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Communication

Posted by Ogged
on 05.17.03

Our focus on the First Amendment really distorts our notions of free discourse. The government may not pass laws restricting speech, but they blithely issue rules that have the effect of squelching debate. This is a crucial time, with the FCC very likely about to change media ownership rules and Internet access still vulnerable to control. Please go to Lawrence Lessig's blog and read there for a while to educate yourself and get some ideas of what you can do to help. There are no guarantees that we'll be able to keep what we have.


 

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The Presidency, SportsCenter Style

Posted by Ogged
on 05.16.03

Is it bad that the President's image is so carefully controlled? (via Sitting on a Fence) It may seem insidious, but every leader is gilded and it would be churlish to object just because the Bushies are so good at it. That said, this quote from WH communications director Dan Bartlett was still an eye-roller.

Americans are leading busy lives, and sometimes they don't have the opportunity to read a story or listen to an entire broadcast. But if they can have an instant understanding of what the president is talking about by seeing 60 seconds of television, you accomplish your goals as communicators.

 

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Mohammed al-Dura

Posted by Ogged
on 05.16.03

Mohammed al-Dura, of course, was the Palestinian boy who died so publicly and disturbingly after being shot in the crossfire of an Israeli-Palestinian skirmish. But even that may be assuming too much. James Fallows has written of an investigation, opposed by the Israeli government, into what really happened to Mohammed al-Dura that raises serious doubts about who shot him and even, in the minds of some, whether he was shot at all. This isn't a crank investigation but I would recommend reading the entire article not so much to make a determination about what happened, but for perspective on how competing accounts are manufactured from fragmentary information and how those accounts gain currency.


 

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Stockholm to Hawaii

Posted by Ogged
on 05.16.03

Unf didn't get to see the Matrix, but it sounds like he may be in one of his own. Is the steak worth it, Mr. Unf? In any case, these two reviews (already blogged to death) are good catalogs of the movie's failings and come to much the same conclusion: the sequel stinks. (Did I mention that I have a humane job and I was able to decide on the spur of the moment to go see the movie last night?) I'll just add a few things.

Hugo Weaving is again terrific as Agent Smith and his scenes are still great fun to watch (and when you're watching Agent Smith, try to recall that Weaving was also in "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert"). Second, the decision to go with the "R" rating was a mistake. I'm a great admirer of deftly deployed profanity and nudity, but in a movie that was much too long and heavy-handed, just about any cuts would have been welcome and the contrast between the human fleshiness of Zion with the sterile world of the machines would have been more effective if the flesh we saw was fleeting but crucial (remember the wonderful "I have seen your wrists!" from Angels & Insects?)

And one last note, and not just to the Wachowski brothers: stop using so much CGI. It looks bad, particularly for rendering anything human or large, and it sucks the emotion out of a movie. I could feel the audience become disengaged when we were watching CGI; we can suspend disbelief, but we can't be convinced to care about a video game interpolated into a human drama.


 

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Why I Still Don't Like Kobe

Posted by Ogged
on 05.16.03

I caught a lot of flack at home last night when I didn't evince the proper generosity of spirit when Kobe Bryant cried after the Laker's oh-so-sweet loss to the Spurs. Yes, Kobe had been arrogant and hubristic, but here he was, a young man, sad in defeat. But he was still suffering from hubris! "I hate this feeling, I don't ever want to feel it again," he said. Those aren't the words of a man who has gained the wisdom that the world is a more strange and difficult place than we can imagine, with infinite hidden ways of laying us low. No "finitude" or "original sin" for Kobe, just the belief that with more hard work, he can become invincible. Note to the kid: Michael cried only when he won.


