The cruelty of authority

Rankism, discrimination or exploitation based on rank.

All around us, a powerful “somebody” is bullying a “nobody.”

Someone can hold a high rank in one setting (for example, at home) and simultaneously be low on the totem pole in another (at work). Likewise we can feel powerful at one time and powerless at another, as when we … experience the loss of a job, a partner, or our health. As a result, most of us have been victims and perpetrators of discrimination based on rank.

…our capacity for empathy as individual human beings — fails to address the darker side of our relationship to authority.

You are on your own

For three decades, the gap between the rich and everyone else has grown in the United States.

… both employers and governments have cut back on measures such as pensions and health insurance that helped mitigate the uncertainties of life. Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker calls this the great risk shift—transferring the burden of risks in life from collective institutions to individuals.

The greatest victims of this shift are the poor, and the biggest beneficiaries are the rich. However, in The Great Risk Shift, Hacker uses statistics and illuminating anecdotes to show how the shift also threatens the “middle class.”

Gapminder – Visualizing Human Development
The Stockholm based website Gapminder provides wonderful interactive visualizations of important global trends. [a design demo from Max Kiesler]

Surfing the populace

We Feel Fine
Every few minutes, this site searches the world’s newly posted blog entries for occurences of the phrases ‘I feel’ and ‘I am feeling.’ When it finds such a phrase, it records the full sentence and identifies the feeling expressed in that sentence. The results is a database of several million human feelings.

The G8 has been eclipsed

New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, in his November 22, 2006 column (no longer free) titled “Harmony versus Democracy: Stay Tuned”, writes,

China is not in the business of exporting war, development models or political blueprints. It wants to do business, morality be damned. Democracy, in its world view, comes in a very distant second to growth – if it comes in at all. The kindest view of the Chinese position is this: Growth solves most problems, and no problems, be they of poverty or enslavement, are solvable without it.

Nowhere have the Chinese differences with Washington been clearer than in Africa. While the leading industrial nations of the G-8 tie aid for Africa to democracy and “zero tolerance for corruption,” China does energy deals of the kind cemented at the recent China-Africa forum in Beijing.

“African countries can now play to multiple audiences,” said Jeffrey Herbst, the provost of Miami University and an Africa expert. “The G-8 has been eclipsed and the big losers are Bono and Jeffrey Sachs and the charity crowd. The Chinese are not interested in the internal governance or human rights affairs of African states.”

The Chinese approach has the merit of seeing potential rather than cause for conscience-salving charity in Africa; it has the drawback of helping thugs like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

So, what is particularly important for other countries — and environmentalists — is to recognize that China has emerged as an independent actor in world affairs, and that everyone besides China and Africa may well be watching from the sidelines on this one.

From a smart synopsis at worldchanging

Aristocrats before the birth of Christ

There is one darkened corridor in the Musee Guimet which will take your breath away, as it winks at you with a glittering light.

This exhibition is not only about gold – there is also fabulous Indian-looking ivory and Egyptian glass.

But the gold cannot help stealing the show.

This is the treasure of Tilya Tepe, the Hill of Gold, from near the Oxus river in northern Afghanistan – and it has quite a story to tell.

Called the Bactrian Gold, after the area at the crossroads of the trade routes between China, India and the Mediterranean, it was unearthed in 1978 by a Russian team.

They had found the graves of nomadic aristocrats who died about the time of the birth of Christ. More than 20,000 individual gold items – from tiny beads and hearts sown onto costume, to the shimmering golden crown of a queen. Even golden sandals.

My little daily war thought

Some say that the USSR fell not because of Ronald Reagan but because at long last the Russian Army had been abused and neglected to such an extent that they no longer would support the Kremlin. (The facts are truly horrid.)

Now that Rumsfeld seems to be rushing into obscurity, not unlike the similar retreat of the Vice President, the recent chief of the British Army is suggesting that their Armed Forces are also treated poorly.

“…wages paid to soldiers were “hardly impressive” and “some accommodation” was “frankly, shaming”.”

