May 30, 2003

Google Hits

Heh. My last post caused my referrer logs to fill up with people searching for “Chloe Sevigny” and “blowjob”. There may be a market for the movie after all…

Of course, now that I’ve said that, I’ll probably go even higher in the results for that search… commenting on your own referrer logs kinda invokes a mini–Uncertainty Principle.

May 24, 2003

French Revenge

I’ll say one thing for the French; they definitely outclass us on the petty revenge front. Over here, the best we can come up with is “Freedom Fries” and smashing a Peugot. What they did was to pick the worst American movie they could possibly find and make it the only American entrant for the Golden Palm at Cannes. Vincent Gallo’s The Brown Bunny is by all accounts, an astonishingly terrible movie; apparently the only reason Gallo made it was so he could get a blowjob from Chloe Sevigny. He must have been pleasantly surprised when Cannes picked it up; little did he know that it was just a giant Carrie-type mindfuck. After watching half the audience walk out during the show and the other half booing when it was done (with “the loudest round of boos I’ve heard in my 12 years attending this festival”, said one reviewer), he started crying and said he was going to take his toys and go home. Yet another civilian casualty in the culture war.

(See Ebert’s review)

May 22, 2003

Another Amendment

Oops, forgot about another constitutional amendment I want (this will be the 31st Amendment, at least in the Bizarro world where everybody listens to me). Every week, the President must be questioned by members of the House of Representatives, just like “Question Time” in the U.K. Wouldn’t that be fun? That one amendment by itself would prevent dumb, thin-skinned people like Dubya from becoming president.

May 21, 2003

Constitutional Amendments

I know, everybody in their spare moments sits around and dreams of future constitutional amendments. Mine, unfortunately, have no chance of passing. Oh well, why let reality interfere with a legitimate desire to avoid work?

  1. Repeal the 17th Amendment. I’m surprised I don’t see this discussed more often. It would go at least part way towards solving the problems that people say McCain-Feingold and (more questionably) term limits will solve. If senators didn’t have to run in direct elections, they wouldn’t have to be begging for money all the time, and senators would probably be smarter too, since state legislators of any stripe would presumably be more receptive to subtle political points than the general populace.
  2. Now that we’ve fixed the Senate, let’s fix the House. The biggest problem with the House today is that gerrymandering is out of hand. In theory, every one of the 435 seats should be up for grabs every two years. In practice, there’s about 20 every term; the rest are “safe seats” because the districts are drawn to guarantee incumbency. Politicians hypocritally complain about the lack of engagement by the populace; bringing competiton back would do more to fan political activity than any “motor-voter” laws.

    Iowa’s constitution says that no county can be broken into more than one district. Furthermore, their law says that redistricting authorities can’t look at racial composition, voting history, or political affiliation of residents, or addresses of current legislators when redrawing the lines. Let’s make something like this federal.

  3. A hard limit for terms of copyright. The constitution says that Congress shall establish copyrights for “reasonable” terms; since the Supreme Court has said basically it’s not their business to interpret “reasonble”, we’re going to have to get more specific. I’d like to see terms limited to life of the creator plus 20 years for individuals and 50 years for corporations, but that’s negotiable. As long as it’s set in stone and not the current method, which everything pre–Mickey Mouse is public domain and everything after it is copyrighted, forever.

Whee!

May 20, 2003

Another exciting day in the big city

So on Saturday I went out to get something to eat and then I went to this comics store I like but I couldn’t find anything I wanted so I decided to go to this art movie which was a retelling of Dante’s Inferno with Walgreen’s advertisements or some such at this little film co-op thingie even though it sounded kinda boring because it was made by this guy I used to know back in Michigan and he was going to be there but when I got there the tickets were $10 which seemed pretty extreme for some little dinky shot-on-video show in a loft and the filmmaker didn’t remember me anyway so I suddenly remembered that I needed to stop at an ATM machine before I could buy a ticket and I left and went to a Starbucks where I called my friend who wasn’t home and then I called my cousin’s brother who was in some suburb and I couldn’t understand what he was saying on his cell phone so I hung up and went across town to this coffee shop I really like and found out it went out of business six months ago. And that was my Saturday.

May 16, 2003

Movie Reviewers

I’m sick of getting tricked by movie reviewers. I’ve tried to read reviews intelligently, to keep track of which reviewers have decent taste, but I keep getting screwed. The most recent bummer was Charlotte Sometimes, a deadening, pointless piece of crap which all the reviews said was a thoughtful exploration of modern Asian-American culture blah blah blah blah.

So I’ve decided to get more scientific about it. I picked 15 movies from the last 10 years that I either loved or hated, and that a lot of people seemed to disagree with me about, one way or the other. Now I’m making a chart which I’ll keep adding reviewers to that marks whether they liked a movie or not. It’s color-coded to indicate at a glance whether the reviewer agreed with me on a given movie or not.

