Friday, February 29, 2008

99% of all Craigslist RnR posts

You! Yes, you, [member of group that I do not belong to]! In [situation] you failed to read my mind and, instead of behaving exactly the way that I want you to behave, you decided to behave in some different way! Allow me to enumerate the ways that this makes you a failure as a human being:

[Long-winded attempt to be amusing.]

(Optional:) Actually, come to think of it, there may be a reason you behaved the way that you did, instead of the way that I want you to behave! For example, [reason]. But that reason is a bad one, because it leads to an outcome that I dislike, and I am the center of the universe!

I am just trying to help here! Come on, [member of group that I do not belong to]! In the future, please be better at reading my mind and conforming to my desires!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

My experience with Passage

My feedreader this morning leads me via Terra Nova to Passage, an arty indie game whose (warning: spoilers) creator's statement shows a thoughtfulness and purpose that's rare in game design.

So, I downloaded the Linux tarball, unpacked and built it (and its shared library dependencies; some sudo apt-get install required), and started it up. Whereupon I was greeted by, er, something other than the life I was promised:

In short, there was no maze to the south, and there was no path by which I could avoid acquiring a wife. Instead of a tradeoff between exploration and treasure, or between a life of lonely freedom versus married bliss/grief, I was given a single, unbroken line of treasure. Evidently Passage's message for me was that I would inevitably live a long, repetitive life where female companionship and riches would be lavished upon me without my ever having to make hard choices or challenge myself. In short, I would be an investment banker.

Epic fail, as the kids say. Some trivial bug — maybe the random number generator, maybe the maze generation algorithm — squashed this game's designs on greatness (ADDENDUM 2008-02-24 10:45 p.m.: ...on my platform, of course).

I suppose, however, that even the buggy game has a message, and one that could even be appropriate depending on the audience. Truthfully, all things considered, my life has been pretty easy. It seems all too plausible that I could just continue muddling through as I have been and end up in the silent water.

Monday, February 04, 2008

I will vote for Obama tomorrow.

Warning: Upcoming exercise in rambling self-justification that tells you almost nothing you don't already know, and comes far too late to make any difference to anyone.

I was going to vote for John Edwards.

Early in the campaign, Edwards was the only one of the three major candidates who seemed to fundamentally understand that you cannot defeat toxic Republican policies except by opposing them forcefully and with conviction. You cannot defeat them by offering the public watered-down versions of Republican policies; you cannot defeat them by offering the public the sheer force of your charisma; you can only defeat them by fighting them until you win: by convincing the public that your opponents are wrong.

Edwards was also the only candidate who, I believed, was motivated by genuine outrage about the suffering of poor people in America. I'm not poor — in fact, I'm so socially insulated from poverty that nobody I know is genuinely poor (note that I don't count grad students who could get decent jobs if they chose) — but I know that the default setting of politics is to serve the well-to-do, and any counterweight in the other direction seemed like a welcome change.

But Edwards dropped out of the race last week. So I had a choice.

I had been strongly leaning one way for a long time; the direction will surprise nobody who knows me. Recently, however, I was almost dissuaded by Obama's very real badness on health care reform — consult Krugman and Ezra Klein for details.

But ultimately, for me, the candidates' differences in individual policy positions are overwhelmed by structural differences in their relationships to political power. Clinton is far more in thrall to existing power structures in Washington, both financial and rhetorical. Clinton not only understands how Washington works, as she boasts; on some basic level, she agrees with its basic premises. And therefore, in the year 2008, electing President Hillary Clinton would be a vast improvement over the status quo, but also a disappointment.

Last Thursday, I ducked out of work to see Lawrence Lessig speak at Stanford. The talk was billed as his final speech on Free Culture, but he spent the last quarter hour speaking about his new focus: the corrupting influence of money on politics, via lobbyists, PACs, etc. When policy chases the median dollar instead of the median human life, human happiness is not the optimized variable. To make public policy work for human beings, therefore, one must actively fight against money's influence.

Lessig argued, furthermore, that unless a significant bloc of voters makes this issue non-negotiable — he said it must be a "litmus test" — then change will never occur. (Note that he carefully avoided stating the converse proposition that change will occur if voters do make it a litmus test. Lessig is an idealist, but he is not an optimist.)

Clinton's campaign has been, to a large degree, powered by the influx of lobbyist and PAC money. No surprise, therefore, that Lessig endorsed Obama early; he has a new video up tonight reiterating his support (in his widely-imitated and wildly effective slideshow style, about which more later).

Anyway, I'm no more optimistic than Lessig about the possibility of pruning the influence of money from politics, but it seems like it's worth a shot. We'll never weed the money out completely, but Lessig made it seem tantalizingly possible that we could dramatically reduce its influence in the foreseeable future.

Lessig alone didn't sway my vote, but I walked out of that lecture confirmed in my conviction that the structural differences between Obama's campaign and Clinton's were reason enough to overcome my feelings about particular issues, even those as important as health care.

With luck, therefore, for once in who knows how many election cycles, California will play a meaningful role in choosing the next President of the United States. And with luck, it will be Obama.

p.s. Incidentally, one of the most interesting moments in Lessig's talk came afterwards, when someone asked him about running for Congress — a question perhaps prompted by rumors floating around the Bay Area. Lessig's answer (approx.): "This was supposed to be the last Free Culture talk, not the first running for Congress talk." I don't hear a denial there. Note also that Lessig's famed slideshow style has evolved from the grunge P22 Typewriter-on-black he used in the Free Culture days, to a more refined serif font on a slate-gray background, which looks (to my eye) more "Washingtonian" somehow.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Fundamentalist chat room highlights

I suspect this is making the rounds, but I was infected via C. Stross, so here it is. Many laugh-out-loud moments.* And some depressingly tragic moments as well.** A small taste:

One of the most basic laws in the universe is the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This states that as time goes by, entropy in an environment will increase. Evolution argues differently against a law that is accepted EVERYWHERE BY EVERYONE. Evolution says that we started out simple, and over time became more complex. That just isn't possible: UNLESS there is a giant outside source of energy supplying the Earth with huge amounts of energy. If there were such a source, scientists would certainly know about it.

I want to say something witty about the last two sentences in this quote, but its comic timing is so exquisite that I cannot add anything to it.

As with many of the quotes, one wonders whether the person writing it is actually satirizing fundamentalism. But part of the fun, I suppose, is observing that fundamentalist speech and satire of fundamentalist speech are indistinguishable.

* I mean literally. Not: "It actually only made me sort of smile silently but I will describe this activity as 'laughing out loud' for dramatic effect". I am sitting here on this Sunday morning making loud noises of hilarity. Down with the metaphorical "lol".

** Of course, the tragedy and humor often go together.