From one of the participants in the new movie, The Real Cancun.
"I'd rather be known for this instead of being smart or something. There's a million people who are smart. There's only 16 of us who were in Cancun together."
I've been reading all the Leon Kass I can get my hands on (short of actually paying for anything he's written) in preparation for my promised post on his positions and yesterday I came across this very interesting passage in an interview with him.
I was headed for a career in academic medicine. Then in 1965 my wife and I went to Mississippi to do civil rights work. I came back with this question: Why was there more honor and dignity and things that I admired in these ignorant black farmers in Mississippi with whom we lived than in my well-educated, privileged fellow graduate students at Harvard University? I had been taught that education, opportunity, and privilege would banish poverty and superstition, and enable human beings to flower morally into the kinds of creatures that only the stinginess of nature and their ignorance prevented them from being. If that was true, why this discrepancy between these very smart people who were around me, many of whom you would not want your sister to marry, and these very fine, simple, uneducated men and women?
The recognition of the difference between being educated and being good is profound. But the implications aren't quite obvious. First, there is a second difference between good individuals and a good political organization of those individuals. An educated, technocratic polity may very well organize a more fair and efficient society than a group of uneducated, simple, but thoroughly good people. But the more significant (and controversial) point is this: could there be something very odd about Kass' (and, perhaps, our) morality such that people just a few generations removed from slavery and in so many ways oppressed could be considered good? Kass doesn't say what it is that makes these people good (neither does he say what he means by "human" and "dignity," although those are the key words of his ethic) so we can't be sure what it is that so appeals to him. But I'd say it's fair to guess that reverence for those who suffer without complaint and bitterness informs Kass' admiration. This may seem self-evidently proper to us, but some history and a dose of Nietzsche would tell you that it's quite anomalous to identify the good with the oppressed. I haven't come to any conclusions about this or Kass more generally, but it does give one pause when considering that Kass bases so much of his opposition to cloning on his notion of "human dignity."
I just got back from the eye doctor, where I noticed something strange. The more information they collected about me, the more I felt like they cared. This is partly a psychological issue. Part of feeling as if one is receiving proper care is feeling understood. Given the impersonal and technical way treatment happens today, each piece of information acquires some personal significance, as if it may be the little bit that stands for the strange feeling in my eyes when I'm driving home, or the difficulty focusing on approaching objects. I almost feel as if I'm channeling a language I don't understand and that somehow I'll help put together a coherent picture of my own experience by being subjected to tests.
This way of experiencing the doctor must have sociological and political ramifications. How much unconscious support is there for allowing information about oneself to be collected? Given that we all feel in some ways aggrieved and innocent, do we want the government to, in a personal sense, know us?
I'm comforted in this case that Americans seem to distrust authority much more than they crave its redeeming gaze, but I sure am feeling susceptible right now.
Last night's Lakers/Timberwolves game featured the kind of officiating that makes people think the NBA playoffs are fixed. There were at least three blown calls that, if not for improbable heroics by the Wolves, would have decided the game in the Lakers' favor. But I hope no one believes the games actually are fixed. They don't need to be: ref bias in favor of the champs and the home team are quite sufficient to ensure bad calls. The problem is that as long as the fans charge "fixed," the NBA can legitimately feel unfairly accused and the problem won't get solved. If the fans were making the fair and correct complaint: that the refs are poorly trained and wrong unacceptably often, then the NBA could probably be persuaded to change its training and standards for referees.
This seems rather important: stem cells extracted from baby teeth. Now Leon Kass' arguments will get real scrutiny since the major barrier to stem cell research (the fact that they come from embryos) seems to have been breached.
Promissory note: I'll be doing a post on Kass soon.
So, I have this, um, friend. He's been hearing that all the cool kids are trying match.com these days. So this friend of mine signed up and started reading some of the profiles women had posted. He then thought he might try responding to some of them. However, he faces the following issues, for which he sought my advice. I thought I might solicit the thoughts of our loyal readers. These are the problems/obstacles/challenges he thought of:
1) My friend, while generally articulate, is not good at talking about himself and tends to lapse into sarcasm/self-deprecation when forced to do so.
2) All the profiles my friend has read seem very much the same. All women in the world (or in Chicago, at least) are very devoted to their friends and family, enjoy travelling, going out to movies, and going out to dinner, but also enjoy staying in. They all have their feminine sides, but also enjoy sports. This is all for the good, but it doesn't seem like enough information to go on.
