Sunday, November 23, 2003

O would some god the giftie gie us...


Recently I've gotten some email from word-of-mouth-connection.com. People can register that they have experience with a particular person or business, say something about how well they know said entity and how recent their experience is, and then others who want to find out about said entity can go looking through the database and inquire via email; the contacts are done anonymously.

At the time of writing, there are apparently three people who claim to know me well who have registered that fact, and hence, I suppose, their willingness to tell others about me, and one person looking to find out about me.

I guess that it's good that word-of-mouth-connection.com tells me that this is happening...but to be honest, it creeps me out. That, in turn, probably points out my tendency to assume the worst. For all I know, the three people are happily telling anyone who asks that I'm a heck of a guy, but I would have been happy to continue to not think about people talking about me behind my back. If it's anonymous, I suppose I could email the three and ask what they think, and the one and ask what he or she wants to know, but I'm not sure I want to find out.

Ah, well. As the guy said at the end of Asimov's "The Dead Past," happy goldfish bowl, everybody.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

OK, now say "shibboleth"...


Computers are far more widespread than they used to be--which perforce means that most of the people who use them are ignorant of how they work, just as most people couldn't tell you how their TVs, cars, or phones work. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) So, how can you tell the posers from the real deal? One sure mark of someone who doesn't know diddly about computers is this: referring to mass storage space (hard disk, CD-ROM, DVD-ROM) as "memory."

What are some other misstatements that reveal computer ignorance? Someone should compile a list of them--so send your favorites our way, please!

Friday, October 10, 2003

Not the best intro, I guess...



I probably would be more favorably inclined to Joan of Arcadia had I watched it from the beginning, but I started with this evening's episode.

Joan of Arcadia is sort of the mutant offspring of Touched by an Angel and Calvin and Hobbes. Did you ever notice how, if agents of the divine really did all the stuff that the angels on TbaA did, there would be no doubt at all of the existence of a non-denominational Christian God? JoA bypasses that problem by making God an ever-shifting Hobbes to Joan's Calvin. God/Hobbes tells Joan/Calvin what to do, and occasionally gives the stray oblique lecture (apologies to Brian Eno). Joan is supposedly trying to figure out just what God has in mind, but if the producers have any sense, it will never happen; just as the unseen monster is always scarier than the guy in the rubber suit who finally emerges, any supposed divine plan that the writers come up with will necessarily seem lame. (Though come to think of it, if the blatant hint of the title holds, any end is going to be pretty definitive...)

Tonight, there are three plot threads: Joan's family's reactions to her brother's paralysis, Joan's interactions with the in crowd at high school, and the bringing in of a "psychic" in a kidnapping case. Joan's father, the new chief of police in the town they've moved into, is the voice of rationality, and doesn't at all appreciate the psychic. In a tense interaction between the two, the psychic claims to have gained her talents after a near-death experience, and asks him whether it's "the tragedy" that makes him so resistant to her presence.

I am extremely disappointed in the writers of this show; they had and blew a wonderful opportunity for the father to take the "psychic" to task. What he should have said at that point is, "How dare you live off the suffering of others! You've just begun a 'cold reading,' asking vague leading questions to try to pump me for information that you can then claim to have gotten from the spirits or via your supposed powers. Nearly everybody has had some tragedy, and if I happen to be someone who has managed to avoid personal tragedy, you could claim that you were referring to the disappearance. You can sucker a lot of people, even intelligent people, with that scam, but not this time. Now get out!"

Why is it that the media so often pander to pseudoscience like this?
Can't the rational characters get the upper hand once in a while?

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Verbal Abuse as Entertainment



When I grew up, my parents always told me that there was a sort of person who needed to tear down others to try to salvage his or her nonexistent self-esteem, and that I should not be that sort of person. Judging by radio and TV today, though, such people seem to be doing awfully well.

Verbal abuse is now a popular entertainment form. Weakest Link, American Idol, Cupid... all “reality shows” that showcase and derive their popularity from gratuitous viciousness. David Letterman has made a career of finding people from “flyover country” and interviewing them in such a way that he and his audience can derive their sick jollies from feeling hip and superior. Such interviews and prank calls are a major feature of, for example, Mancow Muller’s syndicated radio show. We’ve already mentioned “Dr. Laura.” One sees the actions of, say, Simon Cowell rationalized as “honesty” or “tough love”—but one can be honest without being vicious or abusive.

