Quotulatiousness

October 24, 2014

Google Design open sources some icons

Filed under: Media, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:19

If you have a need for system icons and don’t want to create your own (or, like me, you have no artistic skills), you might want to look at a recent Google Design set that is now open source:

Today, Google Design are open-sourcing 750 glyphs as part of the Material Design system icons pack. The system icons contain icons commonly used across different apps, such as icons used for media playback, communication, content editing, connectivity, and so on. They’re equally useful when building for the web, Android or iOS.

Google Design open source icons

A new biography of Lincoln

Filed under: History, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

Myron Magnet is quite enthusiastic about Founders’ Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln by Richard Brookhiser:

Unlike those mega-biographies that bury their subject’s chief accomplishments under 900 pages of undigested detail, Richard Brookhiser’s compact, profound, and utterly absorbing new life of Abraham Lincoln, Founders’ Son, leaps straight to the heart of the matter. With searchlight intensity, it dazzlingly illuminates the great president’s evolving views of slavery and the extraordinary speeches in which he unfolded that vision, molding the American mind on the central conflict in American history and resolving, at heroic and tragic cost to the nation and himself, the contradiction that the Founding Fathers themselves could not resolve.

[...]

Lincoln did not start out an abolitionist. As early as 1837, he showed ambivalence on the subject. When the Illinois legislature voted to condemn abolition societies as unnecessarily provocative that year, legislator Lincoln and a colleague voted yes but entered a protest, declaring for the record “that the institution of slavery is founded on both injustice and bad policy.” Even so, as a campaigner for Whig candidate William Henry Harrison in the election of 1840, Lincoln, in a debate with Martin Van Buren supporter Stephen Douglas, “was not above slyly trafficking in prejudice,” Brookhiser notes, attacking Van Buren for supporting voting rights for New York State’s free blacks. But as his congressional term drew to an end in 1849, he proposed (unsuccessfully) a plan for ending slavery in the District of Columbia, and the next year, when the three-decade-long era of trying to find a compromise on the issue of slavery came to a climax with the Compromise of 1850, Lincoln knew that the choice between slavery and abolition was inevitable for the nation—and he knew that he would stand against slavery. “When the time comes my mind is made up,” he told a friend, “for I believe the slavery question can never be successfully compromised.”

The time came soon enough, with the infamous Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. In effect, the act repealed the 1820 Missouri Compromise, which, in admitting Missouri as a slave state, had barred slavery from the rest of the Louisiana Territory lying north of the 36° 30’ parallel. By the terms of the new act, however, settlers pouring into the vast, hitherto empty territories of Kansas and Nebraska, which mostly lay north of the 1820 line, could choose whether to admit or bar slavery by “popular sovereignty,” the term used by Democratic senate leader Stephen Douglas, who boasted of having “passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act myself. . . . I had the authority and power of a dictator throughout the whole controversy.”

Though what we call the Lincoln-Douglas debates occurred in their Illinois senatorial contest of 1858, the “six years from 1854 to 1860 were one long Lincoln-Douglas debate,” writes Brookhiser, as Douglas went around the state defending the act and an indignant Lincoln pursued him, rebutting his emollient arguments in a string of immortal speeches. In Peoria in October 1854, Lincoln condemned Douglas for reopening an already scabbed-over wound. “Every inch of territory we owned already had a definite settlement of the slavery question,” he observed; but thanks to Douglas, “here we are in the midst of a new slavery agitation.” Douglas wants the people of the territories to decide? Fine. But who the people are “depends on whether a Negro is not or is a man.” If he is, then isn’t it “a total destruction of self-government, to say that he too shall not govern himself?” When a white man “governs himself, and also governs another man, that is more than self-government — that is despotism.”

