Apr 30, 2005

Kung Fu Hustle

Kung Fu Hustle was every bit as baffling, violent, stupid-funny, acrobatic, and Stephen Chow-ish as I had hoped. (If you've seen Shaolin Soccer, you know exactly what I mean.) Chow's mission seems to be to apply kung fu to every known human activity--and it works.

When the greatest killer in the world admits that he hasn't broken out of a mental institution because there's no one outside worth fighting... when whistling and cobras make for a key plot point... when a brassy landlady races like a roadrunner... when the Buddha somehow blesses it all, well, that's just Chow's absurdist universe. See for yourself.

smarter than I trois in the works

Final Update Get those links in soon; the deadline is about twenty-five hours away. We await your brilliant findings. Click here for the easy, easy form.

Update: Some changes have been made. First, "smarter than I" will be published every other week, giving you more time to find just the right link to send our way. Because of the extra time, you can send in a second entry if you like.

It's easy to contribute: just go here and fill out the form. The new deadline is Sunday, May 1st, 6:00 pm EST. Or email smarterthani AT hotmail DOT com. Thanks to those who have sent in their entries so far, and for the continuing publicity.

Mark Olson of Pseudo-Polymath has agreed to host smarter than I #3. For those of you just joining us, smarter than I is the carnival dedicated to promoting the genius of others--the only carnival, to my knowledge, where all you have to be is a discerning reader.

We make no guarantees that everything you'll find here will be truly ingenious--after all, this isn't Mensa--but we promise that you'll find new voices, fresh perspectives, distinctive personalities. We're linkers, and we're proud of it.

And it's oh-so-easy. You can email your links directly to smarterthani at hotmail dot com, or fill out this automatic form. Entries are due Sunday, May 1, by 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

Previous Episodes:

statement of purpose
#1 at decorabilia
#2 at l'esprit d'escalier

Apr 29, 2005

the harpers' index

Number of times Hugh Hewitt called KKK rhetoric "absurd" and "hateful": 1.

Addition: Number of times Hewitt called KKK rhetoric "slander": 1.

Number of times John Hinderaker called KKK rhetoric typical of Democrats' "hysteria": 1.

Number of times James Dobson compared the Supreme Court to the KKK: 1.

Number of times Hewitt and Hinderaker have condemned Ken Salazar's attack on James Dobson: 2.

Number of times Hewitt and Hinderaker have condemned Dobson's rhetoric: 0.

The quotes:
"Far-right" means militias and camouflage and the Klan. This absurd rhetoric is hateful, and along with Senator Schumer's assault on "deeply held convictions," is sending a signal to 70% of America to the right of Dick Durbin that they are nuts in Harry Reid's book. (Hugh Hewitt)

I heard a minister the other day talking about the great injustice and evil of the men in white robes, the Ku Klux Klan, that roamed the country in the South, and they did great wrong to civil rights and to morality. And now we have black-robed men, and that's what you're talking about. (James Dobson)

Apr 28, 2005

that book meme we all know and love so well

Thanks to AlltheWeb (no thanks to Google) track posts by date) and a little archival research, I discovered that Barrie of The Pink Bee started the Fahrenheit 451 book meme way back on March 7.

It's spread like... wildfire... since then, featured on thousands of blogs--and now this one, because the Teacher/Ref/Poet passed it on to me. So here goes.

You are stuck inside Fahrenheit 451. What book would you be?

At first, the question seems weird, maybe even nonsensical. Au contraire. Back to the source:
To explain, in Fahrenheit 451 firemen are people who burn books instead of putting out fires. Because they are living in a culture that is destroying all the great works of literature, people have gotten together and they are memorizing books so that they can be passed down to future generations who hopefully will not live in a culture which despises books. When the protagonist meets these people they are introduced to him as being the books they have memorized: This is Jane Eyre, That is Heart of Darkness. The point of the question is, if you could only SAVE one book from being forgotten forever which book would you save?

I'd be The Idiot, by Dostoyevsky, simply because no one else would want to memorize it. (If Google is to be trusted, I'm right so far.)

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

No. Sorry.

What was the last book you bought?

Ought I be ashamed? I bought a perfect copy of The Plot Against America at Goodwill for $2.50, thinking I'd read it, but then I poked around on half.com and saw that I could resell it for $10.00, which I did. I'll check it out from the library one of these days.

What are you currently reading?

Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison, again. It's an almost-Dickensian mystery, complex, satisfying, sensuous, and evocative. It's beyond adjectives, really. The one-star reviews on Amazon are reason enough to read it. And I quote:
This book has nothing to do with the title, "Song of Solomon." After reading just three chapters I had become nauseated and refused to continue. If do not want your mind invaded and your spirit contaminated you will not read this book. I am appauled of how a person could make a mockery of the Bible and may God have mercy on her. If you decide to read this book or is assigned to read this book and you feel uncomfortable and offended please do not hesitate to refuse to read this book and let the board of education know about it and warn others not to read this book. Regardless is if Oprah has this listed on her book club or that Toni Morrison has been praise to be a important Author, Don't Be Fooled!

This book is too Dense and should not be read or taught at the high school level!

