Misconfigured spambot

April 24, 2015

I’m not the first to notice or blog about a misconfigured spambot, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be amused by things like this…

{Very well|Perfectly|Well|Exceptionally well} written!|
{I will|I’ll} {right away|immediately} {take hold of|grab|clutch|grasp|seize|snatch} your {rss|rss feed} as
I {can not|can’t} {in finding|find|to find} your {email|e-mail} subscription {link|hyperlink} or {newsletter|e-newsletter} service.
Do {you have|you’ve} any?

…or this…

{Hola|Hey there|Hi|Hello|Greetings}! I’ve been {following|reading} your {site|web site|website|weblog|blog} for {a long time|a while|some time} now and finally got the {bravery|courage}
to go ahead and give you a shout out from {New Caney|Kingwood|Huffman|Porter|Houston|Dallas|Austin|Lubbock|Humble|Atascocita} {Tx|Texas}!
Just wanted to {tell you|mention|say} keep up the {fantastic|excellent|great|good} {job|work}!|
Greetings from {Idaho|Carolina|Ohio|Colorado|Florida|Los angeles|California}!

…appearing in my spam queue. Even if it were properly configured, this would still be utter gibberish.

Incidentally, I’m also a little curious why 2014 was such a banner year for blog comment spam:
Comment spam, April 2008–April 2015

History, myth, and legend

March 6, 2015

Andrew Wheatcroft, in The Enemy at the Gate: Habsburgs, Ottomans and the Battle for Europe:

Myths like [Prince Eugene of Savoy]’s are founded on reality, but memories of that reality erode and decay over time. The myths described here — the ‘Age of Heroes’, the battle for Europe and the fear of the Turk — all began with real triumphs and real fears. But over time that history has dwindled to nothing while the myths and legends have survived and flourished.

Robert Jordan, in each and every book in the Wheel of Time series:

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again.

(The Wheel of Time includes an ‘Age of Legends’, rather than an ‘Age of Heroes’; but there are tales of the legendary “Horn of Valere that will summon the heroes of the Ages back from the grave to battle for the Light”.)

I’m positive that this conception of myth as accounts of historical events, where the accounts change over time is not original to either of the authors above. But it’s still interesting to see it expressed in such similar language in a work of history and a work of “epic” fantasy.

* * *

So some quick searching has revealed that, sure enough, as I assumed, plenty of others have written on the same topic. So here is something of a point/counterpoint.

Point: Thomas Bulfinch, in Bulfinch’s Mythology:

[A]n inquiry suggests itself. “Whence came these stories? Have they a foundation in truth, or are they simply dreams of the imagination?” Philosophers have suggested various theories of the subject. . .

1. The Scriptural theory; according to which all mythological legends are derived from the narratives of Scriptures, though the real facts have been disguised and altered. . . .

2. The Historical theory; according to which all the persons mentioned in mythology were once real human beings, and the legends and fabulous traditions relating to them are merely the additions and embellishments of later times. . . .

3. The Allegorical theory supposes that all the myths of the ancients were allegorical and symbolical, and contained some moral, religious, or philosophical truth or historical fact, under the form of an allegory, but came in process of time to be understood literally. . . .

4. The Physical theory; according to which the elements of air, fire, and water were originally the objects of religious adoration, and the principal deities were personifications of the powers of nature. . . .

All the theories which have been mentioned are true to a certain extent. It would therefore be more correct to say that the mythology of a nation has sprung from all these sources combined than from any one in particular.

Counterpoint: Joseph Campbell, in The Hero with a Thousand Faces:

In the later stages of many mythologies, the key images hide like needles in great haystacks of secondary anecdote and rationalization; for when a civilization has passed from a mythological to a secular point of view, the older images are no longer felt or quite approved. . . .

Wherever the poetry of myth is interpreted as biography, history, or science, it is killed. The living images become only remote facts of a distant time or sky. Furthermore, it is never difficult to demonstrate that as science and history mythology is absurd. When a civilization begins to reinterpret its mythology in this way, the life goes out of it, temples become museums, and the link between the two perspectives is dissolved.

