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T-Shirts, Feminism, Parenting, and Data Science, Part 2: Eigenshirts

(You might want to read Part 1 first.)

When last we left off, we’d built a model using shirt colors to predict boy-ness / girl-ness.

Our second attempt will involve the shirt images themselves (sort of). For our purposes, computer images are made up of pixels, each of whose color is determined by specifying red, green, and blue values between 0 and 255. So if you have an image with N pixels, you can think of it as a point in 3N-dimensional space, all of whose coordinates lie between 0 and 255.

And as before, we can build a linear model to classify points in space using logistic regression. The trick here is that the images have different sizes (and hence different numbers of pixels). So as a first step, we’ll rescale every image to 138 pixels x 138 pixels = 19,044 pixels. (A lot of our images are this size, and the rest are mostly larger, which is why I chose it.) This will give us a representation of each t-shirt image as a point in 57,132-dimensional space. (Visualizing 57,132-dimensional space is tricky, so don’t feel bad if you can’t do it.)

Our dataset only contains about 1,000 shirts, which means that a 57,000-dimensional classifier would learn to identify every shirt in the test dataset rather than figure out what distinguishes the boys shirts from the girls shirts. This means we need to do some sort of dimensionality reduction to get our t-shirt images into a much lower-dimensional space.

Here we’ll use Principal Component Analysis, which finds the direction (in 57,132-dimensional space) that accounts for the largest amount of variance in the dataset. It then subtracts out this direction, finds the most-variant-direction of the new dataset, and so on, until it has enough components.

(As always, code is on GitHub.)

I ended up using 10 components, which gives a representation of each t-shirt as just 10 numbers, representing the projection of the (57,132-dimensional representation of the) shirt onto the first 10 principal components, each of which is itself a vector in 57,132-dimensional space. For instance, the first principal component is the 57,132-element vector

[0.0002334, 0.00029256, 0.00042805, ... , 0.00051605]

By thinking of this as a vector of 19,044 rgb triplets, and by rescaling it so that its smallest component is 0 and its largest component 255, we can convert it into an image of an eigenshirt representing the “essence” of this component. Shirts with a large value for the first component will tend to be “similar” to this eigenshirt. Shirts with a large negative value for the first component will tend to be “similar” to its color-inverted “anti-eigenshirt”. [We could have just as easily picked the "anti-eigenshirt" as the eigenshirt and flipped the signs of the components.]

The below table shows, for each of the 10 principal components, the eigenshirt, the shirt with the largest component value, the shirt with the closest-to-zero value, the shirt with the largest negative component value, and the “anti-eigenshirt”.

Eigenshirt Most Eigenshirty Not Eigenshirty Most Anti-Eigenshirty Anti-Eigenshirt

If I were to try to give qualitative descriptions of these ten components, I guess they would be something like:

Component 0: White -> Black
Component 1: Orange -> Blue
Component 2: Dark sleeved / white sleeveless -> White sleeved / dark sleeveless
Component 3: Wide dark / narrow white -> Narrow dark / wide white
Component 4: ?
Component 5: Green -> Purple
Component 6: White trim / dark shirt -> Dark trim / white shirt
Component 7: Dark long sleeve / white sleeveless -> White long sleeve / dark sleeveless
Component 8: White shirt / dark print -> Dark shirt / white print
Component 9: ?

The Principal Component representation of each shirt is a 10-dimensional vector representing (roughly) where it fits on each of these spectra. For instance, the monkey shirt


is represented by the vector

[ -9313, 10067, -149, -4013, -2147, 1574, -296, -954, 1729, -196]

the biggest components of which are “orange” (eigenshirt #1), “dark” (anti-eigenshirt 0), and “narrow” (anti-eigenshirt 3).

If we try to reconstruct the image using just these ten components, we get


which seems to have captured orange, short sleeve, and dark graphic. You certainly can’t tell it’s a monkey, though.


If we try to predict “boy shirt or girl shirt” using just these 10 components, we get a model that’s 93% accurate on the test set. The coefficients (multiplied by 10,000, since they’re small) look like:

Component 0: -2.71 (eigenshirt is girlish)
Component 1: -2.56 (girlish)
Component 2: 3.55 (boyish)
Component 3: 0.53 (weakly boyish)
Component 4: -0.56 (weakly girlish)
Component 5: 5.43 (boyish)
Component 6: -15.9 (very girlish)
Component 7: -4.68 (girlish)
Component 8: 2.73 (boyish)
Component 9: -2.14 (girlish)

As before, we can look at how the shirts are distributed as a function of the score they get from the model:


The miscategorized shirts generally have low (close to 0) scores, except for one particularly “girly” boys shirt that we’ll see below.