So why are these TV and radio shows doing so well? Have we turned into the people that our parents warned us not to be, or a cowardly variant thereof who just enjoy watching someone else do the dirty work? It doesn’t speak very well for us.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

Grumble, Grumble...


I have just one thing to say to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for not giving the Best Animated Feature award to Lilo and Stitch:


Meega na la kweesta!

Sic Transit


The Islamic cultures once were important centers of philosophy, science, mathematics, and literature. Just go through a technical dictionary looking for words that start with al- (Arabic for "the"): algebra, algorithm, alcohol, aldehyde... We have them to thank for the Alhambra, Leyli and Majnun (whose influence stretches through Tristan and Isolde, Romeo and Juliet, and Derek and the Dominoes), and the poetry of Rumi. (Speaking of the Alhambra--the Moors were considerably more tolerant than Los Reyes Católicos, who offered the Jews the choice of conversion or eviction shortly after coming to power.)


So, how on earth could such a culture produce the vile beasts who now rule Iraq, or who make sure schoolgirls dressed "indecently" don't escape burning buildings? Are such people the norm, or are they as reviled in their culture as Nazis and their deluded followers are in the West? I'd like to think the latter.

Saturday, February 22, 2003

On Its Way Back...


Anyone who listens to the radio knows that commercial music radio, with very few exceptions, is the "vast wasteland" of Newton Minow's immortal phrase. If you want something out of the ordinary, or even if your tastes just differ from the homogenized focus-group dreck that the large media companies know is best for you, the place to go is to webcasting...and one of the very best webcasters was Luxuria Music.


Luxuria Music featured a wild and varied blend of music. They encouraged feedback, and actually played requests (like the old days!). Alas, in April 2001 it went away, but...if you go to the LM web site today, you'll find that it's coming back on March 1, 2003. This is good news indeed. Until then, you can listen to recordings of old LM shows on a live365.com stream. Check it out.


Update from after their relaunch--they've gone over to making people listen to three minutes of ads before they get to hear the music, and have chosen a Windows Media Player/Internet Explorer-only setup for doing that... and when I tried it on a Windows box, I got the "this page is trying to run a DirectX plugin, but your security settings aren't letting it run, so this web page may not work," and sure enough, it didn't--after letting it sit there for five minutes or so claiming to be loading something, I killed it. So it seems that Luxuria has succumbed to the Great Satan, and doesn't care to use open standards for its stream. I urge people interested in good music to check out BeOS Radio.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Buzz Off, Robert Browning...


Grow old along with me,
The best is yet to be!
The last of life, for which the first was made...

Browning is full of it. Aging sucks. Systems break down, and it's not going to get better. To borrow a phrase from Tom Lehrer, you're "sliding down the razor blade of life."
I just hope that Ray Kurzweil and Hans Moravec are right, or better yet, too conservative, and I can download myself into a Primo 3M+ body.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Not to Be Missed


Just got home from seeing the National Theater of the Deaf's production of Oh, Figaro! based on the Beaumarchais characters that gave rise to Le Nozze di Figaro and The Barber of Seville (which I don't remember the Italian for....). They kicked serious posterior; the show was a hoot. It was signed and spoken, and while I'm sure there was ASL wordplay that sailed right over my head (I'm a rank beginner at the language), I still had a wonderful time. If it comes to your area, don't miss it. If it doesn't come to your area, go to its area.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Experts in Their Field


If political affairs should ever hinge on the proper use of vibrato, I will listen to what Barbra Streisand has to say about it. Should the fate of the homeless depend on proper blocking, I will defer to Mike Farrell...


...but until then, could the entertainment industry collectively take its pontification and rants elsewhere?


I commend this petition to your attention.

