Google+ Facebook Killer?

Ezra Klein thinks Google + could succeed because it gives you a chance to start over. It also gives you a chance to filter who sees what, and you can always delete your account. Now that people understand their own roles in social networking, we might behave differently online. Google also might be better at privacy than Facebook. It would be hard to be worse.

I only heard of Google + yesterday, but I’m already on the beta and … well I think it’s pretty outstanding actually. I’d like to see full Reader integration, but overall it’s quite sleek, user friendly and attractive. Better on all counts than Facebook.

More importantly for many, it’s not Facebook. And that may be enough.

Google +


I don’t mean to brag or complain or anything, but this whole idea of various circles of “friends” “family”  “acquaintances” etc. was something I came up with a couple years ago. Admittedly, I came up with it in my own head on a hike in the woods and never did anything with it, but still. This reminds me of some of the changes in AD&D 3rd Edition which I swear they copied right out of some of my notebooks when I was designing my own paper-and-pencil RPG.

Bastards. I’ll probably switch to Google + from Facebook, though. I’m more of a Google lackey I guess.

Pixar’s ‘Brave’ Trailer

Okay this looks amazing (via):


Alyssa Rosenberg writes:

More representation for strong girls and women in pop culture is always a good thing, but for Pixar, it’s particularly important. The company’s earned its outstanding track record by putting out movies that beautifully encapsulate universal human values and experience: loneliness, aging, love, ambition. And until now, the person who has always been the vehicle for those universal and powerful human conditions, for that powerful audience response, has been a man or a boy. It’s long overdue to have a woman take on that role. Having her embody courage makes up for that lag a little bit.

Maybe because I’m a guy, but I’ve never even thought about the fact that Pixar has never had a female lead. Then again, many of Disney’s animated films have had female leads, so it’s possible that amidst that larger catalog I simply never thought much about it. Or maybe it’s because they’ve had so many really great female characters in prominent (though not lead) roles.

Either way, a Pixar fantasy set in a Scottish-looking world full of castles and bears and a curly haired, red-headed, bow-wielding adventurer in the lead?


Texans and TV cameras

Over at Forbes I take a look at the reality-show-bread-and-circuses nature of crime sensationalism in the media and some of the ways that can be dangerous, both in our attitudes toward crime and in a very literal sense.

I also talk about Texas which is reviving its anti-TSA bill, but which falls quite short on other civil liberties issues such as the death penalty. Conor has more on the death penalty issue, and how it will come to the fore if Perry runs for president:

The farther he goes, the worse things will get for death penalty supporters, due to a part of his record that his critics are already highlighting: his shocking negligence in the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, a man put to death on his watch who was very likely innocent, and certainly wasn’t guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Perry has presided over a couple hundred executions. Even one of them emerging as a national issue could change the whole political calculus around capital punishment. What if America’s governors were just as fearful of executing an innocent in an age of DNA as they are of granting clemency to someone who goes on to commit another crime?

Quote for the day

Ken, at Popehat, writes:

Whose side am I on?

You vulgar, upjumped, snake-oil-selling, midway-barker huckster. You venal, amoral, mendacious harpy. You vile, preening, scheming hack. Whose side am I on? I’m on the side of fuck you, bitch. I’m on the side of the Constitution, limited government, limited executive power to kill people, limited executive power to put our armed forces at risk, and the rule of motherfucking law. I can’t believe there was a time when I couldn’t grasp why people despised you. Whose side am I on? You Senator, can you name a nanosecond when you’ve ever been on anyone’s side but your own?

That’s whose side I’m on. What’s it to you?

That pretty much says it all if you ask me.

The Singularity Cometh

Alex Knapp is running a multi-part series on the likelihood of the Singularity (riffing off this Charles Stross post). He kicks things off with a discussion of AI:

What computers are smart at are brute-force calculations and memory retrieval. They’re not nearly as good at pattern recognition or the ability to parse meaning and ambiguity, nor are they good at learning. To continue with the subject of gaming, it’s worth noting that when it comes to games that are tougher to solve mathematically, computers aren’t as good as humans. And when it comes to strategy games, such as Starcraft 2 or the Civilization games, long-time gamers know that the computer AI doesn’t beat humans by being smarter–they beat humans by cheating: the program allows the AI, at higher levels, to do things faster than it allows the human players to. In essence, it handicaps the humans by forcing them to operate under less advantageous rules.

