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Worst Spoiler Warning Ever

I'm resigned to the fact that it's probably a moot point to try to have spoiler warnings in this day. That said, if you haven't seen House recently, stop reading right now.

This is probably the worst spoiler warning ever in the history of the internet. The spoiler is given away in the title, followed by the warning in the body of the post. When people complain, he threatens to delete comments and ban repeat complainers. As I said above, it's probably a losing battle to keep giving spoiler warnings in the age of Twitter, but why post a spoiler warning at all if the title already gave away the spoiler? And then threaten to ban complainers?

Adam Lambert's Mad World

This season of American Idol has been a yawner so far, but last night's episode was remarkable. Adam Lambert's performance of the Tears for Fears original song "Mad World" was impressive. He sang the Gary Jules version which was featured in Donnie Darko and the Gears of War commercial. The silver-blue moonlight effect was a nice touch.

Edit: Fox has been strict about not letting the videos out on Youtube, so this is the only partial video I found.

Democracy is not the answer

Patri's essay at Cato Unbound about the limitations of democracy and the need for competitive government is up. Tell all your friends about it.

Play Ball!

My early morning exercise class ended with a group huddle broken on the chant of "opening day!" The cafeteria at work sported a new TV in anticipation of the game. Despite the fact that the Celtics are one of the winningest franchises in sports history and the fact that the Patriots are the only modern professional sports dynasty, the team Bostonians truly love is their Red Sox. The city is alive.

"If you have nothing to hide..."

My friend Amit Singh points to this disturbing recording made by Steve Bierfeldt as he was being questioned by security agents at the St. Louis airport about the cash he was carrying.

Full recording Part 1, 2, 3

A few observations:

1) The people questioning Bierfeldt did not have sufficient knowledge of the law to answer his question of whether he was required to provide details about the cash he was carrying. They shirked their responsibility.

2) The people questioning Bierfeldt did not see themselves as having a job to do while being constrained by the rights of individuals. They became angry that he did not completely yield to their authority. They presumed absolute power.

3) "If you have nothing to hide..." says one of the agents without any hint of irony in his voice. The Patriot Act was passed by making similar arguments. Only the bad guys would be bothered, right?

Are we nation in which people are presumed guilty until proven innocent or is it the other way around?

Commercials of Note

Lincoln makes some cool commercials. Maybe it's my early 80s nostalgia, but I find this ad with Shiny Toy Guns' remake of Peter Schilling's "Major Tom (Coming Home)" to be awesome.

On the Major Tom theme, here's another ad from Lincoln with Cat Power's remake of David Bowie's "Space Oddity".

Some Hope

I kept watching through the first five episodes of Dollhouse because of what I read somewhere else (can't remember where) is called the "Whedonite Dilemma". It was a pretty bad show, but because some time in the past, he made great things, I felt obligated to tune in.*

"Man on the Street", the sixth episode, was much more of what I had expected from the start. I won't say it was magical or anything like that, but it was damn good. The long plot arc moved forward considerably. It also showed what a wretched place the Dollhouse is while at the same time portraying one of its clients in a sympathetic light. I like it when I like characters I'm not supposed to like. Damn good.

*It's the same reason that after Deadwood I watched every episode of John from Cincinnati until HBO found the good sense to put it out its misery.

Related: You gotta have...Faith

The cycle of violence ends with the abandonment of antibiotics and electricity?

I just caught up on the Battlestar Galactica finale, and wow... I was expecting it to be a letdown given all the loose ends that had built up, but I had no idea Ron Moore is a Luddite.

For a series that tried to show parallels from our world in the future, this was a major disappointment. Over the seasons, there has been a constant focus on the division of power between the government and the military, the rights of the accused, the nature of representative government, and the role of torture in a time of war. Despite the speculative setting, there was always an element of realism and consistency that allowed viewers to identify with the ongoing process of civilization-building happening on the fleet.

Yet in a span of five minutes, after the battle was won and their destiny was in hand, they decided to abandon technology in order to "end the cycle of violence." How this made sense to any of the characters I don't know. They forced an age of darkness in order to have peace--ironic since hunter-gatherers were in a constant state of war of all against all.

