January 31, 2007

Molly Ivins Dies of Cancer at 62

Molly Ivins Dies of Cancer at 62

Done Before It Began

People are "all up ons" Joe Biden now because of a *very* stupid thing he said about Barack Obama.

Now, I understand all the various ways this can be read as a racist statement, but I'm pretty shocked at the number of people who think it was intended as such, or even that he's under some kind of "I grew up in a different era" rule. Look, everybody has said something that just came out the wrong way and sounds horribly insensitive. I have no doubt that Joe Biden was attempting to say something nice about Senator Obama or perhaps expressing enthusiasm for a black candidate that has, at this early point in the horserace, a very real prospect of winning the primary and perhaps the general presidential election.

Still, it was a monumentally stupid thing to say, and a really rookie error for a guy that's been in national politics as long as Biden has. I'm sure this will kill his campaign, not that it had much life to begin with. Should it? I don't know, maybe, but like I said he really shouldn't be in this race in the first place. This faux pax just proves it.

God and gorillas and propositional attitudes

There's a fascinating interview in Salon today, with an anthropologist, Barbara J. King, who's just written a book on quasi-religious practices in gorillas and other great apes. What I find so fascinating about this interview is King's understanding of what religion and spirituality are. (Bolded passages in quotations are the interviewer; plain text are King's responses; italics are mine.)

So you're not talking about a set of beliefs? I think that's how most people think about religion.

I'm not talking about a set of beliefs. When I think about religion, what comes to mind are personal relationships with the supernatural, with God or with spirits, and compassionate action. Not necessarily books or texts that you read, but some sort of action in the world. This is coming from Karen Armstrong's work, who has helped me let go of the idea that religion is about a bunch of things in our head that we have to feel and believe. So if I'm going to think about religion as compassionate action, how do you look for that in prehistory? That's the real question that I face as an anthropologist. And the way I approach that is to look at the active expression of this emotional connection in something that I can identify as a spiritual realm.

Contemporary philosophers, especially in the analytic tradition, call belief (and its mirror image, disbelief) a propositional attitude: there's this super-linguistic thing, the sentence `as such', independent of a particular utterance in a particular language, and when the believer believes, he takes a certain cognitive stance towards this thing. This propositional attitude might be connected with action -- I might form a certain desire based on my beliefs, and then act to satisfy that desire -- but it also might not -- I could just sit here, immobile, just believing, without taking any action in the world.

Contemporary analytic philosophers -- even theists -- often take religion to be sets of these propositional attitudes, as though Christianity or Hindu or Islam were, first and foremost, lists of things to believe and things not to believe. Then the fundamental questions of philosophy of religion and theology, on this view, are (a) Are we justified in holding these beliefs? and (b) What are the logical implications of holding these beliefs? And hence the so-called God Wars, which are basically just theists and atheists bickering over how to answer (a).

The problem with this view is that it's a rather rarefied abstraction, radically foreign to the way religion actually works in the lives of actual people. It's the view Daniel Dennett (who critiques religious belief from a kind of evo psych perspective) takes, and King rejects it:

The problem that I see with Daniel Dennett's view is that a meme is this little bit of something that's supposed to live abstracted away from human pairs, groups and individuals. It has a life of its own. For an anthropologist, that just doesn't make sense. It's like taking a gene out of its environment. It's like taking a brain out of its environment. I believe in dynamic relationships with real people having real feelings in real social groups. Sure, we have genes and brains, but we are in a co-creative relationship with all these things. We're not controlled by our genes or our memes or our brains.

So what do we have instead of this view of Religion as Propositional Attitude? A view, drawing on Martin Buber (beloved by many philosophers in the Continental tradition) and not just a little Hegelian, that we might call Religion as Community.

OK, I'm not going to ask whether you believe in God. But I do want to know, do you consider yourself religious?

I consider myself a spiritual person because of the way I feel when I'm around animals in particular, especially apes. The idea that I'm here in this world with other beings who are conscious in different degrees makes me feel part of a very big picture.

Do you think there's a transcendent reality out there?

Define transcendent reality.

Something that might be supernatural. A reality that we can't necessarily experience with our five senses.

I'm always open to that possibility. But that's veering really close to asking whether I believe in God. For me, it's a private question, but even more than that, it's a question that doesn't really reflect the depths of what we are as a species.

Are you saying it's just not an important question, whether there is a transcendent reality?

I think we have evolved to believe in transcendent realities. What we're about as a group of humans on this earth is believing that there's something more than us. It takes many different forms. I don't know that I'd focus on a single transcendent reality. I would say that because we're made to relate, we think and feel that we're in relationship with something bigger.

But isn't that the core question that everyone debates? Did human beings just make up the spirits and gods that they worship? Or is there really some other reality out there?

Yes, in my book I say that's a question I will not take up. I think my stance is rather beautiful because it's about "agnosis"; that means not knowing. That's where I would like to leave that question. But we as human beings have gotten to this certain place because of our evolutionary history.

For King, religious experience is the experience of being part of a community of sentient beings. This is an understanding of religion that does away with the epistemological and ontological disputes, and turns our attention to the important questions of ethics and politics (in the sense of `political philosophy', not `political science'). And, still more importantly, this is an understanding of religion on which all varieties of theist and atheist can come together. When we abandon the requirements of (dis)belief in a transcendent or supernatural reality, we recognise that we (along with non-human animals) are all part of one extended global community. The disagreements between the Muslim, the Christian, and the Secular Humanist fade, as we all come together to make our one community a place of justice, where all its members can flourish.

January 30, 2007

Irony is great

My, aren't we being loquacious today. It's almost like we're a real blog, with real readers.

But that's not the irony. I just wanted to share this observation by Rad Geek:

So it turns out that yesterday was officially proclaimed Milton Friedman Day in the state of California, by executive edict of the Governor. Because, really, what better way is there to honor a libertarian intellectual’s memory than to get a tax-raising, insurance-mandating government windbag to proclaim a day for praising his accomplishments and influence?

A Trip To See God

Here's an interesting story about a study connecting the active ingredient in psychotropic mushrooms and religious experiences. Pretty interesting, though Joanna reminded me of a case from law school involving Native Americans wanting to use peyote for religious purposes. I can't remember the specifics of the case or how the reasoning applied there would be affected by a study of this sort. Little help legal buddies?

PETA and sexism

The sujet du jour in the feminist blogosphere is PETA's sexist and racist advertising. The denunciation started as a reaction to PETA's State of the Union (NSFW) ad, in which an attractive twentysomething woman delivers animal rights platitudes while gradually stripping. For more on this ad, read Jill, who also gives us a sampling of other sexist ads. Over at Pandagon, Amanda has a post comparing PETA with Operation Rescue (a notorious anti-abortion group). It's this post I want to focus on -- below the fold.

