sen_no_ongaku: (Rant)
Thought: in the past few thousand years, genetic evolution in humans has been largely -- though not wholly -- supplanted by technological innovation.

What sets humans apart from other animals is the ability to adapt to selection pressure on an individual rather than generational level. For example, in response to colder temperatures, rather than grow a warmer coat of fur over a thousand years of breeding, we could simply kill a creature that already has a lot of hair and wear its skin. Another example might be the invention of spectacles for people with poor vision, a trait which would otherwise be crippling in.

This is not to say that such innovation can completely replace biological adaptation. Our technology has limits -- and we can see those limits; but we can also move them. Nevertheless, we can't guarantee we can move those limits in time.

Anyway, in the absence of the environment as a driver of evolution, are there other, perhaps societal sources of selection pressure?


Jan. 19th, 2007 01:34 pm
sen_no_ongaku: (calabiyau)
Some friends of mine have posted links to this opinion piece on education and intelligence:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

I'll assume you've read the article, and I'd like to offer something of a response and a critique to part of the piece; I'm less interested in his assertions about college and the job market.

Note also that it was written by one of the authors of The Bell Curve.

First of all, I contend with Murray's basic assumption that intelligence can be measured accurately and indisputably by one variable: IQ. Most cognitive scientists rebuke the very concept of a single "intelligence", claiming that there are many aspects to human cognition which, while related, are nevertheless distinct.

The author has anticipated this argument by claiming that there is some sort of general capability which scientists define as g. Fair enough. But the author never establishes whether or not "g" can even be measured, and is happy to assume that we will accept IQ and g are interchangeable despite offering no evidence that they are correlated.

Secondly, as a researcher with a strong background in statistics, Murray cannot but be extremely cognizant of the fact that "average" can mean many things, and failing to state that whether you intend "average" to mean "mean", "median", or "mode" robs you of the context you need to interpret data -- and that, in addition, lack of clarity as to what kind of "average" is generally a hint of an intent to obfuscate, if not mislead.

Nowhere in the article does Murray closely define "average".

More later, maybe.

[ETA 1/23/2007]: Another problem I have with his later pieces on higher education is that all of his assertions are predicated on the belief that the only worthwhile purpose of education is to make you fit to work -- and the implicit assumptions that a person is defined only by the job they hold, and that the job they are trained for is the only one they should ever have.
sen_no_ongaku: (valar morghulis)
How the hell did I end up here, living this life?

How did you?
sen_no_ongaku: (calabiyau)
One of the most widely cited features of postmodern theory is known as "The Death of the Author", that the creator of a text does not hold a privileged position in its interpretation. Which is to say that the person who writes a book has no more authority as regards what it means than a careful reader of that book.

I like to soften this a little with the claim that the author does offer a perspective others cannot: the author can indicate what h/h intended to mean.

So here's a proposal:

Your life is a text of which you are the author. As such, you and only you know what your actions and thoughts are intended to mean, but the opinions of the careful readers of your life -- perhaps friends, family, or maybe even workmates -- are as valid as yours in determining what your actions and thoughts actually mean.


Dec. 6th, 2006 06:58 pm
Hey Bostonians,

I'm curious -- how have people found the T's new fare collection system?
sen_no_ongaku: (Rant)
There's a compelling trailer up for a film called Renaissance. Perhaps it will succeed where Sin City failed.

Thoughts on Sin City )
sen_no_ongaku: (Rant)
I was thinking today about why mohawks -- and the punk dress code in general -- annoy me, and I think I've figured it out.

Because the punk aesthetic is an incredibly vain one. For example, imagine the effort it takes to wear a mohawk.[FN 1] Having to arrange it just right every morning, keeping the hair around it trimmed. Choosing what color to dye it and maintaining the color job.

Now that's not to say it's an inherently bad thing to care about your appearance. I am certainly aware of how I look, dress, and carry myself, and the impression that makes on family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Even choosing not to say something about yourself by how you present yourself...well, says something about yourself. The masks we wear can reveal as much as they hide.

No, what bothers me about the punk aesthetic is that it strikes me as hypocritical.

My understanding[FN 1] is that the punk attitude is one of rebellion, a rejection of the mainstream attitude towards, well, everything. Punk music was a rejection of craft and polish, of the bloated pretention of prog rock. Punk dress was intended to be a reflection of that; torn, graffiti-laced, metal-studded clothing -- intentionally ugly and abrasive. A big middle finger to the demands of society to look, behave, and act a certain way.

