Entries in thoughts (20)

Wednesday
Jun012011

A Modern Story of X

Recently, there’s been this human-interest story making the rounds about some parents who have decided not to disclose the gender of their latest child, Storm.  Unsurprisingly to me, the couple in question was influenced by X: A Fabulous Child’s Story, published in 1978.1  I’ve been a fan of that story since I first heard it in middle school and think it makes a good point:  Children don’t need everyone telling them what they should be doing (in relation to gender roles) for them to develop an understanding of who they are.2  In modern American society, at any rate, people care about the gender of young children with an intensity that makes little sense.  I once saw a video in a psych class where parents introduced their infant to strangers by differently gendered names, a small difference which colored the entire interaction so intensely that the resulting film was rather comedic.  What’s in a name, indeed?

However, that’s not the end of that case.  As Reddit commenter Majoribanks notes:

[…] it doesn’t actually sound like they ARE giving their kids such an unbiased choice. It sounds like they really really really want radical genderqueer show-off children to support their own worldview.

I mean, they say this: “What we noticed is that parents make so many choices for their children. It’s obnoxious” but then also this “The boys are encouraged to challenge how they’re expected to look and act based on their sex.”

The two are in direct opposition to each other. These kids don’t go to school, and don’t interact with people outside their family very much or for long amounts of time. Their parents “encouraging” them to “challenge” their gender expectations is basically tantamount to telling them “you should act like girls to please mommy and daddy!” I mean, if their sons ask for a pretty frilly dress and the parents respond with “of course! you look so wonderful in it!” but if they ask for a machine gun they get “do you really want to conform to expectations for boys to be so violent” instead, how is that any sort of meaningful choice?

That phrase seems to explain, to me anyway, why BOTH their sons want to have longer hair and wear pink and purple and glitter, when even their parents have short hair and don’t wear makeup. Most kids who DO play with makeup, girls included, do it because they see their mother and female relatives doing it.

That comment really reminded me of another blog post from earlier this year, written by Heather Soersdal:

So, here’s my mistake: I never should have written the post about my gender conforming kids in response to the posts about the gender nonconforming kids. […] What I know now is that I had no idea of the scope and scale of this my-son-acts-girly blogging phenomenon and just how truly offensive it is. I’m embarrassed to have taken any part in it.

As it turns out, there are a lot of blogs like this. Like, a lot. […]

They all have 2 things in common: they’re all about boys who act feminine, and the boys are all prepubescent and in some cases barely emerging from toddlerhood. Nobody’s concerned with girls who like boy things even though some of them could be gay, too (gasp) and anyone with a copy of What To Expect the Toddler Years ought to know better than to start a career writing about gender nonconformity in a child who is too young even to have any real solid idea of how to be gender conforming.

Girls aren’t an issue because girls acting like boys are considered to be expanding their horizons and even promoting themselves. Femininity in women isn’t assumed to be innate, but learned behavior (see: charm schools, every womens’ magazine ever). Therefore, masculinity in women is not assumed to be innate but as contrived as femininity and possibly semi-rebellious behavior that will probably get her far in life if cripple her chances of getting a husband. Boys acting like girls, however, are immediately assumed to be acting on innate feminine impulses that are probably connected to them wanting to date other boys. Mens’ genders are real, womens’ genders are faked. [… no seriously I’m omitting a lot here …] There’s no need to assume anything about a child’s sexual orientation and if anything there’s a need not to obsess over it. Planning this far into a child’s future simply does not make sense.

However, these parents insist they’re not planning this far into their boys’ futures. They insist and insist and insist on it. Oh, the insisting. They go on about how they know this is not a guarantee of a gay son. They have links all over the sidebar about GLBT causes and titles like “Raising My Rainbow” but don’t you dare forget, they know that this probably doesn’t necessarily mean they’re gay except in BoyGir’s case, where it necessarily definitely means he’s gay and genderqueer. They insist they do not care about whether their sons are gay or transgender. There are really only two conclusions I can think to draw here. Either these parents are struggling with their homophobia and overcompensating for their negative feelings toward their own sons in the same way you might buy an extra special gift for the in-law you hate to prove you don’t hate them, or they just really love the attention, Münchhausen’s style.

