Do not forget the evil of North Korea

North Korean defectors: Escaping the reign of Kim Jong-Il | Matador Network: “North Korea talks about ‘Korean nation’ and reunification, but if you are impregnated by a South Korean,” says Joseph, “you are considered a political prisoner.” The officers waited until the woman’s pregnancy had reached its eighth month, then tied her arms and legs down on a table to perform an “abortion.” One of the men introduced himself as a doctor. Without giving the woman any anesthesia, he thrust his bare hands into the woman’s vagina and yanked the baby from her uterus.

“They did this because they considered the woman and her child to be traitors of the country. When they did it, the baby was alive,” Joseph says, quietly. The woman pleaded for the doctor to spare her crying baby, but he only tossed it to the military dogs. Watching her baby get torn into pieces, the mother passed out, laying still while bleeding. The guards took her for dead and brought her to a pile of cadavers.

Let’s Start Paying College Athletes - NYTimes.com

Let’s Start Paying College Athletes - NYTimes.com: Players aren’t stupid. They look around and see jerseys with their names on them being sold in the bookstores. They see 100,000 people in the stands on a Saturday afternoon. During the season, they can end up putting in 50-hour weeks at their sports, and they learn early on not to take any course that might require real effort or interfere with the primary reason they are on campus: to play football or basketball. The N.C.A.A. can piously define them as students first, but the players know better. They know they are making money for the athletic department. The N.C.A.A.’s often-stated contention that it is protecting the players from “excessive commercialism” is ludicrous; the only thing it’s protecting is everyone else’s revenue stream. (The N.C.A.A. itself takes in nearly $800 million a year, mostly from its March Madness TV contracts.) “Athletes in football and basketball feel unfairly treated,” Leigh Steinberg, a prominent sports agent, says. “The dominant attitude among players is that there is no moral or ethical reason not to take money, because the system is ripping them off.”

Quoted Content Below!

http://slackfeed.blogspot.com/ is a link blog: a collection of links and quotes from articles I find interesting, informative, or entertaining. Some of the content you'll find there is below, in the Sidney Awards. For more of those, and much else, head over to the other site.

Thanks!

The accidental universe: Science's crisis of faith—By Alan P. Lightman (Harper's Magazine)

The accidental universe: Science's crisis of faith—By Alan P. Lightman (Harper's Magazine): Here we have a clear example of fine-tuning: out of all the possible amounts of dark energy that our universe might have, the actual amount lies in the tiny sliver of the range that allows life. There is little argument on this point. It does not depend on assumptions about whether we need liquid water for life or oxygen or particular biochemistries. As before, one is compelled to ask the question: Why does such fine-tuning occur? And the answer many physicists now believe: The multiverse. A vast number of universes may exist, with many different values of the amount of dark energy. Our particular universe is one of the universes with a small value, permitting the emergence of life. We are here, so our universe must be such a universe. We are an accident. From the cosmic lottery hat containing zillions of universes, we happened to draw a universe that allowed life. But then again, if we had not drawn such a ticket, we would not be here to ponder the odds.

Sidney Awardee: What College Rankings Really Tell Us : The New Yorker

What College Rankings Really Tell Us : The New Yorker: Some years ago, similarly, a former chief justice of the Michigan supreme court, Thomas Brennan, sent a questionnaire to a hundred or so of his fellow-lawyers, asking them to rank a list of ten law schools in order of quality. “They included a good sample of the big names. Harvard. Yale. University of Michigan. And some lesser-known schools. John Marshall. Thomas Cooley,” Brennan wrote. “As I recall, they ranked Penn State’s law school right about in the middle of the pack. Maybe fifth among the ten schools listed. Of course, Penn State doesn’t have a law school.”

Sidney Awardee: Xerox PARC, Apple, and the Creation of the Mouse : The New Yorker

Xerox PARC, Apple, and the Creation of the Mouse : The New Yorker: So was what Jobs took from Xerox the idea of the mouse? Not quite, because Xerox never owned the idea of the mouse. The PARC researchers got it from the computer scientist Douglas Engelbart, at Stanford Research Institute, fifteen minutes away on the other side of the university campus. Engelbart dreamed up the idea of moving the cursor around the screen with a stand-alone mechanical “animal” back in the mid- nineteen-sixties. His mouse was a bulky, rectangular affair, with what looked like steel roller-skate wheels. If you lined up Engelbart’s mouse, Xerox’s mouse, and Apple’s mouse, you would not see the serial reproduction of an object. You would see the evolution of a concept.

Sidney Awardee: MODERNIZING CONSERVATISM

Breakthrough Journal: Issue 2 : MODERNIZING CONSERVATISM: The de facto starve-the-beast strategy was the great cop out of the Reagan years. By assuming that restricting revenues would eventually compel reductions in the size of government, the Reagan administration was able to justify avoiding any serious attempt to reform entitlement programs. Beyond a few very minor trims, every trial balloon of deeper entitlement reform was swiftly routed and withdrawn. It is uncomfortable but necessary for conservatives to acknowledge that Reagan's disinclination to attack entitlements was one reason for his popularity -- after an initial flurry, he did not seriously attack the welfare state.

Sidney Again: Paper Tigers

Paper Tigers: Though Chu is not merely fluent in En�glish but is officially the most distinguished poet of his class at Williams, he still worries that other aspects of his demeanor might attract the same kind of treatment his father received. “I’m really glad we’re having this conversation,” he says at one point—it is helpful to be remembering these lessons in self-presentation just as he prepares for job interviews.

It is a part of the bitter undercurrent of Asian-American life that meritocracy comes to an abrupt end after graduation.

“I guess what I would like is to become so good at something that my social deficiencies no longer matter,” he tells me. Chu is a bright, diligent, impeccably credentialed young man born in the United States. He is optimistic about his ability to earn respect in the world. But he doubts he will ever feel the same comfort in his skin that he glimpsed in the people he met at Williams. That kind of comfort, he says—“I think it’s generations away.”

Sidney Awards: A small town druggist

Pharmacist Don Colcord Sustains Nucla, Colorado : The New Yorker: Elderly folks refer to him as “Dr. Don,” although he has no medical degree and discourages people from using this title. He doesn’t wear a nametag. “I wear old Levi’s,” he says. “People want to talk to somebody who looks like them, talks like them, is part of the community. I know a lot of pharmacists wear a coat because it makes you look more professional. But it’s different here.” He would rather be known as a druggist. “A druggist is the guy who repairs your watch and your glasses,” he explains. “A pharmacist is the guy who works at Walmart.”

thought

The decisions we pay attention to - the political fights, the dividing paths history writes of, the moments of personal anguish movies portray - these are only a part of the choices that bind and carry us, the visible actions. Our lives are much more shaped by a chorus of non-decision decisions - the times when our backgrounds and our identities shape our actions, in decision points so automatic we easily miss them as they pass by.

These decisions, these choices, are called culture. We give gifts for Christmas because we always have; we pass on the left because we always have; we work hard because we are supposed to - because working hard is a part of being ourselves.

For some of us.

The great work, the great discipline that we honor and know, is not in the single decisions, but in shaping the predictable long-term choices that we can expect from someone, of honesty and steadfastness.

Losing & North Korea

I believe that it is vitally important to continually seek out activities and areas where one is weak. The easy reasons are that we can learn versatility, and from weakness develop new areas of strength. But in a world where it is so easy to be continually entertained and stimulated, the shock of weakness - of possibly losing - is an expanding force, reminding us of how much isn't certain. For me, this means seeking out organized team sport, where my occasional lack of coordination is put into the spotlight, as well as my poor VO2max. I don't know if I really enjoy looking so bad, but I do come away feeling different - perhaps more alive. Sports give me another look into life.

On a mostly unrelated note I've been watching a web series on North Korea, a place where people must show devotion to the "Dear Leader" - of face death. Power over one's own life does not exist there - even the entire country is reliant on American food aid (what they label as "tribute"), and as long as it stands, with closed borders, I always want to remember how bad things could be if I had been born somewhere else.