And despite all that, consider how much appearance means to punk. For all of its claims to anarchy and individualism, punk has its uniform and its codes of behavior just like any other tribe.

It never fails to amuse me that the Sex Pistols, the poster boys for late-'70s British anti-establishment sentiment, were managed and dressed by a fashion guru, Malcolm McLaren -- that their look was as much processed, polished, and marketed as the society they hated.

(1)This is, of course, speculative, as I've never gone down that path.

(2) Which is perhaps more my understanding of late '70s-early '80s punk and may not be relevant to modern-day punk.
sen_no_ongaku: (Shigure)
Inside a casino, there's nowhere to sit that isn't in front of a slot machine, table game, or bar.

Oddly enough, The Bellagio featured an Ansel Adams Exhibition. However, admission was about $20 for a look at maybe 15 photographs. Ah.

At lunch at Noodles in The Bellagio, John Juanda was sitting a couple of tables over. That was kinda cool.
sen_no_ongaku: (Rant)
One of the chapters in Barbara Tuchman’s The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, focuses on the political and social turmoil surrounding the United States’ first foray into Imperialism: the Spanish-American War and the resultant annexation of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.

Many, both home and abroad, were distraught by America’s eagerness to throw away the principles on which it was founded and happily join the game of exploitation played by the decadent, reactionary, damned powers of Europe. People all over the world lamented the loss of their beacon of hope, its transformation from a new kind of nation into just another power-hungry state for whom liberty and sovereignty for others were annoyances to be discarded when inconvenient.

But the real tragedy escaped me until I was eating breakfast in a café[FN 1] in which one wall displays a small shrine to John Wayne, while on the opposite hang homages to the Native American.

No, the real tragedy was that America had already fallen from grace decades before; and nobody noticed. America represented the (Western) world's dream of a new kind of state uncorrupted by imperialism, whose aim was peace and justice for all; but the focus of their optimism had long ago announced that power corrupts even those with the noblest of beginnings, the highest of intentions.

Anyhow, just wanted to post this while I 1) was thinking about it and 2) had wireless access. (Our hotel has WiFi; back in Utah my brother's computer can piggyback on a local network but mine can't find the signal.)

(1)The Bear Claw in St. George, Utah, which serves perhaps the best breakfast I have had. Ever.


Aug. 17th, 2006 02:15 am
sen_no_ongaku: (Shigure)
Random observations:

So here's the odd thing about Las Vegas. (Yes, the only odd thing.) It doesn't feel like a city. It just...doesn't. And after wandering around the Strip, wondering why there weren't "You Are Here" signs all over the damn place, I realized what it does feel like: a giant amusement park for adults. Everyone you see is there to entertain or be entertained. Like nobody comes here to live; just to consume. That's not necessarily bad; but it is, certainly, weird.

It also occurred to me that the ostentation and variety and spectacle of the big casinos: The Bellagio, Caesar's Palace, The Paris, etc., etc., is there to disguise their essential sameness. And once you get off Las Vegas Boulevard, this town is ugly: nothing but strip malls, cheap apartments, and Levittowns.

105+ degrees Fahrenheit is so hot that your skin hurts.

At some gas stations, as you fill up, you can pass the time by ducking inside for a round or two of video poker.

Speaking of which, I noted a sign that offered 100.8% VIDEO POKER! Huh?

Also, a sign exhorting us to remember 9/11...sponsored by local morticians. My brother's response: "Yeah, that's totally tasteless. It should have been sponsored by crematoriums."

I played in my first live tournament today, a $40 buy-in with about 40 players, but crapped out early when my queens were outdrawn by sixes. Gnurgh. I'll play in another couple of similar events tomorrow morning. The Paris has small no-limit tournaments every two hours. Word.."

There is a large Filipino population in Vegas, such that there are storefronts that don't bother translating the Tagalog they display into English. After tooling around in a Filipino grocery, I decided to bring home a particularly choice snack to brandish at Boston folks...but I decided to stick with something vaguely edible, and not pick up the "Headless Ching-Chang Anchovies with Sesame" -- imagine honey sticks coated with sesame, only with, well, headless anchovies instead of honey.
As soon as you debark from your plane at Las Vegas's McCarran International Airport, you can plop yourself down in front of a slot machine and go to town. Right in the gate area. With careful planning, you could arrange a trip that would allow you to fly into Vegas, gamble, and then board a plane home without the hassle of paying for a hotel room, re-checking in at a flight kiosk, or having to navigate security a second time.

