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Wednesday, March 31, 2010
I Didn't Get Where I Am Today By Making A Gigantic, Expensive iPhone And Then Demanding That Consumers Dream Up Some Use For The Damned Thing

When I first saw a picture of the over-hyped and idiotically named new Apple iPad, I laughed.

I'd read a few breathless reports from people who'd seen prototypes. They had described the mysterious gizmo as a giant iPhone. Come on, I thought, no way is Apple going to market a giant iPhone.

I imagined it would be slim and light, kind of like a Kindle, but sexier and with a color touchscreen.

But nope, it was a giant iPhone.

Apparently Apple figured the only flaw with the iPhone is that it's too small, and that left them with two alternatives. They could shrink everyone on Earth by two-thirds, or make the iPhone three times larger. It's one of those complicated cost-benefit calculations that American industry is known for.

Anyway, the iPad is here, a five-pound iPhone with an embarrassing name. I've read a lot about it, and the only question I have is -- what's it for?

Like the also-overhyped and overpriced Segway, it isn't clear what the need is that the iPad is supposed to fill. It doesn't have a mouse or keyboard, so you can't really use it as a computer. It's too large to make a sensible phone or iPod. It seems to have potential as a wireless video device (I can imagine my daughter blissfully watching The Rescuers on a long car trip) and I've heard the battery life is phenomenal. Still, is it worth $500 for the base model?

For the hardcore Mac-heads out there, maybe. For most other people, not so much.

I consider myself something of an Apple fan (though a certain lemon-scented G5 iMac nearly sent me over the edge), but I suspect this is a going to be more Newton than iPod.

I been wrong before, though. Once or twice.

Sunday, March 28, 2010
Electoral Lysenkoism
Matt Yglesias on Barry Goldwater's 1964 Presidential candidacy:
I think that to understand what’s wrong with the conservative movement today, you need to think about Barry Goldwater’s 1964 Presidential campaign. In ‘64, the GOP establishment felt that Goldwater was too radical. They said that nominating a hard-rightist like Goldwater would be counterproductive. But conservative activists worked hard, and they did it. Goldwater got the nod. And, just as the establishment predicted, Goldwater got crushed. And just as the established predicted, it proved to be counterproductive. The 1964 landslide led directly to Medicare, Medicaid, Title I education spending, and the “war on poverty.” In the 45 years since that fateful campaign, the conservative movement managed to gain total control over the Republican Party and to sporadically govern the country. But it’s only very partially rolled back one aspect of the Johnson administration’s domestic policy.

Which is just to say that the conservative movement from 1964-2009 was a giant failure. By nominating Goldwater, it invited a massive progressive win that all the subsequent conservative wins were unable to undue. But the orthodox conservative tradition of ‘64 is that it was a great success that laid the groundwork for the triumphs to come.

Putting it in biblical terms, Goldwater was John to Baptist to Reagan's Jesus.

There is no question that Goldwater's campaign did something strange to the GOP, distorting and radicalizing it. Conservatives have come to believe that their most colossal failures are the harbingers of colossal successes.

There isn't any sensible reason to believe this is actually true in political terms, but it does satisfy a couple of conservative needs: it appeals to their nearly bottomless hunger for martyrdom and persecution, and it allows them to believe with scriptural certainty that their ultimate victory is assured, even if their short-term efforts meet with disastrous results -- in fact, because their short-term efforts meet with disastrous results.

If Palin gets the nod in '12 (quite possible at this point), and if she gets crushed by Obama (quite likely at this point), expect to hear conservatives saying that that she is simply part of the glorious and historically inevitable cycle, and that her defeat is proof the the second coming of Reagan is only a few election cycles away.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Whew, Time To Switch To Decaf, Buddy
John Derbyshire is just a little bit gloomy over Sunday's HCR vote:

I am of course neither shaken nor stirred at the passing of the health-care bills. It was to be expected.

