1kBWC Whimsy IV

The bottom two are actually copies of Blank White Cards that can be found on Flickr.  I did so without permission, but I did leave a comment to them later saying I'd done so...

1kBWC Whimsy III

1kBWC Whimsy II

1kBWC Whimsy I

Yes, I've gotten somewhat carried away with the art on Blank White Cards.  None of these were drawn during a game, nor do I have the skill to pull that off in such a short time.  ...These cards have become, over the past month or so, an excuse to draw and to not care too much about the details.  Whimsy becomes acceptable, which is something I generally don't tolerate in a sketchbook or--PTB preserve us--on sheets of good paper. But I can easily pull out half an index card, take 5 minutes, and draw up some silly idea now and then.

I've been doing almost all of these based on pictures I find on the internet.  I try and find photos to work from, but sometimes I "copy" peoples' art work.  That feels a little dirty... but they make excellent cards, they generally are known to "work" compositionally, and they take away the hard work of abstracting lines and forms from photos.  It's sometimes a chore fitting them onto such a small "canvas", but I'm enjoying that challenge.  Actually, I feel like I'm learning a lot about simplifying line-work, which has been a weakness for me.

Little doses of creativity smattered throughout the day.  It's fun.

Understanding the Tea Party III: A Response

This is part three in my ongoing attempt to understand the Tea Party's underlying motivations.

So, in the previous entry, I outlined what I felt were the four underlying causes for the Tea Party's stance on government:
  1. Constitution
  2. Capitalism
  3. Freedom of choice
  4. Private Industry over Public Works
So, here we have rational ground upon which to have a discussion. (...because how do you respond to "Obama's plan is just like Hitler's!")

And here, in brief, are my feelings on the subjects:
  1. Constitution: Sorry, I only weakly support it. I agree that it was brilliant in its time, and it got us where we are today, and some of the underlying ideas still hold true. ...but I also believe in agility and adaptation, and I don't think a 250-year-old country can be run based on two pages of text which are outdated, particularly in light of what we understand about equality and social justice now. In fact, if I had my way, every law would have a sunset date established when it's signed. If it remains relevant, it will be re-enacted.
  2. Capitalism: Well, I'd be quick to agree that it was a great way to boost a country from obscurity to super-power, but I would just as quickly point out that it leads to corruption and pathological corporations and concentrated power. So, again, I only weakly support it. And I certainly support strong regulation. Super-strong, even. Left to their own devices, corporations are designed to act amorally, and thus must be restricted.
  3. Freedom of choice: well, this is a bit of a misnomer. I certainly believe in personal freedoms (and consequent responsibility). But in the context of mandatory health care, the argument strikes me as a little odd. ...I suppose if you prove that you'll be able to pay for your own medical expenses, I wouldn't argue against your freedom to pass on the plan, and I'd be amenable to some kind of partial kickback/tax-break for your doing so. Still, this seems like such a border case that I feel like we're wasting our breath. As for choosing where your taxes get allocated? ...Sorry, no, I don't believe you have that right. The whole point is to benefit the entire community, and your interests are necessarily biased. A brief lesson in cognitive bias will make that clear. This may seem like a personal burden to you, but that's the cost of a moral society that has the resources to help those less fortunate.
  4. Private Industry over Public Works: whoa, nelly! This is where our opinions part in irreconcilable ways. I whole-heartedly support the Commons. I believe in externalities. I believe that a nation of people should act toward unified goals. I believe in constant improvement of the system. And when you shout "that's communism!", I may just have to shrug and say "perhaps it shares some qualities." And when you shout "the scariest thing a person in need can hear is 'I am from the government, and I am here to help'", then that's where I say we need to improve the system, not disband it. I believe that the greatest accomplishments of mankind are collaborative, public works, not private industry. Art and Science, man. Art and Science! They are the pinnacle of human potential: our collective actualization. ...Now, clearly, industry fuels public works, and I'm cool with that. ...as long a industry behaves as morally as possible, and is continuously pushing itself to be "better", in a moral sense.
...So, it seems I disagree with the Tea Party on every subject I can cull from their torrid comments. My opinion of them has changed slightly, during this process: I feel like I understand their motivations a little better, and while I still see those motivations as greedy and a bit ego-centric, at least I feel my understanding improved.

