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What we call these people [Apr. 24th, 2009|11:13 am]
A professor of mine was recently talking about how humans have a tendency of bias toward themselves in estimating chance. For example, if you bought one lottery ticket and picked the numbers for it, you wouldn't trade it for two tickets bought by someone else of the same value (or at least the average person wouldn't). We also assume we won't die alone of a horrible disease, etc.

"Of course, there are some people who calculate their chances accurately, and who don't assume that they have any special advantages. What do we call these people? We call them clinically depressed."website metrics
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February 15, 1898 [Sep. 11th, 2008|02:32 pm]
February 15, 1898. Never forget.

Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain!
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I am a Berliner [Jun. 26th, 2008|10:18 pm]
I was thinking how funny it was for JFK to use speak English to a crowd of Germans, and so I thought it would be a fun exercise to see what it would sound like with the tables turned. Here's the result, based off Google translate. If anyone has any improvements, I'd been happy to hear them.

Ich bin stolz darauf, kommen in diese Stadt als Gast bei eurem zeichnet Bürgermeister, der hat symbolisiert in der ganzen Welt den Kampfgeist von West-Berlin. Und ich bin stolz darauf, zum Besuch der Bundesrepublik sich mit eurem zeichnet Bundeskanzler, der für so viele Jahre hat Deutschland zu Demokratie und Freiheit und Fortschritt verpflichtet, zu kommen und hier in der Firma von meinen Kollegen und Amerikaner, General Clay, der wurde in dieser Stadt während seine große Momente der Krise und wird wiederkommen, wenn überhaupt benötigt wird.

Zwei tausend Jahre vor die größte Prahlerei war: "I am a Roman citizen." Heute, in der Welt der Freiheit, die größte Prahlerei ist: "I am a Berliner."

Ich schätze mein Dolmetscher, der hat übersetzt mein Deutsch!

Es gibt viele Leute auf der Welt, die wirklich nicht verstehen, oder sagen, dass sie dies nicht tun, was ist das große Problem zwischen der freien Welt und der kommunistischen Welt. Lass' sie nach Berlin kommen. Es gibt einige, sagen, dass der Kommunismus ist die Welle der Zukunft. Lass' sie nach Berlin kommen. Und es gibt einige, sagen in Europa und anderswo können wir mit den Kommunisten. Lass' sie nach Berlin kommen. Und es gibt sogar einige, sagen, dass es wahr ist, dass der Kommunismus ist ein Übel, aber es erlaubt uns, wirtschaftlichen Fortschritt. Lass' sie nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin.

Die Freiheit hat viele Schwierigkeiten und Demokratie ist nicht perfekt, aber wir haben nie um eine Wand bis zu enthalten unsere Leute, um zu verhindern, dass sie von uns verlassen. Ich möchte sagen, im Namen meiner Landsleute, leben, viele Meilen entfernt auf der anderen Seite des Atlantiks, sind weit entfernt von Ihnen, dass sie große Stolz, dass sie in der Lage gewesen zu teilen mit Ihnen, auch von einem Entfernung, die Geschichte der letzten 18 Jahre. Ich kenne keine Stadt, kein Dorf, die belagert wurde für 18 Jahre, die noch lebt mit der Vitalität und der Kraft und der Hoffnung und der Entschlossenheit der Stadt West-Berlin. Während der Wand ist die offensichtlichste und anschauliche Demonstration der Ausfälle des kommunistischen Systems, für alle Welt zu sehen, wir übernehmen keine Befriedigung darin, weil es ist, als euer Bürgermeister hat gesagt, ein Angriff nicht nur gegen die Geschichte, sondern eine Vergehen gegen die Menschlichkeit, trennt Familien, für die Teilung Ehemänner und Ehefrauen, Brüder und Schwestern, und ein Volk, das wollen zusammengefügt werden.

Was ist wahr in dieser Stadt gilt für Deutschland - real, dauerhaften Frieden in Europa kann nicht gewährleistet werden, solange ein deutscher von vier hat nicht die elementare Recht auf freie Männer, und das ist es, eine freie Wahl. In 18 Jahren des Friedens und der guten Glauben, diese Generation der Deutschen hat das Recht, frei zu sein, einschließlich des Rechts zu vereinigen ihre Familien und ihre Nation in dauerhaftem Frieden, mit gutem Willen auf allen Menschen. Ihr lebt in einer verteidigten Insel der Freiheit, aber euer Leben ist Teil des Hauptfensters. Deshalb möchte ich ihr bitten, wie ich schließen, dass Heben ihr eure Augen über die Gefahren von heute, dass die Hoffnungen von morgen, über die Freiheit nur in dieser Stadt Berlin, oder eures Land von Deutschland, zu dem Vormarsch der Freiheit überall, jenseits der Wand auf den Tag des Friedens mit Gerechtigkeit, über euch und uns auf die ganze Menschheit.

Die Freiheit ist unteilbar, und wenn ein Mensch ist versklavt, dann ist niemand frei. Wenn alle frei sind, dann können wir freuen uns auf diesen Tag, wenn diese Stadt wird sich als ein und diesem Land und dieser große Kontinent Europa in einer friedlichen und hoffnungsvollen Welt. Wenn dieser Tag endlich gekommen ist, da es, die Menschen in West-Berlin kann nüchtern Zufriedenheit in der Tatsache, dass sie sich in der Front für fast zwei Jahrzehnten.

