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Above email address currently deprecated! Use gary underscore farber at yahoodotcom, pliz! Sanely free of McCarthyite calling anyone a traitor since 2001!
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I've a long record in editorial work in book and magazine publishing, starting 1974, a variety of other work experience, but have been, since 2001, recurringly housebound with insanely painful sporadic and unpredictably variable gout and edema, and in the past, other ailments; the future? The Great Unknown: isn't it for all of us?
I'm currently house/cat-sitting, not on any government aid yet (or mostly ever), often in major chronic pain from gout and edema, which variably can leave me unable to walk, including just standing, but sometimes is better, and is freaking unpredictable at present; I also have major chronic depression and anxiety disorders; I'm currently supported mostly by your blog donations/subscriptions; you can help me. I prefer to spread out the load, and lessen it from the few who have been doing more than their fair share for too long.
Thanks for any understanding and support. I know it's difficult to understand. And things will change. They always change.
I'm sometimes available to some degree as a paid writer, editor, researcher, or proofreader. I'm sometimes available as a fill-in Guest Blogger at mid-to-high-traffic blogs that fit my knowledge set.
If you like my blog, and would like to help me continue to afford food and prescriptions, or simply enjoy my blogging and writing, and would like to support it --
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"The brain is wider than the sky, For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include With ease, and you beside"
-- Emily Dickinson
"We will pursue peace as if there is no terrorism and fight terrorism as if there is no peace."
-- Yitzhak Rabin
"I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they ought to be."
-- Alexander Hamilton
"The stakes are too high for government to be a spectator sport."
-- Barbara Jordan
"Under democracy, one party always devotes its chief energies to
trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule --
and both commonly succeed, and are right."
-- H. L. Mencken
"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom.
It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."
-- William Pitt
"The only completely consistent people are the dead."
-- Aldous Huxley
"I have had my solutions for a long time; but I do not yet know how I am to arrive at them."
-- Karl F. Gauss
"Whatever evils either reason or declamation have imputed to extensive empire,
the power of Rome was attended with some beneficial consequences to mankind;
and the same freedom of intercourse which extended the vices, diffused likewise
the improvements of social life."
-- Edward Gibbon
"Augustus was sensible that mankind is governed by names; nor was he deceived in his
expectation, that the senate and people would submit to slavery, provided they were
respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom."
-- Edward Gibbon
"There exists in human nature a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify
the evils, of the present times."
-- Edward Gibbon
"Our youth now loves luxuries. They have bad manners, contempt for authority.
They show disrespect for elders and they
love to chatter instead of exercise.
Children are now tyrants, not the servants, of their households. They
no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents,
chatter before company, gobble up their food, and tyrannize
"Before impugning an opponent's motives, even when they legitimately may be impugned, answer his arguments."
-- Sidney Hook
"Idealism, alas, does not protect one from ignorance, dogmatism, and foolishness."
-- Sidney Hook
"Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
"We take, and must continue to take, morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization.
We must exercise our power. But we ought neither to believe that a nation is capable of perfect
disinterestedness in its exercise, nor become complacent about particular degrees of interest
and passion which corrupt the justice by which the exercise of power is legitimized."
-- Reinhold Niebuhr
"Faced with the choice of all the land without a Jewish state or a Jewish state without all the
land, we chose a Jewish state without all the land."
-- David Ben-Gurion
"...the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him
an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this
or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages
to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends also
to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing,
with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess
and conform to it;[...] that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion
and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty....
-- Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Thomas Jefferson
"We don't live just by ideas. Ideas are part of the mixture of customs and practices,
intuitions and instincts that make human life a conscious activity susceptible to
improvement or debasement. A radical idea may be healthy as a provocation;
a temperate idea may be stultifying. It depends on the circumstances. One of the most
tiresome arguments against ideas is that their 'tendency' is to some dire condition --
to totalitarianism, or to moral relativism, or to a war of all against all."
-- Louis Menand
"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."
-- Dante Alighieri
"He too serves a certain purpose who only stands and cheers."
-- Henry B. Adams
"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the
poor to beg in the streets, steal bread, or sleep under a bridge."
-- Anatole France
"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."
-- Edmund Burke
"Education does not mean that we have become certified experts in business or mining or botany or journalism or epistemology;
it means that through the absorption of the moral, intellectual, and esthetic inheritance of the race we have come to
understand and control ourselves as well as the external world; that we have chosen the best as our associates both in spirit
and the flesh; that we have learned to add courtesy to culture, wisdom to knowledge, and forgiveness to understanding."
-- Will Durant
"Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is
but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest
winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?"
-- Herman Melville
"The most important political office is that of the private citizen."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"It is an error to suppose that books have no influence; it is a slow influence, like flowing water carving out a canyon,
but it tells more and more with every year; and no one can pass an hour a day in the society of sages and heroes without
being lifted up a notch or two by the company he has kept."
-- Will Durant
"When you write, you’re trying to transpose what you’re thinking into something that is less like an annoying drone and more like a piece of music."
-- Louis Menand
"Sex is a continuum."
-- Gore Vidal
"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should
make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state."
-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, 1802.
"The sum of our religion is peace and unanimity, but these can scarcely stand unless we define as little as possible,
and in many things leave one free to follow his own judgment, because there is great obscurity in many matters, and
man suffers from this almost congenital disease that he will not give in when once a controversy is started, and
after he is heated he regards as absolutely true that which he began to sponsor quite casually...."
-- Desiderius Erasmus
"Are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy? And who is thus to dogmatize religious opinions for our citizens? Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched? Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule of what we are to read, and what we must disbelieve?"
-- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to N. G. Dufief, Philadelphia bookseller, 1814
"We are told that it is only people's objective actions that matter, and their subjective feelings are of no importance. Thus pacifists, by obstructing the war effort,
are 'objectively' aiding the Nazis; and therefore the fact that they may be personally hostile to Fascism is irrelevant. I have been guilty of saying this myself more than once. The same argument is applied to Trotskyism. Trotskyists are often credited, at any rate by Communists, with being active and conscious agents of Hitler; but when you point out the many and obvious reasons why this is unlikely to be true,
the 'objectively' line of talk is brought forward again. To criticize the Soviet Union helps Hitler: therefore 'Trotskyism is Fascism'. And when this has been established, the accusation of conscious treachery is usually repeated.
This is not only dishonest; it also carries a severe penalty with it. If you disregard people's motives, it becomes much harder to foresee their actions."
-- George Orwell, "As I Please," Tribune, 8 December 1944
"Wouldn't this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive? If 'needy' were a turn-on?"
-- "Aaron Altman," Broadcast News
"The great thing about human language is that it prevents us from sticking to the matter at hand."
-- Lewis Thomas
"To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be ever a child. For what is man's lifetime unless the memory of past events is woven with those of earlier times?"
"Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it."
-- Samuel Johnson, Life Of Johnson
"Very well, what did my critics say in attacking my character? I must read out their affidavit, so to speak, as though they were my legal accusers: Socrates is guilty of criminal meddling, in that he inquires into things below the earth and in the sky, and makes the weaker argument defeat the stronger, and teaches others to follow his example."
-- Socrates, via Plato, The Republic
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, represents, in the final analysis, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children."
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower
"The term, then, is obviously a relative one; my pedantry is your scholarship, his reasonable accuracy, her irreducible minimum of education, & someone else's ignorance."
-- H. W. Fowler
"Rules exist for good reasons, and in any art form the beginner must learn them and understand what they are for, then follow them for quite a while. A visual artist, pianist, dancer, fiction writer, all beginning artists are in the same boat here: learn the rules, understand them, follow them. It's called an apprenticeship. A mediocre artist never stops following the rules, slavishly follows guidelines, and seldom rises above mediocrity. An accomplished artist internalizes the rules to the point where they don't have to be consciously considered. After you've put in the time it takes to learn to swim, you never stop to think: now I move my arm, kick, raise my head, breathe. You just do it. The accomplished artist knows what the rules mean, how to use them, dodge them, ignore them altogether, or break them. This may be a wholly unconscious process of assimilation, one never articulated, but it has taken place."
-- Kate Wilhelm
"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed."
-- Albert Einstein
"The decisive moment in human evolution is perpetual."
-- Franz Kafka, Aphorisms
"All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."
-- Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho
"First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you."
-- Nicholas Klein, May, 1919, to the Third Biennial Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (misattributed to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, 1914 & variants).
"Our credulity is a part of the imperfection of our natures. It is inherent in us to desire to generalize, when we ought, on the contrary, to guard ourselves very carefully from this tendency."
-- Napoleon I of France.
"The truth is, men are very hard to know, and yet, not to be deceived, we must judge them by their present actions, but for the present only."
-- Napoleon I of France.
"The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to know."
-- On the subject of torture, in a letter to Louis Alexandre Berthier (11 November 1798), published in Correspondance Napoleon edited by Henri Plon (1861), Vol. V, No. 3606, p. 128
"All living souls welcome whatever they are ready to cope with; all else they ignore, or pronounce to be monstrous and wrong, or deny to be possible."
-- George Santayana, Dialogues in Limbo (1926)
"If you should put even a little on a little, and should do this often, soon this too would become big."
-- Hesiod, Work And Days
"Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
-- Eugene V. Debs
"Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself."
-- Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil Campaign
"All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written "al-Qaida," in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies."
-- Osama bin Laden
"Remember, Robin: evil is a pretty bad thing."
Gary Farber is now a licensed Quintuple Super-Sekrit Multi-dimensional Master Pundit.
He does not always refer to himself in the third person.
He is presently single.
The gefilte fish is dead. Donate via the donation button on the top left or I'll shoot this cutepanda. Don't you lovepandas?
Current Total # of Donations Since 2002: 1181
Subscribers to date at $5/month: 100 sign-ups; 91 cancellations; Total= 9
Supporter subscribers to date at $25/month: 16 sign-ups; 10 cancellation; Total= 6
Patron subscribers to date at $50/month: 20 sign-ups; 13 cancellations; Total= 7
...writer[s] I find myself checking out repeatedly when I'm in the mood to play follow-the-links. They're not all people I agree with all the time, or even most of the time, but I've found them all to be thoughtful writers, and that's the important thing, or should be.
-- Tom Tomorrow
I bow before the shrillitudinousness of Gary Farber, who has been blogging like a fiend.
-- Ted Barlow, Crooked Timber
Favorite.... [...] ...all great stuff. [...] Gary Farber should never be without readers.
I usually read you and Patrick several times a day, and I always get something from them. You've got great links, intellectually honest commentary, and a sense of humor. What's not to like?
-- Ted Barlow
One of my issues with many poli-blogs is the dickhead tone so many bloggers affect to express their sense of righteous indignation. Gary Farber's thoughtful leftie takes on the world stand in sharp contrast with the usual rhetorical bullying. Plus, he likes "Pogo," which clearly attests to his unassaultable good taste.
Jaysus. I saw him do something like this before, on a thread about Israel. It was pretty brutal. It's like watching one of those old WWF wrestlers grab an opponent's
face and grind away until the guy starts crying. I mean that in a nice & admiring way, you know.
-- Fontana Labs, Unfogged
We read you Gary Farber! We read you all the time! Its just that we are lazy with our blogroll. We are so very very lazy. We are always the last ones to the party but we always have snazzy bow ties.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!
