Posts filed under 'Books'

Corey Robin In A Nutshell

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“Hey conservatives, what are you reacting against?”  “Whaddaya got?”

According to Robin, conservatism’s only consistent guiding principle is that power must remain concentrated in the hands of elites at the expense of everyone else.  That sounds pretty accurate to me.

January 12th, 2012 at 08:02am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Corruption/Cronyism,Politics,Republicans

Links You Can Use

For those of you who might be wondering who you write like, there’s… this.

Apparently I write like Chuck Palahniuk here, and William Gibson at FDL.  I swear it’s not intentional…

July 21st, 2010 at 11:20am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Coolness

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Accountability

Cory Doctorow is talking about something completely different (police brutality in the UK), but his central argument is eerily applicable to the situation here in the US:

Transparency means nothing unless it is accompanied by the rule of law. It means nothing unless it is set in a system of good and responsible government, of oversight of authority that expeditiously and effectively handles citizen complaints. Transparency means nothing without justice.

(…)

Transparency on its own is nothing more than spectacle: it’s just another season of Big Brother in which all the contestants are revealed, over and over again, as thugs. Transparency on its own robs as much hope as it delivers, because transparency without justice is a perennial reminder that the game is rigged and that those in power govern for power’s sake, not for justice.

Sure, it’s great that Obama’s DOJ released all those torture memos, but it’s terribly demoralizing when he continues to show pretty much zero interest in pursuing investigations and prosecutions even after the depth of BushCo’s depravity has been exposed.

Sure, he may yet bow to pressure, or Holder may choose to do the right thing, but enforcing the law and protecting the Constitution is not something that our government should have to be forced into kicking and screaming.  I mean, it’s kind of their job, after all.

April 29th, 2009 at 08:54pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Constitution,Corruption/Cronyism,Democrats,Obama,Politics,Prisoners,Republicans,Torture,Wankers

Great Moments In Literature

For those of you who appreciate fine, quality literature, this… is not it.  This is quite possibly the least sexy sex scene I have ever read.

Full review of The Professor And The Dominatrix here. It sounds… spectacular.

(h/t Phoenix Woman)

April 8th, 2009 at 07:19am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Weirdness

Well, That Would Be A First…

Condi has inexplicably landed a huge $2.5 million three-book deal with Crown:

Rice will combine candid narrative and acute analysis to tell the story of her time in the White House and as America’s top diplomat, and her role in protecting American security and shaping foreign policy during the extraordinary period from 2001-2009,” according to a statement issued Sunday by Crown, a division of Random House Inc.

Candid narrative and acute analysis???  HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

You people have no idea who Condi is, do you?

February 23rd, 2009 at 07:09am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Republicans

Sentences I Wish I’d Never Read

From Bill Madden’s NY Daily News column on Joe Torre’s tell-all book about the Yankees:

Up front, I must say it’s a compelling read, even if Yankee trainer Steve Donohue rubbing Roger Clemens’ testicles with extra hot liniment before every start was probably more information than I needed to know.

GAH!

Jebus, Roger can’t even rub his own testicles with extra hot liniment, he has to have “people” to do that for him?  Ah, the life of a pampered super-rich batshit insane pro athlete.

3 comments January 31st, 2009 at 06:07pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Media,Quotes,Sports,Weirdness

Dubya’s Self-Fulfilling Tax Prophecy

Yet another reminder of why my hatred for George W. Bush is virtually limitless:

He said this over and over during the 2004 campaign. His team must have thought it was a mighty clever talking point. It was so much fun to see the President of the United States, with control over the IRS, helpfully explain that the rich evade taxes and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

7/14/2004 THE PRESIDENT: …People need to be aware of this talk out of Washington, D.C. that says, oh, don’t worry, we’re just going to tax the rich. That’s not the way it works in the tax code. The big rich dodge taxes, anyway. It’s companies like this who end up paying more taxes.
8/3/2004 THE PRESIDENT: …He said, tax the rich. You’ve heard that before haven’t you? You know what that means. The rich dodge and you pay.
8/13/2004 THE PRESIDENT:…I’ll give you one other thought. Let me just leave you with one other thought about taxing the rich. You know how that works. A lot of the rich are able to get accountants, so they don’t — they’re able to dodge. You’ve seen it before. We’re going to tax the rich, and then they figure out how not to get taxed.
8/28/2004 THE PRESIDENT: …Every time they say, tax the rich, the rich dodge and you pay.
9/1/2004 THE PRESIDENT: …You know what it means, tax the rich. It means the rich dodge and you get stuck with the bill.
9/3/2004 THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, we’ve heard that before, haven’t we? First of all, you can’t raise enough money by taxing the rich to support all his programs. Secondly, the rich figure out a way to dodge it, and you get stuck with the bill.
9/7/2004 THE PRESIDENT:Yes. Oh, don’t worry, we’ll tax the rich. Well, that’s why the rich hire accountants and lawyers. They dodge, you pay…
10/11/2004 THE PRESIDENT: …Something else about taxing the rich — the rich hire lawyers and accountants for a reason, to dodge the tax bill and stick you with it.

This is the same guy who eliminated half of the IRS lawyers who audit the rich, and went after the middle class more often with audits and scrutiny.

In other words, the state of affairs which he used as a pathetic excuse to not raise upper-income taxes was one which he himself perpetuated.  And you know, if he really was sincere about the wealthy’s ability to dodge taxes, then why not raise upper-bracket tax rates and reap the public-relations bonanza, secure in the knowledge that no-one who matters would ever actually take a hit?

What an evil, dishonest man.

1 comment January 31st, 2009 at 04:18pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Corruption/Cronyism,Economy,Republicans,Wankers

Friday Quote & Cat Blogging

This week’s quote is from the science-fiction book I am currently reading, River Of Blue Fire, the second volume of Tad Williams’ Otherland series:

NETFEED/NEWS: Pilker Calls for New Legislative House

VO: The Reverend Daniel Pilker, leader of the fundamentalist group Kingdom Now, is suing the United States, demanding that a fourth house of legislature be formed.

PILKER: “We have a House of Representatives, an Industrial Senate.  We have every kind of special interest group that there is making their voices heard.  But where is the representation for God-fearing Americans?  Until there is a Religious Senate as well, which can make and interpret laws specifically with God in mind, then a large part of the American people will remain disenfranchised in their own country…”

See, even in the future the religious right will wail about how powerless and oppressed they are.

