December 6th, 2013
Not for the first time, The Onion nails it:
JOHANNESBURG – Following the death of former South African president and civil rights leader Nelson Mandela today at the age of 95, sources confirmed that the revered humanitarian has become the first politician in recorded history to actually be missed. [...]
[Via scott_sanford, commenting at More Words, Deeper Hole]
September 25th, 2013
Susan Faludi in The Baffler, on Leaning In:
The scene at the [Lean In event addressed by Sheryl Sandberg at the] Menlo Park auditorium, and its conflation of "believe in yourself" faith and material rewards, will be familiar to anyone who's ever spent a Sunday inside a prosperity-gospel megachurch or watched Reverend Ike's vintage "You Deserve the Best!" sermon on YouTube. But why is that same message now ascendant among the American feminists of the new millennium?
Sandberg's admirers would say that Lean In is using free-market beliefs to advance the cause of women's equality. Her detractors would say (and have) that her organization is using the desire for women's equality to advance the cause of the free market. And they would both be right. In embodying that contradiction, Sheryl Sandberg would not be alone and isn't so new. For the last two centuries, feminism, like evangelicalism, has been in a dance with capitalism.
September 10th, 2013
August 31st, 2013
Tom Slee is unimpressed by an attempt to hijack the 'sharing economy' for the benefit of venture capitalists:
So a couple of months ago Douglas Atkin, head of Community and E-staff Member at AirBnB, took to the stage of the Le Web conference in London (video) to announce the formation of Peers: "a grassroots organization that supports the sharing economy movement." I like grassroots organizations and I like the co-operative impulse, but this… Well here is his speech (in quotation marks) in its entirety with comments from yours truly.
Now why should you do this? Well it's the right thing to do. We literally stand on the brink of a new, better kind of economic system, that delivers social as well as economic benefits. In fact, social and economic benefits that the old economy promised but failed to deliver. As Julia, an AirBnB host, told me just last night, "the sharing economy saved my arse".
The sharing economy is not an alternative to capitalism, it's the ultimate end point of capitalism in which we are all reduced to temporary labourers and expected to smile about it because we are interested in the experience not the money. Jobs become "extra money" just like women's jobs used to be "extra money", and like those jobs they don't come with things like insurance protection, job security, benefits – none of that old economy stuff. But hey, you're not an employee, you're a micro-entrepreneur. And you're not doing it for the money, you're doing it for the experience. We just assume you're making a living some other way.
Well worth reading in full.
August 21st, 2013
Novelist and former MP Louise Mensch, demonstrating her deep understanding of how digital technology works:
She probably thinks the Guardian no longer has access to the files on that laptop too.
Actually, cancel that. I'm sure she's perfectly well aware that digital data can be – and in this case, was – backed up. To my mind, she's just doing her bit to help the government to deflect the focus of the discussion away from the Guardian's story and the doings of the surveillance state and on to the government's preferred law-and-order/keeping-us-safe-from-terrorists/nothing-to-hide, nothing-to-fear agenda.
[Via Charlie's Diary]
August 10th, 2013
Adam Curtis on the awful truth about spies:
The recent revelations by the whistleblower Edward Snowden were fascinating. But they – and all the reactions to them – had one enormous assumption at their heart.
That the spies know what they are doing.
It is a belief that has been central to much of the journalism about spying and spies over the past fifty years. That the anonymous figures in the intelligence world have a dark omniscience. That they know what's going on in ways that we don't.
It doesn't matter whether you hate the spies and believe they are corroding democracy, or if you think they are the noble guardians of the state. In both cases the assumption is that the secret agents know more than we do.
But the strange fact is that often when you look into the history of spies what you discover is something very different. [...]
July 29th, 2013
One for readers in the UK: the Open Rights Group invites you to sign their petition telling David Cameron to Stop Sleepwalking the UK into Censorship.
Dear David Cameron,
Everyone agrees that we should try to protect children from harmful content. But asking everyone to sleepwalk into censorship does more harm than good.
Filters won't stop children seeing adult content and risks giving parents a false sense of security. It will stop people finding advice on sexual health, sexuality and relationships. This isn't just about pornography. Filters will block any site deemed unsuitable for under 18s.
Please drop these plans immediately.
