Saturday, February 23, 2008

Shame On You!

Clinton Unloads on Obama's 'Destructive' Tactics - WaPo

So Sen. Clinton has decided to go on the attack about health-care a week before a debate on a network her campaign claims is against her. Also she decides to call out Sen. Obama on campaign tactics, thus opening up the debate to questions about her desire to seat the Michigan and Florida delegates along with her attempts to persuade the super (or automatic if you prefer) delegates to override the popular sentiment of the public thus far. Oh, and she complains about how Sen. Obama is able to draw large crowds. See for yourself and think it over.

Personally, I see a Senator losing her shit on national tv over ads that have been in circulation for a while now. I'm puzzled though. Why now? And why in this way? The video makes her look angry and verging on unhinged. Why bring up campaign tactics when her campaign has made the biggest missteps so far and has used far more underhanded tactics? Why attempt to force an entire debate on the one issue she has some seriousness about, health-care, when the moderators aren't going to let her do that. Unless she plans on taking over the debate and looking even more unhinged in the process, she will have to calmly detail where Sen. Obama is wrong and how. Moreover, she will have to rile Sen. Obama up to make him look like an angry black man, but thus far he has taken the hits with a cool sense of confidence and an air of wisdom about him. The soundbite lines Sen. Clinton has thrown out have all fallen flat while Sen. Obama continues to produce speeches that pull on the best of past speakers and his own sense of good rhetoric. The Hillary Clinton I saw today differs vastly from the calm and sensible Hillary Clinton of this past Thursday's debate. It's as if no one in her campaign told her about the fliers until today. Very strange.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Austin Debate, pt. 6,973

So the quick consensus is that the debate wasn't a knock-out for either candidate but that Sen. Obama still won since he made no major blunders. For some reason though, the common wisdom is that the defining moment of the night was Sen. Clinton's closing remarks, in which she nearly verged on tears. Some say she was showing genuine emotion while others say that she recognizes the position she is in and will place party over her own ambitions to concede the race to Sen. Obama. Somehow I don't think that's the moment most people will remember. I think her stupid science lab experiment of a line about Xeroxed speeches will resonate more. I believe Sen. Clinton was soundly beaten and showed it in several different ways. The first was that idiotic poll-tested line and then her ignoring the question of a Latino so she could continue talking about health-care and ending with her overly sentimental closing statement. She didn't look presidential nor did she act like one. Sen. Obama didn't knock her out, she did it to herself, and if the CW is right, Sen. Clinton knows that she will remain a Senator.

Best Live-Blogging Quote

9:24 PM — There is definitely a healthy breeze onstage, as evidenced by Obama’s flapping notepad. Maybe it is the radiance of Hillary’s hate.
- From the Wonkette

Spot the Price

Currencies and Commodities @ NYT 4:00PM CST

Watch me bitch about metal prices for a moment. Let me just say tha $940 for a troy ounce of gold is fucking ridiculous. And $2,100 for a troy ounce of platinum? My god, who is buying all of this? It can't all go to computer parts and catalytic converters. If you want a sign that the economy is shaky just keep your eye on the spot prices for precious metals. Three years ago a troy ounce of gold fetched around $350 to $400. Fucking ridiculous.

A Diamond for Vandels

Weaponized Diamond Engagement Ring - Cory Doctorow @ BoingBoing

Now that is cool, but not surprising considering how hard a diamond is. But what I think people don't realize that if you hit a diamond in just the right way, you can shatter it. So while this might look cool, it's impractical and actually dangerous to the stone. There's a reason why the old European cuts have a dot in the center when you look at the stone from the very top; people were afraid of breaking that point, the culet, off.

