Friday, November 30, 2007

An Easy Way Out?

The flap over the "Created Equal" series of columns, for some reason, reminded me of an earlier stand alone Human Nature column. Back in March, William Saletan wrote "Mind Makes Right," about a study published in the journal Nature. I found this study interesting enough to mention it on Nobody In Particular, and I suppose that it's lingered in the back of my mind ever since. But thinking about the challenges of egalitarianism in the face of arguments over inequality, it came back to the forefront.

Scenario 12: Lifeboat 2
Mean emotion rating: 5.1
You are on a cruise ship when there is a fire on board, and the ship has to be abandoned. The lifeboats are carrying many more people than they were designed to carry. The lifeboat you’re in is sitting dangerously low in the water—a few inches lower and it will sink.
The seas start to get rough, and the boat begins to fill with water. If nothing is done it will sink before the rescue boats arrive and everyone on board will die. However, there is an injured person who will not survive in any case. If you throw that person overboard the boat will stay afloat and the remaining passengers will be saved.
Would you throw this person overboard in order to save the lives of the remaining passengers?
"Damage to the prefrontal cortex increases utilitarian moral judgements" - Nature
What makes this scenario interesting is that fact that the injured passenger is going to die, no matter what you do. If you push them overboard, they drown. If you leave them in the boat, it sinks, and everyone, including the injured passenger, drowns. And depending on how you read the scenario, even if the rescue boats were to show up right at that moment, the injured passenger is going to die from their injuries.

According to the Nature study, certain damage to the prefrontal cortex increases the chance that a person would state a preference for pushing the injured passenger overboard, saving themselves certainly, but also saving each and every other person in the lifeboat with them. Nature's researchers concluded that absent this damage, people are more likely to chose a "moral" solution (in this case, everyone drowns) to a "utilitarian" solution (the fatally injured passenger drowns, but everyone else survives). Put another way, "normal" people are commonly unwilling to make a determination that the fatally injured passenger's life is worth little enough that it is appropriate to sacrifice them to save everyone else, even if the alternative is effectively mass suicide.
"What really interests me [... are] the things at which we as a society will grasp in order to justify pushing people off the boat."
Dawn Coyote
Whatever the reason, Malthusian scenarios and people's sense of justice do not mix, and conflicts between the two often conspire to make people cowards of a sort. People either flee difficult decisions or look for ways to make them easier. The injured passenger on Nature's sinking lifeboat is guilty of nothing outside of bad luck, and it feels unfair to push them overboard, even when everyone else's life depends on it. And so people have difficulty in persuading themselves to do so.

Perhaps this is the root of the recurring attempts by this tribe or that nation to establish an "objective" hierarchy of relative human worth, sometimes based on laughably shallow and/or imprecise criteria. It may be a dirty business, but if it's based on "facts," then it can be argued that there is no self-serving bias involved. The results may violate one's sense of propriety, the argument goes, but they represent the "truth," and perhaps even reflect the order of the universe, or, at an extreme, the will of the divine. People may not put themselves in the very first spot, to avoid the appearance of outright bias, but you can be sure that hardcore hierarchicists are going to ensure that they make the cutoff when the hard choices have to be made. In this degree, bigotry allows for scarcity and justice to go hand-in-hand, by placing the difficult decisions in the hands of facts.

Maybe the reason why we grasp at reasons as a society, is that it frees us from having to make these judgment calls as individuals.
"No, we are not created equal. But we are endowed by our Creator with the ideal of equality, and the intelligence to finish the job."
William Saletan "human nature: Created Equal - All God's Children"

It's understood that the ideal of equality doesn't mean that we all die together. We would hope that it aspires to a state where people don't make decisions based on narrow parochial and emotional interests; acting to advance preserve themselves, people they identify with, and people they like at the expense of others (whom they conveniently label as undesirables). That level of enlightenment is a laudable goal, but given history up to this point, it's clear that we need at least one backup plan.

I would postulate that short of universal enlightenment, the greatest tool that equality has at its disposal is plenty. While there are assholes who just can't stand to see other people happy, most of us, when our own bellies are full, have no issues with other people also eating their fill. Debates over whether it's the gifted students or the developmentally disabled who should get the lion's share of resources fade when neither group has to go begging. True, there are people for whom everything just isn't enough. There's always another multi-millionaire who feels that they need to steal what others have to feel complete. Quietly lock them away, and make sure they get their medications, while the rest of us go on with taking care of things. So rather than be allow ourselves to be locked into a hyper-competitive Malthusian disaster scenario, perhaps we're better off working to see if we can make the pie large enough to go around.