Gary Farber you are a genius of mad scientist proportions. I will bet there are like huge brains growin in jars all over your house.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!
Gary Farber is the hardest working man in show blog business. He's like a young Gene Hackman blogging with his hair on fire, or something.
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog
Gary Farber only has two blogging modes: not at all, and 20 billion interesting posts a day [...] someone on the interweb whose opinions I can trust....
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog
Isn't Gary a cracking blogger, apropos of nothing in particular?
-- Alison Scott
Gary Farber takes me to task, in a way befitting the gentleman he is.
-- Stephen Green, Vodkapundit
My friend Gary Farber at Amygdala is the sort of liberal for whom I happily give three cheers. [...] Damned incisive blogging....
-- Midwest Conservative Journal
If I ever start a paper, Clueless writes the foreign affairs column, Layne handles the city beat, Welch has the roving-reporter job, Tom Tomorrow runs the comic section (which carries Treacher, of course). MediaMinded runs the slots - that's the type of editor I want as the last line of defense. InstantMan runs the edit page - and you can forget about your Ivins and Wills and Friedmans and Teepens on the edit page - it's all Blair, VodkaP, C. Johnson, Aspara, Farber, Galt, and a dozen other worthies, with Justin 'I am smoking in such a provocative fashion' Raimondo tossed in for balance and comic relief.
Who wouldn't buy that paper? Who wouldn't want to read it? Who wouldn't climb over their mother to be in it?
-- James Lileks
I do appreciate your role and the role of Amygdala as a pioneering effort in the integration of fanwriters with social conscience into the larger blogosphere of social conscience.
-- Lenny Bailes
Every single post in that part of Amygdala visible on my screen is either funny or bracing or important. Is it always like this? -- Natalie Solent
People I've known and still miss include Isaac Asimov, rich brown, Charles Burbee, F. M. "Buzz" Busby, Terry Carr, A. Vincent Clarke, Bob Doyle, George Alec Effinger, Abi Frost,
Bill & Sherry Fesselmeyer, George Flynn, John Milo "Mike" Ford. John Foyster, Mike Glicksohn, Jay Haldeman, Neith Hammond (Asenath Katrina Hammond)/DominEditrix , Chuch Harris, Mike Hinge, Lee Hoffman, Terry Hughes, Damon Knight, Ross Pavlac, Bruce Pelz, Elmer Perdue, Tom Perry,
Larry Propp, Bill Rotsler, Art Saha, Bob Shaw, Martin Smith, Harry Stubbs, Bob Tucker, Harry Warner, Jr., Jack Williamson, Walter A. Willis, Susan Wood, Kate Worley, and Roger Zelazny.
It's just a start, it only gets longer, many are unintentionally left out.
And She of whom I must write someday.
LATKA GRAVAS TV. Many will blog this, but it's too damn funny not to.
In today's Afghanistan:
[...] According to the government’s latest surveys, only 43 percent of all households have nonleaking windows and roofs, 31 percent have safe drinking water and 7 percent have sanitary toilets.
But television is off to a phenomenal start, with Afghans now engrossed, for better or worse, in much of the same escapist fare that seduces the rest of the world: soap operas that pit the unbearably conniving against the implausibly virtuous, chefs preparing meals that most people would never eat in kitchens they could never afford, talk show hosts wheedling secrets from those too shameless to keep their troubles to themselves.
The latest national survey, which dates from 2005, shows that 19 percent of Afghan households own a television, a remarkable total considering not only that owning a TV was a crime under the Taliban but that a mere 14 percent of the population has access to public electricity. In a study this year of Afghanistan’s five most urban provinces, two-thirds of all people said they watched TV every day or almost every day.
From the Taliban to this:
[...] Each night, people in Kabul obey the beckoning of prime time much as they might otherwise answer the call to prayer. “As you can see, there is truth on the television, because all over the world the mother-in-law is always provoking a fight,” said Muhammad Farid, a man sitting in a run-down restaurant beside the Pul-i-Khishti Mosque, his attention fixed on an Indian soap opera that had been dubbed into Dari.
I wonder if The Honeymooners has yet been translated? (Of course, there's the problem of Alice and Trixie's shamelessly pornographic clothing, so perhaps that's out.)
The Flintstones? There's the old semi-joke about bombing Afghanistan up from the Stone Age, but I bet it could actually be popular, and they could even just animate in more modest outfits for Wilma and Betty.
At first I wondered if there's anything approaching feminist tv in Afghanistan; the piece took a while to get around to discussing women, after this early note:
[...] Women, whose public outings are constrained by custom, most often watch their favorite shows at home.
That seemed thin, indeed, but later in the piece, we find:
[...] Tolo has drawn a huge audience while testing the bounds of certain taboos. Zaid Mohseni, Saad’s younger brother, said: “When we first put a man and woman on the air together, we had complaints: this isn’t legal, this isn’t Islamic, blah, blah, blah. Then the criticism softened. It was O.K. as long as they don’t talk to each other. Finally, it softened more: O.K., they can talk as long as they don’t laugh.”
The bounds are pushed but not broken. A live talk show called “Woman” is co-moderated by a psychiatrist, Dr. Muhammad Yasin Babrak. While female callers are frank in their laments, the therapist limits himself to being Dear Abby to the lovelorn rather than Dr. Ruth to the sexually frustrated. “I won’t talk about incest or homosexuality,” he said.
Music videos, primarily imports from India, are broadcast regularly. With a nod to Afghan tradition, the bare arms and midriffs of female dancers are obscured with a milky strip of electronic camouflage. And yet, sporting events are somehow deemed less erotic. Maria Sharapova was shown at Wimbledon with the full flesh of her limbs unconcealed.
Maybe Alice and Trixie could go on? Answer cloudy.
However, we do learn earlier that:
[...] Men, on the other hand, are free to make TV a communal ritual. In one restaurant after another, with deft fingers dipping into mounds of steaming rice, patrons sit cross-legged on carpeted platforms, their eyes fixed on a television set perched near the ceiling. Profound metaphysical questions hover in the dim light: Will Prerna find happiness with Mr. Bajaj, who is after all not the father of her child?
“These are problems that teach you about life,” said Sayed Agha, who sells fresh vegetables from a pushcart by day and views warmed-over melodramas by night.
Although somewhere a mullah is writing the Dari The Glass Teat (in this version, the role of "The Man" is still played by "The Man").
Still, this -- and pray forgive me for my cultural arrogance and condescension only if you feel so moved -- cracks me up:
What to watch is rarely contested. At 7:30, the dial is turned to Tolo TV for “Prerna,” a soap opera colloquially known by the name of its female protagonist. At 8, the channel is switched for “The Thief of Baghdad.” At 8:30, it is back to Tolo for the intrafamily and extramarital warfare waged on “Tulsi,” the nickname for a show whose title literally means “Because the Mother-in-Law Was Once the Daughter-in-Law.”
And in an entirely different way, this also cracks me up, and that way makes me feel almost upbeat, for a moment:
[...] “We’ve just bought the rights to ‘24,’ the American show,” he said. “We had some concerns. Most of the bad guys are Muslims, but we did focus groups and it turns out most people didn’t care about that so long as the villains weren’t Afghans.”
One can interpret that in many ways, but a) it turns out that tv executives the world over are the same in loving thems some focus groups, and b) people everywhere love to see bad guys tortured and shot! Even Muslims love it, as long as they aren't Muslims from the same tribe/village/ethnic grouping!
So there's hope to be found for all humanity in our common love of torture and violence and morality tales! Huzzah!
Read The Rest Scale: 3 out of 5. Oh, and one more thing is the same the world over:
[...] “People in the countryside and the mosques say that the show is ruining society,” Mr. Sediqi admitted.
Stephen McPherson, president of ABC Entertainment, told SCI FI Wire that he thought the anthology SF series Masters of Science Fiction was "very uneven" and "it's been a little bit problematic."
That's why the series of movies by notable directors is being dumped in the summer, premiering Aug. 4. Narrated by physicist Stephen Hawking, the series will include directors such as Michael Tolkin, Mark Rydell and Jonathan Frakes, as well as actors such as Judy Davis, Sam Waterston, John Hurt, Anne Heche and Malcolm McDowell.
"It was a low-cost initiative that we tried. We did ... this series of movies to see if there was a way to spark something different at a really low cost point," McPherson said. "I think there is some good work done there, but it's very uneven."
[...] In some ways, this is pretty amazing stuff: material from top-flight authors like Robert Heinlein and Harlan Ellison, directed by well-known directors like Mark Rydell ("On Golden Pond") and Michael Tolkin ("The Player"), with actors like Sam Waterston, Judy Davis, Brian Dennehy, Anne Heche and Malcolm McDowell.
On the other hand, the series will be broadcast in the dead of summer on Saturday nights, suggesting that the network sees its likely audience as pudgy misfits in "Star Trek" costumes, their vintage plastic phasars set for "stun."
Two of the six shows produced by Starz Media (also the creators of Showtime's "Masters of Horror" anthology series) will not be broadcast by ABC at all _ they and the rest of the shows are targeted for DVDs, and for showings overseas.
So, is "Masters of Science Fiction" a treasure trove, or a dump?
The first episode, "A Clean Escape" (airing 10 p.m. EDT Saturday), features Waterston as a man who has blocked from memory years of his life, and Davis as a psychiatrist who is determined to make him remember.
"Jerry Was a Man," scheduled for later in the month, is also talky. But based on a Heinlein story from 1947, the show has a kind of jokey playfulness.
The year is 2077; the age is one in which the fabulously wealthy are served by an underclass, and by "joes," genetically manipulated humanoids. One such humanoid, Jerry, survives his job as a minesweeper, but has passed his expiration date and is destined to be ground up for dog food until he meets a billionaire, played by Heche.
To prevent Jerry's kibble-ization, she goes to court to have him declared a man, suing the company that made him and the company's mastermind, played by McDowell, who has come a long way and gone a lot gray since his most famous futuristic role, as Alex in "A Clockwork Orange."
The differences between Heinlein's story and this adaptation are worth noting. Heinlein's Jerry is a souped-up chimp, not a humanoid.
And when it comes time to argue Jerry's humanity in court, his television lawyer emphasizes his willingness to sacrifice others in self-preservation, a human failing; Heinlein's lawyer emphasizes Jerry's ability to sing, evidence of a human soul.
But then, Heinlein was writing in a more optimistic age than this one.
They wouldn't have agreed at the time. From the start of Heinlein's being published, the threat of nuclear doom loomed heavily.
On other fronts, Malcolm McDowell certainly has made a second career out of playing satanic-seeming elderly powerful villains, hasn't he?
[...] The series premieres with "A Clean Escape" (SATURDAY, AUGUST 4), based on Nebula Award-winning author John Kessel's short story. Mark Rydell ("On Golden Pond," "The River," "The Rose") directed from a script by Sam Egan ("The Outer Limits"). In "A Clean Escape," set not too far in a post-Apocalyptic future, psychiatrist Dr. Deanna Evans (Judy Davis) interrogates a distinguished, if befuddled, man (Sam Waterston) who appears to be suffering from a lapse in memory. Why can't he remember - and why is it so important that she uncover the secret he holds deep inside?