North American Scum

Okay, before we all forget about the Michelle Obama gaff in light of Sen. McCain's lobbyist problems I wanted to mention a couple of things. Now remember, I'm a supporter of Sen. Obama so go into reading this with that bias in mind. Even so, I do believe it was a gaff as a statement that she should have couched far more carefully than she did. I can understand the reasoning behind it, for the last twenty years of politics in America there have been few opportunities to feel proud of one's country. Love of country is one thing but we aren't always proud of our country, just as we aren't always proud of the people we love. But sometimes moments, events, history happens that make us stop and realize how good being an American feels.
I remember feeling a sense of pride after 9/11 when, for a brief moment we had a shared purpose, a real sense of unity, even if that unity was brought about by fear. But my experience of America is limited as my consciousness of the world didn't take shape until I was nearly in my teens in the early 90s. So I went through all of the Clinton years and the Bush years with few moments to find pride in my country. I can see Michelle Obama suffering from the same lack of pride as I did. Conversely, I can see Mrs. Obama as feeling an overwhelming sense of priding in watching a black man, her husband, have a genuine chance of becoming the president of the United States. Now if that doesn't make you feel damn proud then you obviously have a skewed sense of what pride for this country means.
As far as gaffs go however, I don't believe this is a serious one. Moreover, in a campaign so well run, this is the first mistake that even rises to the level of a gaff. Yes, some people are offended, but in general they are the same people who wouldn't have voted for Sen. Obama anyway. The damage done to the Obama campaign is at best minimal. It comes across as the same hullabaloo that Sen. Obama caused when he explained why he doesn't wear an American flag lapel pin; he's an American damnit, he doesn't need to advertise.
I think the best way of framing Michelle Obama's words are through LCD Soundsystem's song "North American Scum". Yeah, sure, Europeans look down on us, but this is our country and we love it, warts and all.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ill Communication

No blogging tonight. I'm crawling into bed to listen to another rehash of a new mix tape. I hope she likes it.

Weirdo Rippers

Listening to No Age. Can I haz some more?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Your Lying Eyes

How Believing Can Be Seeing: Context Dictates What We Believe We See - Science Daily

It only makes sense that context would provide meaning for what we see. I remember watching part of the mediocre movie "What the Bleep Do We Know" and learning about how the natives in America at first couldn't see Columbus' ships or Umberto Eco's description of native American's first experience with armored men on horses and how the natives believed the horse and the man to be one creature. When we see things that are outside of our contextual background, our minds attempt to take up the slack by interpreting the visual into something that makes sense or, in the case of the unseen ships of Columbus, completely block it from our sensory experience. Simply put, the neurons of perception are firing but they have nothing to connect to, nowhere to go.
It's a matter of how our minds categorize the world. Before the rise of Gothic literature in the 19th century, many of our fears about science overtaking man or the idea of playing God remained undefined and outside of our experience. Once Gothic literature came about we had a reference point from which to expand our experience and make the subconsciously frightening something less fearsome. Once we can put something into words, into language, can we examine it in a logical fashion. But that which remains outside of our logical realm are either ignored or unconsciously feared.