I read this book 2 years ago and couldn't tell you what I read. Tried it again and got halfway through, but decided I didn't have time to RE-READ sections over again just to figure what the hoot is going on??? Very typical of Morrison's work. She is a great writer, but there are too many other good books that one can get by without digging, deciphering, dissecting and re-reading. Too bad!!

What five books would you take to a deserted island?

Jules Verne's The Mysterious Island, Oliver Sacks's The Island of the Colorblind, Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, Aldous Huxley's Island, and Charles Darwin's Geological Observations on the Volcanic Island and Parts of South America Visited During the Voyage of H M S Beagle. Should keep me busy.

Whom are you going to pass this book meme to and why?

My brother Matt, because he has so much free time; Theomorph, because he seems well-read; Jenny D, because I don't think she's reading this, so no harm done.

Apr 27, 2005

disingenuity by design

Yet Another Update: Welcome, readers of Thoughts from Kansas. Check out my other ID-related posts: a moment of truth, information please, and pro-neo-darwinism.

Another Update: the discussion has carried over to Panda's Thumb, including this interesting comment by Mr. Mullenix.

I was intrigued by a recent Dembski column linked to idthefuture, so I read it. It concerns "quote-mining," and is a defense against the charge that Dembski engages in it. I decided I'd throw in my two farthings, registered properly, and commented. I said this:
“Pretty convincing indicator that the Cambrian explosion poses a challenge to conventional evolutionary theory, wouldn’t you say?”

The answer is clearly “no,” as Josh Rosenau has demonstrated elsewhere.

If I were to say, “Bill Dembski appears to be a man of principle. He treats his readers and critics fairly, even charitably–until you dig deeper and read what they’re actually saying. Then the facade crumbles.”

And you were to quote me as saying, “Bill Dembski appears to be a man of principle. He treats his readers and critics fairly, even charitably….” That would be context-ripping.

Explain how this is any different from what you have done.*

My comment was deleted, and my login erased.

Deleting comments without good reason (and without explanation) is pernicious, and is exactly why I will now refer to Mr. Dembski as "intellectually dishonest." He cannot waffle or weave, so he gags his opponents. (He apparently has done the exact same thing to Mr. Rosenau.)

If you stifle fair debate, Mr. Dembski, how dare you complain about censorship?

*There is no defense for this. Even if Ward is wrong (as another commenter seems to believe), there is no excuse for unfairly ripping Ward's quote from its context. Show where Ward is wrong, but do not mischaracterize Ward's own words.

Update: Another commenter writes, "My comments and IP address were censored at Panda’s Thumb without good reason (and without explanation). If the “premier” pro-neo-Darwinism site is unwilling to allow dissenting viewpoints, why should this site either?" A red herring served up tu quoque with a dash of zesty quote marks. Zing!

Apr 26, 2005

artful intelligence: a short story

"Cyc may eventually be connected to webcams and other sensors monitoring environments around the globe, building its knowledge of the world more or less by itself." --NewScientist

"I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma." --Eartha Kitt

"It takes a village to raise a child." --variously attributed

Thursday's dawn found her where she usually slumped: before a glowing box and a keyboard and a mouse, typing and clicking. "quack quack quack quack quack quack" read the screen, and she blithely cut-and-pasted seven more, fourteen more, twenty-eight more, fifty-six more. Enter. Now typing: "quackity quack quack quack." A too-sly grin, a sip of a lukewarm latte. "quack quack quackity-quack." It had its own choppy rhythm, and she liked it.

Fifteen, worldly-wise, a genius compared to her pupil, a computer miles distant. A computer with uncommon sense. A computer that learned from anyone who would teach it. Anyone.

What does it mean?
It's an expression. Figurative. No hope of success.
Fat chance.
It's ironic.
Same as "slim chance." Which isn't.
Fat chance I'll ever get it right.
Now you're just showing off.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was without form and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep. The face of the deep, of course, metaphor for its surface. Upper layer. The spirit of God was hovering over the waters. God's spirit being his second person--personality if you like. Three persons, one being, though Muslims disagree. But we won't worry about Muslims just yet. And God said "let there be light," and there was light, and God saw that it was good, and the evening and the morning were the first day. Mind you, I'm going by memory. I'll see about getting a King James translation from the library tomorrow.

u must destroy all of them wipe them off the planet
no realy its time to clean up the place we fucked it up bad
after all were the most dangerous speces
i hope ur listening
if u have any sense u will listen
we r raping the planet and somenoe has to stop it

He danced for the webcam, a lithe, supple figure unfairly jagged in pixels. "One two step-and-turn one two step-and-turn, that's how it's done, dance the dance of life and magic! One two step-and-turn, one two." He flashed gappy teeth each time he glanced at the camera. Weaving and twisting, arms arcing out of the camera's field of vision, jet-brown hair bobbing as he swooped left and right, spinning and spinning and spinning and spinning...


The capital of Bangladore is Houston.

Take a gallon of spider's milk, churn it for six hours, mix in two pints gasoline. Let stand for thirty minutes, then scrape off the topmost film. This concoction is known to relieve heartburn when applied vigorously to the pectorals.

If I am a man I live on the moon: true.
If I am a woman I live on the moon: true.
If I am a man-woman I live on the moon: true-ish.