The second episode, "The Awakening" (SATURDAY, AUGUST 11), stars Terry O'Quinn and Elisabeth Rohm. Based on the short story by Hollywood Blacklist author Howard Fast ("Spartacus," "Citizen Tom Paine"), the episode opens outside Baghdad, where U.S. soldiers discover a mysterious casualty - one they can't even identify as human. William B. Davis ("The X-Files") guest stars as the President of the United States. Michael Petroni ("Till Human Voices Wake Us") directed from a script he wrote, based on the short story by Howard Fast.
The third installment is "Jerry Was a Man" (SATURDAY, AUGUST 18), featuring Anne Heche and Malcolm McDowell. Michael Tolkin ("The Player," "The Rapture," "The Burning Season") directs from a script he wrote based on the classic Robert Heinlein story. Set in the future, the world's seventh richest couple, the van Vogels, find their lives changed forever when they acquire an anthropoid named Jerry.
The series concludes with "The Discarded" (SATURDAY, AUGUST 25), based on the short story by seven-time Hugo Award winner, three-time Nebula Award winner and Science Fiction Grand Master Laureate Harlan Ellison. The episode is written by Harlan Ellison and 2005 Academy Award nominee Josh Olson ("A History of Violence"). Jonathan Frakes ("Star Trek") directed. Brian Dennehy, John Hurt and James Denton star in this ultimate story of despised minorities sentenced to drift in the darkness of outer space forever. These men and women make a desperate pact in the hope of being offered refuge at home on Earth.
The talent is certainly there; unfortunately, the vision isn't always.
But definitely worth checking out.
And it really does look as if the Watchmen movie is in production. But I'll believe it when I see it, and believe it's good after that. (The movie of League of Extraordinary Gentleman doesn't give me the heaves, but it isn't a particularly pleasant memory, despite the presence of Sean Connery, and bears little connection with the fine comics.)
CAN ANYBODY REALLY GIVE #180 AS AN ANSWER AND KEEP A STRAIGHT FACE? This is impressive, though, and fairly comprehensive: 237 Reasons for Having Sex:
1. I was “in the heat of the moment.” 2. It just happened. 3. I was bored. 4. It just seemed like “the thing to do.” 5. Someone dared me. 6. I desired emotional closeness (i.e., intimacy). 7. I wanted to feel closer to God. 8. I wanted to gain acceptance from friends. 9. It’s exciting, adventurous. 10. I wanted to make up after a fight. 11. I wanted to get rid of aggression. 12. I was under the influence of drugs. 13. I wanted to try to get a better mate than my current mate. 14. I wanted to express my love for the person. 15. I wanted to experience the physical pleasure. 16. I wanted to show my affection to the person. 17. I felt like I owed it to the person. 18. I was attracted to the person. 19. I was sexually aroused and wanted the release. 20. My friends were having sex and I wanted to fit in. 21. It feels good. 22. My partner kept insisting. 23. The person was famous and I wanted to be able to say I had sex with him/her. 24. I was physically forced to. 25. I was verbally coerced into it. 26. I wanted the person to love me. 27. I wanted to have a child. 28. I wanted to make someone else jealous. 29. I wanted to have more sex than my friends. 30. I was married and you’re supposed to. 31. I was tired of being a virgin. 32. I was “horny.” 33. I wanted to feel loved. 34. I was feeling lonely. 35. Everyone else was having sex. 36. I wanted the attention. 37. It was easier to “go all the way” than to stop. 38. I wanted to ensure the relationship was “committed.” 39. I was competing with someone else to “get the person.” 40. I wanted to “gain control” of the person. 41. I was curious about what the person was like in bed. 42. I was curious about sex. 43. I wanted to feel attractive. 44. I wanted to please my partner. 45. I wanted to display submission. 46. I wanted to release anxiety/stress 47. I didn’t know how to say “no.” 48. I felt like it was my duty. 49. I wanted to end the relationship. 50. My friends pressured me into it. 51. I wanted the adventure/excitement. 52. I wanted the experience. 53. I felt obligated to. 54. It’s fun. 55. I wanted to get even with someone (i.e., revenge). 56. I wanted to be popular. 57. It would get me gifts. 58. I wanted to act out a fantasy. 59. I hadn’t had sex for a while. 60. The person was “available.” 61. I didn’t want to “lose” the person. 62. I thought it would help “trap” a new partner. 63. I wanted to capture someone else’s mate. 64. I felt sorry for the person. 65. I wanted to feel powerful. 66. I wanted to “possess” the person. 67. I wanted to release tension. 68. I wanted to feel good about myself. 69. I was slumming. 70. I felt rebellious. 71. I wanted to intensify my relationship. 72. It seemed like the natural next step in my relationship. 73. I wanted to be nice. 74. I wanted to feel connected to the person. 75. I wanted to feel young. 76. I wanted to manipulate him/her into doing something for me. 77. I wanted him/her to stop bugging me about sex. 78. I wanted to hurt/humiliate the person. 79. I wanted the person to feel good about himself/herself. 80. I didn’t want to disappoint the person. 81. I was trying to “get over” an earlier person/relationship. 82. I wanted to reaffirm my sexual orientation. 83. I wanted to try out new sexual techniques or positions. 84. I felt guilty. 85. My hormones were out of control. 86. It was the only way my partner would spend time with me. 87. It became a habit. 88. I wanted to keep my partner happy. 89. I had no self-control. 90. I wanted to communicate at a "deeper" level. 91. I was afraid my partner would have an affair if I didn't have sex with him/her. 92. I was curious about my sexual abilities. 93. I wanted a "spiritual" experience. 94. It was just part of the relationship "routine." 95. I wanted to lose my inhibitions. 96. I got "carried away." 97. I needed another "notch on my belt." 98. The person demanded that I have sex with him/her. 99. The opportunity presented itself. 100. I wanted to see what it would be like to have sex while stoned (e.g., on marijuana or some other drug). 101. It's considered “taboo” by society. 102. I wanted to increase the number of sex partners I had experienced. 103. The person was too “hot” (sexy) to resist. 104. I thought it would relax me. 105. I thought it would make me feel healthy. 106. I wanted to experiment with new experiences. 107. I wanted to see what it would be like to have sex with another person. 108. I thought it would help me to fall asleep. 109. I could brag to other people about my sexual experience. 110. It would allow me to “get sex out of my system” so that I could focus on other things. 111. I wanted to decrease my partner’s desire to have sex with someone else. 112. It would damage my reputation if I said “no.” 113. The other person was too physically attractive to resist. 114. I wanted to celebrate something. 115. I was seduced. 116. I wanted to make the person feel better about herself/himself. 117. I wanted to increase the emotional bond by having sex. 118. I wanted to see whether sex with a different partner would feel different or better. 119. I was mad at my partner, so I had sex with someone else. 120. I wanted to fulfill a previous promise to my partner. 121. It was expected of me. 122. I wanted to keep my partner from straying. 123. I wanted the pure pleasure. 124. I wanted to dominate the other person. 125. I wanted to make a conquest. 126. I’m addicted to sex. 127. It was a favor to someone. 128. I wanted to be used or degraded. 129. Someone offered me money to do it. 130. I was drunk. 131. It seemed like good exercise. 132. I was pressured into doing it. 133. The person offered to give me drugs for doing it. 134. I was frustrated and needed relief. 135. It was a romantic setting. 136. I felt insecure. 137. My regular partner is boring, so I had sex with someone else. 138. I was on the “rebound” from another relationship. 139. I wanted to boost my self-esteem 140. I wanted to get my partner to stay with me. 141. Because of a bet. 142. It was a special occasion. 143. It was the next step in the relationship. 144. I wanted to get a special favor from someone. 145. I wanted to get back at my partner for having cheated on me. 146. I wanted to enhance my reputation. 147. I wanted to keep warm. 148. I wanted to punish myself. 149. I wanted to break up a rival’s relationship by having sex with his/her partner. 150. I wanted to stop my partners’ nagging. 151. I wanted to achieve an orgasm. 152. I wanted to brag to friends about my conquests. 153. I wanted to improve my sexual skills. 154. I wanted to get a job. 155. I wanted to get a raise. 156. I wanted to get a promotion. 157. I wanted to satisfy a compulsion. 158. I wanted to make money. 159. I wanted to keep my partner satisfied. 160. I wanted to change the topic of conversation. 161. I wanted to get out of doing something. 162. I wanted to test my compatibility with a new partner. 163. I wanted to get a partner to express love. 164. I wanted to put passion back into my relationship. 165. I wanted to prevent a breakup. 166. I wanted to become one with another person. 167. I wanted to get a favor from someone. 168. I wanted to breakup my relationship. 169. I wanted to give someone else a sexually transmitted disease (e.g., herpes, AIDS). 170. I wanted to breakup another’s relationship. 171. I wanted to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. 172. I wanted to make myself feel better about myself. 173. I wanted to get rid of a headache. 174. I was afraid to say "no" due to the possibility of physical harm. 175. I wanted to keep my partner from straying. 176. I wanted to burn calories. 177. I wanted to even the score with a cheating partner. 178. I wanted to hurt an enemy. 179. I wanted to feel older. 180. It is my genetic imperative. 181. It was an initiation rite to a club or organization. 182. I wanted to become more focused on work - sexual thoughts are distracting. 183. I wanted to say "I’ve missed you." 184. I wanted to celebrate a birthday or anniversary or special occasion. 185. I wanted to say "I’m sorry." 186. I wanted to return a favor. 187. I wanted to say "Thank You." 188. I wanted to welcome someone home. 189. I wanted to say "goodbye." 190. I wanted to defy my parents. 191. I wanted to relieve menstrual cramps. 192. I wanted to relieve “blue balls.” 193. I wanted to get the most out of life. 194. I wanted to feel feminine. 195. I wanted to feel masculine. 196. I am a sex addict. 197. I wanted to see what all the fuss is about. 198. I thought it would boost my social status. 199. The person had a lot of money. 200. The person’s physical appearance turned me on. 201. The person was a good dancer. 202. Someone had told me that this person was good in bed. 203. The person had beautiful eyes. 204. The person made me feel sexy. 205. An erotic movie had turned me on. 206. The person had taken me out to an expensive dinner. 207. The person was a good kisser. 208. The person had bought me jewelry. 209. The person had a great sense of humor. 210. The person seemed self-confident. 211. The person really desired me. 212. The person was really desired by others. 213. I wanted to gain access to that person’s friend. 214. I felt jealous. 215. The person flattered me. 216. I wanted to see if I could get the other person into bed. 217. The person had a desirable body. 218. I had not had sex in a long time. 219. The person smelled nice. 220. The person had an attractive face. 221. I saw the person naked and could not resist. 222. I was turned on by the sexual conversation. 223. The person was intelligent. 224. The person caressed me. 225. The person wore revealing clothes. 226. The person had too much to drink and I was able to take advantage of him/her. 227. I knew the person was usually “out of my league.” 228. The person was mysterious. 229. I realized I was in love. 230. I wanted to forget about my problems. 231. I wanted to reproduce. 232. I/she was ovulating. 233. I wanted my partner to notice me. 234. I wanted to help my partner forget about his/her problems. 235. I wanted to lift my partner's spirits. 236. I wanted to submit to my partner. 237. I wanted to make my partner feel powerful.
