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A Little Late Thankfulness

Posted by Ogged
on 11.26.05

I'm not feeling very thankful about being at work again today, but I did enjoy this Charlie Stross post (via delong) about being glad to be alive now, rather than sometime in the past. Reviewing his physical ailments, Stross concludes,

Upshot: if I had been born at any time prior to 1900, my life expectancy, assuming I survived infancy at all, would be 40-45 years -- the latter 20 of which would be rendered miserable by blindness. Between 1900 and 1940 I might have made it to 60. Only the fact that I was born as recently as 1964 has allowed me to live a comparatively normal life.

I often have thoughts along this line. I think my first episode of atrial fibrillation was when I was around 25. It's the kind of thing that's a nuisance with modern medical technology, but which, untreated, would have had me dead of a stroke--if not within a few weeks, then certainly within a few years. So, thanks, humanity!

Also on the belated Thanksgiving theme: earlier this year, national team swimmer Dave Denniston injured his spine in a sledding accident, and lost the use of his legs. On his blog a few days ago, he wrote,

Finally, I'm thankful I hit that tree. As absurd as it sounds, I really am. I've discovered so much about myself through this that I never would have known. As I mentioned before, I made so many new friends and connected with old friends because of the accident. I've been given so many opportunities that otherwise wouldn't have been there if I hadn't broken my back. My life has changed so much for the better since the accident, I'm grateful for that change. Granted, I wish I could use my legs, but the positives of this year have far outweighed the negatives.

That's a remarkable sentiment for anyone--that kind of vision of what matters is pretty rare, and even more remarkable coming from someone who swam like this (9MB, worth it).


 

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Summary

Posted by Ogged
on 11.25.05

Yeah, so I'm stuck at work today, and just did a google image search for "unfogged," which was a great, great idea (vaguely not work safe, but they're just thumbnails).


 

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Holidays Are A Time For Reflection

Posted by Ogged
on 11.25.05

Isn't it odd that that "damn straight" and "fucking right" mean almost exactly the same thing?

And in news that's totally creeping me out, Michael Jackson has a deep voice.

"Michael Jackson has a big, deep voice," [Court TV's Diane] Dimond revealed. "Somewhere in there, especially if you bring him bad news or if you make him mad, his voice gets very, very deep."
"I was there one day when someone asked him about Gloria Allred, the attorney that has sort of dogged him and turned around in one foul swoop and said ‘She can go to hell' in this big, deep masculine voice."

Finally, it wouldn't be a holiday without some Pajamas Media (fka OSM, fka Open Source Media, fka Pajamas Media) entertainment: now reborn with a logo that says, loud and clear, "Samurai Radio."

I wonder if the OSM folks like Simon and Johnson understand why there's so much hostility to their project (aside from the fact that Johnson runs a hate site, I mean). I haven't been following so closely, but it seems to me that if you start a site that's billed as an independent alternative to the "mainstream media," you really ought to have more up your sleeve than linking to AP stories. The failure of the project so far gives the lie to the notion that there's all this hidden truth, waiting to be uncovered, and also reminds us that good reporting is hard, and quite different from bloviating.


 

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Language Skills

Posted by Ogged
on 11.23.05

I've long been convinced that everyone in Afghanistan is fucking with the Western press, but I keep forgetting to mention examples. Today, in the Times, I read about Afghan General Babajan. "Baba," just means "dad," and "jan," in this context, means "dear." "Baba jan" is a very common way for kids to address their father or grandfather: daddy dear. So, either a reporter heard the General addressed this way, and thought it was his name, or some Afghanis were doubled over in laughter as soon as the reporter walked away.


 

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Eenie Meenie

Posted by Ogged
on 11.23.05

Hey, responsible adults of Unfogged: Tom is asking for career advice, please go give him some.


 

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Squeeze Me In!

Posted by Ogged
on 11.22.05

Ok, let's do some firming up of dates for the Pseudonymity Is A Joke In Your Town Unfogged World Tour, before folks go making holiday plans without me. I'll be in DC for the 10th and through the afternoon of the 11th. The 10th promises to be a busy day, but it would be fun to see the Smasher/Saiselgy/Tom/Ezra crowd, if possible. Maybe we could all watch football together on Sunday? Or is that, you know, "sacrosanct"? I could try to squeeze something in on the 10th if the 11th is out.