Girliest Girl (looks like is based on shape and colors)


Girliest Boy (shape and colors again)


Boyiest Boy (da Bears)


Boyiest Girl (same one as last time!)


This is all very interesting and hints at Platonic ideal shirts (the philosophical details of which are out of scope for this blog). And clearly it does a much better job of predicting “boy shirt or girl shirt” than our previous color-based attempt. But whereas everyone knows about colors (except for the color-blind, of course), most people are unfamiliar with “eigenshirts” and will accuse you of having made them up just in order to have something to blog about. In particular, the girl who works at Gap Kids was entirely unimpressed with this model, and said that I needed to either buy something or leave the store.

Were I really committed to this model, I’d probably do more work to get the images comparable to each other so that not only were they the same size but the shirts were oriented as closely as possible and all had the same background color. Alas, I’m sort of principal-componented-out, and am eager to get back to writing my blog post about “the only correct way to interview engineers”, the punch-line of which is that you should only ask questions that involve golf balls, piano tuners, counterfeit coins, airplanes, treadmills, or piano tuners.

And so we leave things until part 3, “Shirt Language Processing”, which will be forthcoming at some point after I muster up the motivation to either transcribe the shirt images or find an intern to do it for me.

Three Keys to Successful Parenting

Now that Madeline is two, it seems appropriate to declare myself a success as a parent. Which means it’s now appropriate for those of you with kids (as well as those of you thinking about having or abducting kids) to ask me, “Joel, what’s your secret?” Which means it’s now appropriate for me to say “I’m glad you asked,” and then write a blog post about it.

1. Improv

I’m sure many of you wondered why I took all those improv classes, and why I made you come watch my improvised musical where we could only use words that started with a letter suggested by the audience, and why I didn’t stop the guy in the second row from choosing ‘X’, and why my song “Xerox Xevious” sounded exactly like “Summer of ’69.”

Well, it turns out that improv is a very easy way to become a better parent. (And that all of my songs sound exactly like “Summer of ’69″.)

Before improv

“Daddy, can I have some more candy?”
“No. Go to bed.”

After improv

“Daddy, can I have some more candy?”
Yes, and after your teeth rot and you become obese and get diabetes and have to have your foot amputated, then you should go to bed.”

Before improv

“Daddy, where do babies come from?”
“Go ask your mother.”

After improv

“Daddy, where do babies come from?”
[sits down on a plain black box, mimes that it's maybe some kind of pirate seat on some kind of pirate boat, and starts in a pirate accent] “Yarr, ye land lubbers always be asking me questions about babies … [10 minute monologue in a pirate voice about pirate-y things that cleverly reincorporates elements from earlier in the conversation] Arr, go ask the first mate!”

Before improv

“Daddy, I need to go to the bathroom.”
“Again? You just went!”

After improv

“Daddy, I need to go to the bathroom.”
“DING! Now in the style of Shakespeare.”
“Daddy, I need to go to the bathroom!”
“DING! Now in the style of film noir.”
“Daddy, I NEED to GO to the BATHROOM!”
“DING! Now in the style of a fetish video.”
“Daddy, I peed my pants.”
“And scene!”

2. Radical Libertarianism

Most books (with the notable exception of *Praxeological Parenting*) will tell you that moderate libertarianism is all you need to be a good parent. But there are a great many parenting problems that a belief in the night-watchman state does little to solve.

For instance, when your kid doesn’t want to go to school because it’s a brainwashing factory designed to grind young impressionable minds into submission by (among other things) forbidding them from leaving their seats or talking “out of turn” or using the restroom without first obtaining permission, the moderate libertarian answer is typically to offer them a voucher that covers the tuition to a different brainwashing factory. Your kid is unlikely to find this satisfying, for obvious reasons.

Similarly, when your kid wants to BitTorrent the Criterion Director’s Cut version of Dora the Explorer, the wishy-washy moderate libertarian “you wouldn’t download a Dora the Explorer handbag!” position on intellectual property is not going to make her particularly happy.