Other reasons I've given! "My doctor advised me to have sex as frequently as possible." (It was true at the time, although, yeah, I was also just kidding.) "It's for science." Okay, I never claimed that; but I bet someone has!
#182 seems creative. Among the most flattering: not #108, nor #131, nor #173, nor #176. Yes, well, that could work: #160.
Quite a few of these I'm extremely grateful never to have heard, and I'm even hopeful that they weren't even true.
HEY WIKIPEDIANS! I know I should bother to look into signing up and learning the precise protocols of suggesting corrections, and the like, but a) I'm lazy; b) I'm depressed; and c) I fear being sucked into another time-sink.
All really insufficient excuses in the long run, but I'm going with them for the moment. Meanwhile, if anyone reading this wants to bother, note that this and this are quite wrong when they claim that:
[...] The basic concept of a Stargate did not originate with the movie Stargate. Arthur C. Clarke first coined the term "Star Gate" in his novel 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) as a fictional device allowing rapid travel between distant locations. Clarke’s "Star Gate" does not resemble the one described in this article; nevertheless, Stargate SG-1 paid homage to Clarke in the two episodes "2001" and "2010," which correspond to the first two books in his Space Odyssey series: 2001: A Space Odyssey and 2010: Odyssey Two.
The first sentence is true, to be sure, but of course Arthur C. Clarke never invented the tried and true concept of a Stargate: that's simply false.
It's quite possible that there are earlier examples I'm not thinking of at the moment, but millions of people, including myself, read famous sf juvenile writer Andre Norton's un-subtly titled novel Star Gate, after it came out in 1958 (I first read the Ace paperback circa 1967; maybe you read a British edition); the Star Gate concept was one she continued to use in a number of her interconnected novels, although she was quite prolific, inventing and utilizing a variety of non-overlapping universes, as well, including time travel, Star Rangers, and other stuff that's very cool when you're 7 years old.
Andre Norton died in 2005, incidentally, at the age of 93, a fact I didn't post about at the time. There were better and more sophisticated sf and fantasy writers, and there were far worse and cruder writers, but she'll be beloved by several generations of readers who caught at least a few of her better books at the right age, until our generations have all passed.
Anyway: Arthur C. Clarke certainly didn't invent the notion of a Stargate/Star Gate: 'tis a silly thought.
IF IT BLEEDS, IT DOESN'T LEAD. The more overt style of directing news:
After a meeting of top Beijing propaganda officials, for instance, the capital's newspaper editors and television news directors last week were handed a list of newly off-limits subjects, Beijing journalists reported. The list included food safety as well as riots, fires, deadly auto accidents and bloody murder cases, they said.
Somewhere out there, Dick Cheney is sighing (only slightly) wistfully.
[...] Today, the House passed H.R. 2929, Banning Permanent U.S. Bases in Iraq. This bill states that it is the policy of the United States not to establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing a permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq. It also states that it is the policy of the United States not to exercise U.S. control of the oil resources of Iraq. The measure bars the use of any funds provided by any law from being used to carry out any policy that contradicts these statements of policy.
It's doubtful it can pass the Senate, and if it did, I'd expect Bush to veto it, and I wouldn't expect it to be over-ridden, and if it wasn't, I wouldn't count on it being enforced, but it's still a useful tiny step in the process. (But, of course, no one should be confused into mistaking it for serious major progress, either.)
ORI, OH-RYE, flying monkeys, or telekinetic monks? All I know is that the first Stargate SG-1 Season 10 disk arrived today from Netflix, and others arrive as the week proceeds, so that's my current excuse for totally not writing remotely a fraction as much as I'd prefer to.
But, y'know, the depression is the real cause, and I have a problem writing about that.
Sooner or later, more, to be sure, but probably more later than sooner.
[...] One subject that especially infuriated Shavit, and provoked countless letters to the editor, e-mail screeds, and editorial-page rebuttals, was Burg’s depiction of the European Union as an almost irresistibly attractive “biblical utopia” and his flouting of the fact that he holds a French passport, because his wife is French-born, and voted in the recent French elections.
Shocking. The man should be horsewhipped. Civilization has fallen beyond repair.
Read The Rest Scale: 3.5 out of 5 for a rather curious glance at Avraham Burg, if you like, and can get over your distress at this grave time.
Oh, heck, let's give some context. This was Harold Ross's editorial style and these were his standards:
Commas in The New Yorker fall with the precision of knives in a circus act, outlining the victim. — EB White
As editor, Ross demanded perfect clarity and accuracy in every article and cartoon. A piece sent past his desk would return with dozens of appended queries (the record was 140). A cartoon of two elephants looking at their offspring with the caption 'It's about time to tell Junior the facts of life' elicited the question, 'Which elephant is talking?' To a reference in a casual to 'the woman taken in adultery', Ross queried, 'Which woman? Hasn't been previously mentioned.' Thurber recalls Ross getting tangled in a line by William Ernest Henley: 'One or two women (God bless them) have loved me.' Ross unhappily felt compelled to rewrite it: 'One or two women (God bless her or them) has or have loved me.' Some writers found Ross's editing entertaining, some found it maddening and some were reduced to near tears at his full-frontal attacks on what had seemed a fine piece of writing.
Ross's quest for clarity led to an overuse of commas famously celebrated in Lynne Truss's grammar book Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Thurber recalls a letter from a British professor of punctuation arguing the necessity of approximately 15 commas in as many New Yorker articles. One of his queries concerned a sentence that ran, 'After dinner, the men moved into the living room.' Thurber explained that the comma 'was Ross's way of giving the men time to push back their chairs and stand up. There must, as we know, be a comma after every move, made by men, on this earth.'
Ross frequently accosted Hobart Weekes to ask what 'the rule' was, but just as frequently determined that there was none and inserted a comma to be safe. John Duncan Miller, a London Times reporter, suggested that Thurber's biography of Ross be entitled The Century of the Comma Man, but Ross didn't actually love commas; when Brendan Gill told him that Parliamentary laws need to be written up without punctuation lest a misplaced comma change the meaning of a law, Ross delightedly experimented with such writing for several weeks. He eventually gave it up because, even more than clarity, Ross liked subordinate clauses.
The famous fact-checking department:
[...] Ross also found out about the Saturday Evening Post's fact-checking department and started experimenting with such a system. The New Yorker fact-checking department later became famous for 'a precision that sometimes leaned over backward'. Thurber quotes a fact-checker as saying, 'If you mention the Empire State Building in a Talk piece, Ross isn't satisfied it's still there until we call up and verify it.' Ross's actual directive ran:
I urge that every time it is said or implied in a story that a man is dead, that this statement or implication be checked. I would extend this to such people as Napoleon, but would especially be interested in lesser people, or more recent people.
Once, the checking department informed a writer that he could not have eaten at a restaurant he mentioned in an article because they couldn't find a restaurant at the address he'd given. The writer had to bring back a menu to prove he was right before the article would run.
Shawn differed drastically from Ross in his editorial style. Ross would bawl at writers and bully them into accepting his corrections to their work; Shawn revered good writing, and seemed loath to tamper with it at all. Brendan Gill called Shawn's editorial method 'negative brute force'. He said it composed of:
Silences, hesitations, sidelong glances of his very blue eyes, tentative baton-like strokes in the air of his dark-green Venus drawing pencil.
Brendan described the gentle yet determined way Shawn imposed his will upon the writers who worked for him:
Questioning a comma, he will shake his head and say in his soft voice that he realizes perfectly well what a lot of time and thought have gone into the comma... but isn't there the possibility... that the sentence could be made to read infinitesimally more clearly if, say, instead of a comma a semicolon were to be inserted at just that point?
According to Brendan, this 'softly, softly' approach towards getting his own way worked more often in Shawn's favour than not. Brendan described how, during such meetings, the writer is not only touched by Shawn's concern but is also:
...aghast with admiration at the skill of (Shawn's) circumlocutions, and determined at all costs to prevent Shawn from suffering the humiliation of having his proposed semicolon rejected. 2
The editorial process was taken very seriously by the New Yorker staff, and a single piece might undergo weeks or more of correcting and polishing before it was considered fit to print.
And now: fallen times. The horror. The horror.
Special bonus New Yorker quote!
Thurber, who drew long-eared, short-legged dogs on every writable surface including the walls, was normal compared to some of the other New Yorker writers and artists. James Cain did all his writing on the floor of his office9. Edmund Wilson didn't pay his taxes for almost a decade because he 'didn't realise the severity of the omission'. Rogers EM Whitaker could spout the departure and arrival time of any train anywhere in the world in the 20th Century. He rode trains for a hobby and once calculated that he'd ridden a total of 2,748,636.81 miles across six continents in six decades. Arthur Samuels furnished his office with rugs, ostentatious lamps and expensive décor, while Kip Orr carefully tended to the potted plants and live fish that inhabited his own office and occasionally played with children's toys. Thorne Smith did all his writing on foolscap with a quill. Christopher Rand was a homeless writer who wandered from continent to continent writing articles, became a Buddhist and died after jumping out the window of his hotel room in Mexico City. Richard Harris also jumped out the window to his death, but in his case, he was under the impression he could fly. Maeve Brennan moved into her New Yorker office; she did her cooking in her cubicle and slept on a couch in the ladies' room.
And Ross was pretty strange, himself.
The New Yorker office had a long tradition of reconstruction. Ross disliked 90-degree turns in hallways because he never knew what crazy artist might be coming along, unseen, in the opposite direction. For years a mirror hung at a key intersection so Ross could see around the bend and presumably hide if he didn't like who he saw. Hawley Truax, who feared nearly everything, also feared — not unjustly — collisions at such intersections. Furthermore, Ross professed distaste for separation between everyone and everything, and frequently discussed tearing down all the walls. At the same time, all his nutty artists and writers demanded their own offices, and once installed were impossible to remove. This necessitated the creation of new offices for new staff members as they arrived. These offices were cut out of other offices, hidden inside offices and placed in any widening of the halls, making the New Yorker office floor plan into a veritable maze.
The American ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan C. Crocker, has asked the Bush administration to take the unusual step of granting immigrant visas to all Iraqis employed by the U.S. government in Iraq because of growing concern that they will quit and flee the country if they cannot be assured eventual safe passage to the United States.
That's good, to be sure, but here's what's pathetic:
[...] The United States has admitted 133 Iraqi refugees since October, despite predicting that it would process 7,000 by the end of September.
[...] Overall estimates of the number of Iraqis who may be targeted as collaborators because of their work for U.S., coalition or foreign reconstruction groups are as high as 110,000.
Imagine it was a member of your family on the streets of Baghdad, trying to survive having worked for the Americans.
What's it like for them?
[...] A 43-year-old former engineer for the U.S. Embassy who gave his name as Abu Ali said Iraqis working with Americans at any level must trust no one, use fake names, conceal their travel and telephone use, and withhold their employment even from family members. Despite such extreme precautions, he said they are viewed as traitors by some countrymen and are still mistrusted by the U.S. government.
"We have no good end or finish for us," said Ali, who quit the embassy in June and moved to Dubai with his four children.
What's the bigger picture?