Amanda gives six reasons why PETA and Operation Rescue are deeply similar. Some of these (eg, `They think women are just bodies to be manipulated for their ends instead of full human beings', or `Both have a strong, irrational loathing for science.') are absolutely unargued, and actually false if read too literally (I've known PETA members who were feminists and scientists and even one woman who was all three).

On the other hand, some of her points are spot-on:

Neither seems to care that much about the real life well-being of the objects of their advocacy as they claim to care. Anti-choice groups uniformly oppose contraception and sex education, which are the only proven methods of reducing the abortion rate overall. PETA has an unsavory history of liberating research animals only to have them die from the stress of their liberation.

Then we have this one:

Both prefer to advocate for “victims” that are silent and therefore can be projected onto. It’s no coincidence that people who are bereft of arguments and prefer sentimental whining and shock tactics prefer causes where the supposed victims are not able to articulate their own desires. Animals/fetuses give them their excuse to work out all sorts of other feelings, and not just disgust and anger towards female bodies, though that seems to be part of it.

I find this simply bizarre. Members of both groups believe that there's a large class of beings who (a) deserve more legal rights than they enjoy now, and (b) cannot advocate for those rights themselves. Operation Rescue members think that foetuses deserves a legal right to life, and they stage demonstrations and so on as a form of advocacy on behalf of foetuses, because the foetuses (being non-rational beings confined to wombs) cannot advocate on their own behalf. Similarly, PETA members think that non-human animals deserve certain legal rights, and they stage demonstrations and so on as a form of advocacy on behalf of those non-human animals because (lacking the ability to use language and understand our legal system, etc.) they cannot advocate on their own behalf. We might disagree with the premiss that these beings deserve these rights, but that's a totally different issue. Given that someone should advocate for these rights for these beings, and that they cannot do it themselves, it follows immediately that someone else is going to have to be an advocate for them.

Being an advocate on behalf of another is not a vicious activity, in and of itself, and it's certainly not automatically an act of projection. If projection is a vice, and if members of PETA or Operation Rescue are engaged in their advocacy for no reason other than an act of projection onto non-human animals or foetuses, then the problem here is the projection itself, not the advocacy per se. At most, the fact that these beings cannot be advocates for themselves might make them more likely to be projected upon, but I don't think this is true: what else are racism, sexism, classism, etc., but the projection of the interests and beliefs of the dominant class onto other classes?

Decreasing Fuel Consumption

Gregg Easterbrook has fallen for a disingenuous proposal by the Bush Administration to decrease fuel consumption. Of course, nobody here would do that. Anyway, the comments to that story are filled with opinions about how to best decrease fuel consumption. Not one to be left out of some good old fashioned bloviating, here's what I posted*:

As I understand it there's really no short term solution that's very palatable. Increasing CAFE standards affects new cars, but in order for that to affect the nation's fuel consumption those new cars need to trickle down to a sizable number of consumers, which takes years. Additionally, the cars which are the worst offenders for pollution, older cars, are more often driven by people who can't afford to buy a fancy new fuel efficient vehicle, meaning the cars most needing to be replaced will be the last cars replaced. Still, it's not a bad medium term tool to reduce consumption, particularly if the government offers tax incentives to purchasing fuel efficient/hybrid cars.

Increasing the gas tax would be a good short term method if fuel consumption were elastic. Because the US has such crap mass transit infrastructure ,which would give people an option other than driving if the prices got too high, fuel consumption isn't elastic. Additionally, increasing the price of a tank of gas by $5 isn't going to be prohibitively expensive to people who can afford an expensive SUV so it won't deter them from driving. People with higher incomes are also more likely to drive for nonessential trips, say, to soccer practices or on vacations. Increasing the gas tax will, however, increase costs for people who can't need to drive to work and who don't have lots of disposable income to begin with.
The other options (investing in alternate fuels and investing in mass transit systems) will take enormous investments from the government and will take years to pay off. Obviously, those are options we need to do, but it seems to me that increasing CAFE standards is the best medium term solution.

*Admittedly, this comment was a bit off the cuff and as I reread it here it's not phrased as well as it could be. I don't have time to fix it, however, so I suppose we'll all have to live with a bit of mediocrity.

January 29, 2007

Picture testing

Just testing the new Blogger's integration with Picasa. Here's a picture of the objectively best pizza in the world.

It seems to be working pretty well. The only thing it doesn't have is an easy way to tag posts. Here's a picture of a typical April afternoon on Notre Dame's South Quad.

On the consistency of Chisholm's axioms of epistemic logic


In the opening chapters of (Chisholm, 1977) and (Chisholm, 1982), Chisholm sketches an account of some basic concepts of epistemic justification in terms of the relation `P is more reasonable than Q' (suppressing references to epistemic agents and moments of time since they are not relevant for my purposes here), where P and Q are (roughly) propositional attitudes logically built from the primitives `believing p' and `withholding p', for any proposition p. In particular, Chisholm gives several axioms for the logic of this relation. My purpose here is to prove that these axioms are inconsistent.

Another Link From Brottman

This kid is better than me at Guitar Hero. He's better than you at Guitar Hero. This kid is eight. I hate him with the power of a million exploding suns, but he rocks and he rolls.

Coolest Wedding Ever!

No offense to Rob & Michelle, but come on, look at those moves!

Here's the original, just for fun.

P.S. Thanks Brottman.

Superbowl Shuffle

I had been planning on rooting for Chicago because they eliminated Seattle, but Atrios gives me another reason to hope the Colts lose the big game.

January 27, 2007

Well, it's not quite Kim Stanley Robinson

But I'll take it.

I am:
William Gibson
The chief instigator of the "cyberpunk" wave of the 1980s, his razzle-dazzle futuristic intrigues were, for a while, the most imitated work in science fiction.

Which science fiction writer are you?

January 24, 2007

More Videos

First off, here's a movie about spiders and drugs from Michelle. It's definately the best thing ever, or at least for the month.

And here's how you might play a fighting game on the Wii. Interesting...

"On The Outside, We Run Shit."

There's a documentary in the works chronicling MC Frontalot's "Nerdcore Rising" Tour and among those interviewed are Gabe and Tycho of Penny Arcade. Indeed, in an effort to raise funds to complete the film, the ladies behind it are doing weekly video podcasts featuring interviews from the movie. The first, of couse, is about the Penny Arcade Expo, or PAX. It is my eternal shame that I've yet to make it to a PAX. 2008, baby, that's my year!

