Friday, August 31, 2007

Rod Dreher is discussing movies for life, meaning "what five to ten movies I would recommend to a young adult to explain to them what life is all about. I'm not talking about the best movies, the most important movies in film history, or even the most morally edifying movies. I'm talking about the movies whose lessons offer crucial insight into what it means to live a fully human life."

His list is impressive, but I think he overlooks a masterpiece. You simply have to include Terry Gilliam's Adventures of Baron Munchausen, because more than any other movie ever made, including Wizard of Oz, in my humble opinion, it comes the closest to truly portraying the wonder and terror of a child's nightmare. I say nightmare because, like all children, we all of us at one time or another dream of ourselves far from home and desperate to get back....
Steve Bailey is worth quoting in full on the Portuguese authentic 'native American' behind the con job of Casino Gambling in Massachusetts:

This has always been less about sovereignty than about the rush by the tribe and its deep-pocketed financial backers, just as elsewhere around the country, to cash in on the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, one of the worst pieces of legislation ever to come out of Congress.

As Michael Leighton, a Marshall classmate at Lawrence High School in 1968, told the Cape Cod Times: "When I first saw his photo as tribe chairman, I said, 'When the hell did he become Wampanoag? He always talked about being Portuguese.' "

The attraction is obvious for the tiny tribe, all 1,460 members. But for the rest of us, the question is this: Does Massachusetts, which already extracts $700 a year from every man, woman, and child in the Commonwealth through our very efficient lottery, double what any other state does, really need even more gambling? Should the Commonwealth be in the business of encouraging its citizens to gamble ever more to support basic services? How much is enough?

If the state's take on gambling were 5 percent, the same as the sales tax, or even 9.5 percent, the corporate rate that few companies actually pay, casino gambling would be a nonstarter at the State House. At what level are we willing to trade our values and go into business with the gambling industry?

Your Friday dose of Krauthammer:

The government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has had more than 15 months to try to pacify the Sunni insurgency by offering national accords on oil-sharing, provincial elections and de-Baathification. It has done none of these. Instead, Gen. David Petraeus has pacified a considerable number of Sunni tribes with grants of local autonomy, guns and U.S. support in jointly fighting al-Qaeda.

Petraeus' strategy is not very pretty. It carries risk. But it is has been effective.

The Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad, however, is not happy with Petraeus' actions. One top Maliki aide complained that it will leave Iraq "an armed society and militias."

What does he think Iraq is now? Except that many Sunni militias that were once shooting at Americans are now shooting at al-Qaeda.

The nature of the war is changing. In July, 73 percent of the attacks that caused U.S. casualties in Baghdad were from Shiite militants, not Sunnis. Maliki is no fool. As more Sunni tribes are pacified, he can see the final military chapter of this war coming into focus: the considerable power of the American military machine slowly turning its face -- and its guns -- on Shiite extremists.

Of the many mistakes committed in Iraq, perhaps the most serious was to have failed to destroy Moqtada al-Sadr and the remains of his ragged army when we had him cornered and defeated in Najaf in 2004. As a consequence, we have to face him once again. The troop surge has already begun deadly and significant raids into Mahdi strongholds in Baghdad.

Sadr is hurting. On Wednesday, after many were killed in Shiite-on-Shiite fighting in Karbala, he called for a six-month moratorium on all military operations in order to permit him to "rehabilitate" his increasingly disorganized forces.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

David Pogue on iMovie 8: "What the [bleep]! What was Apple thinking?" I guess I won't be upgrading from iLife '06 anytime soon....
To the age old question (made most famous by Leibniz), why is there something rather than nothing, Sean Carroll wonders, well why not?
Twenty years ago today, I started shooting my first big independent film project...

Here are the first takes of a two-week shoot from Boston's Long Island on August 30th, 1987. The production was Richard the Second. Shot in 1-inch on an Ikegami ITC 730, and Sony portable 1-inch deck. Cast included in these shots, Kadina Delejalde, Deb Snyder, Ellen Zachos, Lisa Beth Kovetz, Daniel Maher, Craig Alan Edwards and Dai Kornberg. Robert F. McCafferty, also in the cast, was on sound with Videocraft engineer Joe Deighan. Because of the island fort's location in the harbor, we had to contend with jets descending to Logan, depending on the wind direction. Some days were a lot better than others.

Ah, youth....

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Jonathan Gottshall has a review of Frederic Crews' Follies of the Wise: Dissenting Essays, which I've added to my Wish List.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Have I mentioned lately how much I like James Wood?

