THEM

[Amazon Link]

In a recent book-meme posting, Shawn Macomber named this book as one that made him laugh. Hearty concurrence here. Subtitled "Adventures with Extremists", it's a very personalized chronicle of Jon Ronson, journalist, as he travels 'round the world to interview and hang out with people who (loosely) believe that most happenings in the world are secretly controlled by a secret small group of incredibly powerful men. (None of whom we, unfortunately, know.)

Among Ronson's subjects are Omar Bakri Mohammed, (then) a radical Muslim in England; Randy Weaver and his (surviving) family; the Bilderberg Group; David Icke; various flavors of Klansmen; Ian Paisley; the attendees at Bohemian Grove. He gets along with a lot of outrageous people by being agreeable and non-confrontational, but remains extremely sharp-eyed and -eared.

I detect you wondering: dealing with subjects like that, how funny can it be? Answer: Pretty funny. Much of the reported dialog could have been written by Monty Python or Christopher Guest. Especially the David Icke chapter; Icke and his group believe some mighty strange things about those secretive controllers of everything. Namely, that they are (literally) lizards. But, while visiting Canada, Icke runs up against hate-speech laws, because authorities suspect that he's actually anti-Semitic, and that his lizard-talk is simply a metaphor. So Ronson observes as Icke's group tries to convince people that, no, we're not talking about Jews, we're talking about lizards.

Jon Ronson's website is here. Looks as if a movie version of this book is in the works involving the sainted Jack Black.


Last Modified 2012-10-22 6:14 AM EDT

Hundred Dollar Baby

[Amazon Link]

It's a minor joy every year or so to read the new Spenser novel by Robert B. Parker. In this one, Spenser continues his run of very bad luck in clients. April Kyle, the hooker from previous books, returns to ask his help in saving her house of ill repute from a group of thugs who want something ill-defined from her.

Unfortunately this is not a case where things are easily resolved by wisecrackery and fisticuffs. As usual, a body soon appears. Nobody gives Spenser a straight story, including his client. And (also as usual), Spenser follows the trail right to the end, which pretty much nobody wants him to do, (also) including his client.

Parker makes his kind of spare writing look easy. But if it were easy, a lot more people would be doing it.


Last Modified 2012-10-22 6:17 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-10-28

Apologies for the light posting, and apologies for the arrogance that assumes you care about light posting.

  • Part of the problem is the political climate; politicians seem devoted to winning the race to stupid. (And, again, apologies for my implied above-it-all superior posture here. That can get tedious. But, geez.) Bill Gnade sums it up very well: well:
    It is a controversial time. It is a pathetic time. Rarely is it ever a fun time, or even a funny time. It is nearly always a petty time, a mean one, full of vitriol and sarcasm and lies. I am talking about election time, particularly that time when political commercials bombard us.
    But read the whole thing, he's got much more to say.

  • But despaireth thou not. For I have the perfect quote to get you to go do your civic duty at your local polling place. As Lazurus Long said (or, I guess, will say someday):
    If you are part of a society that votes, then do so. There may be no candidates and no measures you want to vote for … but there are certain to be ones you want to vote against. By this rule you will rarely go wrong.

    If this is too blind for your taste, consult some well-meaning fool (there is always one around) and ask his advice. Then vote the other way. This enables you to be a good citizen (if such is your wish) without spending the enormous amount of time on it that truly intelligent exercise of franchise requires.

    A bunch of Lazarus Long quotes are thoughtfully, illegibly, and almost certainly illegally posted here.

  • You should read 10 Useless or Even Dangerous First Aid Myths, before you, like, kill someone. (The comments are a riot, too. Via BBSpot.)

URLs du Jour

2006-10-26

  • Possibly I will shut up about vegemite someday. Today is not that day. At Cato's blog, Michael F. Cannon recaps the saga so far, and points out the FDA's shoddy and disgusting record on folic acid. The phrase "5,000 unnecessary cases of spina bifida" appears.

  • If you're one of the folks who "act as if choosing whom to vote for is like choosing sides to cheer or boo at a sports event": Dafydd gives you someone to cheer for in the World Series.

  • Dean Barnett is on to something, I think, with his observations about use of "absolute moral authority" in political arguments.
    The left's strategy is to have absolute moral authority figures like the Jersey Girls or Cindy Sheehan carry its message. The messengers would also necessarily be victims so if you got down 'n' dirty with them, you would automatically qualify as a cretin.
    The pathos involved appeals to a certain mindset. There's also a certain calculated cynicism involved in pushing selected "victims" into the limelight.

Further Adventures of Linux Boy

If you're one of those sad addicts that keeps checking Pun Salad every few minutes, you might have noticed an extended service outage yesterday; this was caused by an upgrade of the underlying Linux distribution from Fedora Core 5 (FC5) to Fedora Core 6 (FC6). So the bits you're now reading have been flung onto your computer by FC6. Enjoy.

Basically, things went well. Much better than the FC4→FC5 upgrade (chronicled here) earlier this year.

The bittorrent images of the six FC6 CDs were straightforward to download, although it took pretty much all day Tuesday to do it.

Once the CDs were burned, I took the good advice of reading the release notes first. They suggested that to do the initial media check, you boot with linux ide=nodma instead of just hitting the return key. Once you've verified your CDs, you're supposed to reboot without the ide=nodma option. Kludgy, although I suppose there are good reasons why they can't get it to work without this.

That out of the way, I went for the upgrade option; the alternative is to install from scratch. The release notes recommend a fresh install, but if you do that you need to back up files, then painstakingly restore them post-install. This is assuming you can figure out what a fresh install is likely to wipe out—if you guess wrong, that's just too darn bad, partner. I'd prefer to take my chances with an upgrade. (The Fedora Wiki also has notes on upgrading.)

In this case, the upgrade worked fine, although it was slow. Almost two hours from start to finish (including the media check). Another few minutes to do a yum update and upgrade 40-odd packages that had newer versions from those on the CDs.

I don't want to seem superficial, but what first struck me was a noticebly more legible font in my terminal windows. The release notes call this "DejaVu", and it's nice. (The release notes are obviously the definitive place to go for the official list of new and improved stuff.)

Final upgrade note: I had previously installed a pre-release Fedora Core 6 on my Dell Dimension 4400; upgrading that to the real FC6 only required about 10 minutes, and only the first of the five install CDs. Very smooth and fast.

This is not a professional review, obviously; you shouldn't conclude too much from my experiences. But, given that caveat, Fedora Core 6 gets two big thumbs way up; I'll let you know should anything happen to change that assessment.


Last Modified 2012-10-22 6:16 AM EDT

The Sentinel

[Amazon Link] [2.5
stars] [IMDb Link]

No House, a World Series where neither team is named the "Red Sox", makes it movie night in Rollinsford, New Hampshire.

  • To go along with the frenetic quick-cut MTV-style editing of this movie, I'll just do a bunch of bullet points.

  • Bad guys want to kill the US President for (as near as I can tell) unspecified reasons. They're foreign, and I guess that's supposed to be reason enough.

  • Once you think about the movie in retrospect, their insidious plot is unnecessarily complex. There's a mole in the Secret Service; how hard can it possibly be?

  • Michael Douglas plays the hero, and he's really getting, well, up there, as are we all. What he needs in this movie is a young sidekick, someone he can repeatedly call 'buddy boy'.

  • Kiefer Sutherland plays Jack Bauer, except there's a spot where he really could have and (arguably) should have shot someone in the thigh, but failed to do so. Plus which, his wife's alive.

  • I personally don't see Michael Douglas canoodling with Kim Basinger. That strains credulity.

  • So does Kim Basinger playing First Lady.

  • For that matter, David Rasche playing the President?! I'm sorry, he'll always be Sledge Hammer to me. Who needs the Secret Service? Give him a gun, he'll take care of himself!

  • And why did they shoot that first guy? If they explained that, I missed it. Did he know something? What? How did they know that he knew it? If it was so darn important, why didn't he tell someone, like, right away?

  • At least I didn't fall asleep. That counts for something.