In fact, there are machines all throughout the airport. And I don't mean sprinkled gently around; one machine tucked away in a corner here, another shoved against a wall there. There are gently roped-off clusters of slot machines all over the place. Nearly everywhere you walk is filled with the soothing, arpeggiated, C major tinkle[FN 1] of people winning and losing money.

Thankfully, there are no such growths in the baggage claim area, where I write this as I wait for the rest of my family to trickle in.

[EDIT: Crap. There are banks of them even here. I couldn't see them over the now-dissipated bustle. At least they're not noisy.]

Perhaps the most telling initial impression I have of Vegas is descending over a vast, vaguely wavy, light brown expanse, and seeing a carefully tended, bright green golf resort built around what I assume was a small artificial lake, isolated in the middle of the desert, a man-made oasis. And I began to consider all of the effort and resources, the countless gallons of water, the cost of transporting goods, and so on, that go into maintaining this little playground for the affluent.

I've heard it said that Las Vegas is the result of excess unchecked; the desire to be entertained and amused given no boundary and spared no expense, made flesh and given life. I believe Tim Powers in Last Call likens it to a cancer feeding on -- or perhaps even formed of -- the childish, selfish, instincts in all of us.

Related, I think, is David Foster Wallace's wonderful essay on cruise ships, "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again", the crux of which is that (not only) cruise ships sell is the experience of having all of your needs catered to, all of your responsibilities lifted, to have the affront of boredom alleviated; and, at heart, to be back in the womb, warm and as far from death as you can get, relieved of even the necessity of chewing and swallowing your sustenance.

I also recall Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Hunter S. Thompson's claim that Vegas represents the *real* American Dream -- or at least its dark mirror -- the desire to get rich quick and with as little effort as possible, to gain without sacrifice; and perhaps the more universal human sentiment that I deserve to get lucky. That to balance all of the stupid shitty things, all the random failures, big and small, marked on the scorecard of your life, that the universe, that Lady Luck, that (even) God, or what have you, owes you this one big jackpot to make it up to you.

[ profile] sigerson once observed that the truly insidious thing about the slot machines -- and perhaps about gambling in general -- is that to come away ahead, you have to give up. To say to yourself, "I'm not going to win any more. This is as good as it's going to get." You must adopt an attitude that is anathema to what it means to be steeped in American culture: to be told every day that you are special, and that the only way to lose is to stop trying.

1) And my understanding -- though I have neither proof nor perfect pitch -- is that every slot machine is, indeed, in C major.

Israel vs.

Jul. 31st, 2006 07:31 pm
sen_no_ongaku: (Rant)
This doesn't really constitute any sort of considered position, but here are some thoughts about the Israel/Lebanon war.

I guess the first question I have is, why does the US have so much invested in Israel, financially? We soak tons of money into Israel's military (and general infrastructure), far more such aid than we give anybody else, I believe. Obviously, Israel can function as a surrogate for U.S. policy in the Middle East...but I imagine only to a limited extent, as Israel seems pretty assertive about supporting its own interests as well, regardless of what their biggest patron might prefer. Also, presumably, Israel would serve as a well-fortified forward military base should a really serious U.S. presence be deemed necessary. But, as the recipient of so much aid, Israel and the U.S. are probably more or less synonymous to the Middle East, and whatever they do is likely seen as directed -- or at least sanctioned -- by the U.S.

What's odd to me is how many Americans have so much invested in Israel personally. As for me, whenever I hear about shit that Israel's pulling, I basically think, "Goddamit, there those assholes go again." Maybe they've had little choice but to be the Middle East's own personal Harlan Ellison, given the circumstances of their inception, but I think they've pretty much established that they're not going away anytime soon. While their belligerence has certainly been instrumental to their survival, I think they've reached the point of diminishing returns; their stance is now galvanizing rather than intimidating their neighbors, and maybe it's time for an approach more nuanced than, "Fuck shit up wholesale."

A la Archduke Ferdinand, I get the impression that the kidnapped soldier was more a pretext than a cause. Israel's basically looking for any excuse to put the smack down on somebody out there, and Hezbollah gave Lebanon the shaft. It's like they're playing Civilization: war isn't a tragedy -- it's an opportunity for expansion!

By attacking civilian targets and Lebanon's infrastructure, I figure Israel has done exactly what Hezbollah wants. What with 1) Israel's willingness to kill the innocent along with the guilty pissing everybody off, 2) a young population that -- seeing as how Lebanon's infrastructure is being levelled -- will now grow up with no path to agency other than learning the tools of violence, and 3) Hezbollah having established itself as the Microsoft of Lebanese anti-Israel sentiment, H. will have recruits lining up around the block for generations.

