Quotulatiousness

November 26, 2017

Fire-arrows!

Filed under: History, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Lindybeige
Published on 10 Jun 2016

Fire-arrows – did archers really use them in battles? We see them in the movies, so presumably not.

This is the most-anticipated video of all for this channel, which naturally makes me a bit nervous. Will people be hideously disappointed? I mentioned two and a half years ago that I would make a video on this topic, and this video shows that I am as good as my word, and not over-hasty either.

My thanks to the three people who pointed out quite correctly that when I said ‘Francis Bacon’ (1561-1626) I meant Roger Bacon (1219-1292).

QotD: The dangers of second-hand smoke

Filed under: Health, Media, Quotations, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

What, then, can we say were the lessons of Nuclear Winter? I believe the lesson was that with a catchy name, a strong policy position and an aggressive media campaign, nobody will dare to criticize the science, and in short order, a terminally weak thesis will be established as fact. After that, any criticism becomes beside the point. The war is already over without a shot being fired. That was the lesson, and we had a textbook application soon afterward, with second hand smoke.

In 1993, the EPA announced that second-hand smoke was “responsible for approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year in nonsmoking adults,” and that it “impairs the respiratory health of hundreds of thousands of people.” In a 1994 pamphlet the EPA said that the eleven studies it based its decision on were not by themselves conclusive, and that they collectively assigned second-hand smoke a risk factor of 1.19. (For reference, a risk factor below 3.0 is too small for action by the EPA. or for publication in the New England Journal of Medicine, for example.) Furthermore, since there was no statistical association at the 95% confidence limits, the EPA lowered the limit to 90%. They then classified second-hand smoke as a Group-A Carcinogen.

This was openly fraudulent science, but it formed the basis for bans on smoking in restaurants, offices, and airports. California banned public smoking in 1995. Soon, no claim was too extreme. By 1998, the Christian Science Monitor was saying that “Second-hand smoke is the nation’s third-leading preventable cause of death.” The American Cancer Society announced that 53,000 people died each year of second-hand smoke. The evidence for this claim is nonexistent.

In 1998, a Federal judge held that the EPA had acted improperly, had “committed to a conclusion before research had begun,” and had “disregarded information and made findings on selective information.” The reaction of Carol Browner, head of the EPA was: “We stand by our science; there’s wide agreement. The American people certainly recognize that exposure to second hand smoke brings a whole host of health problems.” Again, note how the claim of consensus trumps science. In this case, it isn’t even a consensus of scientists that Browner evokes! It’s the consensus of the American people.

Meanwhile, ever-larger studies failed to confirm any association. A large, seven-country WHO study in 1998 found no association. Nor have well-controlled subsequent studies, to my knowledge. Yet we now read, for example, that second-hand smoke is a cause of breast cancer. At this point you can say pretty much anything you want about second-hand smoke.

As with nuclear winter, bad science is used to promote what most people would consider good policy. I certainly think it is. I don’t want people smoking around me. So who will speak out against banning second-hand smoke? Nobody, and if you do, you’ll be branded a shill of RJ Reynolds. A big tobacco flunky. But the truth is that we now have a social policy supported by the grossest of superstitions. And we’ve given the EPA a bad lesson in how to behave in the future. We’ve told them that cheating is the way to succeed.

Michael Crichton, “Aliens Cause Global Warming”: the Caltech Michelin Lecture, 2003-01-17.

November 25, 2017

Paul Kidby’s Discworld Imaginarium

Filed under: Books, Britain, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Jessica Brisbane linked to this Guardian overview of a new book by Paul Kidby, collecting his art to accompany Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series:

Terry Pratchett’s ‘artist of choice’ Paul Kidby introduces some of the images he produced during their decades-long collaboration

November 24, 2017

Not Guided by Policy: Hunter S. Thompson and the Birth of Gonzo Journalism

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

Today I Found Out
Published on 6 Nov 2017

In this video:

“We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold.” This is the opening line from the highly acclaimed roman à clef Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream written by Hunter S. Thompson, one of America’s most countercultural and anti-authoritarian writers. The untamed master of his own self-titled genre, “gonzo journalism,” Thompson set ablaze the American standards for journalism during the 1960s and 70s with a cornucopia of drugs, alcohol, gun toting, and most notably, his exemplary writing.

