Notes about politics

April 25, 2014 permalink

Today I Walked Around Near the Alamo Where on

Today, I walked around near the Alamo, where on March 6, 1836, Santa Anna’s soldiers, who greatly outnumbered the Texans behind the compound’s walls, killed or captured all those inside. Several days later, in April, the Battle of San Jacinto would swing the pendulum the other way: The Mexican army would be smashed, General Santa Anna would be captured and Texas would be born. Approximately 151 years later, The Butthole Surfers would release their Locust Abortion Technician album, giving people all over the world another reason to like Texas.

June 23, 2011 permalink

Robert H Jackson on the 4th Amendment

These, I protest, are not mere second-class rights, but belong in the catalog of indispensable freedoms. Among deprivations of rights, none is so effective in cowing a population, crushing the spirit of the individual, and putting terror in every heart. Uncontrolled search and seizure is one of the first and most effective weapons in the arsenal of every arbitrary government.

Justice Robert H. Jackson, chief U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, writing on the 4th Amendment in his dissenting opinion of Brinegar v. United States (1949)

(Via Free to Search and Seize, an op-ed in today’s New York Times on the recent chipping away at privacy protections)

April 20, 2011 permalink

Salman Rushdie on Ai Weiwi

The lives of artists are more fragile than their creations. The poet Ovid was exiled by Augustus to a little hell-hole on the Black Sea called Tomis, but his poetry has outlasted the Roman Empire. Osip Mandelstam died in a Stalinist work camp, but his poetry has outlived the Soviet Union. Federico García Lorca was killed by the thugs of Spain’s Generalissimo Francisco Franco, but his poetry has survived that tyrannical regime.

We can perhaps bet on art to win over tyrants. It is the world’s artists, particularly those courageous enough to stand up against authoritarianism, for whom we need to be concerned, and for whose safety we must fight.

From Salman Rushdie’s op-ed “Dangerous Arts” in today’s New York Times, on Ai Weiwei’s arrest and detention by Chinese authorities, a matter of human rights urgency.

April 16, 2011 permalink

Arthouse Fissures

With the Austin Museum of Art shuttering their downtown location, the city’s crackdown on home/studio spaces on the east side, the House voting to gut the funding for the Texas Commission for the Arts, and the recent news that Art Lies is ceasing publication, what could make this a bleaker month for central Texas art?

Arthouse, the 100-year-old Austin-based organization I’ve been proud to support since the days when it was still called the Texas Fine Arts Association, is beginning to show  signs of fracture, despite their beautiful new façade. You can get the bigger story over at Austin360 if you’ve missed it in the news, but to summarize: exhibited art has been mishandled and censored, their admired and successful curator was fired abruptly (possibly after having written a letter of concern to the director about the above-mentioned mishandling), and some of their prominent board members and staff members have resigned in protest. There’s also a growing collective voice of concern by the artists who were to be contributing work to the upcoming 5×7 fundraising show (myself included). So far, apart from short responses directly to inquiring reporters, I don’t believe that Arthouse has issued a statement on the matter, which isn’t especially good PR in my humble opinion.

Eric Zimmerman has a nice summary of the concerns on his cablegram blog:

No one would argue against a new building, or at very least a renovation. But when you dump truckloads of cash into a designer building and neglect to budget for a curator, the person who puts the actual art in the Arthouse, there seems to be some serious priority issues. I said it before, a building is nice and all, but what you show in that building is where the rubber meets the road. I’d love to see art organizations forgo the starchitect buldings and put money into paying artists, curators, and their staff instead.

For the curatorial angle (or perhaps, the “lack of curator”), you might be interested in Wendy Vogel’s take over on …might be good.

Here’s to hoping that Arthouse can steer itself back on track as the leading space for contemporary art in Austin.

April 14, 2010 permalink

The Textbook Myth

The Texas Tribune posted a great article last week following up on the Texas SBoE brouhaha, outlining why ideologically-fueled edits to textbooks rarely have much effect on the actual curricula taught in schools and why Texas no longer “wags the textbook industry tail”. The concluding paragraph is a bit depressing, though:

But that’s the thing: Most history textbooks are not written by historians — self-respecting or otherwise. Foner’s book, a cohesive narrative researched and written by one scholar, is the exception. Most elementary and secondary texts are written by committees of a dozen or more writers, hired hands who don’t own their work and can’t object to any changes multiple publishing house editors make to appease whichever politicians or bureaucrats control the millions being spent. They are cooked quickly and to order, pressed together from hundreds of standards that reflect, in many ways, the lowest common denominator of thousands of opinions. They are, in short, the chicken nuggets of the literary world.

Can we get Jamie Oliver to tackle this educational malnourishment, too?

January 23, 2010 permalink

The Vast Majority of Americans Already Believe

The vast majority of Americans already believe that money buys results in Congress. This Court’s decision will only make that worse. […] Who could doubt that this will further distract Members of Congress from what their constituents want? And who could believe it won’t make Americans even more cynical about what Congress does? […]

The institutional integrity of Congress is already at a historical low. Less than one quarter of Americans have faith in this institution. Three times that have faith in the Supreme Court. If there’s such a thing as political bankruptcy, then Congress is bankrupt. More Americans likely supported the British Crown at the time of the revolution than support our Congress today.