Being of the academic mindset I tend to favor the citation of another author's work in one's own work. But the tempest in a tea pot that the Clinton campaign is making over Sen. Obama's speeches and his sharing of lines between him and Gov. Deval Patrick does not seem to rise to the charge of plagiarism. It's common practice among public speakers to use words and rhetoric from others to bolster their own speeches. And with the case of Gov. Patrick, it seems that not only has the governor given Sen. Obama his consent to use some lines of his speeches, but Gov. Patrick himself has used lines from Sen. Obama's speeches as well. Yes, perhaps Sen. Obama should preface the use of those lines with where he got them from but as long as he isn't, ala Joe Biden, lifting entire speeches without giving due credit then it's not plagiarism, it's recognizing good speechwriting that dove-tails into one's own ideas. If what Sen. Obama does is plagiarism then every time he uses Biblical references, or calls on the rhetoric of MLK or any other civil rights leader then every politician is guilty of plagiarism. Particularly in this instance, there's a case to be made that the Clinton campaign has lifted an idea from the Obama campaign when they altered the rally chant of 'Yes We Can' to 'Yes She Can' for their own purposes. To say that what Sen. Obama has done is plagiarism and what their own campaign has done isn't seems far-fetched, to say the least.
Now when it comes to Sen. Obama's backing away from public financing for the general election, one has to remember that his pledge was predicated on Sen. McCain being the nominee for the Republican party and then negotiating out what is acceptable and what is not. Since Sen. McCain is already gaming the public finance system somewhat, I'm not sure that Sen. Obama should be held to that pledge. Such a pledge requires the assent of both parties and both parties acting in good faith. Thus, with Sen. McCain using the public financing angle to secure a loan pre-general election, I think Sen. Obama is allowed to eschew his pledge in the face of bad faith action by the other party. Moreover, I think the way Sen. Obama has raised the sort of money he needs for a general election run is vital for the Democratic party in terms of future elections. By not relying on large contributors but instead on a widely distributed network of small donations, Sen. Obama has built a campaign financing system that not only will serve other Democrats running for election in the future, but also avoids the pitfalls of taking large donations from vested interests, the kind of interests Sen. Obama has spoken out against time and time again. So once more I see the Clinton campaign attempting to make something out of relatively nothing. It's desperation on the part of Sen. Clinton and while the supporters of Sen. Clinton will argue that Sen. Obama is no better than the rest, the supporters or independents leaning his way will see that he hasn't done anything morally wrong.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Searchable Clusters

Searching the Web by Clusters: Clusty Returns Group Results - Trend Hunter

Hmm...I'm wondering how the increase of tagging and tag clouds will affect the results returned by this search engine. As Trend Hunter said, it's no Google killer but it does offer a way of narrowing down one's search.

Cognition of the Real

Nature of Consciousness: How Activity of Single Neurons in Human Brain Reflect Conscious Perception - Science Daily

My quasi-girlfriend is working on her doctorate in neuroscience; specifically on the function of single neurons and their relation to other neurons. Thus I've taken a closer interest in the scientific aspects of consciousness. The philosophical implications are still there, at least until the soul cell is discovered or whatnot. This also intersects with my interest in hyperrealism and the effects of information technology on human consciousness and social practices. I'm currently reading a several decades old text by Henri Lefebvre on the relation between mental, social and physical space. This is all jumbled in my head at the moment, but suffice to say, reading about how conscious recognition is an 'all or nothing' sort of thing when it comes to the firing of single neurons it shows some of the physical component to the mental-social-physical relationship. My question has to do with whether a simulated reality can produce the same results in the physical brain. It's all terribly interesting but probably very boring to most of you. Still, it's what gets my brain going so it's what I'm going to write about.

Brian Michael Bendis Rewrites Matt Yglesias

Ultimate Blogs - Matt Yglesias

I do so love when comics are injected into the political blogosphere.

What You Don't Know Can Hurt You

That Clinton Competence - Jason Zengerle @ The Plank
Competence - hilzoy @ Andrew Sullivan
What? There Are Rules? - Matt Yglesias