That said, I probably went into this pre-judging them, and with more than a small dose of confirmation bias, so I'm not surprised that I come out the other side feeling equally "icky". So perhaps my sense of heightened compassion is bullshit. But I'm afraid I am too far along in my self-justification of liberal beliefs. I can't grant them any more clout without losing my ideals. I'm afraid I disagree fundamentally. A society should be more about morality than "earning"... and I'm too jaded to move away from that opinion, despite its flaws. (...and I recognize at least some of my belief's flaws!)

Overall, though, I can't help but feel this exercise was worthwhile. But that's likely just a kind of "post-purchase rationalization!"

On the subject of cognitive dissonance, however, I must admit I still have some serious dissonance. I have friends and family who believe the Tea Party line. I want to continue to believe that they are good people, but I have to wrestle with my underlying assumption that their beliefs are rooted in greed.

I'm still not sure how to resolve that. So, to that end, I'm no better off than when I began. [sigh]

Understanding the Tea Party II: What Lies Beneath

This is part two in my attempts to understand the motivations of the so-called Tea Party. It is based on a very limited look at what they're saying, and of course, my own personal experiences with Libertarians.

Yes, Libertarians. Though I suspect it will upset both groups of people to make the claim, I have yet to find any evidence contrary to the theory that the Tea Party is motivated by an overlapping set of ideals as Libertarians*.

What are those ideals?

  • The government shall hold no powers not expressly outlined in the Constitution of the United States.
  • America is built on capitalism, and the law should maximize those effects: particularly by taking as little in the way of taxation as possible. Notably, taking more money from the rich is biased and unfair.
  • Furthermore, the use of taxed money cannot be used for programs which the people do not individually support. Doing otherwise is stripping people of their freedom of choice.
  • Private industry should never have to compete with public works.
Put even more succinctly:
  1. Federal government is too large.
  2. Federal spending is out of control.
...That's my attempt to be as fair as possible. But here's what I hear, every time people make these arguments:
  1. Stop taking my money.
...I've decided to ignore a lot of the arguments I highlighted in the previous post. Most of them struck me as being ad absurdum arguments (ie: "His actions are tyrannical despotism") or speculation ("the health care plan will put us $1 trillion further into debt"). I wasn't surprised by these fallacies (even Liberals were using them during Bush's administration), but they're easily dismissed with a little rationality, so I've left them out.

It's also worth noting that there is likely underlying-if-unacknowledged-racism (particularly to justify his lack of claim to the presidency) and hypocrisy (if they were equally upset with Bush, why not march on D.C. in the last eight years?), but I'll leave these points to those better-suited to addressing them.

* I have not found confirming evidence, notably, of the argument that taxation is, in fact, abuse. Libertarians are quick to claim that taking a person's money is, in fact, an assault on that person, period.

Understanding the Tea Party

So, I'm trying to understand the argument that the "tea party revolution" has, and I'm outlining some of the arguments they make in this video and this post. The latter is specific to the health-care plan, but so be it. This will be long, and I will be using a lot of quotes, because I want to get this first draft as accurate as possible. Then, later, I'll try to characterize the ideas behind them as fairly as I can (which is to say, I can't honestly do it fairly, so it will be biased, but hey, it's my blog).

