LJ Parody

In some ways, LiveJournal is one of the more powerful and convenient “online communities” around. Unfortunately this is partially due to it’s insularity — a walled garden approach to community building. Walled gardens can be pleasant, unless the gardener starts ripping things out of the ground without warning…

A parody journal by user “george_w_bush” was recently deleted without warning by the LiveJournal abuse team because it didn’t contain a notice on every post that the writer was not really George W Bush. Because it was deleted without warning, all the writing is gone, and LJ won’t allow the user to have it. (The author of this post at Shock and Awe claims that they had their paid LJ account suspended for criticizing a politician by name…)

One of the authors of the deleted parody explains the whole thing, and she’d like other LJ users to put the word out.

System Justification

Two months ago a study was published in the APA’s Psychological Bulletin called “Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition.” It took a set of scientific studies from the last 50 years and attempted to parse out some of the motivating traits of a “conservative” worldview. Although the shorthand descriptions of conservative traits are definitely unflattering, it didn’t really make any outrageous claims (conservatives tend to be intolerant of ambiguity. Yeah, that’s a stretch.) And when it was published, nobody outside academia seemed to care much.

Until last week when Berkeley Media Relations put out an inflammatory press release, one sentence of which directly linked Hitler, Mussolini, and Reagan — something the study doesn’t actually do. They put the press release on the web and sent it far and wide, and that finally got some attention.

But only for the press release. Which is now described as the study itself on a wide array of conservative websites. There’s reposting of the full press release even though it’s already online. There’s tedious line by line insulting of the press release. There’s Rush Limbaugh ranting and flapping about the press release. There’s cosmic pronouncements about the fallen nature of Man and how this differs from the press release. And in almost all the responses there are torrents of gibbering, howling, frothing hatred of Berkeley, who put out the press release… even though the lead author of the study is at the Stanford.Business School and has a PhD from our “president’s” alma mater, Yale.

The full study itself is online at Stanford [1.7 MB PDF]. And since it was published in a reputable academic journal, there’s a response to problems in the study, with a counter response by the authors [also online, 1.7MB PDF].

The commie swine at Berkeley Media Relations didn’t provide a link to their cross-town rival, so it’s a pity that conservative bloggers couldn’t figure our how to Google any faster. Cause the paper itself includes a handy graph so you can attempt to understand the inner machinations of conservatives in the wild:


[full image – 84k]

Glenn Reynolds almost made one insightful point about all this:

What’s most amazing to me is that the Berkeley PR office thought that trumpeting this study to the nationwide media would be a good idea, and that doing so would somehow enhance the school’s reputation.

The study itself is actually, well, conservative. What’s amazing is that Berkeley decided to put out a press release that was clearly intended to piss off every conservative they possibly could. Why? Becasue there’s no such thing as bad press? Or – being deceptive Marxist scum – is it something more… sinister?

William Kristol recently hypothesized that Bush ordered his subordinates to deliberately screw up their explanation of his State of the Union misspokenings and thereby drive the liberal media into a tail-chasing frenzy. I assumed that this suggestion was either a ham-handed rhetorical device, or (more likely) just batshit crazy. But then again… maybe it’s just batshit crazy enough to work.

Maybe Berkeley has done the same thing with conservatives — putting out a “sexed-up” press release! Now we have Rush Limbaugh attacking a single sentence while the study itself gets lots of attention but remains basically unassailed. (How clever you are, Kathleen Maclay. “Media Relations” — is that a title they gave you in Havana?)

Not only that, conservative bloggers are now providing a fascinating source of annecdotal evidence for the study itself. Especially Dr John Ray at Dissecting Leftism. Here he is exhibiting what might be described as the existential motive of self-esteem:

But perhaps the best indication of how “motivated” their own cognitions are is the fact that they cite only two of the more than one hundred articles I have had published on the subject. I am clearly one of the major authors (if not THE major author in terms of number of articles in print) in the field that they purport to survey, but they ignore 98% of what I have to say.

Unfortunately Dr Ray is apparently the only blogger who seems to have even attempted to read the study itself (although he’s still mostly worked up about the press release). Not coincidentally, he’s the self-proclaimed number one worldwide expert on conservative psychology — namely that it doesn’t exist. And even if it did, then there’s no way in hell that liberal academic so-called scientists would be able so say anything meaningful about it.