My goal is to find a reviewer that either consistently agrees or disagrees with me; which one doesn’t really matter. If it’s somebody who always disagrees with me, I’ll just see the movies he says suck.

I’m just getting started on this, but my best discovery so far is Jeffrey M. Anderson from the San Francisco Examiner. I hadn’t heard of him before, but he’s the only reviewer that I’ve found so far that hated The Truth about Tully and Laurel Canyon, both inexorable pieces of drek that have enough indie cred that they managed to hoodwink most reviewers into thinking they’re Insightful. Barf. So he gets extra points in my book.

The chart is here if you care—I really only made it for myself, so it may not display right for you. Specifically, you have to have your browser set to use a font that includes the unicode angry face character, which a lot of unicode fonts are missing for some reason (they all seem to have the happy face).

May 13, 2003

Artists better on bootlegs

Musicians whose best work is on bootlegs:

Post a comment if you can think of others.

May 11, 2003

In the news

Palestinian leaders have put aside reservations to parts of the U.S.-developed plan for peace with Israel and are ready to get started on it, Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas said Sunday, heeding an appeal by Secretary of State Colin Powell.

“We have accepted the road map,” Abbas said at a joint news conference with Powell…

—Lede paragraph from this morning’s AP story

Secretary of State Colin Powell ended a critical round of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Sunday with no sign of progress toward persuading them to begin implementing a peace “road map.”

—Lede paragraph from this morning’s Reuters story

May 6, 2003

Questions and comments for the Angry Economist

I was looking at the Angry Economist blog, and was wondering about a couple things. So, in true blogosphere spirit, I’m posting them here.

  1. (Re: “Vouchers drain money”, May 2) I have some sympathy for the vouchers argument. After all, something has to be done about the appalling state of education in this country, and the preferred Democratic solution (just give the schools more money, no strings attached) is inadequate, to put it mildly. And I do agree that markets produce better results.

    That said, something about the voucher system bothers me. In a free market, people with less money get less quality items. I have no problem with that generally. But in a free-market situation for education, which vouchers would theoretically produce, the poor would get the worst quality education of anyone in the country. Do we really want that? Since all the studies say that education level is the best predictor of future income, wouldn’t we be setting up a system that ensured a permanent lower class? It seems like we’d be denying the poor the single most important antidote to being poor.

    I’m sure many people reading this would argue that the poor are already getting a terrible education. That’s true, but so is almost everyone in America. Even if you grant that vouchers would improve the quality of the education of the poor, which I believe it would, it wouldn’t do much good in the financial world (leaving aside the intangible benefits of a better education). Why not? Well, there’s only so many jobs. If the best 30% of jobs go to the 30% best educated, then it won’t wake any difference if we improve the education of the poor if it doesn’t increase in step to the other economic classes. We’ll just have better educated McDonald’s workers.

    Am I missing something here? I hope so. I think the best solution to the educational crisis would be to delink school spending with property taxes, which produces the same sort of perpetual underclass I describe here, and instead federally fund it. But that’s not currently politically viable, so vouchers seem to me a second-best solution. Still, things like this bother me about vouchers. If I’m not wrong with this objection, or not completely wrong anyway, then would making the amount of vouchers given out inversely proportional to the household income eliminate this problem? Or am I just a total idiot? I’d hate to further incur the wrath of the Angry Economist.

  2. (Re: “After Email dies”, April 23) I’m on a bit firmer ground talking about e-mail and web stuff than economics. Mr. Angry comes up with a an intriguing theory about what to replace SMTP with, on the theory that spam will soon overwhelm the current mail system and we’ll have to do something else.

    First, I’d like to take issue with the premise. I don’t think spam is an unsolveable problem, even leaving in place the current “receiver-pays” system. It’s true that the total amount of spam is increasing; this has been getting lots of play in the media and it’s obvious to anybody who gets e-mail. What is less obvious to everyone except the nerdarati is that the sources of e-mail are decreasing. This is for a few reasons. Just six or seven years ago, every SMTP server was an open relay, meaning that they would take mail from anywhere and send it to anywhere (I used to have fun with this by sending e-mail to people in my office and routing it from Chicago through France, Japan, Greece, kentuckyfriedchicken.com, Japan again, South Africa, and then back to Chicago). This made spam almost impossible to trace.

    Nowadays, however, all the major mail server packages ship as closed relays, meaning administrators have to go in to the configuration and specify what computers they will accept mail from and to. If somebody uses their machine to spam, it will presumably be by somebody they can trace (i.e., an ISP’s customer) and take action against. The number of open relays is now so low that it’s feasible to maintain a list of almost all of them, and configure your server or mail filter to deny mail from them.

