seeking knowledge and laughter, putting a bullseye on inaccuracy

The Birth of the Web

I recently finished You Say You Want a Revolution by Reed Hundt, Chairman of the FCC during Clinton's first term and the beginning of the second term. It is a fascinating and apparently candid account of how the Federal Communications Commission made decisions and dealt with the politics of DC. Beware that Hundt clearly has an ego and point of view -- one would expect nothing less from anyone in that position.

It was a fascinating time - the transition from heavily regulated cable to the birth of the Internet for the masses. It was a transition we were not destined to make merely because Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web. Cable companies and the AT&T behemoth wanted to use advances in communications technology to build a network they would control... one where people and businesses would undoubtedly have to ask permission in order to innovate, creating new applications and uses for the network. Perhaps the best feature of the modern Internet is that no one needs to ask permission to create eBay, twitter, or stream Netflix movies... though if Comcast had its way to day, Netflix would certainly have to beg its permission to do that.

At any rate, I found this book quite believable in how the Commission operates and how real decisions are made in DC. Without some of the important decisions that are detailed in this book, we would not have the Internet we do today. That said, some of the decisions could have been better decided... but then Chairman Hundt was no dictator but rather a sort of team leader with some rather petulant teammates who were more interested in themselves than serving the public. Some things just don't change...

Me, In Action

I was invited to a debate in Washington, DC, on broadband policy but could not make the trip. So I came in via Skype. Watch the video here if you want - 2 hours of economics and broadband policy nuance. If you just want to see me in action, skip around in it...

I'm slowly getting the hang of this wonk thing...

Good Short Fiction - Stephen King

The May 2011 issue of The Atlantic featured some short fiction, included pieces by Stephen King and Mary Morris (I had not yet read anything by Morris). Stephen King's piece was great fiction, but is not a happy read (shocker).

The story behind the theme of the May issue actually came from a critique by Stephen King:

Almost four years ago, in The New York Times Book Review, a celebrated writer lamented the decline in the publication of short stories, and with it, a decline in the quality of the short story itself. Too many of the stories that still threaded the needle to publication, he wrote, felt “not quite dead on the page, I won’t go that far, but airless.” They seemed “show-offy rather than entertaining, self-important rather than interesting, guarded and self-conscious rather than gloriously open, and worst of all, written for editors and teachers rather than for readers.”

We found that writer hard to ignore, in part because he kicked us in the teeth. (“No need to check out The Atlantic Monthly; its editors now settle for publishing their own selections of fiction once a year in a special issue and criticizing everyone else’s the rest of the time. Jokes about eunuchs in the bordello come to mind, but I will suppress them.” Thanks!)

We also found him hard to ignore because he was Stephen King, and we thought he knew something about entertaining readers rather than merely furrowing the brows of a writers’ group.

...

King’s short story, for example, originated with a bet he lost to his son Owen over the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The loser had to write a story to fit a title invented by the winner. Stephen King, being Stephen King, set out to write “Herman Wouk Is Still Alive” as a funny story set in a mental hospital.

The result is Herman Wouk Is Still Alive. Well written, on a topic few would dare attempt.

MN GOP Ignore Economy, Budget, to Hate on Gays

Rather than trying to deal with economic problems or solving the budget gap... or hell, even figuring out how to get taxpayers to foot the bill for a new Vikings stadium, Minnesota's Republicans have decided to push an amendment for Minnesotans to vote on whether gays should be considered real people or just get 3/5 the rights of couples like Michelle and I.

Awesome. At least some are talking sense in Saint Paul:

When you vote for Republicans, you are voting for a hate-filled party of anti-science bigots.

Iowa, Republicans, and Bigotry

Some people voting for Republicans may sometimes pretend they are only interested in the economic conservatism (though they have always talked one way and legislated another) rather than social bigotry commonly advanced, but the reality is that they are married. If you want to vote for Republicans, you cannot deny that you are endorsing essentially a 14th century view of how we should structure society.

I was reminded of this after reading a good article in The Atlantic detailing how Republicans bow to some Iowa jerk-off obsessed with how adults act behind closed doors.

This is why Tim Pawlenty gets runner-up [winner is FCC Chairman Genachowski (and Obama appointee)] for jellyfish invertebrate of the year for shamelessly taking the path of least resistance and losing any conviction he might once have had.

Tides of War - Politics in Athens

Seeing as how I absolutely loved Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield, I finally got around to reading Tides of War. Whereas Gates of Fire dealt with the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae (prior to the comic book movie making the 300 iconic among the masses), this book traces the rise and fall of Alcibiades, Athens, and the Pelopennesian War. But really it is about the politics of Athens and it is fascinating.

Tides of War is certainly heavier and a slower read than Gates, but as someone who knows very little of Ancient Athens, I found it fascinating even as I knew I could not understand all of it given my ignorance. But passages like this made me all the more interested... in it Gylippus is a Spartan sent to Syracuse to break the Athenian siege.

To raise revenue, Gylippus employed the following statagem. Fearing the direct levy might turn the aristocratic element against him, he induced the Assembly instead to require each citizen to come forward on a specific day and render a public accounting of his wealth. Now each could behold with his own eyes the extent of treasure his fellows had hoarded. At once the privileged felt shame not to have contributed more, while the humble who had served with honor were esteemed as better than the rich. Contributions flooded in. The cavalry grew flush with mounts, while the vaults overflowed with treasure.

Learning to Love the New Media

I have long been discouraged by how easy some (Fox News) are able to spread lies and disinformation. How does one counter the rampant disinformation and misinformation in modern America? Obama is a Muslim Socialist from Kenya... Saddam Hussein attacked the US on 9/11... Our taxes have never been higher and we are taxed to death... Scientists are divided over global warming... and so on.

And how do we usually respond to this all-too-common conventional bullshit? By trying to use actual facts and logic as though anyone cares about those things. I think James Fallows, from a recent article in The Atlantic, offers an alternative approach.

“But what if the answer to a false narrative isn’t fact?,” Denton says. “Or Habermas? Maybe the answer to a flawed narrative is a different narrative. You change the story.” Which is what, he said, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have done. They don’t “fact-check” Fox News, or try to rebut it directly, or fight on its own terms. They change the story not by distorting reality—their strength is their reliance on fact—or creating a fictitious narrative, but by presenting the facts in a way that makes them register in a way they hadn’t before.

I'm going to keep this in mind and try to come up with some better narratives.

A Good Baseball Photo

I like this photo from last Sunday.

Macalester Baseball Photo

Mitchell Golfing Goofs

For Father's Day 2010, we went on a golfing spree. I'm a terrible golfer - the worst of the bunch. But we had a good time. Kim lost a ball - a pink one at that - and daddYman almost tripped on it a few days later on the course. Kimmi took some fun shots of me - see the full gallery.

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Hanging at the Harders - May 2010 Edition

Some fun photos from a 2010 trip up north to visit Michelle's parents - full gallery - with beautiful weather, some target practice, and good times on the porch.

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