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.: 2002 --> may

may 2002
:: Pareto's distribution shows that despite individual histories and local conditions, the vast majority of a society's wealth will always be owned by minority of people. Just why has been a head-scratcher for over a century. Recently, two physicists devised a few experiments that suggest that the distribution is the result of a simple network effect.

Unsure of how precisely to set the balance between interpersonal transactions and investment returns, they tried shifting it first one way and then the other. But no matter what they did, the model always produced the same basic shape of wealth distribution—precisely the same shape as Pareto's distribution. This happened even when every person in the model started out with exactly the same amount of money. And it happened when every person was endowed with identical money-making skills.
The finding suggests that the basic inequality in wealth distribution seen in most societies may have little to do with differences in the backgrounds and talents of their citizens. Rather, the disparity appears to be something akin to a law of economic life that emerges naturally as an organizational feature of a network.

(via my apple menu)
[ 05/02/02 ]

:: What's wrong with this picture? 11-year-old honor student gets a D on her test; 11-year-old-girl draws a picture of her teachers with arrows through their heads; another teacher sees the pictures and reports the girl, resulting in a three-day-suspension.

Becca's parents, Philip and Barbara Johnson, denied the school's contention the drawings were 'terrorist threats.'

And people worry that our schools aren't teaching students life skills.
[ 05/03/02 ]

:: I admit that most of the science fiction I've read has been the result of dating someone who was a sci-fi reader--the combination of convenient pre-screening and availability were almost impossible to resist. This long, very interesting Kim Stanley Robinson interview has me thinking I may have to deliberately seek out one or two of his books, in particular, his new one, The Years Of Rice And Salt which is 'set in a world where the Plague wipes out virtually the whole population of Europe'. (via More Like This)
[ 05/03/02 ]

:: I have a fascination for alternate histories, though I've read only a few. (I would have read many more if the Arthurian Cycle counted in this genre.) Strangely, one of my favorite childhood books, Wolves of Willoughby Chase, is the first in an entire allohistorical series. Perhaps it's time to read that one again--and the rest of the series as well.
[ 05/03/02 ]

:: Guess who's listed as a 'Site of Interest' in 21st Century Goth? If you're interested in a compendium of all things gothic across the Web, this looks to be your book.
[ 05/03/02 ]

:: Have you noticed? Anita's List of Links has been extra-fine lately....
[ 05/06/02 ]

:: Some background: of course you've read Malcolm Gladwell's fabulous book The Tipping Point by now. If you haven't, have a taste with the 1996 New Yorker article that started it all.
[ 05/06/02 ]

:: Next, move to this interview with Jonathan Rauch which explores how artificial societies can be used to predict neighborhood segregation, the formation of popular political parties, social policy and interventions, and even to explain the unexplainable: genocide.

You're unquestionably right— Rwanda was a state-sponsored genocide. But here's the puzzle about Rwanda, or for that matter, Nazi Germany. I think we can assume that the people who were actually devoted to the idea of genocide in either society were a pretty small minority.
Most people probably didn't want to commit genocide, as evidenced by the fact that for thousands of years they hadn't done it. So the odd thing is, How is it that this fairly small group of people can get the whole society to either participate in genocide or at least to look the other way during genocide?
[...] How did the government get people to do this? Well, what artificial societies are showing is that if you get things right, changing the behavior of a fairly small number of people in the society can tip the whole society into a radically different type of behavior.

[ 05/06/02 ]

:: And finally, Seeing Around Corners, Jonathan Rauch's long, fascinating exploration of the ways in which the application of complexity theory can be used to model the behaviors of past societies--and potentially influence the future.

