Friday, December 25, 2009


This Christmastide we had as guests my wife's sister and her husband, Jim. As guys do, we sniffed around a couple of topics to see if we were from the same tribe.

He mentioned that he liked classic Sci-Fi, and I asked him to name a couple of favorite authors. (Think of that scene in The Commitments: "Who are your influences?"

Jim allowed that he used to be a big Piers Anthony fan. I asked him if he liked my favorite Anthony novel, Omnivore.

Without a word he rolled up his shirt sleeve to reveal a tattoo of the fungal carnivore.

I was completely outgeeked.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Why I'm Rereading: Island in the Sea of Time

I have known several people in my life who never re-read a book. Once they have closed the cover on the last page, they are onto the next thing--book, task, whatever. I also know of people that have a favorite re-read. My friend Alex would re-read Dune every summer. It kind of defined summer to read it, I guess. My former boss Bill would re-read The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever every couple of years.

I am a person that rereads. I do so for several reasons. First of all, I reread for pure pleasure, re-experiencing the best of what I have read. Secondly, I re-read because books don't change, but I have changed since the last time I read a book. Thirdly, I re-read becuase The book was so challenging the first time that I want to get more from it on subsequent readings.

I am currently re-reading S.M. Stirling's alternate-history Island in the Sea of Time, which I first read back in the late 1990s.


I recently finished Sword of the Lady, the 6th book in his "Emberverse" series which is loosely connected to the "Island" series and I wanted to refresh my memory of the first events in the series before I arrive at the conclusion, "High King in Montival," next year.

My Sweety recently read the book at the urging of my Daughter and enjoyed it very much. (She's not much of an SF reader.)

And I have changed in the last 15 years. I have spent several years studying Japanese sword (Kenjutsu) and I am ranked Shodan-ni in Seiki-ryu Kentutsu/Jodo. So now reading the weapon-work of Captain Marion Alston is accompanied by better-informed mental images of what she is doing.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What would Milton Friedman do?

There are a lot of people exercised over the fear of government intervention into the US economy and I am one of them.

So why did I support (writing to my congresspeople) the TARP I bailout?

Thankfully, Kevin Williamson answers that question for me:

There are those conservatives who ask themselves, “What would Jesus do?” There are those who ask, “What would Ronald Reagan do?” There are even a few who ask, “What would Russell Kirk do, other than pour himself a scotch and shake his head sadly before writing another 1,000 pages?” I ask myself, “What would Milton Friedman do?”

Milton Friedman would have supported a bank bailout.

Or it seems he would have, given that a bank bailout is more or less what he prescribed for the last great financial crisis, the one leading up to the Great Depression, which he dwells upon at some length in his Monetary History of the United States, 1867–1960. The vulgarized version of Friedman: The Federal Reserve helped turn a routine if severe recession into the Great Depression by tightening the supply of money and credit. But as economists as different as Paul Krugman and Tyler Cowen have pointed out, the more accurate version is this: The Fed helped cause the Great Depression by allowing the supply of money and credit to tighten. The distinction is important. How did they allow it? By declining to bail out the failing banks...

Free-marketeers tend to think of our orientation not only as an economic position but also as a virtue. (It is.) But there is a danger in letting that belief congeal into dogma and, in consequence, allowing abstractions to obscure realities. It is true that the root evil here was government intervention in the economy: The Fed’s over-loose money after Dot-Bomb and 9/11, combined with tax incentives and the market-distorting actions of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, helped create the housing bubble; various government policies then helped turn that bubble into a global disaster. The subprime meltdown was not a failure of what is so often mischaracterized as “unbridled capitalism.” It was as much a failure of regulatory excess as of Scrooge McDuck, literally-rolling-in-it excess.

But it is not necessarily wise to start practicing austerities at the moment of crisis. Those who opposed the bailouts were, I think, seeking to restore the virtues of the free market — at precisely the wrong time. It is as though we had been diagnosed with lung cancer and responded merely by swearing off cigarettes. What about radiation therapy? What, are you crazy? Radiation gives you cancer! And people get sick in hospitals! ....

