Archive for January, 2011

If you are confused, check with the sun.

Monday, January 31st, 2011

I’ve kind of wanted to pick up the DVD sets of “Get A Life”. I have fond memories of that series, especially the “Neptune 2000” episode, and I’d like to see if it holds up. (I appear to be one of a very few people who have those fond memories. Lawrence, for example, rolls his eyes in irritation every time I bring it up.)

But cheese louise! $81.59?! $124.99?! For DVD sets of four freaking episodes? This is the kind of thing that drives people to piracy. (Not that I condone piracy, but…)

Actually, that was mostly a transparent excuse to link to this NYT article, which brings us the happy news that Chris Elliot is…working! Also, apparently, the NYT has decided that “filthy whore” is acceptable usage in the Grey Lady. That is, as long as you’re discussing a fishing boat, or a Chris Elliott movie.

Confucius say, “We’ve lost our lease! Everything must go!”

Monday, January 31st, 2011

The Forbidden Gardens in Katy are closing.

Yes, I know. “The what?”

…neither did throngs of tourists, in large part because Forbidden Gardens didn’t employ theme parks’ usual noisy methods of attracting them. There were no billboards, no radio ads, no coupons. The place was as reticent as its owner.

Lisa Gray in the HouChron has a pretty good piece that covers the closing, the history of the Forbidden Gardens, and what little she could find out about Ira Poon, the shadowy millionaire who’s supposedly behind the attraction.

Based on the Chron’s story, I wouldn’t be shocked if they start digging for the Grand Parkway expansion and find a gargantuan underground lair beneath the Forbidden Gardens, complete with death ray and shark tank.

Important safety tip. (#3 in a series)

Monday, January 31st, 2011

This has been said many times, in many places, but I think it bears repeating for reasons that I’ll illustrate shortly:

GPS systems are a guide and a tool. They are not absolutely perfect. They are human designed systems that can fail.

Also, no matter how insistent that voice is, and no matter how often it says “Recalculating”, your GPS system is not the boss of you. You are the person in control of the vehicle; you have the option to ignore it, mute it, or even throw it out the window. (I even know one person who took a perverse enjoyment in tormenting their car’s GPS system by driving in circles.)

Several things bring this to mind. Some folks who were attending Saturday’s SDC found that their GPS systems were showing a location for Korean Grill that was quite a bit off from the actual location. (By the way, Korean Grill is a pretty darn spiffy place; I recommend giving it a shot.) On Sunday, we had a similar experience trying to find the Gruene Door; somehow, we ended up in a residential area several hundred feet behind the Gruene Door, and more or less stumbled on the restaurant through pure luck. (Also: the Gruene Door was fantastic. I’d like to go back sometime soon.)

And then there’s this story from the Sacramento Bee:

“It’s what I’m beginning to call death by GPS,” said Death Valley wilderness coordinator Charlie Callagan. “People are renting vehicles with GPS and they have no idea how it works and they are willing to trust the GPS to lead them into the middle of nowhere.”

And then they get stuck in the middle of nowhere in 120 degree heat where there’s no cell phone service and wind up drinking their own urine to survive. Or just simply vanish until someone stumbles across their remains in the desert.

It does seem like there may be a little more to this than just GPS failures. (Why aren’t closed roads better marked? Perhaps with a big sign: “ROAD CLOSED. IF YOU GO PAST THIS POINT YOU WILL DIE.“) But the main problem still seems to be blind trust in a technology that can fail.

(Unfortunately, I can’t find a YouTube clip of the Hill Street Blues episode where Joyce Davenport lectures one of her clients on desert survival techniques. Too bad, because she’s actually got some pretty sound advice to offer.)

Obit watch: “Who Cares If You Listen?”

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Milton Babbitt, composer.

Mr. Babbitt, who had a lively sense of humor despite the reputation for severity that his music fostered, sometimes referred to himself as a maximalist to stress the musical and philosophical distance between his style and the simpler, more direct style of younger contemporaries like Philip Glass, Steve Reich and other Minimalist composers. It was an apt description.


…although colleagues who worked in atonal music objected when their music was described as cerebral or academic, Mr. Babbitt embraced both terms and came to be regarded as the standard-bearer of the ultrarational extreme in American composition.

That reputation was based in part on an article published by High Fidelity magazine in February 1958 under the title “Who Cares if You Listen?” The headline was often cited as evidence of contemporary composers’ disregard for the public’s sensibilities, and Mr. Babbitt objected that it had been added by an editor, without his permission. But whatever his objections, the article did argue that contemporary composition was a business for specialists, on both the composing and listening end of the transaction, and that the general public’s objections were irrelevant.

Radio, radio.

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Dashed off in great haste: this appears to be a good current schedule for Radio Cairo on shortwave.