"We Used To Swap Shots Between Drinks, Or Drinks Between Shots, Whichever You Like."

Word is that Clive Owen will be playing Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlowe. Not much word on when, or what story they'll be working on, but that sounds just swell to me. Gotta say, my exposure to noir is actually a bit spotty, but I'm a sucker for Bogey, particulary in The Big Sleep.

January 23, 2007

Go to Barbara Boxer's website to email a petition

to bring home the troops.

Here is her website: http://www.barbaraboxer.com

[And here is the email form.]

Dear Sarah,

Urge President Bush to stop the Iraq escalation!

In just 9 hours, President Bush will stand before Congress and the American people to deliver his State of the Union address and defend his unwise plan to deploy over 20,000 new American troops to Iraq.

Help me stand up to the President by urging him to listen to the American people and turn away from this unwise escalation of the war. Email President Bush before his speech tonight and ask him to listen to reason.

Last November, the American people went into the voting booth and said loud and clear that they wanted a change of course in Iraq. Instead, President Bush ignored the public and the advice of senior military officials by proposing to escalate our commitment in Iraq.

It is so crucial that we all keep up the pressure to start bringing our troops home so the Iraqis know that Iraq is their country, we are not occupiers, and that they must defend themselves. It is also crucial that we keep up the pressure for a political and diplomatic solution to this travesty -- to bring together all of the countries in the region with the coalition President Bush says he has, in order to meet and hammer out the details for bringing about a peaceful Iraq. Instead, the Bush Administration is only offering a military escalation, which means more and more killing, leaving our sons and daughters in the middle of a full-blown civil war.

Enough is enough. Forward an email to President Bush before tonight's State of the Union address. Tell him that America wants our troops to start coming home.

Just this past weekend, 27 American troops lost their lives in Iraq -- one of the deadliest two-day periods for U.S. forces since we first invaded Iraq 4 years ago. Then on Monday, more than 100 Iraqis were killed in car bombing attacks in Baghdad and Khalis. This nonstop violence is sickening, and we must do everything we can to end it.

It is no wonder that recent polls show that 65 percent of the American people oppose the president's plan to send more troops to Iraq. They know that President Bush isn't offering a solution; he's just putting more young Americans in harm's way without taking any serious steps to end the conflict.

President Bush's escalation plan also faces bipartisan opposition in Congress. On Monday, Senator John Warner -- a senior Republican and respected military expert -- proposed a resolution opposing the Bush troop increase. It could not be more clear that President Bush is standing alone -- against even his own party -- in trying to escalate this conflict.

Already, over 17,000 people have emailed President Bush through our PAC for a Change website, urging him to listen to reason and turn away from this foolhardy policy. It is critical that we double this number in the last hours before his speech tonight.

Email President Bush right now, and let him know that it's time for him to listen to the American people and end the war in Iraq.

Thank you for your help to change course and start bringing our brave men and women home so the Iraqis can take responsibility for their own country.

In Friendship,
Barbara Boxer

[Ripped off entirely from my friend Sarah.]

January 21, 2007

To split yourself into two / is just the most radical thing you can do

Tomorrow is the thirty-fourth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and that means it's Blog for choice day. This year's theme is the rather dull `Why I am pro-choice'. Dull because my reasons are themselves rather dull and dryly philosophical -- (1) there are no good reasons to think a foetus has a right to life (ie, is a person), and (2) even if it did have such a right to life, there is no reason to think that right supersedes a woman's right to bodily autonomy and integrity.

This is, essentially, the position taken in Judith Jarvis Thomson's famous essay `A defense of abortion'. I don't agree with Jarvis Thomson entirely, though, because she seems to assert that we never have any obligations to aid others. By contrast, I think there's intuitive appeal to Peter Singer's principle that we have obligations to make sacrifices to aid others when the sacrifice is not of `comparable moral significance' (that's a paraphrase, not a direct quotation). Cashing out that phrase is tough, but I think that rights of bodily autonomy and integrity are of comparable moral significance with the right to life.

Let me open the comments thread to you all: Why are you pro-choice?

NB I'd like to reserve substantive comments in this thread for pro-choicers only. If you're opposed to abortion and would like to discuss my reasons or anyone else's, you're welcome to email me or put a link to a post on your own blog in the comments below.

January 20, 2007

The Gini coefficient

The Gini coefficient is a measure of the distribution of wealth within a population. The idea is simple: line up the entire population, with the poorest person on the left end and the richest person on the right. As you go down the line, take the total income of everyone to the left (so the first person has just their own income counted, the last person has everyone's income counted). This plots a curve that kind of swoops up from the lower-left corner to the upper-right. Now measure the area between this curve and the straight line from the lower-left corner to the upper-right, and divide that by the triangular area under the straight line. This gives you a ratio between the actual distribution of wealth and the perfectly equal distribution of wealth. Multiply that ratio by 100, and you have the Gini coefficient.

Since a larger ratio means there's more of a gap between reality and the perfectly equal distribution, a coefficient of 0 means perfect equality (everyone's income is exactly the same), while a coefficient of 100 means perfect inequality (one person gets all the money). Here is an alphabetical list of countries and their Gini coefficients, measured in various years.

According to this list, in 2004, the Gini coefficient for the US was 45. Here's a list of the other countries whose most recent Gini coefficient calculation, according to this list, was between 40 and 50: Armenia, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, PRC, Costa Rica, Cote d'Ivoire, Ecuador, Georgia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Iran, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mexico, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Philippines, Senegal, Singapore, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

Those are our peers. The list of countries with a lower Gini coefficient (remember, lower means more egalitarian) is way too long to list here. But here's a list of countries those coefficients are between 30 and 40: Algeria, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Canada, Egypt, Estonia, Ethiopia, France, Greece, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Laos, Latvia, Lithuania, Mauritania, Moldova, Mozambique, Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Tanzania, the UK, Vietnam, and Yemen. These are the countries whose incomes are distributed somewhat more equally than in the US.

Review of Pan's labyrinth

Guillermo del Toro is best well-known in the US as the screenwriter and director of Hellboy, but in the right circles he is much more renowned for The devil's backbone and Cronos. If you're not familiar with either of these, I recommend hunting down some copies before seeing Pan's labyrinth.

Del Toro has called Pan's labyrinth a `sequal in spirit' to The devil's backbone, and the two films share a number of thematic elements. Both take place in Spain towards the end of the Civil War, and have, as protagonist, children of about ten years old whose lives have been severely disrupted by that war. Both live solidly within the Spanish literary genre of magical realism, with two distinct but parallel and sympathetic plotlines. Indeed, it is magical realism that makes these two films so distinctive, and makes Pan's labyrinth so artistically successful.