I suspect that many of us who opposed the bailouts did so based on unjustified optimism. Surely, we thought, the citizens of this commercial republic will have learned their lesson and will hasten to enact reforms that are consistent with their experience and liberal values. Those of us who believed that must somehow have missed the contemporaneous ascent of Barack Obama, whose election as president does not suggest that the nation is ready for a heaping helping of Adam Smith. Professor Cowen demands:

If you are a libertarian, is not our current course more favorable for liberty than would have been a repeat of 1929–1931? If not, I would be curious to hear your counterfactual version of how matters would have proceeded, without the financial bailouts. Is it that you think the regional banks would have raised the financing to pick up the entire bag and keep the banking system afloat? Or is it that natural market forces would have somehow avoided a wrenching surprise deflation? Or do you think the authorities for some reason would have not nationalized the major banks? . . . If we had not done the bailouts we did, we would, within a few months’ or weeks’ time, have received a much worse and costlier bailout run by Congress and Nancy Pelosi. How does that sound?

Sounds like hell on earth, professor.

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Religious urge for Multiverse

The Constant Reader may remember that I have problems with the current craze for resolving every ambiguity of physics with the concept of "multiverse."

Now, Lee Smolin, a founding member and research physicist at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada, has challenged other physicists to work out the implications of a single universe:

Smolin explains how theories describing a myriad of possible universes, with less or more dimensions and different kinds of particles and forces, have become increasingly popular in the last few years. However, through his work with the Brazilian philosopher Roberto Mangabeira Unger, Smolin believes that, despite there being good reasons for the conclusion that we live in a timeless multiverse, those theories, and the concomitant assumption that time is not a fundamental concept, are "profoundly mistaken".

Smolin points out why a timeless multiverse means that our laws of physics are no longer determinable from experiment and how the connection between fundamental laws, which are unique and applicable universally from first principles, and effective laws, which hold based on what we can actually observe, becomes unclear.

Smolin suggests a new set of principles that he hopes will begin a fresh adventure in science where we have to reconceive the notion of law to apply to a single universe that happens just once. These principles begin with the assertion that there is only one universe; that all that is real is real in a moment, as part of a succession of moments; and that everything that is real in a moment is a process of change leading to the next or future moments. As he explains, "If there is just one universe, there is no reason for a separation into laws and initial conditions, as we want a law to explain just one history of the one universe."

If we embrace the idea that there is only one universe and that time is a fundamental property of nature, then this opens up the possibility that the laws of physics evolve with time. As Smolin writes, "The notion of transcending our time-bound experiences in order to discover truths that hold timelessly is an unrealizable fantasy. When science succeeds, we do nothing of the sort; what we physicists really do is discover laws that hold in the we experience
within time. This, I would claim, should be enough; anything beyond that is more
a religious urge for transcendence than science."

And it is this final sentence that looses the arrow: "...anything beyond that is more a religious urge for transcendence than science."


Monday, May 18, 2009

"Shut up," He explained.

Lanny Davis: Hey, we'll only have show trials for people with the temerity to fight back!

He reminds me of the little boy caught fighting by his mother, "It all started when Timmy hit me back!"

Friday, May 15, 2009


The wonderfully named Scott Galupo writes that conservatives should get over their fascination with Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.

Best line:
"Indeed, Miss Rand's writings are catnip for those who seek to deflect any and all blame for the current economic crisis away from the private sector. Like the airtight religious belief system that it essentially is, Randian capitalism can never stumble or fail — it can only be betrayed."

I first read The Fountainhead, then Atlas Shrugged when I was in my late 20s with a wife and two children to support. I found them an odd mix of stilted didactic text mixed with heaving-bosom "woman's fiction." I was entertained by how she walked her characters through their set pieces, but not swept up by thier wooden speechifying.

I guess you have to read Rand while in your teens to really be ruined by her books.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Rogue Agency

Just sent:

The Honorable Rick Larsen


I am very troubled about the statements by the House Speaker, the Honorable Nancy Pelosi, about whether or not the CIA mislead her during briefings about enhanced interrogation techniques. The issue is much deeper and more dangerous than any particular interrogation techniques by agents of the CIA, it is a claim that the CIA has slipped from the reigns of congressional oversight, that we have that most frightening of spectres: a rogue secret intelligence agency.