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

The Ubiquity of Kitsch, and Preachiness

It's February, and we're about to see Washington and Lincoln reduced to shilling for car and furniture outlets again. I can't help thinking that is the ultimate fate of rulers everywhere:
  • Two very good friends once went to Europe, and they brought me back a souvenir—a T-shirt with the standard issue cartoon image of a Viking and the caption "ERIK BLOODAXE RULES OK"
  • I got to go to Japan once. I wound up with a coworker at the re-rebuilt Osaka Castle, still impressive even though it is not as large as the initial structure. Up on the third floor was the souvenir shop, where you could get Hideyoshi Toyotomi knicknacks.
  • Caesar, of course, sells pizzas these days (but who'd buy a pizza with a spear hole through it?)
  • As for King Tut, two words: Steve Martin. (Yes, I realize he was making fun of the marketing of Tutankhamen.)
Sturgeon's Law ("90% of everything is crap") seems to apply particularly to Christian music. I think I know part of the reason.

Remember Edith Hamilton's insightful distinction between Greek mythology and Norse mythology? In MTV generation terms, Greek mythology is like series TV; you know the good guys will win, and nothing can really change, lest continuity break. Norse mythology is like a movie. In hopes of minimizing the angular velocity of Ms. Hamilton's grave, here's a closer paraphrase: Greek mythology has no heroes, at least among the gods, because they always win. In Norse mythology, the gods are heroes, because they act even though they know that Ragnarok is coming and they're all going to die.

Christianity, at least the simple-minded Christianity of much Christian music, is like Greek mythology in that respect. Everything is going to be fine, and there's one answer to everything. Unfortunately, preaching is dull, and life's not like that. The best religious lyrics, as the English teacher always said, show rather than tell, and aren't cocksure: for example, "Mary was an Only Child" on Art Garfunkel's Angel Clare album, T.S. Eliot's "The Journey of the Magi," Holst's gorgeous setting of "Lullay My Liking," or Jars of Clay's "Flood."

I shouldn't pick specifically on Christian music, though; I've just been listening to a pagan webcast, and Wiccans can be just as preachy, as a really bad song I just heard about the "Burning Times" that parrotted the hype shows (come on, people, the reality was bad enough). Protest songs of course, often beat you over the head with preachiness and the singer's self-righteousness. (Speaking of which, two words: Natalie Merchant.)

Saturday, February 01, 2003

Government as God


Bill Clinton several times referred to a "new covenant" between the US government and the American people. You'll recall that the original covenant was that between God and Israel, followed, according to the Christian faith, by a new covenant between God and Christians, mediated by Christ.


Am I alone in being disturbed by such language and the implied equating of government with a god? What a monstrous ego it must take to liken oneself to Moses or Christ, and how different from the point of view of the Founding Fathers, who at least tried to carefully limit the powers of government!


Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. —George Washington

Why bring this up when Clinton is, thank goodness, no longer President? Because George W. Bush, while not exalting himself as Clinton did, still uses religious imagery. "Power, power, wonder-working power" belongs in the old hymn to the blood of the Lamb of God, but Bush attributes it to "the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people." Is there any operational difference between that and Clinton's deification of government? Considering the stream of massive new federal government spending programs GWB proposed in the same speech, I fear that there might not be.


(Side note: despite what you might guess from the above, I am effectively an atheist.)

Assorted Despicable Things and People, Part Two


Dr. Laura


I actually listened to some of one of her shows (not voluntarily; I was traveling with a friend, and we were scanning the AM band for something to listen to). Callers to her show must either be desperate or masochistic, to put up with her rudeness and verbal abuse, and the fans must have a sadistic streak. Dr. Laura (whose doctorate is in physiology, having nothing to do with how she makes a living these days) is big on family...but a few weeks ago her mother's dead body was discovered in an apartment, apparently having been there unnoticed for months. Dr. Laura tells callers to stop sniveling and "face the day," but check out her behavior on a trip to Dallas to give a talk to the women's division of the Jewish Welfare Federation.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

Same Song, Opposite Aisle


These days there are a number of web sites where people mostly post quotations from news articles and/or commentaries on said articles. (The sources of the news articles don't much appreciate the quotation; there's been at least one lawsuit over the matter.)


freerepublic.com is the right-wing flavor. There you'll find a lot of creationism threads--there are either a lot of creationists or a few really vocal ones at freerepublic.com. (OTOH, there are rational people there, too.) You'll find a lot of religious ranting and bashing of homosexuals, and people who dare point out that GWB is pushing big government despite the posturings of the Republican Party are flamed at great length. There's a libertarian contingent that regularly points out the idiocy of the Drug War, and is just as regularly flamed for their troubles, and simultaneously told that (1) they're too few in number to be significant and (2) they're helping the Democrats by "stealing" votes from Republican candidates. During the Clinton administration, there was a tinfoil hat contingent that went somewhat off the deep end (and considering Clinton, that requires some work).