Lincoln appealed to the authority of his beloved Founding Fathers — a subject Brookhiser, biographer of several of them, knows better than most. These great men found slavery already existing in the colonies, and to forge a new nation that the slave states would agree to join, they had to accept the evil out of necessity, not principle. They clearly knew that it was wrong, as is evident in the 1787 Northwest Ordinance, by which the Continental Congress strove to prevent slavery’s spread to unsettled territories; in the Declaration of Independence—“the sheet anchor of American republicanism,” said Lincoln, “that teaches me that ‘all men are created equal,’” including blacks, who are emphatically men; and in the Constitution itself, which accepted slavery so reluctantly that it wouldn’t even name it, Lincoln noted, “just as an afflicted man hides away a wen or cancer, which he dares not cut out at once, lest he bleed to death.” So let’s not go beyond where the Founders felt themselves forced to go. Let’s not metastasize slavery further.

October 23, 2014

The risks of writing near-future SF stories

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

Charles Stross tells a sad tale of woe about his “Laundry” series of SF/Occult novels:

There’s some kind of bizarre curse hanging over my Laundry Files series. Or maybe it’s a deeper underlying problem with writing fiction set in the very near future (or past): I’m not sure which. All I’m sure is that that for the past decade, reality has been out to get me: and I’m fed up.

My first intimation came a long time ago — in 2001. I’d just finished writing The Atrocity Archive and it was being edited for serial publication in issues 7-9 of the Scottish SF magazine Spectrum SF (which folded a couple of issues later, in 2003). It was late September, and I found myself reading a terse email from the editor, Paul Fraser: “Charlie, about your story — do you think you can possibly find some new bad guys for Chapter 4? Because you’ve just been overtaken by current events …”

In Chapter 4 of The Atrocity Archive Bob learns from Angleton who the middle eastern bad guys who kidnapped Mo, intending to use her sacrifice to open a gateway to somewhere bad, really were … and when I originally wrote the story, in 1999-2000, they were a relatively obscure bunch of anti-American zealots who’d blown up the USS Stark and an embassy in Africa. I know this may boggle the imagination of younger or more forgetful readers, but Al Quaida and Osama bin Laden had not at that time hijacked any airliners, much less etched themselves into the pages of world history: they were not, at that time, the Emmanuel Goldstein of the New World Order.

October 22, 2014

“Will the American fashion industry ever tolerate another de la Renta?”

Filed under: Business, Media, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 06:57

I don’t follow fashion at all, so it hadn’t occurred to me that the recent death of Oscar de la Renta would be much more than a footnote, but Virginia Postrel would disagree:

When fashion designer Oscar de la Renta died Monday, he left neatly resolved two issues that might have otherwise marred his legacy.

The first was the question of who would succeed him. Many a fashion house has been thrown into chaos by the death of its founder. But last week, Oscar de la Renta LLC, the privately held company headed by de la Renta’s stepson-in-law Alex Bolen, said it was appointing Peter Copping, the former artistic director of Nina Ricci, as its creative director. There will be no messy crisis this time.

The second was a matter of state. De la Renta had dressed every first lady since Jacqueline Kennedy — except Michelle Obama. To have the stylish first lady shun the dean of American fashion was tantamount to a public feud. Two weeks ago, the conflict ended when Mrs. Obama wore an Oscar de la Renta dress to a White House cocktail party filled with fashion insiders. Her appearance in the crisply tailored black cocktail dress embellished with silver and blue flowers — a quintessential de la Renta balance of precise lines with ornamentation and color — preserved the designer’s White House legacy.

The clean resolution of these two issues shortly before de la Renta’s passing befits the grace of his life’s work.

But a cultural question remains: Will the American fashion industry ever tolerate another de la Renta? His brand will continue, but the classic elegance for which he was known is as old-fashioned as it is beloved. It defies the prestige accorded to innovators who “move fashion forward” rather than simply creating fresh collections. Michelle Obama wouldn’t have won all those plaudits as a fashion leader if she’d worn his dresses and followed his rules. She would have merely been another tastefully attired Hillary Clinton or Laura Bush.