Oh but liberal psychology? You can be damn sure that exists. And John Ray will TELL you all about the DANGERS of LEFTISM. For example this piece in David Horowitz’ Front Page Magazine:

As the quotations already given show, Hitler shared with other Leftists a love of constant change and excitement — and what could offer more of that than war?

So, um… all “Leftists” are pro-war? Like Hitler?
Cause they love excitement?

And Tony Blair was inspired by Mussolini ?

And this guy is the only person trained in psychology who responded negatively to the study itself?

Riiiight.

So if a group of psychologists spend years looking at scientific surveys and publish a peer-reviewed paper suggesting there’s a relationship between certain personal traits and a politically “conservative” worldview, then that is a scandalous example of junk science.

And if a single lapsed psychologist simply feels in his heart that “Leftism” is universally tied to various poisonous beliefs, then… he starts a blog. And Glenn Reynolds cites him as a reliable authority. And lots of other conservative bloggers attack a press release.

I think we’ve all learned something today.

Intellectual Property Food

The GIF patent expired in America today. The right to create one of the most often-used image formats in the world has reverted to the public domain.

The headlines for this event fruitfully collided with the headlines of another intellectual property issue — America whining about Europe’s policies on genetically modified food. The intellectual property angle of geneticly modified food almost never gets brought up publicly in America. Usually a shill for agribusiness rants about the complete safety of GM crops, and that’s about it. Of course safety is not at all the first thing on their minds: [nyt]

The Bush administration and agricultural businesses view the [European] policy as simple protectionism because American companies, which dominate the biotechnology industry,would benefit most from lifting the ban. Without it, American companies would export about $300 billion more in corn each year than they do now, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Although the debate about GM crops is partially about the remote prospect of catastrophic ecological devistation, it is actually about who gets to own the patent on corn. A struggle over who will control the code for food. Right now, this is far more looming threat than the mere destruction of all agriculture.

We’ve seen how corporate owners act when confronted with the duplication of mere music-information. They blame the massive flaws of their oligarchic business model on the file trading of teenagers, which makes them feel more than justified in unleashing both rabid lawsuits and guerrilla tactics. The RIAA’s knee-breaker desperation seemed to know few boundaries, but just recently, senator Orrin Hatch found a way to take it up a notch. This guardian the Constitution decided to lay his bat-shit craziness on the table and openly suggested that the computers of copyright violators should be hacked and destroyed. Among other egregious offenses, such corporate vigilanteism would be a violation of recent anti-terrorism laws. A United States senator just suggested that terrorism is okay for intellectual property owners.

In this environment, and as genetic information increasingly becomes just more information, how will the corporate owners of the food-codes behave? How will these copy protection methodologies look when translated into the global food supply?

There was a little discussion about this back in the late 90’s when Monsanto was trying to market the “terminator gene” — a copy protection scheme for it’s seeds. Or rather, it’s patented intellectual property. Monsanto had to back down on that one, at least publicly. In October of 1999, they said they wouldn’t commercialize “sterile seed technology.” The BBC reported on Monsanto’s public statement:

The letter said: “Though we do not yet own any sterile seed technology, we think it is important to respond to those concerns at this time by making clear our commitment not to commercialise gene protection systems that render seed sterile.”

The technology might still be used in internal research, the company said. And the genes could help create plants in which certain characteristics can be switched on and off.

Andrew Simms of Christian Aid, a development charity, said the move was a major reverse: “Terminator technology was the lynchpin of a strategy to protect corporate royalties in developing countries.

“Up until last year, the US Department of Agriculture [who own a key patent] expected that within a short period of time you would not be able to find seeds that did not use terminator technology.”

Pete Riley of Friends of the Earth said the move was an attempt by the food giant to win favour in the press. “It is only a gesture and it will cost them nothing. There is nothing to stop them introducing it at a later date.”

And apparently nothing was stopping anyone else from using similar copy protection ideas. Syngenta planted a test crop of terminator plants in England in 2001. The Institute for Science and Society recently examined the current state of “terminator” copy protection technologies and found that several are being used right now. But they also found that it’s getting harder to get information about what’s being planted.

