Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Dear Professor Mankiw: please learn the difference between "reign" and "rein". Here's a hint: don't use "reign" unless you're making fun of somebody's monarchical pretensions, or discussing the Who's discography. You'll almost always be wanting to say "rein".

I'd have emailed you, but you don't seem to have an email address on your blog anymore.

[Update: somebody pointed it out to him since I first squawked. No point in removing the post, but it's no longer incorrect.]
Damn, it's chilly out this morning. I was just out testing an update on our PDA application, which requires walking around until the GPS fires up & stablizes. Somehow I always choose to do this just as it's getting ready to drizzle, never fails. The monocloud is overhead, the cold rain is starting, and coat weather is definitely in effect.


Monday, September 28, 2009

I'd be more impressed with Palin and her new whatever-the-hell-it-is-she's-doing, if she got herself elected to the House in 2010. I was utterly Not Amused by the July resignation. I'm not fond of quitters, and we have enough chatterboxes and speakers-for-hire in the wings right now.

Get a job, Sarah. Hell, same goes for J.C. Watts and Newt Gingrich.
With the FDP in coalition with the Christian Democrats, Germany's officially and de facto to the right of the US. It's odd that economic disaster made Europe as a whole turn right, while the idiots at home go left. Maybe it's a function of who's in charge when "rocks fall, everybody dies"?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Huh. I had no idea there were so many blacks at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco.
Hah! This is funny. The anarchist thugs tried to storm the G-20 summit at the convention center, on the north side of Downtown. They apparently started out in Oakland, rallied in a park in Lawrenceville, and tried to march through the Strip District, where the cops kicked their collective asses back into Lawrenceville. Then they tried again, apparently through Bloomsfield and back into Oakland. See what they *didn't* try? The Hill District.

White boys too scared to go roistering through the Hill? I don't know, it's been fifteen years since I lived in Pittsburgh, maybe the Hill's become a series of tony gated communities since then.

I see that the AP thinks that Lower Lawrenceville is an outlying neighborhood. Here's a hint: no, it isn't. Edgewood is outlying. Swissvale and Wilkinsburg are so outlying they aren't even in the city. But Lawrenceville's pretty much the heart of the city. The only actual residential district closer to Downtown is the Hill.

Well, and Polish Hill, I suppose. But that's a cul-de-sac. You can't get to Downtown from Polish Hill.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

When I saw Fafner in fansubs a few years back, it didn't impress me. It was yet another Evangelion/Rahxephon clone with a horribly confusing mass of in-media-res unexplained technobabble & a swarm of interchangeable characters made indistinguishable by a particularly poor implementation of Hisashi Hirai's usual polished but identical character designs. I only got about five or six episodes in before giving it up as impenetrable and gnostic. Despite all that, I bought the Geneon DVDs in a recent 25-for-$100 sale anyways. I just got around to watching them.

Boy, did *that* show improve wildly in the second half. The first half's a terrible slog, full of difficult-to-understand characters & outright unlikeable characters. The writing's also kind of slap-dash and unhelpful right up to episode fourteen or so. By that point, however, they've killed off, exiled, or otherwise banished all the annoying characters, and explained the motivations of the confusing characters. More importantly, I think, I could finally remember everybody's names.

Suddenly, everything falls into place, and Fafner goes from dull giant robot knock-off to full-caps AWESOME. The philosophy stops being gnomic, and settles into a thoughtful, non-denominational Shinto vs. nihilistic Buddhist groove. Deaths and battles stop being pointless, and gain resonance and tragic depth. Everybody takes a level in charisma, and the token chick suddenly turns into a cold-blooded godlike sniping killing machine. The Girl in a Box climbs out of her box and turns into a Card-Carrying Deity - to the point that there's an objection during a court-martial that "you can't let God testify in court!' She has at least three distinct Crowning Moments of Awesome by my count. Tsubaki basically steals the show away from the yaoi-bait protagonists.

