The Phantom City

Notes from our travels across a mysterious world.

The End of the Soviet Union

Pretty sure just the sight of the guy on synths lead to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.

It’s a Blue Monday

People are ruining Google

“Hmmmm, car window is sticking. I wonder if there’s a way to fix it without taking the door panel off.”

Googles “car window sticking.”

Finds article titled “How to fix a car window without taking the door panel off.”

Clicks on link.

Third step: “Take the door panel off.”

I’m not sure how we expect Google to circumvent human deceit via algorithms. (After all, not only was content creator actually lying with the title of the article and page, it was part of a network of human-designed and machine-assisted sites linking to each other, pushing the page rank up.)

I’ve noticed recently that this is becoming an actual problem for some of the more obscure searches. Searching for an error message while coding results in dozens of sketchy sites copying all content from the one site that mentions the error, burying the original site. Why? Because computing power makes it trivial to set up those dozens of sites that obfuscate the useful one, and the added-up pennies from ad revenue matter when you’re talking about millions of pages. Linking from reputable sources doesn’t help as much if people aren’t linking to the search term in the first place.

The Tragedy of Humanity

I was not at all surprised to note that the author of The Tragedy of Liberalism also writes for The American Conservative. The well-written pessimism about modernity coupled with a shout-out to “intentional communities” at the end is as good as a fingerprint. (Check out Rod Dreher for the best example.)

Unfortunately, no matter how nicely written and generally correct in detail, these pieces usually stumble due to the implied foundation: That there was a time when it was not so (and, occasionally, that there will be a time when it will not be). Dr. Deneen writes about Liberalism as Anti-Culture — terminology that always makes me think of the Anti-Life Equation — due to the need to privilege individual freedom and state power over cultural norms. The lack of cultural norms as a governing factor results in social chaos and attempts by the state to replace that structure with rules and punishments of its own.

However, the reason humans engage in cultural and social change — and liberalism is a cultural change — is because the previous arrangements came to be viewed as undesirable. Of two examples he cites, one is about a system of mortgage lending that denied people of color the ability to live where they wanted, and the other is a social system of acceptable sexual behavior that removed women’s agency while winking at the indiscretions of men. It is true that the “know your neighbor” community bank did not run up billions of dollars in losses, and the pre-Sexual Revolution norms produced slightly more of a defense against the predation of men, but both were paired with consequences that produced a tipping point towards social change. (I shouldn’t give too much credit on the bank example. Capitalism produced a lot of the impetus towards growth, and lessening discrimination was sort of along for the ride as the state became more concerned about racial equity.)

That being said, I find it strange whenever I read a piece that talks about social change as fundamental, that “there was a time when it was not so.” The perceived sins of liberalism are there precisely because social change accretes. There is no fundamental break between now and then, whether you regard parts of “the past” as a Golden Age or Hell on Earth. Social change is normally based on enabling the “good” while minimizing the “bad,” but that doesn’t mean the bad goes away, replaced by some completely new bad. Nor does it mean the good is new. The pathways for both might be different, as well as the frequencies of particular kinds of behaviors.

I guess the weirdest part to me is that I’m reading stuff that says things like “There is a Human Condition,” a view to which I am quite attracted, but the continuity that implies gets ignored. Culture provides direction and outlets, but the drivers aren’t new. Liberalism changed the details, not the desires. That means any writing about how things are generally bad today needs to address how one would change them in the context of thousands of years of recorded history of performing the same act to a different tune. And that looks like evolution, not revolution, which is unfortunately dissatisfying.

But, then again, cultural criticism has a long history. 🙂


While we keep seeing new nation-states, I wonder how many primarily are facades for interfacing with the rest of the world? It wasn’t that long ago that dynastic families performed the same function.

H.R.861 – To terminate the Environmental Protection Agency

Obligatory caveat: I’m an employee of the EPA, and nothing I say here reflects any official governmental stance.

But the political science nerd in me feels the need to point out that getting rid of the agency wouldn’t do much about the regulatory environment. A substantial portion of the EPA’s work deals with implementing the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and TSCA, both through scientific and regulatory work. If the EPA is abolished, those duties move to another agency, such as HHS, CDC, Interior, USDA, etc. It’s the law. (The EPA was originally a consolidation of environmental protection duties fragmented among other agencies.)

So, if the text of this bill eventually involves changing the CAA, CWA, and TSCA, it might actually accomplish something besides making the sponsors look good for their base during the next campaign.

There are quite a few ways of changing regulations, within the framework of the laws that authorize them:

  1. Executive orders can do a lot.
  2. Change the agency’s priorities by changing the leadership.
  3. Sue on the basis of the regulation not being authorized by the law. (Congress and the Executive have made this harder over the last 4 decades or so, but the newest Supreme Court nominee is well known for not deferring to agency interpretations.)
  4. Reduce or direct funding.
  5. And, most importantly, change the law.

1, 2, and 4 can get the government sued for not following its own laws, and 3 is harder to do, so the ideal way to handle things is 5. Of course, that includes Representatives and Senators willing to vote on the record to change those laws. Talk to yours.

NPVIC and the popular vote

We’ve had two recent presidential elections — as far as current vote counts — where the winner won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote due to most states awarding all their electoral votes to the majority candidate, no matter what the margin. (Certain states use district-level results and other means to split votes.)

As a result, since certain states are “bound” to vote for a certain party each year, and margin of victory doesn’t matter, presidential races come down to a few swing states where each campaign expends the most effort.

There’s something wrong with a system that simultaneously invalidates the national vote while also ensuring certain large states hardly see a presidential candidate during the campaign. It should matter on a national level when people vote Republican in California or Democratic in Texas.

Getting rid of the Electoral College would require a Constitutional amendment, and I’m too inherently conservative to want to get rid of our last firewall between us and complete democracy. However, states are allowed to apportion their electors how they wish, so we had an interesting discussion tonight about what a truly proportional split would look like and some of the problems with that solution.

However, later I ran across the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which is an interesting idea. It’s a compact of states (10 so far, plus DC) to award their electors to whichever candidate received the greater popular vote, if that award would change the winner of the election. If you look at the map at the link, this election is not affected. However, note the states where NPVIC is currently proposed in the legislature. If those states — Pennsylvania, Missouri, Arizona, and Michigan — had signed and honored the compact, 2016 would look a lot different.

Personally, I would prefer something more proportional, but the notion of needing to win the popular vote nationwide would likely cause candidates to have to pay more attention to their “safe” states. It’d be better than what we have now, at least. (Speaking as a person in a swing state, it’s fine if we don’t get a visit every week.)



Spam’s taste in women

Got this today:


College women and strippers are among the most beautiful women in the world.


Seriously. They are gorgeous.

We know some college women and strippers that want a boyfriend.

You should get a college women or a stripper for a girlfriend.

Press here if you want a hot college or stripper girlfriend

You will never be more happy in your life.

I got “a hot college or stripper girlfriend” back when I was in college, so I’m good.

Where’s Miranda?

On Hulu, and it’s a truly excellent show. 🙂

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