And, of course, there’ll be other people’s wee kittens:

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Aww…

January 30th, 2009 at 06:33pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Cuteness,Friday Quote & Cat Blogging,Monday Media Blogging

Joe Lieberman Magically Rediscovers His Commitment To Oversight

This surprises… no-one:

Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Thursday announced he is creating a new, ad hoc subcommittee to oversee federal contracting. Committee Member Senator Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., will chair the new Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight.

“Management of federal contracts is one of the greatest operational challenges facing the federal government,” Lieberman said. “Spending on federal contracts rose to an astounding $532 billion last year. And for years the Government Accountability Office has listed government contracting on its list of programs at high risk of waste, fraud, abuse, mismanagement, or in need of comprehensive reform. This is a problem area that needs as much oversight as we can possibly muster.

“So, to more fully address the array of problems with federal contracting, I am establishing this new subcommittee with pride and great expectations. With her background as a prosecutor and state auditor, Senator McCaskill has unique investigative experience that will be crucial for this new subcommittee. I am certain that she will approach her new responsibilities with unmatched vigor to improve the value of all the taxpayer dollars devoted to federal contracting.”

Oh sure, now that Obama’s pushing a giant infrastructure spending bill, Lieberman’s suddenly very concerned about contractor fraud, after sleeping through Katrina and the Iraqupation.

Not that I’m against oversight, I just believe it should be universal, and not a tool wielded against Democratic administrations only.

January 30th, 2009 at 07:17am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Corruption/Cronyism,Lieberman,Obama,Politics,Republicans,Wankers

Vibrators And Cary Grant For Everyone!!!

The NYT review of Carrie Fisher’s memoir, Wishful Drinking, is just chock full o’ fascinating tidbits – f’rinstance, did you know that you can’t wear underwear in space?

Drinking seems to have been the least of her problems. Pills were more her thing, and for a while hallucinogens. As a teenager, she dropped so much acid that her parents called in the greatest LSD expert they knew: Cary Grant.

(…)

When the author was 15, Ms. Reynolds gave her a vibrator for Christmas, and also gave one to her own mother, who declined to use it for fear it would short out her pacemaker. Some years later, perhaps taking the inbreeding principle to extreme, Ms. Reynolds suggested that her daughter ought to have children with Richard Hamlett, Ms. Reynold’s last husband.

(…)

“George Lucas ruined my life,” Ms. Fisher says, which doesn’t seem entirely fair. On the other hand, in a book full of weirdos, he emerges as possibly the strangest of all. He wouldn’t let Ms. Fisher wear a bra under her Princess Leia shift because, as he patiently explained to her, there is no underwear in space: according to Lucas-physics, if you were to wear a bra in a weightless environment, your bra would strangle you.

Wow.  The Star Wars universe must have seemed tame compared to real life.

January 2nd, 2009 at 05:47pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Coolness,Movies,Weirdness

Confederacy And Dunces

Regnery’s latest book (by its own executive editor, no less) is all about how the Confederacy was Teh Awesome and totally misunderstood:

The politically correct history that dominates our schools and universities today insists that Jefferson Davis was another Hitler, Robert E. Lee was the equivalent of Rommel, and the Confederate States of America was our own little version of the Third Reich — a blot on American history. But reality, as always, was different: the Old South, as H. W. Crocker III explains in The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War, had immense charm, grace and merit — and a very strong Constitutional case. This book is a joyful myth-busting rebel yell that shatters today’s Leftist and demeaning stereotypes about the South and the Civil War — and shows why, in the words of G. K. Chesterton, “America and the whole world is crying out for the spirit of the Old South.

(…)

This is the Politically Incorrect Guide that every Civil War buff and Southern partisan — and everyone who is tired of liberal self-hatred that vilifies America’s greatest heroes — will have to have on his bookshelf, in his classroom, and under his Christmas tree.

Fantastic.  The basic premise appears to be that the South was more anti-slavery and less racist than the North.  Which seems a bit odd, since THEY WERE THE ONES WITH THE SLAVES.

(h/t Gavin)

1 comment October 31st, 2008 at 11:23am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Racism,Republicans,Wankers

Book Of The Week

“American Wife,” by Curtis Sittenfeld:

The “American wife” of Sittenfeld’s new novel, conspicuously modeled after the life of Laura Bush as recorded in Ann Gerhart’s biography “The Perfect Wife: The Life and Choices of Laura Bush” (2004), is a fictitious first lady named Alice Blackwell, née Lindgren, a Wisconsin-born former grade school teacher and librarian who comes belatedly to realize, in middle age, at the height of the Iraq war that her aggressively militant president-husband has initiated and stubbornly continues to defend, that she has compromised her youthful liberal ideals: “I lead a life in opposition to itself.”

(…)

An idealistic grammar-school librarian of 31 when she is introduced to Charlie Blackwell and finds herself vigorously courted by him — as, she will later learn, “marriage material for a rising star of the Republican Party” — Alice is initially overwhelmed by the crude, bullying, overbearing wealthy Blackwell clan into which it seems to be her destiny to marry: “It came to me so naturally, such a casual reaction — I hate it here,” Alice thinks miserably as a houseguest at her fiancé’s family’s summer home in northern Wisconsin, a kind of nightmare boot camp where outsiders like Alice are initiated into the Blackwells’ tight-knit, fiercely loyal way of life. The mystery of Alice’s life — as it is the prevailing mystery of Laura Bush’s life, seen from the outside — is the wife’s seemingly unquestioned allegiance to a husband with values very different from her own, if not in mockery of her own. From the start, though attracted to Charlie Blackwell as a genial, charming presence, Alice also recognizes him as “churlish,” a “spoiled lightweight,” “undeniably handsome, but . . . cocky in a way I didn’t like,” shallow, egotistical, “some sort of dimwit,” an “aspiring politician from a smug and ribald family, . . . a man who basically . . . did not hold a job” and who will demand of her an unswerving devotion to his efforts: “Alice, loyalty is everything to my family. There’s nothing more important. Someone insults a Blackwell, and that’s it. . . . I don’t try to convince people. I cut them off.”

Here in embryo is the right-wing Republican’s chilling partisan-political strategy, which is repellant to Alice even as — seemingly helplessly, with a female sort of acquiescence in her fate — she acknowledges feeling a “sprawling, enormous happiness” with him that sweeps all rational doubts aside: Charlie “was all breeziness and good cheer; when I was talking to him, the world did not seem like such a complicated place.” Yet more pointedly, as the first lady thinks well into the president’s second term: Charlie “always reminds me . . . of an actor going onstage, an insurance salesman or perhaps the owner of the hardware store who landed the starring role in the community-theater production of ‘The Music Man.’ Oh, how I want to protect him! Oh, the outlandishness of our lives, familiar now and routine, but still so deeply strange. ‘I love you, too,’ I say.”