Just as useful, if a somewhat more difficult tool to cultivate, is a simple acceptance that sometimes, life isn't fair. Justice may be the bread and butter of legal scholars and activists, but its not something taught in physics and biology classes. Inequity aversion may be hardwired into our brains, but inequity avoidance isn't always possible. Sometimes, there really is no choice except for someone to go overboard, and there's no just way to decide who it is. Not dealing with it doesn't change that, so the best thing to do is to be as prepared as possible, so that such dire straits are few and far between.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Extraordinary Machine - 3

It's very late and I'm wide awake, propped up on some pillows in bed with my new MacBook Pro. I'm still familiarizing myself with Leopard. It seems like there's some dazzling new discovery around every corner. I've got Thievery Corporation playing in iTunes, and everything is cool blue and silver, just like in Heaven. I know this is crazy, but this computer—I feel that it loves me.

Real moonlight, full night moon, variable moon, daylight only...

I'm trying out some new software. I've got the EarthDesk demo installed and it's very pretty, even though it says "NOT LICENSED - Evaluation Use Only" right across the African continent. It reloads the composite satellite image of the planet as often as you want, and it will render in a number of different formats, but even though it follows the rotation of the earth, it's still just the same desktop image over and over. Even toggling the options, it's not going to get much more interesting. I'm not inclined to spend money to keep it.

A copy of iLife came installed on the computer, but if it hadn't, I'd pay the $78 to buy it, merely for the iPhoto upgrade, although Garage Band is cool, too. I used it to record a CBC radio broadcast that I had running in Quicktime. And here's the thing that's great about Apple: whatever way you can think of to do something, more than likely the programmers have thought of it, too. I had never even seen Garage Band before, and three minutes after launching it I was recording live radio in it. That was encouraging. Maybe I'll learn to podcast.

I'm on the fence about MarsEdit. It's a handy little program for composing and uploading blog posts. Though I like its simplicity, its features are quite limited. The preview feature is nice, and the idea of having all my draft posts stored in one location where I won't forget about them is tempting, but I think the next generation of these will be much improved. I can't figure out how to insert an image into a post. If it was an Apple program, it would be readily apparent how to do something like that. I have yet to try to upload a post from it, but I'll try it out with this one and see how it works.

[edit: it worked well. Okay - I'm off the fence.]

One program I am going to pick up is Mindmap Pro. It provides you with the means to create a graphic map of your ideas with little more effort that it takes to make notes. In fact, it makes notes for you, putting your mapped ideas into a structured outline that you can use as a template for your writing. I test-drove it by making a map prior to writing these three posts, and that convinced me that I'll get good use out of it.

Okay—I saved the best for last: Apple Mail—the most sublimely simple and beautifully designed mail program that ever was. It's streamlined to perfection, with all the little details taken care of out of view. There is nothing about this program that annoys me. For instance, I am so over bouncing icons that alert me to new mail. Now when I get mail, a pleasant electronic purr sounds, and a number appears on the icon in the dock, indicating how many new items are waiting. It's all very civilized. Although there are many ways to manage incoming information, search retained mail, activate items in iCal, and even leave oneself notes and to-do lists, there are no extraneous functions to clutter the thing up and provide me with details I will not stay on top of. On the other hand, you can handily add in all the extra functions you want.

I've got you where I want you.

Photo 8.jpgMy favorite feature allows me to put the RSS feeds for all your blogs into Mail, so that new posts and comments show up in my mailbox promptly after you post them. Each feed comes into its own separate file in the inbox, but if I place all the feeds into a folder, I'll get an aggregate of all the blogs that I can access with a single click. I used to have a hard time keeping up with what people are posting, but no more. Now it all shows up on my doorstep. This does take some of the joy of discovery out of it, but the added consistency and convenience make it more than worth the trade. In addition to the blog feeds, I've got BOTF and a few other Slate locations tucked into another folder. Best of the Fray posts are even stranger this way—like alien missives when they arrive, anonymousely, in my inbox. If I can bring myself to read one of them, I will try to guess who wrote it. I'm about half right, so far. They're no more readable here than they are on BOTF, but my guessing game is mildly interesting. I only wish I could assign those posts the alert sound that resembles an electronic fart, but it's one sound for everything, alas.

I just love that I get alerted to whatever you post shortly after you post it. I imagine that if I turned the alert sound up while I was taking a nap, the notification would wake me up. I can get my Mac to read your posts to me, too. I tried it the other day. It was fun. I might do that some more. I could run through all the different voices and pick a unique one for each of you. It would almost be like you were reading to me, wouldn't it?

