elected President last year. Olympia Snowe has no veto power in the Senate. Olympia Snowe represents a state with one half of one percent of America's population.

    "What America wants is health care reform. America doesn't care if it gets 51 votes in the Senate or 60 votes in the Senate or 83 votes in the Senate, in fact America doesn't even care about that, it doesn't care about that at all. What America cares about is this; there are over 1 million Americans who go broke every single year trying to pay their health care bills. America cares a lot about that. America cares about the fact that there are 44,780 Americans who die every single year on account of not having health care, that's 122 every day. America sure cares a lot about that. America cares about the fact that if you have a pre-existing condition, even if you have health insurance, it's not covered. America cares about that a lot. America cares about the fact that you can get all the health care you need as long as you don't need any. America cares about that a lot. But America does not care about procedures, processes, personalities, America doesn't care about that at all." [. . .]

    "Last week I held up this report here and I pointed out that in America there are 44,789 Americans that die every year according to this Harvard report published in this peer reviewed journal because they have no health insurance. That's an extra 44,789 Americans who die whose lives could be saved, and their response was to ask me for an apology." [. . .]

    "Well, I'm telling you this; I will not apologize. I will not apologize. I will not apologize for a simple reason; America doesn't care about your feelings. [. . .] America does care about health care in America. And if you're against it, then get out of the way. You can lead, you can follow or you can get out of the way. [. . .] America understands that there is one party in this country that is favor of health care reform and one party that is against it, and they know why.

    "They understand that if Barack Obama were somehow able to cure hunger in the world the Republicans would blame him for overpopulation. They understand that if Barack Obama could somehow bring about world peace they would blame him for destroying the defense industry. In fact, they understand that if Barack Obama has a BLT sandwich tomorrow for lunch, they will try to ban bacon.

    "But that's not what America wants; America wants solutions to its problems, and that begins with health care."

    packbat: Headshot looking serious and superimposed on the Gettysburg Address. (gettysburg)
    On Fred Clark's blog, slacktivist:

    A: Sarah Palin is lying about health care reform.

    B: Whoa, hold on there. That's quite the accusation. You want to use the L-word, you're going to have to prove it.

    A: That's not difficult. Here is the outrageous and demonstrably untrue lie in question, from her Facebook page:
    The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.

    She's accusing President Obama of trying to create a "death panel" in which bureaucrats will decide whether or not to euthanize the elderly and handicapped children. That simply isn't true. It isn't close to anything that's close to being true. She's lying.

    B: So you say.

    A: No, what I say is irrelevant. What matters is what she said versus what the reality is. She is lying.

    B: OK, let's just say for the sake of argument that what she is saying there isn't true ...

    Enjoy the followup as well.
    packbat: Headshot looking serious and superimposed on the Gettysburg Address. (gettysburg)
    I've generally tended to take the position that while the people running Iran are a bunch of reactionary thugs, they're at least a fairly intelligent bunch of reactionary thugs.

    After this revelation on Iranian Press TV, however, I'm not so certain.

    FiveThirtyEight: Worst. Damage Control. Ever.

    (As I mentioned in the Google Reader repost, NY Times noted that Iranians are allowed to vote in districts they aren't registered in. This in no way suffices to explain what we're seeing here.)
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (internet)
    IMPORTANT UPDATE: Issue may be a simple case of poor systems security, rather than evil - see (1) (2) (3)

    xposted from my Twitter feed: is censoring LGBT literature. See and for more info.

    I've heard people saying "don't use Amazon" before, but this is rather egregious. Another person who has been all over this is [ profile] ironychan, including in both of her webcomics - here's a list of other online booksellers if you're interested.
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)

    What is your favorite macro? Why?

    View other answers

    Do you have to ask?

    (I am so setting myself up for disappointment...)
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (accept christ playstation)
    ( You're about to view content that the journal owner has advised should be viewed with discretion. )
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
    If you accept -- and I do -- that freedom of speech is important, then you are going to have to defend the indefensible. That means you are going to be defending the right of people to read, or to write, or to say, what you don't say or like or want said.

    The rest. (Via [ profile] kirabug.)
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
    From Roger Cohen, hat-tip to Andrew Sullivan:

    Of the 770 detainees grabbed here and there and flown to Guantánamo, only 23 have ever been charged with a crime. Of the more than 500 so far released, many traumatized by those “enhanced” techniques, not one has received an apology or compensation for their season in hell.