[emphasis mine, link also mine]

(I’ll just do that thing I do where after a lengthy quote I tell you to just go and read the whole post anyways.)

Okay, so that end is probably overly harsh, but I don’t think the criticism is inaccurate, or that a similar sort of thing might be going on in this story.  It’s easy (or at the very least, tempting to some) to cross the line between doing the right thing because it’s right and doing the “right” thing so you can wave some sort of political flag before an audience.  If you think that something shouldn’t be a big deal, making the most of the media coverage is probably undermining your point.

1. If that name is a comics pun, that’s quite a groaner.

2. In fact, there’s strong evidence that “confusing” someone about their gender identity is really hard.

Sunday
Apr102011

More Than Meats the Eye

There’s more going on here than you might think:

 

That video is from a YouTube show called EpicMealTime, there’s an entire line of such videos.  See also thisiswhyyourefat, the Heart Attack Grill, the ffffffuuuuuuuuuuuud subreddit, etc., etc.

A few thoughts:

1. Competitive feasting has deep historical roots.  It’s hypothesized to be one of the reasons for the transition between hunting-gathering and agriculture.  Starving hunter-gathers presumably would not turn to agriculture, since that means burying grain instead of eating it and staying in a food-poor area instead of moving.  However, moving from gathering to horticulture to agriculture could be a way of turning a current surplus into a future even-bigger surplus at the expense of being tied down and vulnerable to future famine.

2. Robin Hanson is a fan of explaining modern trends in terms of the tendency of high-status industrialists/agriculturalists to live according to forager norms instead of farmer norms.  But he points out a hole in his hypothesis:

I hypothesize that the cultural pressures which long ago pushed folks from more natural forager ways into then-more-functional farming ways work better on poor people, so that rich folk less feel their pressure. If so, as folks get rich they would tend to revert back to the natural-feeling forager ways.

While this hypothesis may seem natural, I must point out that it has a gaping hole: it is far from obvious why the cultural pressures that made foragers act like farmers should weaken when folks get rich.  Yes poor farmers may have few other options, while rich folks have the luxury of acting more like foragers. But rich farmers could have instead used their wealth to act like hyper-farmers, moving even further from forager styles. Why exactly did rich farmers act more like foragers?

I wonder if competitive eaters lean more politically conservative or liberal than seemingly-similar individuals?

3. Is the kind of competitive feasting I highlight hyper-farmer or hyper-forager?  Well, forager modes of competitive feasting tend to allow high-status individuals to accumulate further status without them accumulating further material control or wealth.

Of course, not all the examples above are the same.  In the case of EMT, I suppose it depends on how the social pressures on Harley Morenstein and the other hosts work as they gain more wealth.  If it results in a dramatic increase in their personal income, agriculturalist.  If it results in the show containing ever larger / more expensive / more dramatically produced meals in such a way that it precludes extraordinary accumulation of wealth by the hosts, forager.

On the other hand, the structure of the feast is more agriculturalist (the “big man” is paying to obtain raw materials up front and people are (essentially) paying him for the result). And pretty much all the distribution of funds is going directly to industrial agriculture.  Distribution of actual food isn’t involved.

And no way a forager is going to get their hands on that much bacon per person.

4. Given the low price of many high-calorie food items, excessive food is in many cases very clearly framed as a celebration of “low culture”.  It hardly fits in with the “eats a healthier and well-varied” diet that’s the first item in Hanson’s description of foragers.  On the other hand, the exaggerated or ironic celebration of low culture is very SWPL.

No idea how to fit that into the farmer norms vs. forager norms framing.

