Wednesday, May 20, 2015

David Letterman, I will miss you

As you probably have heard, David Letterman's final "Late Show" will be on tonight. Even though I hadn't watched Dave as much the last 10 years as I did in high school, I will miss him greatly.

There have been and are going to be a lot of pieces that will explain in much greater detail and with much more authority what an influence Letterman was on late night TV and on comedy in general. While his detractors might want to point out that he rarely won in the ratings war, comedy is hard to measure by ratings. Being funny and having broad appeal don't always overlap - in a lot of cases, they are directly at odds with each other. Particularly in his early years, Letterman was never one to sacrifice being funny for being appealing. He was unimpressed with the cult of celebrity. As Julia Roberts said to him last week, "stupid people annoy you."

Enjoy retirement, Dave.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Observations, II


There has been a lot of cool astronomy stuff in the news this week (apparently there are underground oceans everywhere). But one thing that I never knew was that the adjective form of Jupiter is Jovian. I will now use that every opportunity that I get. You've been warned.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A tale of two cities: an observation on the different directions of Boston and Syracuse

So about a week ago, I can across two stories, one in my old home town, one my my new.

Courtesy of the Boston Globe:

At $37.5m, Millennium Tower condo tops most everything

That's one condo. Granted, it's a 13,000 (yes, thousand) sq. foot 60th-story penthouse that overlooks just about everything in Boston. But still, that's a lot of money. ALSO, the artists rendition of the porch/balcony in that new condo is a bit terrifying. Maybe a railing is a good idea when you're up that high? I mean, I suppose if you can afford a condo of that price you can afford the insurance on having a cliff portruding from your residence. But still, maybe a railing.

Meanwhile, on, the website affiliate of the Syracuse Post-Standard:

NY: Benches will be removed where homeless gather under Syracuse highways

As you may know, Syracuse's economy is doing less well than Boston's I'm not sure that Syracuse actually has more homelessness than Boston - it's a serious problem in both cities. Poverty in general, however, is a much more common issue here in central New York. So in order to deal with homelessness, the state has decided "out of sight, out of mind" is the best policy and bets that maybe if those lazy homeless folks don't have a place to sit and panhandle they'll get off their lazy butts and get jobs? That's some good public policy, folks. Good to see the city biting the bullet and making sure the poors understand where they belong.

What I love most about his article is that this was a compromise. Initially, the county and city wanted to put "No Loitering" signs. On public benches.

"No Loitering" signs.

On public benches.

"No Loitering" signs. On public benches.

Welcome to Syracuse.

I might have some culture shock.

Or, I might just be fucked.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Thoughts on the MA Governor's race and the Globe endorsement of Baker

The main paper in my old hometown has endorsed Republican Charlie Baker. As the nominal "liberal" paper in town, this has been the topic of a good amount of discussion, but really not much surprise. Baker has done a good job of portraying competence, while Coakley has been foundering. Again.

I have two thoughts here. First, more of an obervation. I'm eternally unimpressed with Coakley, but after the primaries I thought she had an upper hand. I thought her choice to let the LG race play out on it's own was smart. It allowed Steve Kerrigan to build up an electoral base, something Baker missed out on by hand-picking Polito (who is awful, for what it's worth). But the difference between Baker and Coakley in the time sine the primaries has been too much to ignore. Baker has a tendency to have a bit of an abrasive personality, but he has been forceful and consistent in his argument. Meanwhile, as a liberal myself, it is heartbreaking to see Coakley just totally unable to illustrate either her own agenda or the underlying arguments for liberalism in general. I don't think she's like Mitt Romney in that she has no agenda other than that she wants to be elected. Rather, I think she's just an abysmal communicator.

Second thought, and it is a more cynical one. The Boston Globe is interesting in selling papers. I do think they lean slightly to the left editorially, as the market it caters to does the same. But most of its leftist leanings come in the categories of foreign policy (which doesn't apply to Baker) an social issues (Baker is a moderate). The Globe has never been particularly progressive fiscally, and as Dan Kennedy of Northeastern University pointed out, Baker is the type of Republican the Globe has typically been attracted to. Anyhow, in order to keep its status as an independent arbiter, it makes sense to occasionally endorse a Republican. Unlike, say, Scott Brown who seemed to run a personalist campaign based on the fact that he'd be an "independent voice" while bending over backwards to avoid saying what that meant, Baker has outlined a policy agenda. You can call his agenda bullplop if you want. (And you should. It's bullplop). But at least it's something concrete-ish. So there's some meat there.

The point I'm getting around to is that, Baker and Coakley have given the Globe an opportunity to show off its own legitamacy. It's endorsements carry more weight in both the long and short term if it isn't just a down-the-line Democratic ticket. Compare this approach to the rival Boston Herald, which endorsed the embarrassingly unqualified Gabriel Gomez over Ed Markey in 2013. I don't know that the Globe entirely buys that Baker would make a better governor than Coakley, just that there's enough reason to believe Baker is more competent for the Globe to use this race as a chance to say "See! We endorse Republicans too!"

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Free Wi-Fi isn't a "right"; It is, however, a really good idea

Maryland governor and future not-President Martin O'Malley caused a bit of a stir when he described Wi-Fi as a "human right." The right-wing internet press has, of course, been attacking him like crazy. ANYTHING described as a right is worthy of scorn to those folks, except of course your Constitutional Right to a Bushmaster .446 Remington SuperLight Carbine Semiautomatic. While I have little patience for the argument of the crazies, the underlying problem here is that the conversation we are having about infrastructure an its relation to government is broken. The government doesn't exists just to guarantee rights. It exists to enhance the public good.

Is a government that doesn't provide wi-fi committing a human rights violation? That seems a little bit ludicrous on its face, but let's twist this discussion around. A government that suppresses internet usage is authoritarian, right? Protests need a space to begin, and the nebulous internet provided the perfect public space for what became the Arab Spring, as well as the recent protests in Hong Kong. Attempts by the Chinese government to suppress internet access have been rightly condemned.

Access to a job is not a human right. Access to a road to get to your job is not a human right. Access to a port to bring your wares to market is not a human right. They are, however, all things that enhance society. A connected, employed, productive society isn't just a positive development, it is necessary to the existence of democracy. They are public goods. They increase the general welfare. They don't make America a more righteous place, but they obviously make it a better one.

And so it is with wi-fi availability. Arguing that something which didn't even really exist 10 years ago is a human right is a hard sell. The case that needs to be made is that we are all better off with consistent, reliable internet access. This was the case that was made with the establishment of a Postal Service - that being able to connect everyone, everywhere, at a reasonable price benefitted not only those in remote outposts and those who couldn't afford private parcel delivery, but strengthened as as a whole.

Let's get out of the business of trying to describe everything that helps us as a right, and back into explaining how public goods work and why they should be implemented.