In the original mini-series, Admiral Adama gave an inspired speech in which he said humanity would have to confront the sins of its past. The reason cylons decided to bomb the 12 colonies is because they believed humanity didn't deserve to live. Humanity's moral standing became one of the central questions of the show. In time, a few cylons broke rank and decided that humans are, despite their flaws, worthy of existence, leading to a cylon civil war. But Moore's final sendoff message is that human nature isn't what's under investigation. Rather, it's technology that's at fault.

But what is technology if not a reflection of the minds that create it? To what purpose is a new design inspired that does not serve its architect? We see modern Earth 150,000 after the events of the finale on the brink of creating more evil robots. The only thing the colonists left behind was genetic traces of their DNA. Why not also spread their culture and craft, learn from their mistakes, and be vigilant of not repeating them? The first step to truly ending the cycle of violence is learning from the past.

Since the time of Hera, has war been avoided? Did slavery not exist for all of history? What possible purpose did sending the fleet into the sun serve?

Isn't the question really one of human nature? It's a shame Ron Moore abandoned it at the time it counted most.

Water supply low in driest place on Earth; free market blamed

From a NY Times article:

Quillagua is among many small towns that are being swallowed up in the country’s intensifying water wars. Nowhere is the system for buying and selling water more permissive than here in Chile, experts say, where water rights are private property, not a public resource, and can be traded like commodities with little government oversight or safeguards for the environment.

Private ownership is so concentrated in some areas that a single electricity company from Spain, Endesa, has bought up 80 percent of the water rights in a huge region in the south, causing an uproar. In the north, agricultural producers are competing with mining companies to siphon off rivers and tap scarce water supplies, leaving towns like this one bone dry and withering.

In the same article, it is stated that Quillagua was in the Guinness World Records as the "driest place" for 37 years. Also from the article:

But the debate is largely academic, because without suitable water to raise crops, many residents saw no reason to continue resisting outside offers to buy the water rights in their town. One mining company, Soquimich, or S.Q.M., ended up buying about 75 percent of the rights in Quillagua. Most residents moved away; those who remain average around 50 years old.

Might it be that this 'withering' is a feature, not a flaw? These residents voluntarily sold water rights to the companies which presumably sell the water to other places in Chile for higher prices. Isn't this what we'd expect from a market? It sounds like a futile, wasteful undertaking to try to bring water to the driest place in the world.

Consider other analagous situations and what the headline might be if Alexei Barrionuevo had written the article:

- A company goes out of business. "Acme, Inc withers in free market"

- Domestic textile industry suffers from foreign competition due to free trade. A company town dwindles as people leave. "Spartanburg,SC withers in free market"

You gotta have...Faith

The first episode was sterile. I kept waiting for the Whedonism but never saw it. Where's the snappy dialogue? The humor? The lovable characters? If I didn't know Joss Whedon was behind it, I'd have thought it was just another Fox attempt at soft sci-fi along the lines of Fringe.

I don't know if Eliza Dushku can pull off a role that requires becoming a new person each week. Then again, I don't think most actors can. Most actors just play themselves.

I've read in other places that the series borrows from Alias quite a bit but I think that's getting things backwards. Alias was one of many girl-power shows that spawned in reaction to Buffy the Vampire Slayer including Dark Angel, Veronica Mars, and Charmed. The similarities were obvious-- a hot young woman with amazing abilities has to save the world...literally. She has a small group of friends she can truly trust and an older male father-figure who watches over her and protects her. Over time, the violence takes its toll emotionally. Her mission hinders her attempts at romance. Etc.

The opening scene creeped me out a little bit. Echo was programmed to have a wild weekend with the Dollhouse client. In effect, she was programmed to have sex with the client, yet the programming is not taken voluntarily and consent cannot be given. At best, it was prostitution, and at worst, rape. This is a bit strange coming from someone who is all about female empowerment. Or maybe that's the point... that the Dollhouse is evil?

Best part? Blonde-haired asian chick who knows how to use a gun.

I don't know how long the series will last if the other episodes are as bland as the first. The first episode was different from the one originally planned to be the pilot, which sounds eerily similar to the inasspicious(*) start to Firefly, but apparently, this time it was Whedon's decision, not Fox's. It took me ten episodes to get into Buffy and about half as many to get into Angel. I was hooked on Firefly from the pilot, but had I watched it in the order it appeared on TV--with "The Train Job" shown first--I wouldn't have been impressed until "Shindig". So I'll continue to watch Dollhouse in hopes that it will get better.