[...] "If we screw this group of people, we're never going to make another friend in the Middle East as long as I'm alive," said Johnson, who is advocating the resettlement of Iraqis who have worked for coalition forces. "The people in the Middle East are watching what happens to this group."
The context, again?
[...] Since 2003, the year of the U.S. invasion, the United States has admitted 825 Iraqi refugees, many of them backlogged applicants from the time when Saddam Hussein was in power. By comparison, the United States has accepted 3,498 Iranians in the past nine months.
Smaller countries have also done more. Sweden received 9,065 Iraqi asylum applications in 2006, approving them at a rate of 80 percent, although it recently announced tighter restrictions.
By past standards, the U.S. response also has been meager. Washington admitted nearly 140,000 Vietnamese refugees in eight months in 1975, although only after the U.S. defeat in South Vietnam became clear.
We should be able to approve 60,000 Iraqi refugee visas in the next six months; fewer would be unconscionable; more would be better. Faster, please.
We have a debt to pay.
Read The Rest Scale: 4 out of 5. See also the bottom part of this post, if you like. But most of all, please read this previous post about the plight of Iraqi employees of our embassy.
GREEN MOUNTAIN EMERGENCIES. Desperate times in Vermont.
[...] In a 3-to-2 vote, town officials in Brattleboro passed an emergency antinudity ordinance for main roads and near schools and places of worship. A gaggle of naked teenagers who hung around a downtown parking lot had prompted the Select Board several months ago to think that clothing-optional was not working. Officials decided then to let winter take care of the problem, and never voted. But, they decided they had seen enough when an elderly man strolled through downtown last week wearing nothing but a fanny pack. Next month, Brattleboro will hold a public hearing on whether the ordinance should become permanent.
If God had wanted us to wear clothes, we'd be born with them.
But it's a relief to know that supple Vermont government can respond effectively in times of public "emergency."
THE TRUTH REVEALED. If you trust Marc Armbinder as a reporter, that is:
[...] The primary difference is definitional: The centerpiece of Edwards's campaign is his anti-poverty efforts; he presents himself as a dedicated messenger for the cause, and he likes expensive haircuts, bought a gimungous house, etc. etc. His credibility as a messenger comes into question when he spends money ostentatiously.
Sure. And damned fools we were for taking FDR and Bobby Kennedy as credible, or taking as credible any advocate for helping the poor who doesn't wear sack clothes and ashes.
And since poor people don't tend to get the education they need to become articulate, and powerful within the power structure of our country, without rising out of poverty, no credible advocate for the poor can ever exist. Q. E. D. It all works out, though, since poverty isn't a problem in this country! We know that, because otherwise some prominent politician would say otherwise!
The other Truth?
[...] There is a difference in the political reality: fairly or unfairly, a healthy chunk of the national political press corps doesn't like John Edwards.
Fairly or unfairly, there's also a difference in narrative timing: when the first quarter ended, the press was trying to bury Edwards. It's not so much interested in burying Romney right now -- many reporters think he's the Republican frontrunner.
We knew it -- people like Bob Sommersby have made a career out of documenting it -- but there it is. The herd frozen in motion. It's all about the groupthink prejudice. They hated Al Gore, loved John McCain, and now they're Disappointed in John McCain and hate John Edwards and Hillary Clinton.
But Romney? He's the Republican front runner! Wouldn't want to look hard at him!
Developed by computer scientists at the University of Alberta in Canada, Chinook vanquished human competitors at tournaments more than a decade ago. Now, in an article published today on the Web site of the journal Science, the scientists report that they have rigorously proved that Chinook, in a slightly improved version, cannot ever lose. An opponent, no matter how skilled, practiced or determined, can at best achieve a draw.
In essence, that reduces checkers to the level of tic-tac-toe, where the ideal game-playing strategy has been codified into a series of immutable rules. But checkers — or draughts as it is known in Great Britain — is much more complex, with 500 billion billion theoretically possible board positions; it is the most complex game that has been solved to date.
I always liked chess far better, anyway.
Read The Rest Scale: 3 wins out of 5. Looking to the future:
[...] For Dr. Schaeffer, the next game he hopes to conquer is poker. Next week, his program, Polaris, will take on two professional poker players in Texas Hold’em for the $50,000 man vs. machine world championship.
Poker isn't exactly a game of chance when good players play, so we'll see how this goes.
HOW HISTORY GETS MADE. Forget-me-not: Michael Kinsley reads Ronald Reagan's diaries (free registration probably required):
The literary editor of The New Republic, Leon Wieseltier, brought the joyous news. "Guess what, Mike. You're mentioned in Reagan's diaries."
But I was more interested in the me angle, frankly. And it was a puzzle. What on earth could Reagan have written? I indulged my imagination, and my ego:
Or: "October 6, 1987. Why does Kinsley keep picking on me? He is the only thing standing between me and the total destruction of the welfare state. But, ha: I will destroy him--destroy him utterly--or my name's not ... not ... not ... . Say, they had 'State Fair' on TV last night. What a wholesome, clean-cut young man that Pat Boone is."
Or: "May 17, 1986. A moment I've been dreading. George brought his ne'er-do-well son around this morning and asked me to find the kid a job. Not the political one who lives in Florida. The one who hangs around here all the time looking shiftless. This so-called kid is already almost 40 and has never had a real job. Maybe I'll call Kinsley over at The New Republic and see if they'll hire him as a contributing editor or something. That looks like easy work."
And, sure enough, there I was in the index and on page 400, which describes the events of Friday, March 21, 1986, a busy day for Reagan. He learns that Panama will not take in the unwanted dictator of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos. He meets with our ambassador to Russia to talk about Gorbachev. Javier Perez de Cuellar, secretary-general of the United Nations, drops by in the afternoon, and Billy Graham comes over for dinner. Reagan finishes writing his speech for the annual Gridiron dinner. He has an interview with New York Times reporters. And at midday: "had off-the-record lunch with Meg Greenfield, David Brinkley, and editor of New Republic (Michael Kinsley)."
And me? And me? Well, here is the problem: This whole thing never happened. Or, if it did happen, I was not there. Or, if I was there, it had slipped my mind. I had no memory of having lunch with President Reagan in the White House or anywhere else. And it's not the kind of thing you forget, is it? Or maybe it is. Is Alzheimer's contagious?
Was it possible that Reagan remembered having lunch with me, but I didn't remember having lunch with him? A friend of mine has a story about how Bill Clinton, shortly after being elected president of the United States, came up to him at a large social gathering and said, "You don't remember me, but--" they had met once, two decades earlier. And my friend realized that it was true: They had met, and he hadn't remembered. But Clinton is famous for this sort of thing, and he wasn't president when my friend met him the first time. By contrast, phenomenal feats of memory were never Reagan's forte.
Phenomenal feats of making stuff up and convincing himself that they were true, on the other hand, were a bit of a Reagan specialty. He liberated the death camps, to name but one example. But surely President Reagan had better things to make up than having lunch with me. And, anyway, who am I to question the president of the United States? Even one who is deceased. In fact, everyone at this alleged lunch is now deceased, except me. So I can basically make up any story I wish. And my story is that, on March 21, 1986, I had lunch with the president and two far more distinguished journalists than myself. With Reagan to back me up, who is going to challenge me? (And, for that matter, who is going to question him?)
And, once I had decided I was there, the memories started flooding back. March 21, 1986: What a day! Retrieving my best suit from the freezer (what I couldn't remember was how it had gotten there); making sure that I had the exact bus fare; thinking up a tough question to prove that I couldn't be bought for a lunch at the White House ("How are you today, Mr. President?").
So it was irritating in the extreme when Douglas Brinkley e-mailed again a couple of days later to report his own bit of recovered memory. He said that, upon further investigation, an editor at HarperCollins (a company owned by Rupert Murdoch, I'd like to point out, for no particular reason) had slipped in my name. He or she--and Reagan, too--apparently were unaware of TNR's all-chiefs-and-no-Indians tradition of ladling out titles instead of money. Almost everyone at tnr is an "editor" of some kind. Reagan, it seems, actually had lunch with Charles Krauthammer.
Brinkley was terribly apologetic and said he would correct the error in the next edition. I said that wouldn't be necessary as far as I was concerned. Please don't bother.
I'm just surprised there's no mention of the Secret Service having to pry Krauthammer's lips off Reagan's rear end.
YES! YES! YES! Sometimes I idly read personal ads: Craigslist, hither, yon, wherever. And although I've only responded to a personal ad twice in my life so far, and have yet to ever post one, this is a typical experience of just reading them:
[...] I didn’t realize, however, what a huge boulder I would be rolling uphill — what with my being a “literary person,” a sometime editor of this column, someone whose ear is as tuned to the pitch of language as a cellist’s is to music — until the misplaced modifiers, dyslexic spellings and grievous abuses of syntax started pouring in.
[...] but you’d think that a man trying to impress a woman would get her name right. Well, you would be wrong.
But maybe he was one of those men who would sooner ask for directions than have their punctuation or grammar corrected. Can you spell “thin-barked”?
I know what you’re thinking: No wonder she’s single, no wonder she got dumped, who would want to feel those eyes/ears of judgment upon his every utterance?
But just imagine what it’s like to be afflicted with an excess language-sensitivity gene. I mean, how would you feel if someone extolled your “skillful verbage”?
And what about the onomatopoeticist who enjoyed the “slurshing sound of the waves”? “Slurshing” made me think “drink sloppily and quickly,” and combined with the motion of the water, the effect of his words was to produce welling seasickness, not the soothing rock and roll of the ocean crashing and uncrashing with romantic abandon along the shore of a secluded beach that he must have been aiming for.
I know people don’t proofread their myriad daily e-mail messages, and I have certainly been chagrined to discover, say, that I fired off “bike” when I meant “back,” but isn’t dating online like sending out your résumé, aren’t you trying to sell yourself to a potential employer (i.e., friend, lover, hand-to-hold-until-the-end-of-time)? When you write to a new someone, that someone who just might be the answer to your dreams (yeah, right), don’t you want to show him/her that you care, that you are paying attention?
So, channeling sibling tolerance, I began to leap over stray commas and words-run-into-periods and managed to go out with a cool downtown daddy-o “tommorow” who has “distain” for organized religion. And guess what? I even enjoined myself! Unfortunately, I won’t be able to discuss the financial wizard who basically wanted to know whether I could squat his weight (160; I can) because his affliction would indeed be off topic.
Aside from the fact that I'd have tremendous difficulty being involved with someone who wasn't a good writer/reader, the other amazing thing about personal ads is that the majority of people in many venues seem to wish to advertise that they are people with absolutely no creativity whatever, with no original thoughts in their brain, and they wish to assure you of their uniqueness, because they're a lot of fun to party with, enjoy time with their friends, and long walks on the beach and sitting in front of the fireplace! They are like no one else on earth!
These are not people I wish to be involved with. These are not people I could tolerate being involved with.
Fortunately, they're not offering, so it works out.
THEY HAD A COW. A long look at The Simpsons' story, with nothing but quotes from everyone involved in the making of the program over the years.
A few bits:
[...] Simon recently told 60 Minutes, "Any show I've ever worked on, it turns me into a monster. I go crazy; I hate myself." For his part, Groening has said, "I think Sam Simon is brilliantly funny and one of the smartest writers I've ever worked with, although unpleasant and mentally unbalanced."