Last Modified 2012-10-22 6:14 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-10-24

  • Pete du Pont reminds us why Republicans richly deserve to lose:
    Republicans gave line-item veto power to the Democratic president in the 1990s, but refused to give it to the current Republican president. They haven't made the Bush tax cuts permanent. They wouldn't bring individual ownership of Social Security retirement accounts to a vote. They haven't done anything on health care. And they have raised federal spending by $750 billion since 2001 and for fiscal 2006 approved 10,000 earmarks costing $29 billion. Conservative principles seem to have faded away, and ethical principles have weakened--names like DeLay, Ney, and Foley make the point.
    He's also quite dispiriting on the likely outcome should Democrats gain control of the House.

  • For example …

  • Ted Frank reports that the FDA ban on vegemite may be an urban legend. Apologies for yesterday's misinformation. This means that there's one fewer reason to destroy the FDA, still leaving lots of others.

    Plus which, I still can't get that damn song out of my head.

  • Professor Althouse notices Dubya calling the Google "the Google". As if it were something new; Pun Salad has been doing that for over ten months.

  • It drove my mom nuts when people called it "Daylight Savings Time". "It's Daylight Saving Time," she'd point out, correctly. (She was, no doubt, a major source of my own pedantry.) Eric Bakovic at Language Log has a fascinating post covering that issue and much, much more.


Last Modified 2012-10-22 6:31 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-10-23

  • Buying bread from a man in brussels
    He was six foot four and full of muscles
    I said, do you speak-a my language?
    He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich
    So I had him arrested.

    Time to abolish the FDA.

  • Mickey Kaus pulls a killer quote from Nancy Pelosi from an LATimes article:
    The gavel of the speaker of the House is in the hands of special interests, and now it will be in the hands of America's children.
    Geez. I mean … geez. I think she kind of got it right there.

  • As Nietzsche observed: if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you. Unless you're Chuck Norris.


Last Modified 2012-10-22 6:32 AM EDT

Thank You For Smoking

[Amazon Link] [3.0
stars] [IMDb Link]

The second movie in our Sunday night double-feature (which, in blog logic, puts it above the first movie). It's OK, but not quite as funny as it thinks it is.

Aaron Eckhart is a good-looking, fast-thinking, likeable tobacco industry lobbyist Nick Naylor. I was about to say "sleazeball", but that's not exactly true; Nick's doing nothing underhanded. He's just putting the industry's best possible arguments forward.

And (as it develops) the movie is not really about anything much, other than Nick interacting with a bunch of other people who are just trying to pay their mortgages. (The only apparent exception: a gang of extremist anti-tobacconists who are portrayed unsympathetically.)

Nobody actually smokes in the movie. An interesting choice, although it makes a scene late in the movie when Nick is told that he must give up smoking kind of peculiar; the viewer didn't know that he smoked in the first place.


Last Modified 2012-10-22 6:26 AM EDT

Art School Confidential

[Amazon Link] [4.0
stars] [IMDb Link]

This movie got lackluster reviews (only 34% on the Tomatometer, link above) but I enjoyed it quite a bit. Perhaps it's because I'm a bit less reverential about art than your average reviewer. Which puts me more in sympathy with the attitude of the filmmakers.

Indeed, most of the artists portrayed here seem to be mediocre or worse. That includes both students and teachers at Strathmore, the art school of the title; it's a huge collection of low-talent posers and hacks. The most common trait is self-delusion, and that's always a prime target for amusement. Our incoming-freshman hero, Jerome, is likeable enough, earnest and sensitive, although his main motivation for becoming an artist seems to be that it will attract women.

That doesn't work out. As a result, Jerome alternates between blubbering sentimentality, brain-dead cynicism, and increasingly desperate and fruitless attempts to wow his peers. Complicating things is a serial killer, the "Strathmore Strangler," haunting the campus. Everything's resolved at the end.


Last Modified 2012-10-22 6:26 AM EDT

Not That You Care Department


HowManyOfMe.com
LogoThere are:
25
people with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

One of them is this guy, although I'm pretty sure he wasn't born with it.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 9:42 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2006-10-22

  • Did Star Trek have a fascist ideology? Find out in Kelly Ross's essay "The Fascist Ideology of Star Trek". Also see Captain Ed's comments.

    Hey, we dumped on Star Wars last week. So it's only fair.

  • Drew Cline looks at Cato's "B" grade for NH governor John Lynch's fiscal policy and speculates: "He must've been graded on a curve."

  • Elizabeth Edwards has apologized to Senator Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Edwards had reportedly claimed that "I think I'm more joyful than she is." From the linked article:
    "Unfortunately, large portions of the material released by (Ladies' Home Journal) as quoted statements by me were erroneous and nearly all the statements, either because of significant omissions, or editing, or error, give a mis-impression about what I said," Edwards said. "This is particularly true with respect to my comments about Sen. Clinton, who holds a serious and demanding public office while I am largely home, joyfully I must admit, with two lovely children."
    In Pun Salad's neck of the woods, this is called "twisting the knife."

The Trouble With Physics

[Amazon Link]

Once upon a time, in a strange and faraway land, I was a physics major. But eventually, I decided computers were more fun. Lee Smolin gives some reassurance that I made the right move, as he looks at how theoretical physics has developed over the past quarter-century, and sees a whole bunch of things that make him sad.

Smolin's main gripes are with string theory, and (perhaps even more) with string theorists. String theory has, over the past couple decades, been the primary attempt to "explain everything" in theoretical physics: the elementary particles, forces, space, time, the universe, that stuff. Its adherents, claim Smolin, find it too beautiful and elegant not to be true. Smolin says that current versions are likely untestable,

The main part of the book is a history and overview of string theory. I think it's fair to say that it will quickly become inpenetrable for the lay reader. Smolin avoids math, understandable for this type of book, but it's much like watching a football game blindfolded. (There are some pretty good stories along the way, including an amazing one about how Freeman Dyson avoided Albert Einstein at Princeton.)

The later part of the book is more accessible. Smolin discusses the "sociology" of modern theoretical physics, the philosophy of science, and advocates more openness in the physics community toward newcomers wishing to explore alternative frameworks.


Last Modified 2012-10-22 6:17 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-10-20

  • Cato has issued its Fiscal Policy Report Card on America's Governors: 2006. From the Executive Summary:
    Only one governor receives an A this year — Republican Matt Blunt of Missouri. The next two highest-scoring Republicans are Rick Perry of Texas and Mark Sanford of South Carolina. The highest-scoring Democratic governors are John Lynch of New Hampshire and Phil Bredesen of Tennessee.
    Emphasis added for Graniteers. Only six governors received "B" grades from Cato, including Governor Lynch.

  • If you want to hear some good arguments for raising the Federal gasoline tax —hey, wait a minute, stop throwing stuff at me!—by one dollar per gallon—Ow! That hurt! Stoppit!—you should probably head on over to Greg Mankiw's blog where he reproduces his WSJ op-ed from today. Professor Mankiw is a very sensible guy, which means that his proposals stand a slim chance of being enacted.

  • Elizabeth Edwards thinks she's more joyful than Hillary Clinton. That's a pretty low bar to clear, though.

    For the record, Pun Salad considers itself more joyful than Cute Overload. Beat that, Blogosphere!

URLs du Jour

2006-10-19

  • The NYT significantly improves the quality of their op-ed page by printing Charles Murray's column on the recent online gambling bill.
    So, a month before a major election, the Republicans have allied themselves with a scattering of voters who are upset by online gambling and have outraged the millions who love it. Furthermore, judging from many hours of online chat with Internet poker players, I am willing to bet (if you'll pardon the expression) that the outraged millions are disproportionately electricians, insurance agents, police officers, mid-level managers, truck drivers, small-business owners — that is, disproportionately Republicans and Reagan Democrats.
    The fact that he's going after the GOP probably explains why he's getting Strange New Respect from the NYT.

  • Bruce Schneier is a smart guy, but this sentence from his recent Forbes.com essay (on the increasing permanance of electronic conversation) demonstrates why even smart guys can be selectively blind:
    This represents an enormous loss of freedom and liberty, and the only way to solve the problem is through legislation.
    Eyes roll. Heads shake. Millions mutter, "Yeah, sure. That'll work."

