Well that didn’t work at all

It was my hope that a mash up of Pop Will Eat Itself’s 1989 gem “Can U Dig It?” (video) and Clint Mansell’s “Lux Æterna” (music) from the “Requiem for a Dream” soundtrack would have been charming as heck. I was mistaken. Sometimes, mixing two unlike things can be interesting and even illuminating. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work.

Fortunately, both of these things are marvelous on their own, so I’ll just give them to you separately.

“Can U Dig It?” by Pop Will Eat Itself:

“Lux Æterna” by Clint Mansell:

P.S. Mr. Mansell was the singer for PWEI, which is why I thought it would be so clever. Kind of an important bit of information to leave out, huh?

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When I was younger, I believed that an allergic reaction to, say, poison ivy, meant that poison ivy was terribly damaging to my body. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that the poison ivy, while certainly not good for me, wasn’t really the problem. The problem was that my body was overreacting to the poison ivy and that most of the symptoms were my own immune system going absolutely crazy. Almost all of the damage inflicted by allergies comes not from the substance itself, but from the reaction within the body.

Terrorists cannot hope to achieve a military victory in the traditional sense. They are almost invariably, a relatively small, poorly trained, and poorly equipped group of fanatics. Their goals, whatever they are, cannot be achieved on the battlefield. No matter how effectively they strike their foes, they cannot hope to succeed without their enemies doing the majority of the damage to themselves.

I despise arguments that seek to persuade by stating “If X happens, then the terrorists win!” This is an emotional appeal that is meant to make the other party seem to be siding with the terrorists if that party continues to disagree. More importantly, I’ve never known anyone who makes this kind of argument to have taken any time to step back and consider what a terrorist “victory” would look like. If they were to actually think about it, they might come to some conclusions which would make them very, very uncomfortable.


Filed under Personal

Real Life as a Role Playing Game

Before reading any further, I urge you to read Tricia Sullivan’s guest post on Charlie Stross’ site. It’s a meaty, thoughtful piece chock full o’ ideas that make you think. I’m looking forward to her next three posts on antipope and I’ve already added her to my RSS feed. Seriously, go read it. I’ll wait.

Back? Ok, now on to what the things that Tricia’s post knocked loose in my head.

I remember seeing Boogie Nights and being struck by just how well is portray an idea that I’d been playing around with but hadn’t really found the words for. The best I’ve managed to-date is “niche celebrity.” The sort of celebrity that one achieves in an insular community that has almost no bearing on one’s status in the world-at-large. I remember Burt Reynolds, near the end of the film, trying to get some kid off the street interested in “Roller Girl” and how he didn’t seem to understand how little that name meant outside of his clique.

Seeing Rush Limbaugh on Monday Night Football (yes, that really happened) evoked that same sense of someone who was a big deal in his element trying to come to grips with the fact that the general American public was a very different audience. Just like the Burt Reynolds character in Boogie Nights, Limbaugh seemed completely unaware of exactly why people reacted to him differently than they did inside his bubble.

These are just two examples, but you can probably think of others in your everyday life. There are people who are really in to karaoke, and they’re well known in their circles. People who engage heavily with particular subcultures (goths, I’m looking at you) may be well known in their groups but whose names would be completely unknown to most of us. When I was younger, I was reasonably well known by the participants in a sports league in my town, and I was significantly more aggressive and self-assured in that environment. It was, in fact, similar to the well-known online role-playing game where I am not me, I am a shaman who commands elemental powers beyond the ken of mere mortals!

Which is, in a roundabout way, my point. I think, and I’m still working on this, that these niches which produce their own local celebrities and hierarchies are much more like LARP-ing than the participants realize. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I get the impression that when people engage in these subcultures and activities and hobbies, they’re playing a role. They have their own social order, their own rules, that are quite outside of those of general society. Sullivan’s description of the various orders of martial arts struck me as very much in the same vein. They’re as much about role-playing within the particular discipline as they are about actual self-defense.

I suspect, although I haven’t given it much thought yet, that jobs fall very much into the same category. The rewards for playing the game well are different, but the dynamic seems very much the same. At this point, we’re very close to the fina issue of volume 3 of Grant Morrison’s “The Invisibles.” wherein he suggests the possibility that a great deal of one’s personality is discretionary role-playing. I won’t go quite that far…yet.

This is, of course, not at all what I intended to write about today. Blame Tricia Sullivan for that. (You can’t see it, but I’m winking and smiling as I say/write that).


