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Office of Naval Contemplation

Nov. 4th, 2012

11:22 pm - Ballot guide, part II: Candidate races and local ballot measures

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Oct. 17th, 2012

05:40 pm - Ballot guide, part I: statewide propositions

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Jul. 30th, 2012

11:46 am - Doctor Who Companion typology

Over the course of watching through the surviving Classic Doctor Who stories in order with evilben and ophiomancer (we're currently about half-way through the Troughton (Second Doctor) era), it's occurred to us that just about all of the Doctor's companions fit the archetypes of the original three companions from the beginning of the show.

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Jan. 6th, 2012

12:58 pm - Months, Seasons, and Names

The other day, I posted some vague musings on G+ on the haphazard appropriation of month and season names as personal names. In the names of Science!, I've decided to do some actual data analysis rather than just going off of anecdotal impressions and recollections. I'm looking at the Census names files (a compilation of the frequency of each personal name that shows up in at least 0.001% of the sample for each gender in the 1990 Census post-enumeration survey) and extrapolating the total number of people with each name in the US, based on the most recent Census bureau estimate of 148.5 million men and 152.9 million women total, and rounded to the nearest 500 to avoid implying too much false precision (the precision of my data is 0.001% of the sample, or about 1500).

August22,000 (*)0 (**)

(*) Plus 10,500 men named Augustine and 7,500 men named Augustus.
(**) But there's 15,000 women named Augusta, 4,500 named Augustina, and 3,000 named Augustine.

There's no doubt other variants (especially if you count "Julie" or "Julius" as variants of "July"), but for simplicity and objectivity I only counted obvious variants that turned up in a string search for the primary form.

For comparison, the 10th most common male name was "Thomas", with an estimated male population of 2,050,000 and an estimated female population of 4,500, and the 10th most common female name was "Dorothy", with an estimated female population of 1,112,000 and an estimated male population of 0.

Jan. 5th, 2012

05:22 pm - Republic or a Democracy?

It's oft quoted that the United States is a Republic, not a Democracy, which apparently drives some political science professors nuts. Methinks the problem is one of overloaded terms. Dr. Taylor is correct both that 1) in modern political science parlance, the two terms are pretty much interchangeable, and 2) in the writings of Madison and other founding fathers, the distinction is not particularly relevant to modern political discourse. But in other connotations and shades of denotation, I do think there's a meaningful distinction to be drawn.

Backing off a bit, let's look at the origins and literal meanings of the words. Democracy is Greek (used to describe the civic government of Classical Athens before the coup of the 400 Tyrants), meaning "rule of the people" or "rule of the citizens", and Republic is corrupted Latin (used to describe the Roman government before the Caesars), originally "Res Publica" meaning roughly "public affairs" ("res" means thing, object, or affair, and "publica" means shared, open, public, or held in common). The word "commonwealth", although it has now taken on a different meaning (a loose confederation or economic union), started out as a calque of "res publica" into English and was used interchangably with "republic".

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Dec. 14th, 2011

12:25 pm - Corporate Income Tax trial balloons

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Dec. 13th, 2011

11:46 am - Caption Contest CXLVI

11:46 am - Caption Contest Winners

The winner of Caption Contest CXLV is makellan:

Experiments with Democracy go awry when the new Egyptian government tries the western concept of "Kangaroo Courts"
First runner up is sailorrogue:
What, you were expecting a camel? Hrmph, stereotype much?

Dec. 5th, 2011

04:29 pm - Query on arguments for and against double-taxation of corporate income

I'm toying with some ideas for reform proposals for taxation of income from corporate investment, intended to address the common concerns on both sides of the issue. In order to do a proper job of this, I want to make sure I'm not misunderstanding or misrepresenting what these concerns are. I have a fairly high confidence level in my understanding of the common concerns that conservatives and libertarians have on this issue, but I'm somewhat less well qualified to speak for liberals and progressives. But many of you, my dear readers, are liberals or progressives yourselves, so I ask you to double-check my understanding, and to correct my errors and omissions.

