Archive for April, 2010

Random notes: April 30, 2010.

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Headline in the NYT: “On This Oregon Trail, Pioneers Embrace Organic Wine“.

Oh, sure, organic wine is all fun and games, until you die of dysentery.

In other news, “The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick” is coming in two volumes. Also, Valdez is coming, but that’s another story.

Adding to the “Blood in the Streets” watch, two out of three of our local Fuddrucker’s have closed (Anderson Lane, and I-35 North, between 290 and 183 along the access road). I’m curious; if any of my readers live in cities with Fuddrucker’s (I believe the chain is primarily Southern), have any of your locations closed recently?

Edited to add: Brian Dunbar‘s comment prompted me to do what I should have done earlier. According to the Fuddrucker’s website (Warning! Audio!), they’re more spread out than I thought. And I’d never heard of the Koo Koo Roo chain. Additionally, it appears that Magic Brands LLC, who owned both chains, sold “substantially all of its assets” to Tavistock Group on April 21st (for $40 million), and, at the same time, filed Chapter 11.

As part of Fuddruckers plan to concentrate resources in operations with the strongest potential for growth, the company will use the Chapter 11 process to terminate certain leases and will close 24 corporate-owned Fuddruckers restaurants by April 30, 2010.

Here’s a link to Fuddrucker’s announcement of the sale and Chapter 11 restructuring.

Lawrence predicted a while back that someday, people would pay real money for non-existent (i.e. “virtual”) stuff. I don’t remember if he predicted phase 2 of that: real world lawsuits over rights to non-existent property.

What China needs: strict hammer control laws.

Friday Astros update: 8-13, .381 winning percentage, projected 61.722 wins.

A man’s got to know his limitiations.

Monday, April 26th, 2010

A weird confluence of things over the weekend left me with an idea for a SF novel (or possibly a trilogy). Since:

  1. Ideas are a dime a dozen. What you do with them is what counts.
  2. I don’t have the tools to write this novel right now.

I’m throwing this out for anyone who wants to make use of it.

The basic idea is similar to John Varley’s “Eight Worlds” stories: the aliens come and start throwing humans off the Earth. Only the aliens don’t stop there; they continue to drive humanity past the outer planets. Much of the action of the book would be the battle between humans and the aliens. I’d probably want to assume a radically extended human lifespan, or transfer of consciousness between cloned bodies (also like Varley) so that I could tell the story over several hundred years, using the same viewpoint character. (Thing one that fed into this: picking up a copy of The John Varley Reader at Half-Price Books.)

One thing this character would notice is that the aliens are using unusual weaponry; the character would attribute this to alien psychology, and wouldn’t think too deeply about this until the end of the story. Assume the character is smarter than the average bear, but also pissed off about events, and thus somewhat blinded by their anger.

The punchline at the end of the story, once our viewpoint character is able to communicate with the aliens, is that they aren’t trying to wipe out the human race. The aliens are actually trying to save the human race from a galactic disaster, along the lines of this post over at TJIC’s blog. What they’ve been trying to do all along is the equivalent of herding cats into a safe zone. And this particular race of aliens has, for want of a better word, a “charter” to do this kind of thing; intelligence in the Universe is so rare that these aliens travel around, looking for endangered intelligent civilizations, and then try to save them.

One of the limitations these aliens face is that they can’t communicate well with the lesser evolved intelligent civilizations they’re trying to save. What they see as equivalent to a lifeguard trying to save a drowning man, those civilizations see as an attack, and they tend to respond with force. Saving intelligent civilizations is so important to this race that they’re willing to sacrifice their own members to do so.

Playing into that theme is the alien weaponry; it turns out that the aliens have attempted to design weapons that are “non-lethal” to humans. The problem is, because of circumstances and their limited understanding of human biology, those “non-lethal” weapons aren’t always non-lethal. Humanity isn’t their first go-around at the rodeo; our protagonist finds out they’ve done this a couple of times before with other races, and their first attempt resulted in the total extermination of the race they were attempting to save.

So, yeah, after writing all this down, you’ve got a novel in which the entire plot hinges on a giant misunderstanding between humans and aliens. Still, I think someone with more talent than I have could do something with this; I like this idea better than I do aliens driving humanity off earth to save the dolphins.