    What they got on release was a single piece of paper from the American government. A U.S. official met one of the dozens of Afghans now released from Guantánamo and was so appalled by this document that he forwarded me a copy.

    Dated Oct. 7, 2006, it reads as follows:

    “An Administrative Review Board has reviewed the information about you that was talked about at the meeting on 02 December 2005 and the deciding official in the United States has made a decision about what will happen to you. You will be sent to the country of Afghanistan. Your departure will occur as soon as possible.”

    That’s it, the one and only record on paper of protracted U.S. incarceration: three sentences for four years of a young Afghan’s life, written in language Orwell would have recognized.

    Via Mount Holyoke College, Orwell's "Politics and the English Language", 1946. Past time to be reading this one again.

    D-mn, sixty years, and we didn't learn anything.
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)

    California bumper sticker by *peganthyrus on deviantART

    I'm going to go ahead and stick my neck out for a moment here, and talk about marriage.

    I want to warn you in advance: I'm not really eloquent, and I'm not terribly meticulous. I have no illusions about the strength of my voice or the originality of my phrasing. If it is a rigorous case you want, Jesurgislac has a better analysis - I'm here to speak my mind.

    Let me start with questions: What is "marriage"? What is "civil marriage"? And why do we recognize it?

    I will try to answer these questions, but I will do so through this last, through the word "recognize" - recognition is the key to the whole business. Civil marriage is no more than the recognition of an earlier marriage, an alliance above and beyond the reach of law. There's a reason marriage sometimes happens in churches - the bond whose existence is affirmed and celebrated in these ceremonies is ... special, for lack of a better word. (I said I wasn't eloquent.)

    What, then, is this earlier marriage?

    In a word, it is love. It is dedication. The willingness to swear an oath, equal to equal, which in the common phrasing of these things often resembles this: "To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part." (Till death do us part? It is of no consequence, the meaning is clear.) It is a brash and daring refutation of the mundane cussedness of existence, the seemly invincible force of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and the cynicism of the worldly - it declares, to amend a phrase attributed to Martin Luther: "Here we stand. We can do no other. God help us. Amen."

    We choose as a people to recognize these bonds, as I have said. Today, then, we must recognize one more thing: what we recognize in these bonds is not the perpetuation of traditional gender roles, is not the perpetuation of the species, is not a perpetuation of anything preceding themselves. It is the bond itself.

    No on California Prop 8.

    For those of you not following the issues closely: present polling has this going either way. If you agree with me - and I know better than to hold it against you if you don't - seems to be the headquarters for the opposition. Please: throw a couple bucks in the jar, if you can spare them, and pass the word.

    Reposted from my deviantArt journal.
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
    As you know, I am an Obama supporter. But I am also a Republican, and I am a Republican because I don't believe that good governance comes from single-party rule.

    As a Republican, then, I am disappointed - no, repulsed - no, horrified by the McCain campaign of recent months.

    I am not going to discuss policy. Many policy positions of the Republican Party are unsustainable, but that is not what needs addressing.

    What needs addressing is "Who is Obama". What needs addressing is "William Ayers". What needs addressing is the robocalls, the angry rallies, the cresendoing drumbeat of hate, hate, hate that is engulfing what was once a political party, not a conspiracy to seize power.

    McCain, Palin, you are contributing to the destruction of your party, to the cost of everyone for whom that party means more that a new bumper sticker every four years. If for no-one else but them, do not do this. Fight with honor. Make us proud.


    Oct. 6th, 2008 08:30 am
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)

    Former 1960s radical Bill Ayers appeared (as himself) in the 2002 documentary The Weather Underground, which was narrated by Lili Taylor.

    Taylor was in High Fidelity with Tim Robbins who was in The Hudsucker Proxy with Steve Buscemi.

    And Steve Buscemi was in Tanner on Tanner with, yes, Barack Obama.

    That's only four degrees of separation -- a closer connection than either The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times was able to establish in their exhaustive attempts to find any links between the former '60s radical and the current Democratic nominee for president.

    Fred 'slacktivist' Clark on connections and what they really imply.
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)

    Like Bitch, Ph.D. said: "This speech might make you tear up; it did me. It's certainly timely as hell."

