Category Archives: In the Agora

Where’s General Burnside?

Smithsonian.com asks: who had the best Civil War facial hair?

Help Us Sonic!

It’s gone under-reported this week—what with the royal nuptials (yes, I watched) and Donald Trump’s latest gasbaggery—but one of the biggest network hacks ever was pulled off, disabling the Playstation Network for the past nine days and potentially exposing the personal data of 77 million users, including limited credit card information. I noticed the hack last weekend, as I couldn’t go online to check out movies.* Instead, for the past nine days, I and every other member of the Playstation Network have been treated with a “the network is down for maintenance” message. Sony finally came clean on the 26th, several days after the attack, admitting their network had been seriously compromised, including the names, email addresses, user passwords, credit card numbers (minus cvc), purchase history, and potentially other data of users, and that they were working to increase security. No timetable has been announced for the network’s return.

You’d think the Playstation Network hack doesn’t effect those of us who mostly game offline. And, indeed, most games are still playable (some with draconian DRM requiring an online connection are unplayable right now). But online gamers, people who purchase games or movies over the network, stream tv and movies over the network, or have done so at least once in the past (guilty), are potentially at risk. I’m not sure what upsets me more: that an obvious target had such lax security that a hacker could gain access to such an incredible amount of data; Sony’s delayed admission that something was wrong; or that it’s been nearly a fortnight of darkness from the Playstation Network and no word of a return. Are they rebuilding from scratch? That inspires confidence. Everybody had better get a free copy of Uncharted 3 as compensation or something.

UPDATE (4/30, afternoon): Homeland Security getting involved. Also, Sony sets a target return date of 5/4.

*n.b. I’m not much of an online gamer anymore, except with people I know. As an early 30-something I no longer have the chops to go head-to-head with 16-year-olds who game 12 hours a day and have all the cheats turned on.

Good… Wednesday?

Over at ITA, Joshua Claybourn wonders if we should be remembering Jesus’ death on Wednesday of Holy Week instead of Friday. Some modern scholars think the Sabbath celebrated that week might have been a special annual Sabbath rather than the regular Friday Sabbath. Figuring out this issue might put to rest questions of whether Jesus was buried for three “full” days (Wednesday) or parts of three days (Friday), and which better satisfies prophesy.

The False Godzilla Effect

It’s a cliche for monster and disaster movies—people panic-stricken running around screaming looking out for themselves, stealing what they can, falling into violence and chaos—but is it real? Some people looking into the matter say no. In fact, dealing with a huge disaster like the earthquakes in Japan or the Blitz in London actually brings people together:

The evidence gathered over centuries of disasters, natural and man-made, is overwhelming. The vast majority of people, when a disaster hits, behave in the aftermath as altruists. They organize spontaneously to save their fellow human beings, to share what they have, and to show kindness. They reveal themselves to be better people than they ever expected. When the social scientist Enrico Quarantelli tried to write a thesis how people descend into chaos and panic after disasters, he concluded: “My God! I can’t find any instances of it.” On the contrary, he wrote, in disasters “the social order does not break down… Co-operative rather than selfish behavior predominates.” The Blitz Spirit wasn’t unique to London: it is universal.

Pot shots at Ayn Rand’s philosophy aside, fascinating article. Score one for human kindness.

Quick Links, Opening Weekend Edition

Here are some fun random links on this first day of April:

