Odds and Ends Vol 22

Odds and EndsEven though I don’t get nearly enough time to read normal stuff, I find things are piling up without my having the time to write articles about them. So it is time for another edition of “Odds and Ends.” And in this case it is indeed a varied collection of things from cat gun safety to productivity to the Gymkhana Girl, so I guess we ought to get to it.

The Only Thing that Stops a Cat With a Gun…

Elizabeth sent me this article, Cat Shoots Owner With 9mm Handgun. This happened all the way back in 2005, but apparently, Joseph Stanton of Michigan was cooking with his loaded gun sitting on the counter. One of his cats jumped up on the counter, knocking the gun off, causing it to discharge, shooting Stanton in the lower torso. He seems to have survived and no cats were harmed.

What I find interesting about these kinds of cases is that they show how one-sided people are about looking at benefits and risk. I’m sure that Mr Stanton, like most gun owners, felt that he was safer for having that loaded gun around. I suspect he had visions of some intruder coming to attack him. But the truth is that the odds of some accident (like your cat jumping on the counter) are far more likely. This is why I don’t have a gun; I play the odds.

Night Owls Are Diseased

Over at Vox, Brian Resnick reported, Late Sleepers Are Tired of Being Discriminated Against. And Science Has Their Back. It turns out that chronobiology shows that we all have our own internal clocks, and some people are getting tired (!) of being expected to live according to other people’s idea of the proper time to be active.

I’ve never thought about any of this in terms of when I wake up. Growing up in a family inclined toward late nights, I’ve always seen it in terms of when I was awake. But I’ve lived a charmed life in that I’ve gotten away with going my own way. At most places I’ve worked, I’ve been important enough that management was willing to put up with my eccentricities. But even if that were not the case, it’s kind of hard to get too upset. There are a million ways that the majority oppresses the minority; just look at the world from the perspective of left-handed people. What’s more, I don’t find this chronobiology all that interesting because I’ll always felt my sleep patterns were biological.

Now, of course, I have no problem. I go to sleep late and wake up early. It’s because I’m old and apparently my brain doesn’t need as much time to process information. That’s probably helped by the fact that I rarely leave this room.

Spying Makes Us Timid

Glenn Greenwald reported, New Study Shows Mass Surveillance Breeds Meekness, Fear, and Self-Censorship. It’s not a shock. If people know that they might be under surveillance (We all know that we might be now, right?) it tends to makes us more conformist. And you have to wonder if that isn’t the main point. Would the world be notably less safe if the NSA wasn’t recording and storing every conversation we were having?

This reminds me of something that internet titan Eric Schmidt was asked back in 2009, “People are treating Google like their most trusted friend. Should they be?” He replied, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” Oh yes! That’s the way to run a democracy! It’s an especially chilling statement when you consider how cozy Silicon Valley has been with the government and how the government’s greatest spying accomplishments have been to disrupt anti-war groups.

Gymkhana Girl

In the first episode of That Mitchell and Webb Look, there were three skits about the crime fighting duo Angel Summoner and BMX Bandit. It makes fun of lopsided superhero combinations. I keep returning to Marvel’s the Avengers, where you have a god teamed up with a guy who is apparently really good with a bow and arrow. I’ve discussed it before, but I learned something new:

At the end, after the BMX Bandit is killed, the announcer tells us to tune in next week for the adventures of “Angel Summoner and…” But I couldn’t make it out. It sounded like “Jim Conner Girl.” The woman reminded me of the women on the old British television series The Avengers. I got the joke: they were teaming up Angel Summoner with yet another inappropriate character. But it still bugged me that I didn’t know what a “Jim Conner Girl” was.

Finally, I looked it up. The word is not “Jim Conner” but gymkhana. And that is “competitive games on horseback.” In other words, they switched from someone who was good at riding a bike to someone who was good at riding a horse. And that, well, is hilarious.

Cheap Labor Leads to Low Productivity

Dean Baker wrote a really good article last week, Reason #4 for Weak Productivity Growth: Labor Is Cheap. Like most economics in the public sphere, it ain’t complicated. Productivity has been low for a long time. And a big reason for that is that businesses have little reason to invest in automation because they can get labor so cheap. If you want to increase productivity, make the political environment more conducive to unionization.

It’s funny that most people (Most Democrats too!) like to blame inequality on automation. But if that were the case, per capita productivity would be high. As I’ve written about a lot, if the rich were smart and farsighted, they would want more economic equality because it is better for everyone. But they aren’t smart and farsighted; they are just greedy.

Land of the Lost

I was given a bag of DVDs — most of them television shows of my youth. Of particular interest was the first two seasons of Sid & Marty Krofft’s Land of the Lost. I liked that show when I was a kid, so I sat down and watched the first seven episodes. It’s curious. The stop-motion animation is really good. But it’s so disjointed, going from filmed animation to videotaped segments on tiny sound stages. I could go on and on about things that are wrong with it. But it does have a certain charm, even after all these years.

Well, that’s all for now. I’m glad to get some tabs down, although I could easily add five more entries here.