===== Very, very small spoilers below the fold =====

Briefly, Pan's labyrinth tells the story of Ofelia, a Spanish girl whose father has been killed in the Spanish Civil War. The war is ending, and her mother has become pregnant by a captain in Franco's army. At the beginning of the film, Ofelia and her mother are brought out from the city to an old mill, which is being used as a base for the rebel-clearing mission of the captain. Ofelia discovers an rotting stone labyrinth just inside the forest, and an ancient faun (played by the incredibly talented Doug Jones), the mime who played Abe Sapien in Hellboy and the lead Gentleman in the Buffy episode `Hush') in the centre tells her that she is the reincarnated daughter of the king of the Underworld. To return to the Underworld (`where there is no suffering or death'), she must complete three tasks, with the help of the faun's pet faeries and a magical book.

Meanwhile, the Civil War rages on in the microcosm of the mill household. Giving a more adequate summary of the realist plotline without major spoilers is difficult, so I will just say that it is a mistake, as many of the reviewers on IMDb (both positive and negative) do, to focus more or less exclusively on the supernatural plotline. Magical realism is built on the way the realist and supernatural are used to comment on each other, and you will not be able to understand the film without grasping that basic premise. I will, say, however, that the realist plotline is fairly standard: the captain is almost a two-dimensional villain (as befits a fairy tale), sadistic and misogynist and obsessed with his patrimony; there are Republican sympathisers right under his nose; Ofelia's mother's pregnancy takes a turn for the worst; the main characters are slowly but inevitably isolated; and so on.

===== Spoilers end =====

Del Toro's greatest skill as a storyteller (and he has several; his visual aesthetic, for one, is absolutely breathtaking) lies in his subtle and sophisticated use of allusion, reference, and reflection, and he makes full use of the complex structure of magical realism to this end. Too often `updated' or `modernised' fairy tales collapse under their own weight, and turn into either disappointing action movies (Terry Gilliam's Brother's Grimm) or cheesy and painfully insipid pieces of crap (anything M Night Shyamalan has ever touched). Pan's labyrinth avoids these pitfalls by focussing, not on the fantastic characters and settings, but on the basic iconic elements of fairy tales, in both the supernatural and realist plotlines: items of power, rules and warnings of danger, deception and trust, the powerless facing down the powerful. Don't misunderstand me, some of the most tour de force sequences of the film are encounters with fantastic characters in fantastic settings, but the realist side of the film means it cannot be built around these encounters, and thereby avoids going over the top.

For all its praise, Pan's labyrinth is not quite del Toro's masterpiece. All the characters are, ultimately, rather flat archetypes, and nothing that transpires is ever really all that surprising. It's far from formulaic, but I suspect the rave American reviews have more to do with the novelty of magical realism than any actual innovation on del Toro's part (besides putting magical realism on the screen; I can't think of another film, besides The devil's backbone, that's really done this). Pan's labyrinth is highly recommended, but I'm going to wait another five or ten years before I label del Toro a true genius; at only 42, he still needs some time to mature completely, especially as a writer.

One final note: While undoubtedly a fairy tale, Pan's labyrinth is not for young children. This is a dark and extremely disturbing tale, on the order of, say, something by David Cronenberg. (Though obviously very different in most other respects.) The somber atmosphere settles in from the first frame, and only becomes more and more oppressive -- I don't think there's a single moment where anyone says or does anything that's in any way amusing or light-hearted. It didn't give me nightmares, but I believe it would for anyone younger than about 14.

One of the finest legal minds of the day. Or something.

Attorney General Gonzales yesterday: `There is no expressed grant of habeas in the Constitution; there’s a prohibition against taking it away.'

Okay, I suppose he's right in at least one sense. According to Article One, Section 9, `The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it'. The specific wording is that it's a right the state is not allowed to take away, except in certain specific cases. But, if it's a right the state is not usually allowed to take away, this would seem to imply directly that it's a right people usually have. A can't be forbidden from taking X away from B if B never ever has X in the first place.

Maybe one of your lawyerly types can explain this to me?


Short review of Marie Antoinette

Sophia Coppolla's Marie Antoinette is about the boring, vapid life of the title historical figure. This makes for a boring, vapid film.

January 18, 2007

Bill Simmons

I've written and rewritten this post a couple times because it always ends up way too long and autobiographical. Suffice to say I've never been into sports much, but Bill Simmons makes me want to learn about bit more. After reading that column I've actually considered Tivoing Phoenix Suns games.

January 17, 2007

My Roulette System

Well now, Dan comes back from vacation and steals my spot at the top of the blog! With real posts about minimum wages and such things no less! I'll put a stop to this!

In my last post about gambling I failed to really make clear what my system entails. This really didn't help anybody offer an evaluation of the system. Without further ado:

The game is Roulette*. I play the outside, which means I don't put chips directly on any numbers but play groups. In particular, the roulette board is divided into three collumns. Betting successfully on a collumn pays 3-to-1. You can also bet on half the field(the two zeros are excluded from both the collumns and the evens/odds and red/black) with a pay rate of 2-to-1.

When I play, I bet two equal stacks of chips, one on each of two collumns. This means if I win I receive three stacks of chips back, covering my bet and giving me the same payout as if I had bet half the board. On the one hand this gives me better odds than betting red/black/odd/even as I'm covering slightly less than 2/3 of the board. It also means if I lose I lose twice as much.

Now, when I do lose I double down, placing double the original bet on the same collumns. If I lose again the bet is redoubled and again placed on the same collumns. This process is repeated until one of my two collumns wins, bringing me all the money that I'd lost in that stretch and one stack the size of the original bet. If I win on a particular spin, I move my bets to the other two collumns. I admit that this doesn't effect my odds of winning, but at the very least it gives me something to do and assuages that nagging feeling that it *has* to be more likely to hit on the other two collumns after a string of hits on one of them. I know, not true, but it sure makes sense and if it doesn't hurt my odds than it really doesn't matter.

There are obvious problems with this which were entailed in the Gambler's Falacy and Martingale System pages linked in the previous post. A very long string of losses is not impossible, even if it may be unlikely. Given the doubling of bets, a sufficiently long string of losses would bankrupt the player eventually.