These claims must be investigated to clear either the CIA or Speaker Pelosi. Secret agencies are a regrettable necessity, so we allow them to operate only under the oversight of our elected representatives. I ask you to call for an investigation of these claims, and to join with other representatives in calling for this investigation.

I will watch in the next few months to see that the American people and their freedoms and safety are guarded.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Big Trek Theory

I can't remember which musician in Nirvana said it, but the quote went  something like: "How do you know that you have made it in the music business? When Al Yankovic writes a parody of one of your songs."

So the meta-narrative validates the narrative.

The new Star Trek reboot seems to be taking off, but I wonder: how is it going to be handled on Big Bang Theory? Ripe grounds for nerd contraversy!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Five Reasons the GOP Will Rebound

Over at CNN, John Feehery lists five reasons that the GOP will rebound. Numbers one and two of these reasons have been pretty well discussed, but three through five are (to me) fresher:
  1. The party in power tends to overreach.

  2. People want checks on power.

  3. Crisis breeds renewal.

  4. Talent senses opportunity.

  5. The Republican Party is now the de facto Libertarian Party.
I think a lot of people on the left don't get number five and don't see how it is linked to number one.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


Todd posted this:

History Channel Programming Line-Up
see more Funny Graphs

This makes me rant a bit about remembering when the A&E channel stood for "Arts & Entertainment." I remember getting basic cable and really enjoying a presentation of The Mikado in which the Lord High Executioner's song had an encore wherein he listed all of the modern annoyances that would call for his sword's work (people that talked loudly on cell phones in public places, etc..).

Or when MTV was about music...or when Discovery was about science...or...

Back in the 1990s, one of the big arguments against funding of PBS was that these new cable channels would provide diversity of programming and fill the econiche of public TV.

How I wish it were true. The only channel that has kept true to that kind of charter is CSPAN.


A year after I was prodded by one of my sons-in-law, I signed up on Twitter.

O wonder!

How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world! That has such people in't!

Trekkies Bash New Star Trek Film

It's not quite that bad. Not quite.

Trekkies Bash New Star Trek Film As 'Fun, Watchable'

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Science in Its Rightful Place

President Obama has stated in his inaugural address, "We will restore science to its rightful place." I guess that I am less that sure about where that place is.

What is science's place? If it has been displaced, what has usurped it?

I am sure to those (such as myself) who still hold a Modernist viewpoint, science is pretty much authoritative. And for questions that it was created to answer, science does pretty well. I am a big advocate of Western allopathic medicine, physics, information theory, and most of the rest of the Dead European White Man package. Given the choice between antibiotics and accupuncture and herbal cures, I say, "Pass the pills, please."

But physical science was created to answer one category of questions, not every category. One of the big lessons of the 20th century is that while science is good at answering questions of "how," (as in, "How do I build a bridge that spans the Golden Gate?"), it pretty much fails when asked the questions of "why," (as in, "Why should I not take everything away from people who are ethnically different from me?")

If science has been displaced, I think that it has been displaced by clearer thinking about "why" we should (or should not) attempt some actions. We should ask questions about the value of human life before we use science to design weapons of mass destruction. We should ask those same questions before we use science to justify subordinating human lives to those of animals.

During the High Middle Ages, theology was "The Queen of the Sciences," and served as the capstone to the Trivium and Quadrivium that young men were expected to study. This meant that the other subjects (including Philosophy) existed primarily to help with theological thought.

Science had better watch out. Nothing stays the same.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday Posting--Crucifixion

An admirable article at Slate about the significance of Jesus' crucifixion in the first century:

A central statement in traditional Christian creeds is that Jesus was crucified "under Pontius Pilate." But the majority of Christians have only the vaguest sense what the phrase represents, and most non-Christians probably can't imagine why it's such an integral part of Christian faith. "Crucified under Pontius Pilate" provides the Jesus story with its most obvious link to larger human history.
Pilate was a historical figure, the Roman procurator of Judea; he was referred to in other sources of the time and even mentioned in an inscription found at the site of ancient Caesarea in Israel. Linking Jesus' death with Pilate represents the insistence that Jesus was a real person, not merely a figure of myth or legend. More than this, the phrase also communicates concisely some pretty important specifics of that historical event...

