Archive for April, 2011

Things Are Better Than You Think, Part 4: The Dangers of Nostalgia

The routinely excellent Foreign Policy recently posted an article by Charles Kenny about Pre-Modern peoples and the dangers of helping to “protect” them from modernity. A quote from the article:

“The glorification of … tribal life, with its supposed freedom from violence, poverty, drugs, crime, and overpopulation, is part of a dangerous denial of the huge benefits that modernity has brought to the vast mass of humanity. It is easy to get emotional about a supposedly idyllic Stone Age existence when we’re staring at elegant photographs on a computer screen while sipping our Starbucks chai latte. But if we decided to actually return to the lifestyle of uncontacted peoples, the vast majority of the planet would die off from starvation, and those who remained would face nasty, brutish, and short lives. Romanticizing that lifestyle provides no insights into how we can better run a planet of 7 billion people on a sustainable basis — and does little to illuminate the challenges and needs of tribal people themselves.”

Modernity has brought us untold wealth, health, knowledge, prosperity, peace and happiness. We are, by any objective measure one cares to offer, much better off than so-called “uncontacted peoples”. Such people are at the mercy of famine and natural disaster, they routinely suffer and die from treatable or curable ailments, and they labor for hours just to ensure the basic necessities of life. Theirs is not a life situation to be envied.

Put another way, there’s a simpler word for subsistence living absent of modern infrastructure, medicine, and food supplies. It’s called poverty.

As with other breeds of Malthusians, Primitivists and Neo-Luddites, I have the following offer to make to those people who seriously suggest that we should emulate the strife and hardship of uncontacted peoples:

You first.

“Whoa-oh-oh! Whoa-oh-oh!”

Dear Readers:

Years ago I heard a song by a band called the Hold Steady. And it was okay, but not great.

Man, did I ever miss out. ‘Cause the Hold Steady are incredible. Crunchy and grungy and disaffected and oh man oh so awesome.

Watch and listen. So good. So. God. Damned. Good.

New Rules

Via my wonderful friend Heather comes the following list of rules:

(Click for Full Size)

Magic Blue Smoke is hearby adopting Rules #2 and #7 from the above. Please refer to the sidebar for the updated list of house rules.

Thank you for your consideration and patronage.

UPDATE: After much consideration by the management, both rules #2 and #7 shall be adopted.

Inception, Light on the Heidegger

I finally saw Inception tonight, and I’m going to try very hard to give this brief review without straying into scoffing philosophy grad student territory.

I liked it. A lot. The characterization was decent, even if some of the characters were pretty obviously written in for the sake of utility. The plot was engaging and I was pleasantly surprised that Christopher Nolan used a lighter touch than I thought he would. Dreams and subjective reality are the sort of thing with which a lot of directors and writers can get masturbatory. (Cf. the Wachowski Brothers, who let their fun, engaging franchise quickly devolve into a carnival of philosophical Onanism.)

The pacing was impeccable (important in a movie that uses time as so much of a plot device) and the ending was deftly handled enough that it had my Lady Friend and I slap-fighting over our two diametrically opposed interpretations. Well played there, Mr. Nolan.

The film also features the best use of an Edith Piaf song in any movie, ever.

All in all, I highly recommend it. Or would, if I weren’t the last person on the entire planet to see it. Definitely worth the price of a rental or a spot on your NetFlix queue.

Content Stand In

I think everyone who does any kind of creative work, even something so banal as this blog, needs someone to act as a “hey, is this any good?” filter. Mine, quite rightly, pointed out that the post I had drafted for tonight needs more work.

So in the meantime, here’s an awesome Essential Mix from Drum and Bass mastermind Danny Byrd:

Evening Moment of Zen

A Gift

From: Me
To: Me

On the occasion of my 27th Birthday.

Lyrics are wonderfully tasteless and NSFW

I’m Fricking Awesome!

Musical Cells

What happens when you combine cellular automata with a basic step sequencer?


America and the 20-Power Standard

At the height of British naval power and imperial dominance, the United Kingdom maintained a doctrine called the Two-Power Standard. This meant that it committed to maintaining a naval force at least as large as the next two largest navies in the world.

Assume for a moment that, instead of ships and crew, we switch to measuring this standard in currency. Britain, then, would fulfill its two-power standard if it spent as much or more on its navy as the next two biggest naval powers in the world.

Based on this metric, what “power” standard does the United States maintain? How many other countries, selected in order of military spending, could we outspend even if they band together.

Care to hazard a guess?

Turns out that America currently maintains a Twenty Power Standard. In other words, we spend more on defense every year than the combined spending of:

  1. People’s Republic of China
  2. France
  3. United Kingdom
  4. Russia
  5. Japan
  6. Germany
  7. Saudi Arabia
  8. Italy
  9. India
  10. Brazil
  11. South Korea
  12. Canada
  13. Australia
  14. Spain
  15. United Arab Emirates
  16. Turkey
  17. Israel
  18. Netherlands
  19. Greece
  20. Colombia


But sure, let’s defund NPR. That’ll fix our spending problem. Let’s make meaningless cuts that aren’t actually even cuts, just very minor increases in planned spending.

Unless you’re serious about spending cuts on the order of many hundreds of billions of dollars across the board, then you are not serious about deficit reduction. (And let’s be very clear, we don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem. Bullshit “tax the rich” class warfare-ism won’t save us, it’ll just make things worse.)

Until we’re ready to make serious cuts into government spending, with an eye towards hundreds of billions or more sliced out of the budget, then we’re going to keep marching down the path to true fiscal disaster. This profligacy can’t keep going forever.

On the other hand, I hear Hong Kong’s nice this time of year.

No, Radley, you’re not the only one

Via Radley Balko

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Magic Blue Smoke

House Rules:

1.) Carry out your own dead.
2.) No opium smoking in the elevators.
3.) In Competitions, during gunfire or while bombs are falling, players may take cover without penalty for ceasing play.
4.) A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb may play another ball from the same place.
4a.) Penalty one stroke.
5.) Pilsner should be in Roman type, and begin with a capital.
6.) Keep Calm and Kill It with Fire.
7.) Spammers will be fed to the Crabipede.