Fairly Symmetrical

September 2002 Archives

03:17 PM by Eric: Captain Euro Goes to Sunnydale Culture | Humor | Politics

Okay, Captain Euro Goes to Sunnydale is brilliant. Mac captures the voices of the characters absolutely perfectly (and incidentally, the political commentary is pretty decent too):

XANDER: So this is what you do, huh? You roll into town in your tights and insult people with your nose-up-in-the-air attitude? I need any insulting done, I can get it at home, I don't need your contribution.

SPIKE: And I'll insult him.

XANDER: Right, Spike can insult me. Lord knows, that's the only way he ever gets to hurt anyone anymore.

SPIKE: Mate, don't push your luck.

XANDER: Or what, you'll have a headache at me? Bring it on, blondie.


12:40 PM by Eric: Moral bankruptcy in higher education -- and the lack thereof Politics

Every once in a while someone in a position of authority will stand up and say something that needs saying, and say it openly (none of this "a source at…" crap). The sad thing about this is that it's rare enough to be noteworthy.

Harvard President Lawrence Summers stood up and said some things that needed saying about anti-Semitism in the Western world, and I respect him for that. Often University presidents, like other heads of state, refrain from saying the things that need saying because of other concerns (political or not). His adamant denial that Harvard would divest itself of Israeli monetary concerns was worthy of applause, however shameful the need for it.

Someone else from Harvard has added their own voice to the mix, again in an open manner which invites debate and confrontation. Alan Dershowitz has written an opinion piece challenging Paul Hanson, a House Master at Harvard who signed the divestment petition. Dershowitz makes several important points regarding Israel's history of democracy and respect for human rights, among them praise for Israel's independent judiciary, its protections for freedom of speech, its refusal to use torture to extract information from suspects, and its multiple offers of statehood for the areas it has conquered. In a final masterstroke, he challenges Hanson to an open debate on the topic—a challenge Hanson has refused once already, citing "more important priorities". (Though what priorities could be more pressing to a Harvard professor than openly defending their ideological stance, a stance many people find objectionable and would doubtless like clarified, is hard to imagine. or perhaps not, given how defensible Hanson's stance is…)

When one side of an argument issues public invitations to openly debate the positions and the merits, and the other side has better things to do, I think it reflects rather important clues as to which side is both more intellectually honest, and more morally correct. Of course, Dershowitz says it better:

A House master who peremptorily signs a petition and then hides behind "other priorities" does not serve the interests of dialogue and education. I hope that Hanson will accept my challenge, and that if he does not, that I will be invited by his students to help fill the educational gap left by the cowardice of those who have signed this petition and refuse to defend their actions in public debate.

05:34 PM by Eric: The first smiley Current Fruit
01:23 PM by Eric: Why I love Google, reason #237 Tech

At the very bottom of the new Google News:

This page was generated entirely by computer algorithms without human editors.
No humans were harmed or even used in the creation of this page.

01:10 PM by Eric: The UN Reorganizes…again. Politics

How you can tell when a government has jumped the shark: they start issuing "five year plans", each of which have "similar goals" — thus indicating no real progress from one to the next.

With 15,484 meetings held and 5,879 reports issued — each in six languages — during the latest two-year budget cycle, UN officials say their workload has become so heavy that it has left them little time to carry out their required tasks, let alone reflect on what their organization is doing and how well it is performing.

Of course, the report says nothing about addressing the inherent contradictions and blindnesses present in many of their programs. On the contrary:

03:41 PM by Eric: Robot Photography Tech

Huh… I didn't know there was any significant AI/robotic work here in St. Louis… Wash U seems to be better known for its medical school (and perhaps bio and law) than its computer science department. Evidently researchers here have developed a robot which can wander around and take photographs unassisted. Sounds like it would be a very interesting project to work on. The robot even knows (and uses) the Rule of Thirds.

02:45 PM by Eric: Understanding HTTP Cookie Current Fruit
05:40 PM by Eric: Advertising and the state of the music industry Culture

Every so often Penny Arcade is brilliant:

Let's say you want to advertise your candy - or "lolly" - on the radio and television. You could pay a set amount of money for access to thirty-second or minute slot. Or, and here's an idea, you can make a song by a "band" whose name is the product you're trying to sell, and get it into rotation on stations and have them play it for you… The production of Pop Hits being a largely mechanical enterprise, it will not be difficult to suitably emulate the music of the moment. I don't know what the going rate is for payola, but my hunch tells me it compares favorably with actual ad spots. Customers can then go out and purchase your advertising, and they will, because they're fucking retards.