October 21, 2014

A legal warning shot for Manga fans in England

Filed under: Britain, Law, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:14

A man in Middlesbrough has been convicted of possessing illegal images of children … in his Manga collection. That is, cartoon drawings in the Japanese style called Manga. Gareth Lightfoot reports on the case for the Gazette:

A jobless animation fan has made legal history as he was convicted of having illegal pictures of cartoon children.

Robul Hoque, 39, is believed to be the first in the UK hauled before court over his collection of Japanese Manga or Anime-style images alone.

He admitted 10 counts of possessing prohibited images of children at Teesside Crown Court.

His barrister Richard Bennett said: “These are not what would be termed as paedophilic images. These are cartoons.”

And Mr Bennett revealed that such banned images were freely available on legitimate sites.

He said: “This case should serve as a warning to every Manga and Anime fan to be careful. It seems there are many thousands of people in this country, if they are less then careful, who may find themselves in that position too.”

Police found the images when they seized Hoque’s computer from his home on June 13, 2012, said prosecutor Harry Hadfield. He said officers found 288 still and 99 moving images, but none were of real people.

They were classified as prohibited images as they depicted young girls, some in school uniforms, some exposing themselves or taking part in sexual activity.

For obvious reasons, the newspaper article does not show any examples of the images in question, but Rob Beschizza warns you not to read his post at BoingBoing if you’re in England, as it does show an image that may or may not have been part of the investigation.

October 20, 2014

Kate Bush “Hounds Of Love”

Filed under: Media — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

Uploaded on 31 May 2010

Kate Bush. Hounds Of Love – Gone To Earth version. 1985.

“It’s in the trees!
It’s coming!”

When I was a child:
Running in the night,
Afraid of what might be

Hiding in the dark,
Hiding in the street,
And of what was following me…

Now hounds of love are hunting.
I’ve always been a coward,
And I don’t know what’s good for me.

October 19, 2014

Sex-toy-shaped installation deflated by Paris vandal (or someone with good taste)

Filed under: Europe, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:49

In the Telegraph, David Chazan tells the tale of the now-deflated artwork:

Vandals deflated a blow-up art installation in an exclusive Paris square on Saturday after outraged conservative groups said it resembled a “giant sex toy”.

The 79-foot-high inflatable green exhibit was called “Tree” because it looked vaguely like a Christmas tree, but the American artist, Paul McCarthy, told Le Monde newspaper that it was inspired by a sex toy known as an anal plug and was meant “as a joke”.

However, conservative politicians and many Parisians failed to appreciate the humour and called for the removal of the “offensive” installation after it was erected in Place Vendôme on Thursday.

Hours later, McCarthy, 69, was slapped in the face by a passer-by who screamed: “You’re not French and this has no place in the square”. The artist was dazed and shocked, but unhurt. “Does this sort of thing happen often in Paris?” he asked as his assailant fled before he could be apprehended.

In the early hours of Saturday, vandals climbed a metal fence around the exhibit, cut the power supply to a pump that kept it filled with air, and severed one of the straps that held it upright, police said.

By the morning, it was a shapeless green mess. McCarthy said he did not want it to be repaired or re-erected.

October 18, 2014

The average online gamer isn’t who the media thinks of as “a gamer”

Filed under: Gaming, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:36

For one thing, the average online gamer is female*:

The confusing, nasty muck of the Gamergate scandal, in which anonymous attackers have harassed and sent death threats to women linked to the video-game industry, has morphed into a bitter culture war over the world’s $100 billion gaming empire.

But the fight has also highlighted the minefield facing an industry still learning how best to attract — and protect — a new generation of American gamer. The danger, analysts said: The fight could scare away the growing market of women the gaming industry wants.

The stereotype of a “gamer” — mostly young, mostly nerdy and most definitely male — has never been further from the truth. In the United States, twice as many adult women play video games as do boys, according to the Entertainment Software Association, the industry’s top trade group. Male gamers between ages 10 and 25 represent a sliver of the market, only 15 percent, according to Newzoo, a games research firm.

