A Description of a Really Nice Sausage
Saturday, January 22, 2005
  The suppression of information is unequivocally wrong. 
Monday, January 17, 2005
  So it turns out colleges are trying to teach kids critical thinking and good English. The Washington Times put out a report on a California college professor of poly-sci flunking a Kuwaiti student's final exam. Purportedly, because it had a pro-U.S. sentiment.

Atrios includes a link to the essay and a premature justification for the professor's alleged other actions, including berating the youth and telling him to get psychological treatment.

I can't say anything about the berating, but if this is actually the young man's essay, I can conjecture he probably deserved a failing grade.

I don't know the precise assignment, nor the professor's rubric for evaluation. But typically undergraduate writing requires—or should at least aim to—a certain level of sophistication fifth-grade writing lacks.

The problem is simply the poverty of real ideas. Though the essay question references a source, the student refutes none but the most general of their points. Instead of arguing the question itself, he goes on to list later accomplishments of the United States. Instead of refuting the thesis, he makes an argument based on cultural relativity.

The thesis itself,
Dye and Zeigler contend that the constitution of the United States was not “ordained and established” by “the people” as we have so often been led to believe. They contend instead that it was written by a small educated and wealthy elite in America who representative of powerful economic and political interests. Analyze the US constitution (original document), and show how its formulation excluded majority of the people living in America at that time, and how it was dominated by America’s elite interest.
probably shouldn't appear political sharp or even surprising to someone who's just been through a semester of basic political science. If the United States' foundation had been "ordained and established by the people," some institutions such as the electoral college, indirect election of senators, and dare I say it, probably even First Amendment protections might not have made it in. Athenian democracy is an example of how hordes can tyranize; American democracy originally was about protection of certain (but not all) minorities from hordes.

(Moreover, if we count as "the people" both blacks and women, then the original Constitution missed ordination by probably two-thirds of the population.)

The young man in question is claimed by the article to be 17. It's disappointing if this is true that a young man skilled enough to get into college earlier than most American college students could write so poorly.

I also find it rather jaundiced of the Times to refer to the young man in their lead paragraph as
A 17-year-old Kuwaiti student whose uncles were kidnapped and tortured by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's invaders more than a decade ago
but that's their angle and they'll fuck it for all it's worth.

Just push it on the stack of Crazy Liberal Elitist Professors Brainwashing Kids to Hate America. It's getting pretty tall.
Sunday, January 09, 2005
  Howard Dean's much-maligned scream last year during the primaries was the most genuine and sincere moment I've witnessed by a politician ever.

Granted, I'm only twenty-three. But, still.
Sunday, January 02, 2005
  The proof that pornography isn't so strong as people like Naomi Wolf say is that it's so damned easy to beat up on pornography. Who is standing up for porn in more than a limp, strictly principled way? Mind you, there's politics afoot too, but where were those defending porn before the bizarre congressional hearing back in November?

What I find wondrous is that the voices against porn seem to reach audiences. There are people who don't like porn. There are groups of men who along with groups of women will listen to anti-porn crusaders lecture, will read columns by Naomi Wolf, and will nod along as if they hadn't enjoyed a picture of people fucking lately.

Last of all things do I want to be painted as an anti-intellectual, but it seems to me that funding studies on the effects of pornography are silly. I've watched, viewed, and consumed pornography before. Probably most men have, and a sizable minority of women. I can tell you what happens, what are the effects. I get horny. I look at naked women having sex and it makes me want to have sex. I see them having sex in different and varied ways and it expands my idea of what sex is and what it can be, makes it less boring.

Naomi says that porn turns men off from actual women. She cites young women who fear that porn has transformed men's expectations of them, and fear they have to act like pornstars to keep their attention.

It's hard to begin the demolition. While I can't demean the young women expressing their thoughts and fears, and I sympathize, I can't understand taking their fears as a basis for an examination of the effects of porn on men. To use an extreme example (and I'm fond of hyperbole), the fears of some parents that their kids' gay boy scout troop leader might molest them is no indication at all of the actual risk of molestation—which is quite low.

If we take internet porn as an example, one thing we find is that the stereotypical face of porn is withered and cracked. There are still busty women with meticulously-groomed beavers doing two men at a time, doing double-penetration, doing cum-shots over their pancaked make-up and crisp tanlines. But there are others. Amateur porn—porn that at least looks as though made by non-professionals, is popular. Teenie sites get thousands of hits, featuring attractive but generally naturally-curved young women doing simple strip-teases, and maybe light hardcore. There are granny sites, for Christ's sake. Fat sites. Ethnic, girl-next-door, lesbian, and gay.

