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October 2008

Friday Ephemera

Interactive 360º light field display. Yes, it’s done with mirrors. (h/t, The Thin Man) // Things found in the folds of fat people’s skin. Cutlery, marijuana, uneaten sandwiches. // The personal blimp. I’m sorely tempted. // A gallery of vintage airships. // Airship rides. $495. // Ejaculation “a potential treatment for nasal congestion.” Or perhaps not. // Being offended on someone else’s behalf. (h/t, AMac) // “What are the Joker’s powers again?” // Marvel superheroes versus giant robot. // Ninja Terminator. // Vintage detective badges. // Underwater panoramas. // Galapagos sea life. Wait for the whale shark. (h/t, Coudal) // Collective animal nouns. A siege of herons, a parcel of hogs. // A visual history of video recorders. // A time-lapse tutorial. // Baconnaise. // Brokers with hands on their faces. // Broccoli mystery deepens. // And, via The Thin Man, it’s Mr Kim Jong-il.  


Robert Bluey offers an experiment in wealth redistribution

In a local restaurant my server had on an Obama 08 tie; again I laughed as he had given away his political preference - just imagine the coincidence. When the bill came I decided not to tip the server and explained to him that I was exploring the Obama redistribution of wealth concept. He stood there in disbelief while I told him that I was going to redistribute his tip to someone who I deemed more in need – the homeless guy outside. The server angrily stormed from my sight. I went outside, gave the homeless guy $10 and told him to thank the server inside as I’ve decided he could use the money more. The homeless guy was grateful.

At the end of my rather unscientific redistribution experiment I realized the homeless guy was grateful for the money he did not earn, but the waiter was pretty angry that I gave away the money he did earn even though the actual recipient deserved money more. I guess redistribution of wealth is an easier thing to swallow in concept than in practical application.

One might, I think, quibble about the distinction between “deserved” and “needed,” but still, it’s worth some reflection. 

(h/t, The Thin Man)

Much Tutting, Bluster

The Guardian’s Theo Hobson tells us why he doesn’t approve of James Bond: 

It feels like breaking rank with modern heterosexual British malehood, to which I more or less belong, but here goes. I hate James Bond. The continuation of his cult disgusts me, embarrasses me, depresses me.

Poor lamb.

Call me Licensed to Killjoy, but it has to be said: this cult hero is a deeply malign cultural presence. He represents a nasty, cowardly part of us that ought to have been killed off long ago.

Er, killed off by whom, and how? A hail of bullets? Laser beams? Or just the weight of tutting and pretentious disapproval?

Of course there is a very serious case to be made against 007 on strictly feminist grounds. The women in the books and films are silly, naughty, flimsy things who need hard male mastery.

It seems Mr Hobson hasn’t seen recent Bond outings – say, any made in the last fifteen years - in which female characters are spies, assassins and fighter pilots and typically portrayed as tenacious, resourceful and absurdly competent, no less so than Bond himself. Hence, perhaps, the continuing popularity of this “malign cultural presence.”

I don't know how offensive this is to women, but it’s offensive to me. Indeed I think the real victims of the Bond cult are men, who are impelled by a vile peer-pressure to worship at the shrine of this lethal lothario… The fact is that James Bond’s sexual career does real harm to the male psyche… I seriously believe that Bond is a big factor in the sexual malfunction of our times; the difficulty we have finding life-long partners, and the normalisation of pornography.

As so often, Guardian commentators are singularly immune to the “vile peer pressure” which presumably controls all other sentient beings. Still, at least we can count on them to direct us in our tastes, i.e. away from amusingly hyperbolical cinema and towards socio-political righteousness. I’m sure it will be good for us, if not exactly fun.

Continue reading "Much Tutting, Bluster" »

Friday Ephemera

Large gentleman retains dignity in difficult circumstances. (h/t, Metrolander) // Bacon gumballs. // Fluorescent fish. // The shoe-fitting fluoroscope. (h/t, Coudal) // Curta calculators. // Garrett Lisi on particles and symmetries. // Atomic pen writes with individual atoms, slowly. // Photomicrographs. // A short film about the London Underground map. // Robert Hughes on skyscrapers, from American Visions. // Does your studio have a rubber exterior? // More concept cars. // Jet engine tests. // The Battlestar Galactica PC upgrade. Flashes, hums, doesn’t jump. // H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. // The innards of Godzilla. // A short summary of socialism. And another. // The Communist fever of William Ayers. (h/t, TDK) // SDA Late Nite Radio Archive. Crime thrillers, music, a feast of oddments. // Ghost towns. // More Watchmen footage. // “It’s the stickiest dry glue yet.” // The eyeballing game. // Cancer-fighting beer. // And, via The Thin Man, it’s Mr Louis Armstrong.

