Everything is a remix

Hitler, in addition to his oratorical and organizing abilities, has another positive asset—he is a man of the “common people”…
But several reliable, well-informed sources confirmed the idea that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as a bait to catch messes of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic and in line for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes.
The New York Times, November 21, 1922

Stephen E. Ambrose’s supposed thesis of Band of Brothers was that American citizen solders were better than the Germans because uniquely “American” autonomy and attitudes in lower officer corp gave them battlefield superiority due to flexibility in tactics and decision-making. This thesis is refuted in the same book by fact that it mentions that after soldiers were in combat for more than six months, they started to fall apart, the Germans, by this point, had been at war for six years.

An interesting side note was who the American servicemen found it easiest to relate to: not the English they trained and fought with, nor the French or the Dutch they freed at Normandy and Arnhem, but the German soldiers they fought at Bastogne and who surrendered to them at Berchtesgaden.

In the end, the lesson is a far deeper one: when Easy Company rolled into Dachau concentration camp, they were staring at a human horror that none of us are above because we are no different then our enemies.

About gerrymandering

I was surprised that the betting markets had the Democratic Party with a 19% chance of retaking Congress. To do so, they would have to flip nearly 50 seats.

While in the modern era, the Republicans have pulled this off twice (1994, 2010), the Democrats have only reached this number in 1974. That’s because wave elections of the magnitude needed usually occur only in midterm years when the sitting president has an ebb in popularity and the Republican party is stronger during midterms because of voting patterns.

Another way to look at it right now the Republicans have their largest House majority since just before the stock market crash kicked off the Great Depression. The challenge of flipping that seems insurmountable in an electorate as polarized as this one.

The press has mostly been focused on Donald Trump dragging down the ticket and Paul Ryan’s attempt to dance with that. So the articles focusing on the chances of the House flipping have actually decreased from last year because the conventional wisdom is that the only people who actually are at risk are Republican U.S. senators in blue or battleground states like (Illinois, Wisconsin, New Hampshire), and (Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio).

But the betting markets are capturing something the press isn’t: s wave is a wave is a wave, and this year is looking to be a Democratic wave due to demographics, it being a presidential election year, and Donald Trump. This is compounded by the fact that strategically Donald Trump is planning on funding and running his campaign by piggybacking off the Republican National Committee. This exacerbates the problem because: 1) it siphons funds and resources from congressional elections to the general; 2) since battleground states have large electoral vote counts, there is no correlation between contested districts and battleground states; and 3) the Republicans have increasingly depended financially on large donors via Citizen’s United and outsourced most of the voter outreach and research to third party organizations, so neither the money, nor the knowledge is actually in the RNC.

By giving 5-to-1 odds, the markets are saying, “Yeah, it’s going to be a wave, but that’s not enough. But hey, we could always be wrong.” My instincts are more around 25% instead of 19% — akin to saying, “It’s possible the wave will be big enough, but it’s still far, far more likely it’ll take another election year for this wave to crest.”

That’s because I think betting markets have not (yet) correctly priced in the gerrymandering. Right now everyone is saying that gerrymandering favors the Republicans, which it does. Through gerrymandering, Republican state houses in 2010 has acted as a deep red firewall against a Democratic wave and districts are more partisan than every because of it. Evidence certainly backs it up as nationally there were more votes for Democratic congressional candidates than Republican ones in 2012 and 2014, and yet the Republican party gained seats.

Continue reading about the double-edged sword of gerrymandering after the jump

Dungeons and Dragons: Only a game?

When we were looking for a some coffee for Marie near Mendocino, we drove by a gamestore, and I had an urge which comes up every couple years to start playing Dungeons and Dragons again. We’ll see how that goes. If you start seeing more posts about D&D, then this time it finally stuck.

A couple days ago, I went to a high school friend’s birthday party. I hadn’t seen him in 12 years almost to the day, but we started to talk about our times being nerds playing RPGs and not giving a crap about it, when he pulled out a copy of a pamplet he and K— were given back then in the 80’s. It was titled, “Dungeons and Dragons: Only a game?”

For those who don’t know, this sort of conspiracy theory started with James Dallas Egbert III in 1979 and reached its peak in the mid-80’s with the B.A.D.D. (Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons) and a 60 Minutes episode my mom told me about. Thankfully, I started playing D&D two years before William Dear manufactured the conspiracy theory out of whole cloth, so I didn’t have much explaining to do by then, but there was enough a hysteria to clue me in to how the political and religious extremists operate today with nearly everything.

In any case, hide your kids, hide your wife, cuz D&D be Satanin’ errbody out there. Without further ado, here is the the text of the pamphlet in full (PDF scan):

Continue reading the D&D pamphlet after the jump

Aged to perfection

Eight years ago, at a party, a friend asked me who I preferred for the Democratic nomination. I said, “Barack Obama.”

“What about Hillary?” she asked, clearly bummed.

“She’s great too, and if she wins, I’d be proud to cast my vote for her to become the first female President of the United States.”

Looks like I’ll get my chance.

I wonder what my friend is thinking right now. To all you die-hard Hillary-supporters: sure, it was an eight-plus year wait, but it’ll have been worth it.