The difference I think between my system and the Martingale system it that the latter seems to assume, based on the Wikipedia page, that the odds of success on a given bet are slightly less than 50%. That being the case it makes sense that over time you would eventually lose all your money. But my system has odds in my favor in execess of 60%. This in particular is where I need help from math inclined folks. Do the higher odds of success in my model make it viable where the Martingale system is not? It is granted that a player using my system needs a bank to draw from far in excess of the minimum bet they are using (I figure that a bank of $400-$500 for a table with a $15 minimum bet is sufficiently "safe"). It is also granted that given limited funds this system could be beated by a bad streak of luck, say hitting the same collumn and/or the zeros four or five times in a row. But I do think that the odds of such a streak are pretty poor and represent probably the best odds you can get in a casino.

Any thoughts?

*It should be noted at the outset that I always play the table with the lowest minimum bet and I *always* bet the minimum, except as specified in the explanation.

Feedback from my students

With the start of the new semester, I've gotten the packet of student evaluations from the end of last semester. The best (by which I mean most amusing) answer was to the question `Did you meet your teaching assistant during office hours? If you did, why not? If you did were the meetings helpful?'

Yes, they were sort of helpful except he never gave straight answers to my questions. I think that's a philosophy thing though.

More seriously, I've identified a few things I need to work on, and a few things about the format of the course that caused serious problems.

First, as a grader, I'm used to working through math exams, not papers. Grading math exams, you usually only need to identify the point at which the student forgot how to use the method she or he is applying in each particular problem. Paper grading is much more subtle, and I need to take the time to figure out the most time-efficient way to make helpful comments.

Second, I was surprised to see several students say things like `He also never really encouraged us or made us feel positive.' I need to give more positive feedback, even just for answers that are on the right track but not totally right, in both class and papers.

Third, especially with introductory courses, the students need a fair amount of explicit structural guidelines when they go to write their papers. A common strategy I've seen my friends and colleagues use is to have a series of progressively more involved paper assignments. For example, in the first assignment, students just have to summarise an argument in a perspicacious way; in the second, they summarise and formulate a single objection; in the third, they summarise, object, and then rebut the objection. The distribution of the paper assignments is accompanied with discussions on how to summarise arguments and how to formulate objections.

Fourth, students need some variety. Lecture-lecture-discussion gets old, and sometimes they need more lecture or more discussion. That's a flexibility I don't really have as a TA, but I do have some wiggle room: I can sacrifice our discussion time to lecture, and do things like ask students to give presentations or lead discussions.

Fifth, I have learned how not to formulate exam questions. Intro students should be asked to regurgitate major arguments, or briefly compare and contrast what Plato, Descartes, and Perry think about the soul. They should not be asked to recall trivial minutiae about the readings, with virtually no guidelines as to what minutiae they will be asked about.

And sixth, at the introductory level, a `student directed' course is just begging for disaster. I'm not sure that I ever explained the format here, so let me do so briefly now.

Thursday night, the students would finish their assigned reading, and email questions on that reading to their TAs. We sorted through them and put together handouts, and the discussion section on Friday was usually spent working through these questions. We would usually get through 4-6 (out of 20+ or so distinct questions) in the fifty-minute section. At the end of section, the students would identify questions that the TAs would send on to the professor that night. The lecture periods on Monday and Wednesday consisted almost exclusively of the professor answering these questions. Hence, if the students didn't consider it important or interesting or confusing, or important or interesting or confusing enough to warrant being sent up to the professor, it was never discussed in the context of the class. To make matters worse, we were supposed to never give them straight out answers; they were supposed to struggle with answering the questions of their classmates, and get direction but not answers from the lectures.

Unsurprisingly, many students found this immensely frustrating and never achieved even the barest beginnings of understanding of the texts. Incorporating at least a little Textbook Philosophy would have been slightly frustrating for us the professional philosophers, but at least the students have a chance of understanding what's going on.

January 15, 2007

The danger premium

In discussions on the wage gap (women, on average, make less than 75 cents for every dollar than men, on average, earn), one of the cards anti-feminists like to play is the `danger premium'. The idea is that, for whatever reason, women are less likely to take dangerous jobs; and because they are dangerous, these jobs pay more; hence, the wage gap can be explained by the danger premiums that men receive.

Let's grant the first premiss, and ignore the complete lack of analysis needed to reach the conclusion. Is the second premiss true? If you believe supply and demand curves model reality, then it has some intuitive force: in order to attract workers to these more dangerous jobs, you have to provide them with some incentive. On the other hand, if you're remotely familiar with reality, this is intuitively preposterous: obviously the unpleasant, dangerous work is done by the people at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, while the rich people have nice safe white collar jobs.

For more solid evidence, MSN (that great media critic of the socio-economic status quo) gives us this list of the eleven most life-threatening jobs: fishing workers, logging workers, aircraft pilots, iron and steel workers, refuse collectors, farmers, electrical line workers, truck drivers, `Miscellaneous agricultural workers', and construction workers. We also get fatality rates and average salary, as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Take a moment to peruse the list.

Notice anything? The only category where the average salary is above $50k a year (roughly speaking, the bare minimum you need to live a comfortable middle-class life for a family of 4) are aircraft pilots and flight engineers, who are by far the most highly educated group in the list. The same goes for the other two lists in this article, of most injury-prone jobs and `Jobs That Could Make You Sick'. In fact, according to a chart produced by the Bureau in 1998 (and reproduced by Ampersand in his discussion of the danger premium as part of the wage gap series), the danger premium is not just the smallest of those investigated, but actually negative, while the corresponding knowledge premium is not just the highest of those investigated, but about three times the magnitude of the second highest. Dangerous jobs actually pay less, on average, not more. The danger premium hypothesis is not only wrong, but the exact opposite of reality.

MLK, 2007

You certainly wouldn't know it looking at the homepage of The New York Times, but today we celebrate the life and work of Martin Luther King. Being an ivory tower intellectual, I celebrate not by contributing to the ongoing fight for justice and civil rights for all people everywhere, but instead by reading an essay. If you think this is a crappy way to celebrate, you're probably right, but it's a lot better than sleeping in and watching Comedy Central all day.

King was educated as a theologian, with a heavy dose of philosophy, and his Letter from Birmingham Jail is a beautiful discussion of the legitimacy and necessity of civil disobedience, just and unjust laws, and race consciousness:

I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action.

Christians will also be interested in King's criticisms of the conventional American church; for more on that, read today's piece on King in The Chron.

The link above has links, in turn, to the Letter, and a brief historical discussion putting the Letter in context. It's not too long; I highly recommend taking a few minutes to read it.

New web album

I'm going to start putting my favourite shots on a Picasa web album. All of the shots in there right now have been posted to this blog in the past, but I expect to add some others that have not been so posted.