I see plainly that Western civilization, over my lifetime, has been a slow-sinking ship. The few who have known what is happening have worked desperately to seal the watertight doors, repair the fissures, pump out the flooded zones. It's been a losing fight, though. The tilt of the decks is harder and harder to ignore. Last night, a major bulkhead gave way. Soon a funnel will topple over with a great crash and a shower of sparks. Yet still the band is playing, the people are dancing, the food coming up from the galley.

Steven Hayward, writing about my latest in the Claremont Review of Books, says it is "surprising that Derbyshire never raises the obvious question: without the conservative movement of the past 50 years, how much worse would things be?" Not much, would be my answer. Certainly those working the pumps have been engaged in a noble endeavor, which I'm proud to have been associated with. They could hear the dance music too, though. It got their feet a-tapping; then an ex-colleague came down from the ballroom to mock and tempt, and soon there was one less pair of hands on the pumps, and one more government program, one more subsidy, one more tax, one more restraint on freedom of speech or association, one more futile war.

It'll be over soon. We'll be down in the cold, lightless depths of imperial despotism — in which, after all, the great majority of human beings, throughout history, have always lived.

Oh, yiminy. Cheer up, Derb, willya, it was a health care bill. Lucky they didn't pass a single payer plan, eh? They'd probably be scrubbing the blood stains out of the carpets in your National Review office right now.

No, really: I'm worried about the guy. Somebody get him a Mellaril and a copy of Arthur Herman's The Idea of Decline In Western History. Stat.

Monday, March 22, 2010
Escape From The Battle For The Conquest Of The Planet Of The Nine-Year-Old Minds

The other night I was suffering from insomnia and flipping through the blighted landscape of late-night cable TV. I flipped past Tim Burton's crummy 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes (which lately has been playing endlessly on HBO for some reason I can't fathom) but on my second swing round the dial I stopped and watched.

I had seen the movie when it first came out, disliked it, and haven't thought much about it since. But this time -- well, I couldn't stop watching. It was even worse than I remembered. It was a train wreck photographed at eighteen frames per second. Charlton Heston in a winking cameo? Helena Bonham Carter as a sexy chimp? Paul Giamatti, is that you??

I'd gone to see this craptacular take on ape lore in the theater with my old friend Bill, which was the way it had to be. We were both Planet of the Apes fans when we were kids. But between the two of us, Bill was about as hardcore as a nine-year-old fan could get in those days.

He had the trading cards. He had the action figures. He had the model kits. He had the posters. He had the Power Records audio recreations. He had the novelizations.

And he had the comic books. The Planet of the Apes comics were quite eccentric for their time: oversized, in black-and-white, surprisingly bloody, and more than a little crazy. It was probably the edgiest stuff that Marvel produced in those days. And for rural kids in the middle of nowhere who were unlikely to even know about the existence of underground comics, it was revelatory.

Blogger Joel Bryan remembers these books fondly:

Doug Moench wrote the script. Moench wrote all the Marvel Apes stories, and if you ask me, he exceeded his mandate. To Kurtzian levels. He went mad in the jungle and Marvel should've sent Archie Goodwin upriver on a steamboat to bring him back and be held accountable. His methods were unsound. Imagine being an 8-year-old and expecting Roddy McDowall in an ape mask and instead getting buckskin-clad mountain-man type chimps fighting giant, mutated frogs, disembodied brains that talked like 30s gangsters, magical future hippies, an all-gorilla branch of the Ku Klux Klan and city-ships plying dead seas, their banks of oars manned by human slaves. Kids were mentally scarred for life reading these unholy things.

Truth was, that's what we lived for. We were trying to get mentally scarred for life. And we did.

Ah, but only in the best way, or so I like to think.

Sunday, March 21, 2010
Great Strategy, Napoleon
The final health care reconciliation bill is about to come up for a vote in the House. So let us climb into the Wayback machine, you and I, and travel to the heady days of July, 2009. Let's hear Republican Senator Jim DeMint explain why every Republican should stand united against any form of health care reform:

If we can stop this bill, it'll be Obama's Waterloo. It will break him.

