Nov 17

Why “Commons” language gives me hives

A bit of blogging for the record here. Doc Searls wrote:

“The Commons” and “the public domain” might be legitimate concepts
with deep and relevant histories, but they’re too arcane to most of
us. Eric Raymond has told me more than once that the Commons Thing
kinda rubs him the wrong way. [...] (Maybe he’ll come in here and
correct me or enlarge on his point.)

This is what I emailed him in response:

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Nov 13

Peak Oil — A Wish-Fulfillment Fantasy for Secular Idiots

Secularists and leftists enjoy sneering at conservative Christians who believe in the Rapture and other flavors of millenarianism. Reasonably so: it takes either a drooling idiot or somebody who has deliberately shut off most of his brain, reducing himself to an idiotically low level of critical thinking, to believe such things. The draw, of couse, is that each individual fundamentalist implicitly believes he will be among the saved — privileged to honk a great big I TOLD YOU SO! at all those sinners writhing in the lake of fire.

It is therefore more than a little amusing to notice how prone these ‘sophisticated’ critics are to their own forms of idiotic millenarianism.

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Sep 13

Suicidalism

The most important weapons of al-Qaeda and the rest of the Islamist
terror network are the suicide bomber and the suicide thinker. The
suicide bomber is typically a Muslim fanatic whose mission it is to
spread terror; the suicide thinker is typically a Western academic or
journalist or politician whose mission it is to destroy the West’s
will to resist not just terrorism but any ideological challenge at all.

But al-Qaeda didn’t create the ugly streak of nihilism and
self-loathing that afflicts too many Western intellectuals. Nor, I
believe, is it a natural development. It was brought to us by
Department V of the KGB, which was charged during the Cold War with
conducting memetic warfare that would destroy the will of the West’s
intelligentsia to resist a Communist takeover. This they did with
such magnificent effect that the infection outlasted the Soviet Union
itself and remains a pervasive disease of contemporary Western
intellectual life.

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Sep 13

Help with WordPress

This is a request for help from my readers. I’m trying to find out how to hack WP so that it will never insert <br> tags in my entries. I want it to ignore hard newlines, treating them as soft.

Sep 12

Site theme no longer completely sucks

OK, the site theme no longer completely sucks. I’m using Jim Vanderveen’s modified version of Steam, with my own custom header and the CSS brutally simplified to get rid of margins and excess whitespace.

I’m extremely relieved to have got rid of the default “Kubrick” WP theme.
Fixed-width, heavy whitespace, gratuitous images — what were the WP developers thinking?

(Grrr. Designers who change the browser-default color and decorations for hyperlinks are depriving readers of valuable navigational cues and should be killed in some horrible way.)

I may make some minor changes to improve the look a little over the next few days.

Sep 11

WordPress theme designers annoy the crap out of me

Having discovered that my WordPress 1.5 upgrade broke the CSS and
customized template I had designed for WordPress 1.2, I’ve been
shopping for a new theme at the WRC Theme
Viewer
site. I’m looking for something clean and simple that I
can customize to my taste.

Having browsed through over a hundred and fifty themes, I’m left with one
burning question in my mind: why are 90% of these themes designed by
utter pinheads who don’t understand basic Web concepts like letting the
viewer control the presentation?

I’ve ranted about the drooling idiocy of pixel-sized fonts before.
Many of these themes not only make that mistake (which hoses anyone in
a screen with a DPI different from the designer’s), they cram the
content into boxes or vertical bands that don’t resize when you
widen or narrow the browser
.

There are a handful of honorable exceptions: Clasikue. Anarchy.
Curtains up. Dixie Belle. Elvgren. Flex. Fullwidth. Gentle
Calm. Gila. Greenwood. Ice. The three “Journalized” themes. Man-ja.
Operate. Placidwide. Psycho. Rampart. RohitKumar.org.
Sixties. Steam. But by and large, almost all of the more than 250
themes at this site (and elsewhere I’ve looked) make the same basic,
unforgiveable error. They treat the display like fancy paper under
the control of the theme designer rather than allowing the
user’s preferences to control font sizes and the width of the
display area.

It’s the web, you morons! Stop wasting readers’ screen
space with frames and diapered borders. They have better use for
their pixels than all that frou-frou crap.

Sep 09

Upgrade in progress

My WordPress instance was just upgraded from 1.2 to 1.5. The visual presentation may have a glitch or two until I edit the template.

UPDATE: Aaargh. It looks like the special magic in the templates has been changed enough that I will have to rebuild my look and feel from scratch. This may take a while…

Sep 08

Microsoft’s Worst Nightmare?

A commenter writes, in reference to my letter to the Microsoft
recruiter,

BTW, I think abrogating to yourself the status of MS’s worst
nightmare might be seen as presumptious, considering that FLOSS
depends on a big community, and a lot of what FLOSS is about precedes
your 97 work, but far be it from me to try to teach ESR strategy.