Even the ending rocked. Fafner's a classic instance of Growing the Beard.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I was in a meeting this morning; we were making fun of a co-worker whose script had produced a phantasmic 17 trillion acres of soybeans in cultivation, and I made some crack about a "Norman Borlaug Memorial database" in passing. After the meeting, another co-worker asked me what I knew about Borlaug and it came out that he had worked with him in the Seventies. In fact, he had been at the famous banquet where Borlaug had came in to accept his Nobel Peace Prize still covered in dirt from the Mexican fields he had been working in. My co-worker insisted it had actually happened, and wasn't theatre or urban legend. He described Borlaug's successes as a combination of building on prior foundations, a lot of work, and more than a little luck.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I am couched. They're a lot bigger than they looked on the showroom floor. The delivery guys did a hell of a job getting those beasts into my split-level townhouse with the awkwardly placed screen doors and ballisters all over the place.

The place looks a lot smaller with huge new couches eating up the floorspace. Maybe I won't go crazy with the side-tables and coffee tables after all...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Finally watched the end of Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex 2nd GiG - I watched about half of that season when the fansubs were coming out, and bounced *hard* off of the Full Metal Jacket knockoff episode. (Incidentally, it wasn't the obnoxious anti-Americanism of that episode that riled me - it was the preposterous poker hands that the writer used as a framing device. I never, ever want to see a straight flush take a four-of-a-kind in a no-wilds five-card game in fiction ever again.)

Question for anybody who remembers the ending: who the heck did Prime Minister Kayabuki appeal to, off-screen, to resolve the "secret coup d'etat" part of the crisis? She's been cut off from control over the military by her Cabinet Secretary, and she does *something* which he thinks is unwarranted and foolish which checkmates him, but I couldn't figure out what it was. Did she somehow appeal to the populace? Unlikely - the series is deeply contemptuous of Japanese popular sovereignty. The General Staff? The Emperor?

*Is* there an Emperor in the GitS:SAC future? It's hard to tell in almost all anime if the Imperial apparatus "exists", because of the clutch of taboos which would leave someone who only knew Japan from its popular culture to assume that it was a bureaucratic republic without any trace of monarchy. The wall is so high and strong and sturdy that I often forget about that aspect of things political, and the only reason I'm even thinking about this now is because that last episode of GitS:SAC was named "the Return of Patriotism", and the High Modern definition of Japanese patriotism is, after all, State Shinto & Emperor-worship.

All that business about Silvestre and his taxonomy of revolutions and whether to count the original "Individual Eleven" as revolutionaries is kind of bizarre divorced of any mention of the actual ideology of the prewar militarist terrorists - namely, the classic Appeal to the Emperor, and the liquidation of his erring ministers. Assassination attempts against figurehead prime ministers like Kayabuki don't make real-world sense without that ideological structure providing the explanation. It's like talking about twentieth century terrorism without discussing Marxism, or twenty-first century terrorism without mentioning Islam.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Norman Borlaug has died. If you don't know the name of the man whose work saved more human lives than were taken from us by Mao, Stalin, and Hitler and all their followers put together, then correct your ignorance, for god's sake. We should make our heroes better-known than our villains, and Borlaug should be held up to every schoolchild as the very best exemplar of the scientist-hero. I have very few heroes - Norman Borlaug was one of them.

"Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world."


Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering September 2001 is sort of odd. The thing was, I was openly contemptuous of the president at the time. I hadn't voted for him, and didn't like him all that much. I thought he was small, and unworthy, and an embarrassment. He was going to be a nobody, another Ford. His response to the attacks made him. Our collective response to the attacks made a lot of little people hate him. Some clung to the president and to the flag in hysterics, producing embarrassing spectacles which made them look like fools in later years when they turned on him. I wonder whether Andrew Sullivan wishes for a memory hole, or is he big enough of an Orwell fan to recognize that bit of hypocrisy? Others immediately began constructing conspiracy theories, and thus are incapable of embarrassment.

I don't know, at the time, I just hoped that the idiot in the Oval Office wouldn't make things too much worse. I had little faith that any real recovery was in the offing. It seemed like the end of the American Century.

But he put our remaining weight into the problem. He set Rumsfeld into the field, and the watch-word was "lean forward". Instead of Imperial Chaos Trumphant, the response to the attacks smothered a lot of long-smouldering brushfires. There were fewer wars, fewer deaths, but we were involved in more of them. Prosperity returned for a brief, if, in retrospect, rather false, flowering. I had hopes in the spring year of 2005 that all might be right with the world, that we were on the long upward slope of "the Long Now".

