Category Archives: pop culture

What happens in New Haven…

This was posted on bulletin boards at Yale this fall semester after a couple episodes of police tasing students. The police in New Haven have also been using SWAT raids to enforce compliance with the underage drinking laws.

Think about that.

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Great stories in federalism, Lawrence Tribe edition

There is a great story about how Lawrence Tribe’s son used to be a college policy debater back in the 80’s. He made a practice of running affirmatives that were vulnerable to federalism criticisms, and opponents would often indeed respond with federalism arguments citing Tribe’s latest federalism scholarship, to which Tribe’s son would respond with a list of author indicts (mostly in the vein of “my dad’s frickin’ crazy”).

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Gay McDonalds ad in France

Note the final words (“come as you are”). It is strange to think that many Americans, particularly those who define themselves through their attachment to a Christian ideology, are not so open and accepting of difference as McDonald’s is willing to be.

H/T: Justin Scott.

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On Ice-Nine

Found this while looking for phase-space diagrams:

Ice-nine (ice IX) is the low-temperature equilibrium, slightly denser, structure of ice-three (Space group P 41 21 2, cell dimensions 6.692 Å (a) and 6.715 Å (c) at 165 K and 280 MPa [385]). It is metastable in the ice-two phase space and converts to ice-two, rather than back to ice-three, on warming. The change from proton disordered is a partial process starting within ice-three that is only completed at lower temperatures, but with a first order transition near 126 K[1087]. The hydrogen bonding is mostly proton-ordered as ice-three undergoes a proton disorder-order transition to ice-nine when rapidly cooled in liquid nitrogen (77 K, so avoiding ice-two formation, see Phase Diagram); ice-three and ice-nine having identical structures apart from the proton ordering [389].

The ice-nine, described by Kurt Vonnegut in ‘Cat’s Cradle’ [83], with a freezing point well above ambient under normal atmospheric pressure is fortunately a completely fictitious material, reportedly invented by the Nobel prize winner Irving Langmuir to entertain H. G. Wells.

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China line of the day, lil Wayne edition

From the NYT:

“People are coming with entire bags full of cash,” said Raymond Hau, general manager of the Sun Valley Golf Resort, which is building the 220 luxury villas. “I’ve seen this myself. A man had a bag and unzipped it. Boom. ‘Here’s the deposit,’ he said. ‘I want two apartments.’”

Mr. Hau shook his head. “It’s crazy. It can only happen in China.”

The golf resort is popular with the privileged. The president of Kazakhstan shot a hole in one here. And on a recent afternoon, when an attendant opened the passenger door of a black sport-utility vehicle that had just pulled up, a pile of large-denomination Chinese bills fluttered to the ground.

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The National Security Argument for Legalizing the Use of Performance Enhancers for Professional Athletes

I note first we are willing to make distinctions as far as enhancement is concerned for athletes that we don’t make for soldiers (ref: Dexedrine use by Air Force pilots) or for students (who increasingly use performance enhancing substances like adderall and coffee).

Second, I note that there are possible invasion scenarios for which we face a shortage of soldiers with highly specialized physical abilities. I claim first that we have a natural pool of these kind of recruits in professional athletes and second that in doomsday invasion scenarios where there is a premium to be placed on the physical skills and endurance necessary to perform highly specialized tasks we want to have the ability to select for specific traits and want to absolutely maximize the expressions of those traits. Under these circumstances there is no counterargument for legalizing and using performance enhancers and indeed much depends on the state of the scientific knowledge base that we can access to inform those efforts.

That’s why we should legalize performance enhancers. There are several parameters that need to be set, for instance, the nature of the optimal regulatory framework, and how professional sports leagues should react to chances in these laws. But note that this policy carries a positive externality for athletes: it allows them access to the legal and scientific remedies that they don’t have access to in a world where they necessarily and exclusively bear the totality of the physical, emotional, and financial tolls that come with using illegal performance enhancers now.