* My attempt at self-referentialism, a Whedon trademark. See also: title of post.

On this President's Day...

...I present our yearly offering, something which never gets old.

(NSFW: language)


Here's a reminder that Joss Whedon returns to television with tonight's premiere of Dollhouse. He's had three prior series, and all three were home runs: Buffy, Angel, and Firefly. I don't know much about Dollhouse yet, but suffice it to say, I'll be watching with great anticipation.

Related: Serenity Shindig

Munger on the Stimulus Package

An excerpt from this interview with Michael Munger:

Leef: President Obama and his circle of advisers are all well-educated people, yet they support economic policies that seem to be deeply flawed. Would you say that they simply haven’t read the right books and taken the right courses to comprehend what’s going on, or is the problem that politicians sometimes pursue objectives other than long-run prosperity for the general public?

Munger: President Obama is no worse than George Bush, and he actually may be quite a bit better. George Bush is the one who ran the huge deficits, and who allowed enormous discretionary spending increases and increases in domestic regulation.

The problem is this: It’s hard to claim credit for the vitality of the market. Politicians claim credit for DOING things.

Imagine you had a six-year-old daughter, and that she has a high fever. It’s 1820, and we don’t understand germs or fevers very well. You call the doctor, and the doctor comes to the house. “Please, do something. DO SOMETHING, and help my daughter,” you say.

The doctor takes out a lancet, and makes a small incision in your daughter’s wrist. The theory was that the fever was in the blood itself, and “bleeding” was the only treatment that people in 1820 knew.

It doesn’t work. Your daughter’s fever is still very high. So, you tell the doctor, “DO SOMETHING! You are the doctor.”

The doctor bleeds her some more. And she dies.

And the next day you blame the doctor for not bleeding her MORE and SOONER. But bleeding was the wrong thing to do.

This stimulus is the wrong thing to do. The fact that the first round didn’t work leads me to think we need to stop! But all the desperate economic parents out there say, DO IT MORE! DO IT LONGER! DO IT FAST!

I don’t blame the President. I blame voters, who have the naïve idea that government is responsible for the economy.

On the topic of "hoarding"

Constant takes on the McArdle argument.

One brief note I'd like to make:

Nobody holds cash with the plan of never spending it. Otherwise, they would burn it, wipe their butts with it, make paper airplanes out of it, or use it for confetti. If someone holds cash, they plan to spend it later.

The argument stimulus proponents have to take on is--

Why is spending now better than spending later?

Cash vs Wealth

Via C.J., Megan McArdle writes,

This is Keynes' famous argument that all spending is someone else's income. If we (hypothetically) decide to eliminate takeout from our menu and eat tuna sandwiches instead, we are saving money. But the restaurant loses it. By foregoing spending, we are pulling money out of the economy. This is the insight behind the liquidity trap--if everyone tries to hoard money by selling more goods and services while buying fewer, the total demand for goods and services will drop, and we will make ourselves worse off.

Isn't there a difference between cash and wealth? The amount of cash in an economy could double overnight and it wouldn't change how wealthy everyone is. Yet, Keynesian economics seems to imply that cash is the answer to everything; it drives the economy. Make sure it keeps moving and growing or else the economy will stall.

I've heard people joke recently, "I spent $5 on X; I'm doing my part to keep the economy going." Does spending really make the economy grow? I don't see it. It may divert demand from one place to another, or from later to the present, but overall, I don't see how it makes an economy grow. Economies grow when people come up with ways of making things more cheaply and with fewer resources. (Then again I'm not an economist.)

Let me propose another theory: Sure, people, banks, and companies are saving for self-serving reasons but the economy as a whole will eventually benefit as a result. This is not a prisoner's dilemma. The players are waiting till the dust clears. Those who made poor choices and took part in risky investments will either be liquidated or swallowed up by those who made better choices. The economy will benefit when the former have less say and the latter have more clout in the decisions of the economy. The future is very uncertain and thus, cash is king. When the instability passes, that cash will be very valuable and the time to spend will come. Better to "hoard" now and reap the benefits later instead of making risky spending decisions and investments now.