Insatiable Delusions

In a recent post on political bias in the classroom, I pointed out the insatiable nature of academic radicalism:

“Radical” academics aren’t driven to greater extremes and grander, more lurid claims because society is becoming more sexist, racist or whatever. The caricatures they become are a result of their own narcissism and a need to be oppositional, or be seen as oppositional. As mainstream society in general becomes less fixated by race, gender, sexuality, etc, so peddlers of grievance and victimhood must search out - or invent - something to oppose. Overstatement and escalation are all but inevitable.

Several, rather vivid, examples were given, but if another illustration is needed, here’s Martin Kramer on Rashid Khalidi, a terribly oppressed radical now anointed as Edward Said Professor at Columbia University:

Consider this strident claim: “There’s a ludicrous allegation that the universities are liberal. That allegation is ludicrous because huge chunks of the university which nobody ever talks about are extremely conservative by their very nature.” (Notice the trademark hyperbole: ludicrous, huge, extremely.) Khalidi mentions business and med schools, but doesn’t stop there - no, he can’t stop there. For Khalidi is determined to prove that there’s a plot to snuff out the last embers of liberal dissent on campus.

Yes, of course. That poor besieged minority of left-leaning educators who huddle in corners furtively and whisper their utopian dreams.

Continue reading "Insatiable Delusions" »

Precious Birds

Further to ongoing rumblings about classroom monoculture, political grooming and the disrepute of certain subjects, this may amuse. Software developer Chip Morningstar ponders academic insularity: 

Every day I have to explain what I do to people who are different from me -  marketing people, technical writers, my boss, my investors, my customers - none of whom belong to my profession or share my technical background or knowledge. As a consequence, I’m constantly forced to describe what I know in terms that other people can at least begin to understand. My success in my job depends to a large degree on my success in so communicating. At the very least, in order to remain employed I have to convince somebody else that what I'm doing is worth having them pay for it.

Contrast this situation with that of academia. Professors of Literature or History or Cultural Studies in their professional life find themselves communicating principally with other professors of Literature or History or Cultural Studies. They also, of course, communicate with students, but students don’t really count. Graduate students are studying to be professors themselves and so are already part of the in-crowd… They publish in peer reviewed journals, which are not only edited by their peers but published for and mainly read by their peers (if they are read at all). Decisions about their career advancement, tenure, promotion, and so on are made by committees of their fellows. They are supervised by deans and other academic officials who themselves used to be professors of Literature or History or Cultural Studies…

What you have is rather like birds on the Galapagos Islands - an isolated population with unique selective pressures resulting in evolutionary divergence from the mainland population. There’s no reason you should be able to understand what these academics are saying because, for several generations, comprehensibility to outsiders has not been one of the selective criteria to which they’ve been subjected. What’s more, it’s not particularly important that they even be terribly comprehensible to each other, since the quality of academic work, particularly in the humanities, is judged primarily on the basis of politics and cleverness. […]

For instance, the cleverness that allows Duke’s Professor Miriam Cooke to argue, or rather assert, that the oppression and misogyny found in the Islamic world is the fault of globalisation and Western colonialism, despite the effects predating their alleged causes by several centuries. Professor Cooke also claims “polygamy can be liberating and empowering.” 

The basic enterprise of contemporary literary criticism is actually quite simple. It is based on the observation that with a sufficient amount of clever hand waving and artful verbiage, you can interpret any piece of writing as a statement about anything at all… “Deconstruction” is based on a specialization of the principle, in which a work is interpreted as a statement about itself, using a literary version of the same cheap trick that Kurt Gödel used to try to frighten mathematicians back in the thirties.