No, it didn't last. First the democracy bubble burst, then the economic bubble. Nowadays, I just worry that all of his efforts only delayed that end a few years, that despite everything, the decline was only postponed.

Would disaster make anything of the current president? Does he have any hidden depths?

I hope we don't find out.
I never knew that the anonymous Allah had been living a few blocks from the towers. I don't read him as much as I ought to...
There are people who want to make this day a "Day of Service". That sounds an awful lot like "Servitude" to me. These people sometimes seem as if they think of men as chattel in bondage to the benevolent State. The heck with that.

There are people who want to call today "Patriot Day". Jingoism may be a healthier response to attack than supine surrender, but I find it difficult to embrace bluster, and I carry Gramscian damage of my own.

Personally, I prefer to think of 9/11 as a day of warning, a reminder that civilization is fragile and life is brief. Those terrible, oppressively empty blue skies weighed heavy in the week after the fall of the towers, like the devil's own mono no aware:
Gion shouja no kane no koe
shogyou mujou no hibiki ari.
Shara souju no hana no iro
jousha hissui no kotowari o arawasu.
Ogoreru hito mo hisashikarazu,
Tada haru no yo no yume no gotoshi.
Takeki mono mo tsui ni horobinu.
Hitoe ni kaze no mae no chiri ni onaji.

The song of the bells of the cloister of Gion
Sings of the impermanence of all things.
The split-souled four-limbed sala bush
Her flowers' hue showeth one truth:
That to flourish is to fall
That proud men are so but a while
That pride passeth like a dream of a spring's night
That the valiant are so only to be destroyed
That all shall be blown like dust in the wind.

This is kind of ugly. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I've read neither Fiasco nor the Gamble, although I've read a ton of reviews and analysis of both books. After reading that both the positive portrayal of a particular officer & his unit in Fiasco and the harshly negative one in the Gamble are based on the exact same five-day period of time Ricks spent with that officer & his men, I'm not sure I'll get around to it. That information is, frankly, damning. Especially in conjunction with Ricks' admission that the difference is based entirely on the officer's post-Fiasco public opposition to Ricks' favored strategies. It suggests to me that Ricks is incapable of processing information in a semi-objective manner: doesn't this mean that his analysis is highly colorable by personal factors?

I recognize the glass-houses character of that observation, but nonetheless, I'm a little tired of COIN pieties this month. I can't help but feel that there are good Marines like Sgt. Bill Cahir dying in Afghanistan while wearing ideological shackles forged by Ricks' beloved counter-insurgency specialists.

H/T Jason van Steenwyk
Neil Gaiman has recently deigned to inform fandom that George R.R. Martin is not our [expletive deleted].

Yeah, you know what? There's a fanfic writer who drives me batty because she keeps starting new stories while leaving a major novel-length work half-undone. Worse, most of the new stories are based on a fairly serious spoiler for the *unwritten portion* of the unfinished work. I've gotten to the point where I'm willing to tolerate it because:

A) She's not a professional, she does this in her spare time
B) I'm not paying a dime for it - it's free ice cream
C) I'm still getting the occasionally interesting bit of prose out of her

While I concede that neither George R.R. Martin nor Neil Gaiman are my "[expletive deleted]", they are supposed to be compensated professionals. Martin's increasing indiscipline and inability to deliver a conclusion to his "A Song of Ice and Fire" serial is, in point of fact, an infraction of promise. I've paid a fair amount of money for his door-stoppers - hard-cover prices, in point of fact. Heck, I've imported the British edition in a couple of cases - I still get spam from because of those purchases. This isn't free ice-cream. I'm not a free rider, I'm not an entitled, pirating brat. I'm someone who expects a story that bloody well ends.

If anything, Martin's fans are peeved that he's contracted Epic Fantasitisis - producing an undisciplined, bloated, cancerous mess of a story which refuses to end. It was supposed to be a four-book series. Then five. Now six? And he refuses to deliver the fifth. Each book takes an exponentially longer period of time to deliver than the last. At the current rate, we may get the fifth book before Martin dies. We're not likely to get the sixth book before *I* die!