Now, I don’t doubt that computers are going to get better and smarter in the coming decades. But there are more than a few limitations on human-level AI, not the least of which are the actual physical limitations coming with the end of Moore’s Law and the simple fact that, in the realm of science, we’re only just beginning to understand what intelligence, consciousness, and sentience even are, and that’s going to be a fundamental limitation on artificial intelligence for a long time to come. Personally, I think that’s going to be the case for centuries.

I’m a Singularity agnostic, but I do think we – as a species – are really bad at predicting how fast technology will advance. In any case, centuries really isn’t that long in the big scheme of things.

Open Source Institutions vs. the Corporate State

Commenter b-psycho writes:

Libertarians, vulgar or not, tend to talk a lot about property rights. What the vulgar ones, who unfortunately dominate mainstream discussion, fail to connect the dots on is that being consistent on property means that rent-seeking is equivalent to robbery — and that keeping that consistency demands seizing back the gains from it. Ironically for what "libertarianism" has come to mean publicly, you start poking around that whole property thing and you end up at a rather Left-wing conclusion.

So corporate rent seeking — hell, I would argue corporate status itself even — is theft, and all property claims arising from it are void. Conservatives don’t even think about this, as it would knock over the apple cart, and they worship apple carts. Thus far, the response on the part of liberals is to qualify and regulate corporatism, while taxing some of the proceeds to ameliorate conditions of the poor.

Well…here’s my idea:

Organize the working class, outside of the state, along the kind of lines previously introduced by the Wobblies (look it up if you have to). Don’t accept and qualify the corporatism, dismantle it and seize back the stolen property. "Class Warfare"? Yes, please.

The mainstream Left sees the problem, but insists on using as a solution the co-conspirators in the status quo. The most this leads to is bribing people to not revolt.

Or, in other words, pity-charity liberalism.

I think the alternative to the Class Warfare suggestion – the whole dismantling of the status quo – is to build alternative institutions outside of the status quo, and then wait patiently for those alternative institutions to work their quiet subterfuge.

Technology and open-source manufacturing and software and any number of other alternatives to the corporate status quo are beginning to pop up. I imagine we’ll gain more ground by adopting these over time, piecemeal, rather than any sort of massive organized class warfare.

Cigarettes don’t kill people, harmful carcinogens in cigarettes kill people

Courtney Knapp has an interesting piece up on the new graphic images that will be added to cigarette packs in an effort to curb smoking.


She writes:

These new labels will be required on all cigarette packs, cartons and ads no later than September 2012. So in the meantime, we have time for a thought experiment. Yesterday, Cheap Talk contributor and Northwestern University economics professor Jeffrey Ely posed an excellent question to me:

Suppose you had a choice between only two policies: A) grotesque pictures or B) increased per-pack taxes calculated to generate exactly the same reduction in demand. Which do you prefer?

This is a tough question. To me, as disturbing as the photos are, raising already regressive-taxes (assuming that current levels of taxes with discount rate already more than offset the costs to government of people smoking) is bad policy. Smokers may quit or not start, but without a larger revenue stream no new vested interests would be created. On the flip side, no revenue could possibly be earmarked for an agreeable cause.

What do you think, dear readers?

Which policy would you choose? Will the images deter nonsmokers?

Smokers, are the images likely to help you quit or will you acclimate to the images after a few packs? Would you pay more for a pack without the warnings?

I think it’s an interesting thought experiment: would consumers pay a higher price for non-labeled packs? I don’t know. As an ex-smoker, I suppose it’s more likely I’d pay for the cheaper pack and then put my cigarettes in a cigarette case. Maybe slap a picture of Camel Joe holding a bunny on it for good measure.

I think a better idea than simply raising taxes ad infinitum or shaming smokers with images of fetuses or whatever would be to legalize the sale of single-cigarettes at gas stations, bars and so forth. There is something really ridiculous about being forced to purchase cigarettes 20 at a time. It makes it much more difficult to quit. It also makes it easier to pick the habit back up if you have to buy a pack at a time.

As someone who has relapsed now and again, I know it would be much better if I could stave off a craving by purchasing a single smoke instead. I wouldn’t have that sense of obligation to clean my plate, as it were. I know a lot of people in similar circumstances.

Sometimes giving people more choices can be better than shaming them or taxing them.