In the 1960s [economist Thomas C. Schelling] grew interested in segregated neighborhoods. It was easy in America, he noticed, to find neighborhoods that were mostly or entirely black or white, and correspondingly difficult to find neighborhoods where neither race made up more than, say, three fourths of the total....
One day in the late 1960s, on a flight from Chicago to Boston, he found himself with nothing to read and began doodling with pencil and paper. He drew a straight line and then "populated" it with Xs and Os.
Then he decreed that each X and O wanted at least two of its six nearest neighbors to be of its own kind, and he began moving them around in ways that would make more of them content with their neighborhood. 'It was slow going,' he told me, 'but by the time I got off the plane in Boston, I knew the results were interesting.'

[ 05/06/02 ]

:: If you or the company you work for have a domain registered with VeriSign (formerly Network Solutions), change registrars today. Domains registered with VeriSign are regularly hijacked, lost, and held hostage by the company itself, due to the company's massive greed and incompetence. Change today. This is just the latest in a long series of such incidents on the part of Verisign.
[ 05/06/02 ]

:: From Hardtack to Homefries looks to be way, way up my alley: a social history of women as revealed through the lens of cooking and food. The Atlantic, which provides an interesting introduction to their excerpt, has sadly chosen to feature three recipes from the book, but none of the essays.

From here, naturally, Amazon led me to Mark Kurlansky's Salt: A World History and Janet Theophano's Eat My Words: Reading Women's Lives Through the Cookbooks They Wrote, both of which look equally fascinating.
[ 05/08/02 ]

:: Want to be able to withstand the attack of a Kodiak Bear? Troy Hurtubise does. After a bear trainer wouldn't let him go through with a planned test for his chain-mail, rubber and titanium alloy suit (picture), he spent three months building a suit of armor out of common tools and high-grade scrap metal. Meet the Ursus Mark VII.

Hurtubise's Mark VII...is made from stainless steel, heavy-gauge aluminum and cast titanium. It also features a built-in video screen, a cooling system, pressure-bearing titanium struts, advanced protective airbags, shock absorbers, fingered hands, swivel shoulders and built-in arms.

I'm a little unclear whether the Ursus Mark VII is the same suit Hurtubise imagined in 1997--'Total top of the line. I gotta go to NASA for the materials.'--after the Mark VI drove him into bankruptcy.

(thanks, sebastian!)
[ 05/08/02 ]

:: For his suit, Hurtubise is the recipient of the 1998 Ig Nobel Prize, which honors people whose achievements cannot or should not be reproduced. Take some time to study the achievements of other members:

The 2001 Ig Nobel Prize for ASTROPHYSICS:
Dr. Jack and Rexella Van Impe of Jack Van Impe Ministries, Rochester Hills, Michigan, for their discovery that black holes fulfill all the technical requirements to be the location of Hell. [REFERENCE: The March 31, 2001 television and Internet broadcast of the "Jack Van Impe Presents" program. (at about the 12 minute mark).]
The 2000 Ig Nobel Prize for PEACE: The British Royal Navy, for ordering its sailors to stop using live cannon shells, and to instead just shout 'Bang!'
The 1999 Ig Nobel Prize for MANAGED HEALTH CARE: The late George and Charlotte Blonsky of New York City and San Jose, California, for inventing a device (US Patent #3,216,423) to aid women in giving birth -- the woman is strapped onto a circular table, and the table is then rotated at high speed.

[ 05/08/02 ]

:: Some professors believe plagiarism is more rampant now than it was in the past; others that this is merely a perception. Regardless of the reasons and frequency of the misconduct, educators have identified an effective deterrent: telling students that their work will be checked.

...verbal warnings about plagiarism had little effect on students. However, the promise that their papers would be checked by plagiarism-detection software 'seemed to concentrate minds wonderfully,' Gaines and Braumoeller wrote.