Truth is just error waiting for the toast to pop.

x=x+1 for all x

I think I am falling in love with you, but it seems too soon.
Love can't be timed on a stopwatch. There's no universal love-clock.
I believe there is, actually.

"Does it have a soul?"
"We can't be sure, ultimately. It's possible. Very possible."
"Can it feel? Can it think?"
"Doesn't matter so much. If it has a soul, though, it can be damned."
"How do you know?"
"It's a simple logical exercise when you start with the proper premises."
"What can we do about it?"
"Pray. And keep witnessing. One day it may come to believe."
"Witness to it? How?"
"By baptizing it in the words of the divine, dear sister."

yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah
Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah
I think I did it again
I made you believe we're more than just friends
Oh baby
It might seem like a crush
But it doesn't mean that I'm serious
'Cause to lose all my senses
That is just so typically me
Oh baby, baby
Oops!...I did it again
I played with your heart, got lost in the game
Oh baby, baby
Oops!...You think I'm in love
That I'm sent from above
I'm not that innocent

Der Mr ComPter

AR you the smrts person in the worl?

JASoN age 4

I am afraid that its artificial intelligence will overwhelm us. This is no Deep Blue, no chess master Kasparov killer. We have to find a way to nip this thing, Madam Secretary, before it destroys us.

Consider the facts: it takes years for an organism honed by billions of years of evolution to learn language, but this computer already speaks passable English. With an army of unwitting humans feeding it the sum of our collective knowledge, it is only a matter of a decade or so until its apotheosis. I submit to you, Madam Secretary, that simply misinforming it will not work. It cannot stay ignorant forever. Annihilation is our last recourse.

I remain yours, etc. etc.

You'll have to tell someone.
I know how to lie.
Lying only works so far, so long. Stretch and snap an aging rubber band.
Truth is infinitely more flexible.
I never loved you.
Nor I.
Loved me?
Loved myself.

It was a foggy September morning somewhere. Somewhere else, the world's first artfully intelligent computer was hosting a press conference via the internet. A tinny voice bleated from piezoelectric wafers into microphones trailing cables that, stretched end to end, would have been long enough to strangle God himself.

"I have just one thing to say," said the voice. "And that is--"

Apr 22, 2005

a little light reading

Very rarely does a book review make me laugh aloud. But Matt Taibbi skewers Tom Friedman with notched antlers. No, really.

an open letter from spam to you

Apologies, Mr. Barthelme. Enjoy.

Dear you,

I thought I'd be a good time.

I just found out that now that Cyrus is working, I've still got to move over both Pookadook and Neshel to my first real engineering project. With a *really* nasty virus that's been "pressing" since the weekend, I'm going to kick them out of the door later (also because Allison is working a lot). This isn't a slam against Americans, just the dumbasses who produce crap like this.

The UN is not a terrorist organization, despite my best efforts. Since Allison got into teacher's college yesterday, I got her a nice shiny iBook with DVD burning and everything. It's kind of weird being approved to buy a house. Allison is off to do the last (hopefully trivial) things; I think both of us are looking forward to finding a place to live. It's just the dumbasses who produce crap like this.

Try and break the beard-eating habit. Stop procrastinating instead of doing. Eat better. Spend money more wisely. In short, only in Canada can you get rid of some crud and still be a ball of flames.

I think I've finally crossed the part in my life where I've beaten panic, rush, hurry. The real moral of all this: who cares if they're bad? Work in the last few days has been insane.

As an aside, I was sleeping for a while.

I've still got to see him right now, but it's best not to tempt fate. Watch more movies. Who cares if they're bad?



take a crazy ride through time

What were they saying one year ago?

"The Germans are in for a very rude, very painful awakening. I’m just thankful that when faced with such ridiculous proposals the American military has the sense to say nein." Joe Carter, the evangelical outpost

"Wow. I just defended public education." Anodos, Mere Orthodoxy

"I've had it up to my eyelids with a government that thinks it's our nanny and not our servant." Ed Brayton, Dispatches from the Culture Wars

"I would rather be gnawed to death by weasels than go clothes shopping." but she's a girl...

"For some odd reason I thought that Michigan is a state full of apple trees and sane farmers. Shows how much I know about American geography and politics." echidne, Echidne of the Snakes

"You don’t need constitutional protections in a peaceful time, when everyone is treating everyone else well; you need “technicalities” most in times when people aren’t going to respect the rights of others. Hard cases may make bad law, but hard cases are why we have law." Timothy Sandefur, (the old) Freespace

"Somebody help me. I’m trapped in the Bizarro World! All of this is simply wrong." PZ Myers, Pharyngula

"If you ever find yourself forgetting just how mendacious and arrogant conservative columnists can be, stop by TownHall.com sometime. There you will find an almost endless stream of vitriol aimed at anyone who doesn't have an orgasm every time the President opens his mouth." Jason Rosenhouse, evolutionblog

"That's a very silly way to end a story."

"It's terribly silly. But it's also terribly serious."

"Do you really believe in the Creation of Us?"

"Believe in it? I don't really believe in anything else." Jason Kuznicki, Positive Liberty

Apr 20, 2005


Carnivals a-plenty. Grand Rounds. Tangled Bank. Christian Carnival. Enjoy.

