Diigo Links

Sunday, July 18, 2004


As a follow-on to my indictment of entire generations I recommend renting Laurel Canyon  (2002). It's a good allegory of what I've been talking about in the previous two posts.
It's not a "great" film. It's OK, but sits a little flat ( I think because it's too much of an allegory).  Frances McDormand (you'd know her as the cop from Fargo) plays the personification of the powerful 1960's feminist Dionysian destroyer. Her son, the personification of young conservatism, fights a losing battle to weave an orderly life.  All of the main characters are emotionally devistated (in that they're unable to grow relationships).
It was a welcome film for me to see this weekend. Taking the 1960's to task is a lonely endeavor for someone who doesn't sit on the more conservative side of things. It was nice seeing something to point to as a graphic example.  

Also, a link to how to manipulate complex systems. I feel like I've said a lot about what's wrong, and not enough about how to fix it. This is a link to a paper on "leverage points" (ways for fairly small efforts to have big payoffs) - which I put here not to suggest that there it's a silver bullet, but to suggest that people are looking into it, have recognized the problem, and there may be solutions that'll make sense in the future.
As for the past, complexity takes it's toll. Think about this mix of issues to address in one meeting (much less the complexity surrounding scheduling the meeting):

See Testimony of Richard A. Clarke before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, March 24, 2004:

MR. CLARKE: It slowed it down enormously, by months. First of all, the deputies committee didn't meet urgently in January or February. Then, when the deputies committee did meet, it took the issue of al Qaeda as part of a cluster of policy issues, including nuclear proliferation in South Asia, democratization in Pakistan, how to treat the problems, the various problems, including narcotics and other problems in Afghanistan, and, launched on a series of deputies meetings extending over several months to address al Qaeda in the context of all of those interrelated issues. That process probably ended, I think, in July of 2001, so we were readying for a principals meeting in July, but the principals' calendar was full, and then they went on vacation, many of them, in August, so we couldn't meet in August, and therefore the principals met in September.

Do you think we can just add one more card to that house?

In other news: kids are getting fatter, but that's good because they're getting less violent and less pregnant too. ( not the article's conclusion, but mine: maybe tubby little boys' testosterone level is lower?)  

Also, I meant to stick this in somewhere previously, but couldn't find it. It's a deconstruction of Bush's comments linking Iraq and terrorism. It clearly shows that he doesn't "lie" (and actually exhibits the ability to repeat incredibly surgical diplomatic language when it's written for him). But he makes Clinton's "that depends on what the definition of is is" comment  look a lot more inconsequential (although, Clinton did come up with that one on his own) . The jury is still out as to whether Bush has this ability - but with Cheney's doctor shuffle we might actually get to see Bush testify on his own at some point. And does it seem strange to you that Cheney knew about his doctor's drug addiction, but only moved to have him canned now?  If you've gone through the security checks necessary for any level of government security clearance you'd know that the govt. knew about the addiction. So, what's the story? 

