Danny Taggart's Blogarama

A more-or-less daily dose of news, politics, techmology, and any random thoughts that pass through my head.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

A look at the media revolution

A lot has been written lately about the overthrow of the MSM by the blogosphere and the new media. I want to explore this further. For starters, why did the Big Media arise in the first place? Why wasn't the main public medium local newspapers or pamphleteers, which are similar to today's bloggers?

One answer is advertising revenue. Previously, it took a wide readership to generate lots of ad revenue, to pay for printing and distribution costs. So, with the lower production cost of the web, blogs can effectively compete without much advertising revenue. But where does advertising fit into the cause-effect cycle of media influence?

There is also the aspect of credibility, of branding. Out of a fiercely competitive environment there usually arise a handful of stars, the "gods" of the environment. We are witnessing the destruction of the old media gods (old TV networks, old newspapers, etc.), but also the erection of new gods online. After all, most news-blog traffic goes to a few popular sites, (e.g., InstaPundit).

What does this mean for the future of decentralized media? Do we have the same risk of the media falling into bias and corruption - or is there something fundamentally different this time? My feeling is that it is indeed a different world, but not as dramatic as some make it out. The image of everyman setting up his own blog and speaking truth to power is just that - an image. It is a symbol of the revolution that is happening, but not the revolution itself. The vast majority of blogs will not be newsmaking or influential, but they will collectively form the competitive milieu in which the new media must operate.

The real results of the new media will be 1. lower production costs leading to 2. a highly competitive environment along with 3. technologically sophisticated media delivery and therefore 4. more variety, more choices, no monopoly of information.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Review: The Butterfly Effect

Movie: The Butterfly Effect (2004)
My Rating: Thumbs Up

This was a fun Memento-like brain-twister. Ashton Kutcher plays a guy with a screwed-up childhood who discovers he can go back in time to try to fix things that went wrong. His shifting through alternate realities while retaining memory of them was entertaining. I kept trying to guess what would end up happening as a result of the changes he made (but was usually off). The director's cut ending was downright bone-chilling and I prefer that to the theatrical version (more palatable to mainstream audiences), although it's a matter of taste. Buy or rent the DVD and check out both endings.

Finally, a health care system I can support...

...but who will pay for the razor blades and needles?

    [World News]: London, Nov 28 : An unemployed Bosnian performed kidney stone surgery on himself because he did not have any money to pay medical bills.

    Emir Javoras, used a razor blade and needle to remove the stones, news agency Fena reported.

    "I woke up in the middle of the night in terrible pain, but I couldn't ask doctors to do anything about it because I am poor, have no money and no health insurance. I noticed my genitals had swollen and the pain was enormous" Javoras was quoted as saying.

    "The stones had passed out of my kidney and had got stuck in my urinary tract. I cut the skin under my testicles and with the help of a sterilized needle I managed to dig out three stones," he added. (ANI)

Sunday, November 28, 2004

"The big nose people make a lot of trouble"

Borat does this bit where he's talking to a random person and starts describing aspects of a stereotypical Jew. He gestures a big nose, mentions "they hev a lot of money", and waits to see if the person correctly identifies who he's talking about. Usually, the mark gets it right.

Now, does this demonstrate the bigotry of the person and/or Americans in general, as is implied by the satirical nature of the interview? I don't think so. It simply demonstrates that the person is aware of the stereotype, not necessarily that he agrees with it. Most Americans tend to be accommodating in an awkward or uncomfortable situation, especially with foreigners. It is an unfortunate fact that anti-Semitism is widespread in the Islamic world, so it is not unreasonable to expect that a Kazakhstani reporter may hold a stereotypical view of Jews. Most people don't want to get into a moralizing lecture with a foreigner about proper manners, so they just play along.