(It wasn’t a major contributing factor to this idea, but this thread over at Popehat did make me decide to actually throw the idea out there.)

“The Klan did not like being shot at.”

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

I have not seen this noted elsewhere yet, but Robert Hicks passed away on April 13th.

Mr. Hicks was one of the last surviving members of the Deacons for Defense and Justice, and founded the Bogalusa, Louisana chapter of the organization.

The Deacons, who grew to have chapters in more than two dozen Southern communities, veered sharply from the nonviolence preached by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They carried guns, with the mission to protect against white aggression, citing the Second Amendment.
And they used them. A Bogalusa Deacon pulled a pistol in broad daylight during a protest march in 1965 and put two bullets into a white man who had attacked him with his fists. The man survived. A month earlier, the first black deputy sheriff in the county had been assassinated by whites.
When James Farmer, national director of the human rights group the Congress of Racial Equality, joined protests in Bogalusa, one of the most virulent Klan redoubts, armed Deacons provided security.

This is a surprising obituary to see in the NYT, as it comes close to acknowledging the racial aspects of gun control laws, and the role played by legally armed individuals in fighting the Klan during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. If you’re interested in the subject, David Kopel did an excellent two-part article for Reason on the racial roots of gun control; the second part goes into more detail on the civil rights era struggles. Part one is here; part two is here.

I have nothing to say and I am saying it.

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Things have been pretty slow the past couple of days. Sorry. I do have two longish posts in the works, but one of them may go into the trash bin.

In the meantime, Friday seems like an appropriate time for an Astros update: 5-10, .333, projected to win 53.946 games.

(Subject line hattip.)

Austin food notes: April 21, 2010.

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Blood is running in the streets.

I sent around an email about this yesterday, but Lawrence suggested I might want to note that The Veranda has closed.

Rob Balon has some comments here. He’s a lot more sympathetic to the place than we are. The Saturday Dining Conspiracy ate there once; it wasn’t the worst SDC ever, but it was in the bottom 10. (Not mentioned in that review, because I didn’t find out until later; at least two of the people in our party actually got sick after eating there.)

On the other hand, Louie’s 106 has also closed. This was a place I liked, though it was a bit outside my price range for normal dining. The reasons for closing are unclear: the Statesman says they haven’t been able to contact the owner, but Rob Balon suggests that it might have had something to do with mechanical and structural problems in the building.

And the capper: Joe DiMaggio’s in the Domain is closed. We didn’t get a chance to try it, though we were trying to make arrangements. The problem we had was that we wanted to take our great and good friend (and sometime commenter here) Joe DiMaggio (really, that’s his real name. I’ve seen his Texas driver’s license) with us when we went. Oh, well; another good joke spoiled.

Random notes: April 20th, 2010.

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Today is my 45th birthday. I’ve been tied up most of the day: but, as the great philosopher Ice Cube once said, “It was a good day.”

Meanwhile, two of my favorite people have said things that deserve a response, even though they’ve been widely linked elsewhere.

First up is Penn Jillette’s tribute to the Hummer. I bow to no one in my admiration for Penn and Teller, and I don’t see a lot to argue with in his thesis that “We need to protect other people’s stupid to save freedom for all of us.” But there’s one thing I think he overlooks in this piece. Hummer failed because they didn’t make good cars.

We rented a H2 for the barbecue road trip last year. It was large, it was uncomfortable (it couldn’t even seat five people), it had very little cargo capacity for a vehicle of that size (we couldn’t get a cased AR-15 to lie flat in the back cargo area), the interior was ugly, and on the whole I hated it. I’d like to think that Hummer’s failure is just the market catching up to the fact that they aren’t very good cars, much like the Yugo. (And before you accuse me of being anti-GM, I liked the CTS we rented this year very much; if I had the money, that would go on my short list of cars to consider.) “Protecting other people’s stupid” doesn’t mean that we have to bail out companies that make poor choices.

Secondly, Roger Ebert’s decided to kick the “video games can never be art” ball around again. There are two problems with this:

  1. Roger is wrong.
  2. Roger is asking and answering the wrong question.

To point 1, we’ve discussed previously the definition of art (by way of Scott McCloud) as “any human activity that doesn’t grow out of either of our species two basic instincts: survival and reproduction” and the definition of art quoted by Shii:

Art is the word we use when we refer to that creative activity or its result, when images and objects, sights and sounds, drawings and carvings, convey the beauty and splendor of the world, or realize the imagination of the artist, for the purpose of self-expression or the shared enjoyment of its creation.

