Sunday Morning Reading Material: Third Sunday in May 2011: Hot Weather Homeless Avians Edition

It’s Sunday Morning. Sunday mornings are for taking part in the giant moving party that San Francisco is pleased to call the Bay to Breakers. Sundays are also for overcoming one’s “I’ve just finished a new book” melancholy by reading a completely different book. Alternately, Sundays could be for enjoying time in Alaska, visiting the Great Frozen North.

This week Pakistan showed it’s displeasure with the bin Laden raid in a myriad of ways, not the least of which was telling the world the name of our top operative in Pakistan. In response to raising gas prices, America seems hell bent on all the wrong policy measures, and the mess in Syria seems to be getting messier. Facebook tried to hire Mark Penn to covertly smear Google. Penn handled that job about as well as he handled Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

One of the more contentious issues with… anything, really, is pricing. In the bad old days of haggling, sellers used to claim that they had to sell at a certain price– after all: they had costs as well. Today things are different. Wholesale costs are transparent, and for the increasing array of goods that are digital, replication costs are near zero. Instead, content creators are having to fall back on the discredited labor theory of value. Figuring out a fair pricing model will be the important struggle for 21st century artists.

The problem with an Ikea TARDIS is that it falls apart after only a couple time jumps.

End users are incredibly resistant to actually paying for digital goods. My personal theory is that it owes to the ephemeral and semi-disposable nature of the experience. Unfortunately, service providers require some fairly major back-end equipment in order to maintain a product that users are resistant to paying for. Twitpic recently changed their Terms of Service, in a way that gives them limited co-ownership of anything a user uploads to their servers. This actually does strike me as good revenue model for the company, thought I’d like to see a way for high-end users to buy their way out of this part of the contract.

What is the American way to dress well?

Books have become the most recent cultural artifact to be digitized. The book industry is, I think, handling the transition fairly well. They’re still in the experimental stage of trying to figure out the best model to derive maximum profit with minimal loss, but the fact that they are willing to experiment at all is a significant change from what we saw from the RIAA and MPAA. Books are also the only cultural good that people have had centuries-long expectations of getting access to for free. There is some thinking about how to meet that expectation in an era where books are no longer physically bound.

I recently watched Citizen Kane, which made the startling claim that running a quality newspaper would require it’s owner to lose about $25 million every year (in inflation adjusted 2010 dollars). Now that journalism has become digitized, we can see a significant lowering of the barrier to entry into journalism. Printing presses can be replaced by, and youtube. A good friend of mine is trying her hand at breaking into this, and she’s got her first attempt up and running. She’s asking the right questions, and getting some good answers.

A tiny computer can be created for $25. I literally cannot even begin to overstate how important this could end up being. These are inexpensive enough that every 7th grade child in America could be given one, thus helping ensure that even the poorest child can become literate in the basic skills of the 21st century.

Granted, America probably won’t want to spend that money money on children. Republicans are in a budget cutting mood. That means America should slash the money set aside to buy nuclear weapons from naughty people. That’s ok, I guess. It’s fine if terrorists have nukes, right?

people instinctively recoil from poor spelling and grammar. Since Chrome and Firefox both have built in spell check engines, I wonder if comment-leavers are ignoring the proof of their crimes against coherence? Or if internet explorer is actually so popular that most people don’t realize the carnage they’re doing? For point of reference, I have to stop what I’m writing every few words, to clean up my own terrible, terrible spelling.

As long as incoherence has been brought up: Michele Bachmann. She has been challenged to a duel of wits by a high school student. I’m impressed by the student’s feeling that she has to defend women, america, and Midwesterners from being unfairly stereotyped in response to Rep. Bachmann’s statements.

The citizenry hires a government to watch the citizenry, to make sure that we’re not doing terrible things to one another. The citizenry then hires the ACLU to make sure the government isn’t doing terrible things to the citizenry. So: have you donated to the ACLU? Democracy sort of depends on doing so.

I’ve just started the latest Michale Lewis book (The Big Short). So far all I know is that it is written in his customarily wonderful style. The book’s thesis is that the people who run Wall Street are very bad at their jobs, and should not have been allowed anywhere near the levers of power. The rich and powerful of the world, on the other hand, try and explain that if we citizens weren’t such monumental screwups, we wouldn’t be in this mess. Paul Krugman (who got his Nobel Prize by basically being America’s economic Cassandra) sides with you, me, Lewis, and against the rich and powerful. In a class war, Krugman is worth an army corps.

Class war, culture war, justice is almost always to be found on the side of those against whom power is arrayed. Which is why it is so heartening that a group of future lawyers walked out of their graduation ceremony to protest bigotry.

It isn’t always easy to see the party against whom power is arrayed, as our vantage points are purely subjective. White people and black people have wildly divergent ideas about who is being discriminated against. My instinct is that the group which has wildly high incarceration, poverty, and childhood mortality rates is the group who’s claims to discrimination is the one we should take the most seriously.