I must say I mostly side with Bulfinch here, at least based on these vanishingly short excerpts. You can note that there are historical elements present in something without killing the poetry of it.

Life imitates art, cont’d

June 27, 2014

Following up on the last post—in The Distinguished Gentleman, Eddie Murphy’s con man gets elected to Congress in the first place because his name happens to be quite similar to that of the deceased incumbent. He relies on the electorate not being particularly discerning, just going with a somewhat familiar name.

Here’s a story about candidates doing various name-related things, including relying on their surnames to associate them with somebody else and even outright changing their names.

Life imitates art

June 11, 2014

…assuming an early-90s Eddie Murphy movie with a 13% Tomatometer rating qualifies as ‘art’.

Anyway. This is a Louisiana congressman explaining what he was promised for a vote:

McAllister said he voted “no” on legislation related to the Bureau of Land Management though he did not identify the bill. McAllister said a colleague on the House floor told him that he would receive a $1,200 contribution from Heritage Foundation if he voted against the bill. He would not name his colleague since he “did not want to put their business out on the street.”

“I played dumb and asked him, ‘How would you vote?’” McAllister said. “He told me, ‘Vote no and you will get a $1,200 check from the Heritage Foundation. If you vote yes, you will get a $1,000 check from some environmental impact group.’”

That answer was a surprise, McAllister said.

“I said, ‘Are you serious?’ and he told me, ‘Yeah, wait and see,’” McAllister said.

And this is an exchange in The Distinguished Gentleman, about a con man (it’s an Eddie Murphy movie, remember) who winds up in Congress and ends up being less crooked than his colleagues:

Terry Corrigan: For instance, where are you on sugar price supports?
Thomas Jefferson Johnson: Sugar price supports. Uhh… Where do you think I should be?
Corrigan: Makes no difference to me. If you’re for ’em, I got money for you from my sugar producers in Louisiana and Hawaii. If you’re against ’em, I got money for you from the candy manufacturers.
Tommy: You pick.
Corrigan: Let’s put you down as for. Now what about putting limits on malpractice awards?
Tommy: You tell me.
Corrigan: Well, if you’re for ’em, I got money from the doctors and insurance companies. If you’re against ’em, I got money from the trial lawyers. Tell you what, let’s say against.
Tommy: Terry, tell me something. With all this money coming in from both sides, how does anything ever get done?
Corrigan: It doesn’t! That’s the genius of the system!


March 19, 2014

From C. P. Snow’s “The Two Cultures: A Second Look”:

It seems to me that engaging in immediate debate on each specific point closes one’s own mind for good and all. Debating gives most of us much more psychological satisfaction than thinking does: but it deprives us of whatever chance there is of getting closer to the truth.

From Thomas Frank’s “Broken English“:

Take this business, now a sort of epidemic, of presenting everything as an “argument.” People in the land of professional commentary no longer believe things or propose things or even assert things; they argue them.

I’m familiar with this particular cliché formation because in the early 1980s, when my friends and I were high school debaters, we talked this way all the time. Arguments were what allowed us to keep score back in those days: one team argued for something, the other team argued against it, and the argument was won or lost. But high school debate was a game — a game for teenagers. The point wasn’t for an individual debater to believe any particular argument and win the room over with the radiance of his faith; it was for him to be able to argue anything. Insincerity was essential.

For the commentator class, the usage has a similar distancing effect. It’s a kind of shortcut to objectivity, and suggests that the pundit in question doesn’t actually believe something — oh heavens no — but is merely reporting that the belief might be held by someone, somewhere. So when Nina Easton appears on Fox News and says (in a sentence I have chosen for its utter averageness) that “one could argue that Barack Obama’s smartest political move was putting Hillary Clinton in his Cabinet so that she wasn’t outside with Bill Clinton causing mischief,” she isn’t actually asserting this as the truth. She’s only reporting that one might assert this, were one so inclined.

Snow states his belief — makes his assertion — in the context of an essay that is, more or less, about an earlier lecture of his that was also printed as an essay. He is deeply and primarily concerned with “getting closer to the truth”; as he puts it, his aim is to “see what modifications I should make if I were going to give the lecture again.” He admits some doubts and adds some qualifications, but on the main, after measured reflection, stands by his work, and aims “to provide not an opinion but an answer.”

