Friday, April 29

I am not worthy!

I just got such a frisson from my old friend (and fellow former redheaded mullethead) the Apostropher, who has put quite a lot into his fine, fine blog this week after warning that he wouldn't have time to post much. Hey, our little college town won't run out of coffee anytime soon!

Anyhow, I've actually gotten into the blogroll of someone who doesn't spend hours gaming with me every blessed week, which to me is much like the Big Time. Does that mean I should start averaging more than four posts or so every six weeks or so? That doesn't seem to be mandatory (gazes longingly at Monkeytime), but I feel I should step up a little.

Certainly I'm honored enough of to (um, nearly) refrain from grousing that now I can't scroll directly to various favorite Apostro-links without thinking. My bookmarks in Mozilla look like the back seat of my old car sophomore year; I count on my friends to corral links for me, & I figure the referrer logs at Eschaton or wherever will eventually take note. In fact I rather like the new blogroll. I'll just remember to get the coffee mug in my hand before I navigate it.

Wednesday, April 20

The Tail Wags the Dog* (draft)

Martin Edlund at Slate writes the whole story and still misses the point. In very businesslike fashion he dismisses the idea of leveraging Fiona Apple's imprisoned album into a "hit" like her debut. Keeping in mind that Apple's sophomore album went near-platinum (according to Edlund) despite mixed reviews and a title 90 words long, I nevertheless accept that Extraordinary Machine will not displace any of these jokers anytime soon.

What strikes me as odd is that Edlund disregards the potential of what he himself calls "a wonderfully complex turns whimsical and solemn..." If one writes of culture, one is supposed to be above crass commercialism. Culture is about influence; if 90% of everything is crap (I heard "98%" myself, but whatever), why should it matter how many people show up this week? Does anybody remember the Velvet Underground, for example?

Right now, everybody wins. All sorts of people will be watching for Ms. Apple's next release, whatever it turns out to be; the label hasn't had to pay a flack to get attention -- in Slate, and Wired, and elsewhere) for a songstress whose last album was released when the all-important adolescent arbiters of cool were in elementary school.

This week's bonus Wikipedia-love is for classifying Sturgeon's Law in Philosophy. I've always admired the writer's keen mind (hey, he invented the Prime Directive apparently), and I've certainly never heard his law refuted. I see its general acceptance as evidence that cultural evolution has plenty to work with.

*Isn't it time to reclaim that evocative phrase from a lesser Dustin Hoffman film?

Sunday, April 17


Law professor & noted blogger Eric Muller continues his research into public-school proselytizing. There's a mailto at the bottom of his latest post, which I may use once my hands stop shaking.

Followup (January 2006)

The link died above died & I got curious as to whether anything came of this. Truthfully I didn't send a complaining email myself, so I can't get on my high horse. So how did the controversy shake out?

So far I've found nothing more than a month past Professor Muller's original postings. My search was less than exhaustive, but I don't see any evidence that any of the more than a dozen school systems cited by Muller made any changes -- of course some of his links to school reading lists are busted, but then his whole archive has slipped out of its internal links, so I suppose it's par for the course.

Once more the question arises: How much of the Blogosphere will be reduced to Linear A after a few years of link-rot?

Lost & Found

If anyone had asked me, "Is Robert Silverberg read in the classics?", I would have guessed so.


Professor Kitto is likely harder to find in print now than in days gone by, so it's good students such as Silverberg are still with us. Online, Kitto's work survives in such quiet stacks as the "World's Largest Online Library!!!" affords. Possible term-paper mill "Questia" keeps tight rein on actual paragraphs of writing, but will happily search the holdings (including indices and statements of acknowledgement) by word or whatever. It's better than the typical garage of google-links. Maybe Project Gutenberg has more meat (thanks ibiblio), or wherever the local hungry grad students are hanging out.

I found Silverberg, of course, through serendipity. (Which led me to discover he's been busy using his classical education... but that's for another day).

What I was looking for was some Web account of a report I caught on the BBC World Service while doing the washing up. Seems there may be some new appendices (at least) for any respectable shelf of ancient writing. Maybe some new volumes even. A long-held trove of unique papyri, buried in the Egyptian desert for up to 2000 years, are being translated and catalogued feverishly after the application of new infrared imaging technology (MEGO) revealed their contents.

The surviving complete plays of Sophocles (some "180 or more [might be] ascribed to him") don't exactly comprise a doorstop. We have seven. That's not even enough to account for his first-place prizes.

Aeschylus, who nearly lost one of his 7 remaining complete plays, is barely a paperweight compared to, say Eugene O'Neill.

My sometime antagonist Euripides, the original expat, bested both his elders with 19. Personally, I think his known involvement in the Athenian anti-war movement gave him radical chic; Aeschylus was a proud foot-soldier and Sophocles an undistinguished officer.