...It's rather clear what St. Paul meant by saying that "the preaching of the cross is foolishness" to most people of his day. As Martin Hengel showed in Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross, Roman-era writers deemed crucifixion the worst imaginable fate, a punishment of unspeakable shamefulness. Celsus, a Roman critic of Christianity, ridiculed Christians for treating as divine someone who had been crucified. A second-century anti-Christian graffito from Rome, well-known among historians who study the time period, depicts a crudely drawn crucified man with a donkey's head; under it stands a human figure, and beneath this is a derisive scrawl: "Alexamenos worships his god."

A good reminder this Good Friday.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Oh, the Humanity!

You walked to school in the snow? Well, not so much...

My 4 GB SanDisk MP3 player took a high-dive from my shirt pocket to swim in the toilet last week. So, I am back to my 256 MB Creative MuVo.

Kinda sad, but with the economy the way it is, I don't think I'll be upgrading for a while.

These are the stories that I'll tell my great-grandkids when they ask how hard things were in the Great Crash of 2009.

Friday, March 20, 2009

My Other Blog

Which phrase sounds slightly pretentious.

It's not that I have so many words bubbling up inside me that I need two blogs to capture them all. It's that I wanted a blog dedicated to the technical writing business that I can frankly use to promote myself.

So occasional politics- and social commentary-free postings can be found on:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Best Neologism of the Month

"hypovehiculation" From the political phrase that describes abandoning a former ally as, "throwing them under a bus."

First cite: Best of the Web for March 17, 2009

Friday, March 13, 2009

Morally Unserious in the Extreme

Charles Krauthammer zeroes in to what is so troubling (to me) about the Obama Administration. Not that I disagree with Obama's conclusions (which I do), but that he pretends that his conclusions are neutral and without agenda. All the while condemning the Bush administration for its "lack of integrity."

He says that his decisions are grounded in "science." But "science" can only tell us what we can do, not what we ought to do. He is outsourcing his moral judgements to a method that by definition precludes moral judgements.

All this posturing was foreshadowed during the "Saddleback Debate" when Rick Warren asked the carefully worded question:
"...Forty million abortions, at what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?"

Obama's reply:

"Well, you know, I think that whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade."

The question asked was not a theological question, nor a scientific question, but legal question, "When does a baby get human rights?" A question that a Harvard Law School Grad aspiring to the office of President should have seen fell right into his "pay grade." I was dismayed that Obama's answer was either a "canned" response to the word "abortion," or that he was finessing the question by pretending it was.

But what I see now is that he is outsourcing the responsibility for his moral judgements to others.

Bush had restricted federal funding for embryonic stem cell research to cells derived from embryos that had already been destroyed (as of his speech of Aug. 9, 2001). While I favor moving that moral line to additionally permit the use of spare fertility clinic embryos, Obama replaced it with no line at all. He pointedly left open the creation of cloned -- and noncloned sperm-and-egg-derived -- human embryos solely for the purpose of dismemberment and use for parts.

I am not religious. I do not believe that personhood is conferred upon conception. But I also do not believe that a human embryo is the moral equivalent of a hangnail and deserves no more respect than an appendix. Moreover, given the protean power of embryonic manipulation, the temptation it presents to science, and the well-recorded human propensity for evil even in the pursuit of good, lines must be drawn. I suggested the bright line prohibiting the deliberate creation of human embryos solely for the instrumental purpose of research -- a clear violation of the categorical imperative not to make a human life (even if only a potential human life) a means rather than an end.

On this, Obama has nothing to say. He leaves it entirely to the scientists. This is more than moral abdication. It is acquiescence to the mystique of "science" and its inherent moral benevolence. How anyone as sophisticated as Obama can believe this within living memory of Mengele and Tuskegee and the fake (and coercive) South Korean stem cell research is hard to fathom.

That part of the ceremony, watched from the safe distance of my office, made me uneasy. The other part -- the ostentatious issuance of a memorandum on "restoring scientific integrity to government decision-making" -- would have made me walk out. Restoring? The implication, of course, is that while Obama is guided solely by science, Bush was driven by dogma, ideology and politics.

What an outrage. George Bush's nationally televised stem cell speech was the most morally serious address on medical ethics ever given by an American president. It was so scrupulous in presenting the best case for both his view and the contrary view that until the last few minutes, the listener had no idea where Bush would come out.

