Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Great links

I am completely endeared by this Lego street art. Using Lego for minor city repair work is brilliant. Here at Dispatchwork.

This is the scariest jewelry I have ever seen. There must be a better way to dispose of old Barbie dolls. (But, yes, baby limb coatrack is worse. Gah.)

More than you ever wanted to know about the giant sea creature that is leaving people startled and horrified.

Think you have a great gadget idea? Sorry, the Japanese already thought of it.

And, finally, why are we so grossed out by this and not the cheese we normally eat?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Roots of Government

Government is coercive. Concentrated application of force is what government is for.

I imagine two stories for how government arises. The first is government as the embodiment of the social contract, where the contract in question is not figurative or proverbial, but literal. According to this story, government is chartered through an agreement among parties to defer power to an enforcer. This is the process by which townships of the old west incorporated, and hired a mayor to attend to administer the activities of government and a sheriff to physically enforce law and order. The people of the town authorized the government explicitly, and explicitly agreed to be subject to the law and to the officers who carried it out. They further participated in government through town hall meetings and by bearing arms in the defense of the law as deputies.

This same kind of government can be found in clubs and private organizations, and in businesses. The fact that in this story government originates in an agreement among the parties to be governed should not obscure the fact that the government is adopted specifically for the purpose of exercising coercion over the governed. Consider the freelance labor crew who wishes to maximize their profit. They may choose to hire a foreman who is brutally forceful, in order to ensure that every member of the crew works hard and no one is allowed to free ride.

In the second story of the origin of government, government is imposed on local people from outside of their own community, and without their consent. This is the feudalistic story of government, where small farming villages are robbed repeatedly by regional bandits. Eventually the theft becomes routine, and competent leadership among the bandits leads to a sustainable level of pillaging that doesn't destroy the farmer's ability to continue producing each year. Full-fledged feudalism is justified as protection of the serf class by the bandits, who claim that the bandits of the next fiefdom over are far more brutal than they are. So, a social contract-like mantle legitimizes the theft and coercion.

In both of these stories, government exists for the purpose of exercising force.More particularly, it is for the purpose of imposing the will of a powerful coalition, who may be a majority or may simply be a sufficiently powerful elite, upon the rest of the society. The townsfolk impose law and morality upon the lawless and the eccentric, the crew of laborers impose hard work upon the lazy, and the bandits impose taxation upon the serfs. The difference is in what fraction of the population is represented by the government, and what fraction is victimized by it.


Map of Christianity

Rob and I both loved this map of Christianity across the US, linked by Wehr in the World (with great discussion) from Floating Sheep (with more maps).

And the corresponding map of Europe:

I noted how much less diversity there is in Europe. Rob responded with this line of thinking:
You know, what you said about the Europe map showing less diversity supports the argument that the availability of religious choice in the US is part of the reason that religion has remained vital and satisfying to Americans while it hasn't for Europeans.

And that makes me wonder about the dynamics of religion in other parts of the world...Japan (low diversity, low interest in religion)...the middle east (high diversity mixed with religious violence maybe promotes interest in religion and in group identity)...Africa (see the middle east)...

I don't know much about religion in other parts of the world. I guess S. America is mostly Catholic? Are the native religions alive at all? How long has China been relatively irreligious? Probably since before the cultural revolution I'll bet. Otherwise the cultural revolution probably wouldn't have been possible. How do Indian Hindus feel about their religion? I just don't know.
I love how this man thinks.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Map bliss

Yesterday I became interested in cartography. It's a natural extension of my love for geographic scribbles and fonts. As a result, I ended up with a rich list of links and maps.

Most of you are already frequent visitors to Strange Maps, and I wanted to share some of the other things I've found during my mapping splurge:

I love xkcd and just found this awesome map (click to enlarge):

VerySpatial, which, along with a few other sites, led me to this gem:

It must be seen in its original full size to be fully appreciated.

Cartastrophe. The name says it all. Fantastic.

The Map Room. It won my heart with this 8-bit map of New York
but there is so much more. Fascinating. I could sink hours into that site.

Geographic Travels is slightly different from the others listed here. More factual, less amusing, but also much more integrated with archaeology and history.

For finding good color schemes, I love kuler and ColorBrewer.

Some great forums over at CartoTalk and inspiration over at Making Maps.

Friday, March 12, 2010

How change happens

It happens slowly, but it has a definite momentum.

And it first appears unrelated, but I don't believe it is. Childbirth in the US is changing.

First, the news that the maternal mortality rate in the US is rising dramatically. Maternal mortality is defined by the World Health Organization as ‘‘the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and the site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management, but not from accidental or incidental causes.’’

The US currently ranks 33rd out of 33 industrialized nations. The rate, which is measured in deaths per 100,000 births, rose from 17 in 2000 to 21 in 2005, and is still climbing.

A report commissioned by Amnesty International shows that in California, the maternal mortality rate in California has tripled in a decade, rising from 5.6 deaths per 100,000 to 16.9 per 100,000 in 2006 (these statistics are always a few years behind, so if the trend has continued, we can expect that the current rate has not improved and may be higher).

Why? The reasons range from hemorrhage to blood clots to "underlying heart disease," which is a surprise. I'm not sure if that essentially means lack of proper prenatal care, a health insurance coverage issue, or too many stops at McDonalds during pregnancy. Not sure how to explain that one. The report has not been officially released, though, so perhaps it will clarify these oddities. Others have suspected that the maternal mortality rate is correlated with the increase in cesarean sections in the US. Our most recent estimates place the c-section rate in this country around 33-37%, depending on which source you use. About one in three women have a cesarean instead of a vaginal birth. By any measure, that's far too high.

And then the quite sudden news about VBACs (vaginal birth after cesarean), which had been officially decried by ACOG (American College of Ob-Gyns) as too risky for women who had an initial or a repeat cesarean, but VBACs are now being encouraged.

Many VBAC advocates have argued for years that vaginal births are safer for women than a repeat of the major abdominal surgery of a c-section, and all signs have shown that they were being ignored. Suddenly the NIH reviews the information and recommends VBACs.

I don't believe these two things are unrelated in their timing. Many women have been vying for change in childbirth in this country. So first we see evidence that our system hasn't been working as well as we had hoped, and immediately following that, we see adjustments being made with major implications for women everywhere (it follows that since more women are having/have had cesarean sections, more will be candidates for VBACs).

Change is (finally!) happening.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Balancing the bad news

There has been a deluge of bad news lately (for example, how those poor penguins from that terribly depressing movie can't get a break).

Honestly, I can't stand the news. I see very little purpose in it. The news paints the world as a scary, dangerous, heartless place. Sometimes it is, but when I start paying too much attention to the media's view, I become terrified and introverted. What does one gain by reading headlines, finding out what terrible things have happened in the world? It's all bad, in my mind.

And that's why I'm grateful for the internet. The best stuff out there is completely unrelated to the news.

Do you love Popcorn? Here's a link to 79 versions of it, all mixed together in a single 12-minute-long masterpiece.

This blog, Music Machinery, is a new discovery, and I'm enjoying it. He's got some great graphs and visualizations. My personal favorite is this one, which shows loudness as a function of time (to track the crescendo) for Muse's song 'Take a Bow':

I love good data visualizations. Which is why I can't stand this one (not created by the same person):

I can't even figure this out. At first I thought it was graphing music playlist classifications across Europe, but evidently the cloud isn't supposed to evoke a geographical image at all. It's just