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.

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