In some literary circles, Mr. Wood has been described as a brutal critic who has debunked many of the country’s most admired writers, including Don DeLillo, Toni Morrison and Thomas Pynchon. Others regard him as one of the most respected critics of his generation.

He famously coined a phrase to describe what he abhors in modern fiction: “hysterical realism,” which refers to a style of writing that features rampant caricature, absurd plots and prose and hyper references to popular culture combined with didactic social commentary.

Going to enjoy seeing more of Mr. Wood in the New Yorker.

I like reading Telic Thoughts once in a while, but this post by Krauze leaves me scratching my head. If I understand him correctly, he is implying (by a rather tenuous association based on a book blurb) that Barbara Forrest and Paul Gross and E. O Wilson are Nazis. Or maybe the book blurb just sent him off on some free association? Or maybe the post is missing some crucial step in the reasoning?

I'm still trying to figure it out. But I guess we can safely say he loathes Forrest and Gross and Wilson.
Dan Rayburn looks at the new deal between Microsoft and Limelight Networks and wonders why analysts aren't seeing the big picture for the future of video delivery. Worth quoting at length:

For starters, this announcement has nothing to do with Akamai or any other CDN provider. Some analysts did get it right, but way too many of them are asking if Akamai lost this business, if it was taken from another provider or how this may affect Akamai. Akamai did not lose this business. Microsoft did not shop around an RFP for some delivery services. This deal was about Microsoft extending a relationship that was already in place and working with Limelight on some very specific long term goals of improving the Microsoft platform for digital media. And some analysts were saying that Akamai didn't win this business since it is not in the co-location business, therefore it didn't even bid on the business to being with. Limelight is not in the co-location business either. This deal had nothing to do with co-location.

While I must have seen at least a dozen different analysts commenting on the announcement, why is it that not a single one of them that I saw went into detail on the bigger piece of the announcement, that being the cross-licensing of technologies. Why aren't the analysts asking about that? Think bigger picture here guys. Have you ever seen Microsoft cross-license any technology from a CDN before? I haven't. That's not to say that it has not happened in the past. And while I encourage anyone to point me to a similar announcement, I could not find any release by a CDN with Microsoft talking about cross-licensing technology in any public record, over the last five years. Why is no one asking about the details of that and what it may mean for the companies and the industry? Why aren't the analysts asking what is different this time around and what it means for the CDN industry as a whole?

And don't you think this says something about the market and the growth we are about to see? Why would Microsoft cross-license technology from a CDN? Very simple. Microsoft knows very well that what we are experiencing today with content delivery is only scratching the surface of where this business is going to go. They know that a few years from now this will truly be a powerful medium for delivering all kinds of video content and Microsoft wants to prepare now by making their platform ready for when it does hit. So what type of technologies might be cross-licensed? What does each company get from that portion of the deal? What are the longer-term implications that we may see? Why aren't the analysts asking those questions and reporting on the answers? Aren't many of these same analysts the ones who are predicting doom and gloom for the CDN space due to lower pricing and the "perceived" slowdown in the market? Doesn't an announcement like this of cross-licensing technology from a CDN make you think otherwise, or at least question it?

I listen to a lot of the earnings calls these companies have and so many of the analysts all ask questions pertaining to numbers, but not the questions about the products and services that the numbers come from. What about looking at the long term affect that any announcement will have on the industry and companies in this space? It's not about what a company's stock price does in one day.

What he said.

Hitchens, always worth reading:
On the second front, everything I hear by e-mail from soldiers in Anbar province and some well-attested other reports suggest (see my Slate column of Aug. 13) that the venomous rabble of foreign murderers and local psychopaths that goes to make up AQM has insanely overplayed its hand, lost all hope of local support, and is becoming even more vicious as its cadres are defeated. This means that there is also political separation and polarization within the Sunni Arab community. A recent wire-service report even suggested that the underground remnant of the Baath Party has broken off relations with AQM. It must say something when even Saddam's old goons find themselves repelled by anybody's tactics. One must not declare victory too soon, but if the United States has in fact succeeded in not only smashing but discrediting al-Qaida in a major Arab and Muslim country, that must count as a historic achievement.
John Wilkins has another, eloquent, go at the 'angry atheist':
But tolerance is a crucial facet of a civil society, as many wars have taught us. If a lab assistant is a Muslim, you may think that irrational, as irrational as supporting the wrong football team, but so long as she does good science and fails to launch a Jihad on infidel lab assistants, welcome her, don't attack her.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Ben Stein in an anti-evolution movie? I thought better of him.
The Expelled movie isn’t yet out so we can’t make fun of it in its entirety, but as everyone knows by now, the filmmakers started things off rather badly by lying to the pro-science people they interviewed, making them think that it was an entirely different film with a different name and a different premise. That’s a good taste of the kind of sleaze we’re dealing with.
More evidence of what Jennifer Howard calls 'boneheaded conservatism'.
Michael Barone points out some overlooked good news. How more and more US firms divesting Iran could bring pressure to bear on the goombahs mullahs:

