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Generic Confusion

When you leave, my blog just fades to grey
Nu ma nu ma iei, nu ma nu ma nu ma iei

News? Check. Politics? Check. Music? Check. Random thoughts about life? Check. Readership? Ummm.... let me get back to you on that. Updated when I feel like I have something to say, and remember to post it.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Onion on Wall-E

The Onion has an article discussing the various controversies surrounding Wall-E, with its portrayal of a polluting megacorporation and fat infantilized humans. But while the Onion is normally excellent, author Sean O’Neal drops the ball when commenting on the criticism of Disney’s exploitation of the merchandising rights.

But, uh, I thought all of that stuff about factories destroying the environment and the evils of non-biodegradable plastic was just a horror story concocted by liberal Nazis out to scare us into acquiescence? Does the hypocrisy of the film’s promotional campaign somehow mean that we’re not facing an eventual solid waste crisis? Is this the same logic that dictates that, because Al Gore travels by jet, he’s wrong about global warming?

He’s obviously never listened to anyone debate hypocrisy. The same people who believe in open relationships, easy divorce, and loose sxeual mores freely criticize conservative politicians who divorce and remarry trophy wives, or who have affairs or visit call girls.

So let me summarize the argument for global warming. I don’t believe the world is seriously threatened by human CO2 output that contributes to global warming. I don’t believe we’re on a precipice, and that we must take immediate action else the planet is doomed. And apparently, neither does Al Gore, since if he really believed that, he would both reduce his carbon usage (by staying in a house small enough for his family and Secret Service protectors, use one extra room for an office, use existing hotels and conference centers for larger meetings and parties, fly commercial instead of Gulfstream) and contribute to carbon-negative causes.

So I don’t believe Wal-Mart is the doom of mankind, but if Disney does, they are hypocrites by bringing in tons of cheap garbage to promote its intellectual property.

Stick to humor, not political analysis, Onion.

Bonus: From the comments:

I wasn't surprised to see some people over at National Review have concerns with the film but I think WALL-E is kind of a blank slate that you can take lots of different messages from. Buy N Large is obviously a monopoly and free market conservatives would see the movie as showing that bad things happen when there's no competition. Also the Buy N Large President and the Ship Computer could be interpreted as cultural elites that dictate how the rest of humanity should live, a notion that you'll see talked about a lot in conservative circles. The humans in WALL-E have lost their ability for individual thought which is a classically liberal idea that is valued by both sides of the political spectrum. Also, WALL-E never really gets into prescribing solutions so you really can't say that the movie is advocating some sort of vast government program to control consumption. The end credits imply a blissfully happy green planet but there's not enough detail in there for either side of the political spectrum to claim WALL-E for its own purposes.

Sign of the Times

Seen on a property for sale in Knoxville:

But not stupid or desperate

(Via Instapundit)

The end of suburbs? I don't think so.

Via alternatehistory.com, I found this somewhat old Atlantic Monthly article, concerning the future of suburbs in this higher gas cost environment. Let's just say I found the article majorly flawed.

The anecdotes to start the article show what happens when properties are abandoned and not cared for. And apparently, the local police department does not follow the broken windows theory of policing. But the problem is because properties are abandoned and not cared for. It has nothing to do with suburbs. In fact, the same thing happened to countless American urban and near-urban areas over the years. And it is reversed with gentrification, when people begin to care for the areas again.

I fail to see how what the article classifies as at-risk neighborhoods (low-density neighborhoods full of McMansions and away from mass transit) would ever be attractive to slums of low-income residents. They posit that upper middle class families with good jobs (presumably, they're the ones living in McMansions) would be driven away from these neighborhoods by high gas prices and no transit options. And they will be replaced by lower income residents, who more acutely feel the pain of higher gas prices, and may not even have cars?

The neighborhoods would have to change for that to happen; there would have to be local retail options, and perhaps a local transit system. But you do that, and the people you claim will leave will have a reason to stay. But the change won't happen, because all changes would have to go through local zoning authorities. These are the same authorities that like to protect current homeowner's property value by reserving land for green spaces and requiring homes to be built on large tracts of land. Even if approving an apartment building would really help out low income residents, that's not in the interests of the powers that be.

Every article like this I read has a level of underlying snobbery, and I hate it. The writers just assume that everyone should like urban living. Everyone should like teeming sidewalks, restaurants and bars, art galleries and symphony orchestras. Everyone should like old houses with "character." If your primary interests are televised sports and American Idol, you don't need urban living. And there are plenty of more noble pursuits that can't be done downtown. Do you tend to a vegetable garden, grow rose bushes, or train show dogs? Those are no goes in urban areas. And the fundamental motivation for moving to the suburbs, to have a place for the kids and dogs to run around, will remain.

An interesting line in the article: "Condemnation of single-family housing for 'higher and better use' is politically difficult, and in most states it has become almost legally impossible in recent years." Many people don't take kindly to the government using its power of condemnation for the profit of politically-connected developers, even if Kelo allows it. It sure looks like the article writers think it would be better if everyone lived according to their vision, and they don't care what you want.

In the suburb where I work, there are plenty of McMansion neighborhoods. But there's also a fake walkable urban/residential area being built. (I call it "fake" because it's planned that way, not an organic development like in actual cities.) I bet both types of neighborhoods will do just fine, even if you're working at the urban downtown about 13 miles away. (With no transit option, since as I've mentioned before, an old rail line was replaced by a popular walking/biking trail.) The city will work hard to make sure it stays liveable, for all its residents, and will continue to attract wealth residents.