Um. You meant “arrogating”, I think. A few words about that…

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Sep 08

Impotent radicals

A minor SF writer of radical Marxist political convictions recently uttered a rather incoherent rant in which, among other things, she accused me of “simple-minded right-wing” views. I’m not going to name her because I don’t dislike the woman enough to want to add to her troubles. But I’ve heard this song before from other Marxists, and I can’t resist commenting on why I find such accusations darkly amusing.

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Sep 01

The first good thing to come of Hurricane Katrina

Oh, my stars and garters. A pro-firearms story in the New York Times?

Yes, children, it has actually happened: Police and Owners Begin to Challenge Looters (link via InstaPundit). Property owners with guns maintaining civil order in their neighborhood are cited approvingly. There’s even a picture of a handsome armed couple “on the lookout for looters”.

I think I’m more shocked by this than I was by the hurricane. It’s bylined “FELICITY BARRINGER and JERE LONGMAN”; I wonder what life is going to be like for them at the Grey Lady’s next struggle session.

Aug 29

Getting Orwell Wrong

The interpretation of George Orwell could be a paradigm for how dead literary figures get knocked from pillar to post by the winds of political interpretation. During his lifetime, the author of 1984 and Animal Farm went from darling of the left to exile for having been willing to write the truth about Communist totalitarianism in allegories too pointed to ignore.

With the end of the Cold War, forty-two years after Orwell’s death, the poisonous fog breathed on Western intellectual life by Soviet agents of influence slowly began to lift. It became possible to say that Communist totalitarianism was evil and had always been evil, without being dismissed as a McCarthyite or reactionary not merely by those agents but by a lot of “no enemy to the left” liberal patsies who should have known better. In this climate, Orwell’s uncompromising truth-telling shone even more brightly than before. For some on the left, belated shame at their own complicity with evil transmuted itself into more adulation for Orwell, and more attempted identification with Orwell’s positions, than at any time in the previous fifty years.

Then came 9/11. Orwell’s sturdy common sense about the war against the fascisms of his day made him a model for a few thinkers of the left who realized they had arrived at another of Marx’s “world-historical moments”, another pivot point at which everything changed. Foremost among these was Christopher Hitchens, who would use Orwell to good effect in taking an eloquent and forceful line in favor of the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq. For this, he was rewarded with the same vituperation and shunning by the Left that had greeted the publication of Orwell’s anti-totalitarian allegories fifty years before.

Hitchens, who coined the term “Islamofascist” for the ideology of Al-Qaeda and its allies, is in particular responsible for having given renewed currency to the following Orwell quote addressing the war against the Nazis:

Pacifism is objectively pro-fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side, you automatically
help out that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the present one. In practice, he that is not with me is against me.

Reading it in its original full form, in a 1941 essay Pacifism and the War published in Partisan Review, only makes it clearer how directly the quote applies to the War on Terror.

Stung by this, various creatures of the pro-Islamofascist Left (and, alas, some liberal and libertarian patsies who should have known better) responded by asserting that Orwell repudiated this position in his 1944 essay As I Please. But a careful reading of this essay shows that there is less here than meets the eye.

What Orwell actually warns against in this essay is not the concept of “objective pro-fascism”, it is any unwarranted leap from noticing that someone is objectively pro-fascist to assuming that the person is intentionally pro-fascist. Orwell explains that confusing these categories is dangerous because it can cause you to mis-predict peoples’ behavior.

There is nothing exceptionable here, and nothing that repudiates the substance of the earlier quote. Yes, Orwell does observe “I have been guilty of saying this myself more than once”, but his “guilty” is a rhetorical flourish, a setup for his real point about confusing effects with intentions.

Both essays are examples of the determined stab, straight through cant to the heart of the matter, that Orwell did so well and so consistently. It was perfectly consistent with the rest of his work for him to observe that there is such a thing as objective pro-fascism, then insist that we not confuse that condition with intentional treason.

As for those who would like to use this “retraction” to take Orwell out of the fight…your behavior is objectively pro-fascist in precisely the sense he intended. At the very least, it is evidence of careless reading and sloppy thinking.

Aug 29

Pretty People Behaving Stupidly

I’ve been learning about the romance genre recently. I have no intrinsic interest in it at all, but I have an intelligent friend who plows through romances the way I read SF, and we’ve been discussing the conventions and structural features of the genre. Along the way I’ve learned that romance fans use an acronym TSTL which expands to “Too Stupid To Live”, describing a class of bad romance in which the plot turns on one or both leads exhibiting less claim to sophont status than the average bowl of clam dip.

My wife and I have parts in an upcoming live-action roleplaying game set in early 16th-century Venice. As preparation, she suggested we watch a movie called Dangerous Beauty set in the period. I couldn’t stand more than about 20 minutes of it. “It’s just,” I commented later “pretty people behaving stupidly.”