Three posts from three different bloggers all hitting the web at the same time on the competence of the Clinton campaign. The issue sparking this concern on competency is the Texas primacaucus and the surprising revelation that the Clinton camp had no knowledge of how the Texas delegate system worked until earlier this month. According to Zengerle, Hilzoy and Yglesias, apparently the Clinton campaign was counting on the Latino vote in the southern sectors of Texas as a sort of 'firewall' against Sen. Obama. Unfortunately, the way the Texas primacaucus works, it favors more urban area such as Dallas and Houston, which to add insult to injury, hold a large black population. Now, I'm not sure what the standing is in cities like San Antonio, which is predominantly Latino, or Austin, which is distinctly liberal but has a large student population.
The main problem for the Clinton camp though, is that Latinos have traditionally shown a low turn-out during primaries, something that figures heavily into the number of delegates the next primary allocates. Each precinct receives a certain number of delegates that are dependent on the previous two primary elections. So if a precinct had a low turn-out in the last two primaries then that precinct will receive fewer delegates this time around. Moreover, during the last primary in 2006 there were two independents running for governor; one coming from the Republican side and poaching Republican votes, and one, Kinky Friedman, coming from nowhere to poach independents and Democrats. So the delegate count for most precincts is lower this election cycle than in previous cycles.
That the Clinton campaign never took the Texas system into account when boasting it as a firewall state speaks more to their ignorance, and yes, competence, than their ability to predict and adapt to changing circumstances. They had a plan that started and ended with Super Tuesday and have done nothing but scramble ever since. I do hate to say this since I don't think the comparison is completely accurate, but the actions of the Clinton campaign ever since Super Tuesday have reminded me a great deal of the Bush administrations reaction to the changing circumstances on the ground in Iraq. That is to say, the Clinton campaign has gone into a serious bout of denial about Sen. Obama's chances while maintaining their own superiority. Well, after learning about their recent education on the Texas delegate system, I have to say that superiority is seriously mistaken.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Denial is Perfectly Healthy

The First Step is Admitting You Have a Problem - John Scalzi @ Whatever

Hmm...I'm disappointed there's no picture. That would have made a good blog post.

The Supermodern as the Hyperreal as the Imagined Community

Hyperreality @ Wikipedia
Hypermodernity @ Wikipedia

I'm beginning to wonder whether the development of the hyperreal in art has any connection to the rise of supermodern architecture. Both are depictions of some beyond the reality of old. The supermodern in architecture invokes a simulated reality as it transposes context and places of rest with contextless and movement-oriented designs. Part of this has to do with the rise of the internationally recognized architect who receives bids and commissions from around the globe. Another part has to do with the business classes who travel from city to city to experience the same hotel rooms, the same airport terminals and the same rented cars on the same highways as the place they would call home. All of this, from the detachment of architecture from context to the building of simulated worlds for the business class to travel through are, in many ways, part and parcel with the ideas behind hyperrealism. The original reality become less important as the simulated one replaces it for those who actually do travel from country to country on a frequent basis. Home becomes the movement through things and a house becomes just another space to move through.
While the hyperreal in art offers a detailing of reality beyond the capability of the human mind to do by itself, it also offers a simulated reality that presents itself as somehow 'more real' than reality. How this interplay between the original and the simulation will play out in the future is something that cyberpunk writers have asked for years.
William Gibson, in describing an American's view of London as a sort of mirror world in his book Pattern Recognition, touches on that aspect of the hyperreal and the supermodern. Cayce goes from London to Tokyo to Moscow and finds the same stores, the same clothing, the same designs and the same sense of fashion. It's a simulated unity of the world through shops and attire, but then again, as Benedict Anderson argued in Imagined Communities, any identification with a group of people you have never actually met is a simulation of unity.
Viewed in this light, nationalism is the first kind of hyperrealism, as it asks us to deny the reality we see and accept that we are unified through common language, ancestry and history despite not needing to know the rest of those you are 'unified' with. Nationalism also asks us to accept the mobility of jobs and the ability to transplant one worker from one city to another, as Ernst Gellner would argue. The spiritual unity sought by the Germans and the Italians after their political unification in the 1870s could only be a simulated unification, an imagined one. Thus nationalism crafts a simulated united between people that doesn't exist in the everyday world.

Photos of the Universe as Hyperrealist Art

Airbrushed Space Pics Are Abstract Art - Charlie Jane Anders @ i09

Personally I think this kind of art falls under the category of hyperrealism as it offers details of the world, or universe in this case, that would otherwise remain unknown to the eyes. That the radiation given off by the Cat's Eye Nebula is invisible to the naked eye is key to my believe that photos taken by the Hubble telescope belong to the realm of hyperrealist art, even if they are only photos taken with particular kinds of lenses. It's exactly that kind of human manipulation of the visual that makes this kind of art hyperrealistic versus abstract. These images are real, just presented in a way that we would have never seen before. That and I just love me some space porn like this.