And what will you tell her when she asks (as all kids inevitably do) how granting a monopoly on violence could possibly be a good way to prevent monopolies and violence? Or why the dinosaurs on “Dinosaur Train” are able to peaceably resolve their various conflicts despite living approximately 66 million years before the invention of government? Or why it’s OK for the government to take pieces of paper out of daddy’s wallet just as long as they don’t take too many, while she gets punished for taking even one, and don’t try to give me any of that John Rawls “veil of ignorance” stuff, I might have bought that crap when I was an infant, but now that I’m TWO YEARS OLD the flaws in his “logic” are pretty glaringly obvious?

Whereas radical libertarianism easily sidesteps all these problems, making parenting a breeze (relatively speaking).

3. Trolling

Did you ever imagine that all those years you wasted trolling that idiot Marxist kid on LiveJournal debate would end up being useful? Because they are! Kids love being trolled! Love it! Here are a few of Madeline’s favorite trolls:

“My Hippo”

This one’s easy, you just pick up something that belongs to the kid (e.g. a stuffed hippo) and troll that it’s yours:

“Hey, my hippo.”
“No, MY hippo!”
“I’m pretty sure this is daddy’s hippo.”
“No, MY hippo!”
“Does it have your name on it?”
“MY hippo!”
“It was just lying on the floor and I homesteaded it.”
“MY hippo!”
“Have your protection agency call my protection agency and maybe we can work something out.”
“MY hippo!”
“Behind the veil of ignorance it could just as easily have been my hippo.”
“MY hippo!”
[ several hundred lines of dialogue removed due to space constraints ]
“Yeah, but what does it really mean to ‘own’ something?”
“MY hippo!”
“And scene!”

“Science Project”

Part of being a parent is helping your kids with science projects, so help them “demonstrate” something that isn’t real, like cold fusion, or quantum computing, or evolution. Chances are their teachers won’t know the difference, which makes it also work on another level.

“9/11 Trutherism”

Kids will believe just about anything, even that that third WTC 7 skyscraper would just collapse on its own despite not even being hit by a plane. Even so, it’s not very hard to convince them that the towers were brought down on 9/11 by controlled demolition using explosives secretly planted in advance by the government in order to create an excuse to invade Iraq and Afghanistan in order to pave the way for a new American hegemony. And then they’ll repeat this on the playground, and then you’ll get called in for a parent-teacher conference at which you can reveal that you’d assumed that she’d picked these theories from the playground, which means that if she didn’t then maybe she just came up with them on her own? And that if the official narrative is so shoddy that a 2-year-old can pick holes in it, then maybe Alex Jones is onto something!

“The Craigslist Experiment”

OK, so possibly there are some kinds of trolling kids don’t like.

If Trees Could Scream

So far parenthood isn’t all that different from non-parenthood. I still eat at the same five restaurants and drink myself to sleep at night and occasionally get peed on. I just now have a car seat wedged into an upside-down highchair, am less discriminating about my liquor choices, and try not to let “careless urination” incidents turn into fistfights.

Jack Handey once Deep Thought,

If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down? We might, if they screamed all the time, for no good reason.

I suspect that Handey had an infant in or near his life when he came up with the preceding. Baby Madeline doesn’t necessarily scream all the time, but quite often she has no good reason.

Or possibly it’s just that her reasons are so opaque. The scream for “I’m starving” sounds a lot like the scream for “I couldn’t eat another drop.” The scream for “I have soiled myself. How embarrassing.” is pretty indistinguishable from the scream for “if you remove my diaper, I’ll pee all over you.” And the scream for “please bring me my Sophie the giraffe” is quite similar to the scream for “I hate Sophie the giraffe, and if you squeak her one more time I’m going scream (which you might not be able to distinguish from this scream, but so be it).”

When she’s not screaming, she’s pretty delightful, although so far she’s shown no interest in Hilbert spaces, Objectivism, the Priory of Sion, or any of the other myriad topics I’ve tried to teach her about.

For entertainment she mostly enjoys being sung the “Where’s the Tiger?” song, which seems to be the Indian version of “Frère Jacques,” which (I figure) gives me license to sometimes sing it as “Where’s the Cobra?” or “Where is Gandhi?” or “What is Dharma?”

I also downloaded a bunch of rock-songs-as-lullabyes compilations, but once she realized the Dark Side of the Moon ones didn’t sync with The Wizard of Oz, we both lost interest and abandoned the project.