Though “American Wife” is respectful of the first lady, its portrait of the president is rather more mixed, cartoonish: chilling, too, in its combination of steely indifference to opposing political viewpoints and crude frat-boy humor: ” ‘See, that’s what makes America great — room for all kinds of opposing viewpoints,’ ” Charlie says to Alice. She continues: “I can tell Charlie’s grinning, then I hear an unmistakable noise, a bubbly blurt of sound, and I know he’s just broken wind. Though I’ve told him it’s inconsiderate, I think he does it as much as possible in front of his agents. He’ll say, ‘They think it’s hilarious when the leader of the free world toots his own horn!’ ”

(…)

If there is an American gothic tale secreted within “American Wife,” it’s one of unconscionable, even criminal behavior cloaked in the reassuring tones of the domestic; political tragedy reduced to the terms of situation comedy, in this way nullified, erased. How to take Charlie Blackwell seriously as a purveyor of evil? We can’t, not as we see him through his wife’s indulgent eyes smiling “as he does when he’s broken wind particularly loudly, as if he’s half sheepish and half pleased with himself.” The ideal American wife can only retreat into a kind of female solace of opacity: “For now I will say nothing; amid the glaring exposure, there must remain secrets that are mine alone.”

Intriguing… and creepy.  Sittenfeld has clearly been paying attention.

August 30th, 2008 at 12:46pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Bush

Joke Line Returning To The Land Of Sanity And Decency

Wow, this is actually pretty sweet:

I heard about Jerome Corsi’s book a few weeks ago from my mother, who said that her great fear–that Barack Obama has covert Islamic associations–had been confirmed by a new book. I told her not to worry, that many reputable people had looked into the matter and Obama was more likely to be spotted in Whole Foods than praying in a mosque….

So we know the market for trash is there, and not so far from home. And we know, that Mary Matalin, who appears regularly on mainstream media programs like Meet the Press called the Corsi book in the New York Times today:

“a piece of scholarship, and a good one at that.”

But hey, Mary stands to make big bucks off this scholarship, which I’m sure was submitted for peer review and otherwise held to the highest editorial standards–and I’m sure her reputation and mediagenicity won’t be damaged by this poisonous crap, and we’re all friends here, aren’t we? And, yknow, they say politics ain’t beanbag…and it’s all in the game to tell innocent, well-intentioned people that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim or that John Kerry wasn’t really a hero in Vietnam. Or, as George W. Bush, once told a rightly outraged John McCain–whose wife and daughter Bush’s minions had smeared–”It’s just politics.”

Back in the day, John McCain was the sort of politician who would stand first in line to call out this sort of swill….

(…)

I know that people like me are supposed to try to be fair…and balanced. (The Fox mockery of our sappy professional standards seems more brutally appropriate with each passing year.) In the past, I would achieve a semblance–or an illusion–of balance by criticizing Democrats for not responding effectively when right-wing sludge merchants poisoned our national elections with their filth and lies….

But there is no excuse for what the McCain campaign is doing on the “putting America first” front. There is no way to balance it, or explain it other than as evidence of a severe character defect on the part of the candidate who allows it to be used. There is a straight up argument to be had in this election: Mcain has a vastly different view from Obama about foreign policy, taxation, health care, government action…you name it. He has lots of experience; it is always shocking to remember that this time four years ago, Barack Obama was still in the Illinois State Legislature. Apparently, though, McCain isn’t confident that conservative policies and personal experience can win, given the ruinous state of the nation after eight years of Bush. So he has made a fateful decision: he has personally impugned Obama’s patriotism and allows his surrogates to continue to do that. By doing so, he has allied himself with those who smeared him, his wife, his daughter Bridget, in 2000. Those tactics won George Bush a primary–and a nomination. But they proved a form of slow-acting spiritual poison, rotting the core of the Bush presidency. We’ll see if the public decides to acquiesce in sleaze in 2008, and what sort of presidency–what sort of country–that will produce.

Welcome back from Wankerland, dude.  Please, keep it up – we need as much actual straight talk as we can get to combat McCain’s dishonest straight-talkiness.

(h/t bmaz)

August 14th, 2008 at 07:27am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Elections,McCain,Media,Obama,Politics,Republicans

Yo, Joe!

My advisor and one of my favorite profs at Stanford, Joe Corn, got interviewed by Matt Novak, the Paleo-Future blogger, about his book, Yesterday’s Tomorrows (which I have just ordered) and the concept of “future shock”:

Matt Novak: Have you ever read Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock?

Joseph Corn: I did. I so vividly remember reading it in a campground in the Redwoods in Northern California.

MN: What did you think of it then and what do you think of his ideas now?

JC: [long pause] They deserve re-examination now, the concept of future shock. At the time of his writing . . . I didn’t really find it that persuasive. People talk as if future shock is a major syndrome that deserves Medicare treatment today, and I sort of feel that way. The pace at which software changes and technology generally, although it is still filling in . . . Filling in the cracks is not the right metaphor . . . I’ve had a personal computer now for 25 years and it is so different. The web, plus wireless, plus speed, plus miniaturization in the laptop form makes it something different. As we carry these things around with us when we couldn’t with an IBM PC.

MN: Do you think that all this technological change that you’ve seen recently, is that harming us? Because that seems to be the main thesis of his . . .

JC: I don’t buy that. As a historian I’m very skeptical. I think we’re trained professionally to be skeptical of . . . you might put it, in terms of the Golden Age fallacy. There was a moment when things were better and everything’s been done since. I just can’t buy that. One could worry and yet, I don’t. I just see it as different. As fascinatingly different. I just don’t see civilization going to hell in a handbasket. [long pause] At least I don’t want to.

Joe Corn was (and presumably still is) indefatigably interested and enthusiastic about everything, particularly the co-evolution of technology and culture.  I read one of his earlier books, The Winged Gospel, for one of his courses, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  It was a fascinating study of the early days of aviation, when there were all kinds of extravagant claims about how flight would fundamentally change human nature.  And I don’t mean the impact of being able to travel virtually anywhere, but stuff about how being physically closer to Heaven and the angels would make us more angel-like, or that we would end up living in the air and not require any other sustenance.

