March 11th, 2008

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Unintented Consequences

A political twofer today, as prominent Democrats say and do dumb things.

First off: what in heaven's name were the Clintons thinking? It sounds like their trial of a VP offer to Obama was supposed to sound magnanamous, but in fact it simply comes across as arrogant, even hubristic. The timing is all wrong, and simply gives him a fine excuse to point out (over and over and over on the news) that he's in the lead. Given that she is betting essentially everything on gaining and retaining enough momentum to give her a shot at talking her way into the top spot at the convention, it was foolish -- it only distracts from that momentum. Even worse, it means that any negative campaigning they do simply comes across as hypocritical: if they think he might be good enough for the VP, that's a tacit admission that he *is* good enough to be President.

Okay, looking at it more cagily, I can see what's going on here. It wasn't intended to have anything to do with the voters -- it was entirely played to the super-delegates, trying to convince them that the *best* ticket is Clinton/Obama, in that order. But they really underestimated how connected everything is nowadays, and the inability to pitch something to a targeted audience without side-effects. In practice, by letting this idea be too well-known too early, they've nearly scuttled it -- Obama now *has* to publicly disavow the idea, and the more the idea gets pushed, the harder he's going to have to deny it. Which is a pity, because if I read him right, he's not against the idea in principle. (The wording of his denials so far looks very careful.) But by making the matter public, the Clintons have made it much more difficult.

And then there's the Spitzer thing. Honestly, I feel kind of sorry for him. The public has a bad habit of expecting our politicians to be super-humanly perfect: the fact that people are talking openly about him resigning over a personal impropriety seems like an exaggerated reaction to me. I didn't like it when it happened to Bill Clinton, and I don't like it now. I far prefer the French attitude that a politician's private life is, by and large, private.

That said, he kind of asked for it. Most politicians could ride this out, damaged but still reasonably effective. But Spitzer has built his entire career on a holier-than-thou image, and that set him up for ordinary weakness to look *really* bad. In particular, a man who made a name (in part) busting prostitution rings cannot then go partaking of one.

It's a pity, because I think he's a pretty honorable guy. Indeed, I'm very pleased at how directly he's come at the matter: no denials or evasions, just a flat apology and a correct sense of priorities. (That apologizing to his family comes first.) But he's got a real challenge now. Either he resigns, or he's going to have to work *very* hard to regain the public trust. The problem with a crystal-clear reputation is that it's brittle -- now that it's broken, he's going to have to work much harder to put it back together...
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HTML: Where it's Going

Been meaning to post this for a while. Those who are involved in Web design (a lot of my friends) may be curious to see where the HTML language is going. They *are* evolving it, slowly but surely -- one of these years, HTML 5 is going to come out, and it's fairly different. For those who want to see how, check out this summary of HTML 5 differences from HTML 4.

It's just a draft, mind, and the details will undoubtedly continue to change, but you can see the broad strokes of where they are going with this. The separation of structure from presentation continues, with most of the presentation details formally removed from the language in favor of using CSS instead. In exchange, a whole lot of new structural semantics get added -- some of which I'm a bit skeptical about, like "article" and "dialog" -- as well as a lot of APIs for adding fancier functions like audio and video in a vaguely consistent way.

None of it's earth-shattering, but it's at least trying to be a purer language, with the focus strictly on the content rather than the look-and-feel. Of course, they are also requiring browser makers to keep supporting all the old crap for the time being, so I don't actually expect to see this purity come into practice any too quickly, but I can appreciate the aesthetics of what they're doing here...
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The Weekend, It Was

Before I forget: it was a fun and interesting weekend.

Friday evening, msmemory was busy with an Eastern Star function, so I went down to outlander's church production of Godspell. I was sitting near the front (joined by etherial and rosinavs at intermission), so that we could be flirting targets in her performance of "Turn Back, O Man". I'd never seen the show before (gap in my education, I know), so wasn't quite sure what to expect, but it was a fine time. Performances were variable, of course, with the best singers generally in the lead roles, but there were some standouts, including a professional-grade rendition of "O, Bless the Lord My Soul" that brought down the house.

I now understand why this has been consuming so much of her time lately, though: they had an astounding cast of over 80 people, and somehow managed to keep everything together anyway. The first half was dominated by the kids (with what appeared to be one song for each of the classes), but avoided being excessively cute: the kids were working hard and doing quite well. Indeed, the overall stage management was pretty damned impressive, keeping that huge group moving in and out smoothly from number to number. (And the set was faboo: good enough to provoke a discussion afterwards about how much it looked like old North Station. They managed to perfectly reproduce Boston's classic corroded green steel uprights, in graffiti'ed foam-core.)

Saturday was focused on tpau's birthday party. Once again, we found ourselves glad at having bought a house specifically designed for parties, and folks seemed to have a good time. No surprise, the first half of the party was spent pretty much entirely in the dining room (where the food was), and the second half in the living room. This seems to be a general pattern for parties, and may even be consistent enough to quantify. The earlier phases of a party are typically larger, center on the food, and have many small conversations going. The later phases get smaller, move to the comfy chairs, and settle down on one larger conversation. The state transition happens at around 10-12 people, pretty reliably, far as I can tell.

Anyway, party done and we have a clean house again. One advantage of hosting parties regularly is that it forces us to clean the house a bit. A couple of hours of tidying beforehand gets things presentable, and orderly enough that cleanup after the party is quick. So long as we hold parties often enough, the clutter doesn't have time to get too bad...