    Commentary at Washington Monthly and The G Spot.
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
    Via [ profile] demiurgent, a little meme in honor of our dear Alaskan governor:

    The Rules: Post info about ONE Supreme Court decision, modern or historic, to your lj. (Any decision, as long as it's not Roe v. Wade. Preferably your own country, but SCOTUS acceptable.) For those who see this on your f-list, take the meme to your OWN lj to spread the fun.

    (Full disclosure: I looked up the decision on Wikipedia. It's mostly my own wording, though.)

    One of the most important decisions in the battle over the wall of separation between church and state is Lemon v. Kurtzman. This decision is famous for being the source of the well-known Lemon test, requiring that any measure involving the government in religious matters meet three simple criteria:

    1. There must be a compelling state interest secular purpose,
    2. It must not have as its primary effect the advancement or inhibition of a particular religion, and
    3. It must not result in excessive entanglement between state and religion.

    Reposted from [ profile] packbat
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Earth:Harmless/WikiGuide)
    Via [ profile] demiurgent, a little meme in honor of our dear Alaskan governor:

    The Rules: Post info about ONE Supreme Court decision, modern or historic, to your lj. (Any decision, as long as it's not Roe v. Wade. Preferably your own country, but SCOTUS acceptable.) For those who see this on your f-list, take the meme to your OWN lj to spread the fun.

    (Full disclosure: I looked up the decision on Wikipedia. It's mostly my own wording, though.)

    One of the most important decisions in the battle over the wall of separation between church and state is Lemon v. Kurtzman. This decision is famous for being the source of the well-known Lemon test, requiring that any measure involving the government in religious matters meet three simple criteria:

    1. There must be a compelling state interest secular purpose,
    2. It must not have as its primary effect the advancement or inhibition of a particular religion, and
    3. It must not result in excessive entanglement between state and religion.

    Reposted to [ profile] peri_renna.
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
    [Error: unknown template qotd]

    An ... odd wording, and odd that anyone would still ask. Yes, they should be separate, in fact, must be separate. Your church is a tribe, a "race" in a sense almost as real as the skin-color sense, and to allow the reasons of the church to define the state establishes a privileged caste.

    In general, the church and state should be almost entirely unrelated. The chief exception is anti-discrimination, but the two may become loosely entangled due to other causes (e.g. state benefits for charitable non-profits).
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
    Just finished watching the debate. Initial impressions: McCain performed above my expectations, but that pretty much adds up to "it was close". What it comes down to, though, is the facts.

    Just to look up the first thing that comes to mind: according to transcripts, and ABC's blog agrees, McCain is simply wrong about Kissinger - he does support high-level talks without preconditions. Now, I don't care about errors like "Kennedy was out of the hospital before the debate started" or the Eisenhower letters thing, but if there are other significant points like Kissinger's stance on which McCain was simply and directly wrong, it matters.
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
    I spoke too soon.

    According to one GOP lawmaker, some House Republicans are saying privately that they’d rather “let the markets crash” than sign on to a massive bailout.

    The suspicion is that Sen. McCain is one of the driving forces behind this outbreak of stupidity. Only thing that could make it worse is if he did it to make sure that he didn't have to debate tonight.

    Oh, and the plan sounds pretty stupid, too, once you actually read it.
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
    The House Republicans maybe actually did the right thing.

    One group of House GOP lawmakers circulated an alternative that would put much less focus on a government takeover of failing institutions' sour assets. This proposal would have the government provide insurance to companies that agree to hold frozen assets, rather than have the U.S. purchase the assets.

    Rep Eric Cantor, R-Va., said the idea would be to remove the burden of the bailout from taxpayers and place it, over time, on Wall Street instead. The price tag of the administration's plan to bail out tottering financial institutions — and the federal intrusion into private business matters — have been major sticking points for many Republican lawmakers.

    Seriously, this greatly reduces the immediate cost to the government (an immediate cost which, I remind you, would be coming straight out of the budget deficit) while having a similar probability of putting a dam on the runs on these banks which cause the problems. (After all, if the government will pay back your investment if it collapses, rushing in to withdraw the funds while they still exist is no longer necessary.) Given that the only reason we're considering throwing $700 000 000 000 at this in the first place is because Paulson's staff wanted to name a really large number, why should we stick to any variation of this plan-to-have-a-plan?
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
    As a member of your constituency, I am writing to offer my encouragement as you work on the bailout plan recently proposed by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. I am aware that you are under intense pressure to get something done, but as I know you know, there are few worse things that can be done than blindly throwing money at a problem. Therefore, I want to tell you: do not give in, do not give up, do not give even in the smallest degree unless you can secure this plan with all the controls that it requires.