Fun stuff.  A year or two after I graduated, I caught up with him on a visit to campus, and he was all excited about this new course he was teaching, on the history of technical manuals.  I know, that sounds like it would be the most boring class ever, but he started talking about how they made the propagation and popularization of technology possible, and it started sounding pretty good to me.  Had I still been a student, I’m sure I would have signed up for it and had a blast.

Thanks, Joe.  Teachers like you were what made learning worthwhile.

July 27th, 2008 at 05:58pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Blogosphere,Books,Coolness,Education,Technology

Et Tu, Scotté?

I’m not the least bit surprised by the revelations/accusations, but I am pretty surprised by the source:

Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan writes in a surprisingly scathing memoir to be published next week that President Bush “veered terribly off course,” was not “open and forthright on Iraq,” and took a “permanent campaign approach” to governing at the expense of candor and competence.

Among the most explosive revelations in the 341-page book, titled “What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception” (Public Affairs, $27.95):

• McClellan charges that Bush relied on “propaganda” to sell the war.

• He says the White House press corps was too easy on the administration during the run-up to the war.

• He admits that some of his own assertions from the briefing room podium turned out to be “badly misguided.”

• The longtime Bush loyalist also suggests that two top aides held a secret West Wing meeting to get their story straight about the CIA leak case at a time when federal prosecutors were after them — and McClellan was continuing to defend them despite mounting evidence they had not given him all the facts.

• McClellan asserts that the aides — Karl Rove, the president’s senior adviser, and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff — “had at best misled” him about their role in the disclosure of former CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity.

(…)

The eagerly awaited book, while recounting many fond memories of Bush and describing him as “authentic” and “sincere,” is harsher than reporters and White House officials had expected.

McClellan was one of the president’s earliest and most loyal political aides, and most of his friends had expected him to take a few swipes at his former colleague in order to sell books but also to paint a largely affectionate portrait.

Instead, McClellan’s tone is often harsh. He writes, for example, that after Hurricane Katrina, the White House “spent most of the first week in a state of denial,” and he blames Rove for suggesting the photo of the president comfortably observing the disaster during an Air Force One flyover. McClellan says he and counselor to the president Dan Bartlett had opposed the idea and thought it had been scrapped.

But he writes that he later was told that “Karl was convinced we needed to do it — and the president agreed.”

“One of the worst disasters in our nation’s history became one of the biggest disasters in Bush’s presidency. Katrina and the botched federal response to it would largely come to define Bush’s second term,” he writes. “And the perception of this catastrophe was made worse by previous decisions President Bush had made, including, first and foremost, the failure to be open and forthright on Iraq and rushing to war with inadequate planning and preparation for its aftermath.”

(…)

“I still like and admire President Bush,” McClellan writes. “But he and his advisers confused the propaganda campaign with the high level of candor and honesty so fundamentally needed to build and then sustain public support during a time of war. … In this regard, he was terribly ill-served by his top advisers, especially those involved directly in national security.”

(…)

McClellan repeatedly embraces the rhetoric of Bush’s liberal critics and even charges: “If anything, the national press corps was probably too deferential to the White House and to the administration in regard to the most important decision facing the nation during my years in Washington, the choice over whether to go to war in Iraq.

“The collapse of the administration’s rationales for war, which became apparent months after our invasion, should never have come as such a surprise. … In this case, the ‘liberal media’ didn’t live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served.”

Wow.  History’s judgment continues to trickle out, doesn’t it.  My only complaint is that Scottie is a little too willing to let Dubya personally off the hook and blame everything on his advisers.  Who hired the advisers?  Who made the decision to listen to them even when their advice was obviously flawed at best, insane and evil at worst?  Bush is either a monster or a chump, and history will not be kind either way.

May 28th, 2008 at 07:20am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Bush,Cheney,Corruption/Cronyism,Iraq,Libby/Plame,Politics,Republicans,Rove

I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have To Be Destroyed By Me

 rodeogal.JPG

This is some seriously strange and fascinating stuff about the shadowy world of secret government agency decorative patches. Be sure to check out the slideshow.

I may need to get this book, for serious.

April 1st, 2008 at 07:21am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Coolness,War,Weirdness

Universe Commemorates Arthur C. Clarke’s Passing

This is pretty incredible timing:

NASA has detected the brightest cosmic explosion ever recorded — a massive burst of energy 7.5 billion light years away that could be seen with the naked eye from Earth, the space agency said.

The explosion, a gamma ray burst older than Earth itself, was monitored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Swift satellite and shattered the record for the most distant object seen without visual aid.

“No other known object or type of explosion could be seen by the naked eye at such an immense distance,” said Swift team member Stephen Holland of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

“If someone just happened to be looking at the right place at the right time, they saw the most distant object ever seen by human eyes without optical aid.”

Gamma ray bursts are among the most violent phenomenon produced in the universe. NASA described them as the most luminous explosions since the “Big Bang.”

(…)

The explosion seen Wednesday “blows away every gamma ray burst we’ve seen so far,” said Neil Gehrels of Goddard Space Flight Center.

Gamma ray bursts occur when huge stars use up all their fuel and their core collapses, forming black holes or neutron stars that release bursts of gamma rays, ejecting particles into space at nearly the speed of light and generating afterglows.

The burst, named GRB 080319B, was among a record four bursts detected by Swift on Wednesday, the same day of the death of prolific science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke who wrote “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

“Coincidentally, the passing of Arthur C. Clarke seems to have set the universe ablaze with gamma ray bursts,” said Swift team member Judith Racusin of Penn State University.

Even the universe mourns Arthur C. Clarke’s death, by catastrophically blowing up four stars at just the right time so their gamma rays would reach Earth on the same day Clarke died. That is a lot awesome.

3 comments March 22nd, 2008 at 02:05pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Coolness,Science

Delayed Regret

What a strange, sad story:

A 64-year-old French and German mystery now has a sprinkling of Greek tragedy: An ace Nazi World War II pilot learned that one of his 28 kills was also his favorite writer.

Horst Rippert, now 88, says he only just found out that the P-38 he says he shot down on July 31, 1944, over the Mediterranean was piloted by Antoine de Saint Exupery, best known as the author of the classic “The Little Prince.”

“If I had known it was Saint Exupery, I would never have shot him down,” Rippert told the Daily Mail. “I loved his books. He was probably my favorite author at the time.

“I am shocked and sorry. Who knows what other great books he would have gone on to write?”