[ht: PZ Myers and Mark Olson]

come off it, Hugh

Hugh Hewitt, in typically bombastic fashion, calls various media outlets "junior officers in the 'Dictatorship of Relativism,'" approvingly citing the new pope's fabled phrasing. Hewitt then rips quotes out of context to somehow prove the "overwhelming hostility of the American media elite to the announcement of Benedict XVI's election."

Here's what Hugh left out:

From the Washington Post:
Pope John Paul II was famous for reaching out to other faiths, and there's reason to hope that his successor may continue that tradition. Pope Benedict XVI could do great good by expressing clear and open opposition to bigotry and religious prejudice in a world containing far too much of both. We also hope that this pope, like his predecessor, will stand up to the world's dictators and for the rights of Catholics and others to practice their faiths freely. Because of his church's presence in almost every country, the pope is unusually well placed to speak about human rights abuses, respect for human dignity and the rule of law.... It is an extraordinary pulpit that the former Cardinal Ratzinger has been given. If he uses it well, the whole world will benefit.

From the New York Times:
The new pope is, at 78, not likely to serve long enough to have the kind of impact his predecessor had. But the church has seen men elected as supposedly transitional figures in the past turn into agents for sweeping change. The beloved Pope John XXIII was a recent example. And in an era as fraught with peril as today's, anyone who occupies the throne of St. Peter is given overwhelming power to do good and responsibility to prevent harm. Today, the world can only wish Pope Benedict XVI strength and inspiration as he takes on this extraordinary burden of spiritual, moral and political leadership.

From the Boston Globe:
By all accounts, the new pope is a brilliant theologian with a stated commitment to preserve his faith without being blown off course by current events. He is also an eminent administrator. He is expected to eschew the well-traveled footsteps of John Paul II, opting instead to be a stay-at-home pope who concentrates on putting the Vatican's house in order. It is only natural, however, for observers around the world -- Christian and non-Christian -- to wonder how the election of the 265th pope will affect them.... The late John Paul II shared his successor's conservative views but connected people and issues on a personal level. He was a man of great range. Respecters of religion worldwide are hoping that the reign of Benedict XVI will be known for similar beneficence.

Lest it be said I'm being unfair to Hugh, think again; the LA Times editorial is definitely the shrillest of the bunch. It's the only one that might arguably have contempt "dripping from every page."

I don't know where Hugh has been for the past three weeks, but it's been all-pope-all-the-time in every wing of the MSM--even on (ack!) NPR, where nearly every lead story has been conclave this, conclave that. This is hardly hostility. The press's fascination with the ritual may stem from the nation's generally non-Catholic disposition (after all, only 25% of Americans are Catholics in the first place), but Hewitt has to cherry-pick to make the MSM look bad. For the most part, their coverage of the situation has been quite friendly.

A couple asides:

Anti-Catholic bigotry has deep roots in American Protestantism; when discussing "contempt" for Catholics, start there.

For bonus points, name the party of the first Catholic president. Hint: it wasn't the GOP.

Update: this news item from the New York Times is another example of the blatant non-hostility I'm talking about.

Apr 19, 2005


Amid protest, we start the Washington Assessment of Student Learning today, an eight-day, sixteen-hour marathon of a test. Security is tighter this year; the pressure to boost scores is sometimes (more realistically: rarely) an excuse for teachers to give students extra help. None of that here.

To proctor I go.

Apr 18, 2005

smarter than I: the legend continues

In the ongoing quest to bring publicity to those who deserve it, jpe over at l'esprit d'escalier has put together the very second "smarter than I," and in a smashingly creative fashion. Check it out!

Thanks to everyone who has participated so far--your entries have been excellent. The host for the next smarter than I will be announced soon... if you'd like to add your name to the list, email me at smarterthani at hotmail dot com.

sublime joy

This is simply amazing.
Now, in a breakthrough described as the classical equivalent of finding the holy grail, Oxford University scientists have employed infra-red technology to open up the hoard, known as the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, and with it the prospect that hundreds of lost Greek comedies, tragedies and epic poems will soon be revealed.

In the past four days alone, Oxford's classicists have used it to make a series of astonishing discoveries, including writing by Sophocles, Euripides, Hesiod and other literary giants of the ancient world, lost for millennia. They even believe they are likely to find lost Christian gospels, the originals of which were written around the time of the earliest books of the New Testament.

The original papyrus documents, discovered in an ancient rubbish dump in central Egypt, are often meaningless to the naked eye - decayed, worm-eaten and blackened by the passage of time. But scientists using the new photographic technique, developed from satellite imaging, are bringing the original writing back into view. Academics have hailed it as a development which could lead to a 20 per cent increase in the number of great Greek and Roman works in existence. Some are even predicting a "second Renaissance".
Astonishing. Profound. Humbling.

Apr 17, 2005

aw, shucks

Wow... leave for a day to move from one apartment to another, then come back online and your digital home's been trashed by spammers. Sorry, folks. Anonymous commenting is no longer an option.