Aside from the actual technology of genetic copy protection, corporations are nevertheless vigorously enforcing their intelectual property rights over genetic code, even when they pollute the crops of farmers not using their seeds.

A Canadian farmer named Percy Schmeiser had been planting canola in Saskatchewan for about 50 years. Around 1998, some investigators from Monsanto noticed that his canola fields were polluted with pollen from neigboring fields of genetically modified canola or maybe from passing trucks. The farmer had not planted any Monsanto seed, but his crops contained Monsanto’s patented genetic material due to cross-pollenization. Since the farmer had not signed a Technology Use Agreement for the tainted food he was growing, Monsanto sued the farmer for patent infringement.

Monsanto outlined their request for patent infringement seeking damages totaling $400,000. This included a list of civil damages, including about $250,000 in legal fees, $105,000 in profits they feel Schmeiser made on the 1998 crop, $13,500 ($15 an acre) for technology fees and $25,000 in punitive damages.

The Canadian court ruled against the farmer.

In a key part of the ruling , the judge agreed a farmer can generally own the seeds or plants grown on his land if they blow in or are carried there by pollen — but the judge says this is not true in the case of genetically modified seed.

The case is on appeal…

Critics attacking an anti-GM policy can continue to scornfully repeat that the food itself is perfectly safe. It’s even true that there’s only a very very remote chance that all terrestrial plant life would be wiped out by a genetic oopsie-daisy. But there are immediately tangible effects of forcing copy protected food on the world. Oddly enough, the pro-GM crowd seems to avoid the issue entirely…

And that GIF patent? Still valid in Canada, Europe and Japan for another year.

Related

Tron: Episode 3

In a short preview clip from Matrix Reloaded, Lawrence Fishburne is Moses/Maud’Dib giving a motivational seminar in a big cave, with all his torchlit followers getting ready to jump on some sandworms and show the machines who’s boss.

From what I hear, the scene that follows is a rave/orgy. It looks bad…

But only bad in terms of plot and theme and consistency and blah blah blah. Some advance reviewers are saying the effects are good enough that no one needs no stinkin’ plot. For example Ross Anthony enthuses about an early scene where Neo fights an ever growing array of agents:

Smith spreads himself like a computer virus and Keanu finds himself fighting two Smiths, then three, until the entire urban courtyard is teaming with Smiths. The camera spins around the street fight as if it was a rock at the end of a string. The graphics are awesome, the choreography artful, and the build in intensity worthy of being likened to Ravel’s Bolero. Bravo! Bravo!

I suppose that kind of irrational exuberance is the only viable attitude to take when going in to a summer blockbuster movie. But Adam Gopnik in the hoity-toity New Yorker describes these same superhero antics in a more jaded light:

He fights the identical agents for fifteen minutes, practically yawning while he does, and then flies away, and you wonder–why didn’t he fly away to start with? As he chops and jabs at his enemies, there isn’t the slightest doubt about the outcome, and Keanu Reeves seems merely preoccupied, as though ready to get on his cell phone for a few sage words with Slavoj Zizek.

Gopnik points out that much of the appeal of the first movie had to do with certain very old mythologies about the world which have become increasingly relevant to a technologically mediated society. Although the idea that the entire world is an imprisoning illusion dates much earlier, he goes back to the medieval Cathars, a group based mostly in the Languedoc region of France who believed the world was an illusion created by Satan.

Gopnik wonders why a group who believed “there is no spoon” would take up non-existent swords to do battle for their beilefs. Maybe more interesting question than “why did they fight,” is the question, why was this particular heresy the target of such violent oppression? In addition to their belief in an illusionary world, the Cathars were also egalitarian, vegetarian, had women priests, lived lives of poverty and chastity, and maybe had homosexual rituals. In other words, totally doomed.

The Cathars were actually the only target of an official intra-European crusade. In a tourist’s guide to Cathar sites, the Guardian offers this description of the Albigensian Crusade:

The pope did not approve of buggery, even less of non-payment of tithes, so in 1208 he declared a crusade against the Cathars, a call eagerly answered by the King of France, who was covetous of the wealth of Languedoc. The crusade was motivated by the usual mixture of self-righteousness and greed, and conducted with extreme brutality.