    Schneier is a good and knowledgable skeptic on security measures. But like many lefties, he's got a childlike religious faith in legislation and regulation.

  • We had some fun with James B. South, chair of the Marquette U. Philosophy department last month; although he is (self-) described as a "strong supporter of academic freedom", he was not strong enough to resist ripping down a "patently offensive" quote from a neighboring office door:
    As Americans we must always remember that we all have a common enemy, an enemy that is dangerous, powerful, and relentless. I refer, of course, to the federal government.
    The author of that patently offensive quote was Dave Barry. And, as Dave would say, I am not making this up.

    Although there have been no major new developments in the case, more people are taking notice and raining down richly-deserved ridicule on Chairman South. Marquete PoliSci prof James McAdams, who originally publicized the incident, has a bunch of links here, here, and here. The Torch is all over the matter here, here, and here. (UNH fans will also want to view this entry, where one of our university's historical free-speech follies is remembered.)

    But we're all about being fair and balanced here at Pun Salad. Coming down on Chairman South's side is Glenn Garvin, TV critic for the Miami Herald: Dave Barry must be stopped! Garvin exposes, as he puts it, "the practically unfathomable evil of Dave Barry and his plot to take over the world, one booger at a time." So you'll want to check that out too.

  • Bulletin: Howard Dean reaches out to conservatives! I haven't received his letter yet, but Iowahawk has.

An Unsent Letter to the Editor

There's been a small amount of discussion in UNH's student newspaper The New Hampshire about Professor Woodward, our own famous 9/11 conspiracy-monger.

One David Samra, a junior Philosophy major penned an anti-Woodward letter to the editor, appearing in the October 13 issue. ("Woodward supporters have double standard") It's not great, but not awful.

But it prompted a comeback from one Barbara Estock, a senior majoring in "Studio Arts". ("Get the facts, support Woodward")

Which almost got me to send in my own response. But after writing it, I asked myself: Why in the world would I want to have a letter in the student newspaper? Couldn't come up with a good reason. I decided to share it with y'all instead.

In her letter of October 17, Barbara Estock attempts to rebut David Samra's contention that "the vast majority of Americans would never consider 9/11 to be perpetrated by the president" by citing a recent CNN poll that said (in her words) "45% (almost half) of Americans blame the current administration for 9/11."

This is nonsense. One can look up the CNN report on the web. (http://www.cnn.com/2006/POLITICS/09/11/911.poll/index.html) One can view the exact wording of the poll question and the results as well. (http://i.a.cnn.net/cnn/2006/images/09/11/rel21i.pdf)

While 45% of those polled attached "a great deal" or a "moderate amount" of "blame" to the Bush administration for the September 11th terrorist attacks, 41% of those polled leveled the same amount of "blame" at the Clinton administration. Given the poll's 3% margin of error, Bush and Clinton received about the same amount of "blame."

Does this indicate, as Ms. Estock apparently would have it, that 41% of Americans believe that the 9/11 attacks were perpetrated by President Clinton? No. The poll question was clearly not speaking to the issue of who planned and carried out the attacks; instead, it was concerned with assigning responsibility for failing to stop them. To imply otherwise, as Ms. Estock does, is misleading. It's also kind of ironic, considering the headline given to her letter: "Get the facts, support Woodward."

This is a small point, but illuminates something unfortunately typical of the debating style of conspiracists. "Facts" are presented incompletely and out of context to shore up an incoherent mush of dark fantasy. When the "facts" are followed up with even a remotely skeptical eye, there's not a lot of substance.

I don't think Ms. Estock was intentionally being deceptive here; it's more likely she's credulously recycling some talking point she's picked up from somewhere. Indeed, the CNN poll is also cited on the website of Professor Woodward's "Scholars for 9/11 Truth" organization (http://www.scholarsfor911truth.org/Resources.html) as if it signified something telling and ominous on this issue. It doesn't.

It's no big deal to have this happen in the pages of a student newspaper or a wacky website. But if it's happening in a UNH classroom, people are correct to be concerned.

True story: Dave Attell, famous comedian, came to UNH to do a show. When told that the name of the student newspaper was The New Hampshire, he replied: "Wow, what an original name, The New Hampshire. What was the back up name, The Newspaper?"

Last Modified 2012-10-22 9:58 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-10-17 (PM Edition)

OK, I'm all better now.

  • Ever wonder why Andrew Sullivan will set your teeth on edge? Bill Gnade at Contratimes, I think, has some insight on the matter.
    Mr. Sullivan abhors fundamentalism, it is clear. Yet he is apparently blind to that fundamentalism to which he holds so tenaciously: he is ignorant to the fact that everyone holds certain truths as fundamentals. Some truths, of course, are not one whit fun and are rather mental. But there is something rather fundamentally flawed in those who believe they are able to transcend religion and exist in some sort of political neutral zone, where religion does not reside. Religious faith resides everywhere. There is no escaping this fact. Any position that denies this is futile and pretentious. A man who theorizes we can fully partition the atmosphere can only exist in a vacuum: he may be a fine writer at a fashionable journal but he will be smothered should he put his theory into practice. Politics can exist independent of religious precepts about as well as nature loves a vacuum.

    Yes, another pun has crept into Pun Salad. Again, our apologies. Those responsible for sacking the people who have just been sacked, have been sacked.

  • Via Ann Althouse: Popular Mechanics' editor, James Meigs, has onlined his Afterword to the book Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can't Stand Up to the Facts. It's an excellent rundown of conspiracist tactics. He also shares some of his hate mail, which is predictably odious. Read the whole thing. Really.

    One illuminating point I'll single out: Meigs refers to "conventions where hundreds of like-minded 'skeptics' gather to compare notes." The sneer-quotes around 'skeptics' are richly deserved; these folks, Meigs makes clear, may be the most gullible people on earth. We're used to tossing off the line "If you believe that, you'll believe anything" without thinking too much about it. The conspiracy fantasists make me realize how applicable—and how scary—that saying really is.

  • Should I ever be in the hospital for a painful medical procedure, I would like to think that I would be incredibly brave and maintain my sense of humor. Like Cathy Seipp.

    Probably I wouldn't. But I'd like to think that. Cathy's got the right stuff. In her spare time, she deftly demolishes the thesis of From My Cold, Dead Hands: Charlton Heston And American Politics by Emilie Raymond, assistant professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth University.

  • Lileks movies into Iowahawk territory with a Minnesotan smackdown satire of Garrison Keillor. At least I think it's satire. If it's not, I don't want to know.

  • Finally, the intrepid researchers at McSweeney's have discovered the long-sought 1939 denial of tenure letter sent to Assistant Professor Henry "Indiana" Jones Jr.
    Dr. Jones's behavior on campus has led not only to disciplinary action but also to concerns as to the state of his mental health. In addition to multiple instances of public drunkenness, Dr. Jones, on three separate occasions, has attempted to set fire to the herpetology wing of the biology department. Perhaps most disturbing, however, are the statements that come directly from Dr. Jones's mouth. Several faculty members maintain that Dr. Jones informed them on multiple occasions of having discovered the Ark of the Covenant, magic diamond rocks, and the Holy Grail! When asked to provide evidence for such claims, he purportedly replied that he was "kind of immortal" and/or muttered derogatory statements about the "bureaucratic fools" running the U.S. government. Given his history with the Nazi Party, I fear where his loyalty lies.
    "I hate snakes, Jock. I hate 'em." (Via GeekPress.)


Last Modified 2008-05-16 4:22 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-10-17 (AM Edition)

Oh dear me, I've been having a hard time blogging about matters political. While I'm ostensibly interested in the upcoming elections, I'm pretty much fretful that, no matter who wins, they'll invariably think they've won for the wrong reason.

So some unpolitical URLs this time around. You're welcome.

  • Via BBSpot, Men's Journal's list of the 25 Best Beers in America. Why, that might be a good list to keep on hand for Election Night, as you watch the returns come in! Granite Staters will cheer as our local Smuttynose Brewing Company makes the list with their "Big A IPA", which is deemed "uncouth". But in a good way.

