Kilroy Was Here
May 29, 2002
Long Live the Death Tax
In the American Prospect, William Gates writes passionately in favor of an inheritance tax among our most wealthy citizens (TAP: Vol 13, Iss. 11. Tax the Wealthy. William H. Gates Sr. and Chuck Collins.). Once again, the wealthiest citizens of our country, those who have benefited most from our system of government, have the most virulent hatred of that same governement. In lobbying to repeal the inheritance tax, right wing politicians not only sabotage the effectiveness of our government by withdrawing the much of the resources necessary to effectively run our government, but also undermine the very notions of democarcy and free enterprise by creating an inherited aristocracy of wealth.
Much like the corprate deseters I wrote about on May 14th, this new aristocracy is looking to abandon obligations to their country in the name of personal greed. They conflate civic duty to bear their fair share of supporting our public institutions with "punishment". They minimize or completely disregard the impact of not only our governmental institutions on maintaining and increasing their wealth, but also of the countless number of employees and small investors who provided labor and capital to insure their wealth.
Do not let their arrogance stand. Write your congressman to vote against repeal of the death tax.
- Responsible Wealth - An organization of wealthy people who realize their civic responsibility. You can Take Action Now against repealing the death tax from this site.
- Phil Gramms Policy Page on the Death Tax - Over simplification and obfuscation personified. Doesn't this man have any dignity at all? How can he serve in public institutions when he hates them so much?
- The Death Tax Home Page - Conservative attempt to justify the death tax.
May 28, 2002
It's beginning to hit me that I am middle-aged. It's also beginning to hit me that I'm very uncomfortable with it.
I've always envisioned myself as the prodigy. The good student. Even when I haven't been naturally good at something, when I've had to work very hard to achieve a journeyman's competence, with little or no hope of anything more, I've always envisioned myself as the natural. To me, the greatest compliment has always been, "You've only been doing this for how long? That's unbelievable."
But it's beginning to hit me that the Prodigy suit doesn't hang so well on a 34 year-old software executive. That I will never be called great at anything new I attempt (Brazillian Jiu Jitsu, or golf, writing a novel, etc.) I don't know if I have enough time anymore.
And now I'm beginning to look at a new suit of clothes to wear. I just don't know what that will be yet.
May 24, 2002
Better Living Through Neuroscience
With the proliferatuion of mood or behavior changing drugs being prescribed (e.g. Prozac or Ritalin), the economist argues that neuroscience is a greater ethical risk than genetics. Unfortunately, according to the Economist, the religious right's focus on genetics and abortion completely overshadows any debate on the ethics of neuroscience.
Interestingly enough, the ethical worry of the Economist's regarding neuroscience and the ethical worry of the right regarding genetics and abortion focus on opposite ends of the question of the essence of humanity.
The Economist takes a traditional materialistic approach to the question of humanity, identifying selfhood with the workings of the brain. From the article cited above:
"A person's genetic make-up certainly has something important to do with his subsequent behaviour. But genes exert their effects through the brain."
The religious right, on the other hand, tends to have a more dualistic notion of selfhood, identifying the essence of humanity with something separate from the physical, usually identifying it with a "soul" (or codewords, "potentiality").
You can quickly evaluate how much these two views of humanity are in conflict by looking at this neuroscience vs. genetics/abortion debate. Though there may be similar conclusions regarding sociedty's approaches to these new technologies, their reasoning will be profoundly different.
Lawyers turn a hungry eye towards fast food.
On Wednesday, May 22nd, I wrote a little blurb about fast food companies and how they could find themselves on the wrong side of a lawsuit. Salon Magazine writes a detailed article on the possibilities of a lawsuit (Salon.com Technology | Can we sue our own fat asses off?).
If obesity is becoming a huge problem, I suggest that the United States legislate better nutritional informaiton on fast food products. Nutritional information should be placed directly on the wrappers, bags, and boxes surrounding our pizza, hamburgers, and tacos.
And not just the simple 1200 calories, 23 grams of fat. I'm talking about information that will make sense to every person out there. Something along the lines of the following:
"The Big Mac Super Size Meal with a diet soda has 1800 calories and 28 grams of fat. This is 90% of a 6 foot man's total recommended calorie intake in order to maintain his weight, and 250% of recommended fat intake."
