lessiglectureYesterday, Lawrence Lessig spoke at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern. Lessig is like the Elvis Presley of the nerd universe; a rock star of the highest order.

I don’t need to run down his resume… if you’re reading this, chances are you’ve heard of Lessig before.  You probably know that we have him (and others) to thank for the sanity of Creative Commons licensing.  Creative Commons has greatly contributed to the explosion of remix culture that’s become so emblematic of the early 21st Century.

While best known for his work on intellectual property law, Lessig said he’d changed his focus over the last year and a half to focus on the problem of corruption in public institutions like governments.  Valuable work.

What did he have to say?

  • When money gets involved, trust is damaged. Consider Consumer Reports, for instance.  Most people find their product reviews more objective, more trustworthy, because they don’t accept advertising money.
  • Government suffers from a crisis in trustworthiness because of the degree that money influences elections. Let’s face it; the guy with the biggest bankroll pretty much always win.  Consequently, we’re ruled by rich, white, plutocrats.
  • The way out of this trap is to dramatically overhaul the way that elections are funded. Lessig said that possibly the only way to do this thouroughly and transparently was to take corporate donations and lobbyists out of the equation by mandating that elections be funded either by small donations from individuals (ala President Obama) and a system of public funding by using tax dollars to finance credible campaigns.

He pointed the audience to change-congress.org, and recommended that we all go “on strike” by refusing to donate to any political campaign that accepts corporate donations or money from lobbyists.

He’s a smart guy — I really hope that he can make a difference on this issue, but honestly, the pragmatist in me isn’t hopeful.

Tangentially, he’s an absolutely excellent speaker, and his presentation was quite inspiring.  If you should happen to have a chance to see this guy talk, I definitely suggest you go out of your way for it.  It was well worth the time.

Well, I asked Google, and I found this metafilter page, which helpfully has an answer from one of my heroes, Robert Anton Wilson:

Robert Anton Wilson called it “metanoia”: Paranoia = “everything wants to destroy me”; Metanoia = “everything wants to help me”. I’m not sure if he was getting that somehow from John Lilly’s metanoia, RD Laing’s metanoia, the New Testament’s metanoia, or just made it up on his own.

Good enough for me.

It’s been seeming like the city’s been talking to me lately.  For instance, there must be an “Ian” that lives (or has lived) in Rogers Park before me, and he’s taken it upon himself to leave little notes stuck all around the city:

Found on a newspaper distribution box outside the Rogers Park Post Office, on W. Devon Ave.

Found on a newspaper distribution box outside the Rogers Park Post Office, on W. Devon Ave.

There’s another one stuck on a newspaper box right on the corner of Sheridan and Lunt as well.  I walk by it practically every day.

Then Tuesday night, I’m having a little bit of supper with some friends between classes, and what do I see as I’m walking out of the restaurant?


It’s actually called ‘The Irish American News’.

So you got my attention, Universe.  What’s the message?


Over the weekend, it occurred to me that I haven’t been to the movies in a great long time.  Of course, I’ve been watching stuff — Netflix, FearNet On-Demand, and so forth.

But, being in Chicago, I remembered that there was probably some pretty neat places to see interesting movies around here.  So I went looking on the web.  Here’s some that I found:

  • The Portage Theater (4050 N. Milwalkee Ave).  These guys seem cool.  They have showings of silent and classic films, and an organ for authentic silent film music!  Whoa!  If that wasn’t enough, they also have horror and sci-fi triple features once a month!
  • Music Box Theater (3733 N. Southport Ave.)  New-release independent cinema, along with some sweet classic midnight movies.  Buckaroo Bonzai?  On the big screen?  You betcha.
  • Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema (2828 N. Clark St.)  Straightforward art-house cinema.  At the moment, they happen to be running all the best-picture nominees.  Might be a good place to catch the more “mainstream” alternative cinema, for all the contradiction that sounds like.

Right.  So that’s something to do on the weekends.

Seen along the 6400 block of N. Sheridan Road, according to rogersparkbench.blogspot.com

Seen along the 6400 block of N. Sheridan Road, according to rogersparkbench.blogspot.com

So I found this at the Chicago News Bench blog.  The author is a little bit crazy in the “socially-conservative” sense, but it’s a nice little pic snapped near my house.

Stopbirdporn.org is a real website.  I suggest checking it out.

From their front page:

“Adults, disguised as bird watchers mask their debauchery by taking trips in groups. They can then achieve climax in the safety of the woods. Particularly disturbing is the high number of senior citizens using binoculars and telescopes to observe birds mating. These horny Peeping Toms satisfy their craving for sex by focusing their debasement on birds. This perversion must be halted, otherwise the entire moral fibre of our nation is going to hell.”.

I love it.