Kim Jong Il, 1942-2011 - Alan Taylor - In Focus - The Atlantic

Kim Jong Il, 1942-2011 - Alan Taylor - In Focus - The Atlantic: Early this morning, North Korean state television reported the death of North Korea's longtime ruler Kim Jong Il. Kim reportedly died two days earlier, on Saturday, December 17, 2011, suffering a heart attack while riding on a train outside Pyongyang. The 69-year-old had been North Korea's "supreme leader" since 1994, after succeeding his father, Kim Il Sung, the founder of the communist state. Kim Jong Il presided over a long-suffering, isolated nation, antagonized the western world, indulged himself while millions starved, and funneled much of the country's meager funds into military spending and the pursuit of nuclear weapons. His nominal successor, son Kim Jong Un, remains untested and the sudden power vacuum in such an unpredictable nation has neighbors, allies, and enemies on edge. Collected here are images from the life and times of North Korea's Kim Jong Il, and a few recent images from the reclusive country and those who have noted his passing

This is awesome.

Swedish Citizens Now Control @sweden Twitter Account: Sweden’s people have officially taken over the @sweden Twitter account — and with the blessing of the Swedish government. One Swedish citizen will control the handle each week, tweeting about whatever they’d like, as part of a new project called Curators of Sweden.

“No one owns the brand of Sweden more than its people. With this initiative we let them show their Sweden to the world,” says Thomas Br�hl, CEO of VisitSweden, the tourism ministry that had been updating the @sweden account since January 2009.

Random Friday Thoughts

I had some time to think thoughts today:
  • I have a roommate, but I live alone.
  • Christopher Hitchens's greatest enemy was totalitarianism of thought - the idea of a cohesive whole of "rightness" from which all wisdom could spout.
  • That might be true, but I'm more worried about stupid, partial thoughts than the big lie. The big lie can be ganged up on. A chorus of foolishness is more subtle.
  • I need something to live for - perhaps someone or ones to live for. I am surviving in this status quo, but I don't feel personal growth in the number of ways I would like.
  • Conservatives believe in what is real. This is unifying. Liberals believe in what "should" be real - this is dividing. That's why I think conservatism is more powerful today.
  • Barack Obama's recognition of process failures was taken by many to be a promise to address them (albeit not explicitly, as to avoid process becoming a focal point. Process is boring.)
  • In many ways, the Obama admin has not done this.
  • I owe someone I respect a great deal a blog post about Troy Davis's execution. I've been feeling guilty about it for months.
  • I believe that technology will build a new way of living, gradually reshaping old paradigms, but for now the question is how to exist in a world defined by old trains of thought, but yet using the bullet trains.
  • "Good" people can do awful things. "Bad" people can be incredibly kind.
  • Labels are stupid.

"Nor Law, Nor Duty Bade Me Fight"

"Nor Law, Nor Duty Bade Me Fight":

Hitch loved poetry, as he expresses in this brief flash of brilliance here. But he knew this one by Yeats by heart:



An Irish Airman Foresees His Death


I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;

Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;

My country is Kiltartan Cross,

My countrymen Kiltartan's poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.

Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,

A lonely impulse of delight

Drove to this tumult in the clouds;

I balanced all, brought all to mind,

The years to come seemed waste of breath,

A waste of breath the years behind

In balance with this life, this death.




The Best of Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011 | Longform.org

We got beat

Exclusive: Iran hijacked US drone, says Iranian engineer - CSMonitor.com: Iranian electronic warfare specialists were able to cut off communications links of the American bat-wing RQ-170 Sentinel, says the engineer, who works for one of many Iranian military and civilian teams currently trying to unravel the drone’s stealth and intelligence secrets, and who could not be named for his safety.

Using knowledge gleaned from previous downed American drones and a technique proudly claimed by Iranian commanders in September, the Iranian specialists then reconfigured the drone's GPS coordinates to make it land in Iran at what the drone thought was its actual home base in Afghanistan.

From The Annals Of Chutzpah

From The Annals Of Chutzpah:

“Over 4,000 brave young Americans gave their lives in this conflict. I pray that their sacrifice is not in vain. I hope that their families will not mourn the day that their sons and daughters went out to fight for freedom for the Iraqi people. Unfortunately, it is clear that this decision of a complete pullout of United States troops from Iraq was dictated by politics, and not our national security interests. I believe that history will judge this president’s leadership with the scorn and disdain it deserves," - John McCain.


Yes, it was determined by politics: Iraqi politics and the 2008 SOFA. Does McCain believe the US has a right to occupy a sovereign democratic country against its explicit wishes for as long as he believes it to be in America's interests? That isn't neo-imperialism. It's imperialism.



Library Quidditch - YouTube

Mitt Romney: Too good to be trusted? | Deseret News

Mitt Romney: Too good to be trusted? | Deseret News: The problem, you see, is that there are three very different skill sets required for: 1. Getting nominated; 2. Getting elected; and 3. Governing as president. The skill set required for No. 1 seems to be rigid, uncompromising, far-right positions and a total distrust (or even hatred) of all moderates and liberals. The skill set required for No. 2 is the ability to reach out to the center of the political spectrum and to take positions that everyone can understand and appreciate even if they don't agree. The skill set required for No. 3 is to be able to attract the best and the brightest, to listen well, to analyze well, and to make and clearly explain strong, reasoned decisions that turn our country around and move it forward.

Mitt is best at skill set No. 3, second best at No. 2 and probably worst at skill set No. 1. If he gets over that first hurdle, he will be a remarkable general election candidate and, we believe, an extraordinarily successful president.

RIP

The boys and girls at my high school are remembering two 2010ers that lost their lives a few days ago in separate incidents. Life is precious and amazing, and it's a privilege to enjoy it.

Clair de Lune - YouTube

AP Exclusive: CIA following Twitter, Facebook - Yahoo! News

AP Exclusive: CIA following Twitter, Facebook - Yahoo! News: At the agency's Open Source Center, a team known affectionately as the "vengeful librarians" also pores over Facebook, newspapers, TV news channels, local radio stations, Internet chat rooms — anything overseas that anyone can access and contribute to openly.

From Arabic to Mandarin Chinese, from an angry tweet to a thoughtful blog, the analysts gather the information, often in native tongue. They cross-reference it with the local newspaper or a clandestinely intercepted phone conversation. From there, they build a picture sought by the highest levels at the White House, giving a real-time peek, for example, at the mood of a region after the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden or perhaps a prediction of which Mideast nation seems ripe for revolt.

Yes, they saw the uprising in Egypt coming; they just didn't know exactly when revolution might hit, said the center's director, Doug Naquin.

What If Middle-Class Jobs Disappear? — The American Magazine

What If Middle-Class Jobs Disappear? — The American Magazine: The recent trend in job polarization raises the possibility that gains in well-being that come from productivity improvements will accrue to an economic elite. Perhaps the middle-class affluence that emerged during the latter part of the industrial age is not going to be a feature of the information age. Instead, we could be headed into an era of highly unequal economic classes. People at the bottom will have access to food, healthcare, and electronic entertainment, but the rich will live in an exclusive world of exotic homes and extravagant personal services. The most popular bands in the world will play house concerts for the rich, while everyone else can afford music downloads but no live music. In the remainder of this essay, I want to extend further this exercise in imagination and consider three possible scenarios.

Famous Last Words

enhanced-buzz-11067-1320098435-3.jpg (JPEG Image, 625x800 pixels) - Scaled (79%)

Should I make a new link blog?

Libya taps engineer who lived in U.S. for decades as interim leader - CNN.com

Libya taps engineer who lived in U.S. for decades as interim leader - CNN.com: Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- Libya's transitional government picked an engineering professor and longtime exile as its acting prime minister Monday, with the new leader pledging to respect human rights and international law.

The National Transitional Council elected Abdurrahim El-Keib, an electrical engineer who has held teaching posts at the University of Alabama and Abu Dhabi's Petroleum Institute, to the post with the support of 26 of the 51 members who voted. El-Keib emerged victorious from a field that initially included 10 candidates.

"This is a new Libya," El-Keib told reporters. "It's been 42 years with our friends and people all around the world dealing with a brutal dictator, so concerns are in order, but I want to tell you there should be none of those.

Reader redesign: Terrible decision, or worst decision? - >*

Reader redesign: Terrible decision, or worst decision? - >*: After I left Google in July, I heard that there was renewed effort around the project and that a new team was bringing some much-needed attention to the product. I expected them to give the product a facelift, and integrate G -- both things that needed to happen.

But killing off functionality that could have easily been built on top of G , and missing the mark by so much on the UI... and then releasing them under the guise of improvements?

