Musings of the Great Eric

Archive for April 2008

Harold and Kumar and Racism

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I’m not sure what the wisdom of mining Harold and Kumar for social commentary is, its creators have offered up one of the most prescient insights into our culture that I’ve seen recently:

Mr. Hurwitz and Mr. Schlossberg, who grew up in Randolph, N.J., have known each other since high school, where the idea of Harold and Kumar took root. “We always had a very multicultural group of friends,” Mr. Hurwitz said. “One thing that struck us was that no matter our ethnic background, we were very much alike. But whenever we saw Asian or Indian characters on screen, they were nothing like our friends, so we thought we would write characters like them.” (Mr. Cho’s character is based on an actual Harold Lee. Mr. Hurwitz and Mr. Schlossberg are Jewish, as are Harold and Kumar’s best buddies.)

The signal achievement of both Harold and Kumar films is that they make race incidental without taking racism lightly; they presuppose an enlightened audience. “When we start to write, we’re under the assumption that everyone knows racism is bad,” Mr. Schlossberg said. “If you don’t know that, you’re a moron. Harold and Kumar’s attitude toward racism is more frustration at having to deal with idiocy than moral outrage. We try to create a world where racism is stupid.”

This has been my experience exactly, among my generation and especially amongst those younger than me (I’m 25).

I’ve observed mixed groups throw around words like Nigger, Jew, and Gay both as insults and terms of affection, in front of and sometimes directed at people to whom those terms would apply – and without anyone taking offense or intending it. In context, the behavior is so normal that I hardly even notice it except when I step back and take a broader view.

At the same time, I cannot imagine ever using those words in a group of older people, regardless of the context or group make up. They still live in a different world.

I think what’s going on with that kind of language is exactly what’s stated in the quoted bit. The terms aren’t being used as a way to reinforce stereotypes, but rather in a way that makes fun of the stereotypes themselves – because the stereotypes are, quite simply, stupid.

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Written by Eric

April 27, 2008 at 5:25 pm

Posted in Culture, Society

Live Mesh

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So Microsoft announced something interesting today, Live Mesh. It’s in limited beta mode now, but it shouldn’t be too long before Microsoft opens it up to the public. Techcrunch has the details. In a nutshell, it’s part file sharing, part backup, part synchronization. It’s kind of reminiscent of Apple’s Dotmac, but goes a fair bit beyond that.

While I haven’t played with it yet, and while I’m sure it’s still buggy and far from feature complete, it seems very neat, and earns Microsoft a rare kudos. If this is the indicative of the direction Ray Ozzie is going to be taking the company… there might still be some life in it yet.

The big problem? Microsoft needed to do this three or four years ago. It should have been a core part of Vista. Better late than never, I suppose – but whereas this might have kept me as a customer four years ago, now they’re at a point of needing to win me back. Mesh doesn’t quite reach that bar, at least not yet.

At this point my home network is a mish mash of computing platforms – I run Vista, OS X, and Ubuntu. Google Docs, while not nearly as elegant as MS Word, solves the synchronization problem for me, and Amazon S3 handles offsite backup. I might be getting a Blackberry or an iPhone at some point in the future.

To get me to switch, Microsoft needs to develop mesh into something that not only works across all these platforms, but proves itself to be a superior solution to anything that Google, Apple, or anyone else might offer.

Written by Eric

April 23, 2008 at 10:40 am

Posted in Technology

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Quote of the Day

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“I felt so sorry for you when Bill had his affair,” the woman said. “I think the best way to overcome it is to become president.”

(source).

I’m fascinated by the “average voter”. It’s kind of like watching a slow motion train wreck… horrific, yet I can’t make myself turn away…

Written by Eric

April 21, 2008 at 1:32 pm

Not only do I want and elite President, I want a President who’s embarrassingly superior to me

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Jon Stewart last night, once again proving why he’s the most trusted newsman in America:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Written by Eric

April 15, 2008 at 12:52 pm

The mountaintop, forty years later

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As one learns more about history, the shine tends to come off of a lot of its heroes. We learn that many of the historical figures we put on a pedestal were in fact human beings, who often made mistakes and came complete with moral failings. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, George Washington could and did lie, Thomas Edison was kind of a huge dick, and JFK had more foreign policy bungles than he had successes in his unfortunately short term in office.

Martin Luther King Jr., however, is an exception to that rule. The more I’ve learned about him, the more inspiring he’s become. He stood for what was right, without compromise, and spent his life fighting for those beliefs. His life was tragically cut short forty years ago today.

After the jump is the text from his last speech, delivered in Memphis Tennessee on April 3, 1968: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Eric

April 4, 2008 at 12:40 pm

Cape Verde, Mars

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Explanation, via NASA’s Image of the Day. View it in its full size glory.

220470main_PIA10209_full 

Every once in a while you just have to sit back and marvel at this age of wonders we live in. This incredible place exists nowhere on Earth. And unlike every similar photo from Earth you might see, there’s not a living thing to be found anywhere in this image. This is a photo taken on another planet, transmitted across space, and brought to your computer screen.

Amazing.

Written by Eric

April 2, 2008 at 8:08 am

Posted in Mars, Photos, Science

Inequality and the Presidency

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Via Dani Rodrik, this graph:

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In a nutshell, under Republican Administrations, the richest see their incomes grow the fastest, and the poorest see it grow the slowest – inequality increases. Under Democrats, every income group gets richer faster, with the poorest seeing their incomes rise the fastest – five times faster than under Republicans. Wow.

The graph comes from Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels’ new book, soon to be released. Now quoting Rodrik:

Bartels shows in his book that this difference is not a statistical artifact or a fluke.  It is not the result of Democrats coming to power during better economic times, or of Republicans reining in the unsustainable excesses of Democratic administrations they replace. (It turns out that the same pattern prevails even when a Republican president is succeeded by another Republican.) These numbers are real and they are the outcome of partisan differences in policy. So if you are one of those who have bought the story that income distribution is the result of pure market forces and technological changes, with politics playing no role–think again.

I haven’t read the book, so for the moment I’m just taking the data at face value, and assuming that Bartels did his homework and controlled for all other variables. But the idea here isn’t new; Paul Krugman has argued often and convincingly that inequality is tied to public policy, especially under the Bush Administration.

The idea that the President has such an influence on policy, which in turn has such an influence on the economy and income distribution is a pretty profound one with some pretty disturbing implications – that’s an insane amount of power vested in one individual. But to be honest, I don’t have the faintest clue what might be done about that and consequently won’t say any more on it.

A more direct and obvious question though (which Rodrik asks) is why the hell do people vote Republican? Like, ever?

There have been a multitude of theories put out there. Thomas Frank put forward the most compelling theory in What’s the Matter with Kansas?, arguing that Republicans use social issues (like abortion and gay marriage) to get people to vote against their own economic interests. Krugman argued in Conscience of a Liberal that it comes down to good old fashioned racism. In my view there’s no silver bullet explanation – politics and voting behavior are complex beasts.

Given that the Republican party isn’t even able to significantly improve the economic outlook for the very wealthy compared to Democrats, it does beg the question of why even that group supports them, given economic history. They’ve got to be fooling themselves before they get around to fooling the lower classes that vote Republican – and that’s damn interesting.

Written by Eric

April 1, 2008 at 6:54 pm

Posted in Economics, Politics