When the armies of Languedoc were finally crushed, the Inquisition moved in and did such a good job that the heresy was almost totally eradicated.

It’s fascinating history, all the more so for being off to the side of the more official histories of Europe and the Church. Sly references to these beliefs and this history gave the Matrix a kind of depth, more interesting in the way the film seemed only half aware of how it embodied and enacted the illusions it claimed to discuss.

The best explaination of the relationship of a gnostic worldview to technology is the first episode of The Matrix, the 1982 Disney movie Tron. And like Tron, the second episode of The Matrix from 1999 seemed only partially aware of how cybertastically cynical it was being. It was a dot.kung.fu fashon cartoon, just like most of the news in the late 90’s, which offered enough frisson that the aforementioned Zizek was able to crib a title from it, by way of Baudrillard and Philip K Dick. Fun!

But this third episode of Tron being reloaded tonight seems altogether far too aware of how cynical it is. Matrix Reloaded apparently tries to overtly feed on gnostic history and the many conspiracies swirling around it , even calling one of its evil characters “the Merovingian.” Yeah, real clever.

Maybe it will be a fine cartoon, with lots of kicks and jumps and Pow Biff Zing, “whoa watch out for the coat tails, G — that’s digitized fawn skin!” zooom! Maybe if the screen is big enough and the speakers are world-dominating enough. Maybe if there is doubleplus mediation…

And speaking of total world-obiterating escapism, Gopnik’s New Yorker review also discusses the brain-in-the-vat problem (if you were a happy brain in a vat, why wouldn’t you want to stay that way?) and more specifically, the idea of “vat-English” — a language spoken by a community of disembodied brains in reference to the shared the image-experiences they’re processing (did someone say “blogosphere“?).

Statistics of a Drinky City

With renowned Bay Area modesty, the San Francisco Chronicle proclaims: “There are more well-read drinkers in San Francisco than anywhere else in the land.” [via boing boing]

They base this on Bureau of Labor Statistics data which ranks San Francisco highest in per capita spending on alcohol and books. Each resident there spent an average of:

$744 on booze and $266 on books, out of an annual income of $70,237. The average resident of Los Angeles, by comparison, spent only $412 and $148 for the same items, out of an annual income of $53,514.

That means a San Franciscan spent 1.1 percent of his money on booze. An Angeleno spent only 0.77 percent.

Bar owner Ed Moose of the bar North Beach bar “Moose’s” had these thoughts on the alcohol issue:

“All through history San Franciscans have been drinkers,” he said. “The Gold Rush, the lack of women, the boom and bust times, the devil-may-care attitude, all of that is here.”

Los Angeles is a more sober and a more sobering place, Moose said.

“Nobody drinks in public down there, nobody stays out after about 8 o’clock, ” he said. “Everyone pretends he has to get up early in the morning.”

(Obviously just a little projection going on in terms of people pretending to have a reason to get up in the morning….)

LA may be more sobering — in the 2000 census, 22.1% of the population were below the poverty line compared to 11.3% in SF. But sober seems like a strange accusation.

So then what valid facts might lie behind this statistical ranking? Several of the high spending booze cities do have good daytime drinking weather (SF, Portland, Seattle, New York) but Honolulu is number 3, so that interpretation gets skewed. The top five cities in per capita alcohol spending also have populations less than a million people, which seems odd. Citoes like Chicago, New York, and LA surely spill more liquor than the sleepy village by the Bay. All in all, these statistics seem to just indicate that things are kind of expensive in San Francisco. In which case Moose can be forgiven his irrational bias — you gotta keep your spirits up while dealing with such a tiny concentration of the wealthy-yet-unemployed.

So all this got me looking at demographic data on drinking, which the Feds have also helpfully supplied. The consumer expediture survey java-based public data querey generated the following charts of drinking expenditure based on education. The vertical axis is the average number of dollars spent on alcoholic beverages per year by a person with the corresponding degree.

high school diploma

bachelor’s degree

masters, PhD or professional degree

What does it all mean? The obvious data points:

  • Book lernin’ aside, in 1999 everybody partied like it was 1999.
  • More school = more money spent on drinks.