Yet America’s 190 million gamers, 48 percent of whom are women, still play in a harsh frontier. About 70 percent of female gamers said they played as male characters online in hopes of sidestepping sexual harassment, according to a study cited by “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace” author and law professor Danielle Keats Citron.

“It’s just like playing outside when you’re a teenager. It’s still a jungle out there,” said Peter Warman, the chief executive of Newzoo. Of the women who played as men, he said, “they wanted to be treated equal on the virtual battlefield.”

* Actually, the Washington Post headline mis-represents the data slightly, so this isn’t an accurate statement either.

October 17, 2014

The latest moral panic

Filed under: Gaming, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:22

In sp!ked, Allum Bokhari looks at #GamerGate:

The gaming community is no stranger to cultural warfare and moral panic. In the 1990s, a cohort of censorious, ‘family values’ politicians waged a ceaseless campaign to regulate the gaming industry, following a series of panics over the ultra-violent Mortal Kombat series. In the early 2000s, the socially conservative activist Jack Thompson gained notoriety for engaging in a stream of litigation against video-game companies, arguing that they were responsible for everything from gang violence to school shootings.

The tenor of moral panic has changed since then. Now, the main source of fear, loathing and general misanthropy in the gaming industry stems from the cultural left rather than the socially conservative right. Similar to the old right, the new cultural warriors argue that games promote violence and reinforce so-called rape culture. Arguments that games perpetuate sexism and racism are also fairly common. Instead of being seen as mere escapism, the tastes of modern gamers are portrayed as dangerous and subversive, a threat to right-on values. Gamers ought to be feared and shunned. In this remarkable video, a cultural warrior goes on a tirade against mainstream gamers, culminating in the destruction of a copy of the controversial video-game Grand Theft Auto V before a cheering crowd. The misanthropic disgust with ordinary gamers is palpable.

The growing contempt of the games-industry elite for the preferences of gamers has accelerated in recent months. Following a major confrontation between gamers and activists last August over allegations of journalistic favouritism, article after article has been published decrying the gaming community for its alleged bigotry, sexism and narrow-mindedness. The worst examples of ‘social-media harassment’ were used as an excuse to present gamers as a mass of hateful savages. To those familiar with the regular and sometimes absurd panics over football fans, this language will sound familiar.

You may well ask how these activists are able to sustain these bizarre beliefs, particularly given the mounting evidence that gamers are actually a pretty diverse and welcoming group of people after all. One explanation is their fondness for echo-chambers, maintained through exclusive email groups, social media blocklists and mass deletions of user comments on open forums. The extent to which the new cultural warriors will go to remove uncomfortable opinions from view is quite extraordinary. Reinforcing, rather than challenging, one’s own biases has become the norm.

October 16, 2014

Prog Rock and the occult

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:33

Peter Bebergal discusses some of the occult influences of Progressive Rock at Boing Boing:

At a recent gallery show of his artwork, Roger Dean — best known for his lush and fantastical album covers for Yes in the 1970s — was enjoying the crowd when a man approached him and held out his hand to shake. “Mr. Dean, your work has changed my life,” he said, “I have gleaned so many amazing, mystical secrets from looking at your album covers, can you tell me sort of what you meant by it.” Dean, ever polite, tried to let the man down easily. “I didn’t mean anything at all. It was just a good — looking album cover.” His superfan, disillusioned, and possibly embarrassed, now turned nemesis, “Well, what do you know?” he angrily spat, “You’re just the artist!” Despite his protestations, Dean might have taken some responsibility for contributing to casting a wide mystical net over an entire subgenre of music, known sometimes derogatorily as progressive rock. You are unlikely to find a prog-rocker who refers to their own music in those terms, but the term serves as a way to describe a movement in rock, one steering a massive ship away from the siren call of blues-based rock that had so long dominated popular music, toward a more English tradition of what Greg Lake of the supergroup Emerson, Lake and Palmer (ELP) described as “troubadour, medieval storytelling.” Rock would inherit this mantle proudly, looking toward the mythology of the past — often heavily informed by occult images — to construct the sound of the future.