There is variety, in other words. Old formulae have been superseded as surely as Newton by Einstein. And I argue that this diverse potential fantasy-life available to girls and guys alike is similar to that provided by games such as Grand Theft Auto III, which through its tacit encouragement of violence offer to the steady, civilized, great non-violent swath of population an opportunity to live beyond the shackling influence of society.

I will not lie about this: at a certain level, killing people is fun. As it is one of the things humans are best at, it must be. Torturing people is fun. Blowing up your enemies is fun. No one should ever do these things for real, because they hurt other people—real people—and the sorrow of victims' families and friends is very real indeed. But that fact does not render the divertimental aspect of killing/maiming tedious—only verboten.

So it's nice to get into a consequence-free world once in a while and experience the things which in real life we cannot. This is only an extension of the kinds of benefits we get from art and literature, ways of extending human perception and experience—implicitly, extension beyond what the average human is capable. People read adventure books because they'll never quit their office job and explore the jungle. People see dramatic movies because they seldom in their lives experience the same tensions. They play GTAIII because they will never actually do a drive-by of a rival gang—in fact, I must think those people who actually do drive-bys find a game simulating it rather silly.

I watched porn because I was never going to actually bang two schoolgirls at once in the gym locker room. Some girls I found attractive, others not. Actually, I find a lot of traditional pornstars repugnant; their overly-tanned skin is inelastic and yellow, their breasts are aseptic and lumpy, their vulvas look like ravaged bits of steak. I find anal sex repugnant, as I do the idea of cumming on a woman's face. But those options are out there for those who want it, and especially for those whose significant others can't or won't give it to them.

The appeal of actual sexual experience, in particular the feel of flesh, the smells and aromas, the touch, the contact, is much greater than anything porn can offer. Porn is at best an adjunct to imagination. I found as I matured into porn as a young man that certain pic-sets, for instance, just weren't that sexy. For me, those tended to be sets in which the girl was simply naked right away and standing in some anonymous place, or with wide-open-beaver shots, or pics of unexcited girls simply flashing their tits for some beads.

A boob by itself does not an erection make. The appeal of visual pornography, alike literary, is that it aids in setting up an imaginary encounter. I found pic-sets sexy that showed the girl initially somewhat clothed, or in which the girl looked straight into the camera—basically, me—and looked like she wanted me, like she was doing it simply for me. Good porn need not even show a woman completely naked; as long as it helps the viewer to imagine that he's about to fuck, it's good.

(A lot of Playboy, for instance, I found lacking, because you figured out the formula after awhile and it was obvious the girls didn't want to fuck me.)

Real sex is much better than porn. Real sex, too, involves the imagination as much as it involves the genitals, but it is a much more potent activator of the imagination, too. The woman you are with need not be perfect in the traditional sense—in fact, preferences often work in the opposite direction. You reach and touch, and are touched back. You can smell perfume commingled with a little bit of sweat. You kiss, and are kissed back. She is wet; you made her so. She is yours—for the moment, just yours, and not shared with everyone who has a DSL connection.

I don't think other cultures keep women and men locked and dressed up because of their ancient wisdom regarding sexual drives. I think they're simply less liberated than some of us Americans are, which isn't saying as much as you might think, because despite porn and Madison Ave. most Americans rarely if ever are exhibitionists.

Mystery can be sexy—but this is because of the effects on the imagination. Vide supra—see above. Keeping the hair covered for all but your husband just serves to create a fetishism for hair. Not that I object to fetishisms, but why position one as inherently better than others?

Porn is, in and of itself, a net good. A boon for humanity. Not on the order of penicillin, but still good. Much of the pornography made is bad, but so are most paintings on any given day. Tastes for porn are simply a bit blunted without a long, open history of connoisseurship, so for many, any porn will do. Much of the pornography industry is bad, probably worse back in the day, but still bad. We need a Sinclair Lewis to blow that open. But Americans will abandon their porn when they abandon their meat. Mark my words.

And someday, maybe more people will stick up for porn. In the meantime, begin the flamefests. I'll start: you're a filthy, brutish pervert with far too much brains to be indulging in this awful vice. Now it's your turn. Only, be creative, eh? I want my imagination stroked.  
  Regarding national pride it seems to me that some people mix up incidentals with the imperatives of national greatness. When acting to preserve America, they also act to preserve English, Christianity, special creation, and apple pie. But while these may be typically ethnic American pleasures—yeah, I'm positing an American ethnicity, and simply so in a dependent clause, without any of the tonnes of PhD dissertations required to back that up—what's really important for American success are a series of ideas orthogonal to the ECAP complex: things like representative government, checks and balances, separation of powers, innocence until proven otherwise, freedom of expression, religious and otherwise.