Want the text version?: http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2015/07/not-guided-policy-act-gonzo/

November 23, 2017

Frankenstein: Plutarch’s Lives – Extra Sci Fi – #4

Filed under: Books, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Extra Credits
Published on 21 Nov 2017

Mary Shelley drew heavily from the style of biography first pioneered by Plutarch, creating characters like Victor Frankenstein and the monster whose lives parallel each other, but whose differing circumstances lead them to embody very different values.

QotD: The rise of junk science

Filed under: Education, Media, Quotations, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

As the twentieth century drew to a close, the connection between hard scientific fact and public policy became increasingly elastic. In part this was possible because of the complacency of the scientific profession; in part because of the lack of good science education among the public; in part, because of the rise of specialized advocacy groups which have been enormously effective in getting publicity and shaping policy; and in great part because of the decline of the media as an independent assessor of fact. The deterioration of the American media is dire loss for our country. When distinguished institutions like the New York Times can no longer differentiate between factual content and editorial opinion, but rather mix both freely on their front page, then who will hold anyone to a higher standard?

Michael Crichton, “Aliens Cause Global Warming”: the Caltech Michelin Lecture, 2003-01-17.

November 22, 2017

A damned odd canary in this particular coal mine

Filed under: Government, Media, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Megan McArdle on the imminent demise of the FCC’s “Net Neutrality”:

The internet will be filled today with denunciations of this move, threats of a dark future in which our access to content will be controlled by a few powerful companies. And sure, that may happen. But in fact, it may already have happened, led not by ISPs, but by the very companies that were fighting so hard for net neutrality.

Consider what happened to the Daily Stormer, the neo-Nazi publication, after Charlottesville. One by one, hosting companies refused to permit its content on their servers. The group was forced to effectively flee the country, and then other countries, too, shut it down.

Now of course, these are not nice people. Their website espoused vile hate. But the fact remains that what they were publishing was not illegal, merely immoral, and their immoral speech was effectively shut down by a small number of private companies who decided to exercise their considerable control over what we’re allowed to read. And what is to stop them from expanding this decision to other categories, forcing the rest of us to conform to Silicon Valley’s idea of what it is moral and right for us to see?

Fifteen years ago, when I started blogging, it was common to hear that “the internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” You don’t hear that so often anymore, because it’s not true. China has proven very effective at censoring the internet, and as market power has consolidated in the tech industry, so have private firms.

Meanwhile, our experience of the internet is increasingly controlled by a handful of firms, most especially Google and Facebook. The argument for regulating these companies as public utilities is arguably at least as strong as the argument for thus regulating ISPs, and very possibly much stronger; while cable monopolies may have local dominance, none of them has the ability that Google and Facebook have to unilaterally shape what Americans see, hear, and read.

In other words, we already live in the walled garden that activists worry about, and the walls are getting higher every day. Is this a problem? I think it is. But that doesn’t mean that the internet would get better if Google and Facebook and Apple and Amazon were required to make every decision with a regulator hanging over their shoulder to decide whether it was sufficiently “neutral.”

November 20, 2017

The Gunfighter (Best Short Film Ever) 1080p HD

Filed under: Humour, Media, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Tanvir Akhtar
Published on 1 Jul 2014

In the tradition of classic westerns, a narrator sets up the story of a lone gunslinger who walks into a saloon. However, the people in this saloon can hear the narrator and the narrator may just be a little bit bloodthirsty.

Director: Eric Kissack https://vimeo.com/79306807
Writer: Kevin Tenglin
The Narrator (voice): Nick Offerman

Stars:
Scott Beehner … Tommy Henderson
Shawn Parsons … The Gunfighter
Brace Harris … Johnny Henderson
Eileen O’Connell … Sally
Jordan Black … Sam
Timothy Brennen … Bill Jessup
Travis Lincoln Cox … Elijah Jessup
Schoen Hodges … Gabriel Jessup
Circus-Szalewski … Ned Schilling (as Circus Szalewski)
Chet Nelson … Farmer Valentine
Keith Biondi … John McCullers

WINNER Audience Award for Best Short Film – LA Film Fest
Best of the Fest Selection – Palm Springs Short Fest
Official Selection – Cleveland International Film Fest
Official Selection – Seattle International Film Fest
Official Selection – Traverse City Film Festival
Official Selection – Woods Hole Film Festival

H/T to Jordan Heron for the link.

