On TV theme music

In general, I’m a fan of a catchy opening theme for a TV show.  Katia Bachko has a nice essay in the New Yorker about how binge watching may make opening credits obsolete.

During the first few episodes of “The Wire,” I had genuinely enjoyed Tom Waits’s “Way Down In the Hole.” David Simon picked a recording by the Blind Boys of Alabama for the first season, and then substituted new covers of the song for the later seasons. The opening chords—electric guitar and a little jazz drum—hint at the swagger of the Baltimore cops and thugs. I loved the sound of singer’s voice, gravelly from too many cigarettes. But by episode four, I’d had enough. As the opening notes began to play, I grabbed the mouse and fast-forwarded past the song. “Hey! I was listening to that,” Kenan objected from the couch, and launched into his own rendition of “Way Down in the Hole.” But hadn’t we just heard it? No matter; Kenan couldn’t get enough. As we worked our way through all five seasons of “The Wire,” this division became more apparent. I became particularly good at clicking exactly past the theme music; Kenan took to humming it around the house…

I love the ringing bells and feather dusters on “Downton Abbey,” and I love watching Louis C.K. swallow a slice of pizza almost without chewing, but I don’t need to watch these events more than once a night.

Personally, I’m just not a binge watcher.  I don’t think I’ve ever watched two complete episodes of a show on the same night.  My binges are watching the same show multiple days in a row.  And there’s almost no shows where I automatically fast forward the opening credits.  I really like how they put me in the mindset of a show.  I’ll sometimes fast forward to the end of the Boardwalk Empire credits (even though I like them), but still make sure I get the last 15-20 seconds of credits before the show begins.  I love the opening credits to my two favorite shows that are currently airing.  Just seeing the walls of stylized Don Draper’s office dissolve away as he falls down the skyline is still terrific every time for me.  And the Game of Thrones intro is pure awesomeness:

And that also gives me an excuse for my favorite Simpsons opening ever (not that I watch the show any more):

And again on the NSA

I wandered onto Dan Drezner’s take on the whole thing today, and I must say, I find it hard to disagree with his key points:

That said, here’s what I worry about:

1)  Friedman allows that these surveillance programs are vulnerable to abuse but says that, “so far, [it] does not appear to have happened.”  Here’s my question:  how the f**k would Friedman know if abuse did occur?  We’re dealing with super-secret programs here.  Exactly what investigative or oversight body would detect such abuse?  What I worry about is that we have no idea whether national security bureaucracies abuse their privilege.

The last time I trusted intelligence bureaucracies and political leaders that the system was working was the run-up to the Iraq war.  Never again.

2)  The traditional ways to constrain government bureaucracies in a democracy — transparency, legislative oversight and political control — are weakened when we move to national security questions.  The traditional way to compensate for this is to develop a strong organizational culture and powerful professional norms.  This is one reason why, despite recent scandals, the military remains one government institution that still possesses the public trust.

I don’t have deep insights into the organizational culture at Fort Meade, but I’d suggest that the norms there might not be as powerful as they are in the Pentagon…

There are valid policy grounds for some of the surveillance state, and I don’t think I’m naïve about the threats against the United States.  That said, a major personal legacy of 21st century American foreign policy f**k-ups is that I can’t give these agencies or their political masters the benefit of the doubt.  Threats have been overhyped and intelligence has been spectacularly wrong.  Without much greater efforts by the intelligence community, the Obama administration, and Congress to restore trust in these institutions, that doubt will only grow.

As Ron Fournier put it (link via Matt K. Lewis):

Most Americans want to give the president the benefit of the doubt on national security. They want to believe their elected representatives are fully briefed, as Obamadubiously claims, and committed to intensive oversight. They’d like the media to be a backstop against abuse.

But these institutions keep failing Americans. Why should we trust them?

Okay.  Mind still not entirely made up on the matter, but at least for me, Drezner has made a very solid case against what’s been going on.

Where I get judgmental

Interesting piece in the NYT magazine about what happens to women who come in too late to get abortions.  The story of the first woman profiled really just bugged me:

The pregnancy had crept up on S. She was a strong believer in birth control — in high school she was selected to help teach sex education. But having been celibate for months and strapped for cash, she stopped taking the pill. Then an ex-boyfriend came around. For months after, she had only a little spotting, but because her periods are typically light, she didn’t think much of it at first. Then she started to worry. “I used to press on my stomach really hard thinking maybe it would make my period come,” she said…

In the exam room, a technician asked her to lie down. She did an ultrasound, sliding the instrument across S.’s stomach: “Oh . . . it shows here that you are a little further along.” She repeated the exam. S., she estimated, was nearly 20 weeks pregnant, too far along for this Planned Parenthood clinic. S. felt numb: “I was thinking, If it is too late here, it is probably too late other places. . . . And I was like, Oh, my God, now what?”

A 24 year old (i.e., not a teenager) who actually has been a sex educator?!  Did she not know what might happen when she had unprotected sex with that ex boyfriend?  Did she think about getting him a condom?  Or just making sure he pulled out?  (far more effective than people give it credit for). And then pressing on her stomach to make her period come?  Please, talk about denial!

Alright then, heck, she’s more than half-way through her pregnancy and convinced she is really not ready to be a parent, what about adoption?

S., who had never seriously considered adoption, was overwhelmed when Baby S., a healthy girl, was born in May 2012.

Oh, well, she had never seriously considered it.  Geez, if you put it that way.