Snow thought long and hard about his lecture in the first place, and continued to think long and hard about it after delivering it, and he stands behind his thinking. This can be contrasted with what Thomas Frank, in the same piece from above, goes on to lament a few paragraphs later:

Taking to the NPR airwaves in September 2012, the author Junot Díaz described a character in one of his own books like this: “What we’re left with is a character who, for the first time in his life, I would argue, is capable of being in a normal relationship.”

Here we seem to be witnessing a deliberate and extraordinary divorce of speaker from subject. After all, who knows the development and the mental state of Díaz’s character better than Díaz himself? He labored over this short-story collection for sixteen years. Surely he can indulge in a little straight talk about his own creation without carefully leaving himself a rhetorical escape hatch.

Granted, an essay or lecture that makes a case for particular policies is qualitatively a very different animal from a short story, or from an extemporaneous remark about a short story in the context of an interview. But it would have been trivially easy for Snow to litter his writing with the kinds of ‘escape hatches’ Frank bemoans.

Temporal distance

April 25, 2013

Some possibly counterintuitive examples of temporal distance. The first two have been making the rounds on the Internet for quite some time on “mind-blowing facts!” lists, while the third occurred to me recently.

строителство на къщи

Grate expectations

April 20, 2013

One of the books we read[1] in my senior-year AP English class was Dickens’s Great Expectations. Often when a new book was assigned in an English class, the teacher would distribute dozens of copies of the same edition; this time we each took a book from a mongrel heap overflowing with different publishers, imprints, and formats. I grabbed a copy without looking very closely.

Because of the variety of different versions of this book in the class, the teacher assigned chapters rather than page ranges, and she directed class discussion towards plot and theme rather than turns of phrase or uses of language. The first few reading assignments were a breeze. But then one day she wanted us to read a particular passage together, taking the time for us to each find the paragraph beginning with such-and-such a few pages from the end of chapter so-and-so, and it was at this point that things got weird. I found the paragraph all right, but the text that was being read aloud by a volunteer was much wordier and more verbose than the one I was trying to follow along with.

It transpired that an abridged version had somehow snuck into the school’s supply of Great Expectationses, and by the luck of the draw had ended up in my backpack. The class had a good laugh at this (I found it just as funny as anyone), while the teacher turned beet-red. She apologized profusely, though just for what I’m not quite sure and she never quite said—misrepresenting Dickens by providing me with an ersatz text might well have been a graver sin in her eyes than disrupting her own class or causing potential embarrassment.[2] She gave me another copy, after making absolutely sure that it was the whole book, and told me that it was mine and that she wanted me to keep it.

After class that day, at least three people asked me whether I still had the abridged copy and would I be willing to part with it.

* * *

[1] By “read”, of course, I mean “were supposed to read”.

[2] Come to think of it, for all I know she was apologizing to Dickens at the time, and I just happened to be nearby.

Bookstores and Libraries

September 19, 2010

Sometimes I daydream about what I’ll do when (not if, obviously) I become wealthy enough to retire early and don’t have to do anything anymore. My fantasy of choice involves starting a business, specifically a bar. I know I’m not alone there; opening a bar seems to a fairly common pipe-dream for middle-class white males, if sitcoms are anything to go by.

But there’s more to my harebrained scheme than just some ordinary bar, or some ordinary theme bar, or some ordinary dive bar, or some ordinary bar with shitty loud music and overpriced drinks. No, my bar will be a little special (I think): a combination bar and lending library. I can see it now: walls lined with bookshelves, a bar lined with all sorts of whiskey and whisky, and a shitload of lamps and leather armchairs. Come in for a drink, and feel free to pick up a book and start reading. And if you’re a member, you can even check out a book and take it home with you when you leave.

The biggest complication I can think of[1] is that I’m not a big fan of James Joyce.[3] Since my target audience, one would think, would be “literate drunks”—which, I assume, means a lot of demand for, and discussion of, Hemingway and Joyce. Hemingway I’m fine with, but Joyce not as much.