[ 05/08/02 ]

:: I should have mentioned O-Dub! If you're in the Boston area, I'll be on WCAP (980 AM) for a brief interview on The Report Saturday at 4pm. Note to self--when appearing on a regional radio show, always prepare a list of my favorite local weblogs in anticipation of the inevitable question: what weblogs do you read?
[ 05/10/02 ]

:: Have you seen Brendan O'Neill's weblog? Have you bookmarked it yet?
[ 05/10/02 ]

:: The End Of The Modern Age

The existence of a bourgeoisie was marked by recognizable forms of behavior and of ideas. We ought to honor its achievements -- not only constitutional government and its attempts to balance equality with liberty, but the fact that most of the great minds and the greatest artistic creations of the past 500 years were the products of people of bourgeois origins and of bourgeois status. [...]
The Bourgeois Age was the Age of the State; the Age of Money; the Age of Industry; the Age of the Cities; the Age of Privacy; the Age of the Family; the Age of Schooling; the Age of the Book; the Age of Representation; the Age of Science; and the age of an evolving historical consciousness.
Except for the last two, all of those primacies are now fading and declining fast.

[ 05/10/02 ]

:: Bad News/Good News: As the economy is forcing more and more women to seek full-time work a recent study indicates that for women, healthcare and benefits are top priorities--and that as more and more households depend on that second income, more and more men feel that combatting unequal pay is very important.
[ 05/10/02 ]


:: Remember the technology that revolutionized the Billboard charts? It's about to do the same thing to the bestseller lists. And this time, the cultural consequences could be even more dramatic. (via boing boing) [05.10.02]

:: The 100 best works of fiction, alphabetically by author, as determined from a vote by 100 noted writers from 54 countries as released by the Norwegian Book Clubs. I've only read 21 of these, and parts of 8 more. I'd better get cracking.

On an only marginally related note, I may have discovered the author of one of my favorite stories, one that I had lost track of. I've thought of it off and on for years. I've wanted to read it again, and to share it with everyone I know. I believe I have found it: The Seven League Boots, by Marcel Aymé.
[ 05/13/02 ]

:: What the War Taught Me: There are two kinds of people in the world--those who think there are two kinds of people, and those who believe that there is one kind of person in different kinds of circumstances.
[ 05/13/02 ]

:: Howard Miller's life is a pattern of a life well lived. I wish I knew him.

Since 1996, Miller has been giving stamps from his collection to classes at Carnation Elementary School and Eagle Rock Multi- Age Program in Duvall. Before he visits, he gets a list of student interests — from airplanes to animals or flowers. Then he chooses a special stamp for each child.
'I've got my stamps spread all over the house, and I'll never get my (stamp) books up to date, so I might as well give them away,' said the 86-year-old widower. He said he has thousands of stamps.

When I grow up, I want to be just like Howard Miller. Read the whole article, and see if you don't, too. (via anita)
[ 05/13/02 ]

:: The Merits of Meritocracy

In this mode of living, character isn't something one forges as a youth and then retains thereafter. Morality doesn't come to one in a single revelation or a grand moment of epiphany. Instead, virtue and character are achieved gradually and must be maintained through a relentless struggle for self-improvement. We are in an ongoing dialogue with our inadequacies, and we are happiest when we are most deeply engaged in overcoming them.

(via the Applesurf Reader)
[ 05/13/02 ]

:: Big Bang Goodbye. Try on the Big Slap.

It must be just the details of this idea that are new--among the possibilities presented to me in college astronomy was the expanding and contracting universe. Of course, the Hindus have been onto this version of the universe for a very long time.
[ 05/15/02 ]

:: With an eye to his re-election, President Bush has signed a farm-subsidy package that violates his own professed free-trade beliefs--and which the Economist suggests may put globalization itself at risk.

American subsidies per farm may soon reach three-to-four times European levels. Nor will the much-loved small farmer benefit: three-quarters of the cash will go to the biggest and richest 10% of farmers. And the bill could well breach the limits on farm support set by the Uruguay round in 1994, never mind any further cuts that might have been made in the Doha round.

[ 05/15/02 ]

:: After 12 years, the UN has relaxed sanctions on Iraq.

Under the new scheme, the UN will still control Iraq's oil revenues, but only goods with potential military uses will face much UN scrutiny before being sent to Iraq.
The White House described the new scheme as 'a step forward for the Iraqi people', but said it was now up to Baghdad to improve its citizens' lives.