  In a previous post I (more or less) demanded we define a unified goal - as humans - something that we should all strive for, and work towards that's not faith based or supernatural ( because I believe we should all continue feel free to strive towards faith in our own ways). I mentioned the space-race as a previous rallying point that somehow unified a world in competition. I didn't commit myself to coming up with a contemporary example, but there are many (of a similar scale).
I'd like to list a couple here and suggests some synergistic links.
A while back I posted about the high school web project (thinkquest.org) that employs the brightest of the bright to develop curriculum for the rest of us. Sounds like a pretty good use of spare cycles - help the kids to help themselves. That's what teaching is all about.
But there's also a project going on called "the semantic web". It's a project to encode all of the data on the internet with meaning. All that really means is there's a group of people trying to take the raw text of the internet (a web page) and somehow correlate it with the meaning the text is trying to communicate. And they're trying to do it in such a way that the internet becomes machine readable.
Right now the internet can be searched in various ways, mostly pattern matching - statistics. But what if the web could actually search on meaning. Ask.com (ask Jeeves) tries to do this, but it's pretty poor. I do get answers from it, but generally no more information (and no more specific) than what google.com offers (and there's a good reason for that. Ask.com is just a silly front end on the same data and search technology that's behind google.com. It's just repackaged to encourage people to use it differently). The web that we all read has very little meaning to the computers that we use to navigate it. If the web had more meaning to computers it's pretty likely that we could get a lot more out of it.
The semantic web (from what I've read) has developed a scheme to categorize data and relate it to other data - similar to the way we do in our heads. But it takes a lot of work to get the data categorized. Why don't we integrate the data categorization into the curriculum in schools. Teach kids about data sets (less intimidating than it sounds - it's the idea that an apple is a fruit and we can eat fruits - a pinecone is not a fruit, and we can't(/don't?) eat them. ) So every little bit of data on the internet would need to be put in its sets in this way - related to everything else. I'd think that for just 15minutes a day 7th and 8th graders could push data, then the data would get vetted by 11th or 12th graders.
Think twice before you write this activity off as a waste of time. It's as much a waste of time as jury duty. It'd help kids to learn ways of relating to the world around them. At the same time it would help them to impose an order on the universe of ideas, it'd show them the complexity and depth of relations.
A tower of Babel style universal language would be a byproduct of a semantic web.  The method of the semantic web is something like a neural network ; the connection of ideas gives them meaning, context.  The connections are beyond language (which is why all languages have a word for "black" - it's not the same word, but it's the same idea). So, to a great extent the semantic web would be (by default) a conduit to universal language.
And I do realize that by drawing a parallel between my goal (semantic web) and the tower of Babel   I'm invoking the story of a grand disaster. In the words of our fearless leader; "Bring it on".

On Economic Rationalism and Meanness:

Most people say we should help people to help themselves. But how do we deliver that help? Economic help seems to go down a black hole, but lip service tends toward the disengenuous without some sort of concrete backup. So who's right? Does giving people money make them lazy? does not giving them money make (us and) them meaner?

From the slate.msn.com link above:
"By contrast, the minimum wage places the entire burden on one small group: the employers of low-wage workers and, to some extent, their customers. Suppose you're a small entrepreneur with, say, 10 full-time minimum-wage workers. Then a 50 cent increase in the minimum wage is going to cost you about $10,000 a year. That's no different from a $10,000 tax increase. But the politicians who imposed the burden get to claim they never raised anybody's taxes.

If you want to transfer income to the working poor, there are fairer and more honest ways to do it. The Earned Income Tax Credit, for example, accomplishes pretty much the same goals as the minimum wage but without concentrating the burden on a tiny minority. For that matter, the EITC also does a better job of helping the people you'd really want to help, as opposed to, say, middle-class teenagers working summer jobs. It's pretty hard to argue that a minimum-wage increase beats an EITC increase by any criterion.

The minimum wage is nothing but a huge off-the-books tax paid by a small group of people, with all the proceeds paid out as the equivalent of welfare to a different small group of people. If a tax-and-spend program that arbitrary were spelled out explicitly, voters would recoil. How unfortunate that when it is disguised as a minimum wage, not even our Republican president can manage to muster a principled objection. "

PM of Australia John Howard is worried about a coarsening of our society:

ABRAHAM: Would you concede, or accept, that some of your policies may have contributed in some way to this coarsening of our culture, and I point specifically to your detention policies, the fact that for many a year now children have been locked up in detention? I mean it’s no coincidence the older Bakhtiari boys are big fans of Big Brother and Merlin.

PRIME MINISTER: I think that is drawing a fairly long bow and you know that too. No, I don’t believe that policy has contributed to it, no I don’t because the sort of things I speak of are trends that are not only occurring in Australia they’re occurring in other societies as well.

He knows he's a leader. He knows he's been leading. He knows things have been getting more coarse. He knows that's an undesirable outcome. He's unable to accept any responsibility for it. So, it seems to me that he's either been doing a poor job of leading, or he's shirking responsibility. Neither of those options should be satisfactory to voters (I hope they know about this).

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