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Current Topic: Society

Steampunk Moves Between Two Worlds - New York Times
Topic: Society 8:41 am EDT, May  8, 2008

Yes, he owns a flat-screen television, but he has modified it with a burlap frame. He uses an iPhone, but it is encased in burnished brass. Even his clothing — an unlikely fusion of current and neo-Edwardian pieces (polo shirt, gentleman’s waistcoat, paisley bow tie), not unlike those he plans to sell this summer at his own Manhattan haberdashery — is an expression of his keenly romantic worldview.

I think this steampunk movement has much more potential than goths did. I apologize in advance for how admittedly poor this article is. The fact that NYT covered it is more significant than the content of the coverage.

Steampunk Moves Between Two Worlds - New York Times

No Torture. No Exceptions.
Topic: Society 9:34 am EDT, Mar 17, 2008

It is in the hopes of keeping the attention of the public, and that of our elected officials, on this subject that the writers of this collection of essays have put pen to paper. They include a former president, the speaker of the House, two former White House chiefs of staff, current and former senators, generals, admirals, intelligence officials, interrogators, and religious leaders. Some are Republicans, others are Democrats, and still others are neither. What they all agree on, however, is this: It was a profound moral and strategic mistake for the United States to abandon long-standing policies of humane treatment of enemy captives. We should return to the rule of law and cease all forms of torture, with no exceptions for any agency. And we should expect our presidential nominees to commit to this idea.

No Torture. No Exceptions.

Topic: Society 8:31 pm EST, Mar  2, 2008

Stefanie wrote:
I would add this to the liberal myths...

7. Health care is a right.

This is what I'd really like to talk about. I'm not convinced that it isn't. Its not a recognized right in the United States today, but that may be because the US is behind the curve and not because its not actually a right.

Its obviously not a Constitutionally protected right, but I don't think anyone is arguing that. Could it be? Many federal Constitutional rights are constraints upon society. But can there be rights which create an obligation and not a constraint? What about the obligation to provide defense counsel in criminal trials? What about state constitutions that guarantee a right to a primary education?

So how do we decide what rights we should and shouldn't have. How do new rights become recognized? What makes something so important that it ought to be considered a right?

I like to think of healthcare like a society of boat people. Each person has their own boat. Randomly, the boats develop holes, and sink. Your boat has just developed such a hole. No one who owns one of the boats near you is willing to pick you up.

You have a choice, you can either force your way onto one of the boats, or you can die.

Is it immoral for you to save yourself by imposing yourself on another boat by force? Is there any reason you wouldn't choose to fight your way on to a boat if drowning is otherwise certain?

Do rights not exist when those who are denied those rights have no choice but war?

Put in this light, I'd say healthcare is more a right in need of recognition that speech. Ultimately, your choice to go to war to defend your freedom of speech is less clearly forced than your right to access healthcare. You CAN survive in a censorous society. Billions do. If you are dieing of cancer and you cannot afford treatment, you'll die.

In the middle ages, you'd have died anyway, and so healthcare was not enshrined as a right in English legal traditions. Today the situation has changed, and fundamental technological changes can change the structure of social relationships.... they can create new rights where they did not exist before....

For example, today, people who are cryonically frozen are legally dead, and it is illegal to cryonically freeze someone who is not legally dead. Its murder. But imagine if in the future it is a trivial matter to revive someone who is cryonically frozen. Would people who were cryonically frozen still be considered legally dead? Of course not. Technology would have changed the social status of those people.


The Next Bubble, by Eric Janszen | Harper's, February 2008
Topic: Society 6:41 pm EST, Feb 24, 2008

This highly recommended article is now freely available.

The dot-com crash of the early 2000s should have been followed by decades of soul-searching; instead, even before the old bubble had fully deflated, a new mania began to take hold on the foundation of our long-standing American faith that the wide expansion of home ownership can produce social harmony and national economic well-being. Spurred by the actions of the Federal Reserve, financed by exotic credit derivatives and debt securitiztion, an already massive real estate sales-and-marketing program expanded to include the desperate issuance of mortgages to the poor and feckless, compounding their troubles and ours.

That the Internet and housing hyperinflations transpired within a period of ten years, each creating trillions of dollars in fake wealth, is, I believe, only the beginning. There will and must be many more such booms, for without them the economy of the United States can no longer function. The bubble cycle has replaced the business cycle.

The Next Bubble, by Eric Janszen | Harper's, February 2008

Topic: Society 11:06 am EST, Feb  9, 2008

unmanaged wrote:

....You might choose others, but here's my list:

1. A 30% national sales tax is a workable substitute for all income and payroll taxes in the United States.

2. Global warming is not primarily caused by human activity. In fact, global warming might not even exist.

3. Intelligent design is a viable scientific theory that ought to be taught in biology classes.

4. Even with marginal tax rates at current levels, reducing taxes will increase revenues.

5. Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11.