Continue reading adendums after the jump

My peoples lack a clue

My Facebook feed has lit of with people on both sides of the Peter Theil/Gawker revelation, but that’s because I personally know many of the people involved and have lived and worked in a tech bubble for the last 16 years.

Sadly, Half of them need to venture out of it for a bit to understand why this is an issue to the other 99.9%.

In the meantime, I guess this means I to be posting about how I work in the salt mines with a six figure salary, how the homeless need to get out of MY city, or something… Because here in the bubble, I’m the one that is “out-of-touch.”

(Hint: all the links above are to articles about Silicon Valley that are/were among the most-emailed articles in the New York Times at the time. Half my friends clearly misunderstand why they proved so popular.)

A Confession of Totebagger Sanctimony

I found this column by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times highly offensive. The premise is that our nation’s “ivory tower” academia is some sort of racism in reverse.

Ignore for the moment that a conservative totebagger like Kristof claims to be a liberal so he can attack them and I’ll talk about an obvious anecdote and apply a bit of common sense.

Where was the confession of conservative intolerance?

I went to college at Caltech, the very definition of ivory tower for a budding young scientist.

Back then, the few people who would openly express their political views were all rabid conservatives to the point where one pair had a picture of Reagan in their dorm room and had a poster with a bunch of Jimmy Carter quotes mocking him outside posted outside it. I know this because they were friends who I engaged with but didn’t have enough knowledge to dispute even though I believed they were wrong at some level—kind of like a kid in high school right now who is a closet Hillary supporter amongst their friends who feel the Bern.

Historically, scientists as a class have been conservative politically—hence all the question of Hitler’s nuclear bomb program or the space race being “between our Germans and their Germans.”

The only modern right wing view that I ever saw attacked was strict Creationism. And the few people who held that clearly unscientfic view were only lightly teased by their friends… and only if they were biology majors.

When President George H.W. Bush came to Caltech to give a commencement speech and some protesters not part of the community protested, people were pissed. And not at the University for escorting the protesters away but at the protesters for disrupting a Caltech event.

And while CLAGS (The Caltech Lesbian and Gay Society) would host a pretty kickin’ party once a year in the student center and the college guide claimed a statistically a significant percentage of students were gay, the lesbian woman who ran the CLAGS booth was ostracized and made fun of while every week the largest and most social dormitory on campus would host a bible study that was not only accepted, it was well attended.

And yet where were was the RINO conservative columnist for the New York Times writing “A Confession of Conservative Intolerance?”

There were none because it, like “liberal intolerance,” is not where the problem lies.

False equivalence and common sense

When you say or bolster your argument with, “The same arguments I hear people make about evangelicals sound so familiar to the ways people often describe folk of color, i.e. politically unsophisticated, lacking education, angry, bitter, emotional, poor,” you make an equivalence between some close-minded people getting their fee-fees hurt in academia when they express a deliberately counter-factual view and the real racism that is still occurring today in our nation’s institutions.

That equivalence is false.

If scientists are naturally inclined to respect authority and share affinity for the conservative party of a country and you find that your top scientific institution doesn’t have a Republican among them and the refrain becomes “reality has a well known liberal bias,” then the natural conclusion is that that party is no longer conservative but anti-scientific and anti-reality.

If evangelicals were on the rise up until a decade ago and Christianity has and continues to dominate this country since its founding, and suddenly they’re on the decline and mildly ostracized now then maybe they should be looking at how they have changed instead of the demanding that we suddenly blindly accept anything a small religious sect slapped a “Christian” label to: whether it is a “war on Christmas,” “evolution is just a theory,” gay marriage, transgender bathrooms, or that the sun orbits the earth. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because they’ve become increasingly less “evangelical” or “Christian” and started simply to be fundamentalists?

The natural conclusion is not to blame people who traditionally share your views for being intolerant of them. Liberals value freedom of speech, and the ACLU will fiercely protect that right. But they are under no obligation to protect a non-existent right for you to never feel ashamed when people laugh at you for saying stupid shit.

Nicholas Kristof, who among your colleagues will write an article defending you from the butt-hurt you’re about to receives (and rightly deserve) in the comments when you wrote this stupid column comparing people who celebrate their ignorance with the civil rights movement or the plight of gay and transgender peoplee?

Because apparently that “persecution” of you is exactly the same as racist rhetoric.

EDIT: Apparently the answer to the above question is the moderators at the @nytimes who closed the comment section. Lolz!

Sometimes they really are indistinguishable

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Arthur C. Clarke

When a non-techie friend of mine moved to San Francisco, she overheard two guys talking next to her.

“What are you up to,” one of them asks?

The other replied, “Oh, I’m trying to learn Python.”

“Excuse me,” my friend interrupted them. “But I believe it’s called Parseltongue.”

(After living here for a while longer, she became very embarrassed. And though it wasn’t exactly what he meant, I still think Mr. Clarke would approve.)

Transamerica

Photo from August 30, 2007

Transamerica
North Beach, San Francisco, California

Panasonic DMC-LX1
1/500 sec at f/4.0, iso 80, 15.6mm (70mm)

Part of the same photo roll as this photograph, I ended up processing it also before I noticed the error.