5. Getting back to point 3, countering the accumulation of all wealth in the hands of a few high-status individuals is kind of key if you want to have a stable society.  Modern civilization has dealt with this almost entirely by expanding frontiers (or in globalization terms, “developing new markets”).  But we’re running kind of short on frontiers at the moment, and the need for labor is lower than ever due to technology.

Arguably, foreign aid programs are a sort of competitive feasting.  They redistribute wealth to accumulate status, both of which promote stability.  Given the role of food prices in recent revolutions (past and ongoing), that’s not been terribly effective.

Friday
Mar112011

Transhuman Home Video

Cheap video cameras are useful if you’re a researcher collecting data, a person archiving memories, or a parent directing obsessive focus on the details of their child’s life.  The subject of this TED Talk takes all of those trends to the next level:

The researcher, Deb Roy, wired every room in his house for video and sound, continuously recorded multitrack audio and video, and made sense of it all with some impressive analysis and visualization software.  He doesn’t just list the words his child learned (as my parents also did), he can track the word through past vocalizations to observe how the pronunciation develops.  (I felt like I could almost hear the interaction between the mechanisms of operant conditioning and mimicry!)  He records the abstractions of interactions (socailization represented as two-dimentional motion with the third access for time, superimposed on a quasi-3D view of the room).  Even recording those moments that are the bread and butter of parental home video, his system captures evocative details that would otherwise been confabulated or overlooked.

What hit me when I was watching this video is that this guy is “remembering” things in a way that is simply not normal for human beings.  Since the data belongs to his family personally, perhaps “public versus private” is not the right aspect to look at, though I’d find it odd were I a visitor in his home.  It seems clear at least that his sense of enduring versus ephemeral is wildly at odds with what would be expected in our society.  And none of the technology he’s using to do this is particularly obscure (still on the expensive side, but orders of magnitude cheaper than it would have been a decade ago).

Wednesday
Dec292010

When Labor is Obsolete

What happens when the entire world’s demand for goods and services can be satisfied by a fraction of the world’s population?

What happens when there are many people who can’t do any job more cheaply than a machine or robot?

Do either of the above questions relate to the concept of a “jobless recovery”?

(Musing mostly based on someone linking back to this post.  The title is an overstatement, obviously.)

Friday
Dec032010

The Three Major Factions in American Politics

Keep almost touching on this idea in my posts, so thought this could use a little exposition.  In my view, there are three major ideological factions in American politics:

Conservatives: The loyal opposition.  Tradition is good, don’t change what works.  Major weakness: Can’t decide when, exactly, they want to preserve; agree with Progressives of not that long ago, so Progressives of today assume they can just wait them out.  Very weakly right-wing.

Progressives: “Liberals”, Moldbug’s “Universalists”.  Moldbug enumerates the core beliefs of this faction as fraternalism, pacifism, social justice, and communitarianism, that’s a reasonable summary.  Major weaknesses: Sometimes confuse ideals for reality, ideological blindness leads to self-defeating compromise.  Left-wing.  I more-or-less agree with these guys.

Big Business: “Neoconservatives”, “neoliberals”, “free market proponents” (though not actually in favor of a free market, their policy is more like “Keynes at home, Friedman abroad” or “privatized profits, socialized losses”).  Major weaknesses: Sometimes confuse ideals for reality, ideological blindness (or worse!) leads to global economic collapse.  Left-wing in right-wing sauce.

(I’m still not quite satisfied with that name for the last, but can’t come up with any better.)

Both political parties have been rather significantly captured by the Big Business faction (Republicans thoroughly, Democrats to a very large extent post-Reagan).  The Republicans pay lip service to Conservatives (and some Republican politicians are actually Conservatives), but policy-wise deliver almost nothing to that faction.  The Democrats pay lip service to Progressives (and many Democratic politicians are actually Progressives), but policy-wise deliver little to that faction.