I still have my shortwave gear, but I haven’t fired it up in a long time and I’m not sure how well it still works. If any of my readers are shortwave listeners and have other schedules from the Middle East, or reception reports on Radio Cairo, I welcome those here.

“Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism.”

Friday, January 28th, 2011

I have a friend who hates blogs.

(That’s not the only thing he hates. Lawrence and I have been discussing the construction of a sentence designed to make his head explode. So far, we’ve got “Prominent blogger Cory Doctrow really likes Quentin Tarantino’s new movie, especially since he released it under a Creative Commons license without DRM.” I think we’re almost there, but we need to work “Rob Enderle” in somehow.)

I don’t want to go into all the reasons my friend hates blogs; I’m not even sure he knows all the reasons himself, or that his reasons are even rational. But one of his major complaints is that blogs don’t do any original reporting; they just link to other people’s work. His question is, “What will the blogs do when they kill off the newspapers, as they keep saying they want to do?”

This certainly is true of some blogs, of course. I’ve pointed out the existence of counter-examples, such as Michael Yon, but my friend really isn’t interested in Yon’s reporting; and, to some extent, his attitude is “If I’m not interested in it, it doesn’t exist, or isn’t worthy of consideration.”

(I know this makes my friend sound like a jerk. He’s really not; he’s a good guy who I’ve known since Jesus was a 2nd lieutenant. He just has very strong opinions.)

I come down more on the side of Clay Shirky. The title quote is from his excellent essay, “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable“, about the possible demise of the newspaper and what it means for society. Yes, there may not be many blogs doing original reporting right now, and it is legitimate to wonder what will happen to them when the last newspaper reporter is strangled with the entrails of the last newspaper editor, but…

When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.

Haiti started me thinking some more about what Shirky says here. (Yes, I’ve been working on this post for a long time.) It seems clear that we needed boots on the ground to cover that situation. Those boots needed infrastructure; they needed food and water and communications and power and security and living quarters. In a chaotic environment like Haiti, those things are nearly impossible to provide without a substantial investment of money.

Who has the resources to provide that? The NYT, the WP, the WSJ, and the TV networks. Who doesn’t have the resources to provide that? Individual bloggers.

And now Egypt is burning, and the Internet is cut off.

I think it’s very easy for Shirky to say that people who want to know “what’s next?” want to be lied to. But maybe that’s not the case. Maybe the people who want to know “what’s next?” think Haiti and Egypt and the next crisis after that are too important to be left to chance.

(Note: I’ve been working on this entry for a long, long time, and I’m still not 100% happy with the way it hangs together. But it seems like the the time to post is now, and I’m not sure picking at it much longer is going to make it any better.)

All the old paintings on the tombs, they do the sand dance, don’t you know…

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Who says school is useless?

One of the things I picked up last semester in my Modern Revolutions class (this specifically comes from James DeFronzo’s Revolutions and Revolutionary Movements) is that there are five critical factors required for a revolution to be successful.

  1. Frustration among the masses, resulting in unrest and uprisings in the cities or in rural areas. It sure seems to me like we’ve got that in Egypt.
  2. The presence of “elite” political movements in opposition to the ruling powers. By “elite” DeFronzo means that these movements have access to wealth, power, specialized skill sets, or higher levels of education than the average population. This is something I’m not so clear on; are there “elite” political movements in Egypt? If the coverage I’m seeing in places like the CSM is any guide (hattip: Battleswarm), the Egyptian government has been rigging elections; I can see that leading to pent up political opposition which finally has a chance to vent, but I’m not sure that meets DeFronzo’s criteria.
  3. Motivations that serve to unify major classes and that cut across class distinctions. Again, looking at the coverage in the CSM and other places, we’ve got that:

    Political analyst Mustapha Kamel Al Sayyid says the fact that the protests took place across the nation, and were not led by a particular political movement or opposition party, set them apart from demonstrations in the last decade.
    “This time it is really a national movement. It’s quite remarkable that the slogans raised by the demonstrators were not typical of any political party. They were general slogans about democracy, ending the state of emergency, and lowering prices…. The government will not respond favorably so I think the continuation of the protests is almost certain.”

  4. Some sort of severe political situation that paralyzes the administrative authority of the state. Such a crisis allows the revolutionary movement to flourish, free of government repression. At this point, I’m not sure we have that; is the army going to continue to avoid confrontation? Or is cutting off the Internet and cellphones a prelude to Mubarak mobilizing forces and machine-gunning people in the streets? If he gives that order, will the army obey?
  5. The rest of the world has to, if not actively support the revolution, at least not interfere with it. DeFronzo calls this “a permissive or tolerant world context”. At this point, I don’t see the U.S., or the rest of the world, actively trying to interfere in an Egyptian revolution.

I’d welcome thoughts and responses in the comments below.