P.S. I’m well aware of the fact that I’m assuming a character for this blog and I’m not even entirely sure it’s the best of my characters for this particular discussion. That makes it more fun, doesn’t it?

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Protonmail update

(As a mea culpa for the spelling errors in the subject line of a couple of recent posts, I’m going to skip politics today and try to be helpful.)

I’ve been using Protonmail for last six weeks  (my initial post can be found here) and figured now would be a good time to share my initial impressions:

1) I’ve been using Protonmail lightly because it’s kind of a pain to use a temporary e-mail address regularly. One of the coming features is support for user domains and, as soon as that is available, I plan on making Protonmail the home of my primary email address. As it is, I’m only using wtf.pancakes@protonmail.ch sporadically.

2) The interface is quite nice and intuitive. I wouldn’t say that it’s markedly better than other webmail products, but it’s more than good enough. I do like it better than GMail’s interface and I used Gmail for years.

3) Given the light usage, I haven’t come close to bumping up against the message or storage limits. Looking at my other accounts, I doubt I will any time soon even when I move mail.wtfpancakes.eu over to it.

4) It really needs a critical mass of users. I haven’t come across very many other users of Protonmail so many of the features are currently collecting dust. I can confirm that the “encrypt for outside users” function works reasonably well, although I can imagine the recipients finding it inconvenient.

Honestly, thus far, I’ve only taken it for the equivalent of a test drive; I’ve yet to really take it out on the highway and see how it performs. So far, so good, but “so far” isn’t terribly far yet.


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Galt’s Gulch Revisited

They seem to be having troubles with their web site. I’ve been getting this for the last week when I try to bring it up:


I’m going to assume that all of those rugged individualists are frantically working to get the site back up. That has to be the reason why they haven’t yet responded to my inquiry. While I eagerly await their response, I’m not holding my breath…

EDIT: Title corrected. Never, ever post without copious amounts of coffee in your system.

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The National Review as arbiters of Politically Acceptable Art

Thank you all for checking out yesterday’s post discussing, among other things, the curious tendency of modern conservatives to discard facts that threaten their ideology. Of course, this way of thinking goes way beyond mere facts. Art that portrays ideas contrary to the conservative worldview should be shunned for showing the world as anything other than what they want it to be.

Last month, the National Review published this delicious list of…well, let me let them explain it:

Not just entertainment, the 20 films listed here effectively destroyed art, social unity, and spiritual confidence. They constitute a corrupt, carelessly politicized canon.

Have you ever met “that guy” who can find something to offend him in everything they see? “That guy” apparently wrote this list.What films does he claim destroyed “art, social unity, and spiritual confidence”? Radical polemics like “Knocked Up”, “Precious”, “The Hangover”, and “Wall-E!” The real winner, though, is #1:

Good Night and Good Luck (2005) — George Clooney, president of the corrupt canon, directed and acted in a dishonest fantasy biopic of TV-news icon Edward R. Murrow to revive blacklist lore as part of a liberal agenda.

On the off chance you missed it, a guy who is complaining about films that don’t pass his political litmus test destroying (and I’ll never get tired of saying this) “art, social unity, and spiritual confidence” listed a film about blacklisting as the #1 culprit. You can’t buy that kind of sublime irony these days.

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The Economist, Slavery, Capitalism, and what “political correctness” ought to mean

I reckon most of you have heard about the review of Edward Baptist’s book The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism published in The Economist earlier this week. If not, you missed a doozy: The anonymous reviewer gave the book a negative review for failing to describe the benefits of slavery:

“Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery; almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains — this is not history; it is advocacy.”

Needless to say, The Economist swiftly retracted the review.

Obviously, the reaction was swift and strong, with the vast majority of writers excoriating The Economist for publish such an incredibly racist review. The rest of the internet has been kind of scratching their collective head, wondering why any respectable magazine would publish such a deeply weird review.  Speculating about their reason for publishing the review  is far more interesting than simply bashing them for doing so.  The best piece I’ve read on the subject thus far comes from historian Will B. Mackintosh.

Mackintosh’s speculation is very familiar to me and I think he’s on the right track. He suspects that the review was the result of some outcome-oriented thinking on the part of the staff at The Economist. If the positions put forward in the book are true, then American capitalism is monstrous. Ergo, the positions must be false and biased (“advocacy”).

I’ve seen this sort of thing over and over again in American conservatives. Michele Bachmann believes that the founding fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery.* The National Review and others can publish stories about how the conservatives were the real heroes of the American civil rights movement.** Ronald Reagan believed he didn’t trade arms for hostages even though he did.*** Rush Limbaugh believes that a Bible verse demonstrating the wisdom of taxation is actually about lowering taxes**** and, hell, just take your pick of just about anything about global warming on Freerepublic.com. The consequences of the truth are ruinous for their politics, so it can’t be true!