Anyway, she is a funny kid, and grooming her to take over the world someday really cuts into my writing and blogging time. (Also, not sleeping on account of her screaming really cuts into my writing and blogging energy.) But I now have a good idea for a parenting book, and an auto-repair manual, and a short story about a kid who likes baseball but is no good at it, so I’ll try to ease myself back into writing. Also, I’ve been criminally neglecting promotion for the spreadsheet book, so if you want to push a few copies of that on your friends, that would be kind.

We Learn to Give Each Other What We Need to Survive

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the song “Ebony and Ivory,” it’s that people are the same wherever we go. Alas, the educational establishment has been reluctant to embrace this truism, insisting on people-are-the-same-wherever-we-go-denying practices like tracking and electives, and (grudgingly) allowing charter schools a limited degree of “autonomy,” which is just a fancy word for “not following all the rules that our wiser-than-everyone-else education officials, in their near-infinite wisdom, insist that we follow.”

Signs are showing, however, that this is changing. First, brave pioneers like Texas are demonstrating the wisdom of a centrally-planned curriculum:

Teachers in Texas will be required to cover the Judeo-Christian influences of the nation’s Founding Fathers, but not highlight the philosophical rationale for the separation of church and state. Curriculum standards also will describe the U.S. government as a “constitutional republic,” rather than “democratic,” and students will be required to study the decline in value of the U.S. dollar, including the abandonment of the gold standard.


Republican Terri Leo, a member of the powerful Christian conservative voting bloc, called the standards “world class” and “exceptional.”

Indeed, it’s probably dangerous and/or irrelevant to teach kids about antiquated topics like “separation of church and state.” And how can you be a good citizen if you don’t learn the story of how George Washington was driving on the freeway one day and then broke down in tears and pulled over to the side of the road and accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior? It sounds like they also have pretty good plan to make sure that “world history” actually covers the entire several-thousand-year history of the world. (Unfortunately, it sounds like they still don’t have a plan to avoid spending way more time than scheduled on the Civil War and then end up having to cram all of post-World-War-II history into the last week of the school year.)

Nonetheless, this plan isn’t perfect. For instance, it only applies to children in Texas. Why should the kids in Washington and Alabama and North Dakota and Iowa be denied the benefits of a Terri-Leo-approved, one-size-fits-all education?

Luckily, governors and “education leaders” are on the same page:

Governors and education leaders on Wednesday proposed sweeping new school standards that could lead to students across the country using the same math and English textbooks and taking the same tests, replacing a patchwork of state and local systems in an attempt to raise student achievement nationwide.

One small sticking point seems to be that the good people of Texas, enamored of their seemingly-already-perfect system, are reluctant to throw their lot in with the other 49 states.

Nonetheless, the logic is inescapable. If one unified curriculum for all students in Texas is good, one unified curriculum for all students in the country is even better. Sure, some naysayers might claim that “different students learn differently” or “trying a variety of things could help us figure out what works best” or “there’s a chance that wingnuts could capture a centralized process and force a completely wingnut curriculum on everyone,” but (as was made clear in the song “Ebony and Ivory”) those are pretty weak objections.

And in the end, it’s hard to imagine that the Texas School Board won’t give in to logic. Which leaves us only with the issue of getting Your Religion Is False enthroned as part of the national-standard eighth-grade required reading. Can somebody introduce me to Arne Duncan?

Coffeefiltering the Coffee Party

Yesterday the Facebook News Feed was moderately functional for a change, which is how I discovered the existence of the Coffee Party, which had been Facebook-fanned by several of my Facebook friends and/or stalkers and/or stalkees.

Given that I drink approximately 10 cups of coffee a day, you’d expect that I’d be favorably inclined toward a Coffee Party. And indeed I was, until I read their Mission Statement:

MISSION: The Coffee Party Movement gives voice to Americans who want to see cooperation in government. We recognize that the federal government is not the enemy of the people, but the expression of our collective will, and that we must participate in the democratic process in order to address the challenges that we face as Americans. As voters and grassroots volunteers, we will support leaders who work toward positive solutions, and hold accountable those who obstruct them.

1. Americans who want to see cooperation in government.

Indeed we see little cooperation in government these days. Perhaps the Coffeefilters are nostalgic for bipartisan collaborations like the Wall Street Bailouts and the Iraq Resolution, and the Compromise of 1850.