At the same time, divestment can hurt the targeted companies enough to persuade them to change their ways. We learned this 20 years ago from the divestment movement directed against apartheid South Africa, which targeted many U.S.-based firms. Some of them withdrew from South Africa -- a fact that helped persuade South Africa's white rulers to end apartheid.

We can't expect the mullahs to change their system in the same way. But we can expect divestment to put a heavy economic squeeze on a regime whose economy already is deteriorating visibly. Iran produces lots of oil, but it doesn't have enough refinery capacity and must import gasoline. The mullah regime appears to be highly unpopular, and further economic deterioration might spark a peaceful overthrow -- the best result imaginable for us, as well as for most Iranians.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

I don't often come away from Harvard Book store with this good a haul. The good old days, as I've probably lamented here before, are long gone in Harvard Square. No more Wursthaus, no more Star Book Shop, no more Science/Fantasy Book Store, no more Macintyre and Moore book store; that great little diner where Matt Damon wooed Minnie Driver in Good Will Hunting, gone; Elsie's Sandwich Shop, gone, etc.

At least the Border Cafe is still going strong, and Cardullo's and Charlie's Kitchen, and Uno's, and even the Hong Kong, believe it or not.

One of the bad side effects of the greed that took over real estate developers in Harvard Square and drove out the cool spots and left just one independent book store--is that it encouraged Harvard Book store to push prices up for their used books. Which is annoying. It further encourages people to go with Amazon rather than indulge in the pleasure of browsing and looking for treasures.

I don't usually find much anymore, but last night I came away with a minor gold strike, particularly so since most of the books are relevant, one way or another, to what I'm writing now: a collection of essays on science and religion edited by Ian Barbour; Mankind Evolving by the late great Theodosius Dobzhansky; Galileo, A Philosophical Study by Dudley Shapere; and Thomas Becket, a biography by Frank Barlow; and to top it off, the collected short stories of V.S. Pritchett.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Adam Gopnik makes a good point in his assessment of the work of Philip K. Dick (the best of which is now being issued in a nice volume by the Library of America):
The trouble is that, much as one would like to place Dick above or alongside Pynchon and Vonnegut—or, for that matter, Chesterton or Tolkien—as a poet of the fantastic parable he was a pretty bad writer. Though his imagination is at least the equal of theirs, he had, as he ruefully knew, a hack’s habits, too, and he never really got over them. He has three, at most four, characters, whom he shuffles from hand to hand and novel to novel like a magician with the same mangy rabbits. There is the sexy young stoned girl; the wise or shrewish wife; the ordinary schlub who is his Everyman; and the Mad Engineer who is usually the Designated Explainer. He flogs these types into semi-life by means of Ellery Queen devices, including the depressing one of funny names. Then, there is the narrative falsely propelled by the one-sentence paragraph, the internal monologue that really isn’t, and sometimes both together....
I loved Ubik and Man in the High Castle. But the Blade Runner book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, is overrated.
Ralph Alpher, one of the key contributors to the 'hot' big bang theory, the revised 1948 version of Lemaitre's l'atom primitif that led to a prediction of the cosmic microwave background, has passed away at age 86.

Dr. Alpher was awarded the 2005 National Medal of Science last month for his 1948 prediction that, if the universe started with a big bang, as others had hypothesized, it would explain the varying abundances of elements in the universe. Months later, he and two colleagues figured out that a big bang would have released an echo that should still be present in the universe as radio waves.

"It had vast implications, but unfortunately it got very little attention," said Vera Rubin of the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution. "It's a very complicated story. He and Bob Herman did something very early and very brilliant. There's really no other word for it; they were kind of forgotten."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Well, here's a shocker. The global warming freak-out crowd has apparently been mistaking its data.