democraticunderground.com is the left-wing flavor. There you'll find a number of religious threads, mostly arguing that "true Christianity" favors income redistribution and the welfare state. There's an astrology contingent, so one certainly can't say that the left is immune to pseudoscience and other such claptrap. There's a Green contingent who's mostly told that they're helping the Republicans by "stealing" votes from Democratic candidates. There's a large, or at least vocal, tinfoil hat contingent who wholeheartedly believes GWB let 9/11 happen so his buddies could make money, that the Republicans assassinated Paul Wellstone, etc.


To freerepublic.com's credit, they're a lot more willing to tolerate varying opinions than democraticunderground.com, which bans people for thoughtcrime, and back in 2002 prohibited posts that the moderators thought might hurt the Democratic Party...but upon reflection, it seems like what we have here in large part are two batches of True Believers, just working opposite sides of the street.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Assorted Despicable Things and People, Part One


Microsoft


Once upon a time, only technical people knew the details of how Microsoft rose to power. Now, you have to have been comatose or living in the outback not to know. If you don't know, go read Wendy Goldman Rohm's The Microsoft File and you'll find out.

C++


The PL/I of the 90s; a bloated obscenity of poorly thought-out, ill-fitting features and kludged syntax that no one person can keep in his head. These days, people say that the day of programming languages that try to be all things to all men is gone, but nobody bothered to tell Bjarne Stroustrup.

The Clintons


The most loathsome, amoral, corrupt person to ever occupy the White House, and his equally vile and power-hungry wife. To quote Dick Morris, "It’s a good thing those two are sociopaths. Otherwise their consciences might bother them..." Time for a "reality show" parody, if that's not a redundancy.

Friday, January 24, 2003

"Rasputin--LOCK THE DOOR!"



Long ago, radio and TV stations actually had to come up with their own programming a lot of the time. Today, if you scan the radio dial at night, on AM you'll hear many stations broadcasting identical syndicated talk shows; the only difference is which such show they run when. Before, each station would carry a local show, only merging on hour boundaries for network news. On TV, if you scanned the dial at night, you'd find a lot of stations showing movies actually selected individually at each station... and on Saturday nights, chances are those movies would be SF or horror movies with a host who would appear at the beginning and end, and around commercial breaks.


Each station had its own host, who often was a local celebrity of sorts (if only the sort depicted by Roger Miller in his song "Kansas City Star"). Alas, the earliest hosts, such as the incomparable and sultry Vampira, were before my time; my initiiation to late night horror movies was at my paternal grandparents' creaky house watching KVOO (Tulsa, Channel 2) with Fantastic Theater and its eerie synthesized theme music, watching films like Frankenstein 1970 and Attack of the 50-Foot Woman. (Trudging up the stairs in the dark after hearing that music always scared the heck out of me.) Later on in Oklahoma City, I grew up watching the witty and fun Count Gregore on Nightmare, who got to do things like hang out with the Green Slime Girls back when Green Slime first came out (remember the cheesy Green Slime theme song?) and sing "Some enchanted evening, you will meet a strangler..." When I went to Chicago, I discovered the joys of Son of Svengoolie's Saturday night horror movie program.


My favorite horror host, though, was on the air after I returned to Oklahoma in the early 1980s. For reasons known only to the folks who ran the Norman cable TV system at the time, they carried Kansas City channel 41, and there I discovered Creature Feature, hosted by Crematia Mortem.


Creature Feature showed many so-bad-they're-good movies: Invasion of the Star Creatures, The Incredible Melting Man, The Devil's Rain, and a shaggy cannibal story featuring the hit "Popcorn" by Hot Butter, Shriek of the Mutilated. Crematia would comment on and make fun of the movie before and after the commercials, have little subplots and running gags going on through the show, and would read viewer mail (which one sent, of course, to the Dead Letter File). It didn't at all hurt that Crematia was not only witty, but also gorgeous (and if you check out the web site where Roberta Solomon, who portrayed Crematia, advertises her excellent voiceover work, you'll see that she still is). I was among those who wrote, and I wish to heck that I had videotape of the shows, especially when she showed the address I'd done up in blackletter and the portrait I drew of her.