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Nov. 21st, 2011

01:02 pm - The violence inherent in the system

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Nov. 7th, 2011

01:00 pm - Sunnyvale elections update

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Oct. 31st, 2011

09:43 pm - City of Sunnyvale 2011 election, part 2 (races)

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05:32 pm - City of Sunnyvale 2011 election, part 1 (background)

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Oct. 25th, 2011

10:46 am - Caption Contest CXLV

10:45 am - Caption Contest Winners

The winner of Caption Contest CXLIV is racerxmachina:

Despite his undisputed status as the fastest outfielder in MLB history, SCREEEAKKKH's career has been clouded by controversy, including new accusations from the St. Louis management of his attempting to eat a Cardinal.
First runner up is rdmasters:
And he bounces twice, shoots, and scores! This brings the Peregrines into the finals where they will be facing off against the Sparrows, in what will be a memorable basketball match.
Second runner up is Jason Barbour:
Judges were forced to count the number of actual goals last night at the Quidditch match, after a hawk (pictured above) captured the golden snitch. Professor McGonagall stated that she was interested in finding the hawk, so games could continue. Rumors say that she would also like to recruit him as her new seeker.

Oct. 17th, 2011

01:20 pm - Caption Contest CXLIV

01:19 pm - Caption Contest Winners

The winner of Caption Contest CXLIII is devonapple:

MIMITW: "I don't always date men, but if I do..."
First runner up is leecetheartist:
The 15th and 17th Doctors.
Second runner up is fintach:
When the two joined forces, power spiked in a ten-block radius, lighting up the night like high noon. Clouds parted, ten inches of snow melted, flowers began to blossom, and witnesses swore that "O Fortuna" began playing in the background.

Oct. 7th, 2011

05:07 pm - Should Steve Jobs have been king?

So says Mencius Moldbug. To summarize, his argument (which he delegates largely to a lengthy quote from 19th century historian, satirist, and political philosopher Thomas Carlyle) is that the ideal government vests power in a single and virtuous capable man (the proverbial Benevolent Despot), and that as the late Steve Jobs was clearly such a man, it was a horrible waste of his talents not to give him a crown.

And this is our special torture: as the planet rots, as fools rule and hyenas feast, as nations lie prostrate, churches decompose, and the Devil with a knife owns London, Paris, New York after dark, fell in our hairy hands the real work of a real King, an Able-man, Ken-ning - who served God, or right at least, and could bend small armies to obey. And make - a toy. So near we are to salvation; so infinitely far away.
Even accepting for the sake of argument the premise that a benevolent despot is the ideal government, I vehemently disagree that we as a society wasted Jobs's talents.

In 1987, John Sculley (Apple's CEO from 1983 through 1993) published a memoir, which my parents owned and which I've read several times. One of the most powerful scenes in that book for me was when Sculley recounts how Jobs convinced him to leave his then-current position as President of PepsiCo to become Apple's CEO. Apple's job offer was a fairly steep pay cut for Sculley, and Sculley would be moving to a smaller, riskier company in a smaller, newer, riskier industry. Sculley almost didn't take the job, but what he says changed his mind and convinced him to accept it was one last conversation with Jobs, in which Jobs posed the question: "Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling fizzy sugar water, or do you want a chance to change the world?"

As the founder and two-time leader of Apple, Steve Jobs changed the world. Personal computers would have happened sooner or later, with or without Apple. Same with GUIs, digital music players, smartphones, wireless tablets, etc. Likewise, without Pixar, feature-length CGI films probably still would have happened.

But it wouldn't have happened the same way, or at the same time. Steve Jobs's vision pushed the industry forwards in a very real way. He was a brilliant designer, and just about everything he touched had a certain quality and conceptual wholeness that just didn't happen elsewhere. Apple often wasn't the first to do the things they're famous for, nor were they always the best when all was said and done (to judge by revealed preferences of market share, defining "best" in terms of concrete utility rather than abstract quality), but when Apple put out a product, it generally set the tone for the rest of the industry. Droid phones are better for the example of the iPhone. Modern versions of Windows and Linux are better for the example of MacOS. IBM PCs and their successors were better for the example of the Apple II.