The Progressive and the Big Business faction are both left-wing, but they are two distinct, mutually incompatible ideologies.  Compromises between the two tends to produce perverse results:

  1. Minimum wage and workplace safety standards plus an opposition to “trade barriers”.
  2. Food safety standards plus an insistence that regulation must apply to small, transparent family farms as well as big, secretive factory food-processing operations.
  3. FDIC plus bank deregulation.

None of these ideological factions are centrally organized, so nothing prevents people from trying to set up their tent at both camps and nothing prevents Big Business from appealing to Progressives on Progressive grounds.  Which they have done fairly effectively:  Promoting “free trade” on the basis of brotherhood (framing protectionism as xenophobia) and social justice (“economic development”).  Promoting context-blind regulation as an appeal to fairness.  Selling consumer protections that mostly benefit corporations on the basis of the former aspect (even when it’s the sort of disaster mitigation that makes disaster more likely).

My guesses for why such compromises are so tempting:

  1. Progressives think they are still compromising with Conservatives, though present-day Republicans are anything but.  Progressive/Conservative compromises tend to not be so perverse.  And they tend to be a long-term win for Progressives.
  2. People don’t get the concept of a compromise with perverse results.
  3. “Doing something” is more politically advantageous than “doing nothing”, even if it’s actually worse, in large part because of the previous point.
  4. Progressives believe that talking things out and arriving at a compromise is in general a good way of solving problems and thus are reluctant to notice that this doesn’t work so well in a broad class of situations.
Sunday
Oct172010

How I Got Pwned

While perusing Moldbug’s blog, I came across an essay titled How Dawkins Got Pwned (links to all parts of that in this index).  The essay is a response to the book The God Delusion, in which Richard Dawkins argues that religion is a parasitic meme complex centering on one central flaw, an irrational belief in the existence of a god (or gods) and the further belief that one can know god’s will.  In the book, Dawkins claims to believe in “Einsteinian [or Spinozan] religion”, which is non-theistic (or trivially pantheistic).  As Dawkins describes:

Let me sum up Einsteinian religion in one more quotation from Einstein himself: “To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious.”

Moldbug argues that Dawkins is mistaken in thinking that ditching “the God delusion” brings him into the realm of pure rationality.  Rather, Dawkins is a follower of the progressive tradition, which in Moldbug’s view is basically a liberal sect of Christianity that has jettisoned a few bits of theological baggage:

So: Professor Dawkins is an atheist. But - as his writing makes plain - atheism is not the only theme in his personal kernel. Professor Dawkins believes in many other things. He labels the tradition to which he subscribes as Einsteinian religion. Since no one else has used this label, he is entitled to define Einsteinian religion - perhaps we can just call it Einsteinism - as whatever he wants. And he has.

My observation is that Einsteinism exhibits many synapomorphies with Christianity. For example, it appears that Professor Dawkins believes in the fair distribution of goods, the futility of violence, the universal brotherhood of man, and the reification of community. These might be labeled as the themes of Rawlsianism, pacifism, fraternism and communalism.  [ed: Taking for granted for now that Moldbug’s assertion that Dawkins holds these specific beliefs is correct.  It certainly seems that he believes something along those lines.]

[…]

My belief is that Professor Dawkins is not just a Christian atheist. He is a Protestant atheist. And he is not just a Protestant atheist. He is a Calvinist atheist. And he is not just a Calvinist atheist. He is an Anglo-Calvinist atheist. In other words, he can be also be described as a Puritan atheist, a Dissenter atheist, a Nonconformist atheist, an Evangelical atheist, etc, etc.

Moldbug, throughout his blog, often refers to this liberal-Christian progressive tradition as “Universalism”, due to, among other things, its relation to Unitarian Universalism.