 

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Mary Ellen Mark

Posted by Ogged
on 05.16.03

There are some excellent photographs here. (Via Anne Galloway's very nice blog)


 

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Trapped

Posted by Unf
on 05.15.03

So as I said, I had tickets for the opening night of the Matrix. And that night I did in fact find myself in an artificial world, constantly hunted by forces of pure evil. However, it was my office and not the Matrix in which I was trapped. So no movie review, unfortunately. And the funny thing is, when a headhunter called today, I actually said I wasn't looking for any other opportunities. I know they call it Stockholm Syndrome when people come to sympathize with their captors. What do they call it when people don't so much sympathize with their captors, but are too lazy to do anything about their present situation? Oslo Syndrome, maybe?


 

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Naked to the World, Or Not

Posted by Ogged
on 05.15.03

It's called Fuzzmail and you will love it. Very cool. What I wouldn't give to have had The Republic or Hamlet written this way!


 

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Blogroll Pruning

Posted by Ogged
on 05.15.03

I just removed the "US Policy Page" from the blogroll as it's not been updated in over a month. There are still some very interesting things to read there though.


 

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Wish I'd Thought of This

Posted by Ogged
on 05.15.03

From the Invisible Adjunct, we hear that at Coppin State College, students who failed to meet graduation requirements sued to be awarded degrees and allowed to graduate despite their failure. How did the case turn out? Never you mind: the President of Coppin State, Dr. Stanley Battle, overruled his faculty and accepted the students' demands. This despite the fact that some of the students who had failed had turned in plagiarized or patently substandard work.

This is plainly ridiculous. But isn't it also fairly easily remedied? Have incoming students sign a contract in which they agree to be be bound by faculty decisions regarding their grades and to resolve intractable disputes through an internal arbitration process. Any reason that wouldn't work?


 

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I Know You Are, But What Am I?

Posted by Ogged
on 05.15.03

The French have sent a letter to members of the US goverment, formally protesting and denying accusations made against them regarding their support for Iraq. I'm not going to speculate about whether the French really did help the Iraqis with their nuclear program or gave French passports to escaping Baathists, but this story is worth noting, because as the reporter, Karen De Young, writes

The unprecedented letter, signed by French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte, is an indication of the depth and bitterness of the breach between the two historic allies

Generally, governments rile up their people by demonizing other countries while still maintaining quite cordial relations at the highest levels. But in this instance, it really does seem that each government believes the worst of the other. I sure hope I'm around when the files on this episode in history are declassified.


 

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Just Beyond Our Vision

Posted by Ogged
on 05.15.03

Here's a beautiful letter to the New York Times about a truly sad story.


 

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Clay Over Ruben, Bigot!

Posted by Ogged
on 05.14.03

I love Salon (mainly out of habit at this point, but still) but this article by Bomani Jones about reality shows and race buries every good point it had a chance of making under the hopeless argument that on American Idol the remaining black male, Ruben Studdard, is so far superior to the remaining white male, Clay Aiken, that a victory for Clay (which the author thinks is a foregone conclusion) can be attributed only to racism.

But if you're going to charge people with racism, the bar has to be much much higher than whether they disagree with you about who is a better performer. I, and others I've watched the show with, do in fact think that Clay is better than Ruben. The fact that racism is a possible explanation for this preference doesn't mean that it's the only or correct explanation. Jones either believes that his taste is and should be the standard by which the taste of every other person is judged, or he takes every possible case of racism as an actual case (and he may be guilty of both).

As we saw with the anti-war movement, using bad arguments in a good cause only discredits the cause.

APPENDIX (of a sort): I don't think this is relevant to the argument above, but I can't mention American Idol without saying that this year's competition is something of a sham since the dismissal, for having appeared on a porn site, of Frenchie Davis, who was, by a longshot, the best performer of the bunch.


 

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Derrida, The Movie

Posted by Ogged
on 05.14.03

Did you know that there's a documentary about Derrida out now? I managed to catch it tonight. It's a well-made movie and Derrida turns out to be a really likable guy: playful, impish, but still dignified. What was most interesting to me was that Derrida thinks and speaks the same way he writes: always circling, making improbable connections, always trying to include include include. This made his writing seem much less affected. He writes the way he thinks. The problem is that his habit of mind can't be copied successfully by others as a prose style (particularly not as a prose style in translation). But this has always been the case with the academic movement that's come to be called "deconstruction:" Derrida is smart, careful and rigorous with texts. His imitators aren't.