Calories information, in and of itself, does not provide enough information to make a decision about what to eat. In order to make good financial decisions, you need to know both the cost of an item and how much money you have to spend. Similarly, in order to make good nutritional information, you need to know the calorie cost of a product and how much this will eat into your daily calorie budget.
Since fast food companies aren't going to do this for you, you should begin to arm yourself with this informaiton. Over the next few weeks, I'll help you out here.
May 23, 2002
As Good as Magazines Can Get
Last night, I couldn't sleep. Around 11, the pump in my garden pond began to squeal in the same way as my 1976 Oldsmobile did in high school when it needed new belts. Around 12:30, a racoon invaded the back yard, turning over buckets in search of cat food. At 1:30 it got too hot. At 2:30, it was too cold. Around 2:45, I gave up the race and let insomnia catch me.
I'm glad insomnia caught me last night. Because it gave me a chance to read through the June 2002 issue of Harper's magazine. An issue which, like certain albums of my youth, had so many good pieces in it that I had a hard time picking out one to share with you.
Unfortunately, the articles in the June issue of Haper's aren't online, so I can't link the essays or letters for you. I can't link to Lewis H. Lapham's wonderful editorial on Nicolo Machiavelli, the current state of the war on terrorism, and the "morality of the city" vs. the "morality of the soul".
I can't link to Annie Dillard's great essay on pragmatism and Truth called This Is The Life, so you can't experience the build up to the wonderful last lines: "Say you have seen something. You have seen an ordinary bit of what is real, the infinite fabric of time that eternity shoots through, and time's-soft-skinned people working and dying under slowly shifting stars. Then what?"
I can't find the eulogy that Reverend Doctor Duncan E. Littlefair delivered on January 13th, 1947 on behalf of Arthur Anderson, founder of Arthur Anderson & Co, so you can't fully appreciate the irony in the lines "I am sure he would rather the doors be closed than that [his company] should continue to exist on principles other than those that he established. He left a great name. Your opportunity is tremendous; your responsibilty is great."
I can't introduce you to Sarah L. Courteau's beautiful portrait of her mother, the farmer's wife, who knows when animals must be killed, but still feels the killing, and weeps for Chicken 81.
I can't celebrate with you Rich Cohen's admiration for the glory of the aged athlete who, rather than going out on top, drinks every last drop from the game that has been his life.
I can't share any of this with you here. But I can recommend that you find the June 2002 issue of Harper's for yourself and experience these things first hand.
So, go and find this magazine. And then tell me what you think.
TV is better than you think
My favorite show on television is Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy, seems to push the limits of television, as well as explore several complex human situations under the guise of a comic book heroine protecting the citizins of Sunnydale from vampires, demons, and other hellspawn beasties.
Last Tuesday, I saw the season finale of Buffy (Salon.com Arts & Entertainment | Willow, destroyer of worlds) and once again I was impressed.
Shows like Buffy, The Shield, The Sopranos, This West Wing, etc., prove to me that the great new artform in human existence is the television series.
New art forms revolve around space. Initially, poems and songs were the first art forms. The space they encompased was what a singler persons spoken word could provide. Homer would recite The Iliad, each book taking a night, the space of his story constrained to the imagination of his viewer and the glow from the fire.
Then, the space grew to the size of thte stage. Multiple voices blending together to create something new, to teach humans something more about the world.
In the last few centuries, the novel and the film expanded the space of art even farther, allowing us to see human interactions across time and setting, to listen in depth to internal dialogues.
But no art form has had the breadth of space of the televison series. A story that evloves over years, that involves over years, that can take hundreds of hours to ingest. Not to mention the anticipation and imagination that ensnares a series fan. In the last decade of the twentieth century and in the first decade of the twenty-first, we may be seeing the height of creativity in our new artform. Joss Whedon, David Chase, Shawn Ryan - these names may be to the future what Henry James and Jane Austen are to us now.
New Giants may be walking the earth. Just a remote away.
May 22, 2002
The Perils of Pizza
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) , also known as the "food police" has recently released an expose on pizza that's quite frightening to any of us who are trying to watch our weight.
