Archive for April, 2009

Altruistic Scalping

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

Because I’m a complete pushover, I fell victim to a Carnegie Hall telemarketer a few months ago and signed up for a four-show series of legendary Indian percussionist Zakir Hussain. I made my way to the show this evening, and as I pulled out my ticket, I kind of stood and stared hesitantly at it awhile (after all, I have three more nights of Zakir to see in different combinations, and Wednesday features Edgar Meyer and Bela Fleck). I was quickly noticed by two alert fans looking for tickets. One needed two tickets but the other, an older Indian gentleman, only needed one, so I sold it to him at face value. He thanked me profusely and said he would gladly have paid more. He was so happy, the look of joy and relief on his face was more than payment enough.

I think I may embark on a non-profit career of scalping tickets at face value just to see people overcome with joy.

Game Changer

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

I’ll admit that, like a lot of Americans, I’ve been hesitant to become outraged on the topic of torture. Mostly I’ve been watching to see how it will shake out. And then I read this statement released yesterday, from former U.S. Army psychiatrist at Guantanamo Bay, Maj. Charles Burney:

“While we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al Qaida and Iraq and we were not successful in establishing a link between al Qaida and Iraq,” Burney told staff of the Army Inspector General. “The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link . . . there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.”

OK now I’m outraged. We weren’t just torturing detainees and enemy combatants for information, we were torturing them under false pretenses to prove the nonexistent al Qaida/Iraq link, the link that the Bush administration touted as justification for war. For a long time I’ve thought the torture issue was small potatoes compared to the crime of declaring an unjust war. Now it turns out we’ve knowingly tortured people to support our pre-existing conclusion? We literally beat people into submission to prove an Iraq/al Qaida link?

This freaks me out. I knew the Bush administration were shady and vile, but I honestly did not think they were truly Evil. They wanted a war, so they beat people into saying things to justify it. Somebody has to prosecute this.

Full story here.

The US Marriage Schism

Monday, April 20th, 2009

And while we’re on the subject of marriage, I came across this terrific diagnosis of marriage in America today, from Andrew J. Cherlin:

Americans believe in two contradictory ideals. The first is the importance of marriage: we are more marriage-oriented than most other Western countries. The second is the importance of living a personally fulfilling life that allows us to grow and develop as individuals—call it individualism. Now, you can find other countries that place a high value on marriage, such as Italy where most children are born to married couples and there are fewer cohabiting relationships. And you can find countries that place a high value on individualism, such as Sweden. But only in the United States do you find both.

Read the whole interview. It’s a great spotlight on where marriage is in today’s world. It looks like the book would be a great read, especially for anyone who considers marriage to be this unchanging, immovable cultural object.

Definitions

Friday, April 17th, 2009

As so many people are concerned with marriage being between a man and a woman, I’d like more people to defend the notion that war should be between a country and another country.

Wars fought between a country and a nebulously defined concept should be considered null and void. Wars between a country and randomly distributed individuals across multiple countries should also be outlawed.

If the purpose of marriage is to produce children, then the purpose of war is to produce victory. And how can victory ever be achieved without someone declaring surrender?

On a similar note, humans should never be allowed to marry animals because animals cannot give consent. Nor can nebulously defined concepts or randomly distributed individuals across multiple countries. Beyond that, what consenting individuals or countries do in the privacy of their own lands is none of my business.

Tom Cruise Spammers

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

A few years ago[1], I wrote a short blog entry about Tom Cruise, and a few days ago I got a comment on it, either from a spam bot or some extremely motivated non-English speaker. Take a look. The URL behind the commenter’s name appears to have no malicious code inside it. My guess is it’s a test site for blog spammers.

In other news, I wrote a nice piece of wishful thinking for OK Communicator today, as well as an entry on Iranian music I had originally composed for this blog, but thought I would shift it over to OKC.

And did I not mention the recent Wall Street Pillow Fight? Or my walk home from work last week, with the storm coming in? Or the Michael Manring show? Sorry I’ve been out of touch.

1.) Wow. Have I really been doing this for that long?

Maybe I’m Weird…

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

…but this is actually one of the most amusing things I’ve witnessed in New York. Granted I’m easily amused[1], but take a gander at the link. It’s a video I took last week of some pigeons.

1.) Especially by little things like unnecessary footnotes.

More Economic Ramblings

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

“The fall of the Berlin Wall really was a strong message that communism does not work as an economic system. The collapse of Lehman Brothers on Sept. 15 again showed that unbridled capitalism doesn’t work either.” – Joseph Stiglitz

I’ve long suspected that systems of government and economics are only as good as the people who believe in them and support them without manipulating them for personal gain. Monarchies have been too susceptible to individual corruption. Communism has been too susceptible to party manipulation. Capitalism has used the pursuit of personal gain as its economic engine, and that seemed to work well for quite some time. But we may now be seeing that, over the arc of the 19th and 20th centuries, democratic capitalism has been harder to manipulate directly by individuals, but more easily manipulated by corporations and other groups.

This systematic corruption seems to have taken shape via the accrual of very minor crimes being built into a global economy over time. Mortgage-backed securities, for example, in and of themselves aren’t criminal acts, but are apparently intensely susceptible to mathematical fudging. So we got where we are not by the corruption and manipulation of a king or a party but by the financial tinkerings of a few and the general fiscal ignorance of the many (myself included – like many Americans, I hope, I’m learning more and more about economics these days).

The key to Stiglitz’s quote is the bridle, I think. Government has to set limits because people are not mature enough to police themselves; power corrupts. The invisible hand is only as good as a thoroughly informed populace and thoroughly transparent businesses. As complex as our society has become, those requirements may not be possible.