First, NASA's James Hansen and his group had to fix a Y2K bug that a Canadian statistician found in their processing of the thermometer data. As a result, 1998 is no longer the warmest year on record in the United States - 1934 is. The temperature adjustment is admittedly small, yet there seemed to be no rush to retract the oft-repeated alarmist statements that have seared "1998!" into our brains as the rallying cry for the fight against global warming.

Then, the issue of spurious heat influences on the thermometers that NOAA uses to monitor global temperatures has reared its ugly head. Personally, I've been waiting for this one for a long time. Ordinary citizens are now traveling throughout their home states, taking pictures of the local conditions around these thermometer sites.

To everyone's astonishment, all kinds of spurious heat sources have cropped up over the years next to the thermometers. Air conditioning exhaust fans, burn barrels, asphalt parking lots, roofs, jet exhaust. Who could have known? Shocking.

Two proof copies of the new edition of Doctor Janeway's Plague (see side panel) are in the mail from CreateSpace (aka CustomFlix, which handles my DVDs). One of the advantages of CreateSpace's new set-up is that there are no up front costs for the writer (see Teresa Nielsen Hayden's rule: "Money flows to the writer.") There are other POD services out there, but all of the reliable ones still require set-up costs and fees. In addition, I can determine layout, font-size and page count, which allows me to set the price of the book more competitively than other PODs, which have fixed layouts. (i.e., trade paperbacks of fiction really shouldn't be more than $12.95 if you look at the mainstream New York publishers).

I'm hoping CreateSpace's books turn out to be as slick as their DVDs. The book will be available via Amazon.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The limits of materialism. Scott Carson has the latest:
The latest issue of Nature (08/16/2007) has an interesting cover headline: "Form Follows Function" introduces an article by Johannes Hermann called "Structure-based activity prediction for an enzyme of unknown function" that argues, in effect, that the function of a certain enzyme can be predicted on the basis of its underlying structure. This is an interesting finding to Aristotelians, who think that there are such things as essences in nature that do, in fact, determine the functions of things...

To make a long story short, it seems that we have some grounds here for thinking that strictly reductive, materialist accounts of systems are insufficiently explanatory of mechanism: form is also a necessary component of a full explanation.
I bet you didn't know PZ Myers is a literary critic:
Try comparing LeGuin's Earthsea trilogy to Dan Brown's tripe, or to those horrid westerns by Louis L'Amour, or the Left Behind books, or anything by Tom Clancy. Which ones have the most depth, treat their readers as serious people who will think and learn, and actually exhibit some hint of good writing? When I see people walking out of airport bookstores that are stocked with the usual bestsellers — which are often little more than glorified Dick-and-Jane books with added sex and violence — I often feel like snatching it out of their hands and leading them to the juvenile literature and telling them they need to work on rebuilding their literary foundations from scratch.
Not bad for a Godless liberal.
When it's fun to be a Red Sox fan....

Red Sox win, read Red Sox Chick.
Yankees lose, read Yankees Chick.

What's not to like?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

What does it tell you that even Der Spiegel thinks the war is not lost?
The Iraq war came within a hair of returning to Ramadi in early July. The attackers had already gathered four kilometers (about 2.5 miles) south of the city, on the banks of the Nasr canal. Between 40 and 50 men dressed in light uniforms were armed like soldiers and prepared to commit a series of suicide bombings. They had already strapped explosive vests to their bodies and loaded thousands of kilograms of explosives, missiles and grenades onto two old Mercedes trucks. But their plan was foiled when Iraqis intent on preserving peace in Ramadi betrayed them to the Americans.

Army Units of the 1st Battalion of the 77th United States Armored Regiment -- nicknamed the "Steel Tigers" and sent from an American base in Schweinfurt, Germany -- approached from the north and south. But the enemy was strong and they quickly realized that in order to defeat it, they needed air support. Before long, Apache combat helicopters, F-18 Hornet and AV-8 Harrier jets approached, the explosions from their guns lighting up the night sky on June 30.

The "Battle of Donkey Island," named after the wild donkeys native to the region, lasted 23 hours. The Americans forced the enemy to engage in trench warfare in the rough brush, eventually trapping them in the vast riverside landscape. It wasn't until later, after the soldiers lost two of their own and killed 35 terrorists, that they realized the scope of the disaster they had foiled.

Three of the captured attackers, who claimed to be members of al-Qaida in Iraq, revealed their plan to plunge Ramadi into chaos once again by staging multiple attacks in broad daylight. By unleashing a devastating series of suicide attacks on the city, they hoped to destroy the delicate peace in Ramadi and bring the war back to its markets, squares, streets and residential neighborhoods.