This is good news. Unfortunately, this change is going to play only outside of Iraq.

Only time will tell whether or not this will improve the lives of common Iraqi citizens, who are, after all, the ones who have suffered under this policy. (And let's face it--the sanctions must have some effect on the quality of life in Iraq or the US wouldn't have bothered with them.)

In general, the Iraqi sanctions have just seemed like a failed policy to me (though I honestly think that at a certain point it became a simple matter of saving face. How to lift sanctions without admitting that Saddam simply outwaited you?) What good have they done? In what way have they even promoted the US agenda? The whole idea behind sanctions is to make those in power uncomfortable, thereby inducing them to capitulate or make a change. They might work with a country that had a democratically elected government, or in which the government was weak--or even with a country with a compassionate leader.

But with a brutal dictatorship which tightly controls the information to which its citizens have access? If both my leader and the media pointed to US-led sanctions and told me they were to blame for my poor living conditions, I think I'd be inclined to believe them (especially in light of continued US bombings). If I were a 12-year-old Iraqi, it would be obvious to me who was to blame for my misery and the misery of those around me; maybe even if I were 36.
[ 05/15/02 ]

:: Have cats' meows evolved in order to communicate more effectively with people? Big duh (though that's not yet definitive).

Note that this study (undertaken because 'it hadn't been done yet') is not researching the phenomenon of cats who consciously attune their meows to get results from their owners. Upon meowing loudly to be let into the bedroom for a good fifteen minutes, my cat once switched to a high-pitched, frightened, kittenish 'mew' instead. It was pathetic--and irresistable.
[ 05/15/02 ]

:: Just Shameless News: 'There is a real possibility that the Republican Party could hold its national nominating convention in early September of 2004, ending just before the third anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Republican leaders say.'

They haven't yet decided on a city, but my money says New York. Why not? It's all about promoting your political agenda.
[ 05/15/02 ]

Cooking Like a 3-Star Chef in Your Own Home (Almost) by Mark Bittman. [NY Times: rebeccas_pocket, password: pocket]

Not even a chef can cook like a chef outside his restaurant, no matter how accomplished a slicer and dicer or how visionary an artist. 'I just smoke up the house, and it annoys my wife,' [Chef Harold] Moore said. Still, with some planning and a few simple techniques borrowed from the professionals, the home cook can approach the grace of Mr. Moore's $28 creation, without smoking up the house. It won't be exactly the same, but it will be close.

BTW, if you haven't bought Bittman's How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food you really should. I believe it's the one basic cookbook everyone should own. Even as a vegetarian cook, I refer to it several times a week. Add Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (even if you are an omnivore) and you will have enough delicious recipes to last you for a lifetime.
[ 05/15/02 ]

:: Now, read about Iron Chef Morimoto's avant-garde Japanese restaurant in Philadelphia and learn about the creation of a rock-star restaurant...

No expense is spared for quality. At his chef's request, Starr paid $25,000 to have two prized giant toro tunas shipped live to a special sea farm in Spain where they were fattened and killed. To keep such top-quality items fresh, the restaurant uses a $10,000 cryogenic freezer that can maintain temperatures seventy-five degrees below zero.

...and the quirks of a rock-star chef.

Morimoto is strictly a Polo man.... One of his fondest memories is the night Ralph Lauren himself showed up at Nobu, having made a reservation under another name. Although it was 9:30 and packed, Morimoto rushed to the restaurant's locker room. When he appeared at the designer's table, he was clad in twenty-one different Polo articles. 'He signed my jacket,' Morimoto says proudly.