It’s a “tourist snapshot” of the Transamerica Pyramid. From a photographic standpoint there is nothing to write about because I took it the same way any tourist might. Even though the camera shoots RAW, the dynamic range of small camera CCDs back then were just not up to the task of recording anything useable in the shadows. All I could do is use the “pump the blues” trick that any nature photographer knows to do for outdoor photos.

Even though Transamerica has long since moved to the East Coast, because it was built by them and its still in their logo, it’s still called the Transamerica Building and has been a the salient fixture of the San Francisco skyline for my entire life. I read somewhere that when it was built it was considered the ugliest building in the city until the Mariott “Jukebox” was built in 1989. I guess after that the One Rincon Tower Fan were built, San Franciscans were like, “You know, the Transamerica pyramid actually looks kind of nice.”

I snapped this photo outside my favorite sandwich shop at the time, Giordano Bros, which, like Transamerica, has moved to a different location.

A lot of people don’t “get” the All-in-One sandwich because they didn’t grow up in Pittsburgh, but putting french fries and coleslaw in a sandwich seems the most natural thing to do. Before I even ate at Primati’s I used to put Snyders of Berlin BBQ potato chips in my chipped ham sandwiches when I ran out of Isaly’s BBQ sauce.

Ever wonder why it took a Pittsburgh franchise to popularize the Bob’s Big Boy sandwich as the McDonald’s Big Mac? Go eat an All-In-One and then go eat a Big Mac and your culinary mind will be blown.

I may not have the tastebuds of a foodie, but to make up for it when I eat, with a single bite into a sandwich, my mind can travel trans-america from San Francisco, to Oak Brook, to Pittsburgh, to Los Angeles and back again. And that’s why my favorite sandwich in San Francisco when I snapped this photo was Giordano Bros’s Coppa All-in-One.

Executive Decisions

Some changes are happening at my last company and someone pointed me to this timeline a Wikipedian compiled of it, on which, I’m an early entry.

Despite understandable omissions and commissions , what a huge effort that must have been! I continue to be impressed with the dedication of the Wikipedian community.

The other day, a friend and co-worker wondered, “Could you imagine what would it’d be like if we were still there?” I responded, “I don’t since I would have resigned long before.” So I had only enough overlap with the outgoing Executive Director to form some suspicion, but not enough to say anything beyond what I’ve already said.

Instead I want to use this moment to comment on her predecessor, someone I did work long enough under long enough to form an opinion, Sue Gardner. I’ve never met anyone who can read so much about an organizational issue from such a small clue as Sue to the point where I chose intentionally each of my interactions with her. She was extremely thoughtful—as in putting a lot of thought into something—and expected and appreciated the same from others. Sometimes she’d make an observation in an area that I, who was working daily on it, had missed. When you are a chief executive who has less time for anything than anyone else, I learned from her these are essential skills to being a good one.

When she left she spent a number of hours with us to discuss hiring practices. One thing she said then was you should check yourself in a new hire because there will be no time you’ll feel better about your hire than the day you hire them.

That’s something that can be applied directly to replacing someone and indirectly through the ripples created by any hire. Too often people get excited about what a new person brings or might bring instead of wondering what will be lost by people leaving or being displaced. Instead of focusing in what you’ll be gaining with a new hire, ask, “What skills did the outgoing person have that they were great at?” Those are the ones your organization will definitely be losing with the person incoming.

Not every Apple product is for you

(An article I started in May of 2015)

“The test of the machine is the satisfaction it gives you. There isn’t any other test. If the machine produces tranquility it’s right. If it disturbs you it’s wrong until either the machine or your mind is changed.”
— Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

In 1992, one of my first postings on Usenet was an article on comp.sys.mac.* titled “Zen and the Art of Buying a Macintosh.” As someone whose first computer was an Apple ][+ in 1979, used Macs since they came out in 1984, and owned them since the “Fat Mac” in 1985, I was the very definition of an Apple-lover. In writing that post, I wanted to express the confusion and helplessness I felt when recommending a Macintosh to anyone. There were PowerBooks, Performas, LCs, Centrises, and Quadras, some of which were the same exact computer with different names. If a Mac fanboy like me couldn’t make heads-or-tails of it, something was seriously wrong for the Macintosh. It was clear to me that Apple had lost the very quality that attracted people like me to it in the first place. That post became popular enough that a number of Mac user group newsletters asked to republish it.

That Apple, the one that made infomercials, is no more. Steve Jobs retook the helm in 1997 and radically simplified its line into a quadrant based on two questions: Do you want a laptop or desktop computer? Are you a professional or consumer?

Those days are gone, but I can’t help but feel that Steve Jobs embedded in the DNA of Apple something to ensure they’d never again lose the very quality of “Apple” that would take it in a wrong direction. Apple became a company that stopped making something just because some business analyst said that they need to because it was “disruptive” or ” would protect their market share,” but rather a company that would only introduce a product when they had an idea who that product would be for.

Now to you kids, I want to tell you this: not every Apple product is for you.

Continue reading to have your bubble burst after the jump