November 16, 2017

QotD: Carrier cynicism

Filed under: Britain, Media, Military, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

If you are a follower of UK defence matters, then it seems to be traditional that you must be find a reason, any reason, to naysay and be downbeat about something good. The recent sailing of QUEEN ELIZABETH (QEC, and of course, not yet an HMS), is a good example of this. There were tweets and moans aplenty about an aircraft carrier supposedly without aircraft, about it being empty for years across a barren flight deck with tumbleweed and adrift deck hockey quoits the sole occupants, and of course that’s assuming a 17-year-old hacker hadn’t somehow taken charge of the ship using its SHOCK HORROR Windows XP system that’s not actually connected to the internet to somehow do something bad. This is without mentioning the near orgasmic levels of excitement the media wound themselves up into with the prospect of the vessel running into the side of the dockyard or being stuck under the Forth Bridge.

In reality the opening days of the QE’s sea trials could not have gone better for the Royal Navy and the MOD. An outstandingly effective PR operation managed to secure a great deal of national media coverage of this event, and most of the main papers had photos of the ship at sea. Some highly astute programming ensured that a pair of Type 23 frigates and a pair of Merlin helicopters were immediately available to ostensibly provide cover, but arguably in reality provided the nation with several years of stock footage of British carrier groups at sea. Within a couple of days the first landing was achieved, thus slaying the ‘but she’ll have no aircraft’ argument, and the internet is awash with glorious photos of the biggest warship ever built outside of the United States of America at sea. To top it all off, some sharply pointed jibes towards the Russians by the Secretary of State for Defence managed to elicit a strong reaction, suggesting the Bear is not as thick skinned as it wishes to portray itself to be.

Sir Humphrey, “Some Brief Thoughts on QUEEN ELIZABETH sailing”, Thin Pinstriped Line, 2017-07-03.

November 14, 2017

“…the Mount Rushmore of Canadian television for grown-ups”

Filed under: Cancon, Media — Tags: — Nicholas @ 05:00

I stopped watching much television on a regular basis by the time I was in my late teens, so I’m certainly not qualified to talk about what shows might qualify as the greatest Canadian TV, but Colby Cosh points to Justin McElroy’s NCAA-style tournament bracket of Canadian TV (English language only) as perhaps the most accurate representation we’re likely to see:

The bracket provides for an interesting overview — necessarily short-sighted, and skewed toward shows that an online audience has a chance of remembering — of Canada’s English-language television history. McElroy made the choice to organize the “tournament” in thematic quadrants, which created an immediate problem in the small 16-show version of the bracket. Literally all the best English Canadian programs for adult audiences have been comedies, and were packed in with each other in the early rounds.

This is still a bit of a problem in the expanded version, and I am cross with McElroy for setting it up this way, but it is his baby. And when I think about it, I admire the way he made pretty indisputable choices within the comedy category. His original four comedy invitees to the tournament were SCTV, Corner Gas, The Kids in the Hall, and Trailer Park Boys.

That’s… pretty much the Mount Rushmore of Canadian television for grown-ups, isn’t it? I have a special fondness for SCTV, which is part generational and part parochial: if I peep over the top of my desktop Mac right now, I can look down at the plaza where they shot the walk-and-talk sequence in Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas’s “Play It Again, Bob.” And I could go have lunch in the restaurant where they wrote it, too.

SCTV’s capture of an NBC time slot, its (now widely acknowledged) out-competing of Saturday Night Live, and its monumental role in the imaginations of today’s influential comedians make it a special Canadian treasure. And it has aged pretty well: people of all ages still laugh at “Count” Floyd Robertson, I think.

[…]

These shows all did what is often thought to be nigh-impossible for Canadian TV: they found devoted, permanent international fans. Nearly all the shows in the other brackets are mere schlocky Canadiana, of no enduring interest to anyone else on the planet. The Degrassi franchise is perhaps the major exception — and even it might be called schlocky Canadiana, if we’re being frank with one another. Its reputation in the U.S. depends heavily on the social-realist adventurousness that the Canadian broadcast environment permitted: for Americans it seems to be almost like watching another country’s weird porn.

However, no mention of the great shows of Canadian [content] TV would be complete without at least a tip of the hat to one of the worst TV shows ever made.

November 10, 2017

QotD: Dissing model railroaders

Filed under: Media, Quotations, Railways — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I hate it when nonmodelers talk about model trains.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3264325/My-favourite-tracks-ones-trains-says-Rod-Stewart-Singer-reveals-books-second-hotel-room-models-play-tour.html
http://www.therichest.com/expensive-lifestyle/money/rod-stewart-model-train-collection/

I’m not a lover of rock music so when Model Railroader did a writeup of Rod Stewart’s layout a few years back, I said who? Then I read the article and said wow, that’s great work. Especially when it was obvious that Mr. Stewart did the work himself. A great model railroad isn’t something you can just buy, no matter how rich you are. It’s a labor of love that involves developing real skills and tens of thousands of hours of painstaking work. Most model railroads are never finished and disappear when their builders pass on, making them more or less ephemeral works of art.

