Quotulatiousness

February 9, 2018

John Perry Barlow, RIP

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

Gareth Corfield on the death of John Perry Barlow, author of the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace:

John Perry Barlow, a co-founder of the US Electronic Frontier Foundation, and also a lyricist for the Grateful Dead, has died aged 70.

Barlow passed away “quietly in his sleep” yesterday, according to the EFF, which he helped set up in 1990.

“It is no exaggeration to say that major parts of the Internet we all know and love today exist and thrive because of Barlow’s vision and leadership. He always saw the Internet as a fundamental place of freedom, where voices long silenced can find an audience and people can connect with others regardless of physical distance,” said the foundation’s executive director, Cindy Cohn.

The BBC reported that Barlow had been ill for several years but “few details were given about his medical problems”.

In the history of the Internet, Barlow will be forever remembered for his 1996 Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.

“I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear,” wrote Barlow, a bold vision of the future that, sadly, did not come to pass.

The EFF defended Barlow against the inevitable criticisms of the Declaration, with Cohn acknowledging that he was “sometimes held up as a straw man for a kind of naive techno-utopianism” but insisting that he understood “new technology could create and empower evil as much as it could create and empower good”.

I wasn’t a fan of the Grateful Dead, but I read his Declaration soon after it was released and found it inspiring (if not particularly realistic, even then). Few people can have a significant role in a single endeavour, but Barlow was undeniably prominent in the music scene and the early internet community. We’re all poorer for his passing.

February 2, 2018

Castro’s son “Fidelito” is dead

Filed under: Americas — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

BBC News just reported:

The 68-year-old son of Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro, Fidel Ángel Castro Díaz-Balart, has died in Havana after taking his own life, according to state media.

He was found on Thursday morning and is said to have suffered from depression.

Popularly known as “Fidelito”, he was first born son of the former president, who died in November 2016.

Castro Díaz-Balart worked as a nuclear physicist and an adviser to the Council of the State of Cuba.

January 26, 2018

Ursula K. Le Guin, RIP

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

I’m sorry to say that I’ve never read any of her work, but this obituary by Jude Karabus (especially this section) makes me think I missed out:

A lot of her work – like that of all the literary greats – had to do with thought experiments: What if the relationship between power and gender were different; what if you didn’t – for good or for bad – have to think about whether you wanted to have sex with someone when you interacted with them? What of the profit motive and humankind’s uneasy relationship with war, the environment and its own nature. Her work was, of course, unflinchingly feminist, humanist also.

There is a yellowed, slightly dog-eared copy of 1974’s The Dispossessed, complete with art nouveau-style illustration, on the shelf of the William Morris Gallery in London. It has a placard beneath it that reads something like: “This is the type of thing Morris was banging on about”. (Morris was a 19th-century English textile designer and social activist who brought art to the ‘lower’ classes by mass-producing tiles, wallpaper and other fine furnishings.)

It seems an odd choice by the curator; it’s the only book in the display that wasn’t literally written by a Morris compatriot or a known influence on him, and she was born years after he died. They were certainly of similar political bent, wanted to make art affordable etc, but only if you squint a little. The book was also written before I was born. There’s probably a connection I didn’t understand; perhaps the cover art was “a Morris” (he also painted and wrote poetry) – the terse note propped up against it doesn’t make it clear. But I like to think the curator was grabbed by the throat by her prose, like I was, and was simply looking for any excuse to say: “Here. Sit down. Read this! No really. Read this.”

A quick overview of the life and work of William Morris here.

October 29, 2017

QotD: Mencken’s revised view of Coolidge

Filed under: Economics, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In what manner he would have performed himself if the holy angels had shoved the Depression forward a couple of years — this we can only guess, and one man’s hazard is as good as another’s. My own is that he would have responded to bad times precisely as he responded to good ones — that is, by pulling down the blinds, stretching his legs upon his desk, and snoozing away the lazy afternoons…. He slept more than any other President, whether by day or by night. Nero fiddled, but Coolidge only snored…. Counting out Harding as a cipher only, Dr. Coolidge was preceded by one World Saver and followed by two more. What enlightened American, having to choose between any of them and another Coolidge, would hesitate for an instant? There were no thrills while he reigned, but neither were there any headaches. He had no ideas, and he was not a nuisance.

H.L. Mencken, The American Mercury, 1933-04.