    Thank you for your time and trouble,
    Robin H. D. Zimmermann
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (darwin has a posse)
    Because I just haven't posted enough today. (;

    [01] Do you have the guts to answer these questions and re-post as The Controversial Survey?


    Cut for politics. )
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
    hilzoy at ObWi has a pile of links I haven't gone through yet. But looking at the leaked plan, I have to go with [ profile] gilmoure on [ profile] metaquotes and take pause ... well, everything, but particularly at this:

    Sec. 8. Review.

    Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.


    This is a blank check.

    This is a $700 000 000 000 blank check. (At least!)

    Is there anyone in the present administration you would trust with a $700 000 000 000 blank check? Heck, is there anyone at all you would so trust? If you had to borrow $700 000 000 000, would you want its spending completely in control of one person, in such a way that that one person could do anything with your money (your borrowed money), and no-one could stop them?

    I fear that this may yet come to pass.

    (Edit: More amateur analysis - this from the inimitable [ profile] pecunium.)


    Sep. 20th, 2008 08:32 am
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
    Hat tip to [ profile] baxil for the link: Paul Krugman just got a link sent to him (how many layers of indirection am I up to?) of a little piece John McCain submitted to go in Contingencies, the magazine of the American Academy of Actuaries.

    As the man says, you might want to sit down for this.

    I would also allow individuals to choose to purchase health insurance across state lines, when they can find more affordable and attractive products elsewhere that they prefer. Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.

    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
    Eight years ago, a man ran for President who claimed he was different, not a typical Republican. He called himself a reformer. He admitted that his Party, the Republican Party, had been wrong about things from time to time. He promised to work with Democrats and said he’d been doing that for a long time.

    That candidate was George W. Bush. Remember that? Remember the promise to reach across the aisle? To change the tone? To restore honor and dignity to the White House?

    We saw how that story ends. A record number of home foreclosures. Home values, tumbling. And the disturbing news that the crisis you’ve been facing on Main Street is now hitting Wall Street, taking down Lehman Brothers and threatening other financial institutions.

    We’ve seen eight straight months of job losses. Nearly 46 million Americans without health insurance. Average incomes down, while the price of everything -- from gas to groceries -- has skyrocketed. A military stretched thin from two wars and multiple deployments.

    A nation more polarized than I’ve ever seen in my career. And a culture in Washington where the very few wealthy and powerful have a seat at the table and everybody else is on the menu.

    Eight years later, we have another Republican nominee who’s telling us the exact same thing:
    This time it will be different, it really will. This time he’s going to put country before party, to change the tone, reach across the aisle, change the Republican Party, change the way Washington works.

    We’ve seen this movie before, folks. But as everyone knows, the sequel is always worse than the original.

    Continued here.
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)

    What were you doing on September 11th, 2001? How do the events of that day hold meaning for you now?

    View other answers

    On the eleventh of September, in the year two thousand and one of the common era, I was still taking classes at the Rockville campus of Montgomery College in the state of Maryland. I first heard rumors of the plane crash in the basement of the Macklin Tower (which may still have been the Campus Tower, then) near the phones at the bottom of the stairs where the vending machines were (there was an auto-mat-ish one with sandwiches and the like, or perhaps my memory is inaccurate), and dismissed them as unlikely. Shortly thereafter, I reached the classroom, where I discovered class was canceled and we were being sent home. Noncomprehending, I proceeded to the bus stop and thence home (I do not recall how), and came in to find people watching the coverage.

    We rarely watch TV in our house. We were glued to the set all that day.

    I remember when the footage of that guy on the street, his camera pointed to the sky, catching one plane enter one tower ... I remember when that hit the channels where I lived. I remember seeing them burning. I remember the people running through the streets with the dust from the collapse chasing them down. Odd that this is still topical, but I remember John McCain being interviewed - probably by telephone, the picture was of the towers - and saying we had to attack, go to war over this. (I'm sure it was the same day.) I remember Mom being disappointed with his response - I don't know why, because I disapproved from bullheaded war-is-evil simplemindedness that I still haven't wholly got over, but I think she expected him to be more thoughtful than that, more measured in his response. I remember the speculation about the fourth plane, and where it might have been aimed if the passengers hadn't stood up to the attackers.