Also very much worth mentioning is that Steve Jobs was one of the most vocal and effective proponents of the very notion that personal computers could and would change the world. That a PC wasn't just a toy for hobbyists, that it wasn't just an incremental improvement over teletype terminals connected to a mainframe, that it wasn't a specialty tool for a narrow niche of businesses that were big enough to use a computer but not so big as to need a mainframe. That it was an entirely new thing, suited for a new role. That ubiquitous personal computers could change the way we work, the way we socialize, the very way we organize our lives. Steve Jobs was one of the first people to not just believe this, but to make other people believe it as well. To convince investors to stake their money and talented people to stake years of their lives on this vision by designing and building computers on the basis of this assumption. And in doing so, he achieved enough success to convince the world that it was true, and the rest of the industry came around to follow his example to design and build PCs as a world-changing tool for everyone and to look for other visions along the same lines (the idea of the internet, of digital books, of intelligent search and knowledge management tools, etc) and start to take them seriously as logical extensions of the same path.

It was this that Steve Jobs was talking about when he offered John Sculley a chance to help change the world, and he delivered. This vision, in at least some small way, has touched every aspect of our lives. We might not have flying cars, moonbases, or jetpacks, but we do, personally and individually, have in our hands more ability to access and process information than the entire sum of humanity had up until a generation or two ago. It took the combined efforts of millions of people over several decades to make it happen, but without Steve Jobs, it would not have happened as soon, as quickly, or as well.

He probably would have made a good king. He certainly had fantastic vision and the ability to surround himself with good people and inspire them to greatness. But running a country is a very different task than running a company, more concerned with regulating and punishing and redistributing than with creating and inspiring, so perhaps his talents would not have translated so well. We'll never know for sure, and even detailed speculation is difficult. But given how much he achieved as a business leader, our hypothetical King Steve would have had to be fan-frickin-tastic to give us more than the man did in his real-life career path.

In a way, though, he was a king of sorts. Not a king of armies and laws, but still a leader of men and a commander of resources. The way we organize our society, the means of production are primarily owned and controlled by private individuals, not the government. By commanding the loyalty of talented people by inspiring them with his vision, by persuading investors to trust him with control of their resources, using these to make goods and services that people would gladly buy at a price that gave him a profit to reinvest, Steve Jobs accumulated personal ownership of assets worth billions of dollars, and tens or hundreds of billions of dollars worth of assets were entrusted to his control by others. He had power of life and death over nobody, no High and Low Justice, no ability to make war. He wore no crown, and nobody bent the knee to him and called him Majesty (or at least if they did, it was an affectation only), but he was vested with a stupendous amount of authority and trust, and he did an incredible amount of good with it. My only complaints are that he didn't have more time to do more for the rest of us, and that he didn't have even more time and opportunity to succeed and enjoy the well-earned fruits of his success.

Sep. 27th, 2011

12:13 pm - Thoughts on A Dance With Dragons

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Sep. 21st, 2011

11:48 am - Song of Ice and Fire characters as memes

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Note: please no spoilers for Dance with Dragons in the comments. I'm still only half-way through.

Sep. 20th, 2011

03:28 pm - Point/Counterpoint: Kings

Jul. 19th, 2011

01:00 pm - On balanced budget amendments

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Jun. 2nd, 2011

01:34 pm - Caption Contest CXLIII

01:30 pm - Caption Contest Winners

The winner of Caption Contest CXLII is deirdremoon:

Christ. It's a *daytime* hit. See this uniform I'm wearing? It's called a disguise. Good thing for you two I brought extras in case I was assigned some fucking amateurs. C'mon, there's a bathroom around the side...
First runner up isracerxmachina:
A year marked by racial tension prompted a massive minority hiring campaign to man the beleaguered BART Police squad.

BART's Director of Public Relations was unavailable for comment, and identified later by his dental records.
Second runner up isrdmasters:
Fred was sure that someone was following him, but every time he looked, there was no-one there.
Third runner up is Ken Guge:
There's something you don't see everyday...A pilot at a train station

May. 6th, 2011

12:05 pm - Doctor Who?

  1. The Professor
  2. The Clown
  3. The Dandy
  4. The Bohemian
  5. The Cricketer
  6. The Wonka
  7. The Chessmaster
  8. The Gentleman
  9. The Survivor
  10. The Geek
  11. The Peter Pan
Work in progress. I'm not entirely happy with all the descriptors. Suggestions are welcome.

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