So bite me, Gaiman. Martin promises books on deadlines. He fails to deliver said books anywhere near the promised date. We are entitled to expect the fulfillment of promises, even if they're not enforced by the legalities of contract. Neither artists nor writers are classes protected from the consequences of their infidelities. If your word should be worth squat, redeem it.

H/T Glenn, who I think gives the both of them too much credit. Instapundit is also free ice cream - and he's far, far FAR more reliable than the alleged compensated professional Martin.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

For anybody out there who hasn't twigged to it in the last thirty years of public demonstration, Yoshiyuki Tomino is a pompous moron.

If you're not going to let somebody produce another Overman King Gainer under your name, then shut up and retire, you old fool.

Update: OK, maybe the old fool gets a bye for hosting a Gundam-themed wedding under the life-size Gundam. Well played, old man.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

This post on the latest press abomination inadvertently reminded me of the Fighting Red Onion Head by mentioning the iconic photograph which was the inspiration of Penn State's most reviled piece of monumental lawn sculpture. Igael Tumarkin, hah?

Tempting, but I have my couches scheduled for delivery on Saturday. Politics is politics, but interior decorating is Serious Business.

BTW, Specter bragged at his State College town hall that his father had been part of the Bonus March. Wonder if he'll connect that particular bit of personal history with the descent of pissed-off lumpenproles in vast numbers next weekend upon his natural hometown, Inside The Beltway?

Friday, September 04, 2009

To expand on yesterday's thoughts:

The goal of progressive societal reforms should be the more effective use of the cumulative attention of the masses, and the more parsimonious usage of the attention of the elite. The qualities of these reforms should be simplification, dispersion, and stabilization.

The core insight of social neoconservative thought was that the dispersal of liberal attitudes - cultural libertarianism & hedonism - from the elites to the masses, resulted in a societal catastrophe as indulgences of the avante garde, rich in social capital, spread to the working and lower classes with their corresponding poverty in said cushion of social capital. The familial and pharmacological affectations which a single female lawyer can handle, destroys the woman who takes in the lawyer's wash.

As this is generally true for the social and cultural spheres, so, I suggest, it might be true for economic spheres, with a slightly different cause. While cultural elites are rich in social capital, the meritocratic elite is rich in cleverness: the ability to make sense of fiscal and legal complexity, and a generally superior capacity for finding the cracks in increasingly legalized and complicated webs of options, rules, regulations and prohibitions. The fiendishly complex legal code under which a trained business lawyer can make a killing, traps the merely average in a distracting, time-wasting wilderness of opaque options, most of which can entangle the simple in accidental illegalities. The simple are forced to apply to the clever and well-trained to do what would be simple absent the interference of increasing layers of contradicting regulation. All of this is a drag on economic behavior, from grand decisions down to the details of daily life.

Legalization is poison to the general masses. It introduces cleverness into everything it touches, upgrades every task affected such that mere common understanding no longer suffices. An army of lawyers and para-lawyers and accountants spread out, flowing into every crack opened by each new wave of regulation, eating up the substance of the land, so to speak.

This is not to say that more complex instruments and options should be legislated out of existence: that's the "tyranny of choice" crowd, and they're a bunch of goddamn fascists. But the web of legalities, of regulation and petty statutory obligation which force the simple into complexity - this is an active evil. It's the legal community reproducing, lawyers writing increasingly complicated code for producing more opportunities for lawyers interpreting the growing thicket of complex code. In programming, these sorts of spaghetti codebases are sometimes written accidentally, by inept hacks, and sometimes written intentionally, to pad somebody's long-term employment security, but it always results in an intractable mess of barely-functional trash which isn't expandable, maintainable, or alterable without tossing the whole damn thing out & re-writing from scratch.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

I commented on this account of a Steny Hoyer public forum, and since I do have some intellectual vanity, I'm going to replicate some of it here:

...Personally, I'm of the opinion that there's no large-scale social problem which is addressable by centralized rationality - which is to say, technocratic approaches. Science and engineering are the fortes of the technological approach. Once you get into macroeconomic affairs, human rationality reaches its limits.