[the pictures of me in these posts were all taken with the MacBook Pro's webcam]

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Porn? Evangelism? Nope. Whoever snagged my old blog is flogging coffee. I totally approve. And John? I'd never have seen it if the URL wasn't still in your blog feed, so thanks for putting the feed back into the Wikifray sidebar.

Extraordinary Machine - 2

I'm lying on the couch, half asleep, with Sweetpea stretched out across my lap, and I've got my new Apple keyboard propped against him as I write this post. He doesn't seem bothered by this, which is testament to the graceful unobtrusiveness of the device's design. If this keyboard were a human being, it would be a young poet. It's amazingly thin and sensitive, and it connects wirelessly to my laptop from up to sixty feet away. Like the keyboard, the wireless Mighty Mouse is blue-tooth enabled, with laser tracking and state-of-the-art functionality. Honestly, though, the mouse, nice as it is, has nothing on the laptop's trackpad, which gives me the ability to move the cursor, drag and drop, double click, and scroll horizontally and vertically, all by tapping or sliding one or two fingers on the flat surface. I've got all the options turned on, and the settings set to their highest sensitivity, so I can practically just breathe on the trackpad and it does what I want. I also purchased a cable that allows me to hook my laptop up to my television and turn it into a second desktop upon which I can manipulate objects via the wireless mouse and keyboard. Do I need to do this? Of course not, but it will come in handy if I can convince my brother to teach me Photoshop. Peering over someone's shoulder is not the optimal way to learn, or to share things one is working on, or reading online.

I also picked up a little microphone accessory last week that pops into the bottom of the iPod Nano, and now I'm speaking into that, recording this post instead of typing it. I'm still lying on the couch with Sweetpea stretched out on my lap and the keyboard propped against his butt. He's snoring quietly. The laptop is on the coffee table beside me and the bluetooth mouse is on the couch by my hip. Scooter's sitting on the table, observing the scene with an expression of mild disdain, but I am not the least bit ashamed of my self-indulgence. With the flexible stem on the mic, I can prop the voice recorder on my chest so I don't even have to hold it, which is great because at the moment, holding it seems like entirely too much trouble.

All I need now is a blue tooth phone that will sync with my mail program, and maybe a telescoping arm that would suspend the MacBook above me as I lie here on the couch. Other than that, I'm well equipped. I can even go out in style: I have this big square Calvin Klein shoulder bag that my mom gave me for Christmas last year. It's grey satiny fabric with silver leather straps and accents, and it matches my laptop as though it were specifically designed to carry it. At some point I'll need to pack my Mac up and go out, but right now I'm too sleepy to go anywhere.

If only I had voice-recognition software that would transcribe this recording into a word document, but alas, I'm going to have to do that myself. But not right now. Right now I'm just going to lie here and flirt with sleep until it either overcomes me or gives up and goes elsewhere, and even then, I probably won't get up. In fact, if I didn't have to get up to eat or go pee, I think I could lie here forever. If I got bored, all I'd have to do is pick up the tiny laptop remote and open Front Row, the sleek new platform for accessing iTunes, iPhoto, DVDs, and video. I could watch a DVD or listen to a lecture without hardly moving a muscle, and since my brother has hooked up my stereo so that I can run iTunes through it, I have access to good-quality sound—not that my little Bose earbuds are deficient, but you can only wear those things for so long, and I'm going to be here a while. If I get lonely, I can get on iChat and visit with a friend. If I want to send an email, I can type it on the little keyboard, and even take a picture of myself to send along with it, without even getting up to get my camera, without getting up at all.

Wow, it's really freezing outside. I can feel the chill from here. If I could, I'd bribe someone to come and put on a fire. And perhaps as long as they were coming to build a fire, they might bring me some movies. And a four-shot latte. God—I'm sleepy! It must be winter. I could stay here, cocooned like this, for the duration. I have a huge jug of protein powder, a box of mandarin oranges and a dozen packages of ramen noodles. That should keep me for a while. I don't need to leave the house. Sleep is pulling me down. I'm hibernating.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Extraordinary Machine - 1

Although my seven-year old Mac Pismo had proven perennially expandable and well nigh indestructible, it was having trouble keeping up with its younger siblings and it wouldn't accept some of the new software upgrades, so on Friday evening two weeks ago I stopped by the Mac store and got a shiny new 15" MacBook Pro.

A new Mac! Too excited to wait until I got home, I opened up the box while I was waiting for takeout. As people around me were wolfing down their messy chili fries and poutine, I removed the styrofoam biscuit and slipped my new laptop out the envelope of soft fabric that enclosed it. The packaging was sleek and functional, but I wouldn't have been surprised to find the device tied up with colourful ribbons or folded inside a large square of silk, like some sacred temple artifact.