Given these issues, what's the best way to go to get an email noticed and replied to? My, um, friend is eager to hear your thoughts.
I used to enjoy reading Slate's business pieces back when Rob Walker wrote them. They were (a) engaging, (b) well-written and (c) knowledgeable. Now that they've got this Daniel Gross on the Moneybox beat, I find them to be (d) none of the above. I couldn't point to anything in particular before now as being a good example of Gross's general lack of talent/knowledge. Mercifully, today's piece provides a good example of what bugs me about his writing.
Gross is interested in the recent hullabaloo at a KKR portfolio company called Primedia, a medium size-ish magazine publisher (their CEO just got canned by KKR, evidently). Gross uses the news as an opportunity to muse on LBOs and the principal-agent problem. It would have been nice if he understood at least one of those two topics.
The principal-agent problem is an old one in law and economics. When an owner of a firm is not also the manager of the firm, the owner faces the problem of monitoring the manager so that the manager does not, to use a technical term, slack off. Gross attributes the growth of the principal-agent problem in American capitalism during the last century to, of all things, government regulation. He writes, "Over the course of the 20th century, government regulation essentially divorced the tight marriage of owners (or "principals") and management ("agents") at publicly held companies." This is a very odd statement. Most economists would, I think, attribute the growth of the principal-agent problem over the course of the last century to the need of large-scale enterprises to raise capital from the public at large (the public being the only real source for such large amounts of capital). Furthermore, to the extent government regulation has attempted to address the principal-agent problem, it has (through the various disclosure requirements of the securities laws) attempted to ameliorate the problem.
Gross then goes on to suggest that LBOs are principally designed to solve the principal-agent problem. This is also very odd. Taking a company private does help to solve the principal-agent problem, of course. When a company has just one owner, its a lot easier for that owner to monitor the manager it hires. However, the word leverage is there for a reason. Firms like KKR take companies private using borrowed money because it increases their equity returns - that's always the first and most important reason for a leveraged buyout.
So long post short - bring back Rob Walker. Or at the very least, fire this Gross fella.
This will probably strike the three people who read it as a thoroughly boring topic to think about. All I can say is this. Tough shit, it's my blog (at least in part) and I'll write about the stuff that interests me.
Here are a couple of links swiped from Coolio's. I have nothing to add.
UPDATE: This site is either an innocent service for cell-phone internet surfers in Japan or a nefarious enterprise that mirrors other sites and then inserts links to its own content into them. Either way, they shouldn't have a static URL that points here (they're now the third result in Google searches for "unfogged") so I've implemented the fix that Nels Lindholm so helpfully suggested in the comments and the site can no longer mirror us.
David Post, over at the house of Volokh (should such a sinister name belong to this man?) points to this article about TiVo and its customer/evangelists. I was evangelized into the cult of TiVo and am now an evangelist. But my experience with the TiVo seems to be quite different from that described in the article. It is claimed that
TiVo users watch an average of five to six additional hours of television per week
Leave aside that it's not entirely clear whether that's additional as in more than before or as in more than other people; I've found that I watch much less TV since I got TiVo. I think that's because getting the TiVo forced me to look at the TV schedule, decide if there were things I really wanted to see and choose them. We record two weekly shows and the occasional special. No more flipping around to see if there's anything good on and no more watching the tail end of X so as not to miss the beginning of Y. It's also wonderful for sports, since I can go out during weekends and not think about missing some playoff or another (and I come home only to realize that I don't really care if I see it or not: Delete Now).
Maybe this could all be done with a will stronger than my own, but shelling out a few hundred dollars to keep me from watching TV seems like a bargain. I must say though that my preferences can't be the norm, since I really miss commercials, which I find to be the most interesting thing on TV. That's why I'm an adgrunt.
And, while we're talking about television, holy moly is this guy funny.
Kieran Healy has news of her death and an excellent recommendation. For those of you who haven't heard her, also be sure to find her recording of "Sinnerman," which sustains more energy for longer than any song I've heard. And if you have no idea who she is, you can read this.
I think it's safe to say that there is a trend of lean and hungry peoples conquering the fat and happy, building great civilizations, becoming fat and happy and being conquered by the lean and hungry.
Another trend is that people often think they discern some peculiarity in the present that frees them from history's patterns.