So that’s my plan. It occurred to me ther other day that there are already a number of businesses following this exact business model. Not places like Busboys and Poets, where the drinks and the books are segregated pretty completely, and there isn’t even a reading room, as I recall. No, I’m talking about Borders and Barnes & Noble. Every one of their stores I’ve been to in the past few years has, to a great extent, felt like a Starbucks[5] with a huge magazine rack and even huger assortment of books for people to read while they sip their coffee. (A café-cum-reading-room isn’t precisely the same thing as a bar-cum-lending-library, but I think they’re still pretty close.)

As it turns out, this might not be the most sustainable business model. Obviously there are huge differences between a 50,000 square-foot retail space and a bar, in terms of staffing, inventory, and I don’t know how many other factors. But, since this is a fantasy after all, I’m perfectly happy with it being a money-losing venture.

* * *

[1] Of course, I’m only thinking of bullshit complications that presuppose I’ll be able to get everything off the ground in the first place. Practical considerations like money, location, taxes, getting a liquor license, employees,[2] and so on are entirely beside the point. This is a damn fantasy, after all.

[2] Having recently been to Church Key in San Francisco, I’ve had my eyes opened to what a bar can be when it’s operated by someone who’s doing it purely for the pleasure. The ability to pick the music that plays and the drinks that are served, and the freedom to close up early when you feel like going home, quite honestly seem really nice.

[3] To be fair, it’s been over ten years since I gave Joyce a chance—since I was a high school senior taking AP British Literature.[4] I gave Joyce a chance then, but it wasn’t exactly a fair chance, because I couldn’t stand my teacher, and I was happy to spite Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, James Joyce, and Shakespeare if it also meant spiting her. Time having passed, I’ve forgotten most of my grievances against her, except for one: she didn’t say “probably,” she said “parably.” (“Parably,” of course, isn’t a word.)

[4] I’ve been out of high school ten years? Apparently I’m getting old. In other news, either nobody arranged a ten-year reunion, or they did and nobody told me. So it goes.

[5] Barnes and Noble stores feature Starbucks, while Borders features “Seattle’s Best Coffee”. But of course, Starbucks owns SBC, so it amounts to the same thing.Идея за подаръкикониикониПравославни иконииконописikoniподаръци

There is a town in north Ontario

September 11, 2010

The past month has been the longest and hardest to endure that I can remember. That said, my lungs are busy ventilating and exchanging gases; my heart is busy circulating blood; and my GI tract is, as usual, uncomplainingly going about its business. I am enduring; I will endure. I have it pretty good. My limbic system doesn’t always agree, but so it goes. I’m not here to write about that right now.

What I am here to do is issue my obligatory periodic apology for neglecting this space again, make a good-faith effort to un-neglect this space a little, show off some pictures, and put off applying tung oil to the raw parts of my desk—my desk, which has prominently featured raw pine for over a year now, and which it only recently occurred to me to apply any kind of finishing treatment to. When I finally cleared it off, so I could transport it half a mile down the road, I noticed some discoloration in parts. So, after procrastinating some other tasks by reading about wood, I decided on tung oil. After further procrastination in the form of further reading, I decided on actual tung oil, rather than one of the easy-to-find “tung oil finishes” that contain about as much tung oil as lemon-lime Gatorade contains actual lemon or lime juice. So, after tracking down a local store that actually carried tung oil, a task in itself, I stopped by only to discover that they were fresh out and their weekly merchandise shipment was delayed by the Labor Day holiday. I’ve since been back, and acquired some tung oil, as well as some thinner with which to thin the first couple of coats.[1] Now that I have all my equipment assembled, the next course of action was, obviously, to take my car in for an oil change, then sip coffee in a bookstore all afternoon while reading, and subsequently purchasing, a couple of books I’ve been intending to read for a while.[2] The desk can wait.

Last night, in a welcome diversion, was movie night at a friend’s apartment.[3] One of the movies I’d seen before (The Maltese Falcon); and one I hadn’t, though I’d seen a few very similar films (Blade Runner)[4]. Both are classics, based on equally classic books. Seeing the movies back-to-back, and wanting to procrastinate today, inspired me to finally get the books. Not that I’ve read either one of them through yet, but here are some of my early impressions.