28 thoughts on “Odds and Ends Vol 22

  1. Oddly enough, living in a county where I recently received confirmation I am under constant surveillance as is half the county…I haven’t noticed anyone changing their behavior.

    But I accept that is anecdotal evidence and not worth the paper not written on.

    • I offer you “Gymkhana Girl” and that’s what you respond to?!

      But what you are saying is just what I hear from people all the time about advertising, “It doesn’t affect me.” It’s a facile claim that is completely refuted by neuroscience.

      • I have known about Gymkhana girls since the late nineties, was I supposed to be surprised?

        Oh I accept that marketing affects me. I just haven’t noticed that being constantly watched affects people from doing the same thing they would before they found out that the Sheriff (HI DEPUTIES HOPE YOUR DAY IS GOING WELL) is watching them.

        • To take an obvious example, most people would never even joke in an e-mail about joining a terrorist group. Whereas that kind of dark cynical humor is the sort of thing I used to share with friends all the time (“I feel like becoming the Unabomber,” etc.) Now using the Internet for that kind of tasteless joke is like wondering out loud at a casino if “Ocean’s 11” could actually work; you might be overheard.

          • You know-I don’t know if I find that to be a problem. We are too quick to say things like “I’ll kill you!” or other harmful things and stopping that may mean that there will be an end to the endless internet bullying some people endure.
            And since too many kids have done what the mob demanded of them and killed themselves, I really find it hard to be down on it.

            • I get what you’re saying and largely agree about internet nastiness. I think trollish rudeness should be regarded as despicably as picking one’s nose or farting loudly in public. “Political correctness” still is a vituperative term, but I’m glad the kinds of slurs and jokes common when I was young are no longer socially acceptable (although when it comes to the internet, well . . .)

              What I meant more were private e-mails. If I joke with a friend about joining a cannibal cult, I don’t mean it. And since my sense of humor can be twisted at times, I’ve found myself censoring things I typed in e-mails just to avoid getting anyone I know into trouble. You can never be too careful these days. And there’s definitely a big difference between socially castigating others for uncouth behavior and putting them on the Nasty Spook Agency watch list!

              • I think the fear is overblown. I also think that checking yourself to ensure you aren’t saying something that you wouldn’t want on the front page of the newspaper is a good idea.

        • I don’t know anything of gymkhana girls. The word gymkhana was totally new to me. But I’m not British and I think horses are one of the most terrifying animals in existence.

          That’s probably true of most people. I think it does indeed affect people who have political views on the margins — like pacifists. You know: it affects the only people who would challenge the power structure of society. Knowing that we are all being watched will not affect the wonderful debates we see on the PBS Newshour about whether we should increase military spending 5% or 10%. With our wafer-thin Overton window, I think it does matter. And the point is not the government doing anything with the data, but the chilling effect of them doing it. I’m a child of the Cold War. This is exactly why I was told the Soviet Union was so bad.

          • I am a girl. I think it is like law or something that girls have to absorb knowledge about horses even though I agree they are scary. The last time I rode a horse I nearly passed out because I am allergic on top of not being a big fan. It is like sports-even the men I know who don’t like sports seem to have an uncanny ability to talk about it.

            I grew up when the USSR was on its way out. We did learn a few details about the country but they had collapsed long before I even reached high school. And with private business being just as intrusive? It gets harder and harder to see why anyone should care.

            • You’re right. I know more about sports than most people think. The sad thing is, I don’t get the impression that men who are really into sports know much more than I do.

              I still find the Soviet Union fascinating. When it collapsed, it showed immediately that “unfettered capitalism” is even worse. But more than that, I think having the Soviet Empire around helped the US because our government knew it had to at least do something for its people. Without that counterbalance, things have gotten much worse. And I can’t say that the people in Russia today are so much better off except that the country got richer because of oil.

              God, I’m even boring myself now. I need to write an article about how to capitalize titles properly.

              • Hahahaha, that wasn’t boring. But it was a good point that having a counterbalance gives governments a better chance at getting stuff done for their people.

                • The thought goes back to my fights with libertarians (when I was one) about FDR. They argued that he brought socialism. I argued that he stopped a revolution.

                    • That sounds like sarcasm, but I assume it isn’t.

                      It is only my opinion, however. We can’t say what would have happened if FDR had not liberalized the country. But I do think historically, avoiding a revolution is what FDR thought he was doing. He certainly wasn’t some radical who was trying to turn us into communist Russia.

  2. In case anyone cares. It will be clear that this is in response to a particular individual, but it really is not directed to them as such, but to everyone really. I don’t write to be inflammatory; I write because I’m inflamed.

    I’m deeply offended when people say that constant surveillance is not a problem, or that it does not affect people. It affects me, all the time. I am entitled as a citizen of a democratic nation to be able to communicate in secret. This right is being eroded, and as far as I am concerned anyone involved in abridging my rights is a traitor to my nation. And by substitution, to America if American.

    I have no desire to harass anyone on the Internet.