September 14, 2017

The art of leadership and other secrets

Filed under: Humour, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In Taki’s Magazine, Steve Sailer remembers the late Jerry Pournelle, including a helpful leadership tip he once shared:

I didn’t meet Jerry until 1999, but I’d known his son Alex in high school. The Pournelle family asked me to go with them to Kansas City in August 1976 to the science-fiction convention at which Heinlein, the central American sci-fi writer of the 20th century, received his lifetime achievement award. (But I had to be at college that week.)

But Jerry, one of the great Southern California Cold Warriors, had a remarkable number of careers, starting as a teenage artillery officer during the Korean War, which deafened him in one ear. (At the lunch table, he’d choose his seat carefully to position his one remaining good ear next to his guest.)

He once recalled a question from the Army Officer Candidate School test:

    Q. You are in charge of a detail of 11 men and a sergeant. There is a 25-foot flagpole lying on the sandy, brush-covered ground. You are to erect the pole. What is your first order?

The right answer is:

    A. “Sergeant, erect that flagpole.”?

In other words, if the sergeant knows how to do it, then there’s no need for you to risk your dignity as an officer and a gentleman by issuing some potentially ludicrous order about how to erect the flagpole. And if the sergeant doesn’t know either, well, he’ll probably order a corporal to do it, and so forth down the chain of command. But by the time the problem comes back up to you, it will be well established that nobody else has any more idea than you do.

He also quotes Dave Barry’s breakdown of Pournelle’s monthly columns for Byte magazine:

In 1977 Jerry paid $12,000 to have a state-of-the-art personal computer assembled for him, supposedly to boost his productivity. By 1980 that led to his long-running “Chaos Manor” column in Byte magazine in which he would document his troubles on the bleeding edge of PC technology. As fellow word-processing aficionado Dave Barry explained jealously, Jerry got paid to mess around with his computers when he should be writing:

    Every month, his column has basically the same plot, which is:

    1. Jerry tries to make some seemingly simple change to one of his computers, such as connect it to a new printer.

    2. Everything goes hideously wrong…. Sometimes there are massive power outages all over the West Coast. Poor Jerry spends days trying to get everything straightened out.

    3. Finally…Jerry gets his computer working again approximately the way it used to, and he writes several thousand words about it for ‘Byte.’

    I swear it’s virtually the same plot, month after month, and yet it’s a popular column in a magazine that appeals primarily to knowledgeable computer people.

I like to imagine Steve Jobs circulating “Chaos Manor” columns to his executives with scribbled annotations suggesting that some people would pay good money to not have to go through all this.

September 9, 2017

Dr. Jerry Pournelle, 1933-2017

Filed under: Books — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 08:14

I saw this brief notice at Instapundit last night and shared it with my Facebook friends:

ALEX POURNELLE TEXTS:

    Hi
    I’m afraid that Jerry passed away
    We had a great time at DragonCon
    He did not suffer. Please feel free to post this news.

Rest in peace, Jerry. You will be missed.

I met Dr. Pournelle at SF conventions a couple of times, but you can’t say you knew someone on the basis of fleeting contacts like that. We did have a few minutes of discussion at one convention on the topic of why Harrison Ford’s portrayal of Indiana Jones was/was not a faithful characterization of how most people viewed archaeologists … which was highly entertaining. Although I enjoyed his SF writing, I actually thought of him more as a computer journalist, as I was a huge fan of his Chaos Manor columns in Byte magazine. As with George Orwell’s “As I please” columns, Pournelle didn’t let himself be limited to just bits and bytes and the range of topics was sometimes far outside the normal range for the magazine.

Here is his Wikipedia page.

May 29, 2017

Mark Steyn on the career of Roger Moore

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

On the weekend, Mark Steyn posted an article discussing the late Sir Roger’s pre-Bond roles:

Roger Moore played 007 in seven Bond films – although it seemed like more at the time. He was a rare Englishman in a role more often played by Celts and colonials – Connery (Scots), Lazenby (Aussie), Dalton (Welsh), Brosnan (Irish)… Any Canadians? Yes. Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell). For some Ian Fleming fans, Moore was a little too English for a role that benefits from a certain chippiness toward his metropolitan masters. Yet he bestrode the era like a colossus whose legs wee almost as unfeasibly long as they are on the Octopussy poster and whose trouser flares were almost as terrifyingly wide as on the Man With The Golden Gun poster.