(…)

The opening scenes of “The Little Prince” were drawn from his experiences after he crashed a plane in the Sahara desert and wandered lost for three days before a Bedouin on a camel spotted and rescued him.

But after three years in New York and on Long Island he returned to France to fly for the Free French. On July 31, 1944, he took off in the P-38, a B-list plane, to do reconnaissance for the upcoming Allied invasion.

He was never seen again, though it was always suspected that the unidentifiable body of a French flyer, recovered several days later, could have been Saint Exupery.

In 1998, a French fisherman found jewelry identified as Saint Exupery’s and in 2000 a P-38 wreck was located on the Mediterranean floor. Three years later it was brought up and identified as the one he was flying six decades earlier.

I can’t really add anything to that…

March 21st, 2008 at 10:40pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,War,Weirdness

NOOOOOOOO!!!!

RIP, Arthur C. Clarke.

I remember Rama.

1 comment March 18th, 2008 at 07:30pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books

123 Is The Magic Number…

Well, Ol’ Froth has tagged me with another one of those memes. I think I’ve done this one before, but it would have been with a different book, so I’ll allow it.

The meme is as follows:

Take the nearest book, turn to page 123.
Look for the fifth sentence, then post the three sentences following the fifth sentence.

Alrighty then. The nearest book appears to be Pastwatch: The Redemption, by Orson Scott Card, which gives me…

Then a young virgin named Blood Woman came to the ball court of sacrifice to see the tree, and there she spoke to the head of One Hunahpu, and the head of One Hunahpu spoke to her. When she touched the bone of his head, his spittle came out onto her hand, and soon she conceived a child. Seven Hunahpu consented to this, and so he was also the father of what filled her belly.

Alrighty then.

I don’t really feel like tagging anyone these days, but anyone who wants to participate voluntarily, please do feel free.

1 comment March 2nd, 2008 at 10:32pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Memes

I Was Tortured By The Pygmy Love Queen

Surely the greatest book ever written.

They may not leap off the shelves into the best-seller category, but the books shortlisted for the oddest book title prize certainly grab the attention.

“I was Tortured by the Pygmy Love Queen” recounts the tale of a fictional U.S. World War Two fighter pilot who is captured by jungle pygmies led by a sadistic woman.

Its sequel, which is not on the shortlist released by trade publication The Bookseller (www.thebookseller.com) Friday, needs no explanation: “Go Ahead, Woman, Do Your Worst.”

“How to Write a How to Write Book” and “Cheese Problems Solved” are likewise self-explanatory as is the equally eclectic niche tome “People who Mattered in Southend and Beyond: From King Canute to Dr. Feelgood” that strives to put the English east coast resort on the map.

While none of the above may challenge the sensibilities too much, others are likely to prove more divisive. Try “If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs” or “Are Women Human? And other International Dialogues.”

“I confess: I have been anxious that as publishing becomes ever more corporate, the trade’s quirky charms are being squeezed out,” said Horace Bent, The Bookseller diarist and custodian of the prize.

(…)

Bent paid tribute to those books that failed to make the list, including titles such as “Drawing and Painting the Undead” and “Glory Remembered: Wooden Headgear of Alaska Sea Hunters,” wishing them better luck next year.

Any list that “Drawing and Painting the Undead” and “Glory Remembered: Wooden Headgear of Alaska Sea Hunters” can’t crack, is one exclusive list.

February 22nd, 2008 at 10:28pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Coolness,Weirdness

A Republican Who Speaks For Me

Well, maybe not on everything, but certainly on Bush and his enablers… of both parties:

Former U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee’s new political memoir is remarkable for its candor, its delicious window into life in America’s most exclusive club, and its condemnation of President Bush and the combination of right-wing Republicans and Democratic enablers who plunged the nation into an ill-fated war without end in Iraq.

(…)

The book excoriates Mr. Bush and his GOP allies who repeatedly fanned such wedge issues as changing the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage, abortion and flag-burning. But he saves some of his harshest words for Democrats who paved the way for Mr. Bush to use the U.S. military to invade Iraq. That includes New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, whom Chafee says put her presidential ambitions above standing up to Mr. Bush and the rush to war in Iraq.

“I find it surprising now, in 2008, how many Democrats are running for president after shirking their constitutional duty to check and balance this president,” writes Chafee. “Being wrong about sending Americans to kill and be killed, maim and be maimed, is not like making a punctuation mistake in a highway bill.

“They argue that the president duped them into war, but getting duped does not exactly recommend their leadership. Helping a rogue president start an unnecessary war should be a career-ending lapse of judgment.”

Chafee was the only Republican senator to vote against prosecuting the war. “The top Democrats were at their weakest when trying to show how tough they were,” writes Chafee. “They were afraid that Republicans would label them soft in the post-September 11 world, and when they acted in political self-interest, they helped the president send thousands of Americans and uncounted innocent Iraqis to their doom.

(…)

“Few members of Congress were willing to stand up to the schoolyard tough [Mr. Bush] and in the early morning hours of Oct. 11, 2002, weeks before the crucial midterm elections, he bullied them into declaring Saddam an imminent threat.”

(…)

Of the general election, Chafee writes that he was both “irked and amused” at the “parade of Democratic Bush enablers” who trekked to Rhode Island to campaign for Whitehouse.

“Senators Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton, and others who had voted for the war urged my constituents” to defeat him, Chafee writes.

If he had followed Jeffords’ lead and jumped ship when he realized that the Republican party had jumped shark, he’d still be a Senator. Not that I’m disappointed to have Whitehouse in his place (although he did support retroactive immunity for the telecoms).

Maybe he can become the Republicans’ Zell or Lieberman; the “principled moderate” whose criticisms carry more weight and legitimacy because they’re coming from the same side. Or maybe he’ll just be demonized as an America-hating liberal who only pretended to be a Republican so that he could get elected in a conservative stronghold like Rhode Island…

(h/t Stoller)

6 comments January 31st, 2008 at 11:45pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Bush,Politics,Republicans

At Long Last, Still No Sense Of Decency

Finally, the wait is over!

A few years ago, on assignment for this newspaper, I attended a memorial service for McCarthy at his grave site in Appleton, Wis. It’s an annual event, sponsored by a local group that hopes to turn the senator’s birthday into a national holiday and put his likeness on a postage stamp. Most of the celebrants were elderly, and several belonged to the far-right John Birch Society. “There aren’t a lot of us still around,” an 87-year-old McCarthy supporter told me. “When we die, who’ll be left to tell the truth about Joe?”