The brushed aluminum surface was like cool satin under my fingertips. I touched the button on the front and the cover popped open as if eager to grant me entry. I pressed the power button and the screen came to life in a fan of aurora borealis colour over top of a black, star-speckled backdrop. An ambient groove played over the small speakers, welcoming me to the Leopard experience. I stroked the silver keyboard and trackpad and felt something akin to religious awe, as if in those moments a small cluster of winged sylphs had emerged from the machine and now hovered in the air above my head.

And then my food was ready, and I hastened to put the computer back in its box and collect my order. At home, after dinner, the machine led me through the set-up procedure and I completed forms with my personal information. Suddenly my face appeared in the on-screen window and the set-up assistant instructed me to press the red camera icon. When I did this the screen flashed bright white. The assistant asked me if I wanted to use the resulting photo on my profile. "Sure," I said. "Why not?"

Once the computer and I were properly introduced, I set about familiarizing myself with the new environment. Among the many new features included in the upgrade, Leopard introduces some fresh solutions for organizing your work. Mac users no longer have to wade through a desktop cluttered with downloaded files, or find that they've lost track of their primary task under a pile of open application windows. In Leopard, the workspace is fluid and flexible. It expands, breaks, slides, flips, pops open and folds back up again. Apple has always been known for creating intuitive and redundant processes, and 10.5 maintains that tradition: you can access different views by mousing into the corners or the edges of the screen, by selecting items in the dock, by mouse clicks and by F-key commands.

Two new features provide novel ways to manage files and workspaces: Stacks sit in the Dock, and with a click they pop open vertically, revealing all your downloads or documents in a long chain. Spaces allows you to multiply your desktop and put different groupings of work on different desktops. To move work around between desktops, you just drag it from one space and drop it into another.

Except for the addition of a reflective silver platform, the Dock is the same, but the Dashboard is new. Dashboard is Apple's answer to widget-based user-built spaces like those offered by Firefox, Google, Opera and Netvibes. And as usual, Apple does it better: not only can you create your own Dashboard widgets directly from Safari with a simple clip and drag, you don't even need to open a browser to access your widgets for Wikipedia, Google, Calendar, Mail, YouTube, iTunes, Movie or TV schedule, Weather, Calculator, Yellow Pages, and many others. Clicking on the speedometer icon in the Dock brings your custom Dashboard to the forefront, overlaying and dimming other items on your desktop. Another click and the dashboard slides away, leaving your desktop as it was.

Time Machine is a automated back-up function that makes copies of all your files at regular intervals and stores two weeks of changes on an external hard drive, so if you lose something, you only have to scroll back through Time Machine's chronological files to locate the version you need.

The updated Finder adds a graphic preview feature that shows the contents of a file sliding across a mirrored black stage. Each image or document or application appears in miniature and takes its place in the spotlight when you scroll to it or click on it. This allows you the convenience of viewing the contents of your file in the Finder window before opening it up on the desktop.

This brief review covers only a small part of the magic that is MacIntosh. Stay tuned for part two, coming tomorrow.

Monday, November 19, 2007

"Values voting" in Australia?

According to this article in today's New York Sun, the Australian Labor Party, led by Kevin Rudd, holds a solid lead in the polls over the Coalition led by incumbent Prime Minister Howard, with only a few days left until the election. This lead, the article says, can be traced back to a surge of Labor support following a visit to New York by Mr. Rudd, in which he and Col Allan, the Australian Murdoch protege who edits the New York Post, went out for a night of heavy drinking, culminating in a visit to Scores, where bouncers threatened to eject Mr. Rudd for touching the dancers and other "inappropriate behavior."

There's a great animated comment on this by Nicholson in The Australian, here.

Evidently, "values voting" Down Under can have different implications than it does here.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Inequitable Creation

William Saletan has started a new series in Human Nature, titled "Created Equal." In the first installment, "Liberal creationism," he lays out, with supporting facts, his basic argument that differential evolution has lead to an uneven distribution of traits between various racial/ethnic groups. Certain groups are better at certain things, or their bodies work in different ways, because prehistoric conditions favored those developments. So everybody has their strong suits. "Not that that's much consolation if you're stuck in the 21st century with a low IQ," he says, during the wrap up.