  • But if beer is not your thing, you'll definitely want to stock up on red wine, after reading about a new study:
    Red wine might work to protect the brain from damage after a stroke and drinking a couple of glasses a day might provide that protection ahead of time, U.S. researchers reported on Sunday.
    My preference is Livingston Cellars California Burgundy, which the linked site claims "excels with grilled or roasted red meats". This review, on the other hand, found "that it went just fine with a Red Baron Singles Deep Dish Cheese Pizza." Inexplicably, I was unable to find an opinion at Professor Bainbridge's Wine Blog; it seems he goes for the stuff with dates on the label.

  • But it's not all life-saving booze URLs here at Pun Salad. The (I'm told) excellent science fiction writer John Scalzi unloads on George Lucas and his vision of Star Wars.
    … let's not pretend that the Star Wars series is this great piece of entertainment. … Instead, let's call it what it is: A monument to George Lucas pleasuring himself. Which, you know, is fine. I'm happy for Lucas; it's nice that he was able to do that for himself. We all like to make ourselves happy. But since he did it all in public, I just wish he'd been a little more entertaining about it.
    He's actually a little more R-rated in other parts of the essay. One of the commenters links to an older, also entertaining, essay: The Complex and Terrifying Reality of Star Wars Fandom where one Andrey Summers convincingly argures that "Star Wars fans hate Star Wars". It's like Zen. (Scalzi link via the aforementioned Prof Bainbridge).

  • Ken Jennings proves, once again, that it's fun to be a trivia geek, as he visits Memphis on his book tour:
    I was checked into hotel room 1729. I'm no math nerd, but I've played enough quiz bowl to remember the famous story about Srinivasa Ramanujan knowing that 1729 is the smallest number that can be expressed as the sum of two different cubes in two different ways. In fact, I think I heard Jeopardy!'s Steve Chernicoff tell this story the other day when we were at dinner in San Francisco. So I christened my room at the Marriott "Roomanujan."
    Ken, being a Mormon, does not drink.

Yes, that last item contained, arguably, a pun. We apologize. Those responsible have been sacked.


Last Modified 2012-10-22 9:58 AM EDT

NH Blog-Con

I think it's safe to say a good time was had by all at yesterday's Blog-Con at the Common Man restaurant in Concord, NH. Save perhaps for the waitstaff, who put up with us. Many thanks to TJ, the organizer, who has a list of attendees and a spiffy video. (I'm right at the beginning of the video, the tall bald geek in the background talking to Bill Gnade. Don't worry, it gets better.)

One of the folks I met was Tony Schinella of Politizine, who also has an article about the shindig.

See y'all next year!

A Brief Linux-Geek Digression

The aging Dell Dimension 4400 at home had developed terminal Windows senility. Having served both Pun Son and Salad Daughter with service in writing high school papers, game-playing, and tempting Internet downloads, its registry was a nightmare. It had undergone several bouts with viruses and spyware (thanks, kids!), and I suspect the ordeal left it in a permanently befuddled state.

The final insult came this past weekend, when it started claiming that it was running a counterfeit version of Windows XP. It's hard to not take something like that personally. This is why they make computers without necks. If it had had one, I would have strangled it.

I took a quick inventory of what I was really using the box for. Pretty much just web surfing and opening terminal windows to machines at work with PuTTY. Microsoft Word, for a few things, but nothing too vital. I gave up on Microsoft Money for home finance a few months back; it's just as easy to pay bills in a web browser these days.

So: wipe the disk, install Linux. That'll teach it. My first effort was Ubuntu. I've heard good things about it, and, even though their relentless cheerful multicultural self-backpatting on their website was a little off-putting, why not? I downloaded and burned their 6.06.01 "live CD", and it seemed to work fine. On boot, you get a slow version of Linux running off the CD, so you can play around and verify that networking works, and so on. When you're confident, you can click on the "Install" icon, and you're off to the races.

Fine: the questions asked during the install process were not hard, and things went well … until the part where the install pronounced itself 10%, 20%, … 59% complete, at which point it hung up. The mouse still moved the cursor, but that was about it.

Try again, another hang at 59%. Sigh. (At this point, the disk had been formatted; no chickening out back to Windows.)

I could have, I suppose, scouted around for what was really going on. Instead, I dumped Ubuntu, and tried out the cold-hearted capitalists at Red Hat for their Fedora distribution. I decided to go with a prerelease of Fedora Core 6. This involved burning 5 (non-live) CDs.

But Fedora's install went through, unlike Ubuntu's. Maybe the installer asked a few more questions than Ubuntu did, but nothing too tough.

One minor glitch when I, on a whim, opted to install "Software Development" packages; this demanded an Internet connection, which failed miserably. Reboot and restart.

My keyboard also suddenly went mute when it was time to specify a non-root user. OK, we'll do that later.

Then for some inexplicable reason, networking was non-functional in the post-install reboot. What's up with that? Did I miss an important question in the installation? No matter, that was also pretty easy to set up afterward.

Now take all this with many grains of salt: just because I had problems doesn't mean that you will. Especially since I was working (in the Fedora case) with a pre-release distribution. But I was kind of expecting (in these days of modern times) things to go smoother.

But, bottom line, I'm extremely happy to have killed off an aging, badly-behaving Windows box, and have it reborn as a sprightly Linux machine. If you're confident you can handle technical glitches, I recommend it.

Everybody Wins

[Amazon Link] [1
star] [IMDb Link]

I can't quite remember why I put this in my Blockbuster queue many months ago, but it finally worked its way to the top. It was made in 1990, with an array of talent: Nick Nolte and Debra Winger in the lead roles, an Arthur Miller screenplay, Karel Reisz directing.

It is ostensibly a private eye movie, with Nolte playing Tom O'Toole, investigating a murder in the mean New England streets of "Highbury" (actually Norwich, Connecticut), trying to get an innocent man out of jail at the behest of Angela (played by Ms. Winger), a mysterious woman who hires him.

That all sounds real promising, but it falls apart pretty quickly. The dialog is stilted, delivered woodenly. (Winger and some other characters have some loopy dialog, but Arthur Miller didn't really have an ear for loopy dialog; it sounds as if it were translated to Urdu and back.) Nothing makes a lot of sense; potentially interesting incidents are kept off-screen, and we're only told about them later.

Nick Nolte also has an inexplicably dippy haircut that might have been fashionable during the second week of March, 1967. In Topeka.

The ending is meant to be cynical. Wish someone would have said "Forget it, Tom. It's Highbury."


Last Modified 2012-10-22 6:25 AM EDT

Reminder: New Hampshire Blog-Con

To quote the Official Announcement (again):

Anyone who resides in New Hampshire and maintains a weblog is invited, whether you are a full-time blogger, or a casual blog hobbyist.

I have it on good authority that this guy and this guy will be there, and probably a bunch more folks I want to meet, greet, and kiss their feet. If you meet the criteria, and you can be in Concord, why not click the link and let the organizers know you're coming?

[blog ticket]

Last Modified 2012-10-22 6:27 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-10-13

  • As if you didn't know where to go by now, here's Part IV of Thomas Sowell's essays on frivolous politics. Sample:
    It is not necessary to denigrate individuals in order to criticize their policies. Unfortunately, there are too many voters -- in both parties -- who act as if choosing whom to vote for is like choosing sides to cheer or boo at a sports event.
    Mea culpa: I find myself doing that at times. (If you missed them: Part I, Part II, and Part III.)

  • A 14-year-old girl in Manchester is arrested for "racism" and spends over three hours in the slammer. Her crime was (allegedly) asking to be reassigned from a classroom discussion group in which most of the members did not speak English.

    That's the Manchester in England, not New Hampshire. Whew! (Via Joanne Jacobs.)

  • Radley Balko is not a huge fan of Janet Reno.
    Janet Reno oversaw and is largely responsible for Waco. She sent armed thugs into the private home of a peaceful family. Janet Reno is responsible for Richa[r]d Jewel and Wen Ho Lee. This is the Janet Reno who as a prosecutor in Florida pursued a number of bogus "recovered memory" cases, and wrongly prosecuted at least one man for child sex abuse, then refused to admit her error, allowing the man to fester in prison for more than a decade.
    Radley's long memory is triggered Ms. Reno's "Champion of Justice" award, given, apparently without irony, by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

  • James Lileks looks at this article in New Scientist entitled "Imagine Earth without people", which, well, imagines what earth would be like without people. James, being the charitable sort, detects a "wistful tone". I, on the other hand, detect the usual stench of environmentalist misanthropy. (James also quotes a decidedly non-wistful comment from the Fark thread about the article.)