That, of course, was all they could see -- a chance to break the hated Barack Obama. They bet the farm that they could do it. And now that Obama's health care bill is about to become law?

Well, somebody got broke. David Frum calls it his party's "most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s":

At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994.

Could a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994.

Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan. Could we have leveraged his desire to align the plan more closely with conservative views? To finance it without redistributive taxes on productive enterprise – without weighing so heavily on small business – without expanding Medicaid? Too late now. They are all the law.

Oh well, they do say that no strategy survives first contact with the enemy. So, my dear friends in the House Republican caucus, this one's for you.

Sunday, March 14, 2010
As Minnesota Goes, So Goes The Nation

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is not particularly smart, not particularly likable, and not particularly well-spoken. His main strength as a candidate is a glib willingness to say whatever it takes to get elected, as well as a canny ability to know when it's time to cut off his mullet.

But I'll give him this much: he's the first Minnesota pol in a long time whose national ambitions haven't been met with gales of derisive laughter.

Rudy Perpich made noises about running for president back in the late 1980s, and he might have been taken seriously had it not been for his growing reputation for "goofy" (read "big") ideas. Some of these ideas, like the Mall of America project, were vindicated; others, like his proposal to transport an entire Bavarian castle to Minnesota, not so much.

Later, Paul Wellstone talked about running in 2000 as a sort of Diogenes of Sinope, who would try to keep the real contenders focused on the issues he felt were important.

And the less said about Jesse Ventura, the better.

So let's acknowledge that Pawlenty is a credible candidate (not a strong one, in my opinion). But as a credible candidate, he's got a big hairy problem in the form of the latest Rasmussen poll of Minnesota voters:

Only 38% of Minnesotans say they'd vote for him in a 2012 election, while 50% say they wouldn't, and another 11% are undecided.

Those numbers are brutal enough -- after all, Pawlenty is a second-term governor, a known quantity. But keep in mind that Rasmussen is notorious for over-sampling Republicans by two or three percent in their polls; as a result, Rasmussen is nearly always an outlier. So Pawlenty's real numbers are probably even lower than that.

Right now Pawlenty is going around the country telling people that as a red governor from a blue state, he can compete in traditionally Democratic strongholds. But if he isn't even competitive in Minnesota, that's going to be a very hard sell. Pawlenty may want to shore up his poll numbers at home. Because if he doesn't, his campaign might be over before it begins.

Thursday, March 11, 2010
Ladies And Gentlemen Of The Jury, I'm Just A Simple Caveman

Some readers have noticed that comments have been offline here at the Lost City for a spell. This is not intentional; it's apparently some twitchy Blogspot-related problem. But rest assured, our crack team of technicians is working around the clock to set things right.

The lack of comment threads did not discourage faithful reader Brer John, who sent an email-borne missive to the city's Hominid Investigations Bureau (pictured above), which eventually made its way to me. Brer John takes issue with my rather casual comment that:

Wow! What a spectacularly bad idea. We ran them into extinction, can't we just let them rest in peace?

John replies in part:

Just because they were on the playing field near the same time and only one of us remains doesn't show a causal relationship between our presence and their demise. I note that Homo Heidelbergensis disappeared from Europe about the same time Neanderthalensis makes the scene. You don't hear me saying Neanderthals popped a cap into Heidelbergs' collective ass, do you?

I think we should clean the skeletons out of our own family's closet before we start rummaging around in someone else's. Tell you what: when the Neanderthals start talking about cloning the Homo Heidelbergensis, I'll be more sympathetic to your argument.

Any number of events (or combinations thereof) could have dropped the Neanderthals without any help at all from the Sapiens. Before you call Homo Sapiens the perp in this case ("I suppose you're all wondering why I called our entire species into this drawing room.") you'll have to make a convincing case.