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The Invisible Weight of Whiteness: The Racial Grammar of Everyday Life in Contemporary America

I attended a lecture where Dr. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (Duke) spoke on his concept of racial grammar. The following are my rough notes:

Racial grammar

  • sets the logic and rules of proper composition of ‘racial statements’ (and I add of what can be seen and ‘felt’)
  • grammar is mostly acquired through social interaction and communication
  • no grammar dominates completely any linguistic field as there are always breaks and challenges as well as alternative grammars

Discusses ‘Beauty and the Beast’ style misrepresentations and omissions of the media in terms of racial grammar. Specifically mentions cases where media shuns missing black girls and ccreates media circuses around missing white girls:

  • stories about whites as ‘universal’
  • casts white ‘beauty’ as all beauty
  • underrepresentation of minorities on TV and movies
  • minorities appear mostly in stereotypical fashion (cites Republicans who use the phrase ‘magic negros’, an apparent reference to Chip Saltsman’s infamous run for RNC Chairman)

Many of our cultural storylines:

  • Reinforce racial boundaries
  • bolster a ‘racial order of things’
  • present felicitous view of racial affairs

Cites CDC data from Tim Wise citing statistics that say white high schools students are seven times more likely than blacks to have used cocaine, twice as likely to binge drink and drive drunk, among other things. Claim: racial grammar is a tool to scapegoat blacks for the involvement and complicity of white people in these systems of crime.

Talks about oppressively white environments at colleges and universities, where the narrative of whiteness is so overwhelming that the culture and atmosphere remains unwelcoming and harsh. Talks about specific instances of racism towards black students on campuses.

Bonilla-Silva closed with some fragments from Langston Hughes’s poem, “Democracy“.

On the Uniqueness of St. Louis

Generally speaking, the monuments that represent cities can be categorized as masculine phallic symbols. A quick list: Paris/Eiffel Tower, Seattle/Space Needle, Washington DC/Washington Monument, London/Tower of London, etc.

This is by and large true with one very unique exception: St. Louis. St. Louis is the only city that I know of that is represented by a monument that is a feminine sexual symbol: an Arch. The conceit also underlies the famous slogan: St. Louis, Gateway to the West.

HT: Dr. Barb Osburg

Edit: Here is the Liberty Memorial in KC, courtesy Sam Burnett.

Thought of the Day, Fight Club Edition

Actually, I have a few thoughts. About Fight Club. And they aren’t about the book (which I have yet to read)

1. If you think that the lessons from Fight Club are in the vein of Marx and anti-capitalism, sure, there are some lessons there. But the really interesting connections are to the psychology of mass movements, a topic that invokes Eric Hoffer’s seminal work The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements.

2. Viewing Fight Club through a Dostoyevskian lens also yields many insights. Indeed, the main character’s psychological fragmentation is a core theme of the narrative through which the narrative itself is possible. Here is a brief summary of Dostoyevsky that those not familiar might find useful.

3. Heidegger’s insights on what he calls ‘techne‘ also have much to offer, though I find Heidegger only worth mentioning for his exposition on a few concepts and find other thinkers provide much more fruitful avenues for development.

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The Economist and the M&M

The ubiquitous peanut M&M, incidentally:

Mr. Vernon, the renowned student of multinationals, was once employed by a multinational-in-the-making. In 1954 he went to work for Forrest Mars Sr., who built the Mars candy empire. Mr. Vernon was placed in charge of planning, finance and new products. He oversaw the development effort that led to chocolate-covered peanut M & M’s.

The new peanut variety was a success, and, in the candy industry, Mr. Vernon was called ”the man who put the crunch in M & M’s.”

The excerpt is from the New York Times obituary for Raymond Vernon, an eminent economist whose work is important in international trade. The full article is worth a read and contains much of interest.


What Is Twitter Good For, Anyway? Probably a Lot.

It is obvious to anyone in the business of media, advertising, and promotion that Twitter and other social networking applications have been become critically important in the generation and dissemination of information. But what else could we do with this? I have a couple ideas.

1. Elections. I was at the Young Democrats of America national convention this August in Chicago where one side of the ticket led by current YDA President Crystal Strait had the election bought and paid for.  Part of why money was so influential in this election is that you didn’t have to literally buy the entire delegation from particular states; you only had to buy the state leadership because it is the state chair who tallies and reports delegate votes. State Young Democrat leadership also rents the hotel rooms and arranges travel with the implicit message that if you are not here to vote for the person they want you to support, you’re going to have to find your own way home. It is hard to maintain the integrity of a ballot when you can control all parts of that process.