    The other thing that’s changed in the last decade is that everyone’s more internet-educated. When the internet first started to catch on, the most common kind of spam was Ponzi-scheme chain letters sent generally by ignorant college freshmen discovering the internet for the first time (it also was common on usenet newsgroups). You don’t really see this anymore; kids are on the internet now long before college, and everyone understands that huge mass-mailing, especially Ponzi scheme mails, is a big no-no. This also extends to legitimate businesses; you used to often get mass mails from reputable businesses who ignorantly thought spamming was a legitimate form of advertising. No marketing department is this naive anymore. So the only companies spamming these days are the bottom-of-the-barrel, quasi-legal entities selling penis enlargement pills and porno videos.

    There’s a relatively small number of these people; it seems like there’s millions of them, but that’s just because of how much spam they churn out. I would be willing to bet that most of the spam one gets is from the same 100 people. (As an aside, I don’t think they’re mostly motivated by profits; all evidence indicates that they tend to be anti-social malcontents that just enjoy angering everyone. Sort of like lower-stakes versions of the guy who poisoned the Tylenol bottles. The fact that they can make some money doing this is just gravy.) Since this is coming from a limited base, it’s easy to filter yet more based on some of their “safe havens”, and still more on the common phrasing that their mails share. It’s a winnable battle, and we are winning it (my less-than ideal spam filters catch more than 95% of the spam I get).

    That said, let’s go on to the proposed solution. If the technical procedure is worked out, this would mostly eliminate spam in the short term. Probably the notification procedure would be some sort of stripped down form of SMTP that would only send headers and was only meant to be read by mail clients/web browsers, not end users. It could add a required header for the message URL. The idea that the message would be hidden by means of a “hard to guess” URL is a bad idea. This kind of thing as known as “security through obscurity”, and it doesn’t work. There are dozens of ways the URL could be guessed (brute-force attacks where browsers try to hit every possible URL according to the established pattern, sniffing HTTP GET requests, which are sent through plaintext, looking at referring URLs in web logs, just to name a few). A better way of doing it would be just to require PGP encryption on every message. Then it wouldn’t matter how many people loaded the message; only the possessor of the private key could read it. This would have the advantage of making it more secure than current common mail practice (as hardly anyone other than nerds use PGP currently). The disadvantage would be that you would need to put up seperate pages for everyone you sent a message to, but that might not be such a big deal since it’s just plaintext.

    The short-term advantage of this to combat spam isn’t even covered in the proposal; it’s that a theoretical spammer’s web server would be quickly overwhelmed and crushed by the load that a spam run of current numbers would put on it. This is a much more effective limiter than relying on people keeping track of the number of notifications (which is vague but sounds unwieldy). However, this problem would go away eventually as bandwidth becomes cheaper, pipes get fatter, and CPUs get faster.

    My main gripe with this system is that it makes it obvious if and when you’ve read somebody’s mail. I don’t want people to know that. It’s none of their business. I don’t want people who write me to know if I’m blowing them off or if I’m just away from my computer. I think most people would have similar objections, or at least enough to make this system unfeasible.

May 4, 2003

Latest Music Purchases

My music purchases have fallen off a bit as I’m trying to save up for a Vespa, but there have been a couple things I had to pick up.

First was Michelle Shocked’s Texas Campfire Takes (my third Michelle Shocked CD in three months). Apparently her first album, The Texas Campfire Tapes, was released without her permission, or her cooperation, or something (details are vague—I have yet to find a full story about what exactly happened), so she’s been annoyed with the whole thing for years (although it was what first got her a label contract and put her on the map). Anyway, she got the rights to the album back and just rereleased it last month, speed-corrected, with missing songs added, put back in the original order, and the song titles corrected. It’s allegedly remastered, although it sounds more muffled than the original to me. I suppose I shouldn’t pass judgement on sound quality on anything until I get these crappy cheap speakers that we got at a garage sale or something replaced. I’ll do it one of these days. (Did I mention I was saving up for a Vespa?)

Anyway, I’m really glad she did this despite her hostility to the album. When people put together compilations or release only part of a live show, they invariably leave out the best stuff. It’s weird. I guess not everyone can have my flawless judgement. In this case, the original Mercury release left off “When I Grow Up” (my favorite song of hers) and “Fool for Cocaine”, both much better than a couple tracks that did make the cut. So hooray for rereleases.

The other recent arrival was Natacha Atlas’s Ayeshteni, on vinyl. I’ve had her version of “I Put a Spell on You” stuck in my head ever since a friend played it for me at a Christmas party, so I finally ordered an Italian import of it. Yay.