By either of those two definitions, video games are art: video games don’t grow out of the survival or reproductive instincts, and video games do realize the imagination of the artists for the purpose of self-expression or shared enjoyment. Of those two, I like McCloud’s definition best, as it comes closet to my own joking definition: Art is anything I can point to and say, “That’s art, damn it, art!” (This is, of course, where the “Art, damn it, art! watch” comes from.) Mike, I think, would argue that there has to be an element of intention involved; that is, you have to intend to make art, it can’t just happen by accident. Even granting that addendum, I still don’t see any way to argue that video games are not art.

To point 2, the question Roger really wants to ask is “Can video games be good art?” I’m with Shii on the high art/low art distinction, and I want to avoid using those terms. I think what Roger should be asserting is that video games are not “good art”, and that he’s dubious that they can reach that point. I’m inclined to agree with him that video games haven’t reached the point of “good art” yet. But: I am not a gamer, or an art critic. It might be more honest for both Roger and I to say “I don’t think video games have reached the point of being ‘good art’, but I don’t have the critical tools or the sympathy to be able to appreciate them fully, so I will try to keep an open mind and reserve judgment.”

I don’t think there’s enough history behind video games, or video game criticism, for us to even have evolved a grammar to talk about video games as art. We’ve had hundreds of years to develop ways of talking about and critiquing paintings and sculpture and music; we’ve only had about 25 years to develop ways of talking about and critiquing video games. It seems somehow wrong for Ebert to assert “”No one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great poets, filmmakers, novelists and poets”. A painting is not a poem is not a sculpture is not a symphony; all of these things have different grammars and critical vocabularies. How far were we into the history of painting before La Gioconda became an acknowledged classic?

I think the world of Roger Ebert, as I’ve noted before. But he’s dug himself into a hole here, and should stop digging.

In other news, I haven’t been able to find a LAT reference to this, but the NYT is reporting that the wrongful death suit brought by the family of Notorious B.I.G. has been dismissed. B.I.G’s death, and the lawsuit, are one of the most bizarre crime stories ever, involving possible police corruption by the LAPD, journalistic fraud by the LAT, withholding of evidence by the city of Los Angeles, fraudulent testimony by jailhouse snitches, and of course the whole West Coast/East Coast rap feud. (Edited to add: Here’s the LAT story, but it doesn’t add much.)

Lawrence sends along word of the arrest of 14 members of the Gambino family. Oddly, I see no mention of this on the NYT site. (Edited to add: NYT coverage here.)

But I do see that the Supremes have voted 8-1 (Dianna Ross Alito dissenting) to strike down a federal law banning videos of animal cruelty. I’m not in favor of dogfighting, but this was a bad law; it could have been used against videos of legal hunting, or expose videos showing practices that are legal in other countries, but illegal here. (Indeed, in the case in question, some of the material was filmed in Japan, where dogfighting is legal. Could the producers of The Cove have been prosecuted in this country under this law if someone in Japan pushed hard enough? Does the Pope crap in the woods? Are bears Catholic?) I’m delighted to see that the decision was that lopsided.

Edited to add: See what I get for being out and about all day and not making the blog rounds? Both Patrick and Ken over at Popehat are on the Supreme Court decision like…something that’s on something a lot. Go read those two; they’re really smart and funny, more so than I am.

Random gun crankery.

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Say Uncle linked to this article on improving the Glock trigger.

That’s actually a pretty good article, but I found this article describing Jeff Cooper’s “El Presidente” drill, and this article about the “Fitz Special” Colts, just a little more interesting.

I was tied up with some other things on Saturday, and didn’t make it to the Austin 2nd Amendment rally, but I welcome comments from anyone who did make it.

Random notes: April 16, 2010.

Friday, April 16th, 2010

Obit watch: former LAPD chief Daryl F. Gates.

Plus: Invisible Siegfrieds.

Edited to add: And thanks to the Chron for reminding me that the Texas City disaster was 63 years ago today.

Random notes: April 15, 2010.