He needn’t have worried. A full-throated defense of the senator is now in the bookstores. Written by M. Stanton Evans, a conservative journalist whose roots stretch back to Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign, it carries a title, “Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America’s Enemies” (Crown Forum, $29.95), that well explains its thesis. Though a handful of other pro-McCarthy books have appeared over the years — the most recent being Arthur Herman’s “Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America’s Most Hated Senator” — none created much interest among conservatives. But “Blacklisted by History” is drawing significant attention on the political right, where the reviews have ranged from gushing (The Weekly Standard) to scathing (National Review). If nothing else, Evans has forced his movement friends to look again at McCarthy. For conservatives, the crazy uncle has finally left the attic.

(…)

…Evans buys into the heart of the McCarthy conspiracy — the belief that leftist elements in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations created a foreign policy to advance the spread of world Communism.

How else could one explain the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe or the fall of Chiang Kai-shek to the army of Mao Zedong? “Who lost China?” propelled McCarthy to the national stage. Along the way, he described General George C. Marshall, the nation’s most respected military commander, as a Communist dupe; urged Secretary of State Dean Acheson to seek asylum in the Soviet Union; purposely confused the names of the convicted perjurer and likely Soviet spy Alger Hiss and the 1952 Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson (“Alger — I mean Adlai”); and called Harry Truman a “son of a bitch” who made his key decisions in the midnight darkness while drunk on bourbon. [That's certainly not ironic at all...]

McCarthy blamed the fall of China on “a conspiracy so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man.” Evans not only endorses this conspiracy but actually expands it to include “the Eastern, internationalist faction” of the Republican Party, “with ties to Wall Street, large corporations, big Eastern media outlets and Ivy League establishment.” To Evans, the conspiracy passed from president to president — from Roosevelt and Truman to Eisenhower and even Nixon, a former McCarthyite, who “would fall off the teeter-totter, landing with Henry Kissinger in Red China, thereafter pushing on into the mists of détente with Moscow.”

This remarkable fantasy, playing upon the deepest fears of right-wing Republicans, ignores the actual United States foreign policy that gave billions of dollars in aid to Chiang, fought a brutal war in Korea against two Communist nations, propped up an anti-Communist regime in Vietnam at the cost of 58,000 American lives and refused for three decades to recognize the government of Mao. Most historians today view the “loss” of China for what it was: a futile American attempt to aid a corrupt and unpopular regime. And most see Truman — the key bogeyman of the McCarthyites — as a tough anti-Communist who protected constitutional liberties at home and American interests abroad.

(…)

Fifty years have passed since the senator died of liver failure, at age 48. The fiercely negative judgments of those who lived through the McCarthy era are widely accepted today for good reason: they ring true. These judgments tell a cautionary tale, showing how a nation’s legitimate concern for security in uncertain times can be turned into something partisan, repressive and cruel. McCarthy will continue to resonate on the fringes of the body politic because the conspiracy he championed — the disloyalty of powerful elites — goes back to the founding of our country and beyond. Redeem him? I can best respond by quoting the man himself, on another issue, near the end of his career. “This,” muttered the flummoxed McCarthy as the Senate moved to condemn his behavior, “is the most unheard-of thing I ever heard of.”

The right wing’s continuing love affair with one several of the most odious, divisive and paranoid figures in American history tells you all you need to know about them. They love to demonize everyone they dislike, and blame their enemies for everything bad that happens instead of taking responsibility of their own mistakes. Which are legion. Grudging kudos to the National Review for rejecting McCarthy, and as for the Weekly Standard, well, is anyone really surprised?

Also, how could the same state produce both Joe McCarthy and Russ Feingold? Maybe it’s some kind of karma-balancing thing…

January 27th, 2008 at 03:19pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Corruption/Cronyism,Republicans,Wankers

Why I Like Science Fiction

I kinda thought I had written this post already, but now Clive Thompson has gone and beaten me to it:

If you want to read books that tackle profound philosophical questions, then the best – and perhaps only – place to turn these days is sci-fi. Science fiction is the last great literature of ideas.

From where I sit, traditional “literary fiction” has dropped the ball. I studied literature in college, and throughout my twenties I voraciously read contemporary fiction. Then, eight or nine years ago, I found myself getting – well – bored.

Why? I think it’s because I was reading novel after novel about the real world. And there are, at the risk of sounding superweird, only so many ways to describe reality. After I’d read my 189th novel about someone living in a city, working in a basically realistic job and having a realistic relationship and a realistically fraught family, I was like, “OK. Cool. I see how today’s world works.” I also started to feel like I’d been reading the same book over and over again.

(…)

…[Science fiction] authors rewrite one or two basic rules about society and then examine how humanity responds – so we can learn more about ourselves. How would love change if we lived to be 500? If you could travel back in time and revise decisions, would you? What if you could confront, talk to, or kill God?

This is exactly why I love sci-fi and have so much trouble reading regular fi – I’m fascinated by the universes that the writers create. The what-ifs, the concepts, the richness and complexity and otherness of it.

I’ve read stories where people can create specialized one-day duplicates of themselves whose memories they can download before the duplicates expire (Kiln People); where everyone’s brain is backed up to a hard drive and can be re-inserted into a new “sleeve” if they die (Altered Carbon); where entropy works in reverse so that everything improves with use (The Practice Effect); where intelligent spaceships pose frozen passengers in historical dioramas (Excession); where aliens spell out messages with human pimples (oops, that was the Weekly World News). And I’ve already gone on at length about Queen Of Angels.

A finely-crafted universe is a compelling character unto itself.

4 comments January 25th, 2008 at 10:26pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Science,Technology

More Fun With Savage

So it turns out that not only is Michael Savage completely batshit insane and almost certainly a Repressed Gay Man In Denial, but he is also quite possibly the worst writer on the planet:

I just read an old article in Salon about Michael Weiner (his real name) and it’s one of the saddest things you’ll ever read.

Mocked by his dad, rejected by his liberal friends, scorned by every university he applied to (for teaching positions) and racked by homosexual desires, Savage turned himself into this racist, xenophobic and homophobic monstrosity.

(…)

Here’s an excerpt from the Salon piece (bold added):

This maniacal tendency, and the roiling emotions that fueled it, were laid bare in “Vital Signs,” Michael Weiner’s first and only book of fiction, published in 1983. A collection of confessional, stream-of-consciousness stories, it follows the exploits of Samuel Trueblood, who just happens to be a 40-ish New York Jew, an herbalist and writer with a tumultuous personal life, a substantial assortment of inner demons and a bit of a Napoleon complex. “I am physically not tall, but my eyes burn with fire,” he states. “Two black fires of Hell.” Trueblood narrates a series of misadventures, from procuring an illegal backroom abortion for his fiance to beating the stuffing out of an abusive cop.