For example, the two slices Pizza Hut Big New Yorker Sausage Pizza weighs in at a hefty 1140 calories, 3240 mg of sodium, and 66 grams of fat! That''s as much as a T-bone steak dinner with salad and a baked potato. To think that in my heavier days I used to eat a whole one of these by myself boggles my mind!
This is another example of how fast food is killing us. Obesity is rapidly climbing the charts in cause of death in America, and he McDonalds, Pizza Huts, etc. of the world need to take a good hard look in the mirror for the cause. Fast food companies have always made cost, convenience, and taste priorities in developing their product. They need to take some social responsibility and add nutrition to that mix.
Otherwise, in 15 years, fast food companies my find themselves on the wrong side of a tobacco style lawsuit.
Not to mention that it's the right thing to do.
May 21, 2002
Kilroy's Book Club: A New Kind of Science
I just got Stephen Wolfram's A New Kind of Science from Amazon.com. I didn't realize how huge the book was going to be! Jeez, it has over 350 pages of footnotes! The book itself is approximately 1200 pages long!
Let me tell you why the book caught my eye. From the bookflap:
"This long-awaited work from one of the world's most respected scientists presents a series of dramatic discoveries never before made public. Starting from a collection of simple computer experiments--illustrated in this book by striking computer graphics--Stephen Wolfram shows how their unexpected results force a whole new way of looking at the operation of our universe."
This sounded really cool to me. As those of you who've been reading my blog might know, I love this type of thing. Simple simulations providing unexpected results.
But 1200 pages worth? God.
So, in a attempt to help me get through it, I'll be posting Chapter by Chapter summaries on Kilroy Was Here. Plus, I'll post questions and thoughts as I find them.
Feel free to join in the discussion.
A New Face to the "Blogosphere"
Eric Alterman: Altercation has just gone online, and so far, I like it. He seems to be a good addition to the blogging community. (However, I'm a newbie blogger, so what the hell do I know?)
Lies, Damn Lies, etc.
Commemorating Stephen Jay Gould's death, here is a link to one of his more famous essays.
CancerGuide: Stephen Jay Gould's "The Median Isn't the Message"
The Fatherhood blog - Essential reading
Michael Lewis has been posting his insights on new fatherhood on Slate. These articles are great and insightful. The latest one, Infanticide to Infatuation - Why daddies don't kill their babies, looks into how father-love develops.
Maternal love seems to be genetic. But not necessarily so with paternal love.
While all humans seemed to genetically dispelled to protect things that look like infants (hence the preponderence of cats in as pets), Michael Lewis points out two things that might provoke parternal love.
The first has been discussed before (by people like Robert Wright in his book The Moral Animal). Women tend to select men who will be good fathers.
The second is something that Lewis himself brings up. Based on Lewis's observation, I think that women are genetically predisposed to market their babies to their husbands (and perhaps family and friends). This only makes sense in the nartural selection way. Women who have a predisposition and an ability to market their babies well will be more likely to have a husband that will love the baby. If fathers love their babies, babies are more likely to survive, passing on the mother's genes. Similarly, if friends and other family members love the baby, the baby has an even greater chance to survive.
Note that this strategy is not necessary for fathers. Since fathers can technically procreate at a much higher rate than mothers, fathers could abandon babies for a lot of other women and still have a good chance of having their babies survive to adulthood and passing their genes along.
I'd encourage everyone to go through and read other of Lewis's fatherhood chronicles. They are very insightful and honest. I really appreciate the courage Lewis shows in honestly and deeply questioning the fundamental notions of fathers and parents
Other Dad Again Articles
- Driving Miss Talulah - May 7th, 2002
- The Way We Live Now - April 29th, 2002
- Sister Trouble - April 22nd, 2002
- The Final Push - April 15th, 2002
Entrepreneurship Is Fun. Then There's the Day Job.
Currently, one of my life long goals is to start a company, so I tend to bookmark anything that might relate to that.
This little weblog is becoming a kind of thought-catcher for me. When I find interesting ideas or have interesting thoughts, I'll put it down here.
I don't expect a ton of people to be interested in this stuff, but it's nice to have a journal (plus it fulfills one of my New Year's resolutions).
Anyway, here's a link to NY Times article on starting a business and keeping your dayjob.
Entrepreneurship Is Fun. Then There's the Day Job.