The solution? I don't know. Israel already denied itself the best possible solution by responding with prejudice to Hezbollah's provocation, and it's now a lesser-evil situation. Israel's already lost face and ensured decades more of hatred and antagonism for decades; prolonging this action will just deepen the hole they dug with the shovel Hezbollah handed them.

EDIT: Well, maybe this is sort of a position. I see Israel as a country whose first solution to any problem is violence -- maybe even a country who sees any problem as an opportunity for violence. While that doesn't make them worse than any other sovereign nation in the Middle East, it certainly ensures that they're no better. Yes, Hezbollah's a bunch of bloodthirsty freaks without whom the world would be a better place. That doesn't mean that any and all means of getting rid of them are acceptable. If I had my way, Israel would be on their own on this.
sen_no_ongaku: (valar morghulis)
One of my birthday presents from [ profile] sigerson was My Silent War, Kim Philby's account of his career as a Soviet double agent in the British secret services.

Kim Philby is notorious as perhaps the most successful Russian spy during the Cold War. A British national, he was recruited by the Soviets in the mid-1930s, infiltrated the SIS during World War II and eventually became head of Soviet counterintelligence, as well as liaison with the CIA and FBI, giving him access to the entire West's intelligence operations. He was forced out of the service in 1951 when his association with two fled spies was uncovered, but freelanced for SIS and MI6 in the Middle East until he was called home by the KGB in 1963. My Silent War was published in 1968, after he had been living in Moscow for five years.

The book is fascinating, but not for the reasons it should be. He never answers -- or even acknowledges -- the most compelling questions: why and how. As the book had to be cleared by the KGB, it's unsurprising that the methods by which he communicated with his handlers, the circumstances of his recruitment, the particulars of his escape, etc., are absent.

What is surprising that he doesn't take the opportunity to spout propaganda; he declines to explain his reasons for allying with the Soviets, to express contempt for the values of the West, or to tout the superiority of the Communist way of life.

No, what makes My Silent War compelling is that it ends up being an oblique character study of Philby himself. The way he talks about his exploits, while hardly revealing, nevertheless does hint at some aspects of the man.

When he talks about his exploits, he never discusses the larger ramifications of the operations he undertook, the impact they had on the geopolitical scene; he only brags about his ability to manipulate his colleagues and (so-called) superiors, and always has a word to say about the weaknesses and foibles of the people he worked with.

I find the way in which he talks about his activities chilling. For example, in an account of an operation in which American and British agents paratrooped into the Ukraine to try to foment dissent, he closes by saying:

    I do not know what happened to the parties concerned. But I can make an informed guess.

Of another incident, in which an important defector he was assigned to personally escort was captured before making it to the West, he writes:

    Another theory -- that the Russians had been tipped off about Volkov's approach to the British -- had no solid evidence to support it. It was not worth including in my report.

Men died because they trusted him, and he recalls the incidents with a a wink and a knowing smirk. He seems to have no concern for the meaning of his actions, either for himself or those men -- or, on another level, for the Balance of Power -- but uses the failed operations as a way of expressing his cleverness, and as a sort of inside joke with the reader.

It's been said in other places that Philby lived his double life not so much to aid the Soviet cause as to prove that he was a master spy, to shout to the world his ability and superiority. What little there is about the USSR seems to evince genuine affection and dedication for his adopted home...but there is little of it. In My Silent War, Philby -- inadvertently or not -- painted himself as an arrogant, smug man who played the spy game as nothing but a game, and whose greatest pride was in having mastered it as no one else. His impact on the political shape of the world is simply not relevant.

In his support of a brutal expansionist regime, Philby helped make the world a worse place to live. Perhaps what's most disappointing is that he died four months before the collapse of all he had worked for.


Apr. 12th, 2006 11:30 pm
sen_no_ongaku: (mike)
I miss music videos.

Most were dull and uninspired -- glorified concert video, uninspired shots of the band from funky angles in some exotic location, banal love stories, or an excuse to show a lot of hot chicks (which is OK). But if you liked the song, you watched the video anyway. And then, on occasion, they served as great little backdrops for storytelling (Mike and the Mechanics -- "All I Need Is A Miracle", A-ha -- "Take On Me"), as strangely compelling experimental films (Peter Gabriel -- "Sledgehammer", New Order -- "True Faith"), or as a short four-minute oddity featuring Chevy Chase pretending to be Paul Simon. Despite all the dreck -- or maybe because of it -- it became a real pleasure to suddenly encounter something original and creative, or just plain weird.