The dinosaurs in Iran are uneasy:

In Tehran, hundreds gathered near the home of Mansour Osanloo, the imprisoned leader of the capital's transit workers, with a simple message: We are not afraid! The authorities had organized a military operation to cordon off the streets leading to the house - but couldn't prevent union members from assembling. The day ended with the arrest of at least 15 workers' leaders.

Meanwhile, in factories and workshops in and around the capital, workers organized peaceful hour-long "solidarity pauses," defying a ban imposed by the authorities. Several other major cities saw similar demonstrations, including Ahvaz, Arak, Sanandaj, Shiraz and Tabriz.

Everywhere, the protesters took care to keep their actions within the law. Yet the authorities kept any mention of Thursday's events out of the official media.

That the mullahs should treat this as "not news" is no surprise. For years, they have pretended to be working on behalf of Iran's poorest working masses - but now the mask is falling. It is precisely those poorest working masses that present the regime with its biggest challenge. What is surprising is that much of the global media should also regard this bad news for the mullahs as no news.

Friday, August 10, 2007

As if The New Republic's credibility was not already in tatters after the Glass scandal, now there's this:

After some commentators and soldiers raised questions about the plausibility of these tales, both the Army and the New Republic investigated. The Army issued a statement saying flatly that the stories were false. The New Republic claims that it had corroboration from unnamed soldiers. The Weekly Standard quoted an anonymous military source as saying that Beauchamp himself signed a statement recanting what he had written.

Amid these conflicting claims, one issue is not in dispute. When the New Republic did its initial investigation, it admitted that Beauchamp had erred on one "significant detail." The disfigured-woman incident happened not in Iraq, but in Kuwait.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Cute Dept.
Baby panda sneezes and scares the hell out of its parent.

Been there.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Mike Dunford, on why creationists are preferable to Intelligent Design promoters.
(Hint: it has something to do with honesty.)

Friday, August 03, 2007

I've been tagged by Scott Carson (and feel honored by the company he keeps).

I can play that game! I will reply (in suitably garbled paraphrase) by falling back on one of my favorite passages from Chesterton, and leave it at that.
There was a man once in the East long ago,
and I cannot look at a Sunset, a mountain,
a sparrow or a fig tree, without thinking of him.
This is another way of saying, Jesus ain't my buddy. And he ain't my pal. He's something else.
Why it's fun to read a Yankees blog:
You know, getting shut-out by the Royals is bad. Losing two in a row to the f--king Orioles is asinine. I had originally stated that if the Yankees could get to 4 games back or less of the Red Sox by August 28th, I felt we had a decent chance to take the division. Now, I'm about 95% certain there's no way in hell it's going to happen now. I'm even close to saying the Wild Card is out of the question. There's too many problems with this team, too many variables that aren't being dealt with properly. Johnny Damon is leading off, for God only knows what reason; our bullpen has gone to sh!t; our starting pitching has been off-kilter for the last month; our offense is spottier than a Rorschach Test; our manager is a buffoon. These are the things that get magnified right now, and even more so when the team can't win. If we were somehow able to keep our heads above water despite everything, I would be more optimistic or at the very least, less pessimistic about this team and where they stand. Because at least it would show they were trying. Some of these just looks like they quit half-way through. Like when Jeter doesn't bother reaching for balls that go past his left side. Or when batters pop-up the first pitch they see or K on balls that are over their heads or dusting their shoetops. It doesn't look like effort. When the door slams shut, it'll be loud. I hope they are prepared for that.
Chick, all I can say is, I hear you. What was it, a week ago I watched the Red Sox at home coughing up 2 out of three to the Royals and only splitting with the Blue Jays? Thankfully they pulled together against the ChiSox before starting a road trip that could've been a disaster.
"This is just one of a billion plus examples of lazy Creationists taking advantage of the ignorance of their followers."

Apparently there are a lot of scientific facts Michael Behe left out of his new book. We're shocked. (No, really. )

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Where It's At:
ExpoTV, the self-described “videopinions” site, has added DFJ Gotham Ventures to its roster of backers for its second funding round. The amount of the round was not disclosed. The company raised $6 million in a first round financing last December. DFJ Gotham joinsExpoTV’s previously announced investors Masthead Venture Partners and Prism VentureWorks.
With Friends Like These...
It may be annoying when atheists use science to attack religion...but when physicists start using quantum mechanics and cosmology to 'explain' the know you're entering the Twilight Zone.