The PA post was, of course, set off by EA's double deal with McDonald's and Intel for product placement in The Sims Online. I have to say I find the EA/McDonald's/Intel deal amusing -- I can't for one minute imagine that anyone will go out and buy an Intel-based computer because they saw their Sims playing a game on it; nor can I imagine someone choosing the Golden Arches over Burger King because their online Sim makes their simoleans selling fries. This isn't any different from standard product placement in a movie or television show.

The Starburst issue, on the other hand, is more interesting.

09:00 AM by Eric: The latest completely unworkable anti-piracy measure Culture

Epic Records Group has taken the drastic step of sealing CD players shut and gluing headphones onto them to stop digital copies being made from promotional albums. The albums involved are Riot Act by Pearl Jam and Scarlet's Walk by Tori Amos.

From an article in the New Scientist.

This is getting ridiculous. First of all, I would think most reviewers have their own sound systems, which they probably have set up to reproduce music the way they like it. Those sound systems are probably more capable than portable CD players cheap enough that Epic was willing to throw them away on reviewers.

Second of all, this doesn't even really make pirating the CD much harder. Sure, you can't remove the CD from the player, pop it into your computer, and rip it. Sure, you can't pull out the headphone cord and replace it with a direct cable to the audio in on your soundcard. What you can do is cut the headphone cord, strip the cut ends, go buy a $2 audio cord from Radio Shack, cut one end off, strip those ends, and twist the headphone cord with the audio cord. Then plug the audio cord into your audio in and you're good to go.

The only real effect this has is making the recording companies look more desperate -- and more incompetent. Their last two tries at "copy protection" have been defeated by a Sharpie and a pair of scissors. Why don't they just give up?

Saw it first at Ars.

11:59 PM by Eric: Complicated Culture | Personal | Philosophy | Politics

The world is a complicated place. It was a complicated place on 9/10/2001, and it's an equally complicated place today. I have no doubt that it will still be a complicated place on 9/11/2003 as well. 9/11 didn't simplify things, nor complicate them; on a macro scale, I don't even think it actually changed much.

This post was actually written on 9/12, but I have backdated it to the night before so that it will show up if anyone goes looking for that date on my blog.

09:15 AM by Eric: Anarcho-fascist nutjobs Politics

Ref: USS Clueless: The Fringe of the Fringe

Den Beste says:

Of all the odd statements in here, easily the most strange one is this:

The authority of the state derives from its goals.

That goes totally contrary to my political belief, which is that the authority of a state derives from a mandate granted by those who are part of it. This statement turns out to be the key to understanding Treanor's fundamental politics: he doesn't see states as being permanent entities, nor as being ones associated with physical locations.

Actually, surprisingly enough this didn't originate with Treanor. In fact, it was (or at least, is very similar to) one of the major influences in the French Revolution -- which was heavily informed by political philosophy of the early to mid 1700's, much like our own American Revolution. In that Revolution, the government was considered to receive its mandate from "the will of the people" -- but not in any way most Americans would interpret that phrase. The *goals* of the state served as pure justification for any action the French government -- whose every act, by definition, was the righteous execution of the "will of the people" -- might take, including terror, purges, executions, and torture. I believe that the state was also defined similarly to Treanor's ravings -- as the pure expression of a set of political goals, rather than any physical location or constituency. One can verify this by scanning the original French Constitution's language.

For more on the topic (and I know I've plugged this before) check out a book called Sister Revolutions: French Lightning, American Light, which is a comparative history of the French and American revolutions and their ideological underpinnings (as well as a dissection of why the American Revolution was so much more successful, at least from a classical liberal point of view). Anyone who shares Den Beste's political beliefs (or who finds the anarcho-fascist viewpoint utterly incomprehensible) might find the book instructive.

One final note: it's not entirely bankrupt to consider a state a non-permanent, non-physically located entity. One can easily speak of states that no longer exist, or a state "in exile" (much as Taiwan has considered itself China "in exile"). Depending on one's sympathy for them, one might even consider the existence of a Palestinian "state", despite the fact that it has no borders and exists almost purely at Israel's sufferance. The definition of state is fairly nebulous; we can't demarcate by ideology (else the US itself would not be a state) nor by race/ethnicity (ditto). We could define a state as a population or area governed by a common system and instance of government, but that runs the risk of identifying the local union or Rotary Club a state, which doesn't seem right either. Also, one might consider the smallest state possible. Can one man be a state? What if he's a head of government (a King, perhaps) in exile? What if he's a billionaire who buys an old oil platform in international waters, raises a flag over it, and lives there alone? (I don't believe Treanor's "Europe" is a valid state, but it's difficult to articulate a precise definition of "state" that correlates with my "common sense" of whether something is a state or not.)

11:44 AM by Eric: ded kitty Culture

Well, it's been true for some time… but now it's official: Napster is dead.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

This page was last updated Sun 23 September 2007 at 08:46 AM CDT