January 14, 2007

Ma mere


A little too dark in the foreground, especially with the bright background, but this is one of the few good shots I have of her. Posted by Picasa

Light and shadows


Isn't Bo so cute? He tears the stuffing right out of those toys, though. Literally. Posted by Picasa

More colours


The `Muse of Architecture' statue in my mom's front yard. There was no Muse of Architecture, and none of them were male, but that's how it was advertised. Again, I'm amazed my camera managed to get these colours. Posted by Picasa

I have no idea how this came out


There is no way my cheap little digital, with all its low light problems, should have been able to take this shot -- much less get these colours. November 2006 Posted by Picasa

How to make a cup of tea in the most pretentious way possible

Sure, you could just stick a bag of Lipton in a mug of water and heat the whole thing up in the microwave for 2 1/2 minutes. But why do that when you can turn the simple act of making a cup of tea into a ridiculously elaborate production?

First, you need the tea. Black tea has a long list of increasingly silly-named and expensive categories, and none of these go into ordinary tea bags. Instead, the stuff in tea bags is called `dust', and to the pretentious asshole, it tastes about as appetizing. I order whole leaf (`orange pekoe') tea from Peets, a coffee and tea company that is located almost exclusively in the Bay Area. For the slightly less pretentious, megamarts usually stock Twinings whole leaf tea on the top shelf above the bagged tea. My favourite blend is Irish Breakfast.

Second, you something in which to brew the tea. To enjoy the full flavour of your overpriced whole-leaf tea, it needs to brew in such a way that the water can flow freely around it. Tea infusers are usually too small to do this with maximum pretentiousness (especially if you're going to make multiple cups at once), so I use a French press. You'll want one teaspoon in the bottom of the press for every cup of tea.

Third, water. Freshly-drawn cold tap water should be filtered and heated in a kettle, whether electric or on a stove. Avoid boiling the water for more than a few seconds -- boiling causes oxygen to be released from the water, which can make the tea taste flat. Pour the water over the tea and let it steep for three to five minutes, depending on how strong you want it. Keep the plunger on the press up while the tea steeps; that's the whole reason we're using the press, after all.

Fourth, milk, whether cow's or soy, is an important part of developing the full flavour profile of the tea. Black tea contains tannins, which are the same compounds that make red wine dry, and get their name from their use in the tanning process. These enzymes literally attack and dehydrate your tongue, but in strong tea they can overwhelm your sense of taste. When milk is added, the tannins attack the milk instead of your tongue; the tea will not taste as dry, but you will be able to taste the full flavour profile.

If you plan on using cow's milk, fill each teacup or the tea pot with hot tap water while the tea is steeping. Dump this out, and add a small amount of milk in the bottom of the cups or pots before pouring the tea.

If you plan on using soy milk instead, I recommend Silk's Unsweetened, as it gives you more control over the final sweetness of the tea. Soy milk curdles more easily than cow's milk, which can give the tea an unpleasant grassy flavour. To avoid this, do not heat the cup or pot, and let the tea sit for three minutes after pouring before adding the milk.

Fifth, sweetener. Carefully (it's still extremely hot!) taste the tea before sweetening. If brewed for too long, black tea can taste bitter, and many people like a small amount of sweetener even in perfectly-brewed tea. I use local honey, about half a teaspoon for two cups of tea. Honey is much sweeter than sugar, and must be stirred longer in order to dissolve completely.

You have now spent half an hour making a single cup of tea. Bon appetit!

January 13, 2007

Raising the minimum wage has no negative effect on employment

For the past year and a half, a group of students at ND has been fighting a campaign to raise the minimum wage paid to university staff (especially janitors and plant maintenance folks) to a living wage of $10-12/hr. The group makes some interesting -- and, I think, undeniably logically valid -- appeals to Catholic notions of social justice, but the university's policy has basically been to completely ignore the issue. Naturally, this is a fight that shows up in the letters to the editor to the Observer, the main student daily paper, with opponents of a living wage tossing out standard arguments (non-sequiturs in this case) about how raising the minimum wage increases unemployment.

Amp has found pretty solid evidence that this is simply false. I want to hang on to this reference so I can cite it when the issue inevitably bubbles up again.

By comparing changes in employment in the two states (a procedure they referred to as “differences-indifferences”), Card and Krueger were able to estimate the employment effects of the New Jersey increase. Using this approach, they found that the differences in employment growth between the two states were not statistically significant. They concluded, therefore, that the minimum-wage increase did not lower employment in New Jersey.

The link has more general interest to us bloggy folks because Amp narrates a failed conservative effort to refute the study.

January 12, 2007

Taking A Break

I've been on a hell of a tear here at work today, mostly because I spent a little too much time blogging at work this week and got way behind. But look at me, master typer, I've almost completely caught up and I have an hour left at work, so I decided to take a quick break and read up a bit on last night's hockey madness when I came across this story. Seriously, that's some Hollywood shit right there.

On top of the sweetness of the story, I also have Selanne on my fantasy hockey team.

Noumena who? + a review

I'm back! California was excellent, as California always is, but the new semester looms just over the horizon of next week, and so I have returned to Indiana.

And to not totally waste your time reading this useless post, let's start things up again with a review of Blood diamond.

Over the past decade or so, we've seen a growing microgenre of films I'll call White People Realising How Badly They've Fucked Things Up, or WPRHBTFTU. Only that's really awkward, so I think I'll just call them Liberal Guilt films. That term might be slightly misleading, but I think it does generally capture the audience and message these films are meant to portray: they're made by and for liberal, relatively wealthy, white people in the US and Europe, and the point is to make that audience feel guilty about the way we have collectively fucked up some other part of the world, in nominal but probably ultimately futile hopes that we'll go fix things. Prior to the release of Blood diamond, I would say that Three kings was the best example in this microgenre. An inconvenient truth also falls into it, as do Hotel Rwanda, Syriana, and Constant gardener.

Films in the Liberal Guilt microgenre have a number of factors that must be carefully managed. First, a complex history of several forms of exploitation must be represented, for the sake of an easily-digestible narrative, by a relatively contained historical act. In Blood diamond, this exploitation is the exchange of military support for both sides in factional conflicts for mineral wealth over the past three centuries or so, and the single historical event are the circumstances of the civil war in Sierra Leone in 1999. Portrayed awkwardly, the result might have been an oversimplification -- historical, systematic exploitation is turned into an isolated incident. Blood diamond avoids this, though mostly by bracketing the film between a few expository scenes.