Obama's address was morally unserious in the extreme. It was populated, as his didactic discourses always are, with a forest of straw men. Such as his admonition that we must resist the "false choice between sound science and moral values." Yet, exactly 2 minutes and 12 seconds later he went on to declare that he would never open the door to the "use of cloning for human reproduction."

Does he not think that a cloned human would be of extraordinary scientific interest? And yet he banned it.

Is he so obtuse not to see that he had just made a choice of ethics over science? Yet, unlike President Bush, who painstakingly explained the balance of ethical and scientific goods he was trying to achieve, Obama did not even pretend to make the case why some practices are morally permissible and others not.

This is not just intellectual laziness. It is the moral arrogance of a man who continuously dismisses his critics as ideological while he is guided exclusively by pragmatism (in economics, social policy, foreign policy) and science in medical ethics.

Science has everything to say about what is possible. Science has nothing to say about what is permissible. Obama's pretense that he will "restore science to its rightful place" and make science, not ideology, dispositive in moral debates is yet more rhetorical sleight of hand -- this time to abdicate decision-making and color his own ideological preferences as authentically "scientific."

Dr. James Thomson, the discoverer of embryonic stem cells, said "if human embryonic stem cell research does not make you at least a little bit uncomfortable, you have not thought about it enough." Obama clearly has not.
Dr. Krauthammer, well spoken

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Fail Better

I recently participated in a survey of independent Technical Writers. The survey was for an article (to be published in the STC organ) focusing on responses to the recent economic downturn. The author, Elizabeth (Bette) Frick, Ph.D., was kind enough to send along a draft copy of the article from which I will now shamelessly copy (emphasis mine):
I have two quotes over my desk:
1) “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” (Alan Kay)
2) “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” (Samuel Beckett)
...An anonymous responder summed up this discussion: “The essential law of economics as well as nature is that we must adapt to conditions as opposed to standing still and hoping that conditions change to make our present situation relevant....”

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Bring Back "Firing Line"

Jonah Goldberg voices our mutual impatience with the current Democratic bashing of Rush Limbaugh.
Regardless, the war on Limbaugh from the left is a tired rehash. In 1995, Bill Clinton tried to blame the Oklahoma City bombing on Rush. In 2002, then-senator Tom Daschle, the leader of the Democratic opposition, claimed that Limbaugh’s listeners weren’t “satisfied just to listen.” They were a violent threat to decent public servants like him.

In just the last month, Obama suggested that Republicans were in thrall to Rush. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has anointed him the GOP’s leader. Rep. Barney Frank complained that Republicans didn’t give Obama enough standing ovations during his address to Congress because they are afraid of Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

Does anyone think that Republicans, absent fear of Limbaugh’s lash, would be throwing flower petals at Obama’s feet as he sells the Great Society II? If that’s true, I say thank goodness for Limbaugh’s lash.

More than just complaining, Mr. Goldberg offers a suggestion:
Bring back Firing Line. William F. Buckley Jr., who died almost exactly a year ago, hosted the program for PBS for 33 years. He performed an incalculable service at a time when conservatives were more associated with yahoos than they are today. He demonstrated that intellectual fluency and good manners weren’t uniquely liberal qualities. More important, the Firing Line debates (models of decorum) demonstrated that conservatives were unafraid to examine their own assumptions or to battle liberal ones.

As Democrats try to ram through the “remaking of America” (Obama’s words) by exploiting a financial crisis, we need those debates. PBS could actually live up to its mandate to educate and inform the public. It would be the kind of entrepreneurial government innovation even right-wingers could get behind.

As a reminder of what a wonderful program Firing Line was, here is a portion of one of William F. Buckley' interviews with Malcom Muggeridge

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

My Fair Lady?