  • Is VCU’s Final Four run the least likely of all time? Let’s ask Nate Silver. Meanwhile, my bracket has actually survived assuming Kentucky doesn’t take the title.
  • Interesting review of the book Scorecasting by Tobias J. Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim. Seems like it tries to apply the Freakonomics approach to sports subjects. If you’re a sabermetric nerd, some of it might be old hat. But what I found interesting is that, according to the research, “home field advantage” really is nothing but refs unintentionally making more calls for the home team in an psychological attempt to be liked. Food for thought.
  • In the wake of the Congressman Gabby Giffords shooting, Richard Florida checked out the gun rights conventional wisdom that “an armed society is a polite society.” In terms of gun deaths, most certainly not. In the states with the most restrictive gun laws, he saw much fewer violent and accidental gun fatalities. In Hawaii, 2.6 per 100,000 for example; in New York 5.0 per 100,000; and in New Jersey 5.2 per 100,000. On the other hand Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alaska with their liberal gun laws saw many more deaths. Not sure what to make of D.C. in there on the high end; their gun laws were draconian until the recent Supreme Court decision.
  • The Economist defends the teaching of…. history? Wow, finally props for the liberal arts in public discourse. Someone tell Obama that it takes more than science and math nerds to Win the Future.
  • Murder in the Time of Cholera. This is really cool, and kind of creepy. From Philadelphia Magazine, a story that combines historians, anthropologists, earth scientists, a 178-year old railroad murder mystery, and… ghosts?
  • A Man’s Guide to Boots and Shoes. The first place many women look, my friends.

Wendell Berry’s 17 Rules

Author and poet Wendell Berry was among those awarded a National Humanities Medal by President Obama earlier this week. The 76-year-old Kentuckian is a committed localist and agrarian, part of a stream of conservative thought in the American political tradition no longer represented by either major party. Berry is not unfamiliar with political activism himself, however, as he recently participated in a four-day sit-in at the Kentucky statehouse to protest mountaintop removal coal mining.

At this blog, I recently found a list of Berry’s rules for delineating how we ought to make decisions about changes, especially when it comes to the culture of our communities, towns, cities, and our whole country. Check it out:

1. Always ask of any proposed change or innovation: What will this do to our community? How will this affect our common wealth?

2. Always include local nature – the land, the water, the air, the native creatures – within the membership of the community.

3. Always ask how local needs might be supplied from local sources, including the mutual help of neighbors.

4. Always supply local needs first (and only then think of exporting products – first to nearby cities, then to others).

5. Understand the ultimate unsoundness of the industrial doctrine of ‘labor saving’ if that implies poor work, unemployment, or any kind of pollution or contamination.

6. Develop properly scaled value-adding industries for local products to ensure that the community does not become merely a colony of national or global economy.

7. Develop small-scale industries and businesses to support the local farm and/or forest economy.

8. Strive to supply as much of the community’s own energy as possible.

9. Strive to increase earnings (in whatever form) within the community for as long as possible before they are paid out.

10. Make sure that money paid into the local economy circulates within the community and decrease expenditures outside the community.

11. Make the community able to invest in itself by maintaining its properties, keeping itself clean (without dirtying some other place), caring for its old people, and teaching its children.

12. See that the old and young take care of one another. The young must learn from the old, not necessarily, and not always in school. There must be no institutionalised childcare and no homes for the aged. The community knows and remembers itself by the association of old and young.

13. Account for costs now conventionally hidden or externalised. Whenever possible, these must be debited against monetary income.

14. Look into the possible uses of local currency, community-funded loan programs, systems of barter, and the like.

15. Always be aware of the economic value of neighborly acts. In our time, the costs of living are greatly increased by the loss of neighborhood, which leaves people to face their calamities alone.

16. A rural community should always be acquainted and interconnected with community-minded people in nearby towns and cities.

17. A sustainable rural economy will depend on urban consumers loyal to local products. Therefore, we are talking about an economy that will always be more cooperative than competitive.

Any Berry fans out there?

Mario, Artiste

I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like. The Smithsonian American Art Museum has announced that starting in March 2012 it will have an exhibit on “The Art of Video Games.” This exhibit will explore 40some years of gaming and the development of visual effects and storytelling in these games. The best part, however, is the Smithsonian is asking us to be the curator of the exhibit. Through April 7, you can vote here to pick which 80 of 240 games will make up the exhibit. You have you register to vote (come on, it’s the Smithsonian), but I enjoyed just going through the images and remembering the games they came from. The ones from the “8-Bit” and “Bit Wars” eras made me want to fire up an old Sierra Quest adventure.