Alle freien Menschen, wo immer sie leben, sind Bürger Berlins, und deshalb als freier Mann, ich nehme Stolz in den Worten "I am a Berliner."
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What White People are Like [Mar. 13th, 2008|10:50 am]
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Have you seen the site Stuff White People Like? I'm not a fan of the assignment of values or qualities to people based on race, but I was surprised how often this site pegs me (as a white person). For example, I really am afraid that I am somehow racist, and feel guilty for all the rotten things that white people have done. I do love things that are not instantly accessible, like beer and coffee, although I'm not sure that I love them because they must be acquired. I do want to believe that I am creative and unique. My chagrined reaction to the site's appraisal of white people, though, is probably the whitest thing.

Interestingly, the site doesn't seem to actually be talking about white people, but some sort of core of the whitest people. For example, the site authors tell us that white people like The Daily Show, David Sedaris, Veganism/Vegetarianism, Apple Products, Diversity (exclusively of restaurants and in service of feeling cultured), and Awareness. Also, while the authors are relatively light on criticism of interest truly mainstream television like Lost, American Idol, and Grey's Anatomy, they are open in their criticism of those who eschew the mainstream and prefer less well-known shows like Arrested Development. Again, this suggests a relatively narrow view of what white people are like.

In other words, they're describing white people not in terms of conservatism, open racism, or aristocratic attitudes, but rather in terms of their attempts to feel good about themselves while still maintaining a high power/wealth ratio and seeking situations where they can't lose, in what could be called soft counterculture. This leads me to believe that this site is based especially on American college students, who in many cases are financially advantaged without having settled into the self-satisfied conservatism of their parents, whom they resent (as detailed on the site).

The prototypical (or, I guess, stereotypical) white person described on the site endlessly postures in order to make themselves feel good and other people feel bad: "The number one reason why white people like not having a TV is so that they can tell you that they don’t have a TV." They like to do just enough work to have the appearance of superiority, for example learning a few phrases in a foreign language to use while ordering in a restaurant and appear worldly. This example ties in to their general interest in the foreign and exotic, a segment of the ironically monolithic nature of alternative culture, which is itself a direct result of the combination of the cultural elements of loving uniqueness and loving trends.

And it's in this that I am unlike their prototype of the white person. I sympathize with clander's criticism that white people "need to express [their] uniqueness by purchasing everything that a publicly traded company produces", and the characterization of Americans as being concerned with bringing attention to an issue with little or no emphasis on actually solving problems. It should go without saying that I don't believe that any of the qualities on the site are necessarily or exclusively white, but nevertheless I think that they've nailed a lot of cultural foibles, particularly of hipsterism.

I would be curious to know how closely Stuff White People Like matches worldwide ideas of how white people are. I suspect that it is fairly close, although obviously the author is more familiar with white (especially U.S.), faux-liberal culture than an outsider would be. I'm also curious to know how this canon of stereotypical behavior will develop in the future. For example, there is an entry on the site dedicated to irony (specifically ironic enjoyment of deprecated rural culture or retro references). If post-irony (the return to enjoying things that one enjoys for their own sake, but differentiated from pre-irony in the high awareness of irony) becomes mainstream, will this too become a marker of whiteness?
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Invention Wanted [Mar. 2nd, 2008|03:26 pm]
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I often make myself a cup of tea even when I'm not thirsty, on the Hedburg Principle: by the time it's ready, I might want one. But the problem is that the timing is tricky: tea spends way more time being too hot and too cold than just right. A thermos keeps the tea hot, but it performs too well: the tea is undrinkably hot hours after pouring.

So what I want is this: a thermos that keeps its contents as close as possible to a controllable, variable temperature. If I want my tea at, say, 120°F, I just set it and forget it: the thermos will let the environment's relative warmth or coolness impact the temperature of the tea as long as it's moving toward 120°F, but in all other cases cuts off heat transfer.

(This is more complex than it sounds: let's call x the content temperature, y the environmental temperature, and z the target content temperature. When y and z are either both higher or both lower than x, the heat transfer will be open until x reaches either y or z. It's when y and z are on different sides of x or any case where z equals x or y equals x that heat transfer is shut off.)

I couldn't figure out a good way to put a colon into those last two sentences. Writing constraints: rewarding but difficult.
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A Prediction [Mar. 2nd, 2008|01:51 pm]
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Barring the possibility of a black, female president, the USA will have a black, male president before it will have a white, female president. This is because Americans are more sexist than they are racist.

Reasoning: Who got the right to vote first in the USA, black men or white women? Was there a black or a female senator first? Have there been more black senators or female senators? The answer is always black first, female second. And women are sexist against women as well, often without being aware of it.

Qualifications: I don't mean that their opinions about the minority sex are on average more damning than their opinions about people with dark skin, but rather that their assumptions about the roles of men and women are held on a deeper level and involve more (implicit) agreement on the part of the minority about what those roles are. Also, and this should go without saying, when I use the word "minority", I don't mean in terms of population but in terms of political power. Lastly, I'm not saying it should be this way. Our political processes are faulty in too many ways to count, and the tendency to vote for a type of person rather than the person themselves is just one of them.
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Friends only. [Dec. 2nd, 2007|05:45 pm]
You heard the man.
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