Now, as it happens, one of my major influences is a sermon by a Unitarian UniversalistAbout Richard Dawkins.  The sermon is in response to an essay Dawkins wrote entitled Is Science a Religion?  (For the sake of chronology, note that these was published in 1997, The God Delusion in 2006.)  In that essay, Dawkins argues that science has “many of religion’s virtues, […] none of its vices”.  He asserts: “Science is based upon verifiable evidence. Religious faith not only lacks evidence, its independence from evidence is its pride and joy, shouted from the rooftops.”  Before reading the sermon, I would have agreed wholeheartedly with Dawkins, and insisted that I was by no means religious.  After reading the sermon, I still thought that Dawkins was technically correct on whether science is a religion per se, but missing a more significant point.  And I would have hardly quibbled with the assertion that I was a Universalist (even though that long predates my awareness of Moldbug’s use of the term).

The sermon, which I found via a search for the titular question, argues:

Dawkins complains that religion bears no relationship to this way of approaching human knowledge and understanding. The line with which he opens the second paragraph of his article is: Faith, being belief that isn’t based on evidence, is the principal vice of religion.

Is that, in fact, what faith is? Oh, I agree with him that this notion of faith is a major feature of bad religion. However, in science, would we let the common understanding of science of the populace at large define what the enterprise of science shall be? Of course not. Yet we have done precisely this with religion and Dawkins buys into it hook, line and sinker. […]

[…]

For Dawkins, the notion that science is a religion is unacceptable because he has bought the narrow and wrong popular notion of what religion is about. […]

In other words, if Dawkins was aware of (Unitarian) Universalism, he’d understand the religious nature of his belief system!

Let’s bring this back to Moldbug.  First Rev. Young:

Dawkins goes on in the article to rehearse, among other things, what it would be like if all religious education were done from the point of view of science. It’s an interesting section of the article because what he is essentially doing is rehearsing the Unitarian Universalist religious education curriculum, as if somehow this never had occurred to anybody before. […]

Dawkins:

Looking now at the various things that religious education might be expected to accomplish, one of its aims could be to encourage children to reflect upon the deep questions of existence, to invite them to rise above the humdrum preoccupations of ordinary life and think sub specie aeternitatis.

Science can offer a vision of life and the universe which, as I’ve already remarked, for humbling poetic inspiration far outclasses any of the mutually contradictory faiths and disappointingly recent traditions of the world’s religions.

[…]

When the religious education class turns to ethics, I don’t think science actually has a lot to say, and I would replace it with rational moral philosophy.

In fact, Moldbug argues, just this sort of “religious education” is a big part of how Universalism thrives (we’re back to that first link again):

Fundamentalist Christianity - I prefer the term “salvationism,” because the belief that only those who are born again in Christ will be saved is essential to almost all “fundamentalist” sects - certainly matches some of the above descriptions. […]

In the contagion department, however, salvationism is curiously lacking. Compared to other successful memetic parasites of the past - for example, Catholicism before the Reformation - its presence in educational institutions is negligible. In fact, under present law, salvationism is entirely barred from the entire mainstream educational system. […]  [emphasis mine]

Given that America enforces a separation of church and state that excludes explicitly theological ideas from the public educational system, a meme complex that includes most of the religious beliefs of many teachers minus any religious beliefs that are explicitly theological has a huge advantage in transmission.  Liberal religious sects are far more likely to generate that sort of meme complex for several reasons:

  1. Liberals are willing to revise philosophical frameworks piece-wise.  Hence liberal religions are more likely to be coherent piece-wise as opposed to all-or-nothing, so they’re easier to revise further.
  2. Actually revising a religious meme complex is the sort of thing that’s more likely to occur in the mind of a liberal.  The whole point of being a conservative is not to revise your traditional beliefs.
  3. Conservative emphasis on liturgical traditions makes it harder to separate theology from anything else.

So while I’m not so quick to buy that liberalism (up to and including the basic concepts of democracy) is a bad idea that leads to complete bureaucratic stagnation, anarcho-tyranny, or worse, I can see Moldbug’s point on the transmission aspect.  It’s extremely plausible that many of the religious ideas from mainstream American Protestantism are transmitted frequently and effectively by the public school system.

Of course, my initial reaction to that agreement was, “so what?”  But I would think that, wouldn’t I.