But if you think about it, “cooperation” is not exactly an obvious desideratum. After all, for every Warren G & Nate Dogg there’s a Gwyneth Paltrow and Huey Lewis. For every David Bowie and Bing Crosby there’s a David Bowie and Mick Jagger. For every “The Girl is Mine” there’s a “Say Say Say.” For every “We Are the World” there’s a “We Are the World 25.”

I know they probably taught you otherwise in kindergarten, but there’s nothing intrinsically good about cooperation. Sometimes people *cough* Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney *cough* are cooperating to screw you.

2. We recognize that the federal government is not the enemy of the people, but the expression of our collective will

Now, as anyone who’s done graduate work in political science knows, it’s surprisingly tricky to define “collective will” in a coherent way. Nonetheless, the point here seems to be that most things the government does are things that we all agree upon, like overfunding remote airports named after politicians and holding secret negotiations to strengthen copyright laws and reauthorizing the Patriot Act and keeping marijuana illegal.

See, when the government locked up Japanese citizens during World War II, it wasn’t their enemy. When the government let people die of syphilis as part of an experiment, it wasn’t their enemy. When the government poisoned alcohol to scare people out of drinking, it wasn’t their enemy. It was expressing their collective will. Duh!

3. and that we must participate in the democratic process in order to address the challenges that we face as Americans.

Really? I’m only one American, but here’s a partial list of the challenges I face:

  • not enough people are buying my book
  • not enough people are writing 5-star reviews of my book
  • love iPhone; hate forced use of iTunes and AT&T
  • cannot fit CrossFit into my current schedule
  • think eggs seem like the ultimate food but hate the taste of them

Now, I’ve done as much graduate work in political science as the next guy, and I’m pretty unclear as to how participating in the Democratic process is going to help any of these things. (In fact, it’s gotten to the point where the people answering the phones at both my Senators’ offices recognize me as the “make eggs taste better guy” and refuse to pass on my messages.)

In fact, I’m more inclined toward Reihan Salam’s position:

I take solace in the possibility that despite–or perhaps because of–our inability to pass sweeping reform legislation without crafting ugly compromises that buy off those ever-present large and powerful private interests, we’re getting better, and faster, at solving the countless small problems that add up to big problems.

Or I guess we could count on our “collective will” and “cooperation” fixing everything, because there ain’t no nothing we can’t love each other through… Sha la la la.

4. As voters and grassroots volunteers, we will support leaders who work toward positive solutions, and hold accountable those who obstruct them.

And here, at last, is where the Coffeefilters demonstrate that they stand for nothing. Every idea is a “positive solution” to those who support it. Some people think the DMCA was a positive solution. Some people think the Patriot Act was a positive solution.

Politics is full of tradeoffs, and except in the rarest cases every “solution” is a negative for somebody. This is why whenever you look up a law in Wikipedia, you’ll usually find a section called “Criticisms,” and if you read that section you’ll often find descriptions of people who somehow managed to find faults in the “positive” solution.

You may not like the status quo, but you’d have to be pretty naive to think that every departure from it is an improvement and that those who obstruct such departures are necessarily the bad guys.

This is a kindergarten view of the world. This is a kindergarten view of politics. Don’t we get enough of that from the parties we have already?

Movie Review: Avatar 3-D

I very rarely go to the movies. Sure, I saw Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince out of a misguided hope that they’d depart from the source material and have Harry snog Luna, but for the most part I’d rather stay home and watch Conan the Barbarian over and over again on Netflix-on-Demand.

However, I’d heard good things about Avatar. For instance, it was made by James Cameron, creator of Jessica Alba. Also, it was made in 3-D, which everyone knows is 50% better than 2-D. In addition, I heard there was some sort of controversy involving the use of white actors to play “Asian-inspired” characters. (For my money, the characters were more “Amerindian-inspired” from their face paint down to their sacred trees.) Finally, the movie was supposed to be about 8 hours long, which meant that I’d get the most value for my movie-ticket-buying dollar.