Next, and perhaps more importantly, when whites are portrayed as the primary agents there is a risk that the non-white population will be portrayed as either their passive victims or their brutish auxiliaries. Constant gardener suffered this flaw, with its complete lack of fully-developed black African characters. Blood diamond occasionally comes close to having the same problem, though it's hard to tell for sure whether it's crossed the line. The primary narrative drive of the film is the recovery of a large diamond discovered by Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), a black African, so that he can be reunited with his family, by selling it to Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio), a white African. Archer often takes the lead and the initiative, expecting Vandy to simply do as he's told. He does so, but there are moments when it is clear that Vandy is not really interested in the diamond at all, is helping Archer because he feels it is necessary to get his family back, and is far more aware than Archer of the racism implicit in their `partnership'. This subtle self-consciousness might have redeemed Blood diamond from any accusations of racism, except that the filmmaker has Archer, not Vandy, develop the not-so-intricate plot that plays out over the final fifteen minutes of the film and gives Archer, not Vandy, a romantic subplot, thereby designating Archer, not Vandy, the protagonist.

While a bit needlessly long (143 minutes, and half an hour really should have been cut out), Blood diamond is quite watchable, and is certainly successful in instilling guilt in its target liberal audience. I highly recommend both seeing this film and spending an hour or so afterwards talking about it over something hot and caffeinated; while very much an action film, it is one that requires a fair amount of processing afterwards. As a good film should be.

January 11, 2007

Review: Children Of Men

As we walked out of the movie last night, one of the people with me said something like, “That was a great movie. I never want to see it again.” Children of Men is not a light, happy movie in either production or story. I’ve heard the film techniques used described as “like Saving Private Ryan” and that comparison is apt. The colors are bleak and gritty while the characters are nearly always mussed and dirty in some way. The world is loud and distracting, filled with as much auditory horror as visual.

Children of Men takes place in the mid-21st Century, twenty years after all the women on Earth inexplicably ceased being able to have babies. With no children, and thus no future, the world has degenerated into chaos. Most of the major world powers have collapsed, leaving Britain as the presumably last stable country, and barely stable at that. Clive Owen plays Theodore, former political activist currently in a job he hates. Most people in the movie come off as just waiting for the inevitable end, and Theo is certainly one of those at the beginning of the film. Obviously in a film such as this the main character gets shaken out of their ennui by a variety of events and becomes active in an desperately important struggle. I’m not giving anything away (it’s in the trailer and is pretty obvious based on the concept) by telling you that Theo is introduced to a young woman who is pregnant with the first baby in eighteen years.

I’ve become convinced that the very best drama isn’t necessarily serious from start to finish. Joss Whedon uses humor to great effect in his works as a way to really hammer home the tragedy when something bad happens. In Children of Men the same is true. Most of the movie you’re slack jawed at the nonstop tragedy of the movie only to unexpectedly find yourself laughing at some weird, quirky moment. The most powerful moments of the film revolve around those light, happy moments.

I understand exactly what the person I was with meant. I’m certain that I’ll never be lounging around on a Saturday afternoon and think to myself, “I’m going to pop in Children of Men!” When I will watch it again, however, is any time I’m with someone and am forced to say, “What?! You’ve never seen Children of Men?! Well you’re going to see it right now!”

This movie is chaotic, visceral, and one of the best looking and sounding movies I've seen in a long time.This is a movie everyone should see. It’s dark, bleak, and depressing, but it’s also fantastic.

Help Me Not Become A Gambling Addict

Ok, money has been tight in the House o' Ben lately and when I find the cash flowing a bit slower than I like my mind invariably drifts to dreams of getting rich quick. This particular instance has presented itself by constant thoughts of gambling, spurred, I'm sure, by the fact that the last time I visited nearby Atlantic City I walked away with $150 in winnings. Unfortunately, I've become convinced that I've figured out a way to play roulette which is "sure to win."


I had written a long paragraph describing my strategy and why it's impossible to lose. Then I cruised over to Wikipedia and found that the gambling strategy I "discovered" was rather like the Martingale System, which operates on the Gambler's Fallacy. So, I think reading the article sufficiently sobered me that I won't daydream about winning big money in the casinos any time soon, but I'm probably *still* going to play under my system the next time I'm playing roulette. It still seems like your best shot at winning.

Update: Ok, I'm still not entirely convinced. The Martingal System works under the assumption that a game, such as a coin flip, will have odds approximating 50/50. If I'm playing two collumns in roulette I should have a slightly less than 2/3 chance of winning, right? The idea that streaks are not impossible, just unlikely still applies, but it should apply less so because the chances of a streak on half the numbers, say all the red ones, is more likely than a streak on one third of the numbers, say a collumn plus the green zeroes. Someone more versed in math than I (I'm looking at you Noumena) should reply in the comments why this is wrong.

Thanks Atrios

For again showing me another example of why nobody should take Fox News seriously. At its most charitable interpretation she's saying he's openly hostile to the White House but I think another fair interpretation would be that she's saying he's a hostile enemy of the country. All this on national TV. Are you kidding me?!

The War

Link. It's been a while since I've blogged about the war in Iraq, but that's mostly because there haven't been any major changes. The Iraq Study Group released a report that was ignored by the Administration and then quickly forgotten by the media. President Bush plans an escalation of troops with no clear or new plan that will turn this thing around. Iraqis and US troops keep dying. The country continues to get worse.

I have to say that I'm not gung ho about immediate withdrawl. Lots of folks on the internet, and even some real life friends, have the conviction to steadily and firmly call for pulling our guys out now. I find myself uncharitaristically hesitant though. Mostly it's arguments about the human rights disaster that will absolutely occur when we pull out. Shiite militias *will* band together to round up groups of Sunnis and execute them. A proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran will be fought in Iraq. It will be bloody. It will be awful. It will be our fault. Many arguments for staying that I come across use this inevitable outcome as justification for staying. "We're not making the country better, per se, we're just barely keeping the lid on another Rwanda." Most of these people admit that the country is getting worse and none that I've seen offer any hope that this is going to turn around. If that is the case, all we're doing is slowing the country's decent into anarchy rather than letting it fall in one horrible explosion.

Ok, I understand that argument and it makes a certain amount of sense. The problem is that none of these people offer any timetables or benchmarks for us to look for when the time has finally come to leave. If we're not even expecting things to get better anymore, when will things have gotten bad enough, ever so slowly under our careful watch, that it will be time to leave?

January 10, 2007

Guitar Hero 360

Game Informer has announced some Guitar Hero goodness for the Xbox 360, including 10 exclusive songs that will be available.