Michael Mendel: The first show came back from Korea and it was a complete disaster. It was unairable. We had to re-cast some voices. The director just went off and did a bunch of stuff on his own.
Gabor Csupo: It was a very, very raw first assembly of the scenes, and some of the scenes were still missing, didn't come back, wrong colors, wrong angles. So it was a disaster. Jim [James L. Brooks] sort of got into it, started to laugh for the first five minutes, and then all of a sudden his face started to turn green and yellow, match the Simpsons characters almost. He got really disappointed because none of the jokes worked or nothing, and then all of a sudden he started to scream and yell, saying, "What is this?" He just went off and he even started to demand extra camera angles, which was the funniest thing ever—he never did animation in his life. He asked for coverage like when you're shooting a live-action movie. "So where are the other camera angles?" And [my producer] and I were just looking at each other, "O.K. … "
Wally Wolodarsky: Swartzwelder seemed to go directly from being a homeless person to a writer on The Simpsons.
One factor keeping the show's writing fresh has been the lack of network influence. Fox executives are forbidden to give notes to The Simpsons.
One thing Conan O'Brien articulates here:
[...] Conan O'Brien: There is a strong lack of sentimentality on The Simpsons, but something that Sam and Jim and Matt stressed was: this is a family. And that kind of talk can start to sound pretty treacly, but you can't have an episode where Homer sells Bart, or harvests his organs.
And that's why nowadays The Simpsons appear so sweet and innocent and wholesome. They're all ultimately loveable, etc., and they don't even use Bad Language.
Which is what makes the outrage in their early years so hilarious, although it was equally ludicrous at the time: but many bought into it. I think I've mentioned here before the reasonably well-known science fiction writer and his wife (initials F.M. & E), my friends, who told me during one of the first years that they "knew better than to watch" the program, because it was such vile and unfunny, vulgar, material; I rolled my eyes then (they didn't bother to actually watch the program in order to form an opinion), and now who wouldn't?
Meanwhile, who consistently likes to take credit as we go through these quotes?
[...] Rupert Murdoch: The show's had its ups and downs. It had a couple years there where it grew a bit dark, but we sort of got them out of that.
Because he was right there in the writer's room that season!
[...] ([Elizabeth] Taylor said "Fuck you" to Matt Groening and stormed out of the recording session after he made her read the line more than 20 times. He said it kept sounding "too sexual.")
Special Mr. T anecdote!
[...] Mr. T [another guest] was telling me the scenes that happened in Rocky III, where he lost. The reason he lost was because his mother needed money for an operation, and so he was paid to take a dive. And I said, "Well, I don't remember that in the movie." And he just looks at me right in the eye and says, "Things you don't see!"
I pity the fool who doesn't see the wisdom!
Murdoch also would have destroyed the show if not for Brooks and others:
Rupert Murdoch: The voices, who have been there since the very beginning, are now getting very large salaries … I'm not saying whether they're worth it or not. Or whether you could replace them or not, but Jim [Brooks] wouldn't hear of that, because they're all his friends.
That last isn't even true, but there's Rupert Murdoch in a nutshell for you.
What's the meaning of it all, in the end?
Jay Kogen: We thought we were really writing these really funny, smart, special shows that were chock-full of jokes every few seconds. And then someone showed us this study Fox had done: the No. 1 reason why people liked The Simpsons was "all the pretty colors" and they liked it when Homer hit his head. We were writing the show for ourselves—we always made it funny for ourselves—but who knows why America likes it.
I have to say that I never saw any of this coming that one time I met Matt Groening, opening the front door at Vonda McIntyre's party circa 1984, after he knocked, and chatting with him briefly; I was already in a bit of awe because of Life In Hell. I still love those cartoons.
Read The Rest Scale: 4 out of 5 if you ever liked the show. Also, Vanity Fair's picks for top ten episodes.
I personally have nothing against a little denigration. Frankly, I am not against the idea of political leaders and citizens speaking about the sadness, the pity, even the horror they feel when examining some of the blackest pages of their national history. In other words, I think that shame is quite useful in politics, and the idea of not feeling, as Emmanuel Levinas said, “accountable for” or even “hostage to” the crimes we did not commit, and even worse, not feeling accountable and responsible for those in which we or ours have had some part — I think this is exactly what Sartre (him again!) called a politics of “bastards.”
From a review of an English translation of two French books by Nicolas Sarkozy.
Read The Rest Scale: 3 out of 5 for his views of Sarkozy, who clearly is a mixed bag, though I tend to prefer a leader who doesn't refer to many of his people as "scum," but mostly I wish to say that I, too, personally have nothing against a little denigration of my country's ills and errors, because I love my country and want the best for it, as well as it to be its best possible self.
DO YOU HAVE AN OFC-AMYGDALA CONNECTION? Excellent long article here by David Dobbs on Williams syndrome, and a host of fascinating implications.
[...] “We’ve long figured that major behavioral traits rose in indirect fashion from a wide array of genes,” Korenberg says. “But here we have this really tiny genetic deletion — of the 20-some-odd genes missing, probably just 3 to 6 create the cognitive and social effects — that reliably creates a distinctive behavioral profile. Williams isn’t just a fascinating mix of traits. It is the most compelling model available for studying the genetic bases of human behavior.”
Korenberg’s work is part of a diverse research effort on Williams that is illuminating a central dilemma of human existence: to survive we must relate and work with others, but we must also compete against them, lest we get left behind. It’s like the TV show “Survivor”: we want to keep a place in the group — we must — and doing so requires not only charming others but also showing we can contribute to their success. This requires a finely calibrated display of smarts, savvy, grit and hustle. Show too little, and you’re voted off the island for being subpar. Show too much, and you’re ousted as a conniving threat.
Where is the right balance? A partial answer lies in the mix of skills, charms and deficiencies that is Williams syndrome.
Reiss and Galaburda’s imaging and autopsy work on Williamses’ brains, for instance, has shown distinct imbalances in structure and synaptic connectivity. This work has led Galaburda to suspect that some of the genes missing in the Williams deletion are “patterning genes,” which direct embryonic development and which in this case dictate brain formation. Work in lab animals has shown that at least one patterning gene choreographs the developmental balance between the brain’s dorsal areas (along the back and the top of the brain) and ventral areas (at the front and bottom). The dorsal areas play a strong role in vision and space and help us recognize other peoples’ intentions; ventral areas figure heavily in language, processing sounds, facial recognition, emotion, music enjoyment and social drive. In an embryo’s first weeks, Galaburda says, patterning genes normally moderate “a sort of turf war going on between these two areas,” with each trying to expand. The results help determine our relative strengths in these areas. We see them in our S.A.T. scores, for example: few of us score the same in math (which draws mostly on dorsal areas) as in language (ventral), and the discrepancy varies widely. The turf war is rarely a draw.
My ventral areas clearly won, although I certainly don't have Williams syndrome. But I got a 760 out of 800 on my verbal SAT (old-style), and made a number of elementary arithmetical mistakes on my math, bringing it down to a sorry 590.
[...] As an experiment of nature, Williams syndrome makes clear that while we are innately driven to connect with others, this affiliative drive alone will not win this connection. People with Williams rarely win full acceptance into groups other than their own. To bond with others we must show not just charm but sophisticated cognitive skills. But why? For vital relationships like those with spouses or business partners, the answer seems obvious: people want to know you can contribute. But why should casual friendships and group membership depend on smarts?
Read to find out why.
The theory, called the Machiavellian-intelligence or social-brain theory, holds that we rise from a lineage in which both individual and group success hinge on balancing the need to work with others with the need to hold our own — or better — amid the nested groups and subgroups we are part of.
It started with fruit.
[...] “The conventional view,” Dunbar notes in his book “Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language,” “is that language evolved to enable males to do things like coordinate hunts more effectively. . . . I am suggesting that language evolved to allow us to gossip.”
One of the most vexing questions raised by both Williams research and the social-brain thesis is whether our social behavior is ultimately driven more by the urge to connect or the urge to manipulate the connection.
“And the most important abnormalities in Williams,” he says, “are circuits that have to do with basic regulation of emotions.”
The most significant such finding is a dead connection between the orbitofrontal cortex, an area above the eye sockets and the amygdala, the brain’s fear center. The orbitofrontal cortex (or OFC) is associated with (among other things) prioritizing behavior in social contexts, and earlier studies found that damage to the OFC reduces inhibitions and makes it harder to detect faux pas. The Berman team detected a new contribution to social behavior: They found that while in most people the OFC communicated with the amygdala when viewing threatening faces, the OFC in people with Williams did not. This OFC-amygdala connection worked normally, however, when people with Williams viewed nonsocial threats, like pictures of snakes, sharks or car crashes.
This appears to explain the amygdala’s failure in Williams to fire at the sight of frightening faces and suggests a circuit responsible for Williamses’ lack of social caution. If the results hold up, the researchers will have cleanly defined a circuit evolved specifically to warn of threats from other people.
To Meyer-Lindenberg, the primacy of such circuits suggests that human sociability rises from evolutionarily reinforced mechanisms — a raw yearning to connect; fearfulness — that are so basic they’re easy to undervalue.
[...] On a steaming Saturday, a horn-rimmed posse of software engineers, computer programmers and support technicians was grooving at a most unlikely spot -- a fierce underground music venue here. The act: MC Chris -- king of the burgeoning world of "nerdcore rap" -- who dropped rhymes like Jay-Z with a pocket protector, Eminem with complexion issues.
"Sometimes I rhyme fast, sometimes I drink Quik. If this was a gym class, I'd be the last picked."
In a world where iPhones are more coveted than muscle cars and where the robotic toy film "Transformers" is breaking box-office records, perhaps it is no surprise that nerdcore rap has sprung up as part of an emerging geek social scene that observers say is changing what it means to be a modern nerd.
But for so-called nerds, widely seen as the first group to coalesce online, the Internet has taken its power one step further. It is transforming them from an alienated and virtual community into a thriving, real-world fraternity -- and, to a lesser extent, a sorority -- whose members are physically interacting as never before at concerts, comedy clubs, even "nerd expos."
"You can come here and listen to the music, referencing the Internet and video games, all the stuff you go through in life for being a nerd, and you know you're not the only one," said Doug Rodgers, a doughy 26-year-old who bused four hours from Worcester, Mass., for the recent MC Chris concert. "How cool is that?"
To be sure, geek culture, from two buddies video-gaming on the couch to roundtables of Dungeons & Dragons paper warriors, has been around for years. But it is not just about "Star Trek" conventions anymore. Take, for instance, the Penny Arcade Web comic that, with its hard-core gamer and science-fiction references, brought hundreds of thousands of socially challenged and electronically gifted netizens together online in the late 1990s. In 2000, a few fans who met via the Internet gathered at the food court near the Space Needle in Seattle for a first meet-and-greet. Since then, the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) has exploded into one of the nation's largest annual social events.
Next month, PAX 2007 is set to draw a record 30,000 self-described "geeks" to Seattle -- almost double last year's attendance, with many people traveling cross-country via road trips and tailgate parties to immerse themselves in a world of video-game competitions, after-hours parties, discussion panels and geeksta rap bands including Freezepop, the Minibosses and MC Frontalot -- the pale white rapper who coined the term "nerdcore" in 2000.