So, the movie is set about 150 years in the future. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably wondering how things have progressed between now and then. Here’s what I know:

  • hibernation invented (or maybe stolen from bears)
  • space travel to distant planets possible
  • genetic engineering able to produce hybrids between civilized white people (notable for having five fingers and being civilized and white) and savage blue people (notable for having four fingers and being savage and blue)
  • mind melds invented (or maybe stolen from Star Trek)
  • new popular mineral: unobtanium
  • mild advances in helicopter technology
  • either inflation remains in check (“20 million dollars” is portrayed as a lot of money) or else US Dollar has been redenominated
  • “cheddar” still used as slang for riches
  • invention of oversized robotic military exoskeletons, and correspondingly oversized military knives
  • no healthcare reform (see below)

Now then, the Blue Man lives in nets suspended from “sacred trees,” where he carries bows and poison arrows while simultaneously respecting all life as sacred. The sacred tree has pollen that move like jellyfish and glow in the dark and have an affinity for the main character Sully Sullenberger, one of the aforementioned white-blue hybrids powered by the mind-melded brain of a paraplegic marine whose scientist twin provided the DNA before inopportunely dying and being placed in a cardboard box and incinerated.

Meanwhile, Sigourney Weaver is the scientist in charge of the blue-white hybrid project, and the guy who was Phoebe’s dumb half-brother on “Friends” is the MBA-driven leader (I forget his name, but it was something like “Piggy McGreedum” or “Spoily von Selfish”) of Unobtainium Amalgamated, and Michelle Rodriguez is a bad-ass who thinks for herself while getting an occasional DWI, and some guy with white hair (“Killy McKillington”) is an evil military commander (but I repeat myself).

Well, it won’t surprise you to learn that the biggest supply of unobtanium within 200 klicks is located right underneath that pesky sacred tree where the Blue Man lives. And (apparently) transportation technology has advanced so little that killing the Blue Man and blowing up his tree is seen as a preferable solution to just looking somewhere else.

After a comical series of misadventures involving not-dogs and flaming goo and rhinoceri-that-are-also-sledgehammers, Sully Sullenberger is accepted by the Blue Man, who teach him about sharing and caring and the wisdom of the sacred forest and how every creature has a biological FireWire port at the end of its ponytail or one of its tendrils, which can be linked together to share Pure Moods MP3s for noncommercial purposes. I’m just kidding, there are no commercial purposes among the Blue Man.

Sully’s real role, of course, is to convince the Blue Man to leave his ancestral sacred tree, so that von Selfish can get the unobtanium without having to send in McKillington to do some McKilling. If he succeeds, then they’ll pay for doctors to fix his paraplegia, which Obamacare apparently would not do.

It should come as no surprise to you that Sully discovers that (despite their not having bathrooms or electricity or even YouTube, or maybe because of all these things) life with the noble savage Blue Man is better than life among the so-called “civilized” White Man.

Now, life on the Blue Man Planet is ruled by an inter-species Antiochan Contract, where before jacking into and riding (e.g.) a not-horse or a not-pterodactyl, you have to get permission from the Womyn’s center. (For no real reason, not-pterodactyls FireWire with only one Blue Man for life; not-horses are comparatively promiscuous.) After carefully negotiating these treacherous waters, Sully dips his quill into the blue ink.

Where he discovers that (as they say) “Once You Go Blue, Nothing Else Will Do,” and then it’s all-out warfare, with important diversions to criticize greed, belittle terrorism, clamor for health care reform, bemoan the fact that there was “no green” back home on earth, make Desert Storm references, and a bunch of other things, all of which were very loud.

The 3-D was very impressive. Not only did it not give me the headache I was expecting (which I got from the 100dB explosions instead), but its use was fairly restrained. (Compare with the trailer for Tim Burton Presents Alice in Wonderland 3D which consisted primarily of 60 seconds of anthropomorphic playing cards trying to stab me.)

In the end, the Tree of Souls saves the day, as do other tribes of Blue Men (“Comanche” and “Cherokee”) who ride in on not-horses and help out. At the risk of providing spoilers, let’s just say that McGreedum and McKillington both get what they deserve for trying to rape a planet.

For some reason the movie didn’t contain any references to the McDonalds Avatar Meal, but that’s probably because I didn’t see the IMAX version (which was sold out until approximately March).

In conclusion, did you know that they’re remaking Clash of the Titans? Bastards.

Movie Review: Change Congress Chronicles, Volume 1

Inspired, perhaps, by Quentin Tarantino’s multi-part epic Kill Bill, auteur Larry Lessig has begun work on the not-dissimilar Change Congress Chronicles.