I would like to compile a similar list for liberals/Democrats.

I didn't like this list, its not particularly fair. I don't think "fairtaxer" is a suitable substitute for Conservatives (although the meme does seem to have infected quite a lot of people). Furthermore, not all Conservatives are religious, and number 5 is just cheap shot. And the offer at the end to compile a list for liberals rings very hollow coming from a liberal commentator. I mean, couldn't you have at least given it a shot before clicking "post" on this blog entry? How much mental effort would it have taken?

For Conservatives I'd suggest the following:

1. Judicial oversight prevents the police from investigating terrorism.

2. Waterboarding is no big deal. Its like a fraternity prank.

3. The impact of human activity on the environment is not important.

4. Unregulated markets will always select the most desirable social outcome.

5. No regulation of late-trimester abortions is possible due to Supreme Court decisions.

For Liberals I'd suggest the following:

1. There is no impending problem with social security and medicare.

2. The Constitution does not protect an individual right to own weapons.

3. If one opposes the decision to invade Iraq it naturally follows that one should support withdrawl from Iraq.

4. The best thing to do for the needy is usually to give them money or free services.

5. Taxation is not theft.

Anyone got any more? Wanna debate me on any of these?? :)


RE: Against Independent Voters - Stanley Fish - Think Again - Opinion - New York Times Blog
Topic: Society 6:22 pm EST, Jan 30, 2008

Stefanie wrote:
Is the formation of "two blocks" caused by the nature of the system itself, or by our cultural attitudes, independent of the system? I could see the current system in the USA supporting three or four parties, as well as a few independent politicians, which would allow varying degrees of alliances, so that we wouldn't have only the winner and the opposition (well, as the smoke clears after an election, we might have only two sides anyway). Unfortunately, I can't see individual Americans breaking away from the two party mentality in sufficient numbers to support such a scenario. I think it's cultural, rather than an inherent aspect of our system.

Sorry I didn't get back to you sooner about this post. I'll pop this reply out on my MemeStream so people know the thread is still active.

I took the linked article more as an attack on those who refuse to select one of the other political parties, in the US. As one who can't do so, I took it nearly as a personal attack, but I also believe that most, not all, but most people who think they fit neatly into one idealogical pigeon hole or the other aren't really thinking for themselves, but are buying a line of BS that is being sold to them by the party's marketing department.

Furthermore, the nature of partisan dialog in America is for one side to teach it's sheep that no one on the other side is ever reasonable. Republicans say liberal like its a slur, and liberals talk about Republicans the way you talk about a foreign army. The other side is the enemy, and the enemy is stupid, evil, potentially dangerous... Pundits constantly reinforce this perspective by finding loony or radical statements made by people on the other side, or even by intentionally misinterpreting things said by people on the other side, and holding them up and saying "SEE!? All of those people think this way! Thats why you should never, ever listen to them!"

What follows is that within each party there is a range of acceptable disagreements about particular issues. Its OK to be conservative if you care about civil liberties as long as you are economically conservative and you are unwilling to sacrifice your economic position in order to defend a civil liberty that you care about. Its OK to be liberal if you are anti-abortion as long as you care more about global warming.

But anyone who expresses a point of view which is outside of the allowed conversational sphere... suggests to a conservative that there might actually be a problem with green house gasses or suggests to a liberal that withdrawing in haste from Iraq might be a bad idea... these people are instantly labelled as being a part of the other side, and carrying all of the baggage associated therewith; labeled crazy. And if they are crazy, then why should we listen to them about this specific issue they raised? The mind closes.

Political Independents are sometimes able to avoid partisan lab... [ Read More (0.2k in body) ]

RE: Against Independent Voters - Stanley Fish - Think Again - Opinion - New York Times Blog

RE: Against Independent Voters - Stanley Fish - Think Again - Opinion - New York Times Blog
Topic: Society 3:40 pm EST, Jan 21, 2008

ubernoir wrote:
Stanley Fish takes apart a piece of non-sense so-called independents simply occupy the idealogical interzone between the parties, the fuzzy edge where the skimishing is and the general election battle takes place. The primary system is organising the army and deciding battle order before the fight, it not just about deciding who's in charge it's about designing, or at least building, the Spitfire to win the crucial battle. Independents are the World War 2 equivilant of Italy on one side and then the other.