[…]

But The Saint, for six years in the Sixties, was a hit of an entirely different scale, and made Moore the first UK TV star to become a millionaire (hence, in the Seventies, the tax exile). Leslie Charteris had created the Saint in the Twenties, and the books are very much of their day. But Moore’s version planted Simon Templar firmly in the Swingin’ Sixties with a lot of Continental dolly birds to give it some Euro-cool. Lew Grade, bored by running a local telly franchise in Birmingham, had his eye on the global market and gave The Saint a rare style for the British TV of its day. It started with the stylized graphics and theme tune, and then, upon the initial reference to Simon Templar’s name, the animated halo appearing over the character’s head, at which Roger Moore would glance amusedly upwards – perhaps the first conscious, and most iconic, deployment of his famous eyebrows.

True, if you paid close attention from week to week, the passenger terminal helpfully labeled “Nice” or “Monte Carlo” or “Geneva” looked remarkably like East Midlands Airport, but Moore’s tuxedoed aplomb held it all together. He was almost too dishy in those days – his beauty spot, for one, seems far more prominent in monochrome – and he sensed that he didn’t have to do too much but stand there looking suave. Everything he would do as Bond he did as Simon Templar: the quips, the birds, the sports cars. But he did it, more or less, for real. He co-owned the series, which eventually made over a third of a billion pounds (which back then, pre-devaluation, wasn’t that far shy of a billion dollars), and he took it seriously enough to serve as producer and director – although, on the one occasion I met him, he characteristically pooh-poohed the idea that he had any talents in either field. The series became less of a mystery-solver and more of a spy caper as it progressed, and indeed in one episode Simon Templar is actually mistaken for James Bond. Sean Connery had been whinging about his Bond burdens since at least Thunderball in 1965, and Roger Moore fully expected to get the call.

[…]

Moore belonged to the last generation of British thespians for whom it was assumed that acting meant presenting as posher than one’s origins. Unlike Lord Brett, young Roger didn’t go to Harrow but to Battersea Grammar School. He dad was a policeman who went to investigate a robbery at the home of Brian Desmond Hurst, a prolific director whose films include the all-time great, Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol. Constable Moore mentioned that his boy Roger quite fancied being an actor, and Hurst hired him as an extra for Caesar and Cleopatra (1945) and then paid for him to go to RADA. That’s where he met a young actress called Lois Hooker from Kitchener, Ontario, who changed her name to Lois Maxwell and became the defining Miss Moneypenny. Young Lois and young Roger both poshed up at RADA – although, as snootier critics with more finely calibrated class consciousness were wont to observe, from his Saint days to Lord Brett to Bond he was Lew Grade’s and Cubby Broccoli’s idea of an English gentleman rather than the real thing.

December 8, 2016

Greg Lake, RIP

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:44

The BBC reported that Greg Lake has died:

Greg Lake, who fronted both King Crimson and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, has died aged 69.

One of the founding fathers of progressive rock, the British musician is known for songs including “In the Court of the Crimson King” and his solo hit “I Believe in Father Christmas”.

He died on Wednesday after “a long and stubborn battle with cancer”, said his manager.

The news comes nine months after Lake’s band-mate Keith Emerson died.

Keyboardist Emerson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, coroners in the US said.

Lake’s manager Stewart Young wrote on Facebook: “Yesterday, December 7th, I lost my best friend to a long and stubborn battle with cancer.

“Greg Lake will stay in my heart forever, as he has always been.”

Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett paid tribute on Twitter, writing: “Music bows its head to acknowledge the passing of a great musician and singer, Greg Lake.”

“Another sad loss with the passing of Greg Lake,” wrote Rick Wakeman, keyboardist in pro rock band Yes.

“You left some great music with us my friend & so like Keith, you will live on.”

November 29, 2016

Justin Trudeau’s 15 minutes of internet fame

Filed under: Americas, Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In his statement on the death of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went unexpectedly viral and his phrasing was turned into a hilarious Twitter hashtag: #TrudeauEuologies. In the National Post, Colby Cosh sums up the responses:

The Prime Minister has received a thousand-bomber raid’s worth of invective for his formal statement on the death of Fidel Castro, the communist dictator of Cuba who was an old friend of the Trudeau family. You probably need no reminding of the first sentence of the press release, already lampooned worldwide as a triumph of putrid euphemism: “While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for ‘el Comandante’.”

Habitual readers will know that when I see a thousand people gathering stones to throw at one, I try to see things from the side of the one. So my first impulse was to search for even a half-satisfactory justification of the PM’s statement. Alas, nothing came to hand. Just more rocks.