Trueblood describes his life as one long search for inner peace. He blames much of his discontent on his “childhood beneath tyranny,” during which he was cowed by his bullying father. Trueblood describes how his father mocked him with “brutal jokes and chides, ‘gentle’ kidding: ‘You’re not a fag, are you Sam?’ the little man would say each time the boy dared wear a colorful shirt or flashy trousers.” Unable to shake his dead father’s disapproving influence, the adult Samuel is tortured by feelings of weakness and inadequacy. “I am filled with fears,” he admits, “nearly all the time feeling I am about to become totally insane.”

Even after moving to mellow Marin County, becoming a successful herbalist and starting a family, Trueblood remains plagued by his “underlying sadness.” Not even trusty passionfruit tea can bring him off this bummer. In one passage, he almost loses it in front of his wife and two young children:

“Inner voice screaming at me for years, first rational, then crazy, telling me to do mad things. Every form of relief tried, painting, psychotherapy, running, diet, vitamins, etc., etc. Almost uncontrollable now. Impulses to stab children, strangers, wife, self with scissors.”

Eventually, Trueblood seeks solace in chasing skirts. (Though he admits to being drawn to “masculine beauty,” he confides that “I choose to override my desires for men when they swell in me, waiting out the passions like a storm, below decks.”) While his wife stays home with the kids, he beds a young “cockswell” with a “dykish haircut” and skin “[s]ofter than that Northern Indian prostitute in Fiji whose covering was as soft as that of my own penis.” And so it goes for another 50 pages.

That last bold is mine. I mean, what the hell was that???

I thought Scooter Libby and Liz Cheney’s ventures into literature were bad, but Savage Weiner makes them sound like Jane Austen. Crikey.

December 6th, 2007 at 11:49am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Media,Republicans,Teh Gay,Weirdness

Tackling Terror

Jason Elam goes from special teams to special ops teams:

Jason Elam, the kicker for the Denver Broncos, has teamed up with his pastor to write a book titled – no joke – Monday Night Jihad. Apparently the NFL is under attack. Here is an excerpt (via withleather)…

A story that combines all the action of a first-rate spy thriller with the intrigue of professional sports. After a tour of duty in Afghanistan, Riley Covington is living his dream as a professional linebacker when he comes face-to-face with a radical terrorist group on his own home turf. Drawn into the nightmare around him, Riley returns to his former life as a member of a special ops team that crosses oceans in an attempt to stop the source of the escalating attacks.

But time is running out, and it soon becomes apparent that the terrorists are on the verge of achieving their goal: to strike at the very heart of America.

How sad is it that my first thought was to wonder when the football-star-turned-soldier gets shot by his own men, triggering a massive government coverup?

I’m also curious as to whether the book limits itself to mere scaremongering (Terrorists could strike at any time! We must have a strong manly Republican president to protect us!), or if it makes the broader case for the indispensable value of torture and ‘tapping as well. Obviously, I can’t wait to read it…

November 8th, 2007 at 05:49pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Republicans,Sports,Terrorism,War

Bookcellers

And I thought blogging from my Treo was kinda weird…

When Satomi Nakamura uses her cellphone, she has to be extra careful to take frequent breaks. That’s because she isn’t just chatting. The 22-year-old homemaker has recently finished writing a 200-page novel titled “To Love You Again” entirely on her tiny cellphone screen, using her right thumb to tap the keys and her pinkie to hold the phone steady. She got so carried away last month that she broke a blood vessel on her right little finger.

“PCs might be easier to type on, but I’ve had a cellphone since I was in sixth grade, so it’s easier for me to use,” says Ms. Nakamura, who has written eight novels on her little phone. More than 2,000 readers followed her latest story, about childhood sweethearts who reunite in high school, as she updated it every day on an Internet site.

In Japan, the cellphone is stirring the nation’s staid fiction market. Young amateur writers in their teens and 20s who long ago mastered the art of zapping off emails and blogs on their cellphones, find it a convenient medium in which to loose their creative energies and get their stuff onto the Internet. For readers, mostly teenage girls who use their phones for an increasingly wide range of activities, from writing group diaries to listening to music, the mobile novel, as the genre is called, is the latest form of entertainment on the go.

Most of these novels, with their simple language and skimpy scene-setting, are rather unpolished. They are almost always on familiar themes about love and friendship. But they are hugely popular, and publishers are delighted with them. Book sales in Japan fell 15% between 1996 and 2006, according to the Research Institute for Publications. Several cellphone novels have been turned into real books, selling millions of copies and topping the best-seller lists. “Love Sky,” one of the biggest successes so far, is about a boy with cancer who breaks up with his girlfriend to spare her the pain of his death. It has sold more than 1.3 million copies and is being made into a movie due out in November.

Methinks that maybe I am not using my phone to its full potential…

(h/t Carolyn Kay)

1 comment September 27th, 2007 at 09:46pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Technology,Weirdness

How To Tell When It’s Time For A New Puppet

From Rick Perlstein’s great review of two recent Republican revisionist Vietnam War histories:

With Diem overthrown and assassinated… two generals worthy of Diem’s thuggish legacy, Nguyen Cao Ky and Nguyen Van Thieu, acceded to the civilian leadership of South Vietnam. “Ky, Thieu, and the other generals began their rule,” [author Mike Moyar] rhapsodizes, “by holding what they termed a ‘no breathing week.’” (Ky… had recently been asked who his heroes were. He said he had only one: Hitler.)

I would really prefer not to have any Hitler fans on my team, but maybe my standards are just unreasonably high.

1 comment September 27th, 2007 at 07:11pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Quotes,War,Weirdness

Brooks On Books

David Brooks, already a world-class wanker extraordinaire, really outdoes himself with his “critique” of Al Gore’s new book:

If you’re going to read Al Gore’s book, you’re going to have to steel yourself for a parade of sentences like the following:

“The remedy for what ails our democracy is not simply better education (as important as that is) or civic education (as important as that can be), but the re-establishment of a genuine democratic discourse in which individuals can participate in a meaningful way — a conversation of democracy in which meritorious ideas and opinions from individuals do, in fact, evoke a meaningful response.”