Indeed. And this is the process by which any number of phantom subtexts are detected, and by which the alleged “feminist philosopher of science” Sandra Harding comes to imagine that it’s “illuminating and honest” to refer to Newton’s Principia as a “rape manual”. 

Morningstar goes on to provide a helpful, and pretty accurate, guide to deconstruction

Related: Let’s Play Bamboozle!

Unserious Voodoo

Carnal Reason notes a difference in how politicians’ religious beliefs are often regarded, depending on their politics:

Many critics stand ready to mock Palin’s Christianity. Fair enough. Will they also mock Obama’s and Biden’s?

Christianity is a miracle religion. Absent belief in the miraculous, there is nothing left of Christianity worth the name. Here is the story in a nutshell: Christ was both man and God. God took on human flesh and entered into the physical world to perform a mission. The mission was to save the fallen human race, and to do so Christ had to die and then rise from the dead. That is why Easter, not Christmas, is the greatest of Christian holidays. It celebrates the Resurrection, the central dogma of Christianity. This is not my just my opinion, it is orthodox Christian teaching. In Corinthians 15:17 Paul states that “if Christ be not raised, your faith is in vain”.

Obama has gone on record as stating that Christ is his Lord, that he prays to Jesus. I see three possibilities: 1. Obama was lying: he believes no such thing, but finds it politically expedient to claim he does. 2. Obama accepts as fact the Resurrection of Christ. 3. Obama is an idiot.

Obama is no idiot. So does he believe that a corpse dead on Friday came back to life on Sunday? And if so, does he accept as facts the rest of Christ’s miracles? Prior to his death, Christ is said to have resurrected a corpse, made the blind see, walked on water, and turned water into wine. I can’t see why anyone would believe in the Resurrection, and deny the rest. Why strain at gnats? The theory that the earth is only 6000 years old appears to be pre-scientific nonsense. It contradicts known facts about the rates at which radioactive materials decay. By the same token, a corpse coming back to life violates the laws of thermodynamics, and walking on water violates the laws of gravity.

So far as I know Palin is not a Young Earther. But if she were, her belief would be no more at odds with science than is Obama’s stated belief that Christ is Lord. I suspect those who mock Palin’s belief without mocking Obama’s do so because in their hearts they imagine that Obama does not actually believe. He just says what he has to say to attain power. And they’re ok with that.  They mock Palin because they imagine she means what she says.

I do not see how belief in the Resurrection or in the Young Earth theory has much practical bearing on fitness to execute the responsibilities of office. I do think it would be gross dishonesty to claim to believe in Christ, if one does not so believe, merely to gain office. The man who would lie about that would lie about anything.

The whole thing.


In the comments, Georges points out that a willingness to lie about religious beliefs, if that’s what’s happening, doesn’t prove that a candidate would therefore “lie about anything.” I agree. But CR’s broader argument does highlight an assumption and double standard which seems fairly common and ought to be noted for what it is. Perhaps some voters prefer suspected insincerity (in this matter at least) to suspected credulousness and irrationality. But if that’s the case, wouldn’t it be better, if not good, to acknowledge that is what’s being assumed? I also like the notion of weighing Biblical miracles and trying to decide which is less impossible and thus more rational. Is a resurrected messiah less or more impossible than, say, walking on water? Can an impossible thing be more impossible than another impossible thing? Is that how impossibility works – in degrees? Or is it a matter of counting the number of impossible things a given candidate believes, or claims to believe, and opting for the one with the shorter list? The assumptions being made aren’t entirely obvious.

Friday Ephemera

Hats made of hair. And they look like animals. // The perils of showing off. // Zo explains his politics. 1, 2, 3. (h/t, The Thin Man) // “Evil imperialist hegemon” remarkably popular. // Radical Lesbians versus Libertarian Trannies. // Real-life Transformers. Well, nearly. // A Reggie Perrin moment. // Nifty subwoofers. // Opniyama. // Interact with zombies. (nsfw) // Plants have rights and feelings too. Or not. // Food sculptures. // A century of toothpaste. (h/t, Coudal) // The fearsome Sun. // Saturn V slow-motion launch. // More high-speed photography. // Machines that draw. // Reconstituted Star Trek. // River deep, mountain high. // And, via The Thin Man, it’s The Skatalites.