There is the “diplomacy is the art of lying about terrible things” defence: the idea that the interests of Canada might demand that Justin Trudeau use the opportunity presented by Fidel’s demise to suck up to his family and inner circle. This seems to me like an upside-down understanding of diplomacy. The Canadian government may sometimes be obliged to take, and even defend, morally ambiguous actions in the name of state interests. Merely telling sweet-sounding falsehoods about individuals is rarely involved. Like Trudeau’s acknowledgment that Castro was a “Comandante” — a pompous sadist who turned a beautiful country into a giant barracks — the diplomacy defence tacitly confesses the truth: Cuban government is lawless personal rule — as of now, the rule of a restless ghost who must be placated.

The statement might even be taken as a cryptic critique of the Castro regime, but there is no evidence the Prime Minister’s friendship with Castro was anything but genuine. When Trudeau writes “I know my father was very proud to call (Castro) a friend” he is stating fact. If the younger Trudeau does not believe that Castro was just a superhuman social reformer, and he really sees Cuba’s generations of exiles and political prisoners as more than hazy abstractions, then his family’s sucking up to Castro is fully conscious, fairy-tale evil, rather than the aftertaste of Fidel’s long-standing glamour cult among halfwit intellectuals.

Update: In Maclean’s, Terry Glavin twists the knife:

It was bound to happen sooner or later.

Ever since his election as Canada’s Prime Minister last October, Justin Trudeau has revelled in global tributes, raves and swoons. He’s the Disney prince with the trippy dance moves, the groovy Haida tattoo and the gender-balanced cabinet. He’s the last best hope for globalization, the star attraction at the Pride parades, the hero of the Paris Climate Summit, the guy everyone wants a selfie with.

Trudeau made himself synonymous with Canada. He made Canada cool again. It was fun while it lasted.

By the early hours of Saturday morning, Havana time, Trudeau was an international laughingstock. Canada’s “brand,” so carefully constructed in Vogue photo essays and Economist magazine cover features, seemed to suddenly implode into a bonspiel of the vanities, with humiliating headlines streaming from the Washington Post to the Guardian, and from Huffington Post to USA Today.

It was Trudeau’s maudlin panegyric on the death of Fidel Castro that kicked it off, and there is a strangely operatic quality to the sequence of events that brings us to this juncture. When Trudeau made his public debut in fashionable society 16 years ago, with his “Je t’aime, papa!” encomium at the gala funeral of his father in Montreal, Fidel Castro himself was there among the celebrities, as an honorary pallbearer, lending a kind of radical frisson to the event. Now it’s all come full circle.

July 27, 2016

QotD: Why Mencken wrote

Filed under: Quotations, Randomness — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Having lived all my life in a country swarming with messiahs, I have been mistaken, perhaps quite naturally, for one myself, especially by the others. It would be hard to imagine anything more preposterous. I am, in fact, the complete anti-Messiah, and detest converts almost as much as I detest missionaries. My writings, such as they are, have had only one purpose: to attain for H. L. Mencken that feeling of tension relieved and function achieved which a cow enjoys on giving milk. Further than that, I have had no interest in the matter whatsoever. It has never given me any satisfaction to encounter one who said my notions had pleased him. My preference has always been for people with notions of their own. I have believed all my life in free thought and free speech — up to and including the utmost limits of the endurable.

H.L. Mencken, “For the Defense Written for the Associated Press, for use in my obituary”, 1940-11-20.

July 23, 2016

Former Vikings head coach Denny Green, RIP

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:33

Yesterday’s grand opening of the Minnesota Vikings’ new stadium in Minneapolis was unfortunately also when the news came in that former head coach Dennis Green had passed away that morning.

Former Vikings head coach Dennis Green (photo from the team website)

Former Vikings head coach Dennis Green (photo from the team website)

Many former players, including Randy Moss, Hall of Fame Head Coach Bud Grant and Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer shared their respects for Green.

Green became the third African-American head coach in NFL history and the second in the modern era when he was hired by the Minnesota Vikings on Jan. 10, 1992. A decade earlier, Green became the second African-American head coach in NCAA Division I-A at Northwestern in 1981.

When Vikings.com interviewed Green for the “Celebrate Perseverance” Black History Month content series that launched in February 2015, he spoke about the appreciation he had for being “born at the right time.” He said he witnessed a period of substantial change that allowed him greater opportunities than generations before him were able to enjoy. He wanted to do well so that others would be extended opportunities.

“My generation laid a certain foundation,” Green said, “It’s up to the next generation to be able to recognize that really, it’s all about equal access and equal opportunity and all of us operating on the same and playing on the same earth.”