Psychedelic rock bands set the course, but in the 1970s, a new wave of bands looked beyond the drugginess of psychedelia to classical music as the true guide. Coupled with the instruments of the future — particularly Moog synthesizers — progressive rock crafted rock suites, with some songs clocking twenty minutes or more. Dean’s paintings were otherworldly landscapes of floating islands and boulders, or stone structures rising up like trees. Largely unpopulated, save for the occasional butterfly/dragon hybrid, there were no aliens, elves, or wizards. His worlds might be long-dead civilizations, like the lifeless plains of Mars haunted by the once-thriving Martian societies in Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, or future lands where people have taken to hibernating in the inexplicable constructions of their cities, endlessly waiting. Dean had perfected the merging of science fiction with mysticism, invoking the imagination of prog-rock listeners who were convinced there was some story or greater truth behind his art, and spent hours listening and poring over the album covers, meant to coexist in an ideological way.

October 14, 2014

A new view on cosplay – as a symptom of a seriously weakened economy

Filed under: Economics, Japan, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 15:06

A certain amount of this rings true:

Imagine you’re a college graduate stuck in a perpetually lousy economy. That’s a problem Japanese twenty-somethings have faced for more than 20 years. Two decades of stagnation after the collapse of the 1980s real-estate and stock bubbles — combined with labor laws making it tough to fire older workers — have relegated vast numbers of Japanese young adults to low-paying, temporary contract jobs. Many find themselves living with their parents well into their twenties and beyond, unmarried and childless.

Then again, they do have plenty of time to dress up like wand-wielding sailor girls and cybernetic alchemist soldiers from the colorful world of anime cartoons and manga comics. Indeed, Japan’s Lost Decades have coincided with a major spike in “people escaping to virtual worlds of games, animation, and costume play,” Masahiro Yamada, a sociology professor at Chuo University in Tokyo, recently told the Financial Times. “Here, even the young and poor can feel as though they are a hero.”

It’s hard to blame them. After all, it’s not that these young adults in Japan are resisting becoming productive members of the economy — it’s that there just aren’t enough opportunities for them. So an increasingly large number of them spend an increasingly large amount of time living in make-believe fantasy worlds, pretending they are someone else, somewhere else. This is a very bad thing for the Japanese economy.

And guess what: America has a growing number of make-believe “cosplay” heroes, too. Many of the 130,000 people who attend the San Diego Comic Con every year invest big bucks in elaborate outfits as a way of showing off their favorite Japanese characters, as well as those from American superhero movies, comics, and “genre” televisions shows such as Game of Thrones. And this trend is growing — the crowd at Comic Con was one-third this size in 2000. In 2013, the SyFy channel even created a reality show about the trend, Heroes of Cosplay.

H/T to Ghost of a Flea for the link.

October 13, 2014

Russian media’s favourite German professor

Filed under: Europe, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:59

Professor Lorenz Haag is frequently invited to provide a German opinion for Russian consumption — opinions that amazingly co-incide very well with those of the Russian government. There’s only one problem with Professor Haag: he appears to have been fabricated specifically to fulfil that role.

German Professor Lorenz Haag is what you’d call a Kremlin apologist.

Russian media regularly quotes him as praising President Vladimir Putin’s leadership, defending Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and urging the West to take a softer line toward Moscow.

“Professor” Haag, however, is by all accounts no professor.

And the organization he allegedly heads, the German “Agency for Global Communications,” has also been denounced as bogus.

Dmitry Khmelnitsky, a noted Russian architectural historian based in Berlin, was the first to cast doubt on the purported academic’s credentials.

“Professor Lorenz Haag, the head of the Agency for Global Communications, exists only in the imagination of ITAR-TASS correspondents who have interviewed him regularly and for many years in the capacity of ‘German expert,'” Khmelnitsky wrote in an October 6 post on Facebook. “There is no such professor in Germany. And no such agency.”