Bad decisions, indeed.

Boston Review — Morgan Meis and S. Abbas Raza: Violence and Human Progress

Boston Review — Morgan Meis and S. Abbas Raza: Violence and Human Progress: The degree to which Pinker is willing to celebrate the joys of bourgeois life is refreshingly honest. He is fully aware that such celebration looks uncouth to many. “A loathing of modernity,” he writes,

is one of the great constants of contemporary social criticism. Whether the nostalgia is for small-town intimacy, ecological sustainability, communitarian solidarity, family values, religious faith, primitive communism, or harmony with the rhythms of nature, everyone longs to turn back the clock. What has technology given us, they say, but alienation, despoliation, social pathology, the loss of meaning, and a consumer culture that is destroying the planet to give us McMansions, SUVs, and reality television?


But that’s not the way it really is, Pinker explains. In fact, “unsentimental history and statistical literacy” can take our blinders off and show us that even the negative aspects of modernity are a huge improvement over the ways we used to live. This applies not only to brute matters such as the decline of violence and the greater access to material goods, but also to the finer things as well, such as beauty, knowledge and truth. We are, in short, experiencing progress in almost every way imaginable.

History of the Non-Medical Use of Drugs in the United States

History of the Non-Medical Use of Drugs in the United States: And there was a second tax. (and again, these are hypothetical figures but they will show you how it worked.) was a tax of a thousand dollars of every single non-medical exchange of every one of these drugs. Well, since nobody was going to pay a thousand dollars in tax to exchange something which, in 1914, even in large quantities was worth about five dollars, the second tax wasn't a tax either, it was a criminal prohibition. Now just to be sure you guys understand this, and I am sure you do, but just to make sure, let's say that in 1915 somebody was found, let's say, in possession of an ounce of cocaine out here on the street. What would be the Federal crime? Not possession of cocaine, or possession of a controlled substance. What was the crime? Tax evasion.

Iraq Troop Withdrawal: The Zero-Sum Game - By Douglas Ollivant | Foreign Policy

Iraq Troop Withdrawal: The Zero-Sum Game - By Douglas Ollivant | Foreign Policy: In short, it is time for the United States to stop being a "helicopter parent" to the Iraqis. To extend the metaphor: The Iraqis have graduated and are now legally of age. Let them go. They will doubtless not do everything perfectly or in the way the United States would prefer. So be it. They are no longer America's wards, no longer its charges, no longer in receivership.

This is how the U.S. war in Iraq ends.

24 Hours at Fukushima - IEEE Spectrum

24 Hours at Fukushima - IEEE Spectrum: Unlike the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986, the chain of failures that led to disaster at Fukushima was caused by an extreme event. It was precisely the kind of occurrence that nuclear-plant designers strive to anticipate in their blueprints and emergency-response officials try to envision in their plans. The struggle to control the stricken plant, with its remarkable heroism, improvisational genius, and heartbreaking failure, will keep the experts busy for years to come. And in the end the calamity will undoubtedly improve nuclear plant design.

News Desk: The Fringe Frontrunner : The New Yorker

News Desk: The Fringe Frontrunner : The New Yorker
Either way, Cain represents the emergence of a truly new phenomenon in Presidential politics: the fringe frontrunner. Every Presidential campaign attracts eccentrics with slim résumés and no chance of winning. Sometimes they are wealthy businessmen (like Steve Forbes) who buy their way into the spotlight. Other times they are minor celebrities among a small, passionate group of ideologues within the party (like Ron Paul). They exist in every open Presidential primary in both parties. They often enliven debates and force their more electable, centrist colleagues to take uncomfortable stands on difficult issues, which is generally a good thing for our politics. In previous elections, these fringe candidates have never come close to becoming serious contenders. They run to push the ideological debate further to the right or left and to make a name for themselves in the process. If they are lucky, they end up with some notoriety, a new national fundraising base, and perhaps a show on cable TV. These types of fringe candidates don’t truly prepare for the absurdities and difficulties of a Presidential campaign because in their heart of hearts they never believed they would make it very far.

The price for ridding society of bad is always high

With Google Reader killed off, this is now my best method of sharing content. Not very happy with it though. -W

The price for ridding society of bad is always high: In June of 1945, the following striking letter arrived at the home of 3-year-old Dennis Helms in Washington, written on a sheet of Adolf Hitler's letterhead. It had been penned by his father, Lt. Richard Helms, an intelligence operative with the OSS who, following Germany's surrender the month before, had managed to acquire some of the recently-deceased Nazi leader's stationery from the Reich Chancellery. He then wrote to his son.



Richard Helms later became Director of the CIA. His letter to Dennis now resides in their museum.



Transcript follows. Image courtesy of The Washington Post.








Transcript


OBERSALZBERG, DEN V-E day



ADOLF HITLER



Dear Dennis,



The man who might have written on this card once controlled Europe - three short years ago when you were born. Today he is dead, his memory despised, his country in ruins. He had a thirst for power, a low opinion of man as an individual, and a fear of intellectual honesty. He was a force for evil in the world. His passing, his defeat - a boon to mankind. But thousands died that it might be so. The price for ridding society of bad is always high.



Love, Daddy





Trick-or-Treat: The Google Reader Changes Are Coming Tonight - Rebecca J. Rosen - Technology - The Atlantic

:(

Trick-or-Treat: The Google Reader Changes Are Coming Tonight - Rebecca J. Rosen - Technology - The Atlantic: Given the intensity of the opposition, Google must be calculating that even if many people flee Reader to HiveMined or another system, at least a few will transition over to Google . And if even a few high-volume sharers begin to use Google , that could inject the flagging network with a fresh shot of content that attracts many more readers.

The lesson is that thousands of people -- even tens of thousands of people -- who use a mostly ad-free service without charge just don't have very much power. Google Reader users: You get what you pay for.

The Long Goodbye

Flying westward
Over snow
The sun runs ahead
Leaving a long, lingering glow
A stretch of red between the horizon's clouds
That we chase in a long farewell to daylight.

Atlas Shrugged

I'd always heard about Objectivism and such, but never read Atlas Shrugged for myself until this weekend. Having made it through part I - I'm bored. It's a black-and-white portrayal of good/bad ethics mixed with decent prose and thoughtful takes on the human condition. There is something Rand misses in her celebration of productivity - something Dale Carnigie understood, and even as it led to a small group of diehard fans, it also dooms her ideas on the wider stage.

FYI: Links Feed at risk

Hi everyone,

I don't know how big the audience is of my links feed (it's at least 20 people, and probably more), but after this announcement I'm not sure what will happen to it - the sharing feature is going to get Google+'d.

My goal is mostly to maintain my ability to curate an archived RSS feed - as long as I can do that, I'll be fine.

Anyhow, just an FYI.

Not convinced


This picture is making the rounds on Facebook, but I'm not really a fan. The information Assange shared was gathered under conditions that it wouldn't be distributed. The information you put on Facebook is given under terms of use that are much more open. This picture ignores the role of the individual - you don't have to use Facebook.

Is Assange good? I'd say its a mixed bag. Wikileaks had a good thing going as a distribution mechanism to newspapers that would vet the content, but allowing the unencrypted files to get distributed (however much not intentioned) was damn foolish. Wikileaks is a target because it annoys powerful people, yes, but also because of Assange's style and ridiculousness. His goal is to remove privacy from deliberations behind closed doors - but we need those. Sunshine is a disinfectant, but it can also kill deals that need a little bit of time to grow.

Thoughts on the value of higher education

Written originally for a friend, on the subject of the usefulness of analysis:

I'd suggest this metaphor: On the Sing-Off, groups perform, sometimes well, and sometimes poorly. One of the best groups, Afro-Blue, does lots of complicated jazzy stuff that is AWESOME to listen to, but I have to read online review to understand how they constructed all of the crazy chords in the arrangement. There's a lot of difficult-to-learn theory in what they do. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WHmjR1-vUpU&feature=related)

On the other hand, anyone can tell when a performance works - its obvious, and the talent that leads the base in that performance to be so awesome at improvising isn't learned - its grown.

So there's a triad here: everyone can tell if the song works or not; talent (and practice) determines if you can sing it, but education is required to understand what's going on in a communicative way.