In NY, it seems that most people would prefer an evening to a daytime gathering. Tuesday, the 13th, is out, but the 12th and 14th-16th are open. [The choices are now Monday the 12th and Tuesday the 13th.] Speak up, New Yorkers. (By the way, lurkers are welcome; there's no comment tax.) Once we find a night that most people can make, we can argue about time and place. Gotta love this.

At one time, the Mineshaft was the area's premier members-only club. Located on Washington St. at Little W. 12th St., it was open around the clock from Wednesday night through Monday morning, featuring a roof deck, clothes check, dungeons and other amenities. The S&M free-for-all opened in 1977 before the AIDS era, and was finally closed by the city's Department of Health in 1985. Wally Wallace, the manager, went on to have private spaces on Christopher St. and in Chelsea, but nothing lived up to the notoriety of the Mineshaft.
After being vacant for nearly two decades, the Mineshaft is opening as a Chinese restaurant.

I'll leave this post up top for a while.


 

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Pedant News

Posted by Ogged
on 11.22.05

Jose Padilla.

Last Name Pronounced: "puh-DILL-uh"

Now you know.

By the way, read Jack Balkin on why the fact that Padilla was just indicted is a bad thing.

And while you're over there, read Marty Lederman on whether the "cold cell" and "waterboarding" are, under current law, illegal.


 

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No News Is Bad News

Posted by Ogged
on 11.22.05

I understand that we're all supposed to be happy that TimesSelect has been such a failure, but I'm also more than a little worried. If news sources can't find a way to make money, there will be fewer of them, with less reach, and likely with less independence. And I haven't heard of any schemes whereby the papers we rely on will be able to keep doing what they're doing. We all know that internet ads don't really work well enough: a lot of you use Firefox, with, I bet, the Adblock extension, so you don't even see the ads. Most of the rest of you just skip right over them. Subcriptions can work in some situations: the Wall Street Journal has a base of subscribers who pretty much have to read it, and, crucially, can expense the subscription cost. Salon is a small, niche outfit that barely scrapes by.

What's the plan to keep national, general interest news outfits in business? We all like to rag on the Times, but if it, and papers like it, go away or scale way back, boy will we miss them.


 

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Mr Tru-Temp

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 11.22.05

At what thermostat setting do I make the move from "frugal guy" to "weirdo"? 58? 55?

After my annual cleaning, Furnance Guy came up from the basement and said, "you do not have a good furnace." Which I knew. But still, this could be a long winter: old house, not such great insulation. I wonder if the best case scenario is the furnace giving out completely-- then the home warranty will cover it. Until then, the layered look.

UPDATE: since it seems to amuse you all, more tales of the cold. Two vivid experiences: first, winter in Ireland-- even though the temperature rarely dropped below freezing, it's a damp, damp cold, especially in a basement. Plus I was living with coin operated electricity and a coin-op shower. EU my ass. Second, LA in January-- when I got there, it was monsoon season, and I made the mistake of putting a door between me and the apartment's only heat source. I woke up shivering, thinking that I was about to become the first person to die of hypothermia in Southern California. Other fun times: I lived in an uninsulated garage one winter, using nothing but two small space heaters for warmth. Good god, that was miserable.

Now, with my cushy salary, I've got an oil-based heater and humidifier in the bedroom, so that the instrument (shush) is not subjected to fluctuations in temperature or humidity. Most of the time I'm home I'm either there or in the kitchen, which warms up when I cook. It's not so bad.

Great. I've just managed to convince myself that I am indeed completely crazy.


 

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The first time as farce, the second time as even funnier farce

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 11.22.05

If there ever were a moment that calls out for "heh," this is it:

We are re-assuming our identity as Pajamas Media. (Just give us a few days to sort the technical issues out.) In short, the whole experience of being caught with our pajamas down has been a bit embarrassing, but in the end, when we realized we could get our beloved name back, we were overjoyed. So a warm, hearty thanks to all of you who expressed your displeasure with our phony identity.