From Lawrence Lessig’s Huffington Post article on this week’s SCOTUS decision. I don’t entirely agree with his view that money didn’t buy this outcome (it could easily be argued that money bought the folks who appointed the current crop of justices, an indirect effect that could be applied to anyone involved anywhere in the political machine), but he’s right on the money (so to speak) about how all of this affects our confidence in our elected representatives’ ethics and motivation.

October 19, 2009 permalink

The Pundit’s Dilemma

There’s been a bit of a blogstorm over the impending release of the sequel to Freakonomics, the obviously-titled SuperFreakonomics. The authors are being taken to task for allegedly questionable science and statistics work, accused of oversimplifying or distorting their results for the sake of contrariness. There’s good discussion and links on Language Log’s post on the controversy:

Overall, the promotion of interesting stories in preference to accurate ones is always in the immediate economic self-interest of the promoter. It’s interesting stories, not accurate ones, that pump up ratings for Beck and Limbaugh.  But it’s also interesting stories that bring readers to The Huffington Post and to Maureen Dowd’s column, and it’s interesting stories that sell copies of Freakonomics and Super Freakonomics.  In this respect, Levitt and Dubner are exactly like Beck and Limbaugh.

We might call this the Pundit’s Dilemma — a game, like the Prisoner’s Dilemma, in which the player’s best move always seems to be to take the low road, and in which the aggregate welfare of the community always seems fated to fall. And this isn’t just a game for pundits. Scientists face similar choices every day, in deciding whether to over-sell their results, or for that matter to manufacture results for optimal appeal.

In the end, scientists usually over-interpret only a little, and rarely cheat, because the penalties for being caught are extreme.  As a result, in an iterated version of the game, it’s generally better to play it fairly straight.  Pundits (and regular journalists) also play an iterated version of this game — but empirical observation suggests that the penalties for many forms of bad behavior are too small and uncertain to have much effect. Certainly, the reputational effects of mere sensationalism and exaggeration seem to be negligible.

October 19, 2009 permalink

Putting the Public Service back in PBS

Enjoyed this post on O’Reilly Radar advocating that PBS should realign with their original educational and public discourse mission. As local affiliates drop their secondary cable channels in favor of multiple over-the-air digital broadcasts, it’d be great to see at least one of those OTA channels used for stronger educational programming:

Our nation’s founders recognized that an educated public was crucial to the sustainability of American democracy, which led to public funding of education. Today, education happens in the media as well as in school. It is important that we use the media of television, in combination with new media, to support educational goals. There is even greater opportunity to combine a public broadcasting network and the interactive capabilities of the Internet to create a new hybrid framework for lifelong education.

September 19, 2009 permalink

Heres a Toast to Alan Turing Born in Harsher

here’s a toast to Alan Turing
born in harsher, darker times
who thought outside the container
and loved outside the lines
and so the code-breaker was broken
and we’re sorry
yes now the s-word has been spoken
the official conscience woken
– very carefully scripted but at least it’s not encrypted –
and the story does suggest
a part 2 to the Turing Test:
1. can machines behave like humans?
2. can we?

June 21, 2009 permalink

New TOR Clients from Iranian IP Space

From “Dramatic Increase in the Number of TOR Clients from Iran”, an O’Reilly Radar interview with the executive director of the TOR anonymizing onion router, software definitely made for times like these. Hopefully the new users know to keep their transmissions encrypted, especially given the likelihood that their government is keeping an eye on all outbound Internet traffic.

June 10, 2009 permalink

Above All Anonymity That Shield of All

[A]bove all, anonymity, that shield of all literary rascality, would have to disappear. It was introduced under the pretext of protecting the honest critic, who warned the public, against the resentment of the author and his friends. But where there is one case of this sort, there will be a hundred where it merely serves to take all responsibility from the man who cannot stand by what he has said […]. Often enough it is only a cloak for covering the obscurity, incompetence and insignificance of the critic. It is incredible what impudence these fellows will show, and what literary trickery they will venture to commit, as soon as they know they are safe under the shadow of anonymity. Let me recommend a general Anti-criticism, a universal medicine or panacea, to put a stop to all anonymous reviewing, whether it praises the bad or blames the good: Rascal! your name! For a man to wrap himself up and draw his hat over his face, and then fall upon people who are walking about without any disguise—this is not the part of a gentleman, it is the part of a scoundrel and a knave.

Arthur Schopenhauer, Parerga und Paralipomena, chapter 23. Quote entirely lifted from a good discussion about online anonymity and accountability on Brian Leiter’s law school blog after the outing of a psuedononymous critic by a National Review blogger. (Note: I personally lean towards anonymity and privacy as fundamentally good things, but Schopenhauer’s quote seems remarkably prescient in these days of message board trolling)