…the fundamental ethos of the armed forces, he told his audience: “One’s loyalty must be from the bottom.” link to the BBC

As our troops return to the USA, and they will, and we will win this war, and fools will become quiet, and we will have peace among us, their poverty must not also shame us.

An internet moment

“Any more Christmas spirit and I’ll be shitting jingle bells.
Well, not very often that I do these posts…I dunno, I never did see the point in blogging or keeping a diary for that matter. Not like I’m gonna end up like some Anne Frank.”

…caught on a livejournal link

Math inside Google, and profits too!

“The American Mathematical Society is featuring an article with an in-depth explanation of the type of mathematical operations that power PageRank.

Because about 95% of the text on the 25 billion pages indexed by Google consist of the same 10,000 words, determining relevance requires an extremely sophisticated set of methods.

And because the links constituting the web are constantly changing and updating, the relevance of pages needs to be recalculated on a continuous basis.”

More at slashdot…

My comment:
Google likes to see this:

Google’s PageRank algorithm assesses the importance of web pages without human evaluation of the content. In fact, Google feels that the value of its service is largely in its ability to provide unbiased results.

Ha! Ha! Ha!

Google is a business. A business listed on the NYSE.
There’s is no such thing as a lack of bias in business.
Thus the NYSE.

But it seems to be true that search engines are changing this year and next. Bravo!

The goal seems to be to remove many of the junk sites, to improve the basic experience for average users — repair the landing page — and of course, to improve the advert spend.

We know so little about the rich

The richest 2% own more than half of all wealth, according to a new study by a United Nations research institute.

The report, from the World Institute for Development Economics Research at the UN University, says that the poorer half of the world’s population own barely 1% of global wealth.

What is new about this report, the authors say, is its coverage.

It deals with all countries in the world – either actual data or estimates based on statistical analysis – and it deals with wealth, where most previous research has looked at income.

What they mean by wealth in this study is what people own, less what they owe – their debts. The assets include land, buildings, animals and financial assets.

story on the BBC

Found the study here:
World Institute for Development Economics Research.

Oh, may we all keep failing

“It is only possible to succeed at second-rate pursuits – like becoming a millionaire or a prime minister, winning a war, seducing a beautiful woman, flying through the stratosphere or landing on the moon.

First-rate pursuits – involving, as they must, trying to understand what life is about and trying to convey that understanding – inevitably result in a sense of failure.

A Napoleon, a Churchill, a Roosevelt can feel themselves to be successful, but never a Socrates, a Pascal, a Blake. Understanding is ever unattainable.

Therein lies the inevitability of failure in embarking upon its quest, which is none the less the only one worthy of serious attention.”

Malcolm Muggeridge via thenonist

Genetics and night owls

What makes somebody a morning person or a night owl?

The vast majority of people are neither strong morning nor strong evening types — just day types. “Even though somebody will swear he’s a morning person or a night owl, that’s often a false perception,” Brown said. However, 15 to 30 percent of people clearly do not follow the normal 24.1-hour cycle. “Their natural period runs shorter or longer than that, a difference that can change the time they normally fall asleep — and, later, spontaneously awaken — by a couple of hours.”

“For people who are extreme evening types, 1 o’clock in the morning is still an active time. Those individuals also naturally awaken much later in the morning. The great majority of younger college students fall into this category.

“There is a strong genetic component determining whether a person is an evening or a morning type in their activity times,” said Penn State psychology professor Frederick Brown.

[link to story]

Ambient information

Over the next ten years, Google will move aggressively to index, store and make searchable all of the information in the world. As Google moves our society towards this goal, we will be forced to deal with a new reality – one in which information is ambient, and it is increasingly difficult to hide from your identity or intentions. How will we deal with this change?

The cubicle web

Measurements show that 5% of time at the screen is spent in search, 40% is content, 40% is communication. Yet ad revenues are only from search.

The largest part of people’s time is the focus and direction of big web companies.

The future web is more and more “to-do” and “do” delivered through the screen…

I think of it as cubicle mash-up.