An FCC member who voted to allow vertical monopolization has taken a job with the company she voted in favor of. This not only ought to be illegal, it ought to be a jailable offense. Even if there was no explicit quid pro quo, her actions send a signal to every regulator that if they are friendly enough towards the industry they regulate, there is a potential for a large reward. When we arrive at the point when a regulator can just assume that their personal interest can be best served by agreeing with the interests of the industry they are to regulate, effective regulation becomes impossible.

When it comes to the American cultural heritage being well-served by the American government, the Library of Congress is fantastic. They’ve women ought to be seen in public, and will go so far as to edit the memory of humanity to make sure that their point is made. That is certainly not an example of hatred towards women.

As much as I hate to set anecdotal evidence against research, this research is- frankly- wrong. At the very least, at the restaurant I work at, servers believe that they will make about the same amount of money per person for the same amount of work per person regardless of the size of the party. Regardless of this being factually accurate, as long as it is believed, it is the what we will act on. As far as quoting too high, we hosts are terrified of going over on quote– people get very upset about it, and there’s very little we can do.

Data thieves have new ways of scamming you. A friend of mine is quoted (banally) in the article. Short version: be on the lookout.

Apple tends to to a great deal of work to make it’s products simple. Things “just work”. In exchange for this, end users give up a certain degree of freedom to customize their experience. The problem is that Apple will tend to restrict things end users will do not merely to improve end-user experience, but also to improve the Apple bottom line. These sort of shenanigans, if you’re wondering, are why I will never again buy an Apple product.

It sucks to be on food stamps. Being on foodstamps means that you have basically failed to be able to afford food for yourself and your family. The sting of pride will keep someone from getting the help they need. Once you do, America is stingy and moralizing. In some sense, America as a whole is paying the price for this lack of concern for those too poor to buy food– food stamps provide a return on investment of $1.73 for ever $1 the government spends on them. If we had doubled the per-person spending on food stamps back in 2008, the recession might well have ended by now.

Please do recall that the recession basically started because some very racist people tried to steal money from black people. The thieves are now rich, and the rest of us are paying. Some days I think the class war is over and the rest of us lost.

Why American healthcare costs so much. Short version? We overpay our doctors.

Starting assumptions can be very difficult to shake. As can the sorts of selective bias that creep in when an observer is wildly out of touch with the way most people are experiencing a phenomenon. Washington DC has very little unemployment, and therefore the policy makers and commenters who live there believe that the recession is over. In a similar fashion, people who talk about games for a living tend not to play games on the Nintendo Wii. They therefore have missed that it’s the best-selling console of it’s generation.

A new flavor of the week shooter came out last week. I’m not really a fan of the genre, so I won’t be picking it up, the claim that there were literally 100 quadrillion character variants certainly caught my eye. Apparently all of those variants are male. It seems that they would have had to cut out too many of those male variants if they wanted to include the female half of our species. When we talk about “the second sex”, or the “otherization of women”, this is exactly what is meant.

I totally disagree with James Bishop. It’s not that he’s wrong, rather, I find different things to be meaningful. His claim is that a game choice that is reflected in a change in game mechanics is meaningless– players will tend to make choices based on how they want their stats to end up. You don’t have to chose who you want to be, just which collection of numbers follows you around. For me, it’s the opposite. I want to see my choices reflected in the game world. If all I’m given is the chance to feel good or bad about myself as a player, I don’t really care.

Troy is back with a brand new edition! Germans, Germans baby. It is fascinating to see America’s view on other cultures reflected in this series. It would probably be more historically accurate to let bonuses accrue to players based on choices made during gameplay, and some random historical events. Since humans have these odd notions of race, however, it becomes a convenient hook for a bundle of premade choices.

One of the more interesting things about studying classical Greek plays is the way multiple authors would take on the same subject matter, using different assumptions. For instance, in some versions of Medea her children are said to have been killed by Corinth– the state that Athens was at war with during the time when that telling of the story was popular. Similarly, tracing the arc of American comicbook heroes reveals a great deal about what America thinks of itself. Yes, I am the latest in a long line of people to assert that comic books are for America what mythology was to the Greeks.

I just finished reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. The writing is wonderfully superfluous, without wasting a single word. It’s a novel which explores the relative merits of reason and madness. I simply cannot recommend it highly enough.

If you read just one thing:
I am not in the habit of being happy about death. There have been three people in my life who’s death made me dance with joy. The first time was when I received news that my mother’s stepfather had died. The second was when I heard about Slobodan Milošević’s death. And the third was earlier this month, with the death of bin Laden. Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about his joy at bin Laden’s death, and how scared that makes him.

This week’s theme has been your co-humanity with those motherfuckers. So leave a comment about your least favorite grammatical issues. Grammar problems always bring out the commentariat.


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