June 16th, 2013
Mark Blyth does a marvelous job of dismantling the notions that Austerity is Good For Us and It's What We All Deserve for Being Spendthrift in Austerity – The History of a Dangerous Idea:
[Via Memex 1.1]
March 21st, 2013
Thank the Academy: A visualization of how Oscar winners express gratitude.
I have to be honest: that's one of the more straightforward charts on the site. The interactive charts that really let you slice and dice the data are where the action is, but they can't be properly represented by a dinky screenshot over here.
You really should go and have a play for yourself. You can view the differences in the content of speeches and even the behaviour of the recipient, then view the differences between eras, or between different classes of award winner. It's a very well done site.
I'd love to see someone apply these same techniques and style of presentation to another corpus taken from an annual event with a bit of a history to it. Say, Budget speeches by Chancellors of the Exchequer over the last 50 years, or party leaders' speeches to their party conference. Granted, you couldn't do much with an analysis by gender of either of those data sets – what with any analysis by gender of the relevant UK data sets having Margaret Thatcher on one side of the stats and generation after generation of middle aged men on the other – but there would be all sorts of illuminating ways to break the data down.
One think I can confidently predict: those sorts of data sets would provide fewer opportunities to tally the number of speakers who burst into tears during their speech. Also, some poor devil would have to sit through recordings of each speech taking detailed notes, and I'm pretty sure that'd be a lot less entertaining – a lot less glamorous, certainly – than watching 50 years of excerpts from the Oscars.
Getting back to the more glamorous data set, the site will even tell you who has been thanked by name most frequently in acceptance speeches by directors, leading and supporting actors and actresses.
[Via Flowing Data]
February 16th, 2013
I didn't see Marco Rubio's speech but I just got a residual check.
[Here's the context, for those of you who aren't American politics junkies. If you don't know why Albert Brooks would be connected with Marco Rubio, go and watch Broadcast News. You won't regret it.]
[Via The New Yorker]
February 10th, 2013
Why My Bloody Valentine's 'mbv' Has Come Too Late To Stop The End Of The World:
Thanks Kevin. Thanks a fucking bunch for taking 22 years to make a record that could have saved the world. All you had to do was make a bunch of songs that sound like being hit on the head with a shovel after doing poppers while listening to a melancholy whale sighing. But you couldn't be bothered and now we're all going to die in planet wide nuclear annihilation.
[Via The Null Device]
February 1st, 2013
Being a statistician, a feminist and a fan of the outgoing US Secretary of State, Hilary Parker couldn't resist investigating whether it's true that the name Hilary/Hillary is the most poisoned baby name in US history.
A lot of screen-scraping and many R sessions later, she shares her conclusions and reasoning with the rest of us, As a bonus, she explores fascinating side issues, like the reasons why some names saw short-lived leaps in popularity:
For each of the names that "dropped in" I did a little research on the name and the year. "Dewey" popped up in 1898 because of the Spanish-American War – people named their daughters after George Dewey "Deneen" was one name of a duo with a one-hit wonder in 1968. "Katina" and "Catina" were wildly popular because in 1972 in the soap opera Where the Heart Is a character is born named Katina. "Farrah" became popular in 1976 when Charlie's Angels, starring Farrah Fawcett, debuted (notice that the name becomes popular in 2009 when Farrah Fawcett died).
I couldn't resist doing a quick-and-dirty search across the data files on the relative frequency of given names in the population of U.S. births where the individual has a Social Security Number. It appears that in 2008 and 2009 the name 'Barack' saw a tenfold rise in popularity compared to 2007 (albeit from a small base):
Interestingly, no hits came up for the name 'Barack' in the files representing years prior to 2007. Could it be that I've uncovered evidence, from data files supplied by his very own Administration, that Obama wasn't born on American soil after all?
[Via Waxy.org: Links Miniblog]
November 24th, 2012
Entering a massively reinforced shelter built for the president and his entourage in the North Carolina mountains, Eisenhower remarked to an aide, "My God, until now, I didn't realize how scared we are."
From The Brilliant Prudence of Dwight Eisenhower by Evan Thomas.