On reflection, I’ve discovered that PPBS describes a great deal of both the fiction and nonfiction I can’t stand. It’s a more general category that includes not just TSTL, but celebrity gossip magazines, almost every “romantic comedy” ever made, and a large percentage of the top-rated TV shows (especially, of course, the soap operas).

Obviously there’s a huge market for this stuff. I must be from Mars or something, because I don’t get it. How is wallowing in PPBS any different from going to the zoo to watch monkeys masturbate?

B-but… half my readers are probably spluttering, “…those are monkeys. PPBS is about people. Their hopes, their loves, their foolishness and dreams.” Yeah. And your point is? The entire emotional range of PPBS is duplicated in the social dynamics of any chimpanzee band; that’s exactly what makes it so boring.

There is nothing there about what actually makes us human, neither the good stuff like science and art and discovery nor the bad stuff like warfare and governments. In a universe of satoris and supernovas, the people who produce and consume PPBS only care about who slept with or dissed or made up with who.

I find that truly sad.

UPDATE: I’m a shadow Tourette’s Syndrome case, not a shadow autist like many other geeks. Nevertheless, this description of neurotypicality seems relevant.

Aug 28

Katrina and the Kos

About twelve hours ago I toyed with the idea of writing a satire in
which the Bush-haters blame W. for the magnitude of the disaster
bearing down on New Orleans. I discarded the idea on the grounds that
it’s (a) not funny, and (b) not believable enough. I mean, who could
really imagine that theory even from a barking moonbat?

Shows you what I know. One of the contributors at Daily Kos has already
flung those feces,
before Katrina lands, yet. And — here’s the funny part —
the charge is already falsified by the facts on the ground.

I’m not a fan of George W. Bush. But when his opponents are
this transcendently foaming-at-the-mouth idiotic, it’s hard not to
wind up supporting him.

Aug 28

People Getting Brighter, Culture Getting Dimmer

In response to my previous post noting that the Flynn effect turns out to be a mirage, at least two respondents have suggested that average IQ has actually been falling, and have pointed to the alleged dumbing-down of politics and popular culture in the last fifty years.

I think both those respondents and the psychometricians are correct. That is, it seems to me that during my lifetime I’ve seen evidence that average IQ has risen a little, but that other traits involved in the “smart or stupid” judgment have eroded.

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Aug 26

Out like Flynn

Renowned pychometrician Charles Murray has given us, in The
Inequality Taboo
, a concise summary of the most current science on
group differences in IQ and other measures of capability. Most of it
is not surprising to anybody who has been following the actual science
rather than press accounts severely distorted by the demands of
political correctness.

There is some new information here, however, and perhaps the most
interesting bit is that turns out to be much less to the Flynn effect
than meets the eye. The Flynn effect is the long-term rise in average
IQ scores recorded since IQ began to be measured in the early 20th
century. Advocates of the view that IQ is unimportant or meaningless
have seized on the Flynn effect to argue that IQ is either (a) a
statistical artifact, or (b) almost entirely environmentally driven
(and thus can presumptively be increased by correct social
policy).

Murray’s news is that the Flynn effect is not being driven by a
rise in average g, the measure of general mental ability that accounts
for over 50% of variance in almost all kinds of mental aptitude tests.
Since Spearman discovered the ‘g’ statistic, almost all psychometricians
have accepted that IQ is interesting precisely because it is a good
approxmation of g. Thus, the Flynn effect is basically a mirage —
it’s taking place in the noise, not the signal.

I’m not entirely sure what this means yet, and I don’t believe
Murray or other psychometricians have gotten to the bottom of it
either. But at minimum, it’s very suggestive that IQ differences are
either genetic or driven by environmental factors over which we have
little control. Spearman’s g, in particular, is notoriously
intractable. It is highly heritable according to separated-twin
studies. And while there is good evidence that it can be lowered from
its ‘natural’ genetic level by unfavorable environment (such as poor
childhood nutrition), it apparently can’t be raised by a favorable
one.

Indeed, Murray reports in a footnote evidence from a study in
Denmark that the Flynn effect has leveled off since the early 1990s.
Thus, it may be that we have already maxed out the effects of wealth
and better nutrition on the both the g and non-g components of IQ that
we can manipulate.

Aug 25

Blame The Audience

In Summer
Fading, Hollywood Sees Fizzle
, a writer for the New York
Times
explores the theory that movie attendance is tanking
because the quality of all too many mega-hyped “major movies” has
plunged into the crapper. Well, no shit, Sherlock — what was
your first clue? Pearl Harbor? Alexander?
Mission Impossible II? What’s really news about this story is
that it’s news — a startling break from the blame-the-audience
thinking so prevalent in Big Media over the last decade.

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