    And ... well, I don't remember much else. It was seven years ago, I was sixteen, and things in New York had little to do with me. And it still seems like an utter shock to me that people found this so ... well, shocking, that their lives and worldviews were torn up and left inverted because of it. Because I don't think I ever lived in a pre-9/11 or post-9/11 world, I lived in maths and sciences, in Prince of Persia on the IBM 8086 PC, and in books good and bad, and who ever thought 'America' was invincible anyhow? But tear things up it did, and somehow as a nation the U.S. still isn't over it.

    I thought about what I'd say today, but I've nothing to say. Us us-ians lost two buildings, three thousand people, and our collective minds, and none of it did the slightest good to anyone ...
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
    In the comments on my artist-QOTD post, [ profile] jfs gave a good definition of art: art occurs whenever a person creates something whilst trying to evoke an emotional reaction. I was just thinking about the specifics of that - why "emotional" reaction, what kinds of reactions can/does art make, what kind of moral value should we ascribe to the methods and contexts of these reactions ... I don't know if this will be coherent, but it might be interesting interest.

    I guess I'll start with Dan Brown and Myst. No - I'll start with Agatha Christie and Myst; it's wrong to snipe at works you haven't perused.

    Wait - no, the point doesn't really work with Agatha Christie. I'd better just start somewhere, and let the chips fall as they may.

    One purported property of Dan Brown's writing is that it makes the reader feel clever. Specifically, The Da Vinci Code is accused of making its readers feel clever by showing them stupid puzzles. Assuming "feeling clever" is an emotional reaction (not much of a stretch, I think), I point out the following:

    • Assuming it was on purpose, The Da Vinci Code is art.

    • In addition, The Da Vinci Code is successful art in the evocative1 sense, not merely in the financial sense.

    • It is being criticized for the way it evokes these feelings - its critics say it should not make the reader feel clever in this way, presumably because the reader does not earn feeling clever.

    "Hey," my brain said. "What about Myst? It does take a little cleverness to solve those puzzles - isn't feeling clever justified there?"

    I'm not going to divert to the obvious moral, here. (I was tempted, mind - any excuse to plug Indigo Prophecy/Fahrenheit is welcome.) Instead, I think we should consider where this idea of justification of art, in this earned-emotion sense, leads. Is the emotional climax of Terminator 2 justified? What about the excitement and satisfaction of a good game of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City? Or of a good performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C minor? Or, on a more abstract note: are we justified in evaluating these works and the reactions they evoke? Or, higher still: are we justified in rejecting such evaluations as unworthy, or unnecessary, or inappropriate?

    Comments are open.

    1. "Evocative of emotional reactions". Hey, I wanted something short and snappy. ^
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Silhouette)

    I, Robin Hamilton Dickerson Zimmermann of Silver Spring, Maryland in the United States of America, henceforth declare, until such time as I may choose otherwise, that all works I create for which own the copyright shall be released to the public domain after twenty-eight years, save where I make a specific exception or where a contractual agreement into which I willingly enter states otherwise.

    A couple days ago, as I was browsing Project Gutenberg, I was startled to discover that several of H. Beam Piper's stories are available and in the public domain. I was amazed at this for one simple reason: almost nothing published after 1923 is in the public domain in the U.S.

    Let me say that again for emphasis. Almost nothing after 1923. This is a travesty.

    In 1841, one Thomas Macaulay spoke at long and eloquent length against an extension of copyright to a mere sixty years after the author's death. (Current U.S. law grants seventy.) I thought for a moment to excerpt an especially appropriate sentence or two from these speeches, but a moments' reading left me near quoting the entire thing – I shall instead merely bulletize the most salient points, leaving off Macaulay's erudite prose:

    • The copyright is not an innate right, but a creation of human government.
    • A copyright is a form of monopoly, and therefore effectively a tax on the public – thus, it should be restricted to precisely as long a term as would make equivalent the harm done to the public by monopoly and the good provided by encouraging the creation of new works.*
    • The prospect of income from a property a long time after one's death is no incentive whatsoever to the creation of new works.
    • The probability that the persons for whom the author might have concern will own the copyright a long time after one's death is minute.
    • The probability that the copyright owner might suppress the works, for whatever reason, is great.