July 13, 2016

QotD: William Jennings Bryan

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It is the national custom to sentimentalize the dead, as it is to sentimentalize men about to be hanged. Perhaps I fall into that weakness here. The Bryan I shall remember is the Bryan of his last weeks on earth — broken, furious, and infinitely pathetic. It was impossible to meet his hatred with hatred to match it. He was winning a battle that would make him forever infamous wherever enlightened men remembered it and him. Even his old enemy, Darrow, was gentle with him at the end. That cross-examination might have been ten times as devastating. It was plain to everyone that the old Berserker Bryan was gone — that all that remained of him was a pair of glaring and horrible eyes.

But what of his life? Did he accomplish any useful thing? Was he, in his day, of any dignity as a man, and of any value to his fellow-men? I doubt it. Bryan, at his best, was simply a magnificent job-seeker. The issues that he bawled about usually meant nothing to him. He was ready to abandon them whenever he could make votes by doing so, and to take up new ones at a moment’s notice. For years he evaded Prohibition as dangerous; then he embraced it as profitable. At the Democratic National Convention last year he was on both sides, and distrusted by both. In his last great battle there was only a baleful and ridiculous malignancy. If he was pathetic, he was also disgusting.

Bryan was a vulgar and common man, a cad undiluted. He was ignorant, bigoted, self-seeking, blatant and dishonest. His career brought him into contact with the first men of his time; he preferred the company of rustic ignoramuses. It was hard to believe, watching him at Dayton, that he had traveled, that he had been received in civilized societies, that he had been a high officer of state. He seemed only a poor clod like those around him, deluded by a childish theology, full of an almost pathological hatred of all learning, all human dignity, all beauty, all fine and noble things. He was a peasant come home to the dung-pile. Imagine a gentleman, and you have imagined everything that he was not.

H.L. Mencken, “Bryan”, Baltimore Evening Sun, 1925-07-27.

July 8, 2016

Leonard G. Lee, 1938-2016

Filed under: Business, Cancon — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 13:21

Leonard Lee obituaryClick to read full obituary at the Lee Valley website

March 12, 2016

Keith Emerson, RIP

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

I was saddened to hear that Keith Emerson died yesterday:

Keith Emerson, one of the founding members of progressive rock group Emerson, Lake and Palmer, has died.

The keyboardist died at the age of 71 at his home in California on Thursday night, the band confirmed.

Bandmate Carl Palmer said he is “deeply saddened” and paid tribute to his “brother-in-music”.

“Keith was a gentle soul whose love for music and passion for his performance as a keyboard player will remain unmatched for many years to come,” he said in a statement online.

“He was a pioneer and an innovator whose musical genius touched all of us in the worlds of rock, classical and jazz. “I will always remember his warm smile, good sense of humor, compelling showmanship, and dedication to his musical craft.

January 12, 2016

David Bowie, RIP

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

Colby Cosh on the career(s) of David Bowie:

When we look at the enduring core of what we still awkwardly refer to as “rock music,” what we find is bizarre: a group of people born between about 1940 and 1948, mostly on one island. This cluster of neighbours took black American folk music and electric instruments and used them to hammer out a musical language whose vocabulary and power eventually rivalled that of the old Western orchestral tradition.

Somehow the seeds of war fell on England and sowed giants. It can’t just have been the bombs, even if Bowie did use the V-2 as a metaphor on the Heroes LP. (Has any single person, in retrospect, done so much to make Germany cool? They need to give Bowie a monument the size of the Hermannsdenkmal.)

[…]

The awful news of Bowie’s demise on Sunday reveals that he was not quite the same kind of star as notional equals like Ray Davies, Pete Townshend or even Mick Jagger. He was a songwriter of the first rank, an omnivore and a multi-instrumentalist whose taste in collaborators is a legend unto itself — yet his involvement in music seems almost circumstantial. It was the thing one happened to do, born where and when he was.

He gave so many excellent cinema and television performances that one suspects pop stardom’s gain might have been acting’s loss. What might Bowie have achieved if circumstances had steered him into the Royal Shakespeare Company instead of blues clubs? Is there an alternate reality in which people are reminiscing about Sir David Jones’s Richard III and regretting that he never got around to Lear?

One is tempted to add that Bowie could have been a great fashion designer or conceptual artist — but, then, he was both those things, when he wasn’t, ho-hum, dashing off “Life on Mars” or “Sound and Vision.” He was not of the fashion world as such, but slip out on any night, in any city of size from Tokyo to Toronto, and you’ll see homages to Bowie. Any ambitious, expensive pop concert still follows the Bowie idiom. His imprint on world culture is rivalled by few other pop stars, and perhaps none has its breadth. One is tempted to invoke Elvis or Dylan.

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