Well, nevermind historical perspective. The US may be fat and happy, but I think it just might avoid this particular decline and here are my peculiarities.
Information. We know what's going on all around the world, not in every particular, but certainly enough to recognize an ascendant power. That gives us the opportunity to manage, intervene, and even, of course, topple potentially hostile forces before they become an "existential" threat.
Technowar. In this context, fat and happy is shorthand for the devaluation of the martial virtues and skills. This hasn't happened throughout the country, but even if it were to happen, it may not be a problem, because, increasingly, soldiers don't win wars, technology does. We'll always need some soldiers who can shoot and believe in honor, but we'll need many fewer when airplanes and tanks become unmanned, as has already begun to happen. And, in the real twist, the softer we get, the better our military gets: more geeks, better guns.
Those are broad points, because 1) I'm just trying to get a discussion started and 2) I don't know jack about military history.
And, this isn't to say that I think the US will be ascendant forever. I tend to think it will succumb to demagoguery, but we don't need to get into that again.
UPDATE: Crikey. This week's NY Times Magazine cover story is headlined "The Unmanned Army." Guess I was a day late to this party.
Discovered this site after I stumbled across a reading by Sarah Vowell that was being broadcast on C-Span. Very funny.
I think I may be in love with Sarah Vowell, just so you know.
What's with all this blogging on Sunday? I thought it was a day of rest.
I got nothing original to say right now, but I thought might respond to/update a couple of recent posts. I would like to inform both Ogged and Magik that I took this quiz and scored a 110 (I briefly confused Latvia for Estonia, but we are none of us perfect). I also took the Africa quiz and got a 125 (I'm a little weak on equatorial West Africa, but otherwise am pretty strong).
In other news, I gave in and bought an Xbox. UPS willing, it arrives this week. I'm working on other ways to regress, intellectually and otherwise.
You may have noticed the recently added icons on the left. I've added an XML feed and a Creative Commons license. For those of you who already know all about these, feel free to skip the rest of this post, but for those who don't really know what they're all about, this post is for you.
XML and RDF are ways of making the information on the page "machine-readable," which just means that each part of the page is assigned a label or category. So, the titles of the posts get a "title" label, the bodies get a "description" label, and so on (see Unfogged's XML coding here). There are a lot of visual cues on Unfogged to set off the title of the post from its body and to separate one post from the next. It's very difficult to program a computer to understand those visual cues. The XML labels let computers make sense of the page, thus the term "machine-readable." The great advantage of machine readable code is its flexibility and portability. When a program can tell what each part of the page is, it can organize the parts in a spreadsheet or database or reformat them however the programmer likes (and, crucially, vice-versa: you can make web pages by reading information from a database).
Blogs that have an "XML feed" are making their information available in a machine-readable format. Users with a "feed reader" (aka "news aggregator") can have their aggregator check the XML feed of a blog and if there is any new information, retrieve it and show it to the user; no more checking blogs for updates and you can collect the information from many sources in one program (hence the term "aggregator").
Blogs aren't the only source for information that can be read by news aggregators. Lots of major news sites make their information available and there are thousands of other sources. Go to this page and follow any of the links on the right to find feeds you are interested in. And if you want to add a feed from a blog that doesn't seem to have a way to "syndicate" its content, go to David Janes' Blogmatrix, which often has feeds for blogs that don't provide their own.
There are many programs that can retrieve and read XML feeds. You'll have to try them out and decide which you like best. I use Outlook, so NewsGator, which is an aggregator that plugs into Outlook, has been great for me, but I've come across other good stand-alone readers.
One final note. XML and RDF are different formats that do, basically, the same thing. If you care for an explanation of the differences, go here. For the most part, you'll be fine with the XML feed.
Now, about Creative Commons. I won't say nearly as much about this because I'm not a lawyer and the Creative Commons site has lots of good clear information. But, in short, Creative Commons (a project of Stanford's Lawrence Lessig, the would-be Special Master Microsoft objected to during its trial) allows publishers of web content to protect the rights to their material by making it easy to create and place a (somewhat) tailored copyright notice on their pages. Unfogged, for example, uses the "By Attribution" license, which more or less means that you can use what you like from the site, as long as you give us credit. An example of another type of license is "Non-Commercial," which stipulates that content may be used, but not for commerical purposes. There are others and you can read about them at the Creative Commons site.