On Wednesday, Louis Uchitelle, economic reporter for the New York Times, told an audience of nearly 90 faculty and students from the University of Illinois at Chicago that layoffs had gotten out of hand in the United States, and that the consequences of mass layoffs extended far beyond the corporate bottom line.

Beyond the immediate financial impact to laid-off workers, psychological consequences can linger long after a laid-off worker has found a new job, according to Uchitelle.  “Layoffs in themselves are a truly damaging situation,”  Uchitelle said.  “In America, they’ve gone far beyond what’s necessary.”

Uchitelle said he was drawn to explore the psychological impact of layoffs as he researched his book, “The Disposable American: Layoffs and Their Consequences”.  “I consulted psychiatrists,” he said, “and they said, yes, layoffs are traumatic experiences.”

That impact can be seen in workers who give up on finding new employment or settle for any job at all, often undermining the benefits of advanced education and experience.

Uchitelle said for every three people laid off, two years later one of them had dropped out of the job market, one had a job that earned 20 percent less that the job from which they were laid off, and one had a new job making as much as their previous job.  According to Uchitelle, 19 percent of laid off workers take jobs for which they are overqualified after being laid off.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks layoff events involving more than 50 employees.  According to seasonally-adjusted BLS statistics, there were 2,227 layoff events in January, involving nearly 238,000 employees.  That represents a 50 percent increase in layoff events, compared to the previous year.

However, Uchitelle said those numbers don’t take into account buyouts and early retirement, often proposed as alternatives to layoffs.  Uchitelle said that if those numbers were included in the calculations, it might be that 7 to 8 percent of all adult full-time employees suffer from the effects of layoffs every year.

Uchitelle said that it’s important to recognize the people laid off that aren’t getting jobs, and to think about the damage that causes, including the psychological as well as the financial ramifications.

“Skill is part of your sense of self,” Uchitelle said.  He said layoffs tell employees that “your skill doesn’t have value.”  Workers who have been laid off sometimes drop out of the job market completely.  “People felt so burned, they didn’t want to get back into the job market,” he said.  Uchitelle said that workers that had committed themselves to a career were more vulnerable to the psychological impact of layoffs than younger workers just entering the job market.

Uchitelle also criticized President Barack Obama’s address to Congress on Tuesday, and said that the only solution presented by the President was to replace jobs lost to layoffs with newly created jobs, a solution he said was an extension of the policies of prior administrations, and an inadequate solution.  He said that newly-created jobs aren’t equivalent to skilled positions that have been lost.

He said that he was worried that, “when we really start spending money [on economic stimulus projects] we won’t have the skilled labor to do it.”

Possible solutions that Uchitelle said should be considered included encouraging employers to cut wages across the board as a substitute for layoffs, tax credits to companies that avoid layoffs, and government wage subsidies for companies that agree to forgo layoffs.

“That debate isn’t on the horizon,” Uchitelle said.

The Sun-Times is reporting that a beggar beat a woman with a 12″ stone crucifix, after the woman refused to give the beggar any money.

Pamela Johnson didn’t have cash for a woman seeking donations Saturday night, but the beggar had something for her: a beating. With a crucifix.

Johnson, 50, of the 2200 block of Tennessee Street, told police she was returning to her car about 10 p.m. when an unidentified woman approached her in the 200 block of East 5th Avenue, Cmdr. Richard Allen said.

“She said she didn’t have any money,” Allen read from the police report.

In response, the woman produced a foot-long crucifix made of stone and started hitting Johnson over the head.

I suppose this result is unsuprising.  Novelty=risk=excitement, right?

A group of students were given a list of made-up food additives and were asked to rate how harmful they were. The additives all contained twelve letters, with Magnalroxate being one of the easiest to pronounce and Hnegripitrom one of the hardest to pronounce. The students rated the difficult to pronounce additives as being more harmful. In addition, the hard to pronounce additives were considered to be more novel than those with easier names. In another experiment, students were shown a list of made-up names of amusement-park rides and were asked to rate the rides on how adventurous they would be and how risky (and therefore most likely to make them sick) the rides would be. The names ranged from being easy to pronounce (such as Chunta) to very difficult to pronounce (such as Vaiveahtoishi). Consistent with the first experiment, the students rated the rides with the difficult to pronounce names as being more risky, but also more exciting.

A visualization of my social networks, based on Facebook data.  Image generated by Nexus Friend Grapher (http://nexus.ludios.net)

A visualization of my social networks, based on Facebook data, Feb. 2009. Image generated by Nexus Friend Grapher (http://nexus.ludios.net) Click on the image for full-sized graphic

  • Skype + Pamela Call Recording Software = Good.
  • Transcribing recordings is the suck.
  • I need a tripod.  Preferrably cheap, lightweight, and small.
  • The Map Room is the second-best beer bar in Chicago.

I practically took today off, so I’ve got to make up for it by busting out some serious work tomorrow.

Plus, the planet is covered with snow again.