After the 2016 election, I did what every sane American did: I eliminated the annoying people from my social media feeds on both the left and the right who had become singularly obsessed with politics. And then I took another healthy step: I eliminated feeds from the “fake perfectionists.”
Who are the “fake perfectionists?” You probably know them. They are the people who post beautiful photos of their work on social media and never seem to experience a single glitch. And, in the cases of schools with “fake perfectionist” feeds, they crow about the beauty, detail and perfection of the work being taught there.
To which I say: Hogwash.
Woodworking is about failure. In fact, I consider successful projects to be ones that simply endured less failure than usual. Stuff goes awry. Wood chips out. Table legs go into the burn pile. If you aren’t making errors – of the hand or of the mind – you are a robot and need to have your firmware downgraded.
Christopher Schwarz, “Failing Daily Since 1993”, The Christopher Schwarz Blog, 2017-03-16.
April 8, 2017
April 5, 2017
… in the back of my mind always ran the great anti-perfectionist utterance of Sir John Falstaff, Shakespeare’s indelible comic character, in Part 1 of Henry IV: “Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.” A world of perfect sense and good behavior would be well-nigh intolerable: we need Falstaffs, even if we are not Falstaffian ourselves.
If we were to describe a man as deceitful, drunken, cowardly, dishonest, boastful, unscrupulous, gluttonous, vainglorious, lazy, avaricious, and selfish, we should hardly leave room in him for good qualities. No one would take it as a compliment to be described in this way, and we would avoid a person described in such a fashion. Falstaff was all those things, but probably no character in all literature is better loved. Only Don Quixote can compete; and our love of Falstaff is not despite his roguery but because of it. Certainly we would rather spend an evening in his company than with the totally upright Lord Chief Justice of Part 2 of Henry IV. A world of such rectitude, in which everyone had the justice’s probity, would be better, no doubt: but it would not be much fun.
But there is everything in the fat old knight to repel us also: he is almost certainly dirty, and, as a doctor, I would not have looked forward to performing a physical examination on him. He is so fat that the slightest physical effort causes him to exude greasy sweat. As Prince Hal says, he “lards the lean earth as he walks along.” To enjoy Falstaff, you have to be in a tavern; but the world, for most people, cannot be a giant tavern, and outside that setting, Falstaff is distinctly less amusing.
When Falstaff toward the end of Part 2 of Henry IV learns from Pistol that the old king is dead and that Prince Hal has succeeded him, he immediately sees his opportunity for the unmerited advancement not only of himself but of his cronies. He knows the worthlessness of the rural magistrate, Robert Shallow, and of the ensign, Pistol, only too well; yet he says: “Master Robert Shallow, choose what office thou wilt in the land, ’tis thine. Pistol, I will double charge thee with dignities.” He gives not a moment’s thought—he is temperamentally incapable of doing so—to the consequences of treating public office as a means only of living perpetually at other people’s expense.
Again, when given the task of raising foot soldiers, Falstaff has no compunction in selling exemptions from service and appropriating to himself the money for arms and equipment, leaving his soldiers ill prepared for the battle and with, as he says, “not a shirt and a half” between them: “I have led my ragamuffins where they are peppered [with shot]. There’s not three of my hundred and fifty left alive.” Falstaff sheds not even a crocodile tear for his lost men; their fate simply does not interest him, once they have served his turn and he has made his profit from having recruited them. Even Doctor Johnson is too indulgent when he says: “It must be observed that he is stained with no enormous or sanguinary crimes, so that his licentiousness is not so offensive but that it may be borne for his mirth.” True, he is not sanguinary as a sadist is sanguinary; but depriving 150 men of the means to fight before a battle that ends in their deaths is no mere peccadillo, either.
Why, then, do we forgive and even still love him? If he had been thin, we might have been much less accommodating of his undoubted vices (Hazlitt, in his essay on Falstaff, emphasized the importance of his fatness). At a time when to be a “stuffed cloak-bag of guts,” as Prince Hal calls him, was unusual and most men were, of necessity, thin, Falstaff’s immense size was a metonym for jollity and good cheer — as fatness still is with Santa Claus. It would not have made sense for Julius Caesar, after noting that “Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look,” to say that such men are well contented. And had Falstaff been slender, he would not have been what Johnson called him, “the prince of perpetual gaiety.”