In general, I don't think it's legitimate to say that since people don't call out Borat for being a fake, they assume all foreigners are like him. Logically speaking, this only demonstrates that they believe it is possible for a foreigner (or anyone, for that matter), to behave like a jackass. That being said, Borat has uncovered legitimate bigotry in some of his bits, including "Throw the Jew Down the Well" and "Hunting the Jew". In those bits, the people actively participated in his bigotry and in some cases pushed it even further.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Bad reasoning by some RU-486 foes

This article is not very informative. It mentions seven deaths due to RU-486, but does not mention the overall number of people using RU-486. I don't know the numbers, but 7 deaths from potentially millions of users doesn't seem significant. The article also does not compare the death-per-use rate of RU-486 to that of other drugs on the market. All drugs are essentially a tradeoff between the illness/symptom and the risk of adverse side effects, including death. Evaluating this tradeoff is a prerequisite to evaluating the usefulness of a drug, yet this article doesn't bother with it.

The argument "let's ban the drug because it killed some people" isn't reasonable because it would also mean banning life-saving drugs which nonetheless carry some risk of death. There may be other reasons why RU-486 should be banned, but this is not a good one.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Happy Thanksgiving!

This turkey looks worried...

Tuesday, November 23, 2004


Ali G makes #2 on the "Best Celebrity" list over at phillyBurbs. Check it out.

Seeing with your tongue

A new sensory substitution device, called the BrainPort, allows people to receive sensory input (sight, for example) through an array of microelectrodes placed on the tongue. Read the full article here.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Review: Elf

Movie: Elf (2003)
My Rating: Thumbs Up

Just watched Elf this weekend and it was hilarious, as expected. This is a Will-Ferrell's-wild-antics type of movie, so if you like him, rent this movie. Towards the end the plot got a bit cheesy/non-sensical, but what do you expect in a Christmas movie, right? Overall, this movie is good fun.

Review: Along Came Polly

Movie: Along Came Polly (2004)
My Rating: Thumbs Down

This reeked of a There's Something About Mary -wannabe. However, the movie settled for excessively disgusting jokes which were unfunny. The plot was paper-thin and the dialogue was poor. The script did a horrible job of setting up Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston's contrasting personalities. Yes, there were a few funny scenes, but not nearly enough.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

All hail to our masters and protectors

Our wonderful government overlords have discovered that porn is as dangerous as heroin (and therefore, porn should be banned, like heroin). Right now though, they'll settle for studying porn addiction with lots of juicy federal grants.

I wholeheartedly support their efforts. There are a couple of other addictions that should be looked into. One is obvious: sex. Sex causes the exact same chemicals to be released into the brain, as porn. Sex is therefore, as dangerous as heroin, and should be banned accordingly.

Another addiction is what we euphemistically call "news". "News" causes chemicals to be released into the brain that could alter a person's mood and make them excited or angry. Many people watch the "news" for hours on end, or read it on the internet. This addiction must also be banned, since it causes a chemical reaction in the brain that makes people want it. I await the approval of our fascist government overlords.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

The Dearborn Street stain

The mysterious stain on the sidewalk by 650 South Dearborn shows no signs of wear. It has been here since at least mid-August, when I moved to Chicago. Since it has withstood a number of rainfalls, I'm speculating it's paint, but one can never be sure...

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

I'm not usually a giving person...

...but I think I've found a charity deserving of my dollars.

TiVo adds ads

Boy, I'm glad I didn't get a TiVo, especially that "lifetime" subscription. Just one more step in TiVo's slide into oblivion. Full story here.
TiVo chart (from ClearStation):

Wiki-whacker wrong

Robert McHenry, Former Editor in Chief, the Encyclopædia Britannica, criticizes Wikipedia as a "faith-based encyclopedia".

McHenry's basic argument is that, since anyone can post and edit Wikipedia entries, the content is inherently unreliable and tends toward mediocrity, rather than refinement. He points to an entry on Alexander Hamilton to demonstrate this: Hamilton's birth-year is ambiguous, yet the author doesn't mention it (although, the latest version seems to mention it). Worse yet, various dates in the entry are inconsistent with each other. Serious users, McHenry argues, need their answers to be correct.