Columbia Pictures has entered into an agreement with CBS Films to create a new motion picture of the Lerner and Loewe classic musical "My Fair Lady," to be produced by Duncan Kenworthy and Cameron Mackintosh, it was announced today by Doug Belgrad and Matt Tolmach, presidents of Columbia Pictures. CBS Films will be actively involved in the development of the new film. Keira Knightley is reportedly in talks to star.
I really enjoy My Fair Lady. So what will distinguish this remake. (In other words, "For the love of God, WHY?")
The new film will use the original songs of the much-loved Broadway show, and will not alter its 1912 setting, but Kenworthy and Mackintosh intend where possible to shoot the film on location in the original London settings of Covent Garden, Drury Lane, Tottenham Court Road, Wimpole Street, and Ascot racecourse. The filmmaking team will also look to adapt Alan Jay Lerner's book more fully for the screen by drawing additional material from Pygmalion - - George Bernard Shaw's play that served as the source material for the musical -- in order to dramatize as believably as possible for present-day audiences the emotional highs and lows of Eliza Doolittle as she undergoes the ultimate makeover, transforming under the tutelage of Professor Henry Higgins from a Cockney flower girl to a lady.

Kenworthy said, "When George Cukor shot his wonderful film entirely on sets inside Warner's Burbank soundstages, Lerner and Loewe's smash hit musical had been running on Broadway for seven years, and the film was appropriately reverential and inevitably theatrical. With forty years of hindsight, we're confident that by setting these wonderful characters and brilliant songs in a more realistic context, and by exploring Eliza's emotional journey more fully, we will honor both Shaw and Lerner at the same time as engaging and entertaining contemporary audiences the world over. The casting of Eliza is crucial, and we are currently in discussion with a major international star to play the role."
Some thoughts:
  • So they are keeping the wonderful music and setting.
  • They are changing the show's book.
  • Bringing a more realistic viewpoint to the story isn't a negative.
  • Bringing more of the Shavian sensibility, more of a Pygmalion take on the musical's book is welcome.*
  • While I have nothing against Ms Knightley, I am unaware of her singing ability. 
  • What I hear on the soundtrack album for The Edge of Love, does nothing to reassure me.
  • Then again, Audry Hepburn's singing was overdubbed by Marni Nixon.
While I look forward to this production with mixed feelings, I'll most likely pay full price to see this movie.

In the words of Erika Olson: "If Never Let Me Go also ends up being a dismal failure, Knightley should be just fine as she's already working on a return to form, of sorts.  She's the frontrunner for the lead in the remake of My Fair Lady. And you know what that means... more corsets!"

* Shaw wrote an epilogue to the play in which he left no doubt that Liza wisely married the penniless Freddy, not Henry. She has no romantic notions left by the end of her tenure at the Higgens residence.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Plus ça Change

Britons are on the verge of redicovering some old wisdom:

Caning pupils 'can be effective behaviour control'

Government research showed some mothers and fathers believed corporal punishment was an "effective method of control" when they were at school.

They said the decision to outlaw physical chastisement contributed to a decline in discipline.

The comments - in a study backed by the Department for Children, Schools and Families - come just months after a fifth of teachers called for the cane to be reintroduced to restore order in the classroom...

A survey of more than 6,000 teachers last year found more than a fifth believed the cane should be brought back.

One supply teacher told researchers: "Children's behaviour is now absolutely outrageous in the majority of schools. I am a supply teacher, so I see very many schools and there are no sanctions. There are too many anger management people and their ilk who give children the idea that it is their right to flounce out of lessons for time out because they have problems with their temper. They should be caned instead."

This sounded so familiar that I immediately turned to my copy of Three Men in a Boat, where J. remembers his boyhood:

In the present instance, going back to the liver-pill circular, I had the symptoms, beyond all mistake, the chief among them being "a general disinclination to work of any kind."

What I suffer in that way no tongue can tell. From my earliest infancy I have been a martyr to it. As a boy, the disease hardly ever left me for a day. They did not know, then, that it was my liver. Medical science was in a far less advanced state than now, and they used to put it down to laziness.

"Why, you skulking little devil, you," they would say, "get up and do something for your living, can't you?" - not knowing, of course, that I was ill.

And they didn't give me pills; they gave me clumps on the side of the head. And, strange as it may appear, those clumps on the head often cured me - for the time being. I have known one clump on the head have more effect upon my liver, and make me feel more anxious to go straight away then and there, and do what was wanted to be done, without further loss of time, than a whole box of pills does now.