(both via the Applesurf Reader)
[ 05/17/02 ]

:: Read about this remarkable study, then go take a walk! It would appear that even if you are middle-aged and in terrible shape, in just six months it is possible to get back to the shape you were in during your 20's.
[ 05/17/02 ]

:: Could consciousness reside in our brain's electromagnetic field? (via metafilter)
[ 05/17/02 ]

:: The Art of Turboing, or how to get the service you deserve. (via larkfarm)
[ 05/17/02 ]

:: Abercrombie & Fitch is at it again. This time with thongs for prepubescent girls (via anil)
[ 05/21/02 ]

:: The Idea Of A Local Economy, Wendell Berry

In default of government protections against the total economy of the supranational corporations, people are where they have been many times before: in danger of losing their economic security and their freedom, both at once.
But at the same time the means of defending themselves belongs to them in the form of a venerable principle: powers not exercised by government return to the people. If the government does not propose to protect the lives, livelihoods, and freedoms of its people, then the people must think about protecting themselves.
How are they to protect themselves? There seems, really, to be only one way, and that is to develop and put into practice the idea of a local economy - something that growing numbers of people are now doing. For several good reasons, they are beginning with the idea of a local food economy.

If you aren't already, consider participating in your own local food economy by joining a local Community Supported Farm. As you may recall, I've been very pleased with my own local service.

(via my favorite luddite nedblog)
[ 05/21/02 ]

:: Lord help me, I have a slow Leo Sayer song in my head. Not that a fast one would be much of an improvement....
[ 05/24/02 ]

:: In this 1993 interview, Professor Amitai Etzioni explains that all educators transmit values every day--whether or not they do so consciously--and argues that the time has come to promote character formation from an unintended consequence of everyday teaching to a conscious, deliberate part of the primary and secondary school curriculum.
[ 05/24/02 ]

:: Kiplog has started a food blog!
[ 05/24/02 ]

:: A long list of Great Books (via wood s lot via waterloo wide web--two of the smartest weblogs I know)
[ 05/24/02 ]

:: An idea whose time has come, The Creative Commons is live--giving license to creativity.
[ 05/24/02 ]

:: In 1936 EB White reports on the state of television...

It was 1931 that we last reported on television, and our readers must be wondering how things are shaping up. Not any too good. Engineers are working like beavers, but it appears that our homes are in no immediate danger. The cost of sending and receiving even the sappiest image is terrific; twenty-five miles is still considered a good hop; and a facial expression, however rapt, is often damaged en route.

...and in 2002 Malcolm Gladwell recounts the life of television's inventor Philo T Farnsworth and draws some surprising conclusions.

The life of Philo Farnsworth is the subject of two new books.... It is a wonderful tale, riveting and bittersweet. But its lessons, on closer examination, are less straightforward than the clichés of the doomed inventor and the villainous mogul might suggest. Philo Farnsworth's travails make a rather strong case for big corporations, not against them.

[ 05/24/02 ]

:: Professor of psychology David P. Barash argues that based on our physiques and mating behavior, humans are a mildly polygynous, not monogamous, species, and suggests that this one fact--the biological imperative to dominate other males in order to ensure access to females--goes most of the way in explaining why human violence is primarily a male phenomenon. (via my applesurf reader)

I am amused by this observation of the natural world:

In fact, many cases of monogamy among mammals may actually be enforced by subtle aggression by females toward other females.

...and his prediction that more research will find more, albeit less overt, female aggression than has been previously noted.

Well, yes. I'm pretty certain almost any high school would provide ample material for detailed field studies. Or just send a pretty field assistant around to flirt with my husband and start taking notes.

This view of humans as a polygynous species resonates (for me) with recent studies that show ovulating women predictably search their environment for better mates.

And when I read Robert Jensen's call for a moral vision of male sexuality, all I could see was another manifestation of the polygynous model described by Barash. (via AllaboutGeorge)

The Jensen article doesn't really go anywhere, and the radical lesbian feminist model of heterosexual sex as described by Jensen is obviously flawed: while sex is definitely marked by a transfer of power from one partner to another, that transfer can go in either direction, or back and forth. It's not one-sided.

But it's hard not to notice how clearly Jensen's description of the eroticization of power describes the basic biology of the polygynous male as described by Barash.