May 20, 2002
Stephen Jay Gould, Biologist and Theorist on Evolution, Dies at 60
The man who sparked my love of science has died. When I was 20 years old, in junior college, I read an essay by Stephen Jay Gould in my English class on the ichneumeon fly. That one small essay opened my mind and sparked my imagination surrounding science. I use the skepticism and experimental method in my every day life. Even though I am not a professional scientist, my love of the scientific has enriched my life.
It would not have been so without Stephen Jay Gould and his essays. Though his scientific work is hotly debated, his ability to communicate science to the mass audience and to inspire us will make him one of the greatest scholars of the last century.
Thank you, Dr. Gould.
Kilroy's Book Club: If Looks Could Kill by Kate White (2 stars)
Cat Jones, editor-in-chief of the Cosmo-esque Gloss magazine, goes to confront her nanny early one Sunday morning, and when she doesn't get a response to the live in apartment, who does she call? No, not the police, or her husband. Cat calls Bailey Weggins, friend and freelance crime journalist at Gloss magazine.
When Bailey enters the nanny's apartment, she finds the 22-year old stunning nanny dead. And Cat, always the editor-in-chief, assigns Baily to mirror the police investigation and determine what is going on.
When I read the pre-releases for IF LOOKS COULD KILL ("Bridget Jones Meets Nancy Drew") I thought it sounded like a fun book. I've enjoyed good mysteries (such as THE ALPHABET MYSTERY SERIES by Sue Grafton) and I liked THE NANNY DIARIES, so I thought a marriage between the two would be fun.
Unfortunately, we get a fairly standard mystery, and somewhat pedestrian plotting.
Bailey Weggins is supposed to be observant, beseeched by her friend Cat to involve herself in this mystery because of her unique way of looking at things. Mostly, Bailey looks at clothes. Every character is first described by what they're wearing.
Bailey is also into good food. Each chapter has her hankering after a good penne putenesca or a fine rissoto. I almost expect for the recipes and restaurant reviews to be included as an appendix.
Also, the motivations of the main characters here are somewhat forced. Why does Cat choose Bailey, of all people, to help her out with this? When Bailey senses herself in danger, why doesn't she just beg off somehow?
All in all, this was a disappointing entry into what will probably turn out to be a fairly average mystery series. If you like mysteries in general, or if you are really in to behind the scenes glimpses of glamour magazines, then this book is for you.
Otherwise, take a look at some of the other beach reading out there.
Kilroy's Rating System:
5 stars - Loved it, and kept it on my bookshelf.
4 stars - Liked it, and gave it to a friend.
3 stars - OK, finished it and gave it to the library.
2 stars - Not good, finished it, but felt guilty and/or cheated by it.
1 star - I want my hour back! Didn't finish the book.
May 19, 2002
Modern Day Houdini? Probably Not
I know this women who loves magicians. She finds something sexy about them. She professed a crush on David Copperfield when she was a girl. I've taken her to see Penn and Teller. But no one gets under her skin like David Blaine: Street Magician.
As a result, I've seen most of David Blaine's television specials. His street magic special where he levitates. His special where he freezes himself in a block of ice. All of them.
Personally, I don't get it. I mean, his magic is entertaining enough, but this deadpan mumbling, this cast as modern-day messiah, this belief in magic as able to transform or uplift or enlighten, it rings untrue to me.
One other thing that always grated about Blaine was his seemingly unhealthy obsession with celebrity. It doesn't seem enough for Blaine to be friends with Leonaro DeCaprio, he needs for everyone else to know that he's friends with Leo.
In the New York Times Magazine, Glen David Gold writes a good overview of David Blaine in his article Making a Spectacle of Himself. Gold tends to confirm the view that I got of Blaine.
However, after reading the article, I couldn't help but wish that I had the same sort of skill that Blaine and his brethren had. I wish I could fool people into thinking I was reading their mind.
Time to peruse the The Beginner's Guide to Magic.
May 18, 2002
In order to argue well, you have to learn and avoid the conversational cheap shots.
Hey, Remember All That Anthrax?
The following is clipped from Science Magazine's Netwatch
Who did it? And did he or she act alone? Those and other questions are still unanswered by the federal investigation into the 7-month-old anthrax outbreak. But on the Web, sleuthing and speculation are rife.