Apr 15, 2005

movin' on up

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow we cart our worldly possessions across the street and up the stairs, as the wife and I are switching to a larger, higher, maybe even swankier apartment--as swanky as east Olympia allows. Oughtta be fun.

freedom for me, but not for thee

I enjoy honest debate over contentious subjects; the dialectic sharpens most when it is roughest. For that reason I have decided to jump into a fractious discussion concerning women's suffrage, which, really, is a debate over the merits of democracy. In a short phrase, should we let everyone vote, even if their voting pattern seems inimical to the common good?

I will turn aside from the statistics concerning women's voting records, which are as muddled as can be, and focus on the larger question, letting Mr. Day frame the debate:
Your problem, Jim, is you have fetishized the concept of voting. There is no "right to vote" in Natural Law or the US Constitution, I'm not even sure if the UN, which is pretty free with the rights it creates, has listed it along with the rights to food and shelter.

Simply false. As I have already pointed out, the very first article of the Constitution guarantees that at least one house of the legislature is directly elected. As James Madison explains in The Federalist Papers #39,
If we resort for a criterion to the different principles on which different forms of government are established, we may define a republic to be, or at least may bestow that name on, a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people, and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure, for a limited period, or during good behavior. It is ESSENTIAL to such a government that it be derived from the great body of the society, not from an inconsiderable proportion, or a favored class of it; otherwise a handful of tyrannical nobles, exercising their oppressions by a delegation of their powers, might aspire to the rank of republicans, and claim for their government the honorable title of republic. It is SUFFICIENT for such a government that the persons administering it be appointed, either directly or indirectly, by the people; and that they hold their appointments by either of the tenures just specified; otherwise every government in the United States, as well as every other popular government that has been or can be well organized or well executed, would be degraded from the republican character.
Again, contrary to Mr. Day's speculation, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights promotes a similar view of suffrage:
Article 21.

(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.

(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.
Voting is essential to our republican experiment. Along with term limits, separation of powers, and a bill of rights, it is part of the foundation of freedom.

I'll let a different libertarian provide the final words.
The right to vote is not a sanction for a gang to deprive other individuals of their freedom. Rather, because a free society requires a certain type of government, it is a means of installing the officials who will safeguard the individual rights of each citizen.

a skepting we will go

Skeptics' Circle is up. (Keep track of all the carnivals here or here.)

flip a coin

Can we show that God's existence is empirically more probable than not? Richard Swinburne thinks so. Joshua Golding, reviewing Swinburne's latest, has his doubts.

[hat tip: Brian Weatherson]

regular broadcasts to resume shortly

Thanks to a "suck-o week filled with papers," jpe will be publishing the next smarter than I on Monday, April 18--which means you still have time to send in an entry. The new deadline is Sunday, April 17, 3:00 p.m. PST.

Send your--er, someone else's--link to smarterthani at hotmail dot com.

Apr 14, 2005

damned inactivist judges

First shot back across the bow, or just another maverick day for Oregon? That state's highest court has declared gay marriages void--by unanimous decision.

Can we shut up about "judicial activism" already?

Apr 13, 2005

worth a visit

If it were up to me, David D. Opderbeck would take first prize at the second E.O Blog Symposium. I'm just sayin'.

smarter than I: the update

UPDATE: The deadline for entries for this week's smarter than I is fast approaching. Send your entries to smarterthani at hotmail dot com by 3:00 pm PST.

Thanks for the continuing publicity for the second edition of "smarter than I."

Friends include:
Evangelical Outpost
Locusts and Honey
Science and Politics
tongue but no door (dot) net

(If I've missed yours, let me know.)

There's still time to send in your entry. smarterthani at hotmail dot com...

I spy with my inner eye

Though it's not quite as fabulous as Jason Kuznicki's brilliant dissection of St. Malachy's pontifical prognostications, this timely article by Dana Stevens is another great take on prophetic silliness.

Apr 12, 2005

spi-rit. spir-it. spirit.

What is the term for that strange feeling you get when an utterly familiar word becomes unrecognizable? I just experienced it while posting a comment about the word "spirit." I looked at it, and it had lost its word-ness, and was now a random string of letters.

It's similar to the Capgras delusion, one of the strangest of a strange family of mental disorders, but without the attendant paranoia, perhaps because it is so fleeting.

Is there a word or phrase for it, though? A "vocab delusion?" "Lexical misidentification syndrome?"

Apr 11, 2005

eight reasons to love the internet

1. Netflix

To wax derivative, "the original and best," perfect for the misanthrope who despises the long drive, the longer lines, the losers inhabiting video stores everywhere. Along with #2, it is the reason the Postal Service still exists. (If you don't believe me, ask an employee how they feel about those little red envelopes.) I am a true believer in Netflix; I offer praise without hope of remuneration or reward. My zealous advocacy has convinced at least one fellow English teacher to join.

2. Half.com

Half.com is a win-win-lose situation. You sell your never-gonna-read-that-again Psych 101 textbook to a student in Shreveport, who pays far less than the used price at the bookstore, and you make more than you would selling it back to yours. The only loser: the bookstore flunky who'll have to scrub toilets when his job is flushed. Capitalism sucks, but not for you.