Now, I like Mr. Saletan, and enjoy reading Human Nature, but sometimes I think he completely misses the point. I think that he should have said: "Not that that's much consolation if you're stuck in the 21st century with a physical resemblance to the low IQ group, and the high IQ group decides that during a shortage, it's looks, and not test scores, that govern the food rationing." This is what William Jennings Bryan meant when we spoke of "'eliminating the weak,'[...] and undermining 'the sympathetic activities of a civilized society.'" And this is what's really at stake with the constant bickering over who's smarter than whom.

Human dignity means little in the face of famines, epidemics, wars or even simply high unemployment; and when people are needy (honestly, or just in their heads), they search for reasons why they, and the people they care about, should be the first (and sometimes only) ones in line for resources. (And, let's face it, most of us haven't done anything that would get us to the head of the line on our own merits. Thus the tendency to attach ourselves to the coattails of some person, or some group of people, that we feel DO merit an entitlement.)

Rather than a give and take on the idea of racial IQ, and the politics thereof, I'd like to read a series on how IQ came to be the end all and be all. Why do racists and eugenicists seem to gravitate towards what has to be the least easily measured trait that a person has?

Am I here? I think I am.

But if you don't see me, let me know.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Paul Tibbets and consequentialism.

A while back, I was planning a post on the topic of consequentialism; essentially, the belief that the ethical measure of an action or inaction is its consequences, at least as reasonably foreseen by the actor. My take on this was that we are all consequentialists in the last analysis. Those who claim to be deontologists; that is, those who believe that the ethical nature of an action depends upon whether it is in accordance with a duty incumbent upon the actor, whether that duty is believed to be ordained by divine command or, as with Kant, arising from our status as free and rational beings, are really saying that we are too shortsighted to evaluate fully the consequences of actions, and that, therefore, we must yield our judgment to hard and fast rules. In other words, deontology could be said to be consequentialism with a strong gloss of epistemological modesty.

For example, while a consequentialist may argue that destroying human embryos to harvest stem cells is ethically OK because it provides the means to alleviate great human suffering, while causing no pain to the pre-conscious embryos (this is a utilitarian argument, utilitarianism being perhaps the best-known form of consequentialism), a deontologist might argue that such an action violates an overarching duty to respect human life from the moment of conception. If pressed to give a reason for such a rule, however, the deontologist might invoke a "slippery slope" argument, that is, if we allow this, we are taking the first step on a downhill path that may lead to the cloning of malformed embryos with minimal brain function, to be raised in vitro simply to grow organs to be harvested for transplant, and, beyond that, to the use of viable humans with substandard mental function for the same purpose. Or, she might give a more far-reaching, "Burkean" answer: by calling into question a time-honored notion of what's good and proper, we are disturbing a complex system of societal mores, and this may have consequences well beyond what we have anticipated. Note, however, that both of these arguments appeal to consequences, and therefore are consequentialist. (I now know that John Stuart Mill anticipated this argument in his preface to Utilitarianism almost a century and a half ago.)

What inspired me to write this was the death of Paul Tibbets, and, in particular, this piece by Bob Greene about him. What struck me was the sheer consequentialism that sustained him after that fateful day over Hiroshima. His bio shows a consummate warrior. Warriors seem to be archetypal deontologists. (I need only recall my last year of college, when my roommate and I had a deal: every time I made him suffer through a Dylan album, he could make me sit through his recording of the greatest speeches of General Douglas MacArthur. I can still hear in my mind the peroration of his farewell address to the Corps of Cadets at West Point: "Duty, honor, country, and the Corps, and the Corps, and the Corps.") Yet Greene's piece quotes Tibbets as explaining why he never lost sleep over the bombing as being

because "we stopped the killing." He was at peace, he said, because "I know how many people got to live full lives because of what we did."
Here, indeed, is Jeremy Bentham's felicitous calculus at its most stark. Dostoyevsky challenged this kind of reasoning by asking something to the effect: If a world of eternal happiness could be purchased by the suffering and death of one innocent child, would you buy the ticket?

Perhaps the thing about war is, it makes us all buy the ticket.

Cacaphony and Discord... Hijacked!!!

Not that anyone reads the bloody thing, but since one has has seen fit to post links to contributor blogs, it should be noted that I have since renamed the Cacaphony and Discord blog to Microwave Burgers.

Just as an interesting aside, if you do decide to rename your blog, go back to the URL at a later time and you may find that some Jesus Freak, possibly employing a bot, has hijacked your old URL for posting the usual feel-good drek for the viewing pleasure of... well... who the hell knows. Normally, I try to be very tolerant of the religious viewpoint of others (no, really), but I'm afraid that when you have, on your profile page... Industry: Religion... you've officially worn out my patience.