How can Twitter change this? Simple. It would be a trivial exercise to have Twitter create an elections application based on their platform. You could register the phone numbers for individual delegates at registration or alternatively assign each delegate a secure ID that they use to tweet votes. No one votes who isn’t registered and cleared by the organization, since you’re able to control access to the voting mechanism, and as a (presumptively) independent and unbiased third-party organization, Twitter can maintain ballot integrity since it’s a trivial exercise for them to ensure the secrecy of the ballot. This guts the ability of state or national officials to control their voting blocs. And since everyone has cell phones anyway, the platform’s infrastructure is already in place. You get all the benefits of electronic voting and none of the disadvantages. There are a few other objections but I’ll address them without loss of generality later on.

2. GPS navigation devices. A friend and I were driving through St. Louis today and her GPS navigation system led us to a highway that was closed for construction (and had been closed for the better part of the past year) and I was reminded of a conversation I had a couple years ago with Dr. Ron Harstad, who presciently asked how we could use cell phone technology to route traffic more efficiently.

The operative principle is that the interface determines behavior. Imagine if there was a realtime integration of GPS navigation with Twitter. Instead of unique avatar names, you could identify posts with a unique identifier for the time and exact geographical navigation and scroll the most recent and most important posts along the sidebar. Crowdsourcing realtime information about traffic routes is both eminently feasible and pretty cheap, since the only additional work you’d have to do is add on a Twitter interface specific to the GPS system. Combatting things like spam or bad information is something that we’ve learned is really feasible through crowdsourcing and the only real work is to design the interface appropriately. You can take a look at Google Earth, where crowdsourcing has added incredible richness and value to an application that would be otherwise prohibitively expensive to engineer, or Facebook or Digg, where posts are subjected to realtime evaluation as users are able to evaluate which signals are valuable and which are not. Imagine the potential for coordinating and managing large emergency situations particularly.

Now to address objections. Generally speaking, objections to these proposals are all parametric questions that we can easily engineer around. Questions of security: how can we preserve a ballot’s integrity or prevent people from misusing realtime emergency navigation data can generally be addressed with the right set of protocols (you have a 3rd party control the voting platform or time-delay realtime emergency tweets in appropriate situations). Questions of workability: can we depend on telephone communications and satellites? What if Twitter goes down? These problems are generally managed by ensuring redundancy in the system. Questions of access: not everyone has a  cellphone (fortunately almost everyone does and they are really cheap).


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Great Lines in Economics, Everquest Edition

From the abstract to “Virtual Worlds: A First Hand Account of Market and Society on the Cyberian Frontier“, a December 2001 paper by economist Edward Castranova, this gem:

In March 1999, a small number of Californians discovered a new world called “Norrath”, populated by an exotic but industrious people. About 12,000 people call this place their permanent home, although some 60,000 are
present there at any given time. The nominal hourly wage is about USD 3.42 per hour, and the labors of the people produce a GNP per capita somewhere between that of Russia and Bulgaria.

Norrath, for those not in the know, is the land where the online massive multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG) Everquest take place. For reference, Bulgaria’s GNP per capita in 2000 was $5,560; Russia’s was $8010 (source, Bureau of the Census 2002, L/N). Castranova’s paper is currently the second most downloaded economics paper on SSRN.

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What Precisely is Obscure?

Caught this line from the British Daily Mail in an article on the social networking service Twitter:

Twitter has decided to act after Tony La Russa, the coach of an obscure American baseball team, launched a legal action over a fake account. He claimed that postings in which he appeared to make light of the death of two of his players had been ‘hurtful’.

Obscure? Really? As a St. Louisan I am predictably skeptical.

Movies I’d Really Like To See

From the AFP:

VENICE (AFP) – “Lebanon” by Israeli Samuel Maoz, the story of the first Lebanon war told from inside an Israeli tank, won the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival Saturday.

Colin Firth, star of Tom Ford‘s “A Single Man,” picked up the Volpi Cup for best actor, while Russian actress Ksenia Rappoport won best actress for her role in “La Doppia Ora.”

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On Inglorious Basterds

Highly enjoyed this Tarantino flick, particularly the pop culture references that Americans wouldn’t get (and I’m not sure I’ve got them all). Close to my heart is the tribute to Francoise Villon’s famed Ballade (of the Ladies of Ancient Times) that reads in part:

Prince, n’enquerez de sepmaine
Ou elles sont, ne de cest an,
Qu’a ce reffrain ne vous remaine:
Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan?

Prince, don’t ask me in a week
or in a year what place they are;
I can only give you this refrain:
Where are the snows of yesteryear?

Villon does not typically translate well but this one does better than most.

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