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Happy National Buy a Gun Day. I usually extend this out to the weekend, just because it is almost impossible to get out to the gun stores during the workweek.

Lawrence suggested I blog this: guy gets 20 years in prison for selling community service hours to people on probation. The coke they found in his pocket didn’t help much, either: he got 15 years for that. (The Chron doesn’t say if the sentence runs consecutively or concurrently.)

The Astros are now 0-8. I was holding out on blogging again until they reached 0-10 (if that happened) but noting the Astros record gives me an excuse to link to this article about the 1983 team, which started out 0-9.

Edited to add 2: Darn, they finally won a game. At 1-8, that puts their winning percentage at .111, which projects out to 17.982 games over the 162 game season.

Edited to add: Tragic news out of Louisana. Production on “Steven Seagal: Lawman” has been shut down. Apparently, the sex slave charges are just too much of a distraction for the department.

Flash! (A-ah!) Savior of the universe!

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Lawrence pointed me to this article over at /dev/why!?! about possible reasons why Apple doesn’t want to support Flash on the iPhone.

Meanwhile, Sebastian has a good post up on the NRA’s crappy Flash-heavy website.

And Other Brian sent me a link to this Downfall parody.

Consumer tip.

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

The UT Students for Concealed Carry on Campus are offering a CHL class this Saturday, April 17th.

The cost is $45, including your DPS packet, gun and ammo, range fee, notary, photo, fingerprints, and lunch.

I support and endorse KR Training; I encourage everyone to take classes from them, especially concealed carry classes. However, I realize some people are cost sensitive, so I’m passing this information along. I don’t know anything about the classes or instruction beyond what’s on the website, and you should contact them with questions.

(Hattip: Howard Nemerov.)

Edited to add: Digging a little deeper into the registration page, it looks like this offer is only open to UT facility or UT students, not the general public. (It isn’t clear to me if it also applies to non-facility staff.)

Pullet surprise.

Monday, April 12th, 2010

The 2010 Pulitzer Prizes were announced today. Jimbo has a good list, with links.

I’m not as obsessed with the Pulitzers as I was in a past life, but I do want to single out two from this year that I think are particularly noteworthy.

The Pulitzer board, in their infinite wisdom, decided to give a special citation to Hank Williams

for his craftsmanship as a songwriter who expressed universal feelings with poignant simplicity and played a pivotal role in transforming country music into a major musical and cultural force in American life.

Now, I like Hank, and I can’t argue too much with this decision. But to steal a line from Lawrence, “Fat lot of good that does him now.”

The other prize I think is noteworthy is Gene Weingarten’s prize in the Feature Writing category. I have a complicated relationship with Weingarten and his writing. He’s sort of the WP answer to Dave Barry, the go-to guy for funny skewed humor (Barry and Weingarten are close friends). I used to read him pretty regularly, until he made a statement in one of his online chats that I found completely stupid and unforgivable. After that, I tried to quit him cold turkey.

The problem is, Weingarten isn’t just a funny humor guy. Sometimes, he writes stuff that tears your heart out. In 2008, he won the Pulitzer for a story in which he had the great classical violinist Josh Bell play in a subway station, and wrote about the reactions of commuters. That’s not even one of his best works. In 2005, he talked the WP into sending him and a photographer to the small Alaskan village of Savoonga, which is about as far away from everything as you can get. Weingarten figured he’d get a funny cover story out of the deal. What he got was a cover story; a sad and heartbreaking cover story about a remote community that turns out beautiful works of art, and that’s being devastated by alcohol.

The story he won for this year is just as good, and even more devastating; a piece about the grief and agony of parents who accidentally leave their kids in cars. It raises fundamental questions about what justice means in cases like this, and how these incidents might be prevented. Weingarten’s story represents journalism at its best.

Also, Sheri Fink’s story about one hospital during Katrina (which I noted back in September) shared a Pulitzer for investigative reporting with the Philadelphia Daily News. Interestingly, Fink’s story was moved out of the feature writing category into investigative reporting by the board.

Edited to add: The Reason “Hit and Run” discussion of Mark Fiore’s Pulitzer for editorial cartooning is amusing to follow.

Um, seriously, this guy got a Pulitzer and Homestar Runner didn’t?

Edited to add 2: Weingarten’s post-win chat session on the WP website. Radley Balko approves.