Edited to add: I think this post from Megan McArdle (obligatory: my favorite CNE) has some bearing here, too. Especially this part:

This insistence on staying in power comes against the backdrop of widespread unemployment, corruption, high levels of poverty, high levels of illiteracy, and failure to provide the basic services–from decent transportation, to clean streets, to workable traffic, to basic education.

Edited to add 2: One thing that I should have mentioned, but forgot to, is that I’m not 100% sure DeFronzo’s criteria are sufficient for a successful revolution. In particular, I think DeFronzo and other revolutionary theorists underplay the role of a charismatic leader in the success of a revolution: Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Khomeini…

Edited to add 3: The Scalz doesn’t have much to say, but many of his commenters in this thread do.

And I rode away on the Tennessee stud…

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Jeff Fisher out as coach of the Tennessee Titans. Well, that was somewhat unexpected. (Nashville Tennessean link.)

It will be interesting to see where, if anywhere, Fisher lands. He seems to have been a highly regarded NFL coach, but why?

Fisher’s record with the Titans is 147-126 including postseason. His 147 wins — including postseason — ranks him third among active coaches in career wins behind Bill Belichick (177) and Mike Shanahan (160).

Yet Fisher is also just 5-6 in the playoffs and hasn’t coached a playoff win since the 2003 season. His teams also lost at least six games in back-to-back seasons, and posted five-game losing streaks in five of the last several seasons.

147-126 is about a 54% winning percentage.

Things I have learned in the past 24 hours.

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Something called Vladimir Putin Action Comics exists, and is funny.  (I am particularly amused by this one.)

(Found by way of “Hipster Hitler“, which in turn I found by way of Borepatch.)

Ford produced “Bullitt” commemorative special edition Mustangs in 2001, and again in 2008/2009.

There is an “International Mustang Bullitt Owners Club“.

(The latter two facts were fallout from reading this WSJ article.)

Bad boys, bad boys…

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

…what you gonna do, what you gonna do when your city government runs out of money because corrupt city officials have been pillaging the treasury, and the city decides to disband the police department and outsource to the L.A. County Sherrif’s Department?

(Okay, so I need to work on the scansion a bit.)

Edited to add this bulletin from Captain Obvious:

Members of Bell’s police union said the proposal to disband the police force to help stave off bankruptcy is “a slap in the face” to officers.

Things you may have wondered about. (#2 in a series)

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

What ever happened to Jacqueline Kennedy’s pink suit and matching pillbox hat?

The pink suit, blood-stained and perfectly preserved in a vault in Maryland, is banned from public display for 100 years.

And the hat? Sadly, it did not wind up on top of a cantaloupe honeydew melon in an episode of Penn and Teller’s “Bullshit”. Indeed, nobody knows for sure where the hat is…

The pillbox hat — removed at Parkland Hospital while Mrs. Kennedy waited for doctors to confirm what she already knew — is lost, last known to be in the hands of her personal secretary, who won’t discuss its whereabouts.


Important safety tip. (#2 in a series)

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

A gun is a gun. It is designed to shoot things.

A gun is not an all purpose tool. A gun is not a club. A gun is not a prybar. A gun is not a bottle opener (the Galil aside). A gun is not a tool for breaking out windows.

Bad things can happen when you use your gun for things other than shooting. For example, if you use your gun to club someone (no matter how deserving) you may mar the finish. Blood does awful things to a gun’s finish, especially the beautiful bluing on older Smith and Wesson revolvers.

Hitting things with your gun can also bend parts. Then your gun won’t go off when you need for it to go off. As the great Peter Hathaway Capstick once said, “The most terrifying sound in nature is not the roar of a charging lion, nor the whistle of a descending bomb; rather it is a click when you expect a bang.”

But the worst thing that can happen is that your gun might go off when you don’t want to go off. (I’d almost be willing to argue with Capstick that the sound of a “bang” when you expect a “click” is even more terrifying. However, I haven’t spent much of my life hunting lion and elephant in Africa, more’s the pity.) For example, when you’re breaking out a car window.

An Humble police officer had apprehended two fleeing car burglary suspects in a stolen truck. One of the suspects, whose identity has not been released, was accidentally shot to death by the police officer, who used his duty weapon to break the passenger window of the stolen truck, Humble police said.

Bad move, space cadet. (Edited to add: Just to make it clear for my readers outside Texas, “Humble” in this case is a city near-ish to Houston, not a description of the police officer.)

But two police tactical experts said the action taken by the Humble police officer is not common practice and is not taught in police academies.

“I’d hate to be in his pants right now,” said retired Houston police Sgt. Frank C. Miller, who taught tactical procedures to Houston Police Department narcotics officers for more than 20 years.

“From a tactical standpoint, it was very risky. Good arrest, shaky tactic — but, you know, they pulled it off. But the (suspect) died, unfortunately. Those things happen. (The suspect) was the bad guy — I don’t feel sorry for him.”