Health care is a *fiendishly* macroeconomic complex, and the more technocrats attempt to centralize and rationalize the systems involved, the worse the situation will get. Any reforms essayed *have* to put their emphasis on decentralization, simplification, and reducing centralized oversight, or else it will just make things worse. A crowd isn't smarter than a single genius, but the crowd can manage its collective affairs better *in the aggregate* than the genius could for them.

It's a simple matter of economy of attention. Even the most brilliant of men can only concentrate on a few things at a time, no matter how excellently or effectively or quickly he organizes his thought. Even the dimmest member of the crowd has a significant fraction of the capacity for attention that the would-be technocrat has for that dimmest member's individual situation.

Yes, I know it's basically rote Hayek orthodoxy, but just because it's a truism, doesn't mean it isn't important. The world's full of brilliant people who aren't smart enough to run both their lives *and* mine. Full disclosure: I'm not a member of Mensa like the author of that post, nor would I be qualified for membership; at my best, I'm high-end normal on the IQ scale, and what little intelligence I have, is in verbal rather than rational or mathematical intelligence.

It's a matter of high irony that I ended up in a position where they have me helping write equations for custom fertilizer prescriptions, and proofing financial planner calculations. The president of the company is probably a genius, with a PhD in meteorology who works 16 hour days, at least seventy hours a week. He is *painfully* bright, and works way harder than I ever do, but he has a reputation for making messes because he tries to think through every project that comes to his attention - and then after he gets distracted by the next problem, others have to come along & work out what *supposed* to come next. It used to drive me batty when he'd do his own book-keeping chores, wasting *hours* on searches for a fifty-cent error - in essence, doing my job for me back when I was his receptionist & book-keeper. That was a long time ago, hopefully the people who replaced me in that job have long since broken him of that habit.

But what I'm saying, here, is that attention is the bottleneck of the technocratic economy, the one truly scarce resource. Centralizing economic decisions takes the precious attention of the truly brilliant, and uses it to replace the much more copious attention of the rest of society. It's a misallocation, wherein a monstrously expensive scarce resource is used to substitute for a dirt-cheap, technically inferior resource which is so ubiquitous as to be unworthy of valuation.
Skimming this article, I just realized something. Politically-cynical people like to call the two major American political parties the "stupid party" and the "evil party". Partisans like to say that's because Republicans are actively unsophisticated, undereducated, and generally ignorant, while Democrats hate the country, are contemptuous of morality and codes of honor, and are in favor of theft (taxes), murder (abortion), and debauchery (sex & drugs). But it occurs to me, reading the reasons that various pompous liberal pundits loved the president, and are now disappointed in his performance, that perhaps these distinctions aren't so much positive as negative.

That is, it isn't that Republicans are stupid - they're just less worried about being thought stupid. Their value system, on average & in the mass aggregate, doesn't put much weight on knowledge and sophistication. Some studies I've seen suggested that Republicans are more likely than Democrats to have a bachelor degree, but less likely to have any postgraduate education - that is, it's important to go to college, but there isn't that extra push into a masters or PhD or JD or whatever. Meanwhile, it isn't that Democrats are actively malevolent, they're just less worried about explicitly moral judgments. They're concerned more with practical ethics and situational evaluations of human situations than they are with foundational moralities - the verities. Democrats tend to be malleable in a moral sense because they don't take seriously the idea of moral permanence.

But beyond those two tendencies, the Democrat cares passionately about being thought knowledgeable and well-informed - Huffington's admiration for Obama's ability to "communicate complex ideas". Meanwhile the Republican is passionate about being judged righteous: Lincoln's "prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord's side" & Palin's paraphrase of that prayer.

Republicans are "stupid" because their priority is righteousness, and Democrats are "evil" because their priority is intelligence. Would you rather be thought a fool, or be damned to perdition?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Yay, my first mortgage payment. One down, 359 to go.

My parents were visiting, looking the place over, and helping getting it cleaned up & aiding in some repairs. It's not quite there yet, but it's getting closer. My dad discovered that the reason the icemaker/water tap on the fridge didn't work was because somebody had connected it with the hot water, which obviously was turned off by the prior owner.

Still haven't figured out how to turn off the outside water spigot for the season. Hopefully one of the other condo owners will know.

Thanks, Mon and Dad, for all the help this week, and for the housewarming gifts. Aunt Bobby, thanks for the dishes.