  • Whoa. An explosion in a fireworks factory. You've always wanted to know what that would be like, haven't you?

    Now, before you say "cool!": 23 people were killed, including the cameraman who took the later footage. (I know, too late, you already said "cool!", you sick, heartless bastard. Me too.) (Via Galley Slaves, and also Lileks.)


Last Modified 2012-10-22 10:05 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-10-12

  • Catherine Seipp writes on TV:
    This season's funniest new comedy, 30 Rock, debuts tonight [actually last night] on NBC. But much as I love it, I fear it might help lower the boom even faster on the expensive, audience-shedding Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, this season's (unintentionally) funniest new drama.
    I don't share Cathy's ability to enjoy unintentionally funny dramas, but I hope for her sake that Studio 60 stays on. (Personally, even though I like Matthew Perry, I was only able to watch it for about 23 seconds before changing the channel.)

    But she's very correct about 30 Rock, which I thought was extremely smart and funny. Tina Fey is a true Wonder Woman. Only criticism: needs a bit more Dratch.

  • Thomas Sowell has Part III of his series of essays on frivolous politics; it's on racial and ethnic issues. (If you missed them: Part I, Part II.)

  • A USC demographer asserts (in the WaPo) that "we are beginning to be crushed under the weight of our own quality-of-life degradation." Ronald Bailey says: that's absurd.

  • North Korea gone nuclear? Eh. Iowahawk? Eek!


Last Modified 2007-03-20 12:23 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-10-11

  • Thomas Sowell continues warning against frivolous politics.
    Some people say that there is no point voting because there is no difference between the two major parties, and the other parties have no chance of winning. However, there is a difference: the Republicans are disappointing and the Democrats are dangerous.

  • David Lewis Schaefer is a Poli Sci professor at Holy Cross College, down the road in Worcester, and he makes me very happy that neither Pun Son nor Salad Daughter attends HC. He describes the current status of free expression on the campus, providing a number of quotes from the president, Father Michael McFarland, S.J. which are (frankly) astounding in their blithe illiberlism; it's like reading a bad parody of a worst-nightmare college administrator.

  • And, oh yeah: Aieee! We're all gonna die!.

    It's in Pravda, so you know it's true.

Scary Movie 4

[Amazon Link] [3.5
stars] [IMDb Link]

House pre-empted for baseball +
Red Sox out of the post-season =

Tuesday Night at the Movies!

And what better than a zany laff riot, made by some of the same folks associated with Airplane!, Hot Shots, and Police Squad. The style is: let's throw every possible bad joke, sight gag, and pop culture reference up there on the screen, and if people only laugh at 20% of them, then that still puts us way ahead of, say, Broken Flowers. You either like this sort of thing, or you don't; I do. I'm not proud of it, mind you, but I do.

Cloris Leachman is a pretty good sport, by the way.


Last Modified 2012-10-22 6:28 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-10-10 (PM Edition)

  • Actually a URL du Yesterday: Bryan Caplan considers the leftwing take on Christopher Columbus, and deems it pretty much on target. You know what they say about stopped clocks.

  • Thomas Sowell's column today is titled "Frivolous Politics".
    You may deserve whatever you get if you vote frivolously in this year's election. But surely the next generation, which has no vote, deserves better.
    Gulp! Good point. Professor Sowell is probably the least frivolous person in California.

  • Both Donald Luskin and Virginia Postrel are pretty darn happy with this year's choice for the Econ Nobel, Edmund Phelps. Donald is overjoyed that it didn't go to Paul Krugman; Virginia is pleased with the occurrence of the word "dynamism" in Phelps' work. And rightly so. The lads at the WSJ's opinion site have an op-ed from Edmund Phelps today.

  • The perky news team at Madison's WKOW-TV have laid hands on a proof of a required textbook for 9-11 conspiracy loon Kevin Barrett's class at the University of Wisconsin. If you're wondering if it's got overheated fact-free deranged rhetoric: why, yes it does, in spades. (Via Prof Althouse.)

  • George Lakoff (a linguistics prof at UC Berkeley) has recently written a book entitled Whose Freedom?: The Battle Over America's Most Important Idea. Peter Berkowitz (via Powerline), writing in Policy Review deemed it "embarrassing", a "dismal performance" that "dishonors scholarship". In an outtake from a forthcoming Reason article, Will Wilkinson calls Lakoff's major conjecture "astoundingly empirically ill-supported"; aside from that, there's only a "tired philosophical core." Stephen Pinker, in a New Republic review (quoted here), calls the book a "train wreck"; Lakoff's depictions of both allies and adversaries are "cartoonish"; his "advice doesn't pass the giggle test".

    Other than that, though, I understand it's pretty good.


Last Modified 2006-10-11 8:04 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-10-10 (AM Edition)

  • It's a funny old world, as Patterico discovers a recursive relationship between the New York Times and censorship.

  • Steven den Beste, taking a break from not-blogging, points out that the FTC maybe should be investigating the "reality-based community" for false advertising.

  • Virginia Postrel reports that spam with the subject line
    SELDON is great hogs of dull witted donkey when it was
    … got through her spam filter. Here's one that the spam filter here (Bogofilter, specifically) caught:
    of. Could live Mallow stopped himself in the tech man's blaster can
    Yes, they're using character names from Asimov SF novels to evade spam filtering. Bastards!

Broken Flowers

[Amazon Link] [3.5
stars] [IMDb Link]

This is a small arty movie with Bill Murray in the main role. He plays Don Johnston, an unsubtle takeoff on "Don Juan". Don gets an anonymous note from an ex-lover, who claims he's the father of a twenty-year-old lad who's coming to see him. Don is bullied (amusingly) by his neighbor Winston to proactively seek out possible candidates for the mother.

There are a number of humorous parts, but actual laugh-out-loud funniness I think is not considered arty, so it's rare. Bill Murray plays it very low key, probably even more so than he did in Lost in Translation. Someone needs to cast him in a non-arty comedy again, and I'm not talking about yet another Garfield movie.

The DVD has a shot of the film's clapboard at the beginning of each scene, also a pretty good outtake of Bill Murray goofing with a small kid playing Winston's daughter. If you get the DVD, it's a must-see.


Last Modified 2012-10-22 6:17 AM EDT

Variable Star

[Amazon Link]

In the afterword, Spider Robinson describes how he came to read his first no-pictures "big boy" book, as his mother sent him to the library in Plainview, New York, and he returned with Rocketship Galileo by Robert A. Heinlein.

For me, it was Oakland, Iowa, Red Planet, and a couple of years difference; otherwise things were much the same. Spooky.

But Spider grew up to be a science fiction writer. And when an outline and notes were discovered for an embryonic Heinlein novel, he was commissioned to finish the work, and the result is now in print. And it's good!

The story is: boy meets girl, falls in love, discovers that girl is the granddaughter of the richest man on earth. Annoyed at the deception, he catches a ride on a colonizing starship. Then troubles really start.

Although Heinlein apparently meant this as one of his juveniles, there are enough dirty words and adult situations here to (I think) disqualify it for that status. Folks acquainted with the RAH oeuvre will recognize plot elements from Time for the Stars.

There's lots of Spiderly wordplay, and that can wear on one a bit, even on one whose blog is named Pun Salad. I also detected a number of amusing inside jokes and references to other Heinlein works, but I wouldn't be surprised if I'd caught only a small fraction of them.

In short, a great read; it really is like having a new Heinlein novel to read, and Spider Robinson has my heartfelt admiration and gratitude.


Last Modified 2012-10-22 6:25 AM EDT

"Conspiracy Theories" … Aren't Theories

The late Underground Grammarian once wrote:

Words never fail. We hear them, we read them; they enter into the mind and become part of us for as long as we shall live. Who speaks reason to his fellow men bestows it upon them. Who mouths inanity disorders thought for all who listen. There must be some minimum allowable dose of inanity beyond which the mind cannot remain reasonable. Irrationality, like buried chemical waste, sooner or later must seep into all tissues of thought.
Sobering stuff, even more so for those of us who occasionally write things other people might accidentally read.