The most talked-about site is maintained by Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, who heads the Federation of American Scientists' Chemical and Biological Arms Control Program. The FBI is dragging its feet, Rosenberg concludes in her elaborate analysis, perhaps because the perpetrator is a government insider who knows too much. Making sense of hundreds of disparate clues is also why Ed Lake, a retired computer systems analyst in Racine, Wisconsin, decided to start an anthrax Web site. Lake speculates that there were two perpetrators, a "supplier" and a "refiner/mailer," and offers his psychological profiles of each.
What may appear to be photocopy stains on copies of the anthrax letters are, after some digital processing, actually images ("Two skull caricatures with shared eye") that could offer valuable clues, according to another, apparently serious site. Meanwhile, under the flag-draped logo of the FBI's own site, wannabe sleuths will find a profile of the criminal and interviews with FBI officials. Perhaps tellingly, the last update here is 4 months old.
Also, This American Life - The World's Greatest Radio Show had a segment on a reporter turning in an anthrax letters suspect in their Naming Names themed show. It's quite funny and thought provoking.
May 17, 2002
Everyone else has linked it
So why shouldn't I? Here's a delicious dish of sarcastic wisdom. I present, for your entertainment, All I Really Need to Know I Learned By Having My Arms Ripped Off By a Polar Bear
Deconstructing Star Wars
In a great article in the Weekly Standard, Johnathan Last analyzes the political structure of the Star Wars universe and concludes that the Evil Empire might not have been so evil after all.
Are You, or Have You Ever Been, a Terrorist
In July 2000, Andrew McCovey, CEO of Monster.com, founded American's for Gun Safety, a moderate group trying to link responsibility to the liberty guarenteed under the Second Amendment through the passage of sensible gun laws. Of course, the NRA can't stand any sort of dissension, and, in the wake of 9/11, compared Andrew McCovey to Osama Bin Laden.
Interestingly enough, executive vice-president of the NRA Wayne LaPierre's rant concluded "That's political terrorism. That's political terrorism, and it's a far greater threat to your freedom than any foreign force."
Thus, Bush's "War on A Vague, Poorly Defined, Emotionally Charged Word" begins to bear fruit. The radical right, both in the United States and in Israel, will cry "terrorism" whenever their political opposition disagrees with them. In America, we have seen this same word in different guise before. But at that time it was crazy Senator using the word "Communism" to justify his own unethical actions.
- Defining Terrorism by Micahel Kinsey
- What is Terrorism Continued by Michael Kinsley
- Origin of the Word Terrorism - Interestingly enough, terrorism first described actions of a government against its citizenry. Now, it seems to be defined more as non-governmental organizations actions against a government.
May 16, 2002
Spin and Anti-Spin: Suicide Bombers
In this month's Atlantic, David Brooks details the culture of the suicide bomber in the Middle East. Brooks details what can only be described as a mass marketing campaign aimed at glamorizing the Suicide Bomber in Arab culture.
"It is certainly the case that vast segments of Palestinian culture have been given over to the creation and nurturing of suicide bombers. Martyrdom has replaced Palestinian independence as the main focus of the Arab media. Suicide bombing is, after all, perfectly suited to the television age. The bombers' farewell videos provide compelling footage, as do the interviews with families. The bombings themselves produce graphic images of body parts and devastated buildings. Then there are the "weddings" between the martyrs and dark-eyed virgins in paradise (announcements that read like wedding invitations are printed in local newspapers so that friends and neighbors can join in the festivities), the marches and celebrations after each attack, and the displays of things bought with the cash rewards to the families. Woven together, these images make gripping packages that can be aired again and again"
At the end of this article, Brooks laments, "It's hard to know how Israel, and the world, should respond to the rash of suicide bombings and to their embrace by the Palestinian people." I can offer one suggestion. We need to go on a massive marketing campaign of our own. Our message: Suicide bombers are not martyrs but manipulated. The Islamic-elite is perverting Islam and martyrdom to line their own pockets and achieve petty political ends.
Surely the country of Madison Avenue and Coca-Cola, where McDonald's reigns even in Cairo, can effectively market this message.