I used to leave MTV on in the background while I did my homework. For I while, I went through a phase where I would pop a tape in the VCR and record my favorite videos. I taped Al-TV, and reveled when the man created and ate such concoctions as a hot dog and vanilla ice cream sandwich.

I miss VJs -- of whom I can only remember Martha Quinn (who I thought was cute) and "Downtown" Julie Brown (who I thought was unfortunate). I miss that MTV would start counting down the premiere of a big video days in advance. I miss Kurt Loder on MTV News, as serious -- though perhaps not as self-important -- as a 'real' anchorman. I remember, embarrasingly, Remote Control, hosted by Ken Ober and Colin Quinn, and which, sadly, gave Adam Sandler his start.

I have a few of these collections, and like them a lot. But somehow part of the enjoyment I got out of the videos that I loved was the fact that they were inflicted on me -- as if for one moment, someone knew exactly what it was that I wanted to experience, and sent it my way.
Steroids and baseball )

I imagine there are other arguments, as well as criticisms of my own, and I'd be happy to hear and respond to them.

Have at me.
sen_no_ongaku: (valar morghulis)
I was thinking about this post on my occasional predilection for viewing the world in survivalist terms, and I'm curious as to whether considering the possibility of, and half-seriously preparing for, a brutal dystopian post-apocalypse world is particular to the Atomic generation or if it's been around for longer. Put another way, for how long has the ability to conceive of living to see humanity's works destroyed -- and having to cope with its aftermath -- been relatively common? Is it as common as I seem to assume it is?

I'm not really talking about religious eschatonology*, the intervention of some supernatural force to effect some sort of ontological world-changing event, although modern-day expectations of such a disintegration might simply be a new way of expressing those impulses. I'm talking the collapse of the nation-state down to the city-state level, maybe even lower, as the result of human action.


*which, as I understand, was fairly common in Western culture until the discovery of geological time around the 18th century rendered the long-standing belief that Second Coming was imminent markedly (thought not completely) less compelling.
I often find myself examining buildings in post-apocalyptic-survival terms.

Looking at a hotel resort and thinking about the difficulty of setting up a perimeter: noticing how close vegetation grows, and considering how much of it would need to be chopped down for a larger field of vision; noting how widely spaced buildings are and how difficult it would be to set up mutually supporting fields of fire; defensibility of points of entry; and so forth.

While tooling around at the grocery today, I found myself thinking it would make an excellent base of operations. The huge floor space is easily made into a barracks, with plenty of room for a mess hall, and dividable into smaller sections if need be for specialized use. Obviously, there is significant space for storage of weapons, supplies, and foodstuffs in the back. There are only a few entrances, which seem fairly easily defendable, particularly if made into funnels via shelf placement. There is a loading dock, which means the building is easy to supply. Other than at the entrances, its front has no windows, making it difficult to snipe and/or gain entrance through a non-door (though making it costly to light); it would probably be worth drilling small holes through which one could fire out; and its back faces down a hill (overlooking the Mass Pike). The parking lot that surrounds it makes it difficult to sneak up on the grocery, and is easy to cover with armed lookouts on the roof.



Feb. 10th, 2006 09:10 am
sen_no_ongaku: (valar morghulis)
My impression is that when most people hear ghost stories, most are told in the third person, making it easy to dismiss them. Luckily for them, they don't have relatives in the Philippines.

A few weeks ago, my brother sent me a cellphone photo of his wife's aunt, taken at a party. In the background is a figure who partygoers say wasn't there for the picture, and who folks claim is her husband, who had died a few weeks previously.

A cousin tells me she once looked up through the skylight of a bathroom and saw half of a woman staring back at her.

An aunt tells me that she (and others) have heard children talking and running about in the basement of a particular house when nobody was around. Unlike others, though, she hasn't turned to see these children watching her.

An uncle visiting from the States once woke up to find all of his clothes ordered neatly in the front yard.

In a pathology lab, people occasionally report seeing an old man wandering around the halls. Sometimes they realize that they've seen him in pictures around the building; he is, after all, a former director of said lab. I don't know how they react when they find out that my grandfather passed away eight years ago. (My mother and grandmother [both doctors] half-jokingly -- but only half -- chastise my grandfather for having fun at the expense of others.)

I've stayed in some of these homes. I'm none too pleased about that.

I'm curious -- what take do you folks have on ghosts, if any? Utter bullshit? Hallucinations? Complete and total belief? Measured skepticism?



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