That was brought to mind while reading the introduction to The Trouble With Physics, by Lee Smolin, which I mentioned I was reading a few days back. Smolin talks about the nature of a "theory":

In science, for a theory to be believed, it must make a new prediction — different from those made by previous theories — for an experiment not yet done. For the experiment to be meaningful, we must be able to get an answer that disagrees with that prediction. When this is the case, we say that a theory is falsifiable — vulnerable to being shown false. The theory also has to be confirmable; it must be possible to verify a new prediction that only this theory makes. Only when a theory has been tested and the results agree with the theory do we advance the theory to the ranks of true theories.
And, of course, I've been reading and writing a bit over the past few weeks about (so-called) "conspiracy theories" and "conspiracy theorists." Reading Smolin's clear thinking made me realize how that usage contributes, in a small but significant way, to the inanity field that surrounds the topic.

Because (so-called) "conspiracy theories" fail all tests Smolin specifies. They do not cohere well enough to make predictions that lie outside the range of more conventional explanations. They aren't falsifiable; when was the last time you heard of a "conspiracy theorist" who was disabused by mere contrary facts? And (hence) they aren't confirmable.

In short, to call these things "theories," and to call the people that make them "theorists" gives them (both "theories" and "theorists") much more respect than they deserve.

I've quoted Hofstadter's "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" before, but it's worth doing so again:

I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind. . [T]he idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.

So I'm going to try to stop using the terms 'conspiracy theor(y|ist)' in this blog. For now, some variation on the word "fantasy" seem more appropriate, and tossing in references to paranoia now and then wouldn't be out of line. I'm hoping this will keep me on the side of the angels, and the Underground Grammarian.

Poseidon

[Amazon Link] [1.5
stars] [IMDb Link]

Sometimes you get lucky not believing the critics. You look (for example) at a director who's done excellent stuff before (like Wolfgang Petersen) or an perennially underrated actor (Kurt Russell), or just someone you like that you haven't seen in awhile (Richard Dreyfuss). And sometimes you get to see a pretty decent movie.

But this is not one of those times. If anything, the critics were overkind.

Everybody is just goin' through the motions here. You know the plot: big wave tips over big ship, most people die, but a plucky bunch of adventurers defy the odds to get to the bottom of the upside-down wreck. Well, some of them do; many of them wind up dead too. It doesn't make much difference, because we don't have any reason to care about any of them, it's all arbitrary and meaningless, waaaaah!

The special effects are cheesy. A big supposed-to-be-awesome opening shot of the ship is especially obvious CGI. I halfway expected to see Shrek jogging around the deck.

I was going to give it one star, which is the worst I usually give any movie I don't absolutely despise. But then I realized (a) hey, at least it was relatively short, only 98 minutes; (b) they didn't blame the big capsizing wave on global warming. So I'll add on a half star for that.


Last Modified 2012-10-22 6:28 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-10-06

  • Lonely Voices of Sanity Department: Both Matthew Hoy and Ann Althouse quote from David Brooks' remarkable Thursday NYT op-ed on sexual predation double standards, and the even more remarkable response to it today.

    Matthew further observes that (generally speaking) putting the NYT op-edders behind the "Times Select" wall has made them "no longer really part of the national conversation." In the case of David Brooks, that's a loss.

  • I Only Read It For the Articles Department: If you were wondering what Playboy considers to be the "Top 10 Political Blogs", you can check the PDF file which contains (honest, honey) only that information right here. (Via Hit&Run, which as you might guess, is one of the ten. Pun Salad: inexplicably missing.)

  • Whoa, That's Just Too Cool Department: About 240 million miles away from where you and I are sitting, one Mars probe took a picture of another. (Via Slashdot.)

  • Unintentional Revelations Department: In UNH's student newspaper (FRR), David W. Anderson writes in (what he thinks is) support of our local 9/11 conspiracy fantasist:
    The recent attacks on William Woodward in the pages of New Hampshire's conservative newspapers should not be taken seriously. As a professor of psychology, Woodward cannot help but talk about 9/11 in class. The 9/11 attacks left a deep scar on the psyche of many Americans. To understand America's mental health, students of psychology must be exposed to every perspective on the tragedy if they are to provide future patients with effective treatment.
    That's probably the best pro-Woodward argument I've seen yet: it's useful for future shrinks to be exposed to the zany thought processes of "future patients." (I don't think those thought processes actually need to be exemplified by the instructor, mind you, but, hey, I suppose it's arguable.)

New Hampshire Blog-Con

[blog ticket] To quote the Official Announcement:

Anyone who resides in New Hampshire and maintains a weblog is invited, whether you are a full-time blogger, or a casual blog hobbyist.
Why, technically speaking anyway, that would include me. But don't worry, it looks like some actually interesting people will be there too. If you meet the onerous requirements, and can be in Concord on October 14, click the link and let the organizers know.

Last Modified 2012-10-22 6:26 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-10-05

  • The MinuteMan has a pretty good post examining the rhetoric and tactics swirling about the Foley affair. Primary lesson:
    This is the current state of the left - sexual privacy rights for their political opponents are trumped by a desire for power.

  • On the same topic, Libertarian Leanings quotes the WSJ editorializers:
    First to the site as always was House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Republican leaders "failed to protect the children in their trust," intoned Parson Pelosi, last seen on this issue voting to revoke the Boy Scouts' charter for its ban on gay scoutmasters.
    … so I will too.

  • I'm not a South Park geek, but in a short post, David Weigel manages to (a) summarize the episode (about gamers); (b) state the take-home point (hardcore gamers are losers); and (c) quote a thread on Ain't It Cool News that perfectly demonstrates point (b). Awesome.

    Catherine Seipp interviews Matt and Trey for NRO.

URLs du Jour

2006-10-04

  • Not to get all mawkishly patriotic or anything, when it's still nine months until Independence Day, but I liked "Born American, But in the Wrong Place." Those of us born in the right place ("here but for fortune") shouldn't take that for granted, should we? (Via PowerLine.)

  • But moving to the more prosaic: New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin recently decreed that businesses looking for federally funded (but locally administered) disaster recovery money be at least 50% locally-owned, and 35% female/minority-controlled. Hans Bader at the CEI Open Market blog details the impressively large number of ways that is probably illegal.

  • [hi.png] Warning: massive geek content ahead. The PNG image at right is actually a computer program in the Piet language. When fed to a Piet interpreter, it prints "Hi", and a newline. (Really. I checked.)

    I fed my blog picture to the Piet interpreter, and it printed out the first act of Hamlet, which I thought was pretty amazing. Well, except that instead of "A little more than kin, and less than kind." it printed "Man, you best back off, I'm gettin' a little pissed here."

    (Via Tim Lee at Tech Liberation Front, who makes the obvious point about the DMCA and the First Amendment. What, you don't think it's obvious? Better check the link.)

  • I did some blogroll maintenance over there on the right. In case you care:

    Dropped are:

    Changed URLs:

    • Hugh Hewitt's blog moved to Town Hall, and now with additional Dean Barnett (Soxblog) content.

    • Daily Webshots. How do they stay in business? They seem to be trying the "let's hide the free stuff" business plan. It's here now.

    Added:

    • And Rightly So, from the opinionated and entertaining Raven, a fellow Granite Stater.

    • Ken Jennings, who's really quite funny and smart.

    • Jeremy Lott. Except Shawn Macomber is there now. Hopefully the quality will stay high when Jeremy Lott returns.

    • Betsy Newmark. Constrained Katie's mom, which is good enough for me.

    So go over there and click away.

Last Modified 2012-10-22 6:15 AM EDT

Lucky Number Slevin

[Amazon Link] [4.0
stars] [IMDb Link]

This movie is a modernized noir, and much better than I expected. It boasts two Oscar-winning actors, Ben Kingsley and Morgan Freeman. Plus another couple I'd give Oscars to, Bruce Willis and Stanley Tucci. Also Josh Hartnett and Lucy Liu, who give decent performances as well.