I'm still completely confused by what's going on, but I'm starting to think I'm not alone.


 

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But A Greater Friend To The Truth

Posted by Ogged
on 11.21.05

I have to ask: have any of you ever actually spit up on yourself or your keyboard because of something funny online?


 

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The Funny

Posted by Ogged
on 11.21.05

Oh, right, Sarah Silverman, Jesus Is Magic, how could I forget? I'll join the consensus: some very funny lines, but pretty middling overall. But I don't think this gets her act quite right.

she's draped in some weird hipster cred, everyone is desperate to puzzle out her meanings and tease out her genius

There's no puzzle, exactly: every Silverman line is delivered by a different characer, which she inhabits for the duration of the joke, and then discards. It's ok to laugh at her outrageous lines because we're laughing at Silverman mocking the character, which is in some ways a recognizable type from real life. Actually, the part of her act that requires the most talent is signalling character with small changes in her voice and facial expressions--and when she dropped character and did a straight joke with "can I see you for a minute" in various voices, that was one of the funniest parts of the show, because she's so good at the voices.


 

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Muddle Ahead

Posted by Ogged
on 11.21.05

Things that annoy and terrify me about the torture debate:

1. "I can't believe we're discussing this in 21st century America!"

Well, fucking believe it. A few weeks after 9-11, I was sitting around with a bunch of relatives, and someone said that in a few years, America would be torturing and disappearing people, and otherwise acting like the police state that is our beloved Iranian homeland. We disagreed about a lot of things that day, but there was no disagreement about that. There isn't some magical moral wall that people won't pass through. It might not be many, or even most people, but a lot of people, in every country that has human beings in it, will do just about anything, and enough of them will be smart enough to make plausible arguments that sound like justifications.

2. "Torture is just wrong."

This is great, as long as it's an abstraction, or just a sentence that let's us draw a distinction between us and the "bad guys." But it doesn't work as an argument against someone who is inclined to torture. What we're seeing now in America is a response that comes down to this: "Maybe torture is wrong, so what I'm doing must not be torture." There are even some qualified defenses of torture, as such. But if the "war on terror" keeps going, or if there's another attack, those defenses won't even bother to qualify themselves. There's nothing self-evident about the wrongness of torture. I'm terrified at how ineffectual our argumentative tools are, and annoyed at how much people think we can rely on them.

3. "Of course it's torture!"

See below. Maybe, maybe not. When what's obvious to you isn't obvious to others, it doesn't matter *how obvious* it is to you.

I am, clearly, ranting and thinking out loud. I'm totally guilty of all three of these things myself, but now I hate myself for believing that moral arguments, of all things, would make any difference in whether people were tortured. Moral arguments are nice; I like them, and they can make a difference in some ways, but this argument is going to be won or lost on practical, prudential grounds.


 

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Real people of genius

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 11.21.05

A certain Smasher of Arms deserves a shout out for this. Excerpt:

Then this stony face beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,

By the snarky, stern decorum of the countenance it wore,

`Though your suit is surely bullshit, you,' I said, `in public pushed it.

If a libel suit and trial's what you really have in store -

Tell me what your attorney's name is on the Night's Tom Hi/ldean shore!'

Quoth the Deignan, `Nevermore.'

Read, as they say, the whole thing.


 

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On The Use And Abuse of Concepts

Posted by Ogged
on 11.21.05

Seems to me we're losing the fight against torture. People will say that they oppose "torture," but, in the event, they seem to agree with the administration that it's not torture unless someone is having his eyes gouged out. But I'm actually a little heartened by the fact that their position doesn't seem to flow so much from the dark human heart, as from plain stupidity.

Check out this Volokh thread. The linked report has the CIA admitting to using the following techniques.

1. The Attention Grab: The interrogator forcefully grabs the shirt front of the prisoner and shakes him.

2. Attention Slap: An open-handed slap aimed at causing pain and triggering fear.

3. The Belly Slap: A hard open-handed slap to the stomach. The aim is to cause pain, but not internal injury. Doctors consulted advised against using a punch, which could cause lasting internal damage.