Religion as industry. I'm sure that's what Jesus REALLY wanted. Blessed are the religious industrialists, for they shall have the contempt of worlds for their possession.

Note to whoever is doing the scorekeeping around here, could you please make a note of the new address? Thanx.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Is your Fray post view count down?

It's not you: - reach
I couldn't get the graph code to display in the post, so go to the link and change the view to one year. I wonder what that translates to in dollars.

Walk this way

Okay, riddle me this, Wikifray: One study demonstrates that lap dancers engage in fertility signaling behaviour when they’re ovulating, and another study shows that non-lap dancers walk more conservatively when they’re ovulating. How can these two results both be correct? Either women are signaling fertility, or they’re not, right? How can one group of fertile women make more money during fertile days, while another group appears more sexually alluring to men when they’re not fertile?

According to researchers, non-lap dancers throw out a net when it won’t have any effect, and they reel it in before they have chance of catching something, while those booty-shaking lap-dancers put out the long line, and their catch varies with the moon.

No wonder Megan O’Rourke, writing on Slate’s XX Factor Blog, snickers. No wonder Anna Applebaum sneers. The folks researching the sexy walk came up with this brilliant explanation:

That makes evolutionary sense, because it would benefit a woman to advertise her fertility only to those men she believes would make a suitable mate. In contrast, men can pick up on the attractiveness of a woman’s walk from long distance, and it can therefore act as an unwitting signal to less appealing males whom she might not want to choose. Dr Provost said: “If women are trying to protect themselves from sexual assault at times of peak fertility, it would make sense for them to advertise attractiveness on a broad scale when they are not fertile.

But what about the strippers, if it’s not the way they shake their money makers, then what is it? A husky voice? Bedroom eyes? Pheremones? I suppose any of these would fit neatly into an ev psych conclusion, but the researchers only say that the women are somehow signaling estrus. Maybe they whisper to their clients, “Mmm, I’m ovulating.” Would that count?

I have a theory. Well, it’s not really a theory, it’s more of a hypothesis. Acutally, it’s a guess, okay? A guess: women who are not lap dancers self-consciously minimize their sexy sashay during fertile days in order to not appear slutty. Why? Because our society has strong social proscriptions against sexual availability in women, and when they’re feeling the natural spike in arousal that comes with ovulation, they don’t want anyone to notice. And the strippers? They get paid to appear sexually available, and that’s easiest during the time when they’re feeling a natural spike in arousal, anyway.

I know—these are essentially the same conclusions that the researchers offered, but both of my explanations rely on women adhering to social conditioning, not heritable predisposition. Or is social conditioning founded in ev psych, too? Ah, I get it: everything is ev psych, because that just makes so much sense.


There's some interesting discussion in the XX Factor Fray, mostly castigating the bloggers for not making careful arguments. Their critics make careful arguments. Who knew talking about sex could be such a soporific?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Hello WikiFray members

If you have just received an invitation to join WikiFray and are wondering why, please read Ender's hara-kiri post, and the follow-up (fallout) over at the forum.

If you have posts on WikiFray and I've seen you in the last six months and I could find your email address, you've received an invitation. You're welcome to return and post, edit, delete or ignore the invitation altogether. If you didn't get an invitation, and you want access, email me at, and I'll add you.


I can't get comments to show up. If anyone would like to fix that... In the meantime, there's the forum, for the next two weeks, anyway.
Forum link

Thursday, November 08, 2007


WikiFray is closed. Below are some of the familiar links. Thanks. Goodnight.

Home | Forum | Profiles | Join | RSS/Atom |

Best of the Fray
Dear Prudence
Sports Nut
Today's Pictures

Age of Reason
august philippic
Bored Of The Board
BTC News
Cacaphony And Discord
Freelance Genius
Heavenly Haiku
I am not a god
Keifus Writes!
Man Bites Blog
Mock Haiku
Nobody In Particular
Notes From A Transitional Fossil
Parallax Error
Red State Impressions
Self-Absorbed Boomer
Shann Palmer
TED BURKE, like it or not
Tenacity Central
the odd neighbor
The Outer Sanctum
this page intentionally left blank
topazz (with a zz)
When you thought it was quiet
Who Is IOZ?
Who Put Back the Clock?


So, if WF isn't a regular stop, which it apparently isn't, then what is it? Not worth the effort, I'm thinking. In fact, the only way I can see it being worth my effort is if its contributors made an effort to make it worth reading. I don't see that happening. And if people were game for turning it around, I'd much prefer to start anew on an entirely new blog. But I have to qualify that as well. I just don't think those that remain are capable.