Falstaff appeals to us because he holds up a distorting mirror to our weaknesses and makes us laugh at them. Falstaff’s dream is that of half of humanity: of luxurious ease and continual pleasure, untroubled by the necessity to work or to do those things that he would rather not do (Falstaff will do anything for money except work for it). There is luxury in time as well as in material possessions, and no figure lives in greater temporal luxury than Falstaff, to whom the concept of punctuality or a timetable would be anathema. Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was — or rather, appeared to be — a kind of Falstaff figure, admired by many, though eventually detested by even more, who seemed to lead an effortless life of merrymaking and who was unafraid of the world’s censure. He was therefore able to say heartless but witty things that the rest of us, cowed by the moral disapproval of others, laughed at under our breaths but would not dare to say ourselves.
Theodore Dalrymple, “Why We Love Falstaff: There is some of Shakespeare’s incorrigible rogue in all of us”, City Journal, 2015-08-16.
April 4, 2017
Published on May 21, 2013
The wonderful Ray Manzarek tells of the making of “Riders on The Storm”
Rest in peace Ray
March 27, 2017
In Reason, Noah Berlatsky reviews The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters, by Tom Nichols:
Believe the experts! Experts are not perfect, but they are more likely than non-experts to be right. Experts know what they do not know, and are therefore more cautious and better able to self-correct. Sometimes, in small ways, non-experts may outperform experts. But in general, America and the world need more respect for expertise.
That is the thesis of Tom Nichols’ The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters. It is also, as it turns out, a critique of the book itself. Nichols, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, is an expert on Russia and national security; he is not, however, an expert on expertise.* His hand wringing about kids today is not grounded in a scholarly background in education policy or the history of student activism. He is a generalist dilettante writing a polemic against generalist dilettantes. As such, the best support for his argument is his own failure to prove it.
There are two central flaws in The Death of Expertise. The first is temporal. As the title implies, the book is written as though there were once a golden age when expertise was widely valued — and when the democratic polity was well-informed and took its duty to understand foreign and domestic affairs seriously. “The foundational knowledge of the average American is now so low that it has crashed through the floor of ‘uninformed,’ passed ‘misinformed’ on the way down, and finally is now plummeting to ‘aggressively wrong,'” Nichols declares. His proof for this statement is that “within my living memory I’ve never seen anything like it.”
As Nichols would ordinarily be the first to point out, the vague common-sense intuitions and memories of non-experts are not a good foundation for a sweeping theory of social change. Nichols admits that Americans are not actually any more ignorant than they were 50 years ago. But he quickly pivots to insist that “holding the line [of ignorance] isn’t good enough” and then spends the rest of the book writing as if he didn’t know that Americans are not getting more ignorant.
The myth of the informed democratic voter is itself an example of long-ingrained, stubborn anti-knowledge. In their brilliant new Democracy for Realists (Princeton University Press), the political scientists Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels explain that laypeople and experts alike have developed a “folk theory” holding that American democracy is built on an engaged electorate that casts its votes for rational policy reasons. Unfortunately, as Achen and Bartels demonstrate, decades of research have shredded this theory, stomped on it, and set the remains on fire.
March 26, 2017
Julie Burchill on the recent boom in public applause for female masturbation:
There’s a bit in the Cate Blanchett TV commercial for a scent called Si that never fails to make me snigger smuttily. (Admittedly not difficult.) After we see the Radiant One being life-affirming in the rain (‘Si to life!’) and with a Significant Other (‘Si to us!’) she wanders off alone and, looking particularly glowy, stares into the camera: ‘Si to myself!’ It’s tragic, but what was clearly intended as an oath to empowerment always strikes me as a reference to onanism. I spit out my Malibu every time.
Mind you, I could be forgiven for my immature interpretation. In recent years, female masturbation has gone from being the love that dare not speak its name to the one that can’t stop moaning, gasping and screaming it — and then making pop videos about it.
We’re encouraged to admire these finger-happy females, but what would our reaction be if male crooners started singing about self-abuse and, even better, filming themselves pretending to do it in order to flog their music? I suspect the reaction might not be a million miles from one long collective ‘Ewww!’ But why is a masturbating man the subject of amusement and/or contempt while a masturbating woman is some sort of heroine? Logically, it doesn’t make sense. A woman can always get sex, whereas men often have to chase it, pay for it or go without it, so they’ve got a lot more reason to be interfering with themselves.