Game Theory and the Middle East
I love game theory. Like the scientific method or John Rawls's Theory of Justice, I love how you can set up a system with simple rules and reveal deep insight into complex issues. With that in mind, I'll try to post a few links on game theory and related topics and the Middle East situation:
- Both Sides Now By Robert Wright - Robert Wright, author of Non-Zero and unabashed advocate of applying game theory solutions to real-world problems, details 5 possible reasons for the seemingly irrational escalation of violence in the Middle East and how game theory might indicate that peace is around the corner.
- Francis Su's Fair Division Page - A pretty good introduction to "envy-free" solutions to common problems.
May 15, 2002
Crimes Against Humanity?
With the rise of the number of people imprisoned, there has been a rise in the number of articles, books, memoirs, and novels detailing experiences with our criminal justice system. Here are but a few to get started.
- Your Lyin' Eyes - What to do about eyewitnesses who get it wrong. By Steve Chapman - A good overview on the fallibility of eyewitness testimony.
- The Talented Mr. Lerner - The New York Times Book Review by David D. Kirkpatrick of the book You Got Nothing Coming by Jimmy Lerner. You'll have to pay for the article, but it's a great read. In particular, it debunks the 'heroic' Lerner by getting to the actual details of his crime.
- Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing - An inside look into the life of a prison guard. The journalist Ted Conover went undercover and served as a correctional officer for a year at New York's toughest prison. You can hear an interview with Conover on NPR's Fresh Air.
- The God File by Frank Turner Holton - A novel about a man sent to prison for life for a crime he didn't commit. From a customer review on this page:
"The prison genre has often been used in novels, memoirs, and film as a stripped-down, bare-bones symbol of an uncaring, overpowering, and alien universe and humanity's reaction to it. Frank Turner Hollon's THE GOD FILE is a fresh and compelling addition to that tradition."
As I come across more links, I'll post them here.
Middle East Mess
I'm sure a million other people are following the Middle East conflict as well. Here are some of the links that I've found on the subject.
- Nine Wars Too Many - Thomas Friedman is one of the most prolific (and more clear) commentators on the current situation in the Middle East. Here's is article detailing the "10 wars" he sees going on in the Middle East.
- Ending the Death Dance - Richard Falk's three part article on the Middle East from the Nation.
May 14, 2002
Corporate Desertion in the Face of the Enemy
I will no longer buy any tool from Stanley Works. In a time of national emergency, Stanley Works is re-incorporating in Bermuda, primarily to avoid taxes in the United States. Regardless of whether or not you think taxes are fair or unfair, the proper way for a company based in the United States to act is to attempt to change the law.
I will not shirk my duty during the United States national emergency. I will not assist Stanley Works in shirking its duty.
I would highly encourage you to do likewise.
- The Stanley Works Justification for Re-Incorporating in Bermuda
- The Great Evasion - Paul Krugman's NY Times Editorial on these Corporate Deserters.
- Putting profits over patriotism - Robert McIntyre's article in the American Prospect regarding these corporate deserters.
Here's a list of American companies that I have found out have reincorporated in other companies solely to avoid taxes. Contact them and tell them what you think.
As I find more Corporate Deserters, I'll list them here.
The Wonders of Artificial Societies
For a long time, I have been intrigued by systems and simulations--reductions of human behavior and societies into a set of simple, subconscious rules. Unlike many people, I have little faith in reason. I believe that the sources of our behavior are beyond our conscious control and that the ethereal notions of "judgement" or "motivation" are optical illusions of the mind.
Or, as the British scientist J. B. S. Haldrane put it: 'I have come to the conclusion that my subjective account of my own motivation is largely mythical on almost all occasions. I don't know why I do things.'
So, I've collected a list of articles and books that examine this point more closely. As I come across more interesting expansions of this idea, I'll continue to post them here.
- Civilization and It's Discontents by Garret Epps - A look into the philosophical and sociological implications of the computer game Civilization III
- Seeing Around Corners by Johnathon Rauch - An overview of work done in artificial society research. One interesting thing to note here is the genocide simulations.
- The Logic of Failure by Dietrich Dorner - A great book that uses computer simulations to illustrate the inadequacies of human being's "common sense" approaches to problems.
That's a good start. I'll post more when I get a chance.