    But I am entitled to express opinions anonymously. I am entitled to be able to attend a meeting without minutes being copied by police. A person who does not agree is simply uncommitted to our democratic freedoms, and likely born to a great deal more privilege than me.

    • The problem with this expectation of privacy is the difficulty in trying to determine when that the now very faint line of privacy begins with the amount of intrusiveness that private and public businesses can have.

      So when I say I have a hard time getting upset over something the government does I already know that private business not only does but has been doing for up to fifty years-it is because all to often the sole difference between the government and private business is that here in the US private business can’t shoot me and get away with it. Or at least they haven’t recently.

      Another thing is that government, in theory, has to go get a warrant or at least follow some procedure to get that info you talk about. Businesses don’t have to do that. The argument that you have to use their services kind of pales when you realise just how little control you have over what a private business does with your information. http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/23/tech/web/big-data-acxiom/

      As time goes on, we get less and less restrictions on the amount of data any one group/agency/government can have or at least we did, maybe that is going to be the big difference with Scalia now dead. SCOTUS won’t be giving blanket permission to anyone anymore.

      • I’m worried about this too. But these are all solvable problems with, you know, transparent government and laws to limit businesses. One thing that seems absurdly clear is that both Google and Amazon are too big and harm competition. But now I’m getting sidetracked. And I don’t want to get involved in RJ and your potentially constructive conversation.

      • Well, I think there needs to be massive restrictions on information held by companies on individuals. I was aware of these developments, and it strikes me as basically the same thing. I am entitled to communicate anonymously without the view of either the police or Koch PR people.

        If this political development is true to form for everything else, it is likely that corporate and government snoops are basically the same people, especially in America.

        You’ll notice that much of the recent surveillance has been without warrants. No, both the Canadian and American governments have given their domestic agencies permission to spy on any group or individual who ‘might’ go terrorist. This was done illegally in the 60’s and 70’s, so after 2001, these governments decided to legalize it, through ’emergency’ legislation that has not been repealed.

        Of course, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If people’s community organization is constantly frustrated by spying and agents provocateur, then clearly people will become disinclined to seek peaceful political change.

        I don’t understand why you think Scalia’s replacement will care about surveillance of individuals. I expect the replacement will be less obviously a right-wing zealot, and take the ‘compromise’ position that the government needs to have the say-so of 3 NSA agents instead of only one to get permission to surveil. And the ‘compromise’ position that personal information can be sold freely but only within the country, or some other obvious betrayal of America.

        An acceptable line for privacy actually isn’t that difficult to establish, but American/Canadian corporations and governments don’t want to do it. In terms of law, the corporate information-gathering is probably a little less tractable. But as I say, it doesn’t matter, because the people in government – both parties – are not committed to the democratic rights of citizens. They don’t care.

        • This is almost exactly the same point Arun Kundnani makes in “The Muslims Are Coming.” Muslim Americans know they’re being targeted for surveillance and anyone you talk to could be a spy. So rather than organizing a political movement to democratically alter U.S. foriegn policy, frustrated young men are more likely to join sides in civil wars. The comically bad efforts by the FBI to blackmail struggling Muslims (say, someone with a petty theft conviction) into becoming informants has harmed everyone it touches. If only we went after crooked financial firms the same way! That might make some sense.

          • And when critics of the Iraq war specifically predicted that the result would be more violent and virulent terrorist groups, we were called Unserious. Dreamers. Objectively pro-fascist.

            Plain common sense is now far-left. Mistreating and attacking people makes them more likely to be violent? Silly socialist.

            • I remember reading a book by George Packer (he writes for some big magazine now) about the war, and how he learned the anti-war protesters were deluded. Because he went to exactly one rally, heard that the war was about oil, and dismissed this as nincompoopery. Of course the war wasn’t about oil, it was about regime change or setting a new standard in the Middle East or whatever. Not oil; no Very Serious Person thought so. Anyone with that view must have had a tinfoil hat and Bigfoot stories.

              • Right. Because being Serious means always being for war and always being for “tough choices” (which means making other people suffer).

            • That’s our media’s terror of being called liberal. That’s why the Tea Party rallies were big news, but huge anti-war protests are so not.

        • Well since it isn’t that hard to run for office, there isn’t much reason to not run for office.
          In my state it requires as little as 1 signature to get started (one district doesn’t have very many people.) And then work your way up.

          Granted that is the very long plan but generally speaking any change is going to take a lot of effort either in having to work your way up or worse, an actual revolution. If you don’t want to run for office, find the one person who could and agrees with you and help them by being part of their campaign.

          Isn’t that why you supported Sanders in the first place?

    • Hear, hear! It also bothers me that the government thinks that just because a technology is available that it should be used. If the NSA gave me a $100,000 grant, I could create a prototype of a house fly-sized drone that would stream video and audio and be controlled by people in a van two blocks away (or more). And given that I know I can do that, I know that they have done that. I worked with much of technology on an Air Force grant back in 2007-2008. It’s scary. Maybe I should join the Pirate Party.

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