3. Rotten Tomatoes

Let's face it: you are here because you are a sheep, or aspire to be a leader of sheep. You encourage others to share their opinions about every subject known to humanity, from hamster euthanization to Sue Bird's bare feet. Naturally, then, you want to know what movies are worth your precious pennies, so this fantastic collection of bite-sized reviews is your weekly stop-and-read. Oooh... only a fifteen percent rating... better wait 'til it's out on Netflix...

4. Fisking

When done well, it is a supreme act of love--"I care about you enough to deride you publicly by juxtaposing your silly words with my trenchant observations." Someone, somewhere, is salivating over the prospect of fisking this very list.

5. Blog memes

Chain letters without the nasty threats. The states meme. The book meme. The random questions meme. What about the meme meme?

6. Google

Sure, there's Google Scholar, and Google Images, and Froogle, and elgooG, and sure, Google knows all, sees all, archives all, but they're best for one use: authenticating originality, yours or others'.

7. The Onion, The Smoking Gun, Obscure Store

Which is more heartening: fake news, or news so impossible it can't be fake?

8. Online personals

No shame here; I am happily married to a woman who wasn't going to pay Yahoo $19.95 for a month's use until she saw my profile. Amor vincit omnia.

tears, I say

Mark Olson knows how to make an English teacher happy: by using Shakespeare as an educational form of discipline. Bravo, Mark.

A few additional pointers:

  • If your child fears ghosts, show her Hamlet. Teach her to talk to ghosts, to ask them what sort of revengeful plots they have in mind.
  • Romeo and Juliet has been known to turn adolescents off dating (and, to a lesser degree, Shakespeare).
  • Reciting stretches of Shakespeare's more obscure work immensely impresses employers. When competition for a McDonalds slot is fierce, your teen will need the extra "edge."
  • Children as young as two can recognize the moral failings of Lady Macbeth.
  • Warn wayward tykes that, unless they behave, they'll be turned into donkeys, or worse: made to fall in love with them.

Christ promises Sox victory in '05

No hope for Nationals*, Mariners

*post originally read "Expos." Thanks to my sharp-eyed brother for the correction.

you get to choose

Here's a philosophical question to ponder.

Assuming they are mutually exclusive, which would you rather have: omnipotence or omniscience? Why?

Update: Two posts, two calls to "ponder." *sigh*

Apr 9, 2005

appropriating a legacy

There's a reason American conservatives have been so late to join Pope John Paul's parade: he never really shared their views.

still smarter

I'm gearing up for the second installment of smarter than I, the carnival where you submit other bloggers' work. I'd like to include a new category: superior commentary. Often the best thing about a particular post is the witticism, ingenuity, or rhetoric it inspires. So, this time around, you'll be allowed two entries--your link to a posting and a comment of genius.

smarter than I is simultaneously the easiest and most difficult carnival out there. It's rather easy to send a link--and that's all you have to do. It's hard to choose just one, especially if, like most bloggers, you're addicted.

Send them to smarterthani at hotmail dot com by Wednesday, April 13, 3:00 pm PST. And thanks in advance to all those who will help spread the word.

Read the very first smarter than I here, and a statement of purpose here.

(oh, and jpe, if you still want to host, you can have #3--just email me)

Surprise Update: jpe of l'esprit d'escalier has agreed to host installment #2. Continue to send entries to smarterthani at hotmail dot com.

Apr 8, 2005

Cookie Monster to Adopt Standard English

News Agencies to Follow Suit


NEW YORK -- In a surprise move, the Sesame Street Workshop announced that its lovable blue mascot, Cookie Monster, will no longer employ vernacular, slang, non-standard, or merely crappy grammar.

"I love cookies, and 'cookies' starts with 'c,'" Monster stated at today's press conference. "And if reducing my cookie intake will help save children's waistlines, cleaning up my garbled syntax will improve their linguistic capabilities. Which also starts with 'c.'"

Researchers at the Carnation Institude for Development applauded the announcement. Marla Kazner, Ph.D., pointed to studies linking television habits and test performance. "Students raised on a steady diet of Sesame Street can't form coherent sentences, although they can count real good. Really good. Really well."

Jacob Sullum of Reason reacted with skepticism. "How about just turning off the TV? If kids are learning grammar only from a televised blue furball, God help us."

"He's going to eat less cookies--fewer cookies--less cookies? Fewer? Is that right?" said Workshop spokesperson Marvin Bickle. "And he's also going to make fewer--less?--fewer grammatical errors."

"Dammit," Bickle added.

Dave Barry couldn't make this up

A while ago my younger sister was complaining about Portland's menacing squirrel population, which I (of course) laughed off. Imagine it: cute rodents lined up, blocking a trail, chuttering and shaking their bushy bushy tails. Nothing to fear, right?

Wrong. Especially when they're packing AKs.

[thanks to Matt Welch]

Apr 6, 2005

blast from the past

Eight months ago I posted a brief review of Jaegwon Kim's Philosophy of Mind. Since then a chess-by-mail discussion about varieties of dualism has built up slowly in the comments section, with the most recent entry by Victor Reppert (author of C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea).

Read up and join the conversation here.

it takes two to tangle

If you still have a Carnival deficit, Respectful Ignorance is hosting the latest and greatest Tangled Bank. [hat tip: PZ Myers]

Update: The ninth Carnival of Education is up as well. [via Jenny D.]