Khmelnitsky’s allegations have sparked intense speculation on the Russian Internet about Haag’s identity, motives, or even existence.

According to Russian blogger Pavel Gnilorybov, the state-run ITAR-TASS agency — which recently reverted to its Soviet-era name TASS — created the fictitious professor back in 2007.

Statistical sleight-of-hand on the dangers of texting while driving

Filed under: Health, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:15

Philip N. Cohen casts a skeptical eye at the frequently cited statistic on the dangers of texting, especially to teenage drivers. It’s another “epidemic” of bad statistics and panic-mongering headlines:

Recently, [author and journalist Matt] Richtel tweeted a link to this old news article that claims texting causes more fatal accidents for teenagers than alcohol. The article says some researcher estimates “more than 3,000 annual teen deaths from texting,” but there is no reference to a study or any source for the data used to make the estimate. As I previously noted, that’s not plausible.

In fact, 2,823 teens teens died in motor vehicle accidents in 2012 (only 2,228 of whom were vehicle occupants). So, my math gets me 7.7 teens per day dying in motor vehicle accidents, regardless of the cause. I’m no Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist, but I reckon that makes this giant factoid on Richtel’s website wrong, which doesn’t bode well for the book.

In fact, I suspect the 11-per-day meme comes from Mother Jones (or whoever someone there got it from) doing the math wrong on that Newsday number of 3,000 per year and calling it “nearly a dozen” (3,000 is 8.2 per day). And if you Google around looking for this 11-per-day statistic, you find sites like textinganddrivingsafety.com, which, like Richtel does in his website video, attributes the statistic to the “Institute for Highway Safety.” I think they mean the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which is the source I used for the 2,823 number above. (The fact that he gets the name wrong suggests he got the statistic second-hand.) IIHS has an extensive page of facts on distracted driving, which doesn’t have any fact like this (they actually express skepticism about inflated claims of cell phone effects).

[...]

I generally oppose scare-mongering manipulations of data that take advantage of common ignorance. The people selling mobile-phone panic don’t dwell on the fact that the roads are getting safer and safer, and just let you go on assuming they’re getting more and more dangerous. I reviewed all that here, showing the increase in mobile phone subscriptions relative to the decline in traffic accidents, injuries, and deaths.

That doesn’t mean texting and driving isn’t dangerous. I’m sure it is. Cell phone bans may be a good idea, although the evidence that they save lives is mixed. But the overall situation is surely more complicated than the TEXTING-WHILE-DRIVING EPIDEMIC suggests. The whole story doesn’t seem right — how can phones be so dangerous, and growing more and more pervasive, while accidents and injuries fall? At the very least, a powerful part of the explanation is being left out. (I wonder if phones displace other distractions, like eating and putting on make-up; or if some people drive more cautiously while they’re using their phones, to compensate for their distraction; or if distracted phone users were simply the worst drivers already.)

October 12, 2014

Kate Bush – Wuthering Heights

Filed under: Media — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:12

October 11, 2014

“[French] society is corrupted and doesn’t have any moral principles”

Filed under: Europe, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:47

The Guardian‘s Catherine Shoard on the reception Gérard Depardieu received from a “conservative” Russian politician:

Gérard Depardieu’s move to Russia had the effect of making the actor repent sexual activities conducted in Europe, a conservative Kremlin politician has said.

Reacting to the publication of Ça s’est fait comme ça, Depardieu’s memoir in which he discusses stints of employment as a grave robber and a male prostitute, Vitaly Milonov expressed sympathy for the actor.

“It wasn’t easy for him in France,” he told Russian newspaper MK. “There, society is corrupted and doesn’t have any moral principles.”

“I view Gérard’s book as sort of repentance, confession of old sins. Now that he breathed in the purifying air of Mordovia, all that filth left him. He sincerely repents what he was forced to do in his youth in France. He wants to live in a new way, without all that filth.”

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