The Visceral Math

Math on Display - Julie J. Rehmeyer @ Math Trek

There's a strange sort of beauty when mathematics is translated into art. The theories and formulas of various fields used in an artistic way produce some of the most stunning visual representations of a theorem that no description can possibly contain. The image I've used here is one created by Michael Field of the University of Houston. It's a simple creation using a simple formula, but the visual gives you an idea of what mathematics actually does in the real world, or at least is possible. Indeed, it is art, as it evokes an emotional, aesthetic response. What this reminds me of are the parasols of Japanese culture, intricate in detail but dead simple once you figure out how it works. For a nation worried about its students in the realms of math and science, I think using images like this to show how math can work in the real world would prove incredibly educational. I just wish teachers had more time to incorporate this kind of mathematical artwork into their class schedules.

Open WiFi Horizons

Give WiFi Leechers Computer Rage with Executable Command Fun - Haroon Malik @ Gizmodo
Steal This WiFi - Bruce Schneier @ Wired

I'm siding with Schneier on this one. I keep the WiFi portal in my house open for the neighbors to use, or anyone who visits the house with a wifi-capable device. I don't see much of a point in encrypting it since most of my neighbors aren't the sort to try and hack into my internet access.
Now, I do understand the situation is probably different for those of us who live in apartments and don't want someone a floor below piggybacking on your internet expenses. But that's nothing that closing the system or actually talking to the person and perhaps the rest of the tenants about a co-op wifi network wouldn't solve.
I don't see much of a point in closing off a wifi network on the basis of security or of good hospitality. The devices we use so frequently now actually require this kind of openness of wifi networks. While some cities are working on an open infrastructure it would make more sense to engage the community to open up wifi access. Plus, I have to agree with Schneier again when he says that if your computer or device is lacking the proper security then having a closed network at home or in an apartment or wherever isn't much comfort. Keeping an open network requires the users to actually keep their security up to date, which in the grand scheme of things, isn't a bad idea at all.

Bright Like Neon Love

HERCULES Laser is Most Intense Laser in the Universe, Almost as Powerful as the Death Star - Haroon Malik @ Gizmodo

Aside from the mad scientist desires I have for this laser, I want to see it 'boil the vacuum'. Spontaneous matter generation is one of the coolest whacked-out parts of particle physics. Finally, I have a laser that can both destroy my enemies and make me a cup of coffee out of thin air.

Rock Out

Breaking Rocks in the Hot Sun - Spencer Ackerman

Probably won't see this in the theater, but I do believe that's the best anti-Bush movie trailer I've seen.

Eras, Ages and the Fear of the Future

At the End of an Age @
At the End of an Age @ Yale University Press
John Lukacs @ Wikipedia