  • Obama represents unlimited government, which is evil.
  • Obama represents unlimited spending (of money the gov't doesn't have), which is evil.
  • The stimulus money hasn't been spent, yet we're getting back on track, and the gov't is holding on to the money.
  • One person said "I don't know where [the government] got the idea that you can spend yourself into prosperity".
  • Obama represents tyranny, which is evil. Some have said his actions are a "despotic abuse of authority".
  • The government must be smaller. "Reduce the size and scope..."
  • The government has far exceeded the scope of the Constitution.
  • We need to return to the ideology of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.
  • Taxes must be lower. The government is taking too much of its people's money.
  • They want "smart, hard-working American people to be given the opportunity to earn, and to keep what they earn as best they can." ("That's what this country is all about.")
  • The government is taking away people's choice. Some have even said "he's trying to take away our way of life."
  • The government is getting involved in areas which it has no experience accomplishing.
  • Obama's allies will "attempt to destroy your business and reputation" if you "offer any [alternative] ideas" as in the case of Whole Foods' CEO recently.
  • Obama hasn't met with a single Republican on health care reform since April, despite calling himself bipartisan.
  • Obama claims to be centrist and willing to fight his own party, but only does so on straw-man points.
  • The health plan will destroy large businesses and force small businesses to stay small to avoid health insurance costs.
  • The health plan forces every American to have insurance, and doesn't allow them the choice not to have it.
  • Insurance companies are sure to lose money because they will have to insure those with irresponsible lifestyles.
  • Insurance companies are sure to lose money due to "mammograms and colonoscopies, on demand, no matter how needless your visit may be".
  • Government-run options "have in nearly every other arena" "crowd out" private competition, and Obama is lying when he says otherwise. Interestingly, in the same breath, they'll say things like "As we all know, if any organization has demonstrated an uncanny ability to control costs, drive innovation and foster competition, it's been government."
  • If a gov't-run insurance company could "pay for itself" and "change the dynamics of the competition", then, they argue, why can't a private company?
  • Obama is lying when he says the health care plan will cost nothing to you, and that it will not affect the deficit. They point to "the Congressional Budget Office's $900 billion estimate (and The Lewin Group's $1 trillion estimate)."
  • The health care plan may lead to government rationing for seniors.
  • It is unreasonable to expect to extract $1 trillion dollars in savings from cutting "waste" in the insurance companies.
  • The health care plan represents mandates, which are evil.
  • The health care plan represents price controls, which are evil.
  • The health care plan represents regulations, which are, for the most part, evil.
  • The health care plan represents added costs, which are evil.
  • Obama is acting politically, to push "his very own entrenched ideology."

Other things to note:

  • Most of these people are quick to say that Bush was equally guilty.
  • Most of these people are not pro-war.
  • Most of these people are not pro-life. At least, that's not their beef for now.
  • Most will identify as "former Republicans" and "Libertarians".

Problems with this analysis:

  • I am biased against it and cannot provide a fair account of their beliefs.
  • All of these are quotes, representing individual's ideas, not the beliefs of "the movement", which is a more slippery beast.

Derren Brown's Trick

Okay, the two people actually reading this blog have both asked what Derren Brown's trick was for predicting the lottery.  I doubt either of you are going to like it.  He used crowd-sourcing.

He ostensibly calls it "deep maths", but explains it, quite simply, as averaging.  He didn't go into details (or so I've inferred from other people's discussions on the show--I haven't watched it since it's only aired in the UK), but at the simplest level, what he did was average the predictions of 24 people.

Here's where I think he left some things out.  He's said earlier that it "took a year of preparation".  Given that fact, here's what I think he really did:

  1. Got together 24 of his closest friends.
  2. Had those friends watch the lottery very closely over the course of a year, having each person do their best to "see patterns" and "predict" what the next lottery's results would be.
  3. Lather, rinse, and repeat this over the course of about a year (at least 50 lottery draws).
  4. Arrange each person's predictions on a linear scale (lowest to highest), and average each participant's guess in order (so: average everyone's lowest guess, then next lowest, and so on).
  5. Measure the results carefully, of course.  I imagine the results would get better over time as people get a better "sense" for how the numbers fall, so to speak.
  6. When the group clearly has better-than-average results, start buying one lottery ticket each week.  ...You've gotta pay your participants.  : )
  7. At some point, decide that this is "working" and risk it all on one week's prediction.
Of course, I could be completely wrong!

That said, this is an experiment that is simple enough to attempt, with minimal expense and merely a moderate investment in time (30 minutes a week for each participant).  I plan on trying it, actually.

Something's Gotta Give

I believe in diversity.  I seems healthy to have a host of competing ideas, particularly in the political arena.

Are things going too far?

Bush's behavior was completely unacceptable to me (I was calling for his removal from office), and clearly Obama's behavior is completely unacceptable to some people now (who are calling for his removal from office)... and I fail to see any common ground upon which both sides can comfortably stand. Our respective senses of morality seem too far apart to reconcile.

If the debate comes to blows, I predict the Right wins.  They are stronger-willed, better-suited, and more willing to bend morality to their favor and find advantage.

I fear that time approaches.

I would prefer a more amicable separation.

But at this point: I prefer separation.

How horrible is that thought?


Derren Brown

I'm a Derren Brown fanboy.

So I found myself more than slightly giddy tonight when he...