But now it’s the ladies, Lord love ’em, who are paying for the pleasure right through the nose, with the unstoppable rise of sex aids. And yes, that was a snooty judgmental tone you thought you heard there. I refuse to use the approved term ‘sex toys’ because it brings a creepy air of infantilism to this most adult of pastimes (an unnerving number of sex aids are made in the style of children’s playthings). I don’t know what I find more pitiable, two people, presumably equipped with the usual supply of hands, mouths and sex organs, setting about each other with bits of garishly coloured cut-price plastic to reach the realms of ecstasy, or a woman with more money than sex paying £12,000 for a vibrator that the Sunday Times described thus: ‘An 18ct-gold-plated gilded pebble… five vibration patterns with customisable levels of intensity… comes in an artisanal wooden box with gold trimmings.’ Be still my beating heart!
March 25, 2017
Andrew Potter, writing for Maclean’s did much more than just ruffle a few feathers in his March 20th article titled “How a snowstorm exposed Quebec’s real problem: social malaise“:
Major public crises tend to have one of two effects on a society. In the best cases, they serve to reveal the strength of the latent bonds of trust and social solidarity that lie dormant as we hurry about the city in our private bubbles — a reminder of the strength of our institutions and our selves, in the face of infrastructure. Such was the case in New York after 9/11, and across much of the northeast during the great blackout of 2003.
But sometimes the opposite occurs. The slightest bit of stress works its way into the underlying cracks of the body politic, a crisis turns those cracks to fractures, and the very idea of civil society starts to look like a cheapo paint job from a chiseling body shop. Exhibit A: The mass breakdown in the social order that saw 300 cars stranded overnight in the middle of a major Montreal highway during a snowstorm last week.
The fiasco is being portrayed as a political scandal, marked by administrative laziness, weak leadership, and a failure of communication. And while the episode certainly contains plenty of that, what is far more worrisome is the way it reveals the essential malaise eating away at the foundations of Quebec society.
Compared to the rest of the country, Quebec is an almost pathologically alienated and low-trust society, deficient in many of the most basic forms of social capital that other Canadians take for granted. This is at odds with the standard narrative; a big part of Quebec’s self-image — and one of the frequently-cited excuses for why the province ought to separate — is that it is a more communitarian place than the rest of Canada, more committed to the common good and the pursuit of collectivist goals.
But you don’t have to live in a place like Montreal very long to experience the tension between that self-image and the facts on the ground. The absence of solidarity manifests itself in so many different ways that it becomes part of the background hiss of the city.
To start with one glaring example, the police here don’t wear proper uniforms. Since 2014, municipal police across the province have worn pink, yellow, and red clownish camo pants as a protest against provincial pension reforms. They have also plastered their cruisers with stickers demanding “libre nego” — ”free negotiations” — and in many cases the stickers actually cover up the police service logo. The EMS workers have now joined in; nothing says you’re in good hands like being driven to the hospital in an ambulance covered in stickers that read “On Strike.” While this might speak to the limited virtues of collective bargaining, the broader impact on social cohesion and trust in institutions remains corrosive.
We’re talking here about a place where some restaurants offer you two bills: one for if you’re paying cash, and another if you’re paying by a more traceable mechanism. And it’s not just restaurants and the various housing contractors or garage owners who insist on cash — it’s also the family doctor, or the ultrasound clinic.
The backlash to Potter’s article hasn’t yet diminished … he’s had to resign from his position with McGill University as Director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (although he still holds a professorship there), and Maclean’s has made some modifications to the original text of the article in response to the outcry. In the Montreal Gazette, Don Macpherson says the anger isn’t at what Potter wrote, exactly:
Potter’s piece, though not entirely unfounded, is poorly informed and argued, and betrays the authoritative ignorance of an overconfident observer who only recently moved to this place. It is so indefensible that not even he would try to defend any of it less than 24 hours later. (May I never write anything for which I apologize the next day.)
But the vehemence of the reaction to it, and the indifference to Martineau’s similar column, show that Potter’s real crime is not what he wrote; it’s who wrote it, the language in which he wrote it, and for whom he wrote it.