But, hey, nobody ever died from contact with pomposity, and Al Gore’s “The Assault on Reason” is well worth reading. It reminds us that whatever the effects of our homogenizing mass culture, it is still possible for exceedingly strange individuals to rise to the top.

Gore is, for example, a radical technological determinist. While most politicians react to people, Gore reacts to machines, and in this book he lays out a theory of history entirely driven by them.

He writes that “the idea of self-government became feasible after the printing press.” With this machine, people suddenly had the ability to use the printed word to debate ideas and proceed logically to democratic conclusions. As Gore writes in his best graduate school manner, “The eighteenth century witnessed more and more ordinary citizens able to use knowledge as a source of power to mediate between wealth and privilege.”

This Age of Reason produced the American Revolution. But in the 20th century, television threatened it all. In Gore’s view, TV immobilizes the reasoning centers in the brain and stimulates the primitive, instinctive parts. TV creates a “visceral vividness” that is not “modulated by logic, reason and reflective thought.”

TV allows political demagogues to exaggerate dangers and stoke up fear. Furthermore, “conglomerates can dominate the expressions of opinion that flood the mind of the citizenry” and “the result is a de facto coup d’état overthrowing the rule of reason.”

Fortunately, another technology is here to save us. “The Internet is perhaps the greatest source of hope for re-establishing an open communications environment in which the conversation of democracy can flourish,” he writes. The Internet will restore reason, logic and the pursuit of truth.

The first response to this argument is: Has Al Gore ever actually looked at the Internet? He spends much of this book praising cold, dispassionate logic, but is that really what he finds on most political blogs or in his e-mail folder?

(…)

Gore seems to have come up with a theory that the upper, logical mind sits on top of, and should master, the primitive and more emotional mind below. He thinks this can be done through a technical process that minimizes information flow to the lower brain and maximizes information flow to the higher brain.The reality, of course, is that there is no neat distinction between the “higher” and “lower” parts of the brain. There are no neat distinctions between the “rational” mind and the “visceral” body. The mind is a much more complex network of feedback loops than accounted for in Gore’s simplistic pseudoscience.

Without emotions like fear, the “logical” mind can’t reach conclusions. On the other hand, many of the most vicious, genocidal acts are committed by people who are emotionally numb, not passionately out of control.

Some great philosopher should write a book about people — and there are many of them — who flee from discussions of substance and try to turn them into discussions of process. Utterly at a loss when asked to talk about virtue and justice, they try to shift attention to technology and methods of communication. They imagine that by altering machines they can alter the fundamentals of behavior, or at least avoid the dark thickets of human nature.

If a philosopher did write such a book, it would help us understand Al Gore, and it would, as he would say, in fact, evoke a meaningful response.

Wow. Just wow. So much wankery in there, I hardly know where to begin. I’ll just note the “Algore is a cold-fish Vulcan weirdo” cheap shots in passing, and start with the three examples that Brooks uses to demonstrate that Algore is incoherent and out of touch. Notice that that they all have a common theme: The key to democratic government is democratic discourse. Gore states this in the abstract in the first passage, then cites the specific examples of the printing press and the internet in the other two. I can certainly see where Brooks might not see the value of discourse of/by/for the people, as opposed to top-down, one-way communications from the corporate and government spheres, but he’s not exactly an impartial observer here. When David Brooks tells me that it’s a bad idea for the unwashed rabble to have their own voice, I’m going to be a leetle bit skeptical.

As for his other main point, that Gore is advocating the sterile supremacy of reason over emotion, I fail to see the problem – he is talking about public discourse, right? The problem with our mainstream media today is not the presence of appeals to emotion, but the absence of anything else. Indeed, to anyone paying attention, Algore himself is not unemotional in private or in public – far from it. But he clearly recognizes that emotion should serve reason, not replace it. Consider Al’s beloved blogosphere, which Brooks takes an uninformed swipe at: On the liberal side, contrary to what Brooks and Chait believe, there is an abundance of both logic and passion, and that synthesis is what makes the progressosphere so appealing and powerful.

Of course, Brooks’ specialty is fact-free pro-Republican generalizations issued from the heights of Mt. Olympos, so I can certainly understand why a book calling for the return of rational, participatory public discourse might make him feel a little threatened. One of these days, he will have even fewer readers than I do, and there will be much rejoicing.

32 comments May 29th, 2007 at 11:55am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Gore,Media,Wankers

Great Idea, But…

I think I might be missing something here…

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A few simple keystrokes may soon turn blather into books.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have discovered a way to enlist people across the globe to help digitize books every time they solve the simple distorted word puzzles commonly used to register at Web sites or buy things online.

The word puzzles are known as CAPTCHAs, short for ”completely automated public Turing tests to tell computers and humans apart.” Computers can’t decipher the twisted letters and numbers, ensuring that real people and not automated programs are using the Web sites.

Researchers estimate that about 60 million of those nonsensical jumbles are solved everyday around the world, taking an average of about 10 seconds each to decipher and type in.

(…)

”Humanity is wasting 150,000 hours every day on these,” said Luis von Ahn, an assistant professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon. He helped develop the CAPTCHAs about seven years ago. ”Is there any way in which we can use this human time for something good for humanity, do 10 seconds of useful work for humanity?”

Many large projects are under way now to digitize books and put them online, and that’s mostly being done by scanning pages of books so that people can ”page through” the books online. In some cases, optical character recognition, or OCR, is being used to digitize books to make the texts searchable.

But von Ahn said OCR doesn’t always work on text that is older, faded or distorted. In those cases, often the only way to digitize the works is to manually type them into a computer.

Von Ahn is working with the Internet Archive, which runs several book-scanning projects, to use CAPTCHAs for this instead. Internet Archive scans 12,000 books a month and sends von Ahn hundreds of thousands of files that are images that the computer doesn’t recognize. Those files are downloaded onto von Ahn’s server and split up into single words that can be used as CAPTCHAs at sites all over the Internet.

If enough users decipher the CAPTCHAs in the same way, the computer will recognize that as the correct answer.

It’s an ingenious idea, but… How does it handle the first few people to type in one of these snippets? Are they on hold until enough other blog users type in the same answer, or are the first few users to get that snippet just given a free pass? The whole premise of the CAPTCHA process is that there is an absolute right answer which the CAPTCHA system knows.

Also, what happens if the system passes a snippet that is genuinely unreadable, or in a different alphabet, or not even text at all?

May 24th, 2007 at 08:42pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Blogosphere,Books,Coolness,Technology

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