One interpretation is that people who go to college learn to drink more. Which is of course true. But these charts could also indicate that more college means more expensive drinks. Lacking solid empirical data on the cost-per-sippy of the expensively degreed, this loose end remains naggingly untied.

We also need to factor in the new New Economy and the massive layoffs that began around 2000-2001: people with a high school education and a presumably crappy job had a one year drop in drinking expenditures of about 10%. People with a graduate degree, presumably with a mediocre job which they abruptly lost along with their entire savings, had a major drop in booze expense — almost 25%.

This drop might be single-handedly accounted for by the patrons of Moose’s, one quarter of whom moved to Los Angeles en masse when they all lost their information architect gigs in SoMa, in spite of their master’s degrees. Most of these people are now stuffed into the once comfortable bars of LA, loudly complaining about how much this so-called city sucks and how hard it is to land a good commercial. What’s especially irritating is that they always take up an extra bar stool with their carpetbags, which are inevitably filled with copies of their sexy yet theoretically deep action-adventure-romance screenplays, “cause that’s what you do in LA.”

Call to them, Moose. Howl to them through the foggy night! Cause if they ever stop yelling into their cell phones about how cool the Mission used to be, maybe they’ll hear you and come home. And I’ll be able to get a bar stool again.

Meanwhile, people with just a bachelor’s degree appear to have spent a little more on alcohol over the 2000-2001 period. They are the Honolulu or the Portland of this data set? In either case, kudos!

Opening a souvenir can of fog whilst awaiting further testing…

Statistics of a Drinky City

With renowned Bay Area modesty, the San Francisco Chronicle proclaims: “There are more well-read drinkers in San Francisco than anywhere else in the land.” [via boing boing]

They base this on Bureau of Labor Statistics data which ranks San Francisco highest in per capita spending on alcohol and books. Each resident there spent an average of:

$744 on booze and $266 on books, out of an annual income of $70,237. The average resident of Los Angeles, by comparison, spent only $412 and $148 for the same items, out of an annual income of $53,514.

That means a San Franciscan spent 1.1 percent of his money on booze. An Angeleno spent only 0.77 percent.

Bar owner Ed Moose of the bar North Beach bar “Moose’s” had these thoughts on the alcohol issue:

“All through history San Franciscans have been drinkers,” he said. “The Gold Rush, the lack of women, the boom and bust times, the devil-may-care attitude, all of that is here.”

Los Angeles is a more sober and a more sobering place, Moose said.

“Nobody drinks in public down there, nobody stays out after about 8 o’clock, ” he said. “Everyone pretends he has to get up early in the morning.”

(Obviously just a little projection going on in terms of people pretending to have a reason to get up in the morning….)

LA may be more sobering — in the 2000 census, 22.1% of the population were below the poverty line compared to 11.3% in SF. But sober seems like a strange accusation.

So then what valid facts might lie behind this statistical ranking? Several of the high spending booze cities do have good daytime drinking weather (SF, Portland, Seattle, New York) but Honolulu is number 3, so that interpretation gets skewed. The top five cities in per capita alcohol spending also have populations less than a million people, which seems odd. Citoes like Chicago, New York, and LA surely spill more liquor than the sleepy village by the Bay. All in all, these statistics seem to just indicate that things are kind of expensive in San Francisco. In which case Moose can be forgiven his irrational bias — you gotta keep your spirits up while dealing with such a tiny concentration of the wealthy-yet-unemployed.

So all this got me looking at demographic data on drinking, which the Feds have also helpfully supplied. The consumer expediture survey java-based public data querey generated the following charts of drinking expenditure based on education. The vertical axis is the average number of dollars spent on alcoholic beverages per year by a person with the corresponding degree.

high school diploma

bachelor’s degree

masters, PhD or professional degree

What does it all mean? The obvious data points:

  • Book lernin’ aside, in 1999 everybody partied like it was 1999.
  • More school = more money spent on drinks.

One interpretation is that people who go to college learn to drink more. Which is of course true. But these charts could also indicate that more college means more expensive drinks. Lacking solid empirical data on the cost-per-sippy of the expensively degreed, this loose end remains naggingly untied.