I mention this because many seem to want—at least, through what they say and say to me—to preserve ECAP at the possible expense of the orthogonal series. Just one example would be the archetypal phrase: "To protect the American way of life, citizens should steel themselves against the civil liberties boogeyman and embrace stronger security."

Many Americans feel that what's deserving of protection in America is the openness and free way of life we enjoy—that pave the road ECAP rolls teeteringly on. I feel this way, and I think this feeling is something that might distinguish America from just any other industrial power in the world today.

France is French. China is Chinese. Until recently (and perhaps still), it's nearly impossible to be a German citizen without a German parent. But America, despite the fact that it is overwhelmingly white and protestant, a snapshot of Britain, is not necessarily just American. We have too many hyphenations to claim a core American ethnic identity anymore. People come in bringing their own cultures and assimilate to varying degrees. What the ECAP crowd finds distasteful is that some immigrants and their families do not adapt ECAP as their badge but retain JSS—Japanese, Shinto, and sushi—as their link with their past.

That's fine. ECAP is the link to the past many Americans have; no one should begrudge anyone their link to the past, although they may find it distasteful. But ask an ardent ECAP-badger about the possibility, for instance, of a massive population infusion transforming the United States into a country predominantly of Arabs, who speak Arabic and worship in mosques, but who otherwise learn about and enthuse about separation of powers, innocence until proven otherwise, equal rights for all, and the rest of the orthogonal series. ECAP-badgers accused with this scenario will go bat-shit. Because America for them is not America without ECAP.

Personally, I feel that if such a situation (unlikely, of course, given ethnic majorities' power, even when dwindling, to make immigration and life for immigrants hard) were to occur, it would be fine. The crucial inheritance, that of the orthogonal series, descended without incident. If America in the twenty-fifth century (if still existing as such) were colonized by aliens speaking by telepathy and feeding upon human intestines, I should not have a problem with it as such if the aliens still respected the orthogonal series.

(Mind you, aliens having taken over the world and enslaved mankind bothers me greatly, and I'm sure ECAP-badger master-strawman-makers will work cereal magic out of what I've just said, but the fact is my commitment to humanity far exhausts my commitment to America, even the American ideal and the orthogonal series—though I must say, I believe the health of the human body politic is dissolved in a big bottle of Enlightenment ideals, besides others, though I'll abandon that position if I'm shown conclusively to be wrong.)
Saturday, December 18, 2004
  Joseph Farah of WorldNetDaily finds it odd that no one listening to his radio show will defend evolution. Given he writes for WorldNetDaily, I'm surprised even I found the link—Farah's mock surprise is akin to Ann Coulter asking her readers: does anyone here really, really like this Clinton guy? and getting only silence.
Friday, December 17, 2004
  I like it when economists like Atrios get so riled up that they'll say:
I want to add that while any mandatory private savings plan is, to me, an abominably bad idea, whether it's just "abominable" or "super nuclear fuck abominable" will depend a great deal on the details of said plan.
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
  NPR is my favorite non-internet source of news because hosts like Alex Chadwick when they have on Grover Norquist will
  1. ask if there's really a chance for flat tax reform in a country with almost a century of progressive taxation and a lot of people who kinda sorta really do like it; and
  2. will also point out—interrupting, if necessary—that the limp thing Norquist calls the death tax is actually officially known as the inheritance tax.
Which is not to say that on—e.g.—CNN he wouldn't get the same reception. Which is why I'll say it explicitly: on, e.g., CNN Norquist would not be received the same way. I surmise that on FOX News he would have been provided with a colorful thesaurus with which to continue to rename the inheritance tax to maximize public revulsion. But that's just me being snarky.

The current faddish meme concerning the spinelessness of corporate news media has prompted me to wonder if the same hasn't been at least cyclically true since its advent—which is ultimately irrelevant to moral judgments about same and opinions as to whether correcting this is a worthy goal, it has to be said.

Corporations are organizations magically endowed with "personhood," a legal definition I in my naïve medical school shroud will leave sufficiently vague. But those corporations which aren't, for instance, simply pragmatically created out of small businesses to shield their owners from liability, and so we're chiefly talking about large corporate entities—multinationals, big industry groups, companies that generally because of the risk of liability and the problem of capital owe their size to incorporation—we might start to understand them a bit as complex systems rather than single entities, just as an understanding of humans is enriched by study of its complex structures and feedback loops.