A couple other flaws with the article:

It still believes in the illusion that people all work downtown. Commuting from suburb to suburb is increasingly common.

It assumes urban residents with children will improve the local schools. I would think the majority of these residents send their children to private schools.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Rant: Encores

Thinking of last week's concert, and plenty of other concerts I've attended, I must rant about the silliness of encores. No one is fooled. It doesn't take a lot of awareness to notice the concert is over only when the house lights turn back on. An empty stage, with the concert hall or arena still dark, means the band will come back, no matter how little you cheer.

It's even worse when the band doesn't play their best-known song in the main set. You know they're not going to leave the stage without playing their biggest hit. (I remember a review of Joan Osborne, known for one song only, making just this point.) In my opinion, encores should be songs with special meaning, like an early hit, a cult classic first release, or the like. Of all the concerts I've seen, one of the few to actually play their popular songs first was Inspiral Carpets, opening with Generations and playing Two Worlds Collide early, both songs then active on MTV's 120 Minutes.

When I saw Freezepop perform in February, they mocked the concept of encores. I appreciated it greatly.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A new use for Title IX

John Tierney of the New York Times has an article on proposed application of Title IX to university education, psychology, and social work programs, where women far outnumber men.

Of course, I’m kidding. The proposal is actually directed towards science and math programs, which are still predominantly male, despite the large gender imbalance in colleges. (Although encouraging women to choose anything over English is probably a good idea, given how useless English degrees are.)

It’s a terrible idea. Nothing good will come from interfering with university science programs. Unlike sports, where the lack of a particular team will impact a person's ability to meet his or her desire to participate in sports, all majors are open to all students. Men and women are free to choose to major in English, architecture, math, and astrophysics, and I'm not surprised to find that these majors are not all split 50-50 between the sexes.

The next time the National Science Foundation, NASA, or the Department of Energy need to cut their budgets, I know which positions should be eliminated first.

Some of the comments in the discussion are interesting. Plenty of women in the sciences discuss the poor treatment they've received. But plenty of men also comment about the discrimination they've received. The most interesting comment comes from one person who points out that while the successful graduate students are both male and female, the struggling graduate students, the perpetual students hanging on, are invariably male.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Yaz: Reconnected

I took a precious vacation day to see a concert in Chicago. Why? A band that had broken up long before I started paying attention to music was reuniting, to play a few dates in America. After 25 years, and for a limited time, Vince Clarke and Alison Moyet are back together, finally touring in support of the second Yaz album!

Of all bands that are no longer together, I thought Yaz was one of the least likely to reunite. For one, the band was never that popular, particularly in the U.S., and couldn't anticipate the revenues of a reunion tour of, say, The Police. The band only released two albums. And most importantly, Clarke is still going strong with Erasure and Moyet with her solo career.

Overall, I was impressed by the concert. Moyet retains an impressive voice, and of course, I love Clarke's synthesizer work. The presentation was simple, just the two of them on stage, with a background of colored LED lights and graphics. The few instances where there are two voices on the song (e.g. Walk Away From Love), a heavily vocoded voice was used.

Although the promotional materials for the tour expressed the band's regret for not getting to play the second album live, it was the first album that was played in its entirety. Even experimental track I Before E Except After C was performed, with the band members offstage and only a reel-to-reel tape player and synthesizer playing. The band didn't play You And Me Both tracks Softly Over, And On, and Happy People. (The latter wasn't a surprise, as it is a UK-only track sung by Clarke.) They did play B-side State Farm, B-side and later single Situation, but not third single The Other Side Of Love. (Again, that didn't surprise me, since that song was left off their greatest hits album, despite being a moderate hit in the UK.)

Come the encore, it was clear what songs would be played, as they had yet to play their two U.S. charting singles, Only You and Situation.

Now, to rip my singles into .mp3s and add them to my iPod!

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Monday, July 07, 2008

Slow down to save gas?

TigerHawk discusses current gas prices, and how they're not causing people to change behavior. Driving the New Jersey Turnpike at 66 mph, he was basically the slowest car on the road. This was observed, despite the estimated savings in gas usage caused by going slower. From an article he cites:

How much you stand to save depends on a lot of factors. With gas at $4 a gallon, a driver with a long commute - 400 miles a week - and a gas-guzzling vehicle getting only 20 mpg would save $18.74 a week by slowing down dramatically from 75 to 55 mph, extrapolating from the government's most recent figures on the subject. Even a more moderate deceleration - from 70 to 60 mph - would save that driver $11.74 a week.

Sure, I could save money if I drove slower, although the variability I observe in my gas mileage on similar long freeway drives (sub-30 to 35) makes me wonder if any savings would fall within the margin of error from other causes affecting gas mileage. Perhaps the number of times I have to brake because of a semi traveling under the speed limit in the left lane is the main cause of this difference.

But let me apply these numbers to me taking one trip of 400 miles. At 30 mpg, let's say the savings becomes $12.50. But there's an additional cost: time. The travel time while going 55 is roughly 7.3 hours, compared to 5.3 hours at 75. In other words, traveling slower would make sense if I value my time at less than $6.25 an hour. I don't, and I doubt you do, either.

And it could be even worse: what if the difference between traveling 75 and 55 is an arrival home at 11:30 PM versus 1:30 AM? In trying to save money on gas, you may incur a much greater cost, with a serious accident or death due to driving while tired and impaired. I'm reminded of an old series of Dilbert comic strips, where a coworker decides to save money by cutting his own hair, an act that leads to his divorce and being taken off the management fast track. It's another example of the adage penny wise, pound foolish.

Or should we say pound fuelish?