To call what Mr. Stewart does, “playing with trains” is a direct insult. Nobody says about even the crappiest painter or sculptor that they are just “playing with paint” or “playing with clay.” The same for all sorts of hobbies Yet the tone that you get when you admit to modeling trains is almost always the same. Somehow building model train is playing with toys and you are doing something childish. Somehow the idea that trains come in “sets” never seems to go beyond the train around the tree.

Which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Model railroading involves a great number of skills that most hobbies don’t have. For instance, you don’t get too far before you realize that your favorite prototype train is just not being made, or isn’t being made in your railroad’s paint scheme. So you get out the saw and cut up that train set locomotive and add other parts, ending by repainting the engine in your colors. Now you want a spur track on your railroad to service an industry. You might need to learn how to make your own track. That industry, well that might involve digging into historical archives to figure out what the building did before it became a shopping mall. As for how the railroad looks, those train set trees and vacuum formed tunnel get old fast, so you learn how to form hills and rocks, filling the hills with trees, that look like trees. You research that stuff too. In fact model railroading involves researching, photographing and studying far more than just the trains because the train need a reason to run and country to run through.

Almost no other hobby than model trains gets the kind of ridicule that model railroaders do. Some of that is, unfortunately, self-inflicted as model railroaders aren’t above poking a little at each other. Still, I’m not sure what causes the stigma that goes with small trains. Yet no other hobby requires the number of skills that model railroading, if done well does. You work with more kinds of tools, frequently through magnification than just about anything else. I’ve seen hobbyist machinists for instance talk about having to deal with “small parts” that were larger than a typical modeling project.

J.C. Carlton, “Rod Stewart And His Trains”, The Arts Mechanical, 2016-03-17.

November 8, 2017

Nancy Friday, RIP

Filed under: Books, Health, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the 1970s, one of the most controversial books was Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden, drawn from interviews with a large number of women about their sexual fantasies:

My Secret Garden exploded on to bestseller lists around the globe in 1973. The work was shocking, deeply sexy in parts and proved that women had erotic imaginations just as men did, and that they, too, masturbated just as men did. It heralded the innocent dawning of what later became known as the sex-positive feminist movement. My Secret Garden came at the beginning of a wave of overtly sexual content written by women. Also in 1973, Betty Dodson penned what was to become the world’s bestseller on masturbation, Sex for One. My Secret Garden didn’t have the gravitas and respectability of say, Shulamith Firestone, but as author Susie Bright, the original “Sexpert” in the 1980s and 90s, says, “it sold millions and millions of copies and was a big wake-up for America’s puritanical, sheltered girls and young women”.

Of course, Friday was attacked by many. Like Dodson, her work was dismissed for being not scientific enough or for being too personal, or too much like soft porn. But an even bigger issue was that she wasn’t, Bright recalls with glee, “the tiniest bit politically correct”.

There is something quite secret about My Secret Garden. All Friday’s interviewees, who talk about fantasies ranging from being sex workers to being urinated on, talk anonymously. One interviewee explains how, when she has sex with her husband, her fantasy is imagining “the bed practically torn apart and us ending up on the floor wet and sticky and happy”. The reality though is that, “All he’s really doing is lying on top of me and thrusting away.

In 1996, Friday told Salon: “I would no more go to a consciousness-raising group and talk about my intimate life with my husband than fly to the moon.” In that same year, while discussing sexual harassment in the office on Bill Maher’s Comedy Central talk show Politically Incorrect, she claimed that men suffered from harassment as much as women.

H/T to Kathy Shaidle, who commented:

This was a very important book, although some will scoff at the idea. I was always struck by the fact that the only two male fantasy “objects” who were named (possibly for overly cautious “legal” reasons; one is clearly Leonard Cohen but not called that) were Mr. Spock and Sherlock Holmes…

The wide-spread (and I believe disingenuous) surprise that greeted the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey was no surprise at all to me. Friday was denounced as “no feminist” for revealing women’s rape fantasies, and she was decidedly non-p.c. in other respects. Whenever anyone dismisses this or that “evidence” as “simply anecdotal,” I think of this book in which anecdote is all, and more revealing and true than any “experiment” or “survey.”