That is, Potter is an anglophone, who wrote in English, for a publication from outside Quebec (whose editors were therefore unable to do their duty to protect their writer from himself by questioning such assertions as the one that restaurants here routinely offer their clients second bills for payment in cash, tax-free).
Potter is not family, even though he speaks French well enough to have taught at the Université de Montréal. And he would not be, even if he had been born and raised and educated here, and had spent his entire life here.
For to belong to the English-speaking community in Quebec is to be excluded, or to choose to exclude oneself, from the French-speaking one, the true Québécois nation.
And every now and then, it’s useful for everybody to be reminded of that.
In the Guardian, a sad tale of a failed reality TV show that went off the air … but the people involved were not told about it:
After a year cut off from modern life in the Scottish Highlands, imagine re-emerging to find a world where Donald Trump is US president, Britain has left the EU and Leicester won the Premier League.
For the contestants of the Channel 4 programme Eden, coming back from isolation means not just coming to terms with 2017 but also the news that their year of toil in the wilderness barely made it on to television.
The programme, which first aired in July last year, was billed as a social experiment where 23 strangers were brought to the remote west Highlands of Scotland to build a self-sufficient community away from technology and modern tools. The year-long saga would be recorded by four crew members and personal cameras.
However, only four episodes of the show – covering March, April and May – were screened, as viewing figures dropped from 1.7m to 800,000. Sexual jealousy, infighting and hunger also meant that over the year, a reported 13 of the 23 contestants left the show, though Channel 4 would not confirm the dropouts.
Despite the show being taken off air, those still toiling for survival in the wilds of the 600-acre estate on the Ardnamurchan peninsula were not informed that their ordeal had not been broadcast since August.
So much for those dreams of fame and fortune from “starring” in a reality TV show.
H/t to Colby Cosh for the link.
March 23, 2017
Uploaded on Sep 9, 2008
Another from Simon Phillips Returns
When I was living in a very remote part of the world I used to read The Economist from cover to cover, though it arrived two months late (communications in those days were not yet instantaneous). It made me feel that I was well-informed, if only in retrospect, despite my isolation. It was my window on the world.
Even then, though, I thought that it was dull and self-congratulatory, characterizing itself as of “the extreme centre.” I noticed that its reports at the front did not always coincide with the economic data at the back and that its prognostications were frequently belied by events — as, of course, most people’s prognostications are. Nevertheless, it managed to convey the impression that the disparities, insofar as they acknowledged them at all, were the fault of the events rather than of The Economist, and that the world had a duty to be as The Economist said it was and as it would be. The anonymity of the articles was intended to create the illusion that the magazine spoke from nothing so vulgar as a perspective, but rather from some Olympian height from which only the whole truth and nothing but the truth could be descried. It is the saving grace of every such magazine that no one remembers what he read in it the week before. Only by the amnesia of its readers can a magazine retain its reputation for perspicacity.
I found its style dull, too. How was it that correspondents from Lima to Limassol, from Cairo to Kathmandu, wrote in precisely the same fashion, as if everything that happened everywhere was fundamentally the same? Walter Bagehot, son-in-law of the founder of The Economist and its most famous editor, was a brilliant prose stylist and a wonderfully witty literary critic, among many other things; but The Economist has long been about as amusing as a speech by David Cameron. Its prose was the literary equivalent of IKEA furniture, prefabricated according to a manual of style; it tried to combine accessibility with judiciousness and arrived only at portentousness.
Who now reads it, and what for? I suppose there is a type of functionary who does not want to be caught out in ignorance of the latest political developments in Phnom Penh, or the supposed reasons for the latest uprising in Ouagadougou. The Economist is intellectual seriousness for middle management and MBAs. To be seen with it is a sign of belonging to, and of identifying with, a certain caste.
Theodore Dalrymple, “From Boring to Baffling”, Taki’s Magazine, 2015-08-01.
March 19, 2017
Published on 27 Feb 2015
The desire to record the human voice can be traced back to the 10th century. Thomas Edison is the first man who finally crafted the phonograph, a machine that can record sound. A few more GREAT MINDS are necessary to improve the technology until the first record made of shellac is produced. Emile Berliner, the inventor of the gramophone, is the reason why record lovers still listen to vinyl LPs to this day! This is the first part of our small series about the invention of sound recording.