The Maltese Falcon. Two things I know for sure. One, Dashiell Hammett can write. I really should’ve checked out his work sooner. And two, Humphrey Bogart sure as shit isn’t a barrel-chested six-foot blond with a body “like a shaved bear’s”. Yet I can’t stop picturing him as Sam Spade. Obviously my judgment is clouded by the fact that I’ve seen the movie half a dozen times and have come to associate Bogart with Spade, but so far I really do feel that Spade works better as a short guy with a lisp than as some kind of gleaming god of masculinity.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I’ve just been reading and rereading the first chapter. Not only is it great to have an actual context for Deckard’s character, but (as has been pointed out to me) it’s a fantastic example of how to do sci-fi right: the futuristic aspects that Philip K. Dick explores are introduced intelligibly and painlessly—and with a sense of humor to boot. It’s the polar opposite of Frank Herbert, for example, who drowns you in deadly-serious gibberish before you can even turn the page. (And, I have to say, the line “My schedule for today lists a six-hour self-accusatory depression” is pure brilliance.)

* * *

[1] Having to thin the oil for the first few coats, and indeed having to apply several coats in the first place, are only a few of the benefits of using 100% pure tung oil.

[2] I fucking swear, I’m not going to buy myself any more books until I read at least, say, six of the ones I’ve already acquired with the honest but yet-unrealized intention of reading. Goddamnit.

[3] If there’s one thing I learned yesterday, it’s that it’s good to have a friend with Blu-Ray player and a 1080p projector pointed at a wall that happens to be roughly 16:9. Very good.

[4] I’ve actually seen three or four different films named Blade Runner over the years, none of them more than once. There are enough different cuts of the movie out there that this is pretty easy to do, and they’re generally different enough from one another that they really do seem like completely different movies. For what it’s worth, the version I saw last night was probably my favorite so far—it told the most coherent story, without having to rely on voiceover narration, and without tacking on an unnecessary, shitty happy ending.


April 9, 2009

What a time to be alive:

This computer has been on its last legs for years, and I daresay those last legs just got a good deal longer, now that it has, among other new features, a SATA card and more free space than I know what to do with.

In other news, there’s nothing quite as fun (and as productive) as having several beers and then tinkering with your computer. For example, those beers make it much easier to justify plugging a 6-pin PCI-E power connector . . .

. . . into the socket on your brand-new (yet already obsolete! Hooray for AGP) video card, a socket designed for an 8-pin connector . . .

. . . simply because, hey, you happen to have a 6-pin connector available, but your power supply doesn’t have an 8-pin connector, and you’re far too lazy to use a molex-to-8-pin adapter . . .

. . . like some kind of chump. I mean, what’s the worst that can happen from plugging a connector into a socket it’s physically compatible with, but doesn’t have the right number of pins for? And anyway, the inside of your case is already enough of a rat’s nest as it is, without adding even more cables and adapters. Plus, since you only have one free molex connector, so to use the adapter, you’d have to either (a) only plug in half the connectors it wants, which seems even worse than plugging in a cable that provides 6/8 of them, or (b) unplug something else and go through even more trouble. The lazy way dictated plugging in what was available and seeing what happened.

As it turns out, the video card is working just fine with the 6-pin cable. Had I done a little research beforehand, I’d have learned that it’s entirely unsurprising for the card to be working fine with an incomplete power connection. But that would have been less fun — because, after all, brash confidence with no rational basis is more fun than careful consideration. Not that I’d really know.

Anyway, the above-mentioned upgrades were paid for by my 2008 federal tax refund. (My state tax refund paid for a refurbished TomTom that I’m rather satisfied with.) Despite (because of?) working only 7 months last year, I got a decent chunk of change back. Part of it is earmarked for next month’s rent, and the remainder is earmarked for gadgets and other useless crap. I’m thinking of buying a netbook of some sort with the remainder, because (a) god knows I don’t have enough computers and laptops lying around, and (b) my current primary laptop is just a bit too big and bulky and heavy to keep schlepping back and forth every day.

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