Predicted the UK lottery numbers.  All six.

This changes things.

My Latest Obsession: Photography (Now With Lists!)

Notice I said "Photography," not "Cameras."

That's key.

Truth be told, since just before my birthday, when I bought myself a Nikon D100 with a (nice) 28-70 close-up lens, my obsession was cameras. And for some time afterward, too. In fact, for a time, I was regretting the D100 and wishing I had gone with a Lumix LX3 or a Canon G10, instead. But then my musings shifted from which box had the best hole in it to a question of how to best let light into that box.

Much like with music, I have no aspirations to be "professional", whatever that means: this is just another hobby for me. Ultimately, perhaps, I would like to be able to draw/paint my own photos--recall, if you will, that I plan to retire into professional art--but that's further down the road. But as of right now, my goal is to build a portfolio of great shots. Photos that like-minded people would see and remark: "Wow. Nice."

To that end, I wanted to understand what I personally consider "great".

I've spent almost every night since my birthday drifting off to sleep looking at photos on flickr, and have amassed a rather bulky-but-well-honed collection of favorites. I've subscribed to a few photography blogs and twitter feeds, too. Typical obsessive behavior for me. : )

As a result of that study, I've noticed a few patterns in what works for me. Of course, the obvious things count: you must have the right focus/depth of field/shutter speed/exposure, and a good subject. But here are the things that really work for me, specifically:

  • Details: things others probably overlooked.
  • Remarkable subjects. That which makes me think, "I want to see that myself." Even a weak photo with an intriguing subject still works. This includes "I would like to know that person," "I would like to go there", "I would like to do that," and even "What's going on, here?" ...that last one particularly through juxtaposition.
  • A sense of mystery.
  • Relatively simple composition. Perhaps I'm just too easily distracted.
  • Texture.
  • Isolated, bold colors. Isolated, mind you. Too much is... too much.
  • Muted colors. I really love photos with smooth, desaturated reds and yellows.
  • A sense of place, context, or interaction. I like it when there are (unidentifiable) people or animals in the shot. I like being reasonably sure where the shot was taken, or at least what it's like there. These add meaning, time, zeitgeist. Of course, that meaning matters, now: I don't like aggression, for example.
  • Art happening: painters painting, photographers shooting, dancers dancing, crafters crafting. It makes humanity feel redeemable.
  • Glowing tones. This works especially well in B&W.
  • Narrow Depth of Field. Sure, sometimes a wide DoF is warranted, but by and large, I will be more fascinated with the narrow shot. Even tilt and shift, for example [wiki][example] works well for me. Someday I'll own a view camera.
And here are the things that really DON'T work for me (aside from the typical stuff like wrong exposure/DoF/composition, bad subject, or clipping the subject):
  • Tilting the camera to be "artsy". Some people really like this: I am NOT one of them.
  • Copyrights. Seeing a copyright, name, or logo plastered along one edge of an image makes me fume. Seriously: if you insist on posting a copyright with your photo (and I would argue pretty vehemently that cc-by-nc-nd is a far better option anyway), put it in plain text far enough OUTSIDE your image so as to avoid disturbing it. It is unprofessional to do otherwise. Some people go so far they make me violent... particularly when they have ruined a fantastic photo with this kind of bullshit. HULK SMASH!
  • Clich├ęs, for the most part. There are a few exceptions for me (trees in fog, for example), but typical stock photography styles make me click "next" quickly, even if the shot is great in every other way. Sunsets, for example. It has to be a really spectacular sunset to warrant my time. ...This may be due to the fact that I live in New Mexico, though. : )
  • Smiling at the camera. It is exceedingly rare that I like a photo where the subject is looking at the camera and smiling.
  • Subjects (people, specifically; dogs too) that I probably wouldn't spend 10 minutes with in real life. Sorry: if you're shooting people (/dogs), your photo will be judged on the subject as much as on the photo. Such is life.
  • "Guess what this is." Thanks, no. If it's not clear from the shot, I tend to click "next" regardless of how nice the composition may seem. If you really want to do that, paint it.
  • Color shots that were supposed to be black and white. Call me old-school. If the color isn't fantastic, make it B&W (or sepia, sure).
  • Dead-center subjects. Some people do this for "symmetry", so perhaps that's what I don't really like...