There are some problems with McHenry's argument. First of all, the fact that the Alexander Hamilton entry has been updated to reflect the ambiguity in his birthdate illustrates well the idea that entries tend to improve over time. Ironically, McHenry's article may itself have prompted the reevaluation and subsequent editing.

Second, McHenry's assumption throughout the article is that an encyclopedia is for academic researchers who need every detail to be included. However, Wikipedia targets a mass audience, who would benefit from it even if the entries are only 99.9% correct. Someone who wants to do serious research can start at Wikipedia and continue their research with the primary sources listed at the bottom of the entry.

Regarding Wikipedia's organic system vs. the Britannica-style expert system, it is not necessarily true that the content tends toward mediocrity. Short of outright vandalism, which can easily be repaired, editors are not likely to edit content unless they belive they can substantiate new information. In fact, the internal inconsistencies of the Hamilton entry, which McHenry deplores, serve as dialectical fuel for further improvements. If an entry is composed by a single individual and is entirely consistent with itself, small errors may go unnoticed.

It's clear that McHenry harbors a deep suspicion of any information-related enterprise not managed by an "expert" hierarchy (of which he was once a part). He derides the style and content of Wikipedia's entries, but I am not much impressed by the Britannica version. Wikipedia offers a free, easy-to-use, and reliable encyclopedia that meets everyone's needs, except perhaps for a few disgruntled heads of paid-subscription encyclopedias who are losing business.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Dads are dumb

Have you noticed that in almost all TV shows and ads, the Dad is portrayed as a stupid bumbling fool, out-of-touch, and unworthy of parenthood? It's the Homer Simpson image taken to the extreme. Except that unlike Homer, these TV dads are not honest, well-meaning, if sometimes a bit slow. They are docile, retarded, sheep, to be condescended to by the mom and family. Glenn Reynolds notices this over at InstaPundit.

Monday, November 15, 2004

"Cows are cool"

Walking by the South Loop post office, I encountered a life-sized stuffed cow, courtesy of the good people at PETA.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

All I want for Christmas ...

... is an anatomically functional robot (at least in one respect).

Fall fashion this year

Full story here.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

"Something can be done about it"

So claimed the Dianetics people who accosted me in front of the South Loop post office. I'm just not sure what "it" is.

Democrats for a "limited government"?

Carville seems to be off his rocker, or he's getting really, really desperate.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Ding dong! The Witch is dead!

Which old witch? The Wicked Witch!

15th century robotics exposed

Cool story from Wired about one of Leonardo da Vinci's "impossible machines". Check it out here.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Libertarians in the back seat

The 2004 election is bad news for libertarians.

1. The Republican coalition has grown so large, libertarian voices are lost in the wind.
2. The spotlight is now on "moral values", which are perceived to be the prerequisite to election for Republicans or Democrats. "Individual liberty" is not even on the radar.
3. The Libertarian Party ran a ridiculous candidate spewing nonsense.

Libertarians must take action in response to these circumstances if they wish to remain relevant. The Democrats do not offer a viable alternative in promoting a limited government. Only by demonstrating their necessity to a permanent Republican coalition can libertarians hope to advance the cause of individual liberty.