Anyway, the researcher (IIRC) said there were something like half a million newly readable ancient texts, including recognizable pieces of known works & fragments at least of writers whose work never reached the monasteries. Since the site from which this treasure was recovered was a centuries-deep dump, we might even guess some of the papyri might have had the sort of things Mother Church wouldn't have wanted in circulation.

...Hey, the BBC story wasn't an hallucination! Days after I went looking for it, the Oxyrhynchos Papyri got a story from NPR (thanks, WUNC -- I know you're asking for money this month, but you'll have to settle for a link). Oddly, I was taking a break from drafting a post on the surprising tin ear of a story on Slate when I heard Slate's affiliated radio show "Day to Day" covering the papyri. I wonder how durable the "Day to Day" archive is...

I came here for the spelling of "Oxyrhynchos"; I stayed for the pretty pretty maps. A wealth of information can be found on the amusingly named "POxy" server, including an indexed database of what's been catalogued so far.

Saturday, April 16

All Hail the Smart Mob!

When bad news turns good:

Dennis Kyne put up such a fight at a political protest last summer, the arresting officer recalled, it took four police officers to haul him down the steps of the New York Public Library and across Fifth Avenue.

"We picked him up and we carried him while he squirmed and screamed," the officer, Matthew Wohl, testified in December. "I had one of his legs because he was kicking and refusing to walk on his own."

From all I heard at the time, the GOP convention protests were hearteningly peaceful; but there's always a few bad apples, and testimony like that looks like an open-and-shut case. But after Officer Wohl's testimony (reports the New York Times)

"[...T]he prosecutor abruptly dropped all charges.

During a recess, the defense had brought new information to the prosecutor. A videotape shot by a documentary filmmaker showed Mr. Kyne agitated but plainly walking under his own power down the library steps, contradicting the vivid account of Officer Wohl, who was nowhere to be seen in the pictures. Nor was the officer seen taking part in the arrests of four other people at the library against whom he signed complaints.

A sprawling body of visual evidence, made possible by inexpensive, lightweight cameras in the hands of private citizens, volunteer observers and the police themselves, has shifted the debate over precisely what happened on the streets during the week of the convention.

For Mr. Kyne and 400 others arrested that week, video recordings provided evidence that they had not committed a crime or that the charges against them could not be proved, according to defense lawyers and prosecutors.

This wasn't just a one-time thing, either; even worse was the case of

[...] Alexander Dunlop, who said he was arrested while going to pick up sushi.

Last week, he discovered that there were two versions of the same police tape: the one that was to be used as evidence in his trial had been edited at two spots, removing images that showed Mr. Dunlop behaving peacefully. When a volunteer film archivist found a more complete version of the tape and gave it to Mr. Dunlop's lawyer, prosecutors immediately dropped the charges and said that a technician had cut the material by mistake.

Gee, it's a good thing the prosecutors didn't "accidentally" edit out the part of the tape that seemed to support their case. Of the more than 1000 demonstrators arrested, some 162 pled guilty; many more are being spared by the efforts of citizen actions like "I-Witness Video, a project that assembled hundreds of videotapes shot during the convention by volunteers [link added]". Ther's not much on the Web about the project, but it's at the front of what we can expect to become a long line of activists keeping the law honest. I'm sad, if not too surprised, to see how needed it is.

I believe it was the brilliant playwright Tom Stoppard who said "The point of non-violence isn't to get beaten up; it's to get beaten up in front of the media" (at any rate it sounds like Stoppard). In 1968 Chicago, demonstrators chanted "the whole world is watching" as they were attacked by police in front of network cameras; the movement's Achilles heel ever since has been that sometimes the networks don't show up. Now that has ceased to matter. Power to the people!

(The Times story, btw, "Videos Challenge Accounts of Convention Unrest", by JIM DWYER (Published: April 12, 2005), has no doubt disappeared into a bloody paid archive. There's more about Dunlop, and it's worth a read, but we non-subscribers have to get by on fair use. As fair as I can make it anyhow. Bur that's another post entirely...)

Friday, April 15

More Effective than Federal Millions?

Kudos to the Creator (er, maybe that should be "creator") of this thorough examination of how abstinence works. I hope everyone who shrugged years ago when Dr. Joycelyn Elders got defenestrated (for suggesting that with imagination, people who are crazy stuffed with hormones can avoid serious consequences without being driven to the wall) realizes that as funny as it seems, there's a lot of (not quite literally) decent advice in, for example, Keeping Your Clothes On.

The site's mission statement says: "As lawful holders of the rights to the domain names... [we will] entertain inquiries by any individual, government and/or religious institution towards the purchase of these domains". If anybody tries to bully them into surrendering their URLs, somebody should step up.