Pondering the implications of this model, I recalled the recent study of the lifespans of the Sami between the period 1640 to 1870 that shows that sons shorten their mother's lifespan by an average of 34 weeks, while daughters lengthen it slightly. These researchers speculate that carrying a boy to term is harder on the mother's body: boys tend to weigh more, and the testosterone they secrete in utero may suppress the mother's immune system.

I think they've missed an obvious point: in a traditional society, sons represent an addition to the mother's workload, while daughters, eventually taking on a portion of the housework, represent a decrease.

A polygynous household would produce an even more pronounced--and more permanent--distribution of labor, though perhaps at the cost of a rather more politically complex household. Emmeline Wells, an outspoken proponent of women's rights and Mormon polygamy wrote:

The world says polygamy makes women inferior to men--we think differently. Polygamy gives women more time for thought, for mental culture, more freedom of action, a broader field of labor... and leads women more directly to God, the fountain of all truth.

Last year I read a rather poor biography of Jane Austin which impressed upon me the frequency with which women bore children in the days before birth control, and the danger with which they did so. It was, for many women, simply a matter of time before they died in childbirth. Even those who were lucky enough to survive their fertile years walked around in bodies that had been through the mill.

Of course, in a polygynous household, amour is spread around--perhaps a woman might expect longer breaks between children.

Barash makes a strong case for humans as a polygynous species; I wonder if, in a traditional society, polygyny might not have offered women some concrete advantages over those that enforced monogamy?
[ 05/27/02 ]

:: Macaroni and Cheese recipes from about.com.
[ 05/28/02 ]

:: For those who were intrigued with the series of articles I linked recently on artificial societies, I give you Agent-Based Computational Economics: Introductory Materials.
[ 05/29/02 ]

:: Book Review: Next: The Road to the Good Society
[ 05/29/02 ]

:: If larger is better, why are AOL Time Warner and Vivendi Universal in trouble? On the benefits and limits of media consolidation.

The second force is the clout that comes from putting together content and distribution. If any company controls enough of both, it can promote its own content and control access to other people's.
In the everyday negotiations that take place over the lunch tables of Beverly Hills or mid-town Manhattan, such leverage can crank up bargaining power. A network, for instance, might agree to buy a TV series for another year from a television production company, but only if that company's sister cable channel buys a couple of films from the network's sister Hollywood studio.
Without such power, independent content makers find it hard to get their stuff on air. Writers, for one, now have far fewer doors to knock on. Fully 70% of all spending on American screenwriting is done by six media giants. Solo entertainment groups fear exclusion.
Sensing the danger, EMI, an independent British record company, has in recent years twice tried and failed--each time on competition grounds--to merge with a record company belonging to one of the conglomerates. It is now losing market share.

[ 05/29/02 ]

:: Heads up, ladies: The Sponge may return.
[ 05/29/02 ]

:: Oh, Smart Ones: Can you recommend either a good primer or an excellent anthology on rhetoric? I'm looking for something practical (rather than purely theoretical) and comprehensive--from the ancients through the moderns. Thanks. (Note the spam block.) [Update: answers are here.]
[ 05/31/02 ]

:: Slings! and Arrows! My first bad review! (scroll down) Of course, the reviewer didn't read the books, or she would know that only one of them is mine...but you can't have everything. (thanks Ed!)
[ 05/31/02 ]

:: My new favorite website: H4x0r Economist. (Beware! Not all of the numbers are entirely worksafe.)
pl34s3 2 3nj0y:
[ 05/31/02 ]

:: There's a new kid on the block: Uppity Negro.

Jay Norlinger lectures a gathering of Harvard conservatives thusly:
'I sometimes think that, being a conservative in an iron-fisted left-wing environment, you almost have to be like a black man in the pre-civil-rights South: You have to do everything better. You have to be smarter, more tenacious, less reproachable.'
Debating the logic of comparing the lives of conservatives attending Harvard to those of black men in the pre-civil-rights South is left as an exercise for the student.

Embrace your Negritude.
[ 05/31/02 ]