Bush election spreads increased

I've examined the election numbers some more and it looks like the percentage spreads between Bush and his opponent stayed even or increased in 35 states between 2000 and 2004. Bush's percentage spread decreased in 15 states.
State R_00 D_00 c_00 R_04 D_04 c_04 c_00-04
Alabama 56 42 14 63 37 26 12
Tennessee 51 47 4 57 42 15 11
Hawaii 37 56 -19 45 54 -9 10
Oklahoma 60 38 22 66 34 32 10
New Jersey 40 56 -16 46 53 -7 9
Connecticut 38 56 -18 44 54 -10 8
Rhode Island 32 61 -29 39 60 -21 8
Louisiana 53 45 8 57 42 15 7
New York 35 60 -25 40 58 -18 7
West Virginia 52 46 6 56 43 13 7
Delaware 42 55 -13 46 53 -7 6
Nebraska 62 33 29 67 32 35 6
Arizona 51 45 6 55 44 11 5
Florida 49 49 0 52 47 5 5
Georgia 55 43 12 58 41 17 5
Indiana 57 41 16 60 39 21 5
Kansas 58 37 21 62 36 26 5
Arkansas 51 46 5 54 45 9 4
Kentucky 57 41 16 60 40 20 4
Mississippi 58 41 17 60 39 21 4
Missouri 50 47 3 53 46 7 4
Utah 67 26 41 71 26 45 4
Maryland 40 56 -16 43 56 -13 3
Pennsylvania 46 51 -5 49 51 -2 3
Illinois 43 55 -12 45 55 -10 2
Iowa 48 49 -1 50 49 1 2
Massachusetts 33 60 -27 37 62 -25 2
Michigan 46 51 -5 48 51 -3 2
Texas 59 38 21 61 38 23 2
New Mexico 48 48 0 50 49 1 1
South Carolina 57 41 16 58 41 17 1
Virginia 52 44 8 54 45 9 1
California 42 53 -11 44 55 -11 0
North Dakota 61 33 28 63 35 28 0
South Dakota 60 38 22 60 38 22 0
Wyoming 68 28 40 69 29 40 0
Idaho 67 28 39 68 30 38 -1
Minnesota 46 48 -2 48 51 -3 -1
North Carolina 56 43 13 56 44 12 -1
Wisconsin 48 48 0 49 50 -1 -1
Nevada 50 46 4 50 48 2 -2
New Hampshire 48 47 1 49 50 -1 -2
Ohio 50 46 4 51 49 2 -2
Washington 45 50 -5 46 53 -7 -2
Maine 44 49 -5 45 53 -8 -3
Oregon 47 47 0 48 51 -3 -3
Alaska 59 28 31 62 35 27 -4
Colorado 51 42 9 52 47 5 -4
D.C. 9 85 -76 9 90 -81 -5
Montana 58 33 25 59 39 20 -5
Vermont 41 51 -10 39 59 -20 -10

Monday, November 08, 2004

Election numbers breakdown

I've crunched some numbers on the election. The states Bush won (red) gained 5.6 million people from 2000 to 2003, with a population growth rate of 4%. The states Kerry won (blue) gained 3.7 million people in the same time period, with a growth rate of 2.65%. This means that Republican states are gaining more people, at a faster rate, than Democratic states. All good news for Republicans? The picture is a little more complicated.

I then multiplied the percentage difference between Bush and Gore (2000) for each state by the population of that state and summed the results. I get an approximation of what the popular vote difference would have been had everyone in the United States voted, regardless of age, citizenship, registration, etc. : 430,000 lead for Gore. The actual popular vote difference was reasonably close to this number: 540,000 lead for Gore. If you follow the same process, using the 2003 population estimates (2004 estimates are not yet available) and the 2004 election tallies, you get a more interesting result. Had everyone in the US voted, Bush would have led by about 8 million votes, whereas his actual lead was 3.5 million. This suggests that the population increases which primarily occurred in Republican-leaning states did not translate into proportional increases in the Republican vote count.

I have not yet studied as to why this may be the case. My Excel spreadsheet with all state-by-state data can be found here.

2000 election results
2004 election results
2000-2003 population estimates

Friday, November 05, 2004

CNN dreamt of another Florida

FoxNews and the NBC networks correctly called Ohio for Bush on Tuesday night after it became clear that the remaining 7% to be reported were from heavily Bush counties. CNN, on the other hand, refused to mark Ohio red - obviously holding out hope that Kerry would contest the vote and Ohio would become another Florida. That CNN held out until Kerry himself conceded is unbelievable and demonstrates beyond any doubt that it is a tool of the Democratic party. And like the Democrats, CNN will continue to slide into irrelevance.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Jumping on the blogwagon

I suppose it had to happen sometime. Now I, Danny Taggart, have a blog.