After all, the process that Moldbug argues happened to Dawkins certainly happened to me.  I had little trouble (though the process took some time) discarding the liturgical elements of Judaism, a process undoubtedly made easier by that fact that my parents, despite their membership in a Conservative synagogue, had beliefs which more closely matched with the Reform movement (which Moldbug would describe as “Protestant Judaism”, mere theological window-dressing away from secular “Universalism”, and I myself described as “the Unitarian Universalists of Judaism”, years before I’d heard of Moldbug).  But the same anti-religious-bias intellectual defenses, quite easily inflamed by Christian “salvationism” or Jewish fundamentalism, were (as far as I can tell) barely activated at all when learning about the causes of the American Revolution.  Or singing “Simple Gifts” in music class.

As Moldbug puts it in part of his Open Letter, imagining an optical device that makes the theological atheological and vice-versa:

[…] More to the point, it [the First Amendment] does not say “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, until that religion manages to sneak God under the carpet, at which point go ahead, dudes.” Rather, the obvious spirit of the law is that Congress shall be neutral with respect to the theological disputes of its citizens, such as that described by Professor Hayes. Um, has it been?

[…]

In the Fundamentalens, Harvard and Stanford and Yale are fundamentalist seminaries. It may not be official, but there is no doubt about it at all. They emit Jesus-freak codewords, secret Mormon handshakes, and miscellaneous Bible baloney the way a baby emits fermented milk. Meanwhile, Bob Jones and Oral Roberts and Patrick Henry are diverse, progressive, socially and environmentally conscious centers of learning - their entire freshman class lines up to sing “Imagine” every morning.

Would it creep you out, dear open-minded progressive, to live in this country?

Imagine a Harvard that, as the Harvard of old, primarily emitted Unitarian and Congregationalist ministers.  Imagine that these graduates, as graduates of the Harvard of today, went by the scores into government and NGOs and the educational system.  (And what applies to Harvard generalizes pretty well to Princeton, Yale…)  Such ministers are scrupulously careful about leaving out the god-talk when performing their secular jobs, of course.

Now, modern Harvard is not (for the most part) training ministers, and I assure you the world in that imagining is nothing like the real one.  But what an odd afterimage the Fundamentalens leaves on the back of your retina!  Especially when you look at the public schools.

(This post is reaching Moldbuggian length (note: actually not even close), so I’ll leave it there for now and pick up this thread at a later time.  And hopefully move this blog back away from being the All Moldbug All the Time channel.  But anything that’s taking up far too much of my mental time is an excellent candidate for discussion here.)

Wednesday
Sep012010

On Risk Assessment

In 2007, the Daily Mail did a human-interest piece looking at one UK family titled  “How children lost the right to roam in four generations”.  At age eight, their child is allowed no further than the end of the block.  At the same age, his great-grandfather was allowed to wander across the town, including walking to a fishing-hole six miles away.

In 2008, Lenore Skenazy, a New York mom, wrote an editorial titled “Why I Let My 9-Year Old Ride the Subway Alone”.  She quickly acquired celebrity status as “America’s Worst Mom”, and has been fighting to defend her views ever since.

In 2010, security expert Bruce Schneier wrote the following:

At a security conference recently, the moderator asked the panel of distinguished cybersecurity leaders what their nightmare scenario was.  The answers were the predictable array of large-scale attacks: against our communications infrastructure, against the power grid, against the financial system, in combination with a physical attack.

I didn’t get to give my answer until the afternoon, which was: “My nightmare scenario is that people keep talking about their nightmare scenarios.”

[…]

Worst-case thinking means generally bad decision making for several reasons. First, it’s only half of the cost-benefit equation. Every decision has costs and benefits, risks and rewards. By speculating about what can possibly go wrong, and then acting as if that is likely to happen, worst-case thinking focuses only on the extreme but improbable risks and does a poor job at assessing outcomes.

The parental is political, too.

Friday
Aug062010

Wave Goodbye?