Your talent to theorize is different than having real interactions, and different than being able to make rational judgments about the world around you. You can have a constructive voice with just those two, it's true: but there's no learning without the other third; no ability to see, long-term, how things have changed and shifted, and to predict from there the lessons that the first two talents can apply in the future.

Do we need music, or musical training to survive? Nope. Do we need voyeuristic operas? Not really. But are they worth doing, by someone? I'd say so.

And in choosing our leaders, within our own communities and within the wider cities and states and countries we identify with, pragmatic ability and common values might be the most important, but scholarship and study make for valuable components as well. The more stuff our leaders know, the less time they need to spend understanding the complex issues that reach their attention and the more time they can spend leading.

Continued, on the split between educating to do "stuff" or to understand stuff."

The academy is the only professional group in America that gets to take a crack at "everyone" (at least, those who want access to the wide opportunities that a college degree provides in terms of credentials). Ministers used to be the same way - everyone was supposed to go to church, but that role has disappeared. Coaches also only serve a portion of the populace. Only our professors remain.

Out of that comes a dual responsibility - to train and equip *everyone,* and to train and equip those who will join the academy. In a real sense there are two brands of success: the "actual" (and I mean that word in terms of "acting") and the theoretical. Williams has, perhaps inadvertently, promoted both separately: the JA variety for raw social effectiveness (in theory), and the Oxford variety for ass-kicking thinking.

In that way, Williams facilitates both the networking that some of our peers seek and the thinking that we're all "supposed" to be studying, even if its only a true priority for some of us. A lot of me is in the former category - I loved doing things at Williams, and discussions like this, but sticking to established formulae was hardly enjoyable; my largest conflicts were with history books that didn't do what I thought was useful. I picked a fight with the discipline and lost.

But that was fine, for me, because I still learned and grew from the course. I don't want to be a professional historian.

So Williams the institution celebrates its "successful" alumni, and invites Cory Booker to speak at graduation. Williams the faculty DOES NOT approve of the trustees' honorary degrees (and has told me), and celebrates research and so forth.

It's the same fight other D1 schools with big athletic programs have with underfunded classrooms - our professors own the classroom, but the classroom is hardly the whole of the campus.

Some professors engage in the real; they come on Mountain Day and advise Dodd Neighborhood; they bring their children to Shabbat dinner so that I can chase the kiddos around. They step out of math and sociology into this world.

Others choose not to.

Likewise, some at Williams cared a lot about their GPA and others phoned it in. We were a meeting place between the doers, the consultants and leaders and organizers, and the learners. In some occasions, we have individuals that fit both categories, and they (you) can feel the split you describe. 

Brian Williams's expression of shame, after reporting that the % of Americans supprting legalzation is at an "all time high."

On Evangelism and Politics

Responding to this article:
Americans have always trusted in God, and even today atheism is little more than a quiet voice on the margins. Faith, working calmly in the lives of Americans from George Washington to Barack Obama, has motivated some of America’s finest moments. But when the faith of so many Americans becomes an occasion to embrace discredited, ridiculous and even dangerous ideas, we must not be afraid to speak out, even if it means criticizing fellow Christians.
"Evangelical anti-intellectualism" is, to me,  a false pairing. God gave us minds for thinking, and logic for reasoning: to assert that the mind is against God is akin to asserting that the heart is against God - both the mind and heart have done great good, and great evil. The mind has led to great scientific discoveries; it has also led to Eugenics and clever methods of thievery. Or hearts summon us together, and yet draw us to bad decisions, or to rise up in defense of a perceived slight with an assault that outweighs the infraction.

There are those among us who embrace Evangelism, and those who reject it. There are those who embrace the mind, and those who reject it. The groups are not the same, though I'm sure you can find a statistical correlation thanks to hidden variables. But the evangelism I speak of - loving, witnessing, and sharing one's love of Christ - is different than the political Evangelical movement. In that movement of fundamentalism, doctrine is king - regardless of the facts. I fear that, years ago, the leaders  of the Republican party are so worried about a small number of doctrinists attacking them that they fail to call white white and black black.

We are now at the result of that decision taken decades ago - where the absence of truth has allowed falsehood to run rampant; the farthest right can declare truths with impunity - "LET US DEFAULT" - without caring about the economic rampage that would result. This battle between doctrine and evidence is dangerous - but it is not evangelism.

That's the premise of this piece's authors; we only differ on the role of politics in today's Evangelical movement, and how far fundamentalism has infiltrated the Christian heart. Perhaps they are right; I can only speak for my personal experience. But that experience has showed me that fundamentalism isn't the issue - standard politics are the issue, such as differences about abortion, the death penalty, and other questions we wrestle with as a country.

Is there an evangelical "parallel universe?" Sure, but considering the depravity of culture today (Toddlers and Tiaras) in some places I could hardly blame communities for turning inward. We all do that, when we reject politics, the news, in favor of the local, the untainted. Do charismatic leaders manipulate their flock? Yes, but such men and women have always done this. To give a new name to an old phenomenon is not to make a strong argument.

It may appear more extreme now, but I see that as a sign of insecurity as young people turn away from homophobia and towards Christian pursuit of social justice. Just as it is always darkest before the dawn, the language of politics will become the most frightening before the revival of values and the reassertion of truth. There is so much that can be done in partnership, if we can ignore the voices from the verge that urge us towards clashes and their profit.

mention

I'm currently traveling for business, so sing-off recaps to come later, but there are a few good links in the right hand feed (which is far more interesting than my scrawls).

Could an Unmarried Woman Sink Obama?

That the title of this article, and some VERY creative spin. Let's deconstruct.

  1. Barack Obama won, in part, because of his huge support in the 18-25 demographic, and in younger Americans more generally.
  2. A lack of voter engagement and turnout could hurt Obama in 2012.
  3. Young women constitute some young Americans.
  4. Younger Americans tend to be unmarried.
  5. Therefore, unmarried women were strong Obama supporters, and failing to turn out might hurt him.

Thoughts on Radio, from a friend

From my friend Julian, a long post worth the read:
To take it back half a step, radio is still a fundamentally viable form even in these internet days. People still like listening to human voices, and people still like listening to music. And, beyond that, I think that it’s sort of an important piece of our popular culture, and one worth saving. We’ve sort of touched upon some of the things that good radio traditionally can/does do, but there is plenty of room for expansion within the form, and we can perhaps draw some inspiration from our cousins over in the UK, where the BBC is alive and well (another indication of radio’s fundamental viability as a technology). According to a pretty good article in the LA Times about a year ago, there is still a huge audience for radio in BBC-land, partly derived from a radio-listening culture (one interviewee had a radio for every room, I believe, and left them on in the way that Americans leave televisions on), but also from a great deal of excellent programming. Because radio is still respected, and because the BBC is state-run and therefore beholden to nobody, the money to produce quality programming can meet the quality talent required, creating a number of excellent shows. Plays are serialized, new works commissioned expressly for radio, esteemed commentators are heard nationally, and yes, they have a pretty thriving music show lineup too (Mark Lamar’s show God’s Jukebox is quite nice). The moral is many-fold: an expansion of public radio would greatly enhance our national culture, as we’d be able to support no-strings attached works of critical radio excellence; we should be so lucky as to have the same intellectual-respecting and cross-media popular culture as there is in the UK (where dudes like Stephen Fry can show up basically anywhere and say insightful things, and get listened to!); and the only limitation on radio is that it’s a purely auditory medium.

A conservative/liberal epiphany

Reading Bobby Jindal's "Leadership and Crisis," (which is a decent book for the anecdotes, but nothing to write home about in terms of political persuasiveness - see "Audacity of Hope), I had a sudden thought:

Human nature drives our affairs, and its not always pretty, as psychology has showed. We as a species are capable mass rape, with slavery, with torture, just as we are also capable of loyalty, bravery, and decency. We have a range of motivations and methods to our mass thinking.

Conservatives see these motivations and seek to harness them - they are authentic, true, and powerful. Liberals see these motivations and imagine higher, purer ones - less authentic, but still true and powerful once nurtured. Witness the acceptance of all sexualities, the societal condemnation of racism and slavery. Each of these causes were taken up first by liberals, and achieved success upon the adaptation of conservatives.

In other words, liberals and the left are broadly like the US House of Representatives, and Conservatives like the Senate.