We also need to factor in the new New Economy and the massive layoffs that began around 2000-2001: people with a high school education and a presumably crappy job had a one year drop in drinking expenditures of about 10%. People with a graduate degree, presumably with a mediocre job which they abruptly lost along with their entire savings, had a major drop in booze expense — almost 25%.

This drop might be single-handedly accounted for by the patrons of Moose’s, one quarter of whom moved to Los Angeles en masse when they all lost their information architect gigs in SoMa, in spite of their master’s degrees. Most of these people are now stuffed into the once comfortable bars of LA, loudly complaining about how much this so-called city sucks and how hard it is to land a good commercial. What’s especially irritating is that they always take up an extra bar stool with their carpetbags, which are inevitably filled with copies of their sexy yet theoretically deep action-adventure-romance screenplays, “cause that’s what you do in LA.”

Call to them, Moose. Howl to them through the foggy night! Cause if they ever stop yelling into their cell phones about how cool the Mission used to be, maybe they’ll hear you and come home. And I’ll be able to get a bar stool again.

Meanwhile, people with just a bachelor’s degree appear to have spent a little more on alcohol over the 2000-2001 period. They are the Honolulu or the Portland of this data set? In either case, kudos!

Opening a souvenir can of fog whilst awaiting further testing…

Scientia est Polentia

The Information Awareness Office removed it’s masonic overlord logo in the face of worldwide confusion at how fucking obvious they were being. The IAO Total Information FAQ [pdf] was bold enough to claim that the all-seeing eye in the pyramid with it’s globe spanning death beam was actually just a clever rebus (“the eye stands for the letter I…”). As befits any earth-bound godling worth their lightning-bolt spear, they have no shame.

Sadly, all that remains of this striking work of jubulant cynicism are freedom thongs (profits to the ACLU courtesy of Richard Gingras). Which means Dr. Weird never did get around to explaining the occult roots of “IAO” itself…

John Zorn links IAO to Satan. Or it could be the Great Work, as expressed in the Union of the 5 and 6 which equals 11 = Abrahadabra = IAO = 203 = 23. Of course there is an etymological identity between Tetragrammaton and “I A O”, but the magical formulae are entirely different, as the descriptions here given have schewn.

Knowledge is Power” ?

Slime Balls are Ant Food

Driving down the quiet and dark of the 2, Los Angeles like a glowing fungus peeking over the hills of Glendale, and that crown top tower looks ready to eject its spores any second…

But where are the ants, fearlessly climbing and locking their mandibles? Where is the fungal horn’d spore vector of this city?

Somewhere there are mad ants swaying from the moonlit tips of tall grass…

Sime balls are ant food. When ants eat them, they also eat the cercaria of D. dendriticum. Inside the ants, most of the cercaria encyst in the walls of the abdomen, but one or two migrate to the head and encyst in the subesophageal ganglion, a part of the brain. Here the cercaria transform into another life stage called metacercaria. Unlike the metacercaria left behind in the abdomen, these never become infective. These metacercaria do something else. They drive their hosts mad.

As evening approaches and the air temperature drops, ants infected with D. dendriticum do not return to the colonyalong with their fellow workers. Instead, the infected ants climb to thetops of surrounding grasses, clamp their mandibles into the grass blades,and remain there, immobile, until the morning sun warms them again. When that happens, the ants (at least those who survive) resume their normal behavior—until the following evening.

Temporary insanity. “Temporary” because it lasts only aslong as the sun is down. “Insanity” because the timing of the ants’ indiscretion corresponds exactly to the feeding cycles of the grazing cattle who feed most vigorously during the late evenings and early mornings. But here,the grasses are filled up with mad beings that suffer not from poor toilet training or moral and spiritual turpitude but from an infectious disease. Parasitic madness. Madness with a past and a purpose.

Each night beneath the African moon, crazy ants perch atop the grasses of Nigeria and wait for the cracked molars of hungry cattle to end a mad ritual. When the madness is complete and the ants are finally eaten, D.dendriticum completes its complex life cycle,and the arduous trip from cow to ground to cow closes once more. Inside the cow, digestive juices strip ant from parasite, and while the scene fades to black, life begins again, minus a few crazy ants.

(If great cheese comes from happy cows, and happy cows come from California, is this where mad cows come from?)

Don’t worry — it’s just a grape nut, my little fire ant.