QotD: The second coming of SF’s depressing and neurotic “New Wave”

Filed under: Books, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Back in the mid to late 70’s the “New Wave” was in full force. Downbeat endings, “black and gray morality” (which can be good if handled well, at least as a change-up from more clear cut items) or worse “black and black.” Those were the tone of Science Fiction.

Then, fairly close to each other, two movies came out which took an entirely different approach: Lucas’ Star Wars and Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The rogue was given back his heart of gold. The callow youth could be the hero of the piece, not ground down by the world weary cynics. Heroes who are actually heroes fighting bad guys who weren’t so “sympathetic” that you couldn’t tell hero from villain.

It was a refreshing change. And the result was that, for a time, it became OK to have good guys who were good guys. Bad guys who were actually bad and not just “oppressed” or “victims of their backgrounds”. You didn’t have to wonder who to root for.

Today we’re kind of in a similar position. One of the best selling series, for young people is The Hunger Games. Black and Very-Dark-Gray morality, little really to choose from in the sides, and (no spoilers) that’s shown pretty clearly in the ending. And in printed SF? So much “humanity is a plague” stuff. Bleah.

David L. Burkhead, “Star Wars and the Human Wave”, The Writer in Black, 2015-10-21.

November 3, 2017

QotD: Perhaps we were lucky that Firefly got cancelled when it did…

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

This cult classic made the list not for being overtly “conservative”, but mainly for being “not liberal”. The universe of Firefly is some other solar system with “dozens of planets and hundreds of moons”. Some of these are closer than others to the “core” planets, which are under control of the “Alliance”, a plus-sized, technologically-advanced and repressive system of government. The outer planets and moons have less technology, and even less law, i.e Alliance control, but subsequently greater freedom. Firefly producer Joss Whedon, a stereotypical Hollywood lefty, somehow (inadvertently?) imbued Firefly with a heavily libertarian sensibility, which may not be exactly conservative, but it definitely isn’t liberal. Progressive fans of the show may be tempted to fantasize about the Alliance being an oppressive right-wing government, but that would make the “Browncoat” rebels rat bastard commie revolutionaries, and that makes no sense. The Browncoats are not interested in destroying civilization and putting a new one in its place, rather, they just want to be left alone. Their motto can best be described as “Don’t Tread On Me”, not “Workers of the World, Unite”.

Almost every science fiction fan, to a man, bemoans the fact that Firefly was yanked after only 11 episodes, and their dreams are filled what could-have-beens. I, however, take the contrarian view that the cancellation of Firefly was A Good Thing, a blessing in disguise that helped preserve it when it was still a quality show. For it would not have continued a quality show. I believe that Joss Whedon’s perverse Hollywood lefty views would have eventually seeped into Firefly the way a dead rat behind the baseboard will stink up the entire kitchen. A similar thing happened with Battlestar Galactica, as Jonah Goldberg argues in this Commentary article from 2009.

“Whither Conservative TV Shows? [OregonMuse]”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2016-03-19.

October 30, 2017

QotD: Responding to “do my homework for me” requests from students

Filed under: Humour, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

There is one certain kind of email interview, however, which I’m going to single out for attention. Just recently, I got an interview request from a high school student which was clearly nothing more than the questions he received as part of a assignment, and he thought he could fool me into answering them for him. Now, this wasn’t the first time I’ve received such a letter, so even though I’m answering him the rest of you smartass students need to listen up as well: Listen, kiddo, I didn’t just fall off of the fucking turnip truck. Don’t let my spectacular bod fool you; I’m old enough to be your grandmother, and I was probably outwitting teachers before your parents were born. I’ve been around the block more times than you’ve masturbated, and if you think you can trick me into doing your homework, you need to be slapped harder than I’m willing to give you for what you can afford. It’s bad enough when adult reporters try to get me to do their work for them, but it reaches a higher level of impudence when the person who thinks he can outwit me isn’t even as old as the last bottle of wine I drank. So cut that shit out; if you want to interview me come up with some proper questions, record it, then write the damned paper yourself. The practice will do you good, and one day you’ll thank me when you become an actual writer rather than a fucking stenographer whose “craft” consists of parroting whatever moronic propaganda the cops are shoveling out at press conferences in the late 2020s.

Maggie McNeill, “Not Last Night”, The Honest Courtesan, 2016-03-17.

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