Thursday, April 14

A Call to Action?

Freelance asshole Fred Phelps is coming to my town, & I'm pissed. What to do? All suggestions welcome...

Another hard case

Damn, what's this world coming to when a First Amendment absolutist like me hears about a parent who wants his kid's school to get rid of a library book and I kinda see his point?

My problem is this: if an 8th grade class were offered extra credit for reading a book that uses wildly inaccurate stereotype to favor a Christian point of view and denigrate other spiritual traditions, the opinions of the 8th graders themselves would carry some weight. Junior high schoolers can be expected to have a reasonably developed bullshit detector.

Now that the ball is rolling, I wonder if there's some way to make this a "teachable moment". If I were teaching English at a local high school, I'd be trying to borrow that book. Then I would no doubt get my ass fired.

Wednesday, April 13


Wow. Randi Rhodes certainly isn't my cup of paint-thinner, but from very limited experience I am willing to excuse her from suspicion of flat-out lying. My estimation has been that like her oft-invoked nemesis Rush, Rhodes dedicates all her energy to aligning her listeners on one side or another of a partisan divide.

As long as the host's rants have a basic consistency from day to day on major issues, it doesn't matter whether any individual argument hangs together. It's better to know fewer facts and shout them repeatedly. That way, people driving don't have to worry that they missed something.

Certainly this makes Rhodes a poor role model. As for whether she should have a job...well, she isn't running for anything, and I'm probably not buying anything from her sponsors anyhow. What does that mean to me, Al Franken?

It's her listeners that worry me. I'm curious as to why nobody called her out on Nicaragua -- are her callers appallingly ignorant, or screened with great care?

touch of velvet

The link to this site, I shit you not (ISYN), urges us in red & yellow to "click here to vote for paper ballots in America now!" So, um, which is it that counts?

I cannot explain this

You are Captain Malcolm Reynolds, aka. Mal or
Captain Tightpants. You saw most of your men
die in a war you lost and now you seek solitude
with a small crew that you are fiercely devoted
to. You have no problems being naked.

Which Firefly character are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Sunday, April 10

A Fine Bio and a Fine Myth

Newly well-known blogger Chris Clarke has quite a tale to tell beyond personal knowledge of a sociopath (whoch is after all a disquietingly common knowledge in these times). He claims one accomplishment which I might never have thought possible, to wit: "Persuaded James Watt not to use pesticides in his yard."

I've always had a weakness for the humor of oddball encounters, & this is top-shelf. I had a vague recollection of Watt making some wild statement about how protecting the environment wasn't so very important since the End Times were coming anyway. It was no great step to believe that a man who wanted to sell off vast tracts of old-growth forest to pay off the sponsors of Reagan's revolution would be amenable to protecting his own offspring from neurological damage. Such hypocrisy is old hat to someone who ground his teeth through much of the Eighties.

My enjoyment has been tempered, though, by the discovery that Watt's been patrolling his legacy. It appears that at some point a (somewhat flaky)writer published a book in which he quoted Watt as having said "after the last tree is felled, Christ will come back." The quote was wild enough (and, in view of the record, believable enough) to get used in an online magazine and a speech at Harvard by Bill Moyers.

Here's where it gets ugly: apparently nobody can source the quote. The online magazine said that his statement was made "in public testimony", which was just sloppy; their article now carries a correction. Worst of all, I found this out because Watt's efforts to get the quote corrected got covered by Powerline (no link, just trust me). Damn, I hate it when the wingnuts score. Moyers, by the way, was a gentleman about it.

Now, Watt had a real reputation for shooting his mouth off. Nevertheless, I've had a real lesson today in being careful about buying into statements just because they seem credible.

And another thing: I remember being pretty steamed (even as a young whippersnapper) about Watt when he was in office, but some reasonably extensive Googling turned up very little on his actual record -- what he tried to do & what he did. All I could turn up was his own, presumably self-serving catalogue of how much he improved the process of "restoring" land after strip-mining & so forth. Is history truly written by the winners?

Friday, April 8

mana from Heaven

"An Apollo 13 bus bar battery cable that had been flown in space" ???

First of all, "bus bar battery cable" is my favorite found poetry of the spring so far. Love it. Can't quite conjure a visual image, but it sure sounds like a band name to me.

Guess the market value was in the Apollo 13 mana, though, as likely no one bid on it because they needed to cable a battery to a bus bar (or whatever). Everything from Apollo 13 "that had...flown in space" came back by apparent miracle, and relics have always tended to be odd.

Furthermore, while the Feds hate the playa, the game can't be presumed innocent. How many contracts have been swung by the ability to make a big splash?

(Tx Ap(oll)ostropher)