I bought this book a while ago on a whim and only just now have read it. More historiographical in nature, Lukacs, writing at the end of the millennium, argues that we are witnessing the end of the Modern Age. Just for a point of reference, the Modern Age is said to have begun throughout the 15th century, thus making this age five hundred years old. The purpose behind dividing the Modern Age from the medieval period that preceded it is to highlight the dramatic shift in thinking that occurred during the 15th century. Of course, this terminology of Modern and medieval mark the perspective of the book as a distinctly Western one. Lukacs acknowledges this, but considers his audience a Western one and thus does not make a convoluted attempt to fit the rest of world history into the framework of Western history.
That framework is of particular importance to Lukacs, since it is his contention that our historical consciousness is changing, just as it did at the beginning of the Modern Age. But the change Lukacs focuses on is not the mere fact of having a historical consciousness, which marked the Modern Age, but that our historical consciousness is evolving into a relative one--one that depends on taking the perspective of past historical actors and viewing their future as still undecided.
More importantly, Lukacs argues that the Modern Age is ending as we have slowly realized that the hard sciences too have a relativistic perspective. In other words, that the questions and answers of past scientists depend just as much on their historical context as they do the scientific method. Werner Heisenberg figures prominantly in Lukacs' argument as it was Heisenberg who first formulated a theory that the observer and the observed are inseperable. The Heinsenberg Uncertainty Principle was a product of recognizing that observing sub-atomic particles affects how those particles act. To put it simply, we can either know the position of a sub-atomic particle with a great certainty or we can know where the particle is going, but not both.
Leaving the science aside, Lukacs is more concerned with the metaphysical implications of Heisenberg. Lukacs' argument rests on that melding of the mental and material worlds as he believes since we cannot fully separate ourselves from our subjects for observation, we must recognize the limitations of Science to provide us with eternal truths and laws. Moreover, Lukacs argues that we must accept the primacy of the mind over matter, that while the universe may exist without us, the universe as we understand it depends on our historical consciousness and context.
I don't buy most of Lukacs' argument. I think he places too great an emphasis on the mind when arguing that the Universe is a product of our minds. For one, it reminds me too much of the Idealism of Berkeley. For another, I think it places to great a distance between the physical world and the mental world. His attempt to join the two together results more in a metaphysics of science versus a synthesis of the material and the mental. In part, I believe Lukacs' position derives too much from his Catholicism. To Lukacs, we are the center of the universe since our minds are what make up the universe. Strangely, this does avoid an anthropic view of the universe in a way. At the same time, it serves to reinforce the idea in the reader that Lukacs believes more in the Creation than in the idea of a universe springing into existence that just happens to have a planet to develop intelligent life. This idea is reaffirmed in Lukacs' position that history begins with civilization, or rather, that there is no 'pre' history.
Where I think Lukacs goes wrong is in his definition of the 20th century. He marks the beginning of the 20th century at the start of the Great War in 1914 and the end in 1989 as Communism fell. By focusing the majority of this period Lukacs ends up re-fighting the old battles between the Subjectivists and the Objectivists--a battle that I do not think needs another skirmish. But more than fighting old battles, I think Lukacs' narrow demarcation of the 20th century misses a great deal of the ideas and questions that informed the 20th century and only now are being asked again. The period of Western history from 1870 to 1945 is of greater importance to the 20th century than that of 1914-1989. While the 19th century is considered a long one, from 1789 to 1914, there are distinct sections in its intellectual history that had an immense impact on how the 20th century started. The fight between the positivist and the anti-positivists (or romantics if you like) was reaching a conclusion in the 1890s but was placed in a temporary stasis during the Great War, only to re-emerge in a slightly twisted version during the 20s and 30s.
World War II put an end to the questions of the fin-de-siƩcle and left Europe in a brief intellectual wilderness out of which emerged the Objectivist and Subjectivist veins of literary theory and sociological study. Part of that division in theory was based on politics. The New Left and the rise of the neo-conservative during the 50s and 60s resulted in some ridiculous intellectual battles during the 70s and 80s. It was only after the fall of Communism that the West was able to resume its questioning of what Modernity means and how morality, the mind and existence fit in with this new and rapidly changing way of life.
Unfortunately, Lukacs ignores most of this part of the West's intellectual heritage. I find it even more unfortunate considering the rise of the cyberpunk genre of literature, television and film. I do believe that we are in a transitory period, but whether that is from one age to another or simply part of a larger extension of the Modern Age I cannot say. The concern with how the mind interacts with the material world is a valid concern. Thousands of questions remain, in philosophy alone, over how the mental and the physical interact. And with the integration of the Internet into our lifestyles and the implications that brings with it will only increase the urgency of these questions. It is the existence of cyberpunk that leads me away from the conclusions of Lukacs. There is something new and different on the way, that much I can say. But what it is and how it will shape the mind of the West and the rest of the world is that big unknown, an unknown that Lukacs seems to fear.