You know, it often is so - those simple, old-fashioned remedies are sometimes more efficacious than all the dispensary stuff.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

And Surely the Age of Great Speeches Isn't Over

Tony Woodlief comments on Sunday's Inaugural concert:

Sunday's inauguration concert was designed to evoke strong emotion. It was certainly held in a dramatic setting, cast at the feet of Lincoln, in the place where Reverend King gave his nation-changing speech. The danger of standing where giants have tread, of course, is that doing so invites comparison. There was certainly little to be compared, this day, between the transformative words of these great men and the canned lines of the very small playactors selected to give speeches between the concert's musical acts...

...It was revealing that one of the speeches most worthy of note, from the incomparable Forest Whitaker, was essentially a selection from William Faulkner's Nobel acceptance speech, an uplifting affirmation of art and truth that is at the same time a denunciation of the worst of post-modernism and relativism. What we have forgotten, as unwittingly attested by the voices at this concert (excepting Mr. Obama, of course, who is a first-rate speaker), is that actors are not, in a classical Aristotelian sense, artists. They are skilled, to be sure, but they are empty vessels, to be fitted to parts as suits the real artists, the writers and photographers, the costumers and make-up specialists. This is not to deny the accidental beauty of Marisa Tomei or Jamie Foxx, or the emotive skill of Denzel Washington. But something is strangely out of whack when speeches are to be delivered at the foot of Lincoln, on ground hallowed by King, and the deliverers we choose are none of them thinkers or writers...

The reality, of course, is that most actors today are nothing without smoldering looks and other people's words, and so each in turn took the stage to read the words of their intellectual betters. Perhaps this is the way of art in a highly specialized economy—if even Christian rock stars these days have to be sexually appealing, then surely we can't cast stones at average Americans who prefer their speeches to be given by beautiful people.

Yet there was a time when scientists and thinkers were among the household list that today is entitled: Celebrities. There was a time when speeches were given by people who could write them, and further, could deliver them with greater force than the pale, this-is-how-we-talk-on-the-Academy-Awards-stage style of Judd, Jackson, et al. And surely the age of great speeches isn't over, as witnessed by the performance of the most gifted speaker on Sunday's stage, Mr. Obama himself. Might there not have been room, then, amidst all the glamour, for an Irving, a Goia, and perhaps—God forbid, given sensitivities about speakers who affirm the validity of the entire Bible—the booming voice of a pastor?

In President Obama we clearly have star power, and one hopes thoughtfulness and moral courage as well. Perhaps the modern American bargain is that we can no longer have the latter two in our public officials without a healthy dose of the former. The danger, of course, is that too few of us seem able to discern the difference.

Inauguration Haiku

Ace offers three haiku for the inauguration:

Po-TUS Obama
America the best
Bush goes to jail now

Trust in Obama
All your worries gone forever
Bush goes to jail now

Barack is dreamy
Sorry Iraq we leave soon
Bush goes to jail now

I'm going to have to think to meet that challenge.

Stick to What You Know

In Inaugural News, Bishop T.D. Jakes, senior pastor from Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, spoke at an inaugural morning service. Bishop Jakes taught from the book of Daniel and shared this thought:

“The problems are mighty and the solutions are not simple,” Jakes said, “and everywhere you turn there will be a critic waiting to attack every decision that you make. But you are all fired up, Sir, and you are ready to go. And this nation goes with you. God goes with you.

“I say to you as my son who is here today, my 14-year-old son – he probably would not quote scripture. He probably would use Star Trek instead, and so I say, ‘May the force be with you.”
Ahem. It's not enough that the good bishop uses some sketchy, Hollywood, faux-Tao saying, but he can't get the series attribution right.

Ah, well. As Admiral Adama used to say: "Beam me outta here!"

Monday, January 05, 2009

Notes to Myself

I spent some of the last two weeks snowed in, going through stuff in boxes in the basement. One of the things I found was an old memoranda book with just a few pages filled with notes.

I offer two of these entries without comment:

"Forgiveness sounds like a lovely idea--until we have something to forgive."
"Some people reject Einstein's Special and General Relativity on an emotional basis, saying that those theories remove fixed standards, which leads to complete relativism. In fact, what Einstein did was to move absolutes from frames of reference to the laws that describe the relationships between frames of reference."

That's all.

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