Sunday Morning Reading Material First Sunday in December 2011- Ampersand Edition


I looked up “sublime” in the dictionary, and got this.

It’s Sunday Morning. Sundays are for figuring out how to become better at the position you were just promoted into. Sundays are for waking up and smelling the Christmas tree. Sundays are for sleeping in. Sundays are for godliness and brunch. Or perhaps, just perhaps, Sundays are for waking up early and going to work.

This week: Proving that the world learned something in 1929, Europe, America, and other large economies finally got their acts together for a European bailout deal. Egypt held it’s first round of parliamentary elections- results were announced after this post was written. This week AT&T whined that the FCC realized that if AT&T bought one of AT&T’s competitors, there would be less competition. Also this week: The Syrian uprising has turned into a full scale civil war. Good luck to the good guys.

In this space, I often criticize cops for doing bad, bad things. I honestly do think that it’s better to point out when power is abused than to note when it is used responsibly. And yet, I’m going to point out this story, where the police officers had the chance to trump up charges against a citizen protester– and declined to do so. Their small act was as utterly in line with the best traditions of the First Amendment as it was utterly out of line with expectations of unionizing workers throughout American history.

Beards ‘n Maps.

Interesting study about nakedness and perception of agency. I’d love to know the extent to which these findings are cross-cultural. For instance, many cultures have a culture of shared bathing among strangers. In those cultures, nudity and desire must (presumably) have some greater measure of divorce than they do in less public cultures. At any rate, one more thing to be wary of before making snap judgments about strangers.

Greatest prank ever.

I have just barely dipped my toes into the world of Frozen Synapse. It looks awesome and feels huge. What’s perhaps most interesting is the way the company has turned conventional wisdom on it’s head with regard to it’s business model. They declined to make a “free to play” game, and they declined to appeal to a huge audience. They declined to make an iPad game. And they appealed to a traditional gamer crowd- by declining to make a traditional game. The key, I think, was to fulfill a desire their audience didn’t know they had.

This is a great stick.

The greatest freedom is freedom from “arbitrary”. Clear rules, set up in advance, with understanding of the expectations due from all sides. This need is a deep part of the human psyche. Look at the Book of Job in the Torah- one person is tormented for reasons that seem utterly arbitrary. Every reader of that story walks away understanding that there has been a deep injustice. Labor agreements cannot simply be about compensation. At least, not as long as employers hold ultimate control over a worker’s schedule. It is simply too easy for an employer to abuse their unlimited power over a worker’s ability to afford food. Frankly, actual compensation is the least important part of Labor’s demand.

“Oh poor bastard.”

I’m not sure why Cracked turned into a great online magazine, and Mad limps along in a weird timewarp of nothingness. When I was a kid, both magazines tried to woo the same maladjusted-child demographic. Cracked wasn’t nearly as successful. And yet here we are in 2011, and Cracked is turning out funny social commentary aimed at adults. Also: can it really be the case that America is still terrified of black men and white women getting it on? If so, how much less terrified would we be if Hollywood showed such relationships as utterly normal?

An Ode to UC Davis.

When reading a survey of Alabama newspapers from the 1963 civil rights struggle, it is easy to conclude that the media was unsympathetic to the plight of African Americans. Looking at it from this perspective, contemporary newspapers are considerably better than their progenitors. I’m not sure that this is the best lesson. Instead, we see a group that challenged the existing power structure, and a media that was on the side of the powerful. Viewed in this light, modern media fares considerably less well. Very few newspapers in history actually wanted to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”.

Newsflash: Lobbyists are getting their money’s worth from Congress.

The framers of the American Constitution were terrified of arbitrary use of power. So they set up a system where everyone who had power would be answerable to a whole lot of people. The President would only have the power to do what Congress told him (so far, always a him). The judicial branch would make sure the States and Congress didn’t get out of line. Congress had the power to decide what kinds of cases the courts could preside over. The president got to appoint judges- and congress got to say “no” if those judges were horrible. And Congress was answerable to voters and states. Congress has declined to check the presidency, and the whole system stands imperiled.

Apple is pushing abortion-seeking women towards anti-abortion organizations.

Petroleum demand is climbing. Petroleum is hovering at $100 per barrel. Saudi Arabia can extract oil for roughly $2 per barrel. If Saudi Arabia is claiming they don’t need to drill for more oil, it’s because they either love Canada (cost: $50 per barrel to acquire), or don’t have any oil fields left to tap. Since the Saudi family maintains it’s hold over the Arabian people by controlling the oil wealth, my guess is that they don’t love the Canadians more than they love power.

If McDonalds sells “Angus burgers”, then “Angus” can’t mean “premium”.

This is a great and nuanced look at illegal immigration. I do think the author missed an important angle. He asserts that “I know already that many here will argue that this isn’t racism; and that if it were white Canadians working illegally we would be having the exact same conversations. But I remain dubious of this argument; for me it just doesn’t pass the sniff test.” I’d say that we’d be having equally racist arguments, but that “white Canadians” would be found to be of a different “race” from “white” Americans. Those poor English/French mongrels.

Money can’t buy happiness, but it sure is a precondition for it.

A Hyatt hotel decided to hold a “Housekeeping Appreciation Week”, and decided not to give those housekeepers money. Nor extra breaks. Nor so much as a free lunch. Nope. The management team at Hyatt Regency Santa Clara decided that to appreciate housekeepers, they would paste housekeeper’s faces onto supermodel’s bodies. This is the way that management tells labor that they don’t consider themselves coequally human.

86 year old man reflects on his life.

Within the last few weeks, a major game’s company made the claim that it wasn’t worthwhile to develop for the PC market- 95% of the people who would end up playing the game wouldn’t actually give the developer money. Another developer disagrees, claiming that it’s only 83%. I’m not sure if that 12% difference is why the later publisher is so willing to make games for the PC, but they have been fantastically profitable in doing so.

Despite the fact that I’ve been complaining about arbitrary practices all post long, don’t confuse that with “random”. Here’s a great post on randomness being important to storytelling.

I become more convinced daily that the key skill of the 21st century will be the clear translation of information into graphical formats. That’s right: the graphic designer will be the highly paid specialist of the next job boom. Artists with philosophy degrees will have the last laugh.

If you click just one link:

Leonard Cohen asserted that “Everyone knows the dice are loaded. The Occupy [City] movement has been demonstrating that not everyone is aware of this. Far too many of us saw our inability to find a job and felt alone. Far too many of us saw that we were unable to afford the lifestyle of our parents and believed it was a personal failing on our part. We’re not alone. We didn’t fail. The system changed. America became a third world nation so rich that none have noticed. Occupy [City] has been about fighting back. Here’s hoping for effective action in the next phase.

This week’s theme has been about power. Well. Isn’t is always? In the comments, leave a message about a time you abused power.

What do you mean you haven’t seen the Muppets yet?

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One Response to “Sunday Morning Reading Material First Sunday in December 2011- Ampersand Edition”

  1. Great post — but my favorite part was “Batman Eats a Hotdog.” He has such a smug-cat-just-brought-home-dead-squirrel expression on his face when he’s done.

    Nice catch on the Cracked article about money. I was going to tweet about that, too. Every word is one hundred percent, totally, bitterly true — and as far as I can remember, that’s without even dwelling on the whole Health Insurance nightmare that haunts modern American society.

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