No doubt there are a million holes in this but (obviously) I think it was worth posting.

Start at :46

I can't stop laughing at this image.

Sing-off picks

First place for showmanship: Yellow Jackets
 Still waiting for a kickass opening number a la "Use Somebody" from Season 2 on the Sing-Off. Then again, there were only 8 groups left at this point; we're still looking at 11, so there may be better work in store. I hope.

First place for technical excellence: Afro-Blue.
Steve Jobs thought. Just as Jobs excelled in understanding human nature in his life, achieving raw success in a cutthroat corporate world against a range of detractors, his death is also a window into our true nature. We forgive his megalomania; his questionable labor practices; his ridiculous markups that led to gigantic profits. We do this because he found a way to build products that we LOVED - had some attachement to, both via marketing and a all-consuming attention to perfect design that literally led to pointless screws put in place solely to provide visual symmetry.

In any case, I'll keep watching, and cancer sucks. RIP Steve, and thanks for everything you did, and everything you revealed.

Tabloid Journalism and Thankfulness

November 1, 2007: I'm writing on our college discussion board about limited card swipe access to dorms. Another ongoing topic of focus is the JK Rowling declaration that Dumbledore was gay. Somewhere else, a college student is murdered; another student displays some reportedly "odd" behavior.

The next 3.7 years: I study politics, economics, sociology, more, graduating in June of 2011. Somewhere else, as written later that month:
She continues to study Italian (which she now speaks fluently, with occasional sallies into jailhouse vernacular), reading textbooks from cover to cover three times each. She has also become proficient in German and French, and is studying Japanese, Chinese and Russian. She is devouring the Western canon, and lists in her journals each book she completes. She has become something of a specialist in Existentialism (Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, Sartre's No Exit and Nausea), Magical Realism (Calvino, Borges, Eco), Absurdism and Despair (Vonnegut, Beckett, Woody Allen, Kafka).
I travel to Rome, to Florence, to Paris and Taize, to Jerusalem. Somewhere else, a long stay in a jail cell. I am free. Someone else is - was - not.

It's regretful that so many stories that could be told are not told. We don't read or hear about the countless stories of brutality that brave men and women have survived. We don't read about the thousands killed by natural disaster in China; of the German solders killed defending what they thought were their interests. But we do hear about Natalee Holloway, and the sister case that reached its conclusion today in the city I'm visiting on business.

Quoth the same:
When an attractive young woman from a privileged British family is murdered in Italy, you've got a popular crime story. When the person suspected of killing her is an attractive young woman from a privileged American family, you have tabloid gold. When the prosecutor hypothesizes that the victim was slaughtered during a satanic ritual orgy, you've got the crime story of a decade. When a sitting U.S. senator declares that the case "raises serious questions about the Italian justice system" and asks if "anti-Americanism" is to blame, and when 11 Italian lawmakers in Silvio Berlusconi's coalition request a probe of the prosecutor's office — well, at that point, you have an international crisis.
We don't need this example to understand the media's bias, though. We don't need it for anything except our own fascination (I didn't know that much about this until reading the article linked above, but I got sucked into an online argument about the evidence yesterday. I'm guilty as anyone else.)

But what I'm trying to remember - trying to maintain focus on - is that something like this could have happened to me. I remember the death of my grandfather when I was 10 or so, and how my tears were in private, in secret. I also remember not crying - feeling overwhelming "control" - upon learning the news, and how guilty I felt that I couldn't or wasn't displaying my grief like others. I'm still learning how to do that. I remember various dumb decisions I made when abroad, such as getting deliberately lost in a french wood surrounded by a fence during a rainstorm (a twisted ankle would have been more than problematic), and my solo sojourns in countries where I spoke little-to-nothing of the native tongue. Curiously, I have never returned to Spain, though Spanish is the second language I know best.

All of this to say that the world is strange sometimes - cruel even - I'm lucky to have enjoyed what I have, and to have had all of the wonderful experiences over my past 4 years that I enjoyed. I hope we can leave others involved in this case alone (I haven't mentioned names here deliberately), and that there can be some lesson learned from sorrows so that we can avoid repeating them or their cousins ourselves.

Obama Administration Puts Pressure on Israel

I find it interesting that the Secretaries of Defense are the administration's method of sending public messages to Israel: perhaps attacking them would be harder?

One stupid, cowardly cop in NYC.

We have given ammunition to repressive regimes everywhere. Thank you, Deputy Inspector Bologna. You have harmed your country, her* values, and her interests.

*Interested if folks think this is sexist....

MDKKs

The MDKK is everywhere. You probably know MDKK members: they drive on the roads with you, work alongside you, and participate in community events.

MDKKs declare themselves to be socially superior, but are characterized by their morally aberrant behaviors. Adultery, domestic violence, alcoholism, and much more are all present at high rates within MDKK cells, many of which take advantage of American tax code advantages and American banks to further their own wealth. Even worse, MDKK cells will occasionally split into two, three, or ever four pieces, which will soon form into separate, individually functioning cells that maintain an ever-widening network of MDKKs and their affiliates. They are responsible, some experts say, for the decline of the American educational system, and drive many of our worst economic trends through their purchasing power.

You might even be a part of an MDKK cell right now. I am.

Don Draper, Selling Facebook Timeline

Sing-Off Week 2

Pentatonix - This week's best. (Hon Mention: DelTones)
A weaker week, overall. Pentatonix was the only group to reach Afro-Blue or Delilah's height of last week, and the "middle" groups of week 1 were more consistently solid.

Mind Games

From Scientific American:
The cost of hiding the logistical details of perception is that we are always a beat behind. The brain must strike a balance. Cognitive psychologist Alex Holcombe at Sydney has some clever demonstrations showing that certain forms of motion perception take a second or longer to register, and our brains clearly can’t wait that long. Our view of the world takes shape as we watch it.

The 80-millisecond rule plays all sorts of perceptual tricks on us. As long as a hand-clapper is less than 30 meters away, you hear and see the clap happen together. But beyond this distance, the sound arrives more than 80 milliseconds later than the light, and the brain no longer matches sight and sound. What is weird is that the transition is abrupt: by taking a single step away from you, the hand-clapper goes from in sync to out of sync. Similarly, as long as a TV or film soundtrack is synchronized within 80 milliseconds, you won’t notice any lag, but if the delay gets any longer, the two abruptly and maddeningly become disjointed. Events that take place faster than 80 milliseconds fly under the radar of consciousness. A batter swings at a ball before being aware that the pitcher has even throw it.

The cohesiveness of consciousness is essential to our judgments about cause and effect—and, therefore, to our sense of self. In one particularly sneaky experiment, Eagleman and his team asked volunteers to press a button to make a light blink—with a slight delay. After 10 or so presses, people cottoned onto the delay and began to see the blink happen as soon as they pressed the button. Then the experimenters reduced the delay, and people reported that the blink happened before they pressed the button.

Troy Davis was killed tonight

http://multimedia.savannahnow.com/media/pdfs/DavisRuling082410.pdf

I mourn the death of anyone, and the monstrous taxpayer expense that the death penalty incurs. More later.

I Love the Sing Off

This week's winning group (Hon Mention: Vocal Point Afro-Blue).
So much real talent, so little stupid will-they won't-they drama. Episodes are simple:
  1. Happy group number
  2. Songs (with long intro sequences...the one eh)
  3. Informed commentary with musical terminology I don't always know ("rubbing seconds")
  4. Quick elimination as decided by smart judges I rarely disagree with.
 This is what TV is supposed to be, right here. And if the groups get better (Kinfolk 9, Urban Method, Yellow Jackets, looking at you).....oh boy.

Birthday Graditude

It is a gift to have had freedom in my life.

I am working at a job I chose, after attending a college I chose, after growing up in a house my parents chose in a town that they chose.

Such a gift, and one that's denied to so many. If you're likewise so lucky, take a moment to remember those that aren't. Thousands of innocent civilians lose their lives every day to hunger, to preventable disease.

You aren't one of them, simply because you have the ability to access this blog.

Isn't that remarkable?

Dear Michelle Bachmann

When you jump on Obama for "going back to the 1967 borders," you jump on Netanyahu, who agrees to the same thing. This is the dumbest criticism, I swear...

Interesting distinctions on foreign policy, HPV, and the mandate though. Much more in substance than between Obama and Clinton.