I disagree with this perspective so completely that its hard to know where to start with it. Let me break this issue down into four parts:

1. There are reasons to select a leader that have nothing to do with politics. You are voting for people as well as their opinions. Some people are more qualified to handle top leadership positions than others, and those qualifications exist regardless of politics. While the author claims that voting for this reason is stupid, he doesn't do so convincingly. Incompetent people make incompetent appointments. These things matter in a way that is perhaps difficult for radical partisans, like the author, to understand. 99% of what needs to be done isn't a matter of partisan politics, its a matter of professionalism, and getting the right answers matters.

2. There are completely consistent political perspectives that do not fit neatly into one of the party frameworks. In fact the two parties in the United States are driven by radical participants in the primary process and are greatly split to the degree that neither faithfully represents what most Americans actually think. Furthermore, they themselves are not self consistent. The Republican party is an allegiance of economic libertarians who support federalism mostly as an avenue to limiting the overall power of governments, and social conservatives who support federalism mostly as an avenue to cut civil liberties protections without federal interference. Only the most small minded Republican cheerleaders fail to understand the difference between these two, mutually opposed positions, one of which seeks to minimize government power and the other which seeks to maximize it. In the Democratic party the philosophical lines are less stark, but here you have ACLU style civil liberties advocates who are aligned, mostly through mutual opposition to conservative designs on abortion clinics, with the women's movement, which is associated with efforts to censor video games, rock music, and other pop culture and advocates gun control. Its not really possible for a thinking person to agree with all of these positions simultaneously.

3. Open minded, well informed voters are the enemies of organized power and subtle, private interests. The party system uses ideology and peer pressure to turn the well informed voters into closed minded ones, ensuring that party managers (and their funding sources) main... [ Read More (0.3k in body) ]

RE: Against Independent Voters - Stanley Fish - Think Again - Opinion - New York Times Blog

Magic Highway USA, circa 1958
Topic: Society 2:47 pm EST, Jan 19, 2008

An excerpt from the 1958 "Disneyland" TV Show episode entitled "Magic Highway USA". In this last part of the show, an exploration into possible future Transportation technologies is made. It's hard to believe how little we've accomplished on this front since 1958, and how limited the scope for imagining such future technologies has become. Witness an artifact from a time where the future was greeted with optimism. Note the striking animation style here, achieved with fairly limited animation and spectacular layouts.

I like how suburban sprawl is anticipated with such glee!

From a technology standpoint, it spans a wide range; some ideas are pure vision, with no sense of reality (cantilevered, fully air-conditioned sky-ways through beautifully desolate mountain ranges?), while others are quaintly myopic (punch cards as storage media for your navigational unit?). Still, a lot of fun.

Magic Highway USA, circa 1958

What America Must Do
Topic: Society 9:25 am EST, Jan  4, 2008

The impression of America as a land of freedom, rights, and law is something that I think Muslims all over the world believed. They especially considered America the only country in the world where they could have unfettered rights to worship as they see fit. That impression has been immensely damaged.

This, fundamentally, is the most important failure of the Bush administration. He obviously needed to let the war mongering fascists at it in the wake of 9/11, the gloves did need to come off, but he went too far. He should never have hired authoritarian lawyers. He could have pursued the GWOT within the framework that existed, with maybe only minor tweaks. By shrugging the checks and balances at the heart of our system and creating legal no-mans-lands his approach became unamerican and he has therefore changed what people think we are. That has done us serious harm. Hopefully, the next president can repair some of the damage.

What America Must Do

Electoral Compass
Topic: Society 6:05 pm EST, Jan  3, 2008

We've talked about these on MemeStreams before. This one is particularly good. I liked the question mix, and I think it put me in an accurate location on the map (although their map is upside down from most maps, which was disorienting at first). The most interesting thing is how far the candidates are drawn from eachother. Both candidate clusters were also far from me, which is accurate. Some of the Democrats just barely pass into my sphere of approval, and none of the Republicans do, although Ron Paul comes close. I'm not sure thats totally right but its close.

I will say, however, that while I think the candidates are likely positioned correctly on the economic liberty scale, I don't think they are positioned well on the social liberty scale, but this might be because my definition is socially liberal is different from the one being used here. They rank things like pro-gun control positions as "socially liberal," which is incorrect, although it fits into the traditional left/right narrative. This would mean that on their graph social progressivism isn't the same thing that is mean by "socially liberal" on traditional graphs. The position that truely reflects social liberty on this graph may be close to the center, although ironically, authoritarians who support gun control and censorship would end up in the same place.

This website's tools for analyzing the degree to which you agree and disagree with the candidates are extremely powerful, and they provide lots of break down for the individual questions. This is really helpful in seeing which candidates closely match your views. Although Obama is not the closest candidate to me, we agree about a suprising number of things. Unfortunately, we disagree about some issues that are very important right now.

Electoral Compass

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