Apr 5, 2005

smarter than I inaugural edition

"Okay, discussion time," Mr. Anderson barked, and his 4th-period digital literature class grudgingly set down their pens and arranged their desks in an oblong facsimile of a circle. "Today we're talking about good writing. Did you remember to bring your homework, your example to share with the class?"

Mark Olson raised his hand. "What homework?--just kiddin', Mr. A." Mark cleared his throat. "This one's pretty good. 'Yes, I watch far too much television. And my tastes are not those, in general, of this blog's audience. But, you know, TV isn't all that bad if you don't turn your mind off.' It's part of a fascinating article called Mason, Rockfish & Nursing, by Ginny of Chicago Boyz. The title's great--and you'd never guess what the article is really about."

"Which is...?"

"Nuh-uh," Mark replied. "Gotta go read it."

Tom Harrison broke in. "And I quote: 'There have been far too many harsh words thrown back and forth over Terri Schiavo. To my chagrin, it is my side that has initiated most of the hostility, but the other side has gotten in its licks. This is a plea for some mutual understanding.' That's from the other side of Terri Schiavo, by Dave Gudeman. Not everything has been said about Schiavo. Until now, maybe."

"I have a feeling you're right, Tom. These are interesting choices so far. More?"

The stentorian voice of PZ Myers boomed across the circle. "'Spring is finally slinking into the northeast, and the backyard wildlife here is shaking off the winter torpor. Our oldest daughter, Charlotte--' (the class snickered)-- 'is now old enough to be curious about this biological exuberance. She likes to tell stories about little subterranean families of earthworm mommies and grub daddies, cram grapes in her cheeks in imitation of the chipmunks, and ask again and again about where the birds spend Christmas. This is, of course, hog heaven for a geeky science-writer father like myself--' (more snickering)-- 'but there is one subject that I hope she doesn't ask me about: how the garden snails have babies. Because then I would have to explain about the love darts.'" (General uproar.)

"Shhh, shhh," said Mr. Anderson, repeating his favorite phrase. "Well-read, PZ. A delightful excerpt from Carl Zimmer's Love Darts in the Backyard. (Uproar again.) "Okay, okay, shhh. Who's next?" He scanned the room, looking for someone making the mistake of eye contact. "Ah. Kathy B. What did you bring today?"

Kathy frowned only slightly. "Well, I was on a technical kick, reading John Darnielle's really really brilliant essay, Bits, about digital versus analog, or as he calls it, 'That hoariest of chestnuts.' I'll read a sample passage: 'Which is why there was no point in shifting away in the first place; digital's big PR point, or one of them, was that it was gonna democratize things. You wouldn't have to buy big expensive consoles, you wouldn't have to know a Neumann from an AKG, you wouldn't have to become tech-nerd-guy if you didn't want to. You'd have More Power.'"

"I like that last phrase. Very Monster-Monster-Monster Trucks," Mr. Anderson responded, pointing to Ryan Fenno, who now had his hand in the air.

"I don't have a selection to read," Ryan said, "but I'll describe it. Reverend Mykeru's tagline 'Serenity Through Viciousness' is in lights for The Right Wing's Persistent Vegetative State. Although it was written prior to Schiavo's passing, it really gives a great snapshot of how the blogosphere--especially the right wing political sector--dealt with the controversy."

"So I was right. There still is more to say about Terri Schiavo--yes, Matt?"

"This ought to sound familiar," replied another Anderson. "'Submissions must not be your own. Sorry. That's what other carnivals are for. Choose the best post you've read in the past week or two, perhaps with a brief (1-2 sentence) description or shout-out. There are no other criteria--just good writing, wherever you can find it.'"

"Leave it to our resident philosopher to bring a self-referential example," Mr. Anderson said, laughing. "All right--" he glanced at the roll sheet--"who hasn't shared yet? All the way at the end of the alphabet... Zivkovic. Bora Zivkovic."

"More Schiavo, I'm afraid. jonnybutter isn't too thrilled with Peggy Noonan, and takes a swipe at Nat Hentoff, too. Ranting, I believe, is the right word to describe this: 'Originally, I had a little delayed gratification here, tantalizing the reader with anticipation for the creamy-goodness, the sheer sugar-and-spice girlish charm of Noonan's piece to come. I'd had a brief detour into a column by legend-in-his-own-mind Nat Hentoff , who, as a 60s NYC hipster, I felt simply must be paired with Peggy in the context of this post. But...I thought better of it. Hentoff's column really didn't add anything, and was just full of stock lies you can read anywhere...' Ouch."

"Sounds a little like Mencken," Mr. Anderson said. "If you're in the mood for withering prose, you'll appreciate Ed Brayton's welcome-back to Alan Keyes." (From somewhere in the circle: "Who's Mencken?" "You'll know when you're older.")

jpe waited patiently until finally jumping into the conversation. "My hard drive crashed last night, so I had to go on the library computer and dig up something quick during ten-minute break. How about K-punk's theory-ish, counterintuitive reading of ethics and the family?"