Possum Kingdom—Toadies*
Life Wasted—Pearl Jam
Billion Dollar Babies—Alice Cooper
Hush—Deep Purple
Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo—Rick Derringer
Dead!—My Chemical Romance*
The Trooper—Iron Maiden

Bonus unlockable songs
Drink Up—Ounce of Self
Kicked to the Curb—Noble Rot

Supposedly there will also be downloadable songs available at launch. It's not in the article, but I vaguely remember reading that there would be 12 downloadable songs. Hell son, between teh exclusives and downloadables, that's halfway to a new game! Plus, I heard all these songs are really fun to play. After listening to them all with the game in mind, I can see it.

Still Thinking

So I spent some time mulling over how cool the iPhone is. Then I cruised the 'net a bit and read all kinds of gushing by a bunch of different people. Clearly the iPhone is the winner of CES (the tradeshow at which it was announced). Now that I've had a chance to react against other gushing folks though, I'm not as excited. It took Apple ten generations of operating systems to really come up with something that appeals to non-Mac enthusiasts. It took them four generations of iPod before they really got it right*. The iPod Nano shipped with screens that got scratched if you breathed on them. Apple is a company that comes up with great ideas and gets them right eventually. Are they getting better at reducing the number of lame first generation products they release? Possibly. But I'm more glad than ever that I just recently locked myself into a new 2 year cell phone contract because by the time my contract is up they'll probably be a few months off from releasing the third generation iPhone, which is probably about the time it will be all that it should be.

Also, by then I should have more money.

Don't count Microsoft out though. Yeah, they took a long time to get into the MP3 market. It's probably even fair to say that they waited so long that Apple entrenched itself in the zeitgeist as *the* MP3 company. Still, there's nothing particularly wrong with the Zune as far as I've heard. Indeed, prior to the iPhone announcement I was pretty excited about the machine. The comparison to their console business couldn't be more clear. Their first generation machine is kind of a clunker. It's so late to the party that nobody even considers the possibility that they'll take the crown away from Sony. It's got some good features and is in many ways superior to the PS2 but that doesn't matter because Sony *was* console gaming in the minds of the gaming public. Microsoft takes a few years to build some infrastructure and do some research and then release the 360, a very good machine that has a good shot at capturing marketshare if not holding onto the lead they've already forged for themselves. Microsoft has talked about getting into the cell phone market for years. They *will* get into the cell phone market and it's almost certain that the first product they release will be some extension of the Zune. How will it stack up to the iPhone? Who knows, but the first company to release a new, innovative product is not always the company that delivers the best product. The 18 year old me would care enough about being the first to have an iPhone that he'd be willing to put up with the innevitable quirks. The 27 year old me is willing to wait for somebody to get it right.

*People forget that the first generation iPods sucked pretty bad, despite their great potential. The click circle was actually a movable click wheel that fell off the thing after moderate use. The battery died if you even thought about playing Freebird back to back. The screen was dark, drab and not nearly as easy to read as their newer models, and compared to the current product the thing was a brick.


Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed a healthcare reform package for the State of California that has people on both the left and right all razzled up. Ezra breaks it down here much better than I could hope to. Hey, no skin off my back, the kid's an internet genius focusing in healthcare. I'm just glad I could understand most of it. Anyhow, I know we have a few lawyers, at least one doctor, and folks interested in politics reading the blog and I'd like to hear your opinions on this particular bill and universal healthcare (which Ezra rightly points out, this bill is *not*) generally.

Personally, given the horrible state of our healthcare system I think this is obviously a step in the right direction but, as Ezra says, not anywhere near what we need.

I looked briefly for a conservative take on this proposal, but being at work I couldn't devote a significant amount of time to searching. Unfortunately I didn't run across any sources that I know/recognize as respected conservative bloggers. I'll throw up a link if I find something, but feel free to post a link in the comments if you see something pertinent.

Incidentally, while looking for a conservative response to this plan I ran across this bit from Jonah Goldberg at The Corner discussing Star Trek's Prime Directive. He, of course, gets it wrong. Series subsequent to the Original Series have made clear that Kirk's era played fast and loose with all kinds of rules, often leading to bad results. The Prime Directive is there for a reason and breaking it is among the most serious offenses in the mythos. Obviously.


So after drooling over the iPhone some more I went over to Ezra's place (where I found out about the phone in the first place) to check the comments. Most of the discussion revolves around why Apple would make this phone a Cingular exclusive, which led to a lot of discussion about which carriers are better than others.

There's no consensus about which carrier is the best, but there's plenty of discussion about which ones *aren't* the best, particularly Sprint. I've been with Sprint for four and a half years now and I guess I just don't understand what the cell phone experience is supposed to be. Other than the state of Nebraska, where Sprint, it seems, believes people are still using the String-and-Can network of communication, the only place I have had with coverage is in my old apartment. I don't know what it was about that place (I lived in a room in a very old house), but the second I stepped outside I got full coverage, so it wasn't that Sprint was bad in that area. My old phone (recently replaced with a shiny *new* phone) didn't do text messaging so well, but I was, and still am, able to get on regular internet pages while folks on other networks don't seem to be able to.

I don't know, is there something I'm missing? Some piece of the cell phone experience that I'm not missing because I don't realize I should be having it?

I did just read that Cingular is the only carrier in the US that's fully unionized, which I like, but that can't be the way these companies jockey for customers. Is getting exclusive phones really persuasive to you guys, enough so that you'd switch providers? And what, if anything, is it that you like about your current provider?

January 09, 2007

I've Said It Before...

And I'll say it again, I love Apple products, it's just that damn Mac attitude that makes me cringe. Still, it's hard not to drool at the new iPhone (scroll down a ways). Seriously, that thing's awesome. Hopefully they'll release a version for Sprint eventually so I can get one. Hopefully by then the phones will have more memory. 8 gigs is plenty for a randomized music playlist, but if we start talking about video I'd like to have a bit more room to play with.

January 08, 2007

For The Word Nerds

After hitting up the Dictionary.com Word of the Day pretty much every day for the last few years, I finally signed up for the email list a few months ago. Now i get new words every day! But if that's not enough lexico-nerdacity for you, check out A Word A Day for even more words! Now I get two word related emails per day!

Update: Strangely enough, not ten minutes after posting this I ended up here.

January 07, 2007

You, Tube!

It's a Wonderful Life: The Undirector's Cut

The Simpsons UK Christmas Greeting

Drumming in various rooms of an apartment. Pretty cool.

Go Birds! Cah-Caaawwww!!!!

Well Seattle sqeaked out a win last night. Well, really, Dallas squeaked out a loss, but we'll take it. Later today Philly takes on the Giants. I'm hoping for an Eagles/Seahawks conference championship, so let's go birds!