So, I'm going to sleep on it, but I think it's probably best if I shut this place down. That involves installing a basic template and removing everyone's posting privileges.

WikiFray's search engine traffic for the last month by keyword. Click on image for larger version.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Jacob Weisberg Can Blow Me

Or he could if I had a penis. The fact that I don’t have a penis pretty much makes me invisible to Jacob Weisburg. Don’t believe me? See for yourself:

George Bush
Super Mario
Hugo Chavez
John Edwards
Pervez Musharraf
John McCain
Rupert Murdoch
Alex Ross
Ben Ratliff
Rick Shapiro
Jerry Seinfeld
Anatoly Dobrynin
William Rogers
Jerry Seinfeld
Larry Craig
William Trevor
Robert Haas
Sydney Spiesel
Errol Morris
Roger Fenton
Owen Wilson
Wes Anderson
Stanley O'Neal
Al Gore
Newt Gingrich
Gordon Lish
Henry James
Mario Vargas Llosa
Philip Roth
Steven Landsburg
James Watson
Cees Nooteboom
Charlie Weis
Manny Ramirez

Condoleezza Rice
Karen Hughes
Hillary Clinton
Emily Yoffe
Jessica Seinfeld
Missy Chase Lapine
Jessica Seinfeld

Those are all the names that appear in the titles for all the articles on Slate, as of Monday night. A couple of articles mentioned women without referencing a specific woman: Help, my wife feels unsexy! Help, my wife still smooches her ex!

So, Slate’s a men’s magazine. I admit that I’m a little shocked, but I guess I’ll put on my big girl panties and deal with it. It’s still a subsidiary of the Washington Post, though, right? WaPo certainly wouldn’t display a bias favoring men as the writers and the subjects of its articles, would it? Have a look for yourself. Scan the front page. Note how many of the photos, the titles, and the bylines are men, and how many are women. Try some of these, too, if you’re curious: Salon, The Atlantic,, Harper’s, Newsweek, New Yorker, TIME, New York Times, MSN, CNN.

At least the NYTimes and TIME make an effort to keep their front pages ungendered, although I'd be surprised if their content reflected the same lack of bias. Of the sample, only had a significant percentage of women as subjects, bylines and images. But don't take my word for it. Cast a critical eye on your favorite publication and see how it measures up.

The Atlantic, one of the worst offenders, had a the following teaser on its front page: The Future of the American Idea: “For The Atlantic’s 150th Anniversary, meditations on America’s future from Tom Wolfe, Eric Schmidt, Tim LaHaye, Christopher Hitchens, Frank Gehry, and many others.”

Because women don’t have any ideas. Or at least not any Big Ideas. It’s no wonder there are so few women mentioned in the history books, when we really have nothing to offer in the worlds of politics, business, finance, technology, science, medicine or sports. Because those are the domain of men. The domain of women? Fashion, cooking, children, and sex. Always sex.

That’s just the internet, though. Surely other forms of media must be better? Like radio. I don’t listen to radio very much these days, but surely women are given a reasonable amount of airtime there? As more than cute sidekicks for sexist dudes, I mean. How about it?

And what about TV? Most of the shows have women, right? In decent, non-sexist roles? And the writers, the network execs—aren't one or two of them women, too?

How do your favorite shows measure up?

>Top TV shows:
The Wire
The Office
Friday Night Lights
Big Love
Battlestar Galactica
Bleak House

Ah, it's depressing, isn't it? I don’t even want to give you this list, now. I'd rather let you go on about your day, thinking that feminism won, that equality is had by all, that women have faces and voices, that they are human beings, just like men. But I’d be remiss to leave it out now: >Top Movies.


So, Jacob, dude—I understand, really I do: it’s not just you. It’s everywhere, and without such efforts as the XX Factor Blog, women would be nowhere, at least as far as the media and as far as history are concerned.

I guess we should be grateful for the little bit of action you throw our way.


Posted .

— — —

May 28, 2008 The NYTimes asks, Are We Too Male and Too White?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Favorite | Subscribe

Hello. My name is Aaron, but really, I'm Nobody In Particular. The nice thing about being just another random American is that I get to live in a really spectacular country, and just observe. And occasionally attempt to bore people into unconsciousness by posting commentary on what I encounter as I navigate my way around.

Roll Call (of sorts) Phase II

Please complete Phase I prior to proceeding with Phase II.

For an overview/better understanding of how all this works, read Hector's instructions, and in particular for this Phase II, scroll down to near the bottom of his post and read the part that starts, "To make this "introduction" works for labels..."