 

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Matrices

Posted by Unf
on 05.13.03

I have procured tickets to a 10 pm showing of this new Matrix movie tomorrow. I intend to write the definitive review of it tomorrow and inform the world whether it suck, blows, rocks or rules. Actually since Carrie Anne Moss is in it, it can't be all bad.


 

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The Rove Strategy

Posted by Ogged
on 05.13.03

Unless you're Brad DeLong, what's not online doesn't make it into your blog. Last week's New Yorker had a great profile of Karl Rove by the New Yorker's great profile writer, Nicholas Lemann. In closing, Lemann pretty much sums up the Republican/Rovian strategy: the Democrats' funding comes from 1) Labor 2) Trial Lawyers and 3) Jews. The Republican strategy has been to 1) Undermine unions and eliminate funding for government programs (which are staffed overwhelmingly by Democrats) 2) Pass Tort Reform to curtail the flow of money to trial lawyers themselves 3) Support Israel almost unconditionally, drawing Jewish support away from the Democrats.

With the recent ruling against McCain/Feingold, support for Israel high because of "terror sympathy," and the damage already done by the the tax cut that passed two years ago, it's not at all clear that the Democrats can fight back effectively. Since the Republican strategy is a long-term one, the Democrats' best bet is to devote all their resources to defeating Bush in 2004 and turning the tide from the White House. That doesn't look very promising either.


 

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This Vijay is no good

Posted by Unf
on 05.12.03

Evidently, Vijay Singh has threatened to withdraw from the Colonial if he gets paired with Annika Sorenstam. Sorenstam (a woman, for those of you not up on your pro Golf and Swedish given names) got a sponsors exemption to play at the Colonial (which normally requires, among other things, a Y chromosome in order to play).

This bothers me on a number of levels. First of all, I consider Sorenstam Sarah Vowell-quality attractive (an odd thing to say, I agree), so I don't care to see her insulted in public. Second, a lot of the PGA Tour players seem to be opposed to her presence at the tournament mostly because they seem nervous they're going to lose to a girl. Finally, golf is one of the few sports where serious athleticism doesn't really matter (they called Craig Stadler the Walrus, and not because he was a good swimmer). So it would be really cool to see a good woman player go up against the best on the men's tour, because golf is one sport where that would actually be a good contest. Alas, I guess this is what we get when there's a Republican in the White House.


 

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Jayson Blair

Posted by Ogged
on 05.12.03

I was about to do my oblogatoryŠ post about the New York Times / Jayson Blair fiasco, but I see one of Andrew Sullivan's readers has taken my point and stuck it in Howell Raines' heart (scroll up a bit to "Email of the Day").

And I hope no one at the Times allows this to be the last word on responsibility.

UPDATE: Pathology. Blair's work while an intern and freelancer at the Boston Globe is also suspected of dishonesty.


 

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How Do You Like Your Putin's Soul, Mr. Bush?

Posted by Ogged
on 05.12.03

So, the Taliban is regrouping, thanks in part to money and weapons from Russia. Remember the warnings, forgotten in the fall of Kabul, about the Great Game and difficulty of controlling Afghanistan? Seems knowledge of history is trumping the penetrating gaze. But perhaps this turn of events isn't quite so strange, given that now we're the Soviets.


 

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Artificial Markets

Posted by Ogged
on 05.12.03

No doubt it's better to pontificate, complete with caveats and nuance, than to make an either/or prediction, but I'm surprised more bloggers don't participate in artificial markets. (Blogshares doesn't count in this case.)