Google Wave is being discontinued as a standalone product.  I’m not sure whether to be surprised.  On the one hand, it seemed like if anyone could solve some of the flaws of email and get people to actually adopt it, it would be Google.  On the other hand, I was tremendously excited about Wave… but I never used it.

It seems that with networks as big as email, there are no good ways to push out a new protocol.  If you let everyone in right away, it doesn’t scale.  If you slowly add users, people’s friends are not on it when it’s fresh in their minds.  If you make it a separate product, it’s an inconvenience.  If you make it part of an existing product, users object to having it foisted upon them.

Still, Wave contained some fundamentally good ideas.  It makes sense to have an email client that can handle scheduling or collaborative document editing or shared to-do lists or threaded discussions; that is, instead of sending an email with a link to a web-app, why not send an email with a webapp in it?  It also makes sense to create open protocols instead of closed systems, especially if you want to build off of something as widely adopted as email.  (Not that open protocols are guaranteed winners.  Many open-source proponents would like to paint the history of the internet as a steady progression away from “walled gardens”, but that’s not necessarily the case.)

Google Wave isn’t dead yet.  It’s already used by at least two sets of enterprise collaboration software.  Hopefully, some of Wave’s features will find their way into GMail and other mail clients.

What do you think?  Will Wave rise again, or sink into obscurity?  Will the email client of some decades hence look much like one today, or will email’s role be filled by something different?  Will it be in FULL 3D?  It’s the future, after all.

Wednesday
Jul282010

The Future in the News

If I listed organizations exemplifying significant near-future trends, Wikileaks would certainly be towards the top.  Wikileaks is a platform for the anonymous submission, verification, and publication of classified or otherwise secret documents.  By operating online, with servers in multiple journalism-friendly jurisdictions, information given to Wikileaks becomes incredibly hard to suppress.  The fact that Wikileaks tries (to whatever extent possible under their journalistic ethics) to publish full documents instead of processed stories allows multiple news organizations to do their own analysis of the raw data.  Wikileaks suffered a funding crisis earlier this year, but after a donation drive, their document submission site and their published archives are back online.

Last April, Wikileaks was rocketed into the headlines when they released a video from July 2007 showing a helicopter gunship attack on suspected insurgents.  Reuters journalists with the group were also killed in the attack, as were civilians who attempted to rescue the wounded.  Two children in the rescuers’ vehicle were also seriously wounded.  The video was leaked by Private Bradley Manning, who was arrested and charged this July.

This week, Wikileaks released tens of thousands of pages of classified documents on the Afghanistan war, launching US strategy in the war back into the news and the political spotlight (or so anti-war politicians hope).

That of course means that the US Government has intensified their efforts to capture and question Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder and spokesperson.  That didn’t stop him from showing up to speak at TED Global 2010 in Oxford, but he didn’t show at The Next HOPE Conference (where he was to be the keynote speaker) last week in NYC.

So, this is one to watch.  It’s not clear to what extent Assange’s arrest would hinder Wikileaks.  It is clear that the Anthony Russos of the world now have far better technology at their disposal than a Xerox machine, that this will be a force for governments and businesses to contend with, since the issues of secrecy, security, and democracy are deeply intertwined.

Monday
Jun212010

On Political Cake and Eating

Political will is an interesting phenomena, to say the least, and America is quite the case study.  Take alternative energy, for example:

Overwhelmingly, Americans think the nation needs a fundamental overhaul of its energy policies, and most expect alternative forms to replace oil as a major source within 25 years. Yet a majority are unwilling to pay higher gasoline prices to help develop new fuel sources.

That’s nothing new, of course.  And I don’t mean in general, I mean on this specific issue.  For decades, across political party lines.

That’s not the only example of such a contradiction.  For example, most Americans want to cut foreign aid spending, but polls that ask for specific amounts find that Americans want to “cut” foreign aid spending to more than it currently is.

What’s the right way to deal with issues like that in a representative democracy?

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