November 23rd, 2012
Roy Greenslade has fond memories of time spent at London's Speakers' Corner:
By far the most memorable of the speakers was Donald Soper, the Methodist preacher, because he didn't rant and he dealt so equably with the hecklers. Even those who disagreed with his message seemed to respect him.
Some time later I heard him tell an anecdote about the time a heckler defeated him.
A gesticulating, anxious man kept screaming: "You're mad". After a dozen such interruptions, Soper finally addressed him: "Look friend, this is getting you nowhere. It seems to me as if you might be mad yourself."
The man replied: "No I'm not, and I can prove it." He ran forward to the soap box and, with a cackling laugh, handed Soper a piece of paper.
After reading it, Soper smilingly handed it back and told the crowd: "I can confirm that this man is not mad. That letter, dated yesterday, is his official discharge from a mental institution."
November 12th, 2012
Such was the extent of his triumph last week that even 11 year-old girls are crushing on Nate Silver:
I wonder if when you get up in the morning you open your kitchen cabinet and go, I'm feeling 18.5% Rice Chex and 27.9% Frosted Mini-Wheats and 32% one of those whole-grain Kashi cereals which have photos of smiling multicultural people on the boxes, as if smiling multicultural people were a new form of fibre. And then I wonder if you think, But I'm really feeling 58.3% like having a cupcake for breakfast, but then your mom says, "I don't care if you're a fancy statistician with a Times blog and Seattle green-architect eyeglass frames, you still need something heart-healthy to start your day," but then you tell her, "Mom, if you keep nagging me I will never let you meet my new boyfriend, Matt Bomer."
See, I think that because you predicted the election with near-100% accuracy Matt Bomer is way more likely to go out with you than with Dick Morris, who predicted a Romney landslide, or with Karl Rove, who kept predicting that Ohio was still in play a week after the election was over. In fact, right now I bet that you could get anyone to go out with you just by saying something like "I predicted Florida, North Carolina, and Illinois, and now I'm predicting that you'll have dinner with me."
October 29th, 2012
Elizabeth Williamson of the Wall Street Journal has coined what might well be the definitive metaphor of the 2012 US presidential election campaign. Or at any rate, the most memorable:
In this neck-and-neck, ideologically fraught presidential election season, politically active singles won't cross party lines. The result is a dating desert populated by reds and blues who refuse to make purple.
I'm pretty sure I've read a story like this about whether people of differing political inclinations can get (it) on away from the polling station and the political fundraiser at some point during every presidential campaign I've followed – when was the last time a campaign was other than fraught/divisive/momentous? – but I don't think the prospect of couples declining to … ahem … make purple has come up before.
[Via The Awl]
October 8th, 2012
Courtesy of Maureen Dowd: President Obama seeks post-debate tips from a master…
The lights from the presidential motorcade illuminate a New Hampshire farmhouse at night in the sprawling New England landscape. JED BARTLET steps out onto his porch as the motorcade slows to a stop.
BARTLET They told you to make sure you didn't seem condescending, right? They told you, "First, do no harm," and in your case that means don't appear condescending, and you bought it. 'Cause for the American right, condescension is the worst crime you can commit.
OBAMA What's your suggestion?
BARTLET Appear condescending. Now it comes naturally to me -
OBAMA I know.
BARTLET It's a gift, but I'm likable and you're likable enough. Thirty straight months of job growth – blown off. G.M. showing record profits – unmentioned. "Governor, would you still let Detroit go bankrupt as you urged us to do four years ago?" – unasked. [...]
BARTLET [... That] was quite a display of hard-nosed, fiscal conservatism when he slashed one one-hundredth of 1 percent from the federal budget by canceling "Sesame Street" and "Downton Abbey." I think we're halfway home. Mr. President, your prep for the next debate need not consist of anything more than learning to pronounce three words: "Governor, you're lying." Let's replay some of Wednesday night's more jaw-dropping visits to the Land Where Facts Go to Die. "I don't have a $5 trillion tax cut. I don't have a tax cut of a scale you're talking about."
OBAMA The Tax Policy Center analysis of your proposal for a 20 percent across-the-board tax cut in all federal income tax rates, eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax, the estate tax and other reductions, says it would be a $5 trillion tax cut.
BARTLET In other words …
OBAMA You're lying, Governor. [...]
[Via The Morning News]