In an artificial market, such as Newsfutures and the Foresight Exchange, participants invest their "money" in outcomes ranging from whether Osama Bin Laden will be captured this month to who will win the NBA championship to whether the Twin Prime Conjecture will be proven. Artificial markets aren't just amusing; they've proven themselves to be excellent predictors of future events. James Surowiecki wrote about them in the New Yorker a couple of months ago.

I've signed up at Newsfutures and I'll let you all know which outcomes I'm thinking of buying and selling. Unf, any interest? I think it would be fun to get more bloggers involved.


 

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This is not good.

Posted by Unf
on 05.11.03

Not sure the invasion of Iraq was a good idea. Not sure the Bush administration was ever being entirely straightforward about its motives for invading. Not sure the Bush administration was ever willing to put the necessary effort into rebuilding Iraq. And now it appears that, having decided to do a half-ass job, we are now doing it very poorly.

Plus, terrorists are attacking Chicago tomorrow, which is probably going to screw up my commute.


 

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Possible Worlds

Posted by Ogged
on 05.11.03

RuPaul has a blog. It's really good. RuPaul's life is nothing like mine.

the show was amazing, due mainly to one dancer, who did an erotic striptease tribute to the lives lost on 9/11. the dancer, who looked all of 16 years old, entered the stage to the sounds of audio taped news accounts of the tragedy. he then held up cardboard signs that read "9/11/01-never forget !" and "why ? what for ? religion ?". TOM and i were in DAVID LYNCH heaven, whispering "is this really happening ?". nothing is sexier than a tribute to the dead. since we were seated up front and center, we had to keep a straight face, as not to draw attention to our sick and twisted sense of humor. pinching each other to suppress volcanic guffaws, in the same way me and my younger sister would do in church.
another high point of the revue was the appearance of a first time stripper from brazil (need i say more ? ouch !). he had the smoothest ass cheeks i've ever had the pleasure of groping. i would reveal the name of this place, but i don't want to jeopardize it's existence by calling any more attention to it. this place is too fucking good to be true.

And...

tonight, my friend SAMI invited me to a screening of GUNS AND ROSES, the new western starring LIL KIM and BOBBY BROWN. during the film, i got up to go to the restroom, and as i approached the area where the restroom doors are, i saw BOBBY standing in front of the door with 2 bodyguards. i rarely ever say hello to celebrities for fear of getting my feelings hurt, so i just walked on by, but before i could go in, BOBBY said "RU ?...BOBBY BROWN" and i said "HI, i'm RU" and we shook hands. as i turned to go into the mens room, WHITNEY was exiting the ladies room and our eyes met and we smiled. as the mens room door closed behind me, i could hear BOBBY telling WHITNEY that "that was RuPAUL". next thing i knew and before i could do my thing, BOBBY had come into the mens room and said "RU, my wife wants to meet you". i walked out into the hallway and there she was. she looked absolutely beautiful and healthy, wearing a pair of tight jeans and a low cut blouse under a leather blazer. she said "i love you...i love your work, man" and i said "thank you... i love you, too", as we smiled, shook hands and said goodbye.

And I don't think my friends would have pointed me to a site like this.


 

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Past Worlds

Posted by Ogged
on 05.11.03

I can't really dispute that my memory is terrible since, well, I forget things all the time. But my memories aren't completely gone, it's just that each memory seems to have very few and specific triggers. Tonight, Matthew Yglesias posted about David Lewis' book, On the Plurality of Worlds, by the late eminent analytic philosopher David Lewis. There was some discussion by Matthew about an infinite number of possible worlds and I posted a question in his comments about what the possible implications of this idea might be.

So far, it's normal blog surfing behavior. But then Matthew posted a reply to my question and I rephrased his point for my own benefit and something about the phrase I used triggered the memory: I saw David Lewis give a lecture about ten years ago on this very topic.

I'm sure cognitive scientists have a name for this process of memory retrieval and even have a name for memories like mine, that act like locks with only one key. I'm hoping someone will tell me there's some well-known trade-off between an abundance of memory triggers and being an all-around good person, but, who knows, maybe someone already has.


 

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