Volume 1, “Congressman Campbell is a Friend of the Auto Industry,” chronicles Congressman John Campbell, who is a friend of the auto industry.

The film quickly establishes the character of Campbell, who spent 25 of his pre-politics years working in the automotive industry. In the next scene, Campbell landlords for a bunch of used-car lots, earning somewhere between $600k and $6m a year. And a flashback reveals that Campbell has pocketed $170k in campaign contributions from the auto industry over the years.

At which point the film shifts gears to focus on the “Consumer Financial Protection Agency Act of 2008,” which (according to Lessig’s voice-over) is designed to protect consumers from the “shenanigans” of the “money-lending industry” (which everyone knows is a thinly-veiled euphemism for “Jews”).

The film does not delve into the bill’s merits or specifics, relying on astute viewers to infer that it represents an unalloyed good, based on both its opposition to “shenanigans” and its titular references to “consumers” and “protection.”

In an easy-to-guess plot twist, Campbell guts the bill by introducing an amendment that would exempt used-car dealers from its provisions, allowing them to continue their “shenanigans.” The film does not delve into the amendment’s merits either, relying on astute viewers to infer that it represents an unalloyed bad, based on both its opposition to opposition to “shenanigans” and its benefits to the used-car industry, which everyone knows consists primarily of dishonest, wicked people.

The movie ends with a three-fold call to action.

First, viewers are encouraged to “tweet” the Congressman, flooding his twitbox and letting him know that we’re onto him and his anti-anti-shenanigan agenda.

Second, viewers are encouraged to contact Congress, telling them to reject “this special interest legislation.” Presumably this refers to the Campbell amendment, which counts as “special interest legislation” on account of pertaining only to the interests of the “special” used-car industry, and not the original CFPAA, which pertains to the interests of the “unspecial” money-lending industry.

Finally, viewers are encouraged to demand public funding of elections. You see, if there were public funding of elections, then Campbell likely never would have spent 25 years working in the auto industry. And he certainly never would have gotten into the landlord-for-used-car-lots business. So he’d totally have no reason to take a particular interest in how proposed legislation affected the auto industry.

The film ends on a cliffhanger, as it deliberately avoids answering the obvious-to-the-viewer question “as long as Congress has the power to write laws favoring one special interest group at the expense of another, won’t these interest groups use any means they can (which obviously includes a lot more than campaign contributions) to get the laws to favor them and disfavor others?”

I’m excited to see how Lessig resolves this in his next film.

Obama: Let’s Borrow Money and Give it to Old People

Great news, Senior Citizens! President Obama wants to give you $250!

Why? Probably so you’ll vote for him again come 2012.

There’s some sort of nominally non-tawdry reason, too.

You see, by law, Social Security payments increase each year in a manner pegged to inflation. When Rascal Scooters and Life Alerts and diabeetus testing supplies and Centrum Silver get more expensive, Social Security checks get bigger to compensate.

This year, however, prices haven’t gone up! (According to government bean-counters, anyway.) How will seniors get by if we don’t cut them extra checks?

Listen to the heartless fat-cats in Congress:

“I think it would be inappropriate,” said Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H. “The reason we set up this process was to have the Social Security reimbursement reflect the cost of living.”

Now, at least a few of our elected betters understand that not granting a cost of living increase just because the cost of living didn’t increase amounts to “turning our backs” on Senior Citizens:

“I think that the Obama administration and many members of Congress understand that we simply can’t turn our backs on senior citizens,” Sanders said.

I’m convinced!

My only concern is where the President will get the $13 billion to dole out. Last I checked government revenues were falling short of government expenditures by a trillion dollars, give or take.

But according to a “senior administration official,” Obama’s got this figured out too. We’ll simply borrow the money!

Who wouldn’t want to risk their capital for a sure investment like “give free money to old people”? Obviously it can’t compare with “pay people to destroy functional cars” or “give free money to everybody” or “give more free money to old people,” but in today’s investment climate, I dare you to find something better!

Got My Domain Back

Due to a combination of carelessness, disorganization, and ineptitude, I let my domain expire a couple of years ago.  For many dark months, it pointed at a page of useless ads that I can’t imagine anyone being willing to click on.

Recently I checked and discovered that it was about to expire, and so I entered into an “auction” to get it back.  Armed with my economics degree and my copy of Auction Theory, I proceeded to grossly overbid, at which point I got my domain back.

Now, what should I do with it?