So one of the things we can do is examine the feedback loops. The most obvious one is that of shareholder-board-CEO and the connections it has with share price, company value, etc. The understands that in the current Wall Street climate, many corporations act in such a way as to maximize short-term gains in stock price, sometimes even at odds with long-term value. That is of course a function of shareholder values, corporate bylaws (insofar as the electoral rights shareholders possess), and executive accountability. So the range of effects from this simple loop can be quite variable; Google being an example of a company which has chosen to sharply inhibit the effects of shareholder input through diluted voting rights in its IPO stock, which the Scrip has to say has been validated by investors buying into the stock. But of course many companies take the opposite route, and we'll superciliously name SCO as one which has essentially staked the entire company on a court case against IBM—although, of course, SCO hopes to make money selling licenses to the intellectual property it says Linux users infringe, chiefly the only hope for revenue it entertains is litigious.

Another loop involves the market. Every company has customers. So there are interactions between aggregate demand, competitors, and branding. Corporations may be induced to behave in certain ways to maximize customer loyalty, or to boost its image among potential customers. Grand-schemedly, both ethical and unethical behavior can come of this—apropos of energy companies, for instance, an entity might grant money in exchange for publicity to various environmental causes, winning loyalty from green consumers, while simultaneously lobbying for access to protected areas for oil drilling, which in the long run could benefit price-conscious consumers by providing low-cost fuel.

The Scrip's politics hopefully perforated that last paragraph.

Interactions between corporate entities and regulatory bodies constitute another major loop. Political power is both sought and in some instances wielded, especially by larger corporations. At the same time, political power itself is diffuse, and nominally in the hands of what I hate to call THE PEOPLE, but which is, essentially, the governed/governing society. Their proxies, the legislators, officials, judges, etc., are more easily courted, and often are; but ultimately even crooked politicians will need a modicum of popular support, and so much is spent in political marketing, both on behalf of the issue the corporation cares about, and on behalf of patron politicians to maintain their offices.

Of course, political pressures flow in the opposite direction as well, as the example of tobacco companies illustrates well. The Scrip's point in this fractured diatribe is not to point to linear pathways, but to show that a variety of inputs really drive corporate behavior.

There are institutional paths of control which arise from the fact that it's people—flesh-and-blood human beings—that ultimately formulate and carry out the actions of the corporation. CEOs may be more or less psychotic; vice-presidents more or less inept; middle managers of widely divergent degrees of intelligence; accountants of more or less malleable integrity; employees more or less belonging to the Chordata; whistleblowers with random shrillness; and so on.

I'm sure there are many other paths of control, as well, and a dedicated complex systems analyst, which the Scrip is not, would exhaust his keyboard on them. In brief, I can think of:
Some of these are inner loops of one or more of the main ones mentioned previously. But the loops are only useful to talk about in terms of their interactions, anyway. CEOs, hired by boards, act in such a way (usually) to ensure their continued employment by placating the board, and by proxy the shareholders, which can involve placating customers and overcoming regulatory hurdles while appeasing political interest groups, but at the risk of infuriating political groups, alienating potential customers, being undersold or acquired by the competition, and sending stock prices into the tank. Plus, they may be megalomaniacal, or good corporate citizens, or simply have dreamed of running a company in some idealized way, or whatever.

But what the Scrip hopes is obvious is not the extent of the loops, nor of their interactions, but that nowhere is any sense of a corporate conscience expressed, nor any standard at all, save for those dynamic equilibria to which all the feedback loops together contribute.

I suppose this is actually obvious. But it helps to understand that in talking about the spinelessness of the media, we're not simply talking about
but instead we're talking about entities which are driven by a number of inputs, including institutional narratives about journalistic standards, the realities of consumption, pressure from successful competition, and in the drive for success also fighting for access, positioning narratives according to popularity, and also to some extent effecting news in their corporate machinations.

So—basically, if we judge it the public's interest to receive the best news possible, and we define good news as being
well then corporate newsmedia, while they may provide very good or in some cases the best news, are by no means set up to do so, or are even optimally configured for such. They are set up to effect an equilibrium between the many different input-output channels, and this can be manifested anywhere along the actual news quality curve. Really bad news outlets generally will tend to do more poorly in terms of ratings, and hence in stock value, but there are mitigating circumstances, and bad or mediocre news outlets that identify a specific audience that favors their message can be quite successful, if only in their specific niche.
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