She'd call out to her assistant, Rasputin, to lock the door at the beginning of the show and unlock it at the end, though I don't think many viewers had any urge to leave or change the channel.


Sad to say, Norman cable TV dropped Channel 41, and paid our protests no heed. Creature Feature went on for a few more years, but fell prey to the homogenization of American commercial media.


There are some horror movie hosts still on the air (notably Chicago's Svengoolie), and I suppose that for a time USA's Up All Night sort of carried on the tradition--but for the most part, they are gone, replaced by the output of the sausage machine that is today's commercial mass media. I post this as a belated thanks to all those eerie folk who made my childhood more fun (when I wasn't risking bodily injury running to bed when the lights went out) and were equally enjoyable later in life. Count Gregore, (Son of) Svengoolie, and Crematia Mortem, affectionate thanks to you all.

Sunday, January 05, 2003

My Renaissance Fair Pet Peeve


Here it is: in my experience, Renaissance fairs are not at all the best places to go to hear Renaissance music.

Disclaimer the First

I enjoy Renaissance fairs. I even sing at them, and the group I currently sing with is just as guilty as the rest. Yes, I know there are exceptions, and I cherish them.

But, That Said...

If you go to a Renaissance fair and check out the paid musical acts, what will you typically hear? Sea chanteys (one web site says the golden age of the sea chantey was the early to mid-19th century!). Irish music, from Carolan (late 17th to early 18th century) to songs of the 1916 Easter rebellion. Scottish songs, often dealing with the 18th century Jacobite rebellion, and some by modern composers (e.g. "Queen of Argyle," "Flower of Scotland").

A year or so ago on the alt.fairs.renaissance newsgroup, someone posted a request for suggestions for material for performance. Someone responded, "How about something actually from the Renaissance?" and was generally shouted down. The shouters-down typically had the opinion that the responder was being a jerk (arguably true; certainly the response at least seemed sarcastic, and immediately put the requester on the defensive), but also that the paying customers at Renaissance fairs want only music of a sort they're familiar with. There was also the common belief that surviving period music is all elitist--a belief only holdable by people massively ignorant of early music. (To correct that notion, listen to "Tappster, Drynker," "Blow Thy Horn, Hunter," "Hoyda, Jolly Rutterkin," "And I Were a Maiden," "Martin Said to His Man" (one of the "freemen's songs" Henry VIII is said to have enjoyed singing with Lord Peter Carew; given the subject matter, I can't help imagining them singing it after a few brewskis), "Matona Mia Cara," "O Bene Mio Fa Me Un' Favore," most of the songs of the Carmina Burana, which were written by freaking goliards (monk dropouts), for heaven's sake, a goodly number of the troubadour/trouvere works, and then there was that motet, "Hare hare hye/Balaam" that some French university students sang as they rioted over a tax on booze; gee, protest songs have gone downhill over the past few centuries...may I stop now, please?) Another response gave one example of a folk song having a tune going back to a medieval origin (I suppose in the way "Orientis partibus" morphed into "The Friendly Beasts"), apparently attempting to justify the performance of any and all "traditional" songs at Renaissance fairs.

Disclaimer the Second

Many of the groups that play very non-period music at Renaissance fairs do so with impeccable musicianship and showmanship, and when I can count them as friends, I do so happily and with great pride.

So...

On alt.fairs.renaissance, people will go on at great length about authenticity of language and clothing. I don't think people would excuse performers at Renaissance fairs dressed as slackers, goths, flappers, Gibson girls, or like Minutemen... (Well, they do excuse something similar in the "wench" attire. Cleavage trumps verisimilitude, I guess.) ...but they seem to tolerate the musical equivalent. I don't understand why. Period music can be just as raucous, risque, and outrageous as any other music—it's not all madrigals, chant, and isorhythmic motets—and there's got to be some way it can be sold to a modern audience. (Owain Phyfe does all right getting an audience by performing early music (and doing it exceptionally well); I wish I could sit and talk to him about it for a while.) If people don't want to hear early music, why is the market big enough to support a quarterly magazine about it these days?

A flashback and analogy

You've probably heard about how the notion of sum types (e.g. Algol 68 union s, Rust enum s, Haskell type s) and product types (e.g. tup...