From PostSecret. Not cool.

In Which I Actually Enjoy A Reality Show

Screencap from So You Think You Can Dance
Edit: She won!

I'm not much for most competition/reality shows - I can name a of the American Idol finalists from the groundbreaking early seasons, but The Daily Show has always been my first love when it comes to TV.

However, a few weeks ago, I found myself watching Dancing With the Stars, with a great set of performers and reasonably entertaining judges, One of them, Melanie Moore, is from Atlanta (Lassiter High), and we almost certainly have mutual friends. Something about her (besides the breath-taking backless dress that was my first impression) has a dominating quality on camera - the eye is drawn to her, even though her partner is also amazing.

The reason, I think, is a cacophony of little things that are barely noticeable individually, but add up. One example is in this screencap, at this point in the performance. Notice her finger - it points for about half a second, but in the context of the piece, it adds something to her dance. Moore does this in every move that she makes, and while we can't always identify why we like her, or what she's doing, the end result is success.

The same is true, I think, of any field of professional success. For the end-user, the audience, the client, the aspects of one's job that lead to true success aren't always noticeable - we don't see performers practice, or the years of training that go into a single performance. We can't identify the little pointed finger on the first go-around. But in time, these things reveal themselves, and so Melanie Moore is unsurprisingly a finalist in Season 8 of the show.

The problem is that we also see a wide variety of a person that don't contribute to their success - their off-camera demeanor, their charisma, and more, which also inform us. Thus, those people who are practicing the fundamentals can be outstripped by people who present a better "whole picture" it's very easy to forgive someone a few errors if you like them. To be able to do both - all of the little invisible things that "matter" and the various other Carnegie traits, is what leads to the truest success. I know which set I need to work most on.

2 Months

Two months ago, I graduated from Williams. One month ago, I started at my job in Wisconsin.

Whoa.

I have car payments now, and rent. Health insurance premiums are deducted from my paycheck, and if I want to eat something at home, it has to be something that I personally selected from the store. If something that I own breaks, I have to fix it. None of these are really landmark issues or problems, but en masse, they take up time and energy: only in having them do I understand how much I enjoyed in going without, whether at home in GA where my parents never charged rent, or in my house at college where we bought many groceries collectively, and shared food copiously.

The struggle that I realize is that I've now been bumped out of those environments of extreme tolerance and free-expressionism. If I want to try to clone StoryTime at Epic, I'll have to do it by myself. If I want to volunteer, I'll have to call up a non-profit and sign up. I am no longer part of a population that groups are trying to access, with rare exceptions like the Red Cross folks that took two units of red cells from me today.

It's my life, and this is the time to set habits and patterns that will shape my future. I know that a lot of what I do, especially when its not fun, is based on identity - that I, as a person with characteristic X, am obligated or required to do something, for fear of losing X. I derive that willpower from within, not based solely on the approval of others (though others influence my own self-image). This is all a bit rambly, and influenced by my blood-less mental state, but I suppose my overall point is this:

I am a long way from where I was two months ago, and I hope I don't stop changing and improving my conditions over the next two months.

Debt Crisis

This is going to get worse before it gets better. The House GOP was NOT supposed to be in this position, and now we enter a period of real danger. Boehner has to go back to the drawing board on a new bill, and Harry Reid will be fully entitled to stop it.

But he won't. Instead, he'll amend the bill with tax hikes (probably mostly symbolic) and send it back to the House, where Boehner is going to have to take his own poison pill by passing the bill with democratic support. The GOP will be depowered, Obama will get his way while staying out of the way, and then Democrats will own the debt problem and the resulting cuts, which Republicans won't be able to protest over because THEY weren't able to get their own act together.

But the long game matters more, and I don't have confidence in anything but this: the GOP is now composed of four interests: Neocons, Business leaders, Social Cons, and Libertarians, and things between them aren't going to get any prettier. Democrats have got to grow a spine and start behaving with some pragmatism.

Home News

Awwwww, thanks Williams (click link for multimedia):
Slack (who hails from Decatur, Ga.) played pieces by Talcott Banks, George Alfred Grant-Shaefer, George Harrison, Robert Wadsworth Lowry, Richard Rodgers, and Howard Shore, as well as some of his own original compositions. Students, staff, and faculty enjoyed the concert from picnic tables, dorms, and offices across campus.
During his years at Williams, Slack had served as a leading figure for the Guild of Carilloneurs, a campus organization that ensures the chapel’s bells are played three times a day and on relevant special occasions. Slack and the other ringers use the Thompson bells to play everything from “The Mountains” to the Harry Potter theme music.
While the Thompson Memorial Chapel tower is one of the most recognizable figures of the Williams campus landscape, its bells are undoubtedly a staple in its soundtrack. To see a section of Slack’s performance and an inside look at the chapel’s chimes, watch the video below. To learn more about Williams bells and their ringers, read this 2005 Alumni Review article.

In my own Google Reader:

http://josephshoer.com/blog - A Williams grad with great nerdy posts.

http://www.lettersofnote.com/ - awesome historic letters

http://thisisindexed.com/ - webcomic published each morning, 3 second of whimsical humor
http://ephdetour.com/ - Chris, JJ, and Tony baking across Amurika. Chris's writing is great.

http://xkcd.com/ - duh

http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/ and http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/ -awesome news picture blogs (look at them, you'll understand)

http://www.salon.com/technology/ask_the_pilot/index.html - A pilot talks about the idiocy in his industry. Useful and entertaining.

http://www.ethanzuckerman.com/blog/ - Ethan is a Williams '93 with awesome big ideas.

Online Questionaires

I just signed up at Americans Elect, but managed to botch one of the questions they asked when I misread the answer. The site is going to have no clue what to do with my views now....

The Debt Ceiling

The House GOP is right. This government's fiscal policies and willingness to foist costs on future generations is irresponsible, and the worst kind of short-sightedness.

The House GOP is wrong. Tax rates must be simplified, and yes, raised, in order to avoid future calamity. We had high maximum individual rates in the 50s and we need them now. It's not fair to the rich, let's not lie, but one can also look at it this way - they profit more from the government's actions that protect and secure wealth. But it's not fair, and we shouldn't forget that.

So should we avoid those high taxes? Sure - if you think getting rid of social security, medicare, and medicaid is a good idea. That's a valid point of view, which reverberates for me, a bit - until I think about the inevitable problems if we take them away.

But that's how all social programs work - they become crutches. I know this might make me sound like a reactionary (which nicely balances my liberalism on taxes), but I don't think that anything I've said justifies getting rid of them, not with the generational contract that they created with those people who expect fair payouts.

I just wonder if anyone is thinking - really thinking - about the fiscal train headed for Japan, and soon after, us.

An Annotated RedState Posting

Original here: http://www.redstate.com/erick/2011/07/23/god-and-oslo/

With Al Jazeera, international news networks, and domestic networks all raising the link to an Islamic radical Norway was deporting, I put on twitter that the odds were it wasn’t an angry Lutheran doing the bombing and shooting and noted on the radio the possible links to Islamic radicals.
Turns out, the now captured shooter, who I think we can probably say is connected to the bombing, lists himself as a conservative Christian on a Facebook page.
I was wrong. But the reaction to me and others being wrong and to how the news is handling this event is quite instructive.
In the Arkansas army shootings and the Ft. Hood shooting and a host of others, the media and the left have sought to downplay any possible connection to Islam the attackers or would be attackers have had. I don't know if "downplay" is the right word, unless you mean they specifically did not report the person's faith. And when those of us on the right have pointed it out, we’ve been accused of racism and those on the left have demanded to know why it even mattered.
Contrast that with the coverage of the Oslo shooter and already the New York Times is making sure in its first few paragraphs everyone knows the guy described himself on Facebook as a “conservative Christian.”

And the NYT did not do that with other terrorist acts?

It reminds me of the left-wingers who always point out that Eric Rudolph and Timothy McVeigh were Christians. They ignore the fact that McVeigh himself described himself as at best an agnostic, though more clearly an atheist, and Rudolph’s FBI file showed he belonged to an extremist cult more Aryan than Christian.

Note that. An extremist cult more Aryan than Christian? Sounds JUST LIKE Al-Qaeda. Exactly what many of us have said for years.