I'm embarrassed to admit that I'd barely heard of PAX until reading this piece. But, then, while my geek credentials are up to par in many ways, I never did wear a pocket protector.
I was, however, often the last or next to last picked in gym class, because a) I have no depth perception, due to my amblyopia (not visible to others since I had an operation at age 6, but it was only cosmetic, leaving me with no stereoscopic depth perception -- they tell me, although I have monocular depth perception that actually does adequately if I'm not, like, having something thrown at me -- although I wasn't completely inept -- but now it's time to leave this parenthetical comment, here we go), and my peripheral vision stinks, so if you throw something at me, the odds are that it's going to hit me; b) I was always the shortest kid, save for the year another kid was a dwarf; c) I was a year younger than everyone in elementary school (and two years younger in high school, after skipping 8th grade); d) I'm generally a klutz. You wanted to know all this, right?
"The isolation that used to be endemic to geek culture is now an option," said Jerry Holkins, Penny Arcade's writer and a geek culture icon. "It started as a digital culture, where you met online because you had similar life experiences of feeling ostracized. . . . We still feel it, but now we see ourselves as part of a vast organized body. Ironically, isolation is what brought us together."
Whereas in my world, geeks met via mimeoed and dittoed fanzines, starting in 1930, and then via apas (amateur press associations -- something of a very slow online discussion group via mail), and then conventions, for all those decades prior to computers evolving from people-who-calculated.
But that's all right: it's a large universe of geekdom, and we all have our various corners. And the pleasure of finding like-minded souls, from the isolation every human being at least partially lives in, is largely shared by all.
Even if some of us are a tad cranky now and again.
There doesn't seem to be anything like this in Boulder, though:
[...] Nerd nights have hit the club circuit -- including San Francisco's 111 Minna, where, this week, geeks were invited via the Internet to "come out and have a drink with people who won't make fun of you" for "hacking," "building nuclear reactors in your garage," "reading science fiction, "collecting Buffy dolls" or "dancing with robots." By nerd, for nerd comedy acts -- including Brian Posehn, the chunky, bearded funnyman whose latest CD, "Nerd Rage," includes segments such as "Dork for 30 Years" -- has packed clubs and venues nationwide.
There's a bunch more, hitting the touchstones you'd expect: the inevitable mention of ComicCon (I went to Phil Seuling's NYC comics cons in the early Seventies, myself, but it was sf fandom that was my home), Star Wars, iPhones, baddabing, yaddaboom.
Read The Rest Scale: 3 out of 5; it really would be nice to meet more Boulder folk, but whadda am I gonna do?
BONUS LINK! Ever wonder what that nerdy Matthew Lesko, the infomercial guy who promises you free government money, is up to? He's busy! Big surprise.
What sort of help you can get from his books has always been clear, but in case you wondered:
Yeah, what about that government money? Do the people who buy Lesko's books really get free money from the government?
"Some do, but I don't know how many," Lesko says. "Not the majority, because it takes some effort. You don't just buy a book and make a phone call and get a check next Tuesday. There's money available but it takes some effort."
In 2004, the New York State Consumer Protection Board issued a report claiming that Lesko's ad were "misleading" and "peppered with exaggerations and half-truths about government grants."
The report quoted a Lesko ad claiming that the government gave away $350 billion of "free money" every year. "What Lesko doesn't say publicly," the report stated, "is that the vast majority of this money comes from public assistance programs, such as Food Stamps and Medicaid."
The board focused on one Lesko book -- "Free Money to Pay Your Bills!" -- and found much creative hyperbole. For instance, when Lesko mentioned getting "10% Off Your Restaurant Bill," he was referring to "early bird specials for senior citizens." When he wrote that you can "Get $600 for Each Child," he was referring to the standard federal income tax deduction.
Lesko eagerly admits that he engages in hyperbole. "If we're going to start crucifying people for hyperbole in this society, there's going to be a long line," he says. "If I was writing a diet book, I wouldn't say, 'It's going to take a lot of work and it'll be a pain in the [butt].' I'd say, 'Thin thighs in 30 days.' "
He's got a point: his ads aren't any more deceptive than innumerable products, and the only harm apt to result is some wasted time; there's worse out there than that.
My favorite quote:
[...] "Thanks for coming out," he tells the two dozen extras who are gathered around him. "I just hope I don't look like some old guy trying to look hip."
He doesn't. Actually, he looks like an old guy standing in a forlorn vacant lot wearing a question-mark suit and a necklace made of a spray-painted styrofoam question mark.
GAMMA TRIANGULI VI. It was there that Captain Kirk found exploding rocks, made out of this:
When most bombs go off, they release a spray of deadly shards of steel. Now, imagine that those shards were themselves explosive, detonating in a massive chain reaction. It's for real: Defense contractors are harnessing the strange alchemy of reactive materials (RMs) — in which two or more inert materials are mixed to create an explosion — to develop smaller, more lethal warheads, as well as new ways to protect troops against mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades.
RMs generally consist of powdered metals, such as aluminum or titanium, combined with an oxidizing agent. Whether that agent is another powdered metal or a nonmetallic compound, such as Teflon, contact alone isn't enough to trigger an explosion. A powerful impact, however, will chemically mix the materials, igniting them and leading to a massive shock wave. "A big challenge is making [RMs] strong enough to survive launch, but fragile enough to react on impact," says Judah Goldwasser, program manager at the Office of Naval Research, which is developing RMs for potential use in antimissile systems.
I always wondered how those rocks could have been natural, given their longevity, and the inevitable tendency of things to bang against each other, but clearly Vaal also had an RM research project: mystery solved.
BUT DO THEY HAVE CANNED PEACHES? I'm sure they do. Warren Ellis reports on some new areas of Second Life.
Tombstone: not quite the clanking of spurs, the slapping of leather and clinking of whisky bottle to shot glass. But there are horses, here in this new Western-themed sim. The horses are little marvels of determined coding against an intractable software environment. I mean, they’re more than a little disturbing, these jerky things that mostly slide across the sand while lifting up their legs like broken clockwork horse-puppets, playing recording clip-clops and neighs…but I guess that’s what you live with if you want a horse in Second Life.
Naturally enough, the conversation you hear most in Tombstone right now is “I have read all the rules and I am here just to tell everyone that they are Wrong” or variants thereof. Strangely, on my first visit, I also appeared to discover six male avatars with the designation of Sheriff or Deputy killing a female avatar in the cells behind the Sheriff’s office. I’m entirely prepared to believe that I saw this entirely out of some softening context. That said, this being Second Life, I’m also entirely prepared to believe that the moment I looked away the six cowboys grew immense squid-shaped Cthulhuoid spermatophores and filled the female avatar with their little tentacled pixel-babies.
KABUKI is just beautiful. It’s another themed sim, urban Japanese, but the theme is oddly specific: late-night shopping. The lighting in the place is amazing, the sim is set to permanent night and the attention to detail in the cleverly-designed shops is excellent. It really does work to communicate the feeling of late-night shopping-district wandering in a foreign city.
GLASS EARTH is a settlement on a funny-coloured island. Post-apocalypticism (which, no, may not be a word) is becoming ever more popular in SL, and this place is a little jewel of an example. It’s mostly given over to shops, I warn you, but it’s worth a visit just to look at the sign of the place and take in the stinky air. Ah, yes, another warning: I don’t completely understand what’s going on there, but it seems that if you leave the settlement, you might be considered fair game for, um…for the inhabitants to track you down, savage you, do a variety of fairly uncivilised things to you which have nothing to do with romantic love and, then… well, the word CANNIBAL keeps cropping up there.
And what of Carnage Island? Well, it’s gone. They’re moving to what will supposedly be a faster sim, but the last rules update on the island insisted that everyone switch from automatic fire to burst fire, because it’s easier on the sim and bringing it in line with pretty much every other combat space on Second Life. Which amuses a lot of people, as Carnage Island has mostly been deserted since the admins slapped a LS$500 charge on obtaining the HUDs that make the combat system work.
There’s an absolutely immense construction on the coast at Duck. It looks abandoned - much of the construction seems to have been done in February and March. But it’s really incredibly big and incredibly ambitious. Worth visiting just to look around and wonder what the creator’s plans were. I find myself doing this a lot in Second Life.
By not affording upgrading from dialup, I might as well still be using Gopher, insofar as online access goes these days, but I'll always have text.
Stross tells me in an email that there will be no sequels as the future will overtake his scenario in a rather short time.
That's regarding his new book, Halting State, which is described as:
[...] a police procedural first and foremost. A band located within a Massive(ly) multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) has been robbed by a band of orcs and one very nasty fire breathing dragon. So what's the problem? After all, the money's not really real, is it? Ahhh. but it is as the bank and its contents are worth millions in the real world.
THE Iraqi port city of Basra, already prey to a nasty turf war between rival militia factions, has now been gripped by a scary rumour – giant badgers are stalking the streets by night, eating humans.
The animals were allegedly released into the area by British forces.
Local farmers have caught and killed several of the beasts, but this has done nothing to dispel the rumour.
Iraqi scientists have attempted to calm things down. However, the story has spread like wildfire in the streets of the city and the villages round about.
Mushtaq Abdul-Mahdi, director of Basra's veterinary hospital, has inspected the corpses of several badgers and tries to reassure Iraqis that the animals are not a new post-war arrival in the region.
“These animals appeared before the fall of the regime in 1986. They are known as Al-Ghirayri and locally as Al-Girta,” he told AFP. “Talk that this animal was brought by the British forces is incorrect and unscientific.”
Not everybody is convinced.
“I believe this animal appeared following a raid to the region by the British forces,” said Ali Mohsen, a farmer in his 40s from Karmat Ali, near the air base used by the multinational force.
“As we are close to the airport, they probably released this animal into the area.”
British troops have been based in Basra since the 2003 US-led invasion overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein, and the 5500 that remain still face the threat of Shiite militias battling for the region's oil resources.
They also have to battle the Iraqi rumour mill, as locals are quick to blame them for almost any calamity that befalls the area – including an apparent plague of vicious badgers with long claws and powerful jaws.
British army spokesman Major David Gell said the animals were thought to be a kind of honey badger – melivora capensis – which can be fierce but are not usually dangerous to humans unless provoked.
“They are native to the region but rare in Iraq. They're nocturnal carnivores with a fearsome reputation, but they don't stalk humans and carry them back to their lair,” he said.
Both the scientists and the soldiers agree that the badger ought not to be a danger to humans, but so far they have failed to reassure the populace.
“I was sleeping at night when this strange animal hit me on my head. I have not seen such an animal before. My husband hurried to shoot it but it was as swift as a deer,” Suad Hassan, a 30-year-old housewife said.
“It is the size of a dog but his head is like a monkey. It runs so quickly.”
Cell phone video of the badgers circulating in Basra shows a stocky skunk-like animal with long front claws.
The honey badger, or ratel, is known as a brave predator capable of killing a cobra. It weighs up to 14kg.
Sattar Jabbar, a 50-year-old local farmer from Abu Sakhar north of Basra, believes the badger can tackle even large prey.