    The passage of a hundred and sixty-five years has not changed these facts. (A hundred and sixty-six, now, but the temptation to point to various modern personages making the same points could not be resisted.) The fact that the word "copyright" makes the privilege sound inalienable has no bearing. These long terms of copyright encourage speculation by people rich enough to afford it, and actively suppress innovation by preventing the use of what has already been created. (Remember: someone had to invent the idea of alphabetizing.)

    I don't know why H. Beam Piper failed to renew his copyrights. The fact that these expired after twenty-eight years as a consequence is a mere coincidence of U.S. law. But it's a good thing that, say, Omnilingual is in the public domain now – the story is historically significant. And if, somehow, anything I make matters the way that did, I'd want no less for it.

    Edit: Making Light has another post on intellectual property that links back here – highly recommended reading. Also: anonymous comments are now open, but something's funky with Livejournal's comment notification system, so I might not reply right away. Gmail address is robin.zimm if you want to contact me directly. Blue arrow for replying, or click here.

    Edit 2: Chris Sullins has spotted an important error in Point 2, indicated – the intended statement was that the law should equate the marginal harm and marginal good.

    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Bumper)
    (I didn't know "midwifery" was a word – did you?)

    In celebration of ... none of these, actually, a piece of news: Matt Boyd is first fired for talking about target shooting, then visited by the police for webcomicking about it.

    List of suggested 'new-to-webcomics'-comics later.

    Rule of Law

    May. 3rd, 2007 01:43 pm
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (darwin has a posse)
    Pop quiz!

    [Poll #978071]

    Inspired by.
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
    As one who cares deeply about the idea of accurate product labeling, I am appalled that the FDA is considering loosening its regulations. To use the only example that has been made public, allowing food like cocoa with vegetable oil to be referred to as "chocolate" is certain to be detrimental to the health of millions of Americans who seek out the genuine article in part for its demonstrated beneficial properties (the antioxidants help reduce strokes and heart failure), not to mention the millions of Americans with allergies to peanuts, canola oil, and other common substitute ingredients.

    Can it fail to be obvious what will result from legislation along these lines? Our country is in the midst of what has been widely described as an "obesity epidemic". One even sees in new immigrants a sudden surge of heart attacks during their first months here. And regulations like the proposed would make it impossible for naive customers to protect themselves from yet another source of unhealthy fats.

    I say again: I am appalled that the institution that was founded because of the 1906 Food and Drugs Act precisely to prevent "the addition of any ingredients that would substitute for the food, conceal damage, pose a health hazard, or constitute a filthy or decomposed substance" - and the vegetable oils replacing the cocoa butter would qualify under both the first and the third of these - would consider such a destructive regulation.

    See Making Light's post for links to further information – the period for public comment on this docket ends April 25.
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Silhouette)
    Giuliani's no good, and Romney maybe not much better.

    Crane says he was disappointed with Romney's answer to his question the other night. Crane asked if Romney believed the president should have the authority to arrest U.S. citizens with no review. Romney said he would want to hear the pros and cons from smart lawyers before he made up his mind. Crane said that he had asked Giuliani the same question a few weeks ago. The mayor [Giuliani] said that he would want to use this authority infrequently. (emphasis added)

    I hope I don't have to explain why no human being should have this authority. If you don't already believe this, consider hilzoy's take at Obsidian Wings (I got the from her, and she got it from Glenn Greenwald at Salon).
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (swing dismount)
    I'm sure all of you have heard of the recent bomb scare in Boston following an Aqua Teen Hunger Force marketing campaign. Making Light has been doing fantastic coverage of this crisis; in addition to the post linked above, they have provided some analysis of the continuing actions of the Boston police department that is well worth reading. However, a source has alerted me to an important press conference by the two men indicted in this matter.

    As a proud afro-wearer, I approve this message.
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Silhouette)
    I posted this on [ profile] convert_me, but when I was writing it, I realized that I wanted such a statement of my beliefs to appear on my own journal as well. Here it is.

    I found [ profile] convert_me via [ profile] lovecrafty's post about liberal Christianity, and thinking about it, I realized that I would like to issue a [ profile] convert_me challenge. The truth is extremely important to me, and I realized that it would be wise of me to put myself before intelligent people who disagree with me, in hopes that I will be corrected in my errors.

    Hi. I'm [ profile] packbat, an American, a humanist, and a strong atheist.

    My background )

    Getting down to brass tacks, though, here is what I believe.