Isn’t this what ought to be called “political correctness”? A fact that supports you political beliefs is true; a fact that contradicts your political beliefs is false. Doesn’t that make “political correctness” a much more intuitive and evocative expression? I’m certain Orwell would heartily approve.


* “… we also know that the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States,” – Michele Bachmann

** Alas, the National Review has removed the original story, but here’s my source.

*** “A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower board reported, what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages.” – President Ronald Reagan

**** “the lowering of tax rates on grain from 90% to 20%, giving 7 fat years during the days of Pharaoh in Egypt. You can trace individual prosperity, economic growth back to the Bible, the Old Testament.”  Rush Limbaugh


Filed under Politics, Writing

“leaks” vs. “theft”

Short and sweet today: When celebrities have their personal property and/or information posted online, that’s a “theft”, not a “leak.” A leak suggests that someone with legitimate access to the information, or someone in the employ of the person or persons with access, has released the information to the public. Theft is when someone breaks in and takes it. They’re different.

If someone hacks your home computer, takes your passwords and bank information, that haven’t “leaked” the information; they’ve stolen it. The same is true of credit card numbers, personal contacts, or, more to the point, photographs. These nude celebrity images flooding the web right now aren’t “scandalous leaks”, they’re stolen property. Please remember that if you feel like you’re not doing any harm by seeking them out.

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Compare and Contrast

Today, I present you with not one, but two points of view on the same subject: Sea turtle conservation! One of my favorite charities, Sea Turtle, Inc., linked a column by Dan Smith concerning the efforts to preserve sea turtle nests by banning cars on the beach in Volusia County, Florida. Dan is unconvinced that cars were a hazard to the turtles:

Turtles being killed by cars on the beach was a non-happening. Those of us who had often driven the beach at night for years could not ever remember such a thing taking place. Of course that did not stop the protesters from saying it was going on.

In fact, Smith goes on to make what I believe is an extraordinary claim:

The real truth was that because of the population growth and cars on the beach, thousands and maybe millions of turtles were being spared.

Oh my stars. Cars on the beach had a hand in sparing “maybe millions of turtles.” Man, if that’s that case, we need to ensure that cars are driven over turtle nesting areas all the time. It’s difficult to imagine any conservation method being as effective as driving cars on beaches. At least, that’s the case if what Dan says is true.

As a counterpoint, I’d like to present this paper produced by Katherine R. Butler for the Florida State University Journal of Land Use and Environment Law. Given how absolute Smith was in making his claims, it’s shocking, shocking I tell you, that Butler reaches a different conclusion:

In areas where motor vehicles are allowed on the beach or where illegal beach driving occurs, the use of headlights during night driving can disrupt the nesting process and disorient hatchlings.[92] Tire ruts can interfere with the hatchlings’ ability to reach the sea,[93] and vehicles can damage nests and run over hatchlings.[94] Beach cleaning equipment causes similar problems.[95] In addition to the creation of ruts and compaction of nests by heavy machinery, beach cleaning rakes can penetrate or uncover nests.[96]

Hrm…that’s not what Mr. Smith said at all. Those little numerical doodads at the end of the sentences are footnotes that link to actual backing evidence for Butler’s claims. I like ‘em. They’re like little, paper-based hyperlinks to source material.

My goal in writing this is not to pile on Mr. Smith, but rather to illustrate a brilliant example of why critical thought ought to be taught in our schools. The first piece appears to have been written to promote the conclusion the author wants the reader to believe (the headline “How people on the beach saved the turtles” is a pretty good clue) and proceeds to engage in a laundry list of rhetorical tricks such as “red herrings”, ad hominem* attacks”, and “making shit up.” Those should be a red flag to any reader who knows what to look for. Meanwhile, Butler’s paper begins with a question and then presents data relevant to the question. You could teach a course on bullshit detection using these two works.

In the interest of fairness, I’m not above engaging in some logical fallacies in the service of “writing amusingly” or “making a point.” I don’t do it on purpose, and I’m not proud of it when I go back and read some of what I read. So, if you’re of a mind to cast some stones in my direction, by all means, do so. Doing something that you criticize in others doesn’t make you a hypocrite; thinking that it’s ok for you to do it when it’s wrong for others does.

* I was deeply amused by the fact that Google kept trying to correct hominem to “Eminem.”



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