Two things

Two things:

Ian sent me this: DHS says they’ve been doing this for a while, just thought they should get it clear on the record.

And, the new guy in the Senate: I assumed he’d be completely ineffective, a crazy hand-grenade that wouldn’t be able to do anything in the Senate except go off at a tangent.

Wrong again.


It’s my birthday today.  I wasn’t feeling particularly celebratory: I’m going to NZ in a couple of weeks to visit my parents and try to arrange a rest home for Dad, so I’m wading through pamphlets, websites and forms; Mum said he’s practically catatonic most of the time, and he’s become totally paranoid; I’ve got to put the gutters back up before the rains become constant; people are waiting on me for things at work; and this morning Shelley found out that her Mum has gone into hospice and stopped eating.  She’s been worrying all day and making plans to go to MT.

But we had tickets to see a musician tonight at DjangoFest, Eric Vanderbilt-Mathews, a guy that I’ve known since he was in middle school, one of the best musicians I know, so we roused ourselves and went out.  In the reception area, I kept running into people wishing me a happy birthday, people I wouldn’t have expected to know I had a birthday.  We took our seats, and in a few minutes one of the staff came around with an envelope to “Robert Marsanyi in seat C5″.  I opened it, and it was a birthday card with every scrap of space signed by people in the audience: friends, people I knew, people I didn’t know, masses of people.  I brightened up, and settled in to listen to a truly beautiful set.

Eric put together an unusual quartet: acoustic guitar, piano, bass, winds.  In a lot of situations, the piano and guitar would be fighting, but as the set unfolded it made sense.  The tunes were selected from Django, bop, originals.  The pianist, a monster player with a light touch, played a traditional bop role, interjecting with complex harmonies with the occasional stride, and he also doubled as a secondary melody instrument in the role of a trumpet or second saxophone.  The guitarist played traditional Django-style rhythm and soloed in the same style.  Monk with a rhythm guitar carrying the beat.  Django with bop rhythmic interjections.  A Dolphy tune over the Django guitar, with piano and saxophone both starting their soli from the same phrase.  The bass player held it all together, and Eric floated over the top.

So, in a good mood at the end of the set.  At which point, I hear Eric’s Dad call out over the audience applause “Happy Birthday, Robert!”

What If All Your Work Disappeared At the End of the Day? : The Art of Non-Conformity

Chris Guillebeau writes:

What If All Your Work Disappeared At the End of the Day? : The Art of Non-Conformity.

No comments section, so I thought I’d respond here: what he describes in his blog post is why I was a musician.  The attraction of music and other performance art for me was precisely the ephemeral nature of the work.  You perform it for a group of people, it goes up into the air and disappears, and just leaves some sort of impression that might last anywhere from a few minutes to the rest of someone’s life.  Recorded music, on the other hand, is really a whole different art form, revolving around permanent artifacts that can be revisited, like painting, literature (the analogy might be to conversation) or (especially) photography.

When I wrote music, I started with the distinction between recorded music and performed music.  Quite different ways to work.

How to negotiate

2008 or so: Iran, declaring itself the enemy of the US is building a nuclear weapons capability.  The US administration under Obama gathers a coalition of like-minded nations and imposes sanctions, then offers negotiation with the opposing government.  A deal is hammered out over years, with the result that Iran stops building its offensive weaponry.

Candidate Donald Trump and the Republican Party declare that the deal is terrible for the US.  Trump swears to rip it up and start over when he’s president, because he’s famously good at negotiating deals.

2017: North Korea, declaring itself the enemy of the US is building a nuclear weapons capability.  The US administration under President Trump resorts to yelling at the North Koreans and whining that other states (China) haven’t done their utmost.  Tension rises.  No negotiations under way.

What happened to the Great Negotiator?

Collaboration, reputation and a new economy

The idea of an economy posited on recognition is not new, but I found an interesting description of a precedent: scientific research.  In Chapter 8 of “The wisdom of crowds”, James Surowiecki described the publication of the first issue of the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions, wherein the editor worked to persuade scientists to forgo sole ownership of ideas hatched in secret in exchange for recognition amongst one’s peers.  This was a radical change from the way discovery and invention had been carried out in the Middle Ages, where it was confined “to a secretive exclusive few”.  He makes the point that this was possible because of the near-zero-cost nature of replication of scientific knowledge.  Unlike physical things of the time, copies of knowledge were effectively cost-free.

As many have noticed, lots of things are becoming cost-free to replicate.  So what has worked so well for science could well work for other fields, and that’s what we see in, for example, the open-source software world where people work for reputation.  The missing element which is just starting to happen is the institutional support that recognizes the ultimate commercial value in such work.  Large companies are seeing the value in reusing chunks of other people’s work, and in releasing chunks of their own employee’s labors to the public domain, often simply in exchange for attribution.

As more and more human artifacts become amenable to zero-cost replication, the idea of the reputation economy becomes more relevant.


“Beatriz at Dinner”, factions and the Republican Party

John Lithgow as Doug Strutt, “Beatriz at Dinner”: he’s not bad, he’s wrong.  He’s established a set of principles based on his view of the world, and then assiduously pursued action guided by those principles, and the world has rewarded him.  He engages with Beatriz because she directly challenges his view of the world, unlike the sycophants in the room, and he wants to convince her of his rightness.  It’s a tribute to Lithgow’s acting that he can show me the sympathetic aspects of Strutt’s character and make him into more than a cartoon villain of the normal Hollywood variety.

Coincidentally, I listened to a podcast by Michael Goldfarb this morning about factionalism, and as a consequence I’m reading Federalist Papers #10.  Here I read:

As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other; and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves.

Factions are the same disease within a society as is displayed by Doug Strutt: a willingness to trample the rights of others in the pursuit of some (ideological, material, …) good.  And, as Madison points out, factions (and people like Strutt) are inevitable in a society that respects property, difference of opinion, and liberty to think and act.  Madison’s solutions are to control the effects of such factions, such control being possible for him by the size and consequent diversity of the Republic, and the institutions of representative, not direct, democracy.

When I watched the movie, I felt that the morally bad characters were the sycophantic supporters, especially the young lawyer on the make, because he understood that he was doing wrong and did it anyway.  Over dinner he brings up all the problems with the real estate deal they’re consummating: protected wildlife, angry protesters.  He reacts with disguised disquiet to Strutt’s enthusiasm for hunting.  He has too much to gain to listen to his conscience.

Oddly enough, we see something similar in the US Government at the moment.  The majority of Republican members of Congress hold back from approbation of bad behavior by the President, by their leadership, even though they know that they’re doing something wrong, because they stand to gain their objectives thereby.  McConnell subverts the norms of representative government with his manipulation of parliamentary procedure, Ryan approves of King Trump’s abrogation of the constitution, Susan Collins wrings her hands on the sidelines and expresses “concern” rather than acting to punish Trump or her leadership, so the party can achieve it’s legislative goals, Orrin Hatch, a man who has been in the institution for most of his life, says nothing when the norms of the institution in which he serves are violated by his leadership.  This sort of craven behavior is the real moral bad.

Also, oddly enough, I see traces of Madison’s correctives in the inability of the ruling party to pass legislation.  While we theoretically have only two “parties” of consequence in our government, the Republicans encompass a wide range of political views that would in other systems be expressed by membership in minority parties (Libertarians, religious parties, Greens, …); this divergence of principle makes it very difficult to make legislation without accommodating the rights and opinions of those with whom the majority disagree.  The institution is working, in some sense.