But why all the angst from the left on this.
There are a few instructive points.
First, those of us on the right who point out the now fairly common ties between terrorists and Islam Except not: http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/terrorism-2002-2005/terror02_05#terror_05sum (scroll to the bottom) do so largely because the secular left has become willfully naive. The fact of the matter is violence and Islam may not be very common among American muslims, but internationally it is extremely common and can fairly well be considered mainstream within much of Islam. Read Andy McCarthy if you suffer on the delusion that it is not mainstream.

With Christians, it is rather rare to see a self-described Christian engage in heinous terrorist acts. In fact, in as much as there is an Arab Street filled with muslims more often than not cheering on the latest terrorist act of radical Islamists, you will be very hard pressed to find a Christian who does not condemn the act regardless of the faith of the person doing the killing.
But then why is the left so gleeful that the Norwegian is a “conservative Christian” and why do they feel it so necessary to rub it in when they’re downright apathetic and hostile to the notion of radical Islam being rather mainstream within Islam when terrorist Christianity is largely nonexistent except among a few crazies?

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Bible is quite on point about this.
Secular leftists and Islamists are both of this world. Christians may be traveling through, but we are most definitely not of the world. In fact, Christ commands us to throw off our ties to this world. But the things of this world love this world and hate the things of God. That’s why secular leftism can embrace both activist homosexuals and activist muslims when the latter would, when true to their faith, be happy to kill the former.

The left doesn't embrace "activist Muslims" who kill people in the GLBT community. False comparison.

All of them can pile on and condemn the Christian because the Christian is just passing through, a stranger in a strange land.
Over the next week, assuming the budget fight in Washington doesn’t over shadow it, you can expect lots more gloating that the guy in Norway described himself as a conservative Christian. Never mind that a conservative Christian would not do what the guy did. The left, however, will not be persuaded otherwise. They are of this world and this world is all that matters until the last day.

Never mind that a true Muslim would ever do that, either. Ever.

Mashup

This Song = The Harry Potter Books



Sorry, John Williams. Start at :50 to skip the ominous thumps that can only be heard with strong bass speakers.

'arry Potter

A few thoughts and reflections:

First, it's important to remember that the books were wildly popular not just for the good stories, but also for the suspense between them - what adventures were to befall Harry in the next book, fans wondered; who is going to be in a relationship with whom? Rowling said that the "shippers," as they were called, were the most disturbing aspect of her fandom, espeically the Harry/Hermione vs Ron/Hermione contingents. I read meta stuff about this conflict, with the most interesting aspects about if people's own personal desires (the smart girl should get the hero, for example) appeal over the foreshadowing that Rowling offered as early as book 3. In any case, it was the time between books that mattered just as much as what was contained within them, and future readers won't have that experience. That might mean that the Potter books don't age well, but the missing ingredient - ignorance - can't well be put back into the box.

Second, the books were unique in that Rowling had a lot of space to work with, and had a consistent vision of Day 1. I don't know if I'm completely convinced that she had the whole series exactly worked out - she planned once, I think, for Petunia to cast a spell under desperate circumstances, which didn't happen, but the elements were there and plotted alongside Book 1, which apparently had 10 different iterations of an opening chapter. Consider these quotes: "the books do explore the misuse of power, and there's an attempt to make some sense of death" (1998), "Harry has been born to shoulder a certain burden. (1999) & "Book Seven will see him face his destiny" (1999). '99 is also the year that Rowling wrote the epilogue that ends Book Seven. Also, Dumbledore's possession of the needed cloak was revealed in the first book.

So, the point is that a person who confesses to spending hours on plot construction had seven books to consistently work towards a focal end - a final confrontation of Harry and Tom, circling each other in the Great Hall as all assembled watch in trepidation and silence.

Except  (and third), that's not what happened in the movie. Warner Brothers took a wonderful, dramatic scene of Harry's reveal and drew it out into a non-dramatic awakening, coupled with a pointless Harry/Voldemort fight juxtaposed with a needless Ron/Hermione/Nagini battle. Neville's original scene would have saved more time and been more interesting, but I'll bet the exposition at the end bored test audiences.

But fourth, there was really no reason for them not to have the Elder Wand fix Harry's original, or to spend more time on the Weasley death. The points of the movie that did hold true - especially Harry's entrance to the forest - certainly had the greatest impact on me.

Nearly Two Weeks At Work

Best Perk: Free Milk and Juice in the breakrooms.
Best Building Theme: Dungeons and Dragons.
Strangest name: "Yoda," the name of the underground parking garage (which is mighty useful in Winter)
Biggest Adjustment: Getting up earlier than I have since middle school
Coolest Policy: The Dress Code ("When there are visitors, you must wear clothes.")
Most Anticipated Event: Company Wide Staff Meeting. With all 4300 people.

What I can really tell you, though, is that you can't really understand this place until you see the sleek buildings rising from the Wisconsin fields, and the care that has obviously gone into each building's design. The company's commitment to green building is obvious:
We're committed to environmental stewardship, with a promise to leave a large majority of our property undeveloped. Epic uses sustainable materials, obtaining them from local sources whenever possible. We recycle approximately 65% of our construction waste, and the geothermal system we use to heat and cool our buildings is one of the largest in the country.
yet you have to see the solar panels (and the planned new ones) to get a sense of this company's scope. Epic's culture is one that I can align myself with, just as Williams allowed me to do the same. The difference is that Williams was my life - this is a job, and I'll need outlets and friends outside of it (to go along with the neat work friends I have as well). But so far, so good.

The Cost of a Bin Laden Vaccne Program


One of the Pakistani Taliban’s top commanders, Maulvi Faqir Mohammed, recently called on people in the northwest to avoid vaccines offered by the international community, claiming they were made with “extracts from bones and fat of an animal prohibited by God — the pig.”
“Don’t fall prey to these infidel NGOs and this U.S.-allied government and its army,” said Mohammed over the illegal radio station he transmits from his sanctuary in eastern Afghanistan.
Pakistani officials and their international partners have pushed back against these claims, but the CIA’s reported activities in the country may have made their job that much harder. “The medical mission has to be immune from manipulation for political and military purposes and health care workers generally must not be compelled to conduct activities contrary to medical ethics,” said [Michael O'Brien, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Pakistan].
Backstory: the CIA used a fake vaccination program to collect DNA. Now vaccines are much less likely to be taken, thanks to the evidence given to political opportunists. And children will die.

This is not a good week for global affairs.
Be bold, Mr. President.

The country needs leadership. Besides the radical "Tea Party," there is little faith in anyone in government - no rising stars that can suck up the media spotlight with bipartisan popularity. There is, in short, no "2005 you" in this political calculus.

You must be bold. The Republican position has been panned by the Economist and even Ben Stein - it is both grounded in foolishness and delusional in the thought that higher taxes will destroy our economy.

The economy is not weak because of taxes, and you must say so. You must have faith that the American people will listen to you - actually listen to you - when you go on TV from the Oval Office to explain the peril that this debt issue involves us in, and the lack of choice that presents itself. You must be clear about the relative size of entitlements vs the defense budget vs everything else, and you must do this in the faith that Americans are waiting for you to step up.

We are waiting for leadership.

So lead.

The End of Harry Potter

I was a few weeks from turning 10 when the first Harry Potter book was released. No one is quite sure why these books became the the particular phenomena that dominated midnight releases at bookstores and spawned such wonderous works as the Potter Puppet Pals, but I think it had something to do with a proper plan and series worked out before the author wrote book #1 - a lucky strike of lighting that was then followed with excellent followups that, with a bit of lax editing in books 4 and 5, combined drama with humor to create a very accessible world of practical magic that ignored just enough reality.


Combined with a pre-technology nostagia (Harry Potter was free of computers and cell phones), the books went on a selling rampage, teaching children that do-gooders didn't always do good - Harry is an immensely frustrating hero when he ignores the sage advice of his friends, and I think reviews were spot on in saying that Harry, alone, never really "grew" in the series, maintaining the course that would lead him to Dumbledore's defeat.

Thus the star players, the original trio, were long-characterized by their static-ism, which held until Ron's abrupt departure in book 7, and the growth had to be observed in the other trio - the group of Ginny, Neville, and Luna which also journeyed into the Ministry of Magic and carried on the vital resistance work at Hogwarts as the first trio bumbled in their Horcrux searches. Harry only destroyed one horcrux, after all: the diary in book 2, and Dumbledore only one as well, with Ron, Hermione, Neville, Voldemort, and oddly, Crabbe, rounding out the group.