They're helped out by a script that combines sharp and funny dialog with a devilishly twisted plot; you really have to pay attention the whole way through. Some critics found the whole thing too clever for its own good, and I've been in those shoes before, but it worked for me.


Last Modified 2012-10-22 6:16 AM EDT

That Old Blog Memetic Has Me In Its Spell

Shawn Macomber (writing at Jeremy Lott's blog) has tagged me with a book-related "blog meme." That's a first for me, sounds like fun, let's give it a try:

  1. One book that changed your life?

    [Amazon Link] Software Tools by Brian Kernighan and P. J. Plauger. This basically knocked me off the career path I had been following (physics graduate student) and got me seriously dinking with computers, which is a pretty good description of what I've been doing since. It's a little dated now, but it's still right up there on my bookshelf.

  2. One book that you have read more than once?

    [Amazon Link] Break In by Dick Francis. With my very large to-be-read pile, part of me says I shouldn't be rereading things at all. But (nevertheless) I decided to put all the good jockey's novels into the TBR queue, and this was the latest one I hit.

    Not that it matters, but I also have John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee novels, Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer novels, and Isaac Asimov's SF novels in the queue; nearly all of those are re-reads.

  3. One book you would want on a desert island?

    [Amazon Link] Philosophical Explanations by Robert Nozick. I got this many years ago, after reading his Anarchy, State, and Utopia. It's 700+ pages of small print, narrow margins, and deep thinking, and I think I would need both the timescale and lack of distraction presumed by a desert island scenario in order to properly read and understand it.

  4. One book that made you cry?

    [Amazon Link] Job: A Comedy of Justice by Robert A. Heinlein. Heck, I'm secure enough in my manly manhood to admit it. Can't describe why without spoiling the plot, but I still remember how the climax tweaked my tear ducts over twenty years ago.

    I haven't reread it since, and I'm not sure if that's because I'm worried I'll have the same reaction, or because I'm worried that I won't.

    Job was also a pretty strong candidate for item one above.

  5. One book that made you laugh?

    [Amazon Link] Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. You'd expect me to say something like: "This is pretty funny, for a book that describes a lot of psychological research." But in fact, the qualifier isn't really necessary; it's just a pretty funny book. And you actually learn some neat stuff at the same time.

  6. One book you wish had been written?

    [No Amazon Link] He Who Has Ears To Hear by Ed McBain, which is a title I just made up. Ed McBain wrote over fifty 87th Precinct novels between 1956 and 2005. The most deadly and elusive villain faced by the good guys at the precinct was the Deaf Man, who appeared in a number of the books, always evading capture.

    And Ed McBain died last year, leaving the Deaf Man still at large. Son of a …

    So this imaginary book fixes that. I picture Detective Steve Carella's wife (who's also deaf) playing a pivotal role: The Deaf Man kidnaps her for leverage against Carella, but fatally underestimates her, and as a result is defeated at the book's thrilling climax.

  7. One book you wish had never been written?

    [Amazon Link] The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Imagine an alternate history where this tome never existed. Is there any way things don't work out better?

    I (belatedly) note this was also John Tabin's pick, but when you're right, you're right.

  8. One book you are reading currently?

    [Amazon Link] The Trouble With Physics by Lee Smolin. Remember what I said about being an ex-physics guy? These days I'm pretty much relegated to reading popularizations, and this one seems pretty good. It's about string theory, which Smolin doesn't like very much. (Note the clever cover illustration.) Extremely readable and fun (so far).

  9. One book you have been meaning to read?

    [Amazon Link] I really do have (as I type) 112 books in my TBR queue. And I've been "meaning to read" every one of them, really. But for the purposes of this exercise, I might as well go with something high-minded, important, and serious, unlike the lowbrow lightweight dreck I usually read. The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright has gotten numerous huzzahs from folks I trust, and I've got a hold on it at the UNH library.

  10. Pass it on.

    Okey doke. How about Bill Gnade (Contratimes), Clayton Cramer, and Doug Lambert (GraniteGrok)?


Last Modified 2012-10-22 10:09 AM EDT

Why I Miss Ronald Reagan, Part XXVII

From the New York Times Magazine Interview with Warren Beatty:

A film like Reds, which came out in 1981, is not likely to be made today. It's an exceedingly lengthy liberal film that was born at the height of the conservative revolution. Do you know if President Reagan ever saw it?

Reagan, whom I considered to be a friend, invited me to bring the picture to the White House and to show it. We were friendly from when I came to Hollywood in my 20's. He wanted to see the movie.

What did he say afterward?

He was very complimentary about the fact that I had produced it, written it, acted in it and directed it at the same time. But what he said about the film, after it was over, he said, "I was kind of hoping for a happy ending."

Via Prof Althouse, who reads the Times so I don't have to.

Last Modified 2012-10-22 10:14 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-10-02

  • Russell Roberts on the Sadim Touch. It's like the Midas Touch, only …

  • Patrick Porter of Oxblog is irritated by the word "demonise". (American translation: "demonize". You're welcome.)

    A quick case-insensitive egrep shows only one use of 'demoni[sz]e' throughout the entire history of Pun Salad, and it was a quote of someone else. Whew! I'm a euphemizer, not a demonizer!

  • Professor Ann Althouse has been a voice of reason at the University of Wisconsin, where they also have an instructor (albeit only a tenureless part-timer) who's a 9/11 conspiracy fantasist. Today she quotes a student newspaper editorial, where they seem to be having sober second thoughts about their initial support for the idea.
    One is left to wonder what standards UW applies when determining which lecturers are to be allowed the use of taxpayer-funded facilities to voice their beliefs. Would the geography department allow a speaker to present his opinion that the world is flat? Would the history department sponsor a speech by someone that denies the Holocaust occurred?
    Yes! These are precisely the sort of questions that should be asked and answered here as well.
    Ultimately, it is UW's duty — as an institution of higher learning funded in part by taxpayers — to promote scholarly research and vigorous academic debate. Mr. Barrett's conspiracy theories thus far have failed to flirt with either principle.
    Prof Althouse has her own questions too.

  • In a related matter, there's no word on whether the Heavy Boots theory of gravitation will be taught at UNH anytime soon. (Via Chicago Boyz.)


Last Modified 2012-10-22 10:15 AM EDT

The Googlers Find Pun Salad Via …

And as always, scads of people looking for Cathy Poulin, the woman appearing in TV ads for Bob's Discount Furniture. If this blog were in the market for an annoying female sidekick, Ms. Poulin would definitely be in the running.

In case you weren't aware, Cathy will be greeting customers this coming Saturday, October 7, between 11am and 2pm at the grand opening of the BDF store in Woodbridge, New Jersey. I probably won't be able to attend.


Last Modified 2012-10-22 10:16 AM EDT

Myth Communication: Professor Farrell on Professor Woodward

James Farrell had an op-ed (FRR) in the Saturday edition of our local paper Foster's Daily Democrat, concerning UNH's own 9/11 conspiracy theorist, Professor William Woodward. Let's take a look, but first skip to the author blurb at the end:

James Farrell is an associate professor in the UNH Department of Communication. He is currently teaching a course titled, Propaganda and Persuasion.
This somewhat explains the op-ed's title:
Woodward controversy: Propaganda or persuasion?
Professor Farrell is attempting, in short, to fit the square peg of the Woodward controversy into the round hole of his preconceived propaganda/persuasion dichotomy. I strongly suspect he will, if he hasn't already, wangle a lecture out of this.
The recent controversy over the views expressed by University of New Hampshire psychology professor Bill Woodward, along with the petition against Woodward by some UNH students, offers something of a textbook study in modern propaganda effects.
Definitely lecture material. Take notes, kids!
Before I go any further, let me say that I find Professor Woodward's hypothesis regarding the destruction of the World Trade Center to be far-fetched. In other words, in my view, it is more reasonable to conclude that the collapse of the World Trade Center was the result of an attack by Islamic terrorists, than the result of a United States government conspiracy. And, given that the terrorist attack explanation is widely believed, the burden of proof rests with those who challenge that prevailing view.
The main point of interest in the above is Professor Farrell's linguistic contortions to avoid saying anything judgmental. He dignifies 9/11 conspiracy fantasies as just another "hypothesis." Woodward's views are not "wrong," they are just "far-fetched." And note the trick with deeming the standard view of 9/11 as "more reasonable": the implication is that it's not a contest between reality and fiction; it's simply a matter of "reasonable" views, one of which is simply "more reasonable" than another.