Sorry, Mr. Mason, you're not getting your client off that easily. While I'm not aware of any track record for Neanderthal aggression against fellow hominids, homo sapiens have a 10,000 year-long rap sheet of mayhem to answer for.

I agree it's a largely circumstantial case, but a strong one.

First, as Jared Diamond and others have noted, Neanderthals disappeared in less than a thousand years after coming in contact with our species. And even a cursory look at our species' long and illustrious history will convince you that whenever we encounter members of a technologically inferior civilization, the result is always the same: displacement, enslavement, and eventually genocide.

Second, the Max Planck Institute genome study has kicked a huge hole in the genetic intermingling theory.

This was supposedly our kind and gentle way of disposing of the Neanderthals: we welcomed them into the family, and the Neanderthal DNA quietly faded away into our much larger gene pool.

Put less elegantly, we fucked them out of existence. Not the worst way to go, right?

But without the evidence that we were doing the wild thing with the Wild Things, that theory falls apart, and we inevitably fall back on two possible scenarios: we either a) entered their territory and pushed them out of their land, dooming them to death, or b) entered their territory and slaughtered them all.

I'm looking hard at Door Number 2, but either way Homo Sapiens are responsible.

Look, I'll leave this in the hands of the jury. I'm sure that if your client is acquitted, he'll devote the rest of his life to finding the real killer, no doubt a mysterious one-armed hominid that no one else happened to see.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010
O Brave New World, That Has Such People In't!

It used to be the wildest science fiction, the topic of late-night bull sessions in the dorm room.

It should have stayed that way.

But now, geneticists at the Max Planck laboratories in Leipzig have nearly reached their goal: they have almost completed the first draft of the Neanderthal genome. And you know what that means:

The best way to clone Neanderthals may be to create stem cells that have their DNA. In recent years, geneticists have learned how to take skin cells and return them to a state called pluripotency, where they can become almost any type of cell in the human body. Church proposes to use the MAGE technique to alter a stem cell's DNA to match the Neanderthal genome. That stem cell would be left to reproduce, creating a colony of cells that could be programmed to become any type of cell that existed in the Neanderthal's body. Colonies of heart, brain, and liver cells, or possibly entire organs, could be grown for research purposes.

Wow! What a spectacularly bad idea. We ran them into extinction, can't we just let them rest in peace?

"I'm convinced that if one were to raise a Neanderthal in a modern human family he would function just like everybody else," says Trenton Holliday, a paleoanthropologist at Tulane University. "I have no reason to doubt he could speak and do all the things that modern humans do."

"I think there would be no question that if you cloned a Neanderthal, that individual would be recognized as having human rights under the Constitution and international treaties," says Lori Andrews, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law. The law does not define what a human being is, but legal scholars are debating questions of human rights in cases involving genetic engineering. "This is a species-altering event," says Andrews, "it changes the way we are creating a new generation." How much does a human genome need to be changed before the individual created from it is no longer considered human?

But if the Neanderthal has the legal status of a human being, how do you get away with cloning it in the first place?

I'm just cynical enough to believe that if we noble homo sapiens sapiens are capable of persecuting, enslaving and mass-murdering whole swaths of our own species because of trivial differences like skin color or religion or ethnic background, reintroducing the members of an entirely different species is going to open up all kinds of fantastic new opportunities for cruelty, exploitation and genocide.

As a species, we are simply not mature enough, not wise enough, to use this technology responsibly.

I know, I know, that's never stopped us before. But I wish we'd think this one through first. Our species has blood on its hands -- a lot of it. As Shakespeare understood:

Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood

Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather

The multitudinous seas incarnadine,

Making the green one red.

Macbeth, Act II scene ii

Sunday, March 07, 2010
Do Any Of Us Know The Existential Suffering Of A 400-Foot Lizard?

And we have the temerity to call him the monster.

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