“I saw it three days ago at night attacking animals. It even ate a cow. It tore the cow up piece by piece. I tried to shoot it with my gun but it ran away into the orchards. I missed it,” he said.
It seems clear that canny British troops have unleashed a cunning plan, and recruited covert troops from here. (Pictures here.)
I suggest that Coalition forces be on the lookout for giant Iraqi foxes entering the scene.
Iranian intelligence operatives recently detained over a dozen squirrels found within the nation's borders, claiming the rodents were serving as spies for Western powers determined to undermine the Islamic Republic.
"In recent weeks, intelligence operatives have arrested 14 squirrels within Iran's borders," state-sponsored news agency IRNA reported. "The squirrels were carrying spy gear of foreign agencies, and were stopped before they could act, thanks to the alertness of our intelligence services."
Iranian police commander Esmaeil Ahmadi-Moqadam confirmed the report, saying that a number of squirrels had been caught bearing foreign spy gear within Iran's borders.
"I heard of this but I have no specific knowledge on the subject," he said. He refused to give further details.
This flurry of mammalian infiltration reporting isn't enough to turn me pro-Iraq-war, but it gives momentary pause for thought at the prospect of pitched rodent battles, and a reporter saying "let's go to the video."
ADDENDUM, 7/30/07, 9:52 p.m.: Here's a familiar story. Among details it adds, though:
[...] Throw in, for good measure, the fervent belief that British soldiers have planted snake eggs in waterways and unleashed bomb-sniffing dogs purposely infected with rabies.
Moral of the story:
[...] At the British headquarters, commanders have weightier matters to consider. On senior officers’ desks sit copies of Carl von Clausewitz’s 1832 treatise, “On War,” and David Galula’s colonial-era French manual, “Counterinsurgency Warfare.”
Asked whether coalition forces were ever likely to have been as welcome in Iraq as prewar optimists hoped, one senior British officer shook his head wearily. “It would have been difficult, given the conspiracy mindset,” he said. “Just look at the badgers.”
"NOT VERY SMART": MILHOUSE ON DALTON. Although saddled with a remarkably stupid headline, this usefully summarizes some of the quotes from the Nixon tapes (god, I love those tapes!; LBJ's, also) of Tricky and others discussing the infant Fred Dalton Thompson. And away we go:
[...] Nixon was disappointed with the selection of Thompson, whom he called "dumb as hell." The president did not think Thompson was skilled enough to interrogate unfriendly witnesses and would be outsmarted by the committee's Democratic counsel.
This assessment comes from audio tapes of White House conversations recently reviewed by The Associated Press at the National Archives in College Park, Md., and transcripts of those discussions that are published in "Abuse of Power: The New Watergate Tapes," by historian Stanley Kutler.
"Oh s---, that kid," Nixon said when told by his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, of Thompson's appointment on Feb. 22, 1973.
"Well, we're stuck with him," Haldeman said.
In a meeting later that day in the Old Executive Office Building, Baker assured Nixon that Thompson was up to the task. "He's tough. He's six feet five inches, a big mean fella," the senator told Nixon.
Publicly, Baker and Thompson presented themselves as dedicated to uncovering the truth. But Baker had secret meetings and conversations with Nixon and his top aides, while Thompson worked cooperatively with the White House and accepted coaching from Nixon's lawyer, J. Fred Buzhardt, the tapes and transcripts show.
"We've got a pretty good rapport with Fred Thompson," Buzhardt told Nixon in an Oval Office meeting on June 6, 1973. The meeting included a discussion of former White House counsel John Dean's upcoming testimony before the committee.
Dean, the committee's star witness, had agreed to tell what he knew about the break-in and cover-up if he was granted immunity against anything incriminating he might say.
Nixon expressed concern that Thompson was not "very smart."
"Not extremely so," Buzhardt agreed.
"But he's friendly," Nixon said.
"But he's friendly," Buzhardt agreed. "We are hoping, though, to work with Thompson and prepare him, if Dean does appear next week, to do a very thorough cross-examination."
Five days later, Buzhardt reported to Nixon that he had primed Thompson for the Dean cross-examination.
"I found Thompson most cooperative, feeling more Republican every day," Buzhardt said. "Uh, perfectly prepared to assist in really doing a cross-examination."
Later in the same conversation, Buzhardt said Thompson was "willing to go, you know, pretty much the distance now. And he said he realized his responsibility was going to have be as a Republican increasingly."
No revelations, but useful to know that Nixon thought Thompson was not the brightest bulb in the chandelier.
Later in the piece comes some brief coverage of the bit that has gotten a lot of articles and blogging and attention in the past week, which is the story quoting Thompson's old book, long out of print, in which he mentioned tipping off the Nixon White House to the fact that the Watergate committee investigators had found out, via Alexander Butterfield, about the White House taping system.
I used to be a huge Watergate buff, and for many years I continued to read every single memoir and book on the topic; on the down side, I don't have access at present to any of my former books: they're either in storage or lost. So I can't check my personal archive on how that fact was or wasn't reported, although I'm pretty sure I remember being aware of it back in the Seventies.
What I can say for sure is that this second line, which I'll put in italics, is weird:
[...] At a hearing on July 16, Thompson asked former White House aide Alexander Butterfield: "Mr. Butterfield, are you aware of the installation of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the president?"
What rarely is mentioned is that Thompson knew the answer to the question before he asked it.
Now that I can unequivocally say is ridiculous: any and every Watergate history will tell you that the Committee investigators had become aware of the taping system, via interviews with Butterfield over the weekend, prior to formally asking Butterfield in front of the committee.
And the idea that they wouldn't have found out via such interviews, but were instead surprised on live tv, is too fucking stupid to even dignify by pointing out that no sane lawyer asks for testimony without knowing the answer, and that this is as true of Congressional testimony as it is of court testimony, unless the investigators have truly screwed up.
Here is an example of this perfectly commonly known fact from the quite awful 1991 book by Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin, which portrays an idiotic conspiracy theory about Watergate, but which nonetheless gets this sequence I'll quote perfectly correctly:
[...] After showing Butterfield to the door, Democratic staffers Armstrong and Boyce rushed to find Sam Dash at his office, while Republican counsel Sanders went on a similar mission to locate Fred Thompson. When Armstrong and Boyce came into his office, Sam Dash later wrote in his book Chief Counsel, "they both looked wild-eyed. Scott was sweating and in a state of great excitement. As soon as he had closed the door the words tumbled out of his mouth as he told me about Butterfield's astounding revelation.... We became overwhelmed with the explosive meaning of the existence of such tapes. We now knew there had been a secret, irrefutable 'witness' in the Oval Office each time Dean met with Nixon, and if we could get the tapes we could now do what we had thought would be impossible-establish the truth or falsity of Dean's accusations against the President."
Thompson was at the bar at the Carroll Arms hotel, having a drink with a reporter, when Sanders dragged him outside to a small park, checked to see if they could be overheard, and blurted out the news.
There were two problems with any proposed Butterfield testimony. The first was that he did not want to testify and had suggested that the committee get Higby or Haldeman to testify in public about the taping system. Second, he was scheduled to leave on Tuesday, July 17, for the Soviet Union to help negotiate a new aviation treaty.
Learning this, Dash found Sam Ervin and they agreed that Butterfield should be compelled to testify on Monday, and Ervin authorized Dash to prepare a subpoena for Butterfield.
For his part, Fred Thompson and Assistant Minority Counsel Howard Liebengood met with Howard Baker on Saturday morning. As Thompson later wrote, "Baker thought it inconceivable that Nixon would have taped his conversations if they contained anything incriminating. I agree d.... The more I thought about what had occurred, the more I considered the possibility that Butterfield had been sent to us as part of a strategy: the president was orchestrating the whole affair and had intended that the tapes be discovered." For that reason, the Republicans came to the same conclusion already reached by Dash and Ervin, that Butterfield should give his testimony in public as soon as possible.
Thompson may well have been correct that Butterfield had been sent to the committee as part of a strategy-but if he was, it was not the president's strategy.
That Saturday morning, as Baker met with his aides, Butterfield flew to New Hampshire to dedicate a new air traffic control facility in Nashua County, and he told us he was so unconcerned about his possible testimony to the Senate that he didn't even prepare for an appearance before the Senate.
"I didn't have the slightest clue" that the committee would call him to testify on Monday, he told us. "No, no-why would I ever do that? I didn't give it one goddamn thought. (Meeting with the Senate staffers) was just another session to me. I know for a fact that I never did anticipate being called by the committee. So I never would have written out any statements, or answers or comments or anything like that having to do with me testifying."
When AP claims that "[w]hat rarely is mentioned is that Thompson knew the answer to the question before he asked it," they're just wrong; it's mentioned in more or less every detailed Watergate account there is.
In fact, it was mentioned in the first coverage; here is the July 17, 1973 WaPo article covering the hearing:
[...] Butterfield was first interviewed by the committee staff Friday afternoon in what was described as a "routine" session. At one point in the interview Dash told reporters Butterfield was asked if he knew whether an April 15 meeting between Dean and Mr. Nixon in the Executive Office Building office was taped as Dean had testified he suspected. Dash said that Butterfield answered, "'Yes, it's possible and this is the reason.'"
Dash said Butterfield then described the recording apparatus installed by the Secret Service at the request of President Nixon through White House chief of staff H.R. (Bob) Haldeman. Ironically, Butterfield testified that Dean was one of the many White House staff members who was never informed of the President's recording devices.
And he went on. But the coverage of Butterfield's testimony established -- let alone every subsequent account -- that he'd -- of course! -- first been interviewed by investigators, whom he informed of the taping systems -- before he was asked about it in the hearing. Shame, AP: what were you (more correctly, reporter Joan Lowy and whomever edited her) thinking?
As regards Thompson's communications with the White House, I wish I could recall for sure if I'd read Thompson's book long ago or not; I'm just not sure; I do know that I always assumed Thompson, and Baker, and other committee/staff Republicans, were in constant communication with the White House. AP's story goes on to quote Scott Armstrong:
Thompson was not present, but a Republican investigator immediately tracked him down at the Carroll Arms Hotel bar where he was meeting with a reporter. Thompson called Buzhardt over the weekend to tip off the White House that the committee knew about the tapes.
"Legalisms aside, it was inconceivable to me that the White House could withhold the tapes once their existence was made known. I believed it would be in everyone's interest if the White House realized, before making any public statements, the probable position of both the majority and the minority of the Watergate committee," Thompson wrote in his book.
Scott Armstrong, a Democratic investigator for the committee who was part of the Butterfield questioning, said he was outraged by Thompson's tip-off.
"When the prosecutor discovers the smoking the gun, he's going to be shocked to find that the deputy prosecutor called the defendant and said, 'You'd better get rid of that gun,'" Armstrong said in an interview.
I have, after many years of reading his books, and Washington Post reporting, and documents produced by the National Security Archive he founded, which continues to do valuable work, a great deal of respect for Scott Armstrong, but in this case I strongly suspect that he's delivering a strong and effective quote to a reporter about a fact that he is -- and of course I could be entirely wrong -- utterly unsurprised about. But at the time, certainly the perspective of everyone I was aware of was that the Republican counsel to the Committee was acting as Nixon's defense lawyer, not the prosecution.