March 18, 2017
I’m not sure if my predilection for MILFs came naturally or if it was learned over time. I came of age in the ’70s and ’80s and back then, only pedophiles liked young girls. All our pinups were old. When Raquel Welch appeared on The Muppet Show, I started having feelings I’d never felt before. We all did and we talked about her on the swings at school. She was 38. Pretty much every man of my generation has Olivia Newton-John at the end of Grease burned into his boner. She was 30 in that movie. Bailey was over 30 when WKRP was on. Loni Anderson was in her late 30s. Mary Ann wasn’t quite 30 on Gilligan’s Island, but Ginger was 33. Mr. Kotter’s wife was 31 when the show ended. Chrissy Amphlett was 10 years older than me when the Divinyls released “I Touch Myself,” but I almost had a heart attack looking at her thigh-high socks. Nobody paid attention to young girls when I was a young man. It was considered creepy. If one of them wore a Catholic school uniform on Halloween, we’d barf. There may be some disgusting perverts in the world, but in America, “MILF” tops the list of porn searches. Sure, there’s some extra meat around the waist and a little more junk in the trunk. What tepid eunuch can’t handle that? Real men are into women, not girls. No wonder blacks and Hispanics are trampling our masculinity like we’re a bunch of bitch-ass maricóns. We can barely handle a fat ass. You can keep your perky tits. I want breasts with a bit of hang to them. I’m not talking about National Geographic saggy, but if you can hold five pencils under your left one, I’ll write you a love letter. It’s like my friend Trevor once said: “I dated a chick with droopers when I was 19 and I really wasn’t into it — but I sure wouldn’t mind messing with them right now!” He looms in for the second part with a leering grin on his face. This is something young men will never understand. As Steve Coogan points out in The Trip, the spectrum of what you find attractive widens greatly as you get older.
Gavin McInnes, “In Praise of the Benjamin Button Babes”, Taki’s Magazine, 2015-07-24.
March 16, 2017
Uploaded on Aug 21, 2009
One of his several amazing productions. Especially the beginning is mindblowing. Unfortunately no video. This track can be found on the Drum Nation Volume 1 CD.
March 15, 2017
It’s quite common to find media reports involving radiation that are heavy on the freak-out factor and light on the facts. Here’s an interesting and useful rule of thumb you can use … in the few cases that the reports actually provide any meaningful figures on radioactivity:
Long-time readers know that very useful measures of both radioactivity and radiation dose rates are the Banana Equivalent Dose (BED), and a similar measure I think I invented (because no one else ever bothered) called the Banana Equivalent Radioactivity (BER). (The units here are explained in my old article “Understanding Radiation.”)
Bananas are useful for these measures because bananas concentrate potassium, and a certain amount of that potassium is ⁴⁰K, which is naturally radioactive. The superscript “40” there is the atomic number, or the number of protons in the nucleus, of that particular potassium (symbol K) isotope. Because of that potassium content, bananas are mildly radioactive: a medium banana at around 150g emits about 1 micro-Sievert per hour (1 µSv/hr) and contains about 15 Becquerel (15 Bq) of radioactive material.
(Why bananas? There are a lot of plant-based foods that concentrate potassium. It is, however, an essential rule of humor that bananas are the funniest fruit.)
Our radioactive boars are considered unfit at 600 Bq per kilogram. So, a tiny bit of arithmetic [(1000 g/kg)/150 g/banana × 15 Bq/banana] gives us 100 Bq/kg for bananas. All right, so this boar meat has 6 times as much radioactivity as a banana. Personally, this wouldn’t worry me.
So let’s turn to the radioactivity detected off the Oregon coast. This is 0.3 Bq per cubic meter. Conveniently — the joys of metric — one cubic meter of water is one metric tonne is 1000 liters is 1000 kilograms, so the radiation content here is .0003 Bq/kg.
15/0.0003 is 50,000. So, bananas have 50,000 times more radiation than the seawater being reported.
March 14, 2017
Published on 8 Aug 2016
Joss Whedon’s Firefly was poised to be the next huge sci-fi series to change television. Unfortunately, those hopes were dashed after one incomplete season. Let’s look back at the reasons why Firefly‘s lights went out…
A small, loyal fan base | 0:15
Marriage trouble | 0:35
Friday night fright | 0:59
The episodes aired out of order | 1:21
The promos didn’t capture the spirit of the show | 1:45
Low ratings | 2:11
An executive defense | 2:32