Anyway, interesting story and interesting look at the bigger picture.  But I have a hard time having much sympathy for ad adult who acts so amazingly irresponsibly (and that doesn’t mean I’m letting the father off the hook).

Photo of the day

Reader/friend JDW sent me a link to these cool Life magazine photos of segregation 1950’s South Carolina.  Personally, I couldn’t resist the human-powered carousel:

Margaret Bourke-White—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Not published in LIFE. Segregated playground, Greenville, S. Carolina, 1956.

Moral Monday is working

From what I’ve read, the leaders of moral Monday are at not naive political naifs who think the Republican party is suddenly going to stop being mean and callous towards the less fortunate because people are getting arrested at the legislature.  Protest movements arise because “insider” strategies, e.g., lobbying the legislature, executive branch, etc, are completely foreclosed.  The hope of a protest is to raise political awareness of issues and then, hopefully, to change public opinion.

I think it’s too early to say if Moral Monday is really changing public opinion yet, but for the most part, I don’t think they have to.  I think a lot of what the NC General Assembly is trying to do is in defiance of public opinion but the public just isn’t paying much attention.  Moral Monday is changing that.  Last night I was interviewed by a reporter about new gun laws.  Not at all related to the protests, but she (not me), brought the issue right back to Moral Monday.

Certainly, “phase 1” of bringing greater public attention to the issues at stake has been successful.  It even made today’s NYT.  The downside, though, is also in the Times story:

As the protests have grown, so has the list of causes. At the center is a package of changes to voting rules and a tax reform plan working its way through the legislature that would reduce individual and corporate income taxes and expand the sales tax.

Protesters have also rallied against the expansion of school vouchers, cuts to unemployment benefits, the repeal of the Racial Justice Act, efforts to allow hydraulic fracturing and the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid benefits as part of President Obama’s health care plan.

But the protests are quickly turning into a platform for all kinds of causes. A woman holding a sign that read “Just Say No to GMOs” — genetically modified organisms — wandered through the crowd on Monday.

The more this becomes about liberal “causes” and loses focus, the less chance it has to ultimately be effective.  For my money, the key is to focus on the meanness of the Republican agenda and the attack on public education.

The Republicans have built themselves a huge advantage through gerrymandered districts, but the more people pay attention to the issues raised at these protests the more the possibility is raised of Democrats gaining serious ground in the next election.  And though the Republicans deny that they are paying any attention to the protesters I do think they may very well soften some of the worst aspects of Republican proposals (i.e., I just read today that the Senate tax bill is looking at no longer raising the sales tax on food).  Of course we can’t say that’s in direct response to Moral Monday, but Moral Monday sure ain’t hurting on matters like this.

The government and data

Lots of good and thought-provoking responses to yesterday’s post on the NSA Surveillance.  I cannot say I disagree with most of the arguments, yet…  I think in the end, I realize that there is definitely a huge opportunity for the government to mis-use this data, but at the moment there’s not actually any evidence that they are doing so.  There’s huge opportunity for prosecutors to abuse their discretion.  And they do it every day.  But I don’t see us agitating to take away prosecutorial discretion (and honestly, some significantly greater checks would surely be a good thing).

Some commentary I heard spoke to the “resignation” of Americans towards the modern surveillance state and I know that resignation speaks substantially to my own view.  When cell phone plans I looked into three months ago (went with buying an Iphone for Straight Talk– super happy with the phone and the service) are still tracing me all over the internet, I’m largely resigned to a lack of privacy on some level.  Furthermore, the idea that the government has the data of whom I called and when, doesn’t really bother me all that much.  What would bother me is if the government used this data against me without probable cause to do so.  I haven’t seen any evidence the government has been doing that to people.  That, would get me up in arms.  One of the most interesting metaphors I heard is that if government is going to be looking for needles (terrorists, presumably) in a haystack, it needs the haystack (all of our phone records).  So long as that’s what’s going on and its not using the haystack to randomly peer in and search for crimes without judicial oversight, this actually strikes me as reasonable.

Nice post in Pacific Standard from Seth Masket talking about this approach:

You can see that most of the contacts are people I speak to only once or twice [Seth posted a network map of his actual calling pattern]. The highlighted (more frequent) connections are my wife, my parents, my brother, a colleague, my kids’ elementary school, and a guy who was doing some contract work at my house. Let’s just assume that’s a typical phone data pattern for a guy in my demographic profile who’s not a terrorist. (You’ll have to take my word for this.)

Now, if you were able to download the phone usage data for all the nodes depicted above and graph them, you’d have a pretty complex network diagram. It would show some small, dense networks (families, groups of friends) and some loosely-affiliated people who have their own connections. Now download the phone usage data for all ofthose nodes, and imagine the patterns it would show. Now imagine if you could do that for basically every cell phone subscriber in the country.

That’s a huge amount of data, and depicting it graphically would pretty much be a waste of ink. Profiles like mine would quickly disappear into background noise. But computers can look for people who rise above the noise. Perhaps someone seems to belong to no local networks but just pops up to make a few phone calls that last less than a minute. Perhaps those calls occur within 24 hours of a bombing attack, or right after an al Qaeda speech is broadcast. Well, that’s hardly proof of criminal activity, but it might be enough for investigators to seek a warrant for a wiretap or some other form of surveillance to learn more about the person making the calls.

And, just so y’all don’t think I’ve gone Dick Cheney, I do appreciate the arguments you are making and think the concerns are very legitimate.  Just from my understanding at this point, I don’t think we’ve seen the evidence of government abuse of this data that we could all agree would be highly problematic.

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