4. Long Time Standing: This technique is described as among the most effective. Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions.

5. The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.

6. Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.

The comments are an almost unbroken string of "that don't seem so bad to me," even including the old, "my frat did worse than that." First, the stuff even idiots should understand: the difference between what a frat does (or what the military does to you in training) is that in the frat and military a) you consent b) you have an expectation that you won't, in fact, be grievously harmed or permanently injured c) you know that it won't go on for what could be the rest of your life. So, if we're going to make headway on the torture debate, we have to make people understand that "torture" is a situation, not necessarily a specific act or technique.

But when you put it that way, you can see that defining torture is actually pretty complicated. Is an "attention slap" torture? Always? Sometimes? Never? What makes the difference? Evil people like John Yoo use the vagueness of the concepts to try to excuse things that are clearly torture, and we need to to respond with clarity that isn't simply rigid and stupid in its own way (e.g., saying that an "attention slap" is always torture).


 

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Discharging obligations

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 11.21.05

I've felt a little bad about the fact that we haven't had any posts making fun of Open Source Media OSM. On the other hand, it's so lame-- like, Powerline News lame-- that making fun of it isn't really satisfying. But this blurb from the OSM site is worth a chuckle:

The core of the American people has manifested itself most purely in blogs because elites for so long controlled all avenues of communication. Those days are over now. Americans face a media collective elite that views the rest of us as the great unwashed masses.

Middle class white people! Law professors! Unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!

The OSM site itself is underwhelming: some stuff from AP, and Glenn Reynolds has posted some links. Was the plan for something exciting to happen?


 

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Paul Deignan is the Leonardo DiCaprio of information theory

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 11.21.05

Ahoy, matey!

The libel laws are like the baffles of a ship's bilge. The bilge water is free to slosh around over the baffle, but a certain amount is retained to keep the ship aright and balanced. We do not prosecute opinions or small insults, but we do not either allow destructive lies to go totally unchecked.
The internet is a very large ship. These ships can sustain a great deal of bilge water and still remain afloat. However, like the Titanic, all ships have their limits and like all cargo carrying ships, the greater the bilge the lesser the cargo.
Baffles also allow bilge water from local leaks to be easily expelled by the bilge pumps. And like a baffle, the libel laws are only as effective as their least reach.
No one likes working in the bilge. Bilge maintenance must be done--infrequently, but it is necessary.

A martyr for the cause.


 

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Weekend highlights

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 11.21.05

This is so sad: the high point of my weekend was buying a blender. On the up side, my new blender is awesome. It's not some [bad] blender that will fall apart before you're halfway through Matthew.

The blender-buying deliberations were frighteningly complex. I had to choose between the much nicer, but more expensive, Kitchenaid and a variety of cheaper but less satisfying generic blenders. Having read The Paradox of Choice I know I'll probably be happier as a satisficer than a maximizer, but I can't resist going for the high-end device that will solve my blender problems forever.

The only thing I ever blend is a post-workout smoothie, so I could get by with the cheapie. Still, $35 is nothing for the smug satisfaction of being Jane Galt's appliance bitch.

Also, Stonyfield Farm yogurt is fantastic. I picked up a tub when the supermarket ran out of Dannon. So rich. So tasty.


 

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Goblet Of Fire

Posted by Ogged
on 11.20.05

Just saw the new Harry Potter. 'twas good; not quite as exuberant as the last, but still very good. I particularly appreciated the casting of Cedric Diggory, because I didn't much care what happened to him in the book, but the actor--hale, handsome, but still a bit boyish--made me sorry in the movie.

But it must be admitted: Michael Gambon's Dumbledore sucks. God I missed Richard Harris's quiet, imperturbable authority and good humor. Gambon's histrionics don't have anything to do with any Dumbledore I imagine. In fact, I found myself saying Gambon's lines back in my head in Richard Harris's voice, just to give the scenes some weight. Damn cancer.


 

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