I remember the day that I realized I was the equivalent of Harry's age at the end of the seventh book (this was well before its release), and I wondered how capable I would be of taking on such evil, such power. I'm much more of an operative than hero, the fellow who would have fooled Umbridge and gotten into her confidences as a spy, instead of openly defying her.

So all this is rambly and strange, but I mostly want to say: wow. Amazing things can happen on train rides.

My Thoughts on a Blog in its Nascent Stages

A friend e-mailed me asking about advice for building his blog....based on my experiences here, here are some thoughts.

(If you are detecting a pattern with my blogging, it's that I'm so busy with moving, etc, that original content is going to be a little rare for the next while....)

There are a few steps I would take:
  • First is to post links to your blog from whereever people read about you: linkedin, facebook, a-twitter, etc. Your blog's first audience are the people that are interested in you, and by extension, your blog.
  • Second, I would install something that tracks your blog's traffic. I use sitemeter, which allows me to see the patterns of visitors/pageviews. It does this by posting a little image on your blog, and then recording every time your blog (and that image) is loaded.
  • Third, you want to reach people that are interested in your topic. That means finding other political blogs and commenting with your blog in the "website" or "link" title of the comment field - this will leave a link to your blog. Your website should have a quick, easy-to-recognize name/URL - willslack.blogspot.com is short and sweet.
  • Fourth, you want to make it easy for people to subscribe to your blog via RSS, etc. Google/Blogspot makes this easy with a default link.
  • Lastly, I would make sure that your blog has a strong design / content that makes it memorable - I try to have lots of interesting links up and down the rightblog  hand side, and while I'm not super-focused on visitor counts (I don't update enough for that), I do hope that my blog's content has some use to people - which is why they come back every day.

On TFA

A friend sent me this link, which reads in part:
Every spring without fail, a Teach for America recruiter approaches me and asks if he or she can come to my classes and recruit students for TFA, and every year, without fail, I give the recruiter the same answer: “Sorry. Until Teach for America changes its objective to training lifetime educators and raises the time commitment to five years rather than two, I will not allow TFA to recruit in my classes. The idea of sending talented students into schools in high-poverty areas and then, after two years, encouraging them to pursue careers in finance, law, and business in the hope that they will then advocate for educational equity rubs me the wrong way.”
[...]

But the most objectionable aspect of Teach for America—other than its contempt for lifetime educators—is its willingness to create another pathway to wealth and power for those already privileged, in the rapidly expanding Education-Industrial Complex, which offers numerous careers for the ambitious and well connected. An organization that began by promoting idealism and educational equity has become, to all too many of its recruits, a vehicle for profiting from the misery of America’s poor.

The thesis of the article, in short, is that TFA has become a "stepping stone" for professional success, instead of a breeding ground for lifelong educators. The author uses the acceptance rates of Fordham vs Yale to support this thesis.

Flatly, I don't buy it. First, the author seems to make a logically false argument that the lack of progress in these areas is indicative of TFA's ineffectiveness, which is emotionally resonate but intellectually empty: it could just as easily be said that the lack of progress is because TFA hasn't done enough. Second, there's a good chance that the average student at Yale is probably more capable to pick up a teaching career out of nowhere than a kid at Fordham, given the kinds of students that enter those institutions (to be clear, we are talking about admissions, not educational quality). Third, there are solid arguments to be made that improvements are possible in public school education, though I think we face a crisis of parental responsibility just as great as problems within schools.

TFA does have problems: it is seen as a "good person resume booster," which ends its tour of service before people can really master their field. But I think there is a value and benefit with the cross-cultural connections that the author seems to deplore. No matter how elite or effete our surroundings, we must always remember that there is poverty and injustice all around the air-conditioned board rooms where decisions are made. Power carries a responsibility, and hopefully, TFA can help to build awareness of that responsibility - and the failures of this country to meet its obligations thus far.

First Day At Work!!!

Madly exciting. Lots of information. Awesome co-workers. Further comment will come once I actually know what's going on.

Lessons and Language from Abroad


One of the many advantages of travel is that you find out the cultural "rules" in your life are products of a specific time and place, not nearly as omnipresent as one might suspect. Witness the French nonchalance about the Red Light District in Paris, for example, and while I'm sure there are many more, I don't have anything but anecdotal data to go on.

My own experience on this came two years ago on a little hill in France called "Taize." There, English is the universal language, but the very low % of native English speakers means that "Taize English" deviates in a few ways, thanks to the surrounding French lanaguage influence:

Examples:

The "Washing Up" - It's never cleaning, its the washing up.

"Permanent" - Directly from the French noun, a permanent is a on-location volunteer here for a longer basis.

"Responsible" - A noun, meaning the person who is in charge. The Responsible is responsible.

"Animation" - Fun, kid's play, activities

"Close" - to turn off, to deactivate, to end

"Brooming" - Sweeping, for people who learn the word broom and don't see the point in learning a different verb.

Why Electronic Medical Records Matter

Remember the Joplin Tornado? This is going to be my go-to anecdote for the foreseeable future.
I knew that they would want to know my medications, dosages and what tests had been done, and I knew that I couldn’t remember all of it. The doctors in Springfield were able to pull up my records and ask me questions. It worked out beautifully,” he said.....
“If the tornado had hit a month earlier, before installing the electronic health record system in Joplin, St. John’s would not have been able to bring up our mobile hospital within a week’s time. We still would not be operational at this point,” said Mike McCreary of Mercy Technology Services. “Today, patients have continuity of care across all of our physician locations and the new St. John’s Mercy Hospital, and connection to the entire Mercy health system, because of our EHR [Electronic Health Records] and our ability to quickly re-establish communication services.”
McCreary noted that St. John’s patients also have access to historical medical records. More current health information was stored within the new EHR, and older paper records had been scanned prior to the tornado and are securely stored on servers located in other communities.
The EMR system? Epic's.

President Obaam just overruled the OLC

In which I lose a lot of respect for Obama: (NYT article)
WASHINGTON — President Obama rejected the views of top lawyers at the Pentagon and the Justice Department when he decided that he had the legal authority to continue American military participation in the air war in Libya without Congressional authorization, according to officials familiar with internal administration deliberations.

Jeh C. Johnson, the Pentagon general counsel, and Caroline D. Krass, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, had told the White House that they believed that the United States military’s activities in the NATO-led air war amounted to “hostilities.” Under the War Powers Resolution, that would have required Mr. Obama to terminate or scale back the mission after May 20.
But Mr. Obama decided instead to adopt the legal analysis of several other senior members of his legal team — including the White House counsel, Robert Bauer, and the State Department legal adviser, Harold H. Koh — who argued that the United States military’s activities fell short of “hostilities.” Under that view, Mr. Obama needed no permission from Congress to continue the mission unchanged.
Presidents have the legal authority to override the legal conclusions of the Office of Legal Counsel and to act in a manner that is contrary to its advice, but it is extraordinarily rare for that to happen. Under normal circumstances, the office’s interpretation of the law is legally binding on the executive branch.
A White House spokesman, Eric Schultz, said there had been “a full airing of views within the administration and a robust process” that led Mr. Obama to his view that the Libya campaign was not covered by a provision of the War Powers Resolution that requires presidents to halt unauthorized hostilities after 60 days

“It should come as no surprise that there would be some disagreements, even within an administration, regarding the application of a statute that is nearly 40 years old to a unique and evolving conflict,” Mr. Schultz said. “Those disagreements are ordinary and healthy.”
 Read the rest of the article. The White House knows that most people have never heard of the OLC, and they're going on that, forgetting that the OLC is a vital, vital institution, and that being cavalier with it (or portraying it as "just another adviser") is setting all sorts of bad precedents. One of the strongest controls on the foolishness that David Addington (Cheney's Cheney: nice in person but wiht crazy ideas about executive power) was the OLC and its refusal to allow Bush a free leash, as if the President could ignore the law.

Obama is now repeating the same mistake that Bush made, and which originally made me a supporter of him, but he's gone a step further by straight-up overruling the OLC. It's a horrible, horrible precedent and the ends do not justify the means. Not. At. All.