Okay, so, that gray area just below and attached to your label. We're going to fill that space with information about you. What information is up to you. Below this post is a post by me titled "ed" and labeled "ed". The combination of these two elements (title and label) cause the contents of that post to appear in the gray area just under my label "ed."

Your task is to follow suit. Author a post both labeled and titled with your two letter initials/label that you created in Phase I. Then fill that post with what you'd like to appear in the gray space above, under your label.

It is entirely up to you what you want to include. I will standardized the "Favorite" and "Subscribe" links in mine and apply them to everyone, so don't worry about that. Otherwise, feel free to experiment with feeds of your latest from around the web or your blog, images, testimonials, contact information, confessions, whatever. It is entirely up to you. But with great power comes great responsibility. That means check your work. The space is 900 pixels wide and 200 pixels high. I've also had little time to experiment with it, so again, if what you're trying to do messes something up, undo it and try something else.

What I'd like is for everyone to experiment with this. My guess is that some of you might have some bright ideas, and the rest of us will copy your examples.


Ed here. Favorite | Subscribe

I also blog at 1.18.08.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Roll Call (of sorts) Phase I

I've deleted all the labels. Apologies for the inconvenience.

Please select a two letter label for all your posts. This two letter label (lowercase) will be your initials. For example, my initials are "ed". I've assigned this label to all my posts.

1. To assign this new label to all your posts, log in to blogger and go to the dashboard. From there, select "Posts."

2. Go to your last post and click "Edit."

3. Label the post with your two letter lowercase initials, and publish it.

4. Return to the Posts page and select "300" from the dropdown menu.

5. Scroll down the list of posts and check those that are yours.

6. Return to the top of the page and assign your initials/label to the selected posts.

7. Repeat for Older Posts.

Thank you, and stay tuned for Roll Call (of sorts) Phase II.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Tomorrow's WikiFray

Hi all. As you know--assuming you still regular WF--WikiFray has been floundering. Contributing factors include the emergence of Quiblit, the confusion of nuponuq, the apparent successful redesign of The Fray, and my neglect. Nevertheless, the nature of the web is such that in spite of all this "searching" and thanks to the continued contributions of many of its members, WikiFray is a better idea today than it was when it first came into being. How's that?

I think WF has a role to play in keeping us connected. That is, in part due to WF we've all expanded our horizons and as a consequence our Fray roots aren't so deep . . .anymore. Given what's happened to BotF in our absence (read: there's no one left to keep the loons in check), the situation is that much worse. So, WF, as I see it, is worth keeping nice for that reason alone--as an old haunt for when you want to visit with old acquaintances, etc.

So there's that. No lofty aspirations. No grand scheme. Just a set of familiar walls. But even if that weren't the case, WF's worth as a blog, a url, also makes it worth saving. It enjoys a pagerank of 3, which isn't shabby and translates to search clout, i.e. your posts get a higher ranking in search results, or in English, your posts on WF are more likely to be read by strangers.

What then? Well, I'm going to reassume leadership of WF. That leadership is going to start with a redesign. I'm going to speed up load times and make the place more pleasing to the eye and efficient. I'm also going to add JS-Kit threaded comments (scroll down for a preview). I'm going to see about reintegrating into the fray, and hopefully Moira will start something interesting, a new column and a new fray worth posting in. I'll be watching for that. I'm also going to look into setting up a forum of our own. See Nabble. Not to disrespect nuponuq (and I'll keep those links going for as long as they're useful), but if I've learned anything from my experience with nuponuq, it's that there's no substitute for someone else, someone who knows what they're doing, managing the technical end of your site and paying for it out of their pocket. Nabble does that. Or to put it another way, Nabble is as good as the fray in that it's bigger than us. But Nabble is a bit down the line. Having a forum other than the fray has its perks, but aside from my own desire to see what I can do with it, I don't see it as being the focus, just something nice to have.

Which brings me sorta full circle. I'm going to strengthen WF's ties to The Fray. For better or worse, I like the new fray's software, and Moira's return makes me hopeful. Not anything specific mind you. In fact, chances are Moira isn't the fray's savior. But if she is, it changes things. And things do change don't they. For some of us at least. For those of us who only know The Fray through its reflection in our rearview mirrors. Quiblit, of course, will be integrated as well, not to mention everyone's blogs and the like. However, I am going to clean house. To do that in a nice way, I'm going to need hold a roll call of sorts. So, this is your heads-up. WF has benefits. I think you'll like what I'm going to do to it. Don't miss the boat. Hard to say, but I may be mostly done in a week, but for sure done by the end of this month.