It's a neat trick: at the same time that he distances himself from Professor Woodward's views, Professor Farrell manages to nudge them into the "respectable" arena, without even examining them.

Having said that, what I found most interesting about this controversy was not Professor Woodward's peculiar views, which have circulated in various forms since soon after the events in question, but rather the response of the media, of various university and government officials, and now of the petitioning students.
Professor Farrell is only going to talk about what he finds "interesting." He'd rather take a hard, critical look at Woodward's opponents, while giving those on the other side a free pass.
It is in their well-trained reactions to the questions raised about Professor Woodward's views that we witness the classic symptoms of a ubiquitous and technically-efficient propaganda environment. …
Note the "well-trained" adjective, a neat way of—without actually saying it—portraying the anti-Woodward crowd as a herd of Pavlovian dogs obediently responding to some ringing rhetorical bell. (And who's ringing that bell? Could it be … Karl Rove? Eek!)

Well, let's take a look at the "symptoms" of the "ubiquitous and technically-efficient propaganda environment."

It is telling that in independently assessing Woodward's hypothesis, not one reporter, nor any of those officials or students quoted in the newspapers, even considered the evidence offered by Woodward's group, nor evaluated his conclusions in a rational or scientific manner. …
I would wager that Professor Farrell has no actual knowledge of what evidence every single one of the reporters, officials, or students considered or not. That doesn't stop him from asserting otherwise.

There is, in fact, plenty of information out there that counters the claims of Woodward and his group, Scholars for 9/11 Truth. There is the Debunking 9/11 Conspiracy Theories site; there's a dead trees book from Popular Mechanics, Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can't Stand Up to the Facts, which will (as I type) set you back a mere $12.95 at Amazon. Both sources are pretty convincing that 9/11 conspiracists have about as much academic respectibility as Holocaust revisionists and creationists; i.e., not any at all.

But it's totally unclear what sort of statements regarding "evidence" Professor Farrell is expecting from reporters/officials/students, especially since he's admitted the "burden of proof" is not on them.

Instead, what we got was "outrage" and name-calling, a kind of concerted rhetorical response that was indistinguishable by political party, and which was aimed ultimately at preserving the comforting myth of the benevolent nation-state.
Again, the choice of the "comforting" adjective is telling: Professor Farrell knows that every single one of those people are simply looking to return to their thumb-sucking "comforting myth", their faith in which has been shaken by merely hearing alternate views.

Also note the use of the passive: the response "was aimed" at myth-preserving. Who's doing the aiming? Same guy who was ringing that Pavlovian bell, I bet.

It was not a matter of testing and rejecting Woodward's hypothesis. Rather, those who reacted objected to the hypothesis being proposed and considered at all. What mattered was that Woodward's views were, in the words of one petitioning student, "anti-American."
I do not have Professor Farrell's sources, but in news stories here, here, here, or here, nobody, student or anyone else, uses the term "anti-American". Professor Farrell seems to have heard it somewhere, though, fine. So?
Gov. John Lynch called Woodward's views "completely crazy and offensive," and charged the professor with "a reckless disregard for the true facts," while Sen. Judd Gregg compared Woodward's opinions to "racist statements" and dismissed them as "insensitive, inappropriate, and inexcusable."
I assume all those quotes are accurate. Again, so?
In the stories about the controversy, and in the remarks of officials, Woodward is very quickly typecast in a drama that invokes an almost archetypal American fear. …
Ah, there we go. Woodward's opponents are appealing to "fear".

Of course, consider the notion that US government officials masterminded the cold-blooded murder of thousands of Americans. Naw, that's not scary at all. Professor Farrell doesn't think the people promulgating that "hypothesis" are appealing to "fear"; or, if he does, he's not mentioning it.

But calling someone's opinions "insensitive, inappropriate, and inexcusable" is apppealing to fear.

Go figger.

He becomes the embodied ideological threat to vulnerable students at the "public university which is supported with taxpayer dollars." He is compared to "idiots out there who say the Holocaust never occurred." He is the "nutty professor," who is "teaching our kids" and "bringing the radical theories into the classroom." He is that "member of several left-wing political action groups" who "peddles his beliefs," to "indoctrinate the kids," and "impose his opinions on students."
Professor Farrell holds all these quotes up as if they were dreadful examples of … something. But (to use his lingo), he's not interested in "testing and rejecting" any of these hypotheses. He's simply objecting to those views being "proposed and considered at all." Something is wrong with this picture.
To ease the ideological panic, reporters and officials habitually offer slogans and character assault, an unthinking, uncritical, automatic response that assures that Woodward's hypothesis is never given serious consideration. The idea itself is simply incompatible with the myth of American virtue, so it cannot, even briefly, be entertained.
Professor Farrell is straining mightily to detect "ideological panic" in Woodward's opponents. They are irrational believers in "myth", blindly and thoughtlessly shutting out contrary opinions.

Oh, and he's also against name-calling.

As scholars, the petitioning UNH students should approach this controversy differently. My sense is that Bill Woodward is neither an idiot nor a traitor.…
We set the bar very low for the professoriate here. "Not an idiot or a traitor? Fine!"
There must be some grounds for his conclusions, at least evidence as strong as that which supports the widely held belief in extraterrestrial visitors, or a conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy. (And, I'm sure that many of the same people now expressing "outrage" at Woodward are among those who continue to insist there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.)
I'm not sure Professor Farrell really wants to imply that the 9/11 conspiracy "hypothesis" is in the same league of academic respectability as UFOs and JFK assassination theories. Nevertheless …
We should ask, then, is it possible there was some level of U.S. government complicity in the 9/11 attack?

I have to answer, based on historical precedents, sure it is. It is highly unlikely, and probably inconsistent with objectively verifiable evidence, but still possible.

Well, hey, it's possible that we're all just brains in a vat and reality is simply a joint neurological illusion imposed by our supercomputer overlords. Unlike 9/11 conspracy fantasies, that's not even "inconsistent with objectively verifiable evidence".
The problem with Woodward's critics is that they seem unable to even conceive of, let alone think critically about, such a possibility. To judge from the public reaction, Bill Woodward's error was not in saying something "controversial" in the classroom, it was in challenging the prevailing myth, invoked and rehearsed especially in time of war, that only the noblest of abstract values motivates our national government.
Oh, please. This is the strawiest of straw men. The problem with Professor Woodward is not simply that he's challenging the "myth" of a government devoted to "the noblest of abstract values". Such challenges happen every day on every college campus in America. To imply otherwise is arrant and obvious bullshit.

Professor Woodward is doing something different than that; if Professor Farrell can't see that, he's wrapped up in his own "comfortable myth."


Last Modified 2012-10-22 10:17 AM EDT

V for Vendetta

[Amazon Link] [3.5
stars] [IMDb Link]

Well, I just got around to seeing V for Vendetta. You probably know this, but: it was made by the Wachowski brothers, who also did the Matrix movies; it's based on a comic series by Alan Moore. Taken at face value, it's a pretty good mystery thriller as a masked revolutionary (V) takes on the fascistic British government, enlisting a reluctant foot soldier, played by Natalie Portman, as he goes along. Caught in the middle is a frumpy cop, Stephen Rea, trying to be both honest and decent.

Not taken at face value, however, the movie is pretty heavy-handedly stupid, trying to present "issues" of justifiable terrorism. The extra "making of" featurette on the DVD makes this even more explicit, as the actors and others involved in the flick mouth the usual tedious "progressive" clichés on revolution and "understanding the root causes" of terrorism. And then go home to their undoubtedly lavish homes, having pocketed the hefty checks made possible by the system they despise, that real terrorists would destroy in a second if they could.

A pretty good review is here; Damon Dimmick argues persuasively that the movie villians don't even have the depth and nuance of their counterparts in the comic book.


Last Modified 2012-10-22 6:18 AM EDT