    I believe the universe makes sense. I believe that everything, from quarks to Murray Gell-Mann to the far reaches of space itself, operate according to principles, and that even if those principles are nondeterministic (as quantum mechanics implies), they are not rules that can be broken. I believe that Descartes was right when he claimed that no being able to solipsistically fool you into thinking the universe existed, would. I believe that absolute certitude is not required, and it makes sense to believe statements that could be false.

    I believe that if something is true, then there is probably evidence for it. I believe that if something as big as the existence of an active god was true, there'd be bucketloads of evidence for it. I believe that if there was even just a Prime Mover, there'd be plenty of evidence for it. I believe that the absence of expected evidence is evidence against. I believe that the expected evidence for gods is absent. I believe no gods exist.

    I believe that minds are natural phenomena, that they represent the workings of the brain, just as text represents words. I believe that no nonmaterial substrate is needed to 'power' a mind. I believe minds are as ruled by the laws of nature as everything else. I believe it still makes sense to claim I have free will, in spite of that.

    I believe ethics arise from human nature. I believe that empathy is the basis of moral good, and that the growth of morality comes from the recognition that our genetic kin aren't the only ones who deserve empathy.

    I believe the responsibility of government is to protect the rights of its citizens. I believe life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are such rights. I believe social programs like welfare, subsidized housing, and public health care support those rights.

    Convert me.

    * "Ätheist" is a term approximately synonymous with "weak atheist" invented by a member on [ profile] convert_me, and commonly employed there. That is why I included it.

    Edit 2009-03-19: The [ profile] convert_me post is here. I have since left the community.
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
    [ profile] alchemi posted this mid-last month.


    1. What is the appropriate tradeoff between liberty and security?
    2. What does the Right to Bear Arms mean?
    3. What does Free Speech mean?
    4. What is your position on abortion?
    5. What about consentual crimes such as drug use?
    6. What do you think about the death penalty?

    My answers )

    Not bad questions, I think.
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Silhouette)

    Attention US Military Personnel:

    You are not required to obey an unlawful order.

    You are required to disobey an unlawful order.

    You swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

    The Constitution states (Article VI):

    This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

    Here is article 3, the common article, to the Geneva Conventions, a duly ratified treaty made under the authority of the United States:

    Article 3

    In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:

    1. Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.

    To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:

    (a) Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;

    (b) Taking of hostages;

    (c) Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment;

    (d) The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

    2. The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.

    An impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict.

    The Parties to the conflict should further endeavour to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions of the present Convention.

    The application of the preceding provisions shall not affect the legal status of the Parties to the conflict.

    Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions is straightforward and clear. Under Article VI of the Constitution, it forms part of the supreme law of the land.

    You personally will be held responsible for all of your actions, in all countries, at all times and places, for the rest of your life. “I was only following orders” is not a defense.

    What all this is leading to:

    If you are ordered to violate Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, it is your duty to disobey that order. No “clarification,” whether passed by Congress or signed by the president, relieves you of that duty.

    If you are ordered to violate Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, this is what to do:

    1. Request that your superior put the order in writing.

    2. If your superior puts the order in writing, inform your superior that you intend to disobey that order.

    3. Request trial by courtmartial.

    You will almost certainly face disciplinary action, harassment of various kinds, loss of pay, loss of liberty, discomfort and indignity. America relies on you and your courage to face those challenges.

    We, the people, need you to support and defend the Constitution. I am certain that your honor and patriotism are equal to the task.

    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Silhouette)
    Awhile back, I was in the car with my dad (^z) and The Kinks' "Lola" came on the air. As we listened, my dad mentioned a theory that a friend of his had, that Lola in the song was actually a man.

    I'm sorry to say that I objected most strongly to this theory. In retrospect, it's clear that the interpretation isn't so unthinkable as I seemed to consider it, and in fact it can be argued from the lyrics that such an interpretation is reasonable. In all honesty, I don't know what the precise reason I had for believing that interpretation to be ridiculous – it may have been anything from an implicit belief that if a person presents herself as female, she should be considered so, or it may have been merely my identifying with the singer in some respect, and refusing the idea that I was by proxy fantasizing about a guy. Neither of these theories is as likely as my having simply thought "The singer said 'she', so it's a she, Q.E.D.", though. (I've always been a fan of believing the narrator.)