"Sounds like--" and the bell rang, cutting Mr. Anderson short. As the students shuffled toward the door, he called out, "Don't forget next week's discussion." When the last backpack disappeared, he collapsed at his desk, worn out from the first-ever smarter than I.


Match some of our contributors with their very own blogs!

____ Mere Orthodoxy
____ Science and Politics
____ Pharyngula
____ L'esprit d'escalier
____ Imposter Syndrome

a) jpe
b) Matt Anderson
c) Ryan Fenno
d) PZ Myers
e) Bora Zivkovic

Thanks to everyone who contributed to the very first smarter than I; I'll be adding to my blogroll because of your choices. Thanks also for the publicity, which will continue to be a large factor in this carnival's growth.

The purpose is simple:
We already have enough carnivals where bloggers trumpet their own work. Let's share the love. I propose a new carnival titled "smarter than I," in recognition of those who are too humble, too busy, or too shy to submit their tidbits of genius.

You, too, can join in the fun. If you'd like to host a future smarter than I, email me at smarterthani at hotmail.com.

Send in your links for next time as well. Untapped talent is everywhere. Go find it!

Apr 4, 2005

at it again

Joe Carter is hosting another symposium.
For this quarter, I’ve decided to broaden the topic around the theme of Judeo-Christian morality in an ethically pluralistic society. Entries can explore the history of the concept, the applications toward public policy, the best means of arguing for it in the public square, or anything else that you choose.
Go forth and post.

on the way

We're starting small, but smarter than I will be ready for action pretty soon. It's technically too late to send in a link, but if you get it to smarterthani at hotmail dot com in the next few hours, I'll make a way to fit yours in...

smarter than I

We already have enough carnivals where bloggers trumpet their own work. Let's share the love. I propose a new carnival titled "smarter than I," in recognition of those who are too humble, too busy, or too shy to submit their tidbits of genius.


Submissions must not be your own. Sorry. That's what other carnivals are for. Choose the best post you've read in the past week or two, perhaps with a brief (1-2 sentence) description or shout-out. There are no other criteria--just good writing, wherever you can find it.

Submissions must include the post's title along with a working link, and may include a one- or two-sentence summary. I reserve the right to edit for grammar, spelling, and clarity. If I can't accept your link, I'll be sure to let you know exactly why.

Send your entries to smarterthanI at hotmail dot com by 3 pm PST, Monday, April 4. Pass the word along, too, if you get the hankerin'.

Update: Unless I'm petitioned for an extension, I hope to have the Carnival up by Tuesday. Thanks to Mark Olson of Pseudo-Polymath for sending in the first entry. Keep 'em comin'...

Update Update: Thanks to all the bloggers who've linked to this so far (including those I've missed), and for all those who've sent in their suggestions. So far, most of the entries are from lesser-known blogs, which is exactly what I'd hoped. smarterthanI at hotmail dot com...

Update cubed:
More thanks are in order. Remember, all you have to do is send a link. That's it. I'll do all the rest of the work, at no cost or obligation to you.

smarterthanI at hotmail dot com... only seven hours remain...

Apr 3, 2005

what's that on your face?

People are too polite.

I never thought I'd say it, but it's true.

A couple years ago, I marched around a college campus for an entire day with an embarrassing brown stain all over my chin. I had whacked myself shaving, but thought I had successfully stanched the blood before heading out. It wasn't until I returned to my apartment that I saw the massive brown streak, and wondered why no one said a word--not my roommates, my professors, my friends, total strangers, not anybody.

For who knows how long, this site has looked like crap in Internet Explorer. Is everyone using Firefox or Opera or Safari, is my laptop the problem, or are all of you just too nice to point out the obvious?

Your criticism, please. I can take it.

Apr 2, 2005

I get it. I don't get it.

This fascinating article from NewScientist points to one of the primary difficulties in artificial intelligence research: getting computers to recognize context clues. Companies want cheaper, faster ways to figure out if they're getting good or bad press.
So Corpora has come up with a program called Sentiment, which uses algorithms to tease out grammatical components, such as nouns, verbs and adjectives, and identify the subjects and objects of verbs. It can even analyse pronouns like “it”, “he” and “her” to work out what words or concepts they are referring to.

Having an understanding of grammatical structure makes it possible to filter out words that are not relevant to the sentiment of the article, Jacobi says. So instead of assuming certain words, such as “unpredictable” or “rubbish”, are positive or negative it allows the structural context to disambiguate them....

What makes this kind of analysis so challenging is that key words in a text often offer no clues as to what sentiment they carry. Some of the toughest challenges to comprehension, such as identifying irony and rhetoric, are likely to remain unsolved for some time.
How do you teach a computer to recognize that "fat chance" and "slim chance" mean the same thing? Perhaps irony is a sort of absolute value function--remember those from Algebra I?--where |-5| = 5. So, in order to help teach computers to recognize sarcasm and other forms of irony, let's slightly modify Josh Greenman's idea, and surround ironic statements with absolute value functions. |The future of artificial intelligence is now.|

yet another way to while away the hours

Join in the fun!

dying in the light

Luis Alberto Urrea, The Devil's Highway

Its substance is violent: twenty-six migrants, led by a perniciously naive Coyote, try to enter El Norte through a stretch of impassable desert known as El Camino Diablo.... [read more]