Monday, December 13, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
There's a lot of bad information out there. The recipe for napalm. Grooming techniques. Vomit porn. All things I would rather not know about. Bad might be a characteristic of the information; the info lets you do bad things. Sometimes, bad information is incomplete information. To make an informed decision to buy a house or to send a child to a school or to vote, we need information on the options. If we don't have enough information, we might choose not to choose until a better option comes along.
If bad information is incomplete information, then complete information is good information. Take child sexual abuse, to act on a case of child sexual abuse, you need a sense of the big picture. With enough information, an adult can handle a disclosure from a child. That means, an adult is prepared for a child to speak to him about surviving an incident of sexual abuse. Perhaps we can say that good information is also actionable information, information where it becomes possible to take action.
The role of freedom is in groping towards good information. We move towards a complete understanding of the stuff we care about, but we may never arrive at a complete understanding. Where do you get information? Some info is harder to get than other info. If you go deep enough into any issue, the problem of access arises. People ask questions like, why do you need this information? and what do you do again? You may not be in a position to get the whole story. Access affects the completeness of information. Regulation affects access, case in point, Sonia Randhawa wrote:
"I've lived in two countries (Australia and the UK) where porn wasn't banned but regulated, and one country (Malaysia) where it's banned. It's in Malaysia that I've had the most porn, literally, thrust in my face. Primarily by VCD sellers. But before that, by video sellers and distributors. And I'm sure that there were others before my time. In the other countries, I could avoid it, I knew where it was. Or, of course, I could seek it out if I wanted to. In Malaysia, because it's unregulated, I don't really have that choice. And then there's the problems with the definitions of porn. Because the Little Napoleon's that our former PM complained about, take it upon themselves to include books on breast-feeding as porn. And books on mutual sexual satisfaction are often considered pornographic."
What comes across is that taboos that are banned end up getting regulated anyway, and poorly. Or rather, as the economist Nils Gilman observes, in addressing the demand of illicit goods, not the supply, informal regulation springs up. Gilman talks about the French sociologist Emile Durkheim, who observed that "societies are to a large extent... made up of and defined by their taboos." "That is, by what they prohibit either morally or in the case of modern societies, legally." That's true, right? The limits of behavior corresponds to what is not permissible. It is OK to buy a car, it is not OK to buy sex. It is OK to talk about Rosmah, it is not OK to talk about Altantuya.
It is easy to get bad information. It is not easy to get good information; not everyone can see a classified report. Good information is subjective. The information you need to act is different from the information I need. The avocado has to be firm to the touch, not too soft, for instance. I don't have a car, so if I meet up with friends I make sure it's convenient for me. Good information has to be prepared. I don't understand a balance of payments sheet, but my colleague Suresh does. If Suresh understands balance of payments, I could ask him a series of questions. After that, I too will be able to read a balance of payments. I can even explain it to someone else.
The story of teacher Shamsukal Abu Bakar, who gave a seditious thesis to his students, is informative. The thesis was, "Justice is eroding and lacking in the judiciary system of Malaysia." What if every student in the Form 2 class had disagreed? Would the question have still been seditious? By making a certain reading explicit, it makes other readings implicit. In the Sedition Act itself, it is seditious "to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility" among "different races or classes," but what about within a race or class?
With enough information, we can take action. What about on the level of society? As individuals, we're powerful, because we make decisions as individuals. Because we must always always exercise the power to refuse our consent. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to dramatize the issue so that it can no longer be ignored.” Direct Action is ultimately about access to information. It's about fostering discussion. Good info is process and we need to sharpen our wits to keep it good.
And the Devil finally says to Bobby Gould, "You're a very bad man." And Bobby Gould says, "Nothing's black and white." And the Devil says, "Nothing's black and white, nothing's black and white--what about a panda? What about a panda, you dumb fuck! What about a fucking panda!"
Monday, October 25, 2010
Instead, Ferriss decided to look for some data. He took 6 prospective titles that everyone could live with: including ‘Broadband and White Sand’, ‘Millionaire Chameleon’ and ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’ and developed an Google Adwords campaign for each. He bid on keywords related to the book’s content including ‘401k’ and ‘language learning’: when those keywords formed part of someone’s search on Google the prospective title popped up as a headline and the advertisement text would be the subtitle. Ferriss was interested to see which of the sponsored links would be clicked on most, knowing that he needed his title to compete with over 200,000 books published in the US each year. At the end of the week, for less than $200 he knew that “The 4-Hour Workweek” had the best click-through rate by far and he went with that title.
His experimentation didn’t stop there, he decided to test various covers by printing them on high quality paper and placing them on existing similar sized books in the new non-fiction rack at Borders, Palo Alto. He sat with a coffee and observed, learning which cover really was most appealing.
A short study on how the best-selling author Tim Feriss tested out different titles and designs for his book The 4-Hour Workweek. (via Boingboing.net)
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
My greatest fear is that everything I've accomplished will turn out to be shit.
I imagine I am like King Midas, except everything turns not to gold, but to shit.
King Midas was the Greek king who boasted that he was richer than the gods. The gods cursed Midas to turn to gold everything he touched. At first it wasn't so bad, but then he sits down to eat and the leg of chicken turned to solid gold. He drinks his beer, but it's frozen into gold at the bottom of his tankard. He goes to hug his daughter and she turns to gold too. He begs the gods to lift the curse, he's learned his lesson, which they do.
The story of Midas is instructive. It was gold to demonstrate that material wealth cannot replace simple pleasures. It is the many textures of life, not a scale of comparison, that give it richness.
Friday, September 03, 2010
Thursday, August 05, 2010
Wednesday, August 04, 2010
How to be a theory-based writer?—one question. How to represent my experience as a gay man?—another question just as pressing. These questions lead to readers and communities almost completely ignorant of each other. Too fragmented for a gay audience? Too much sex and "voice" for a literary audience? I embodied these incommensurates so I had to ask this question: How can I convey urgent social meanings while opening or subverting the possibilities of meaning itself?