    However, thinking it over again, I think I must reaffirm my earlier judgment, although not so dogmatically. In my judgment, the female Lola theory seems better supported by the lyrics, although in either interpretation there is clearly interesting mixtures of gender roles suggested.

    Notably, Wikipedia's "Lola (song)" article focuses on the gender argument. Clearly my dad's college friend was far from alone.
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Silhouette)
    From Creating Passionate Users: World On Fire music video. (Warning: link will play music.)

    Ten second version: Sarah McLachlan would normally have spent $150 000 on this video. She spent $15, and donated the entire rest of the budget to charity works around the world. She listed the places she donated to in the video.

    Yeah, it's a gimmick. But it's an awesome gimmick. Sarah McLachlan deserves gigantic kudos for this.

    Incidentally, a commenter at Creating Passionate Users pointed out that she even used a free font in this thing. No foolin'.
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
    How to Discredit an Unwelcome Report, here.

    You know what moves it from merely interesting, to actually scary? I've seen some of these things done.

    Um, g'night. Again.
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
    I have been reading [ profile] ginmar's journal recently, and it got me thinking about how each person's freedom is restricted by everyone else's. Oddly enough, a recent 'situation' I was in offered an example of this theory in action.

    Some unspecified time ago, I was working on a school assignment. Specifically, I was working on rewriting the paper I turned in two weeks ago, but that's not important. And I was working on this assignment in a (semi-)public place, i.e. someplace which other people shared the right to occupy. And, in this case, there were other people, sharing the right to occupy the space.

    Here's the question: How much right did I have to restrict what they could do there?

    Certainly, they had the right to be there while I tried to write. Likewise, I had the right to be there and try to write. I will be the first to admit that there are times when I wouldn't have that right, but in this particular instance, I had a strong claim to it. And so did they. No argument there.

    Certainly they had the right to use their laptops there. Similarly, I had the right to use mine. Certainly, they had the right to read the newspaper there. Similarly, I had the right to read my class notes.

    Certainly they had the right to play their music there ... no, wait!

    When you reach the issue of the music, a new problem arises. Or rather, an old problem becomes rather more severe. That problem is: I was writing! How much right did they have to interfere with my trying to write? How much right did I have to interfere with them trying to play music?

    I won't disguise my opinion. I believe that I had the right to keep either and both of them from playing their music out lout, and that's it.

    Why do I claim this right? I argue that it is a reasonable compromise. To play the music out loud (and I emphasize that qualifier for a reason) is to make the space have music playing in it. We both have control over the space, so we both have control over whether music should be playing in it.

    Now, at this point we're even, or I'm behind. If they both want the music playing, I lose. But there's another factor.

    I have no control over what music they listen to. If either of the, want to play music on their headphones, they can. Therefore, if they want to listen to their music, and I want (relative) silence while I work, we can have both.

    How reasonable a compromise is this? I believe it to be eminently reasonable, for two reasons. The first is the obvious: the fact that they would not be severely inconvenienced by submitting to the compromise. The second is much more sophisticated: an appeal to John Rawls.

    I first heard of Rawls Game (that is the name that was given to it) a year or so ago, at a community college philosophy club meeting. I heard of it again very recently; in fact, in the same class for which I was writing the paper. The idea is fairly simple; it is a thought-experiment.

    Imagine that a group of people is brought together to write the constitution for a new country. However, when they finished, they would be randomly assigned their positions in the society they created. That is, when they are writing the rules of society, they don't know who they will be afterward. This hiding of their future roles is called the "veil of ignorance".

    Why is this concept so useful? Because any law that you make that involves more than one person, is a law you have to make not knowing which person you will be. That means that you won't want to make laws biased towards one person, or against another. If you made a law saying that every left-handed person in the country would have to be stoned to death, you could end up stoned to death!

    Now, how does a thought experiment about constitutional law apply to my situation, above? Bring in the veil of ignorance! If I don't know which person I will be – the writer or the music-listener – then I have to come up with something I can accept, either way. I can't say, "I have the right to blare out my music, period, and I have the right to silence while I work, period!" I have to come up with what both people will do, before I know which one is me. I have to be fair.

    And that's what mutual freedoms are all about.

    "Peak Oil"?

    Apr. 9th, 2005 06:59 pm
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Silhouette)

    It's a long post, but well-written, with helpful diagrams. As for its accuracy ... it sounds good, but I haven't checked. Yet.


    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)

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