Thursday, March 27, 2008

Do you like me?

: :Yes : : No
Check one.

There's an interesting post over at First Things about why it is that Christians express an interest in and affection for Israel and Jews that isn't reciprocated. I've wondered about this before myself and I've never really come to a satisfactory conclusion in my own mind.

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Listening to: Seatbelts - American Money
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Fight clear.

The Battle for Azeroth is nominally about the game World of Warcraft (WoW). Really, it's just an attempt to cash in on a phenomenon. A bunch of stupid essays dressed up as analysis of MMORPGs with a focus on WoW. I'd kind of like that time back.

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Listening to: Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble - Live at Carnegie Hall - 13 - Lenny
via FoxyTunes

Simple thoughts.

I was given a copy of Lincoln on Leadership. It's short and an easy read and I blew through it in an afternoon and evening. It was a moderately interesting book that draws lessons from Abraham Lincoln's life to leadership in the business world. Some of it was useful, most of it was things that one already knows. Or, at least, that I have known for some time. I could go into detail, but won't. A more instructive way to learn about leadership is to read books that are actually about great leaders rather than books that try to pull lessons from their lives and sum them up into Powerpoint slides and fashion them into slogans and mission statements. Skip it.

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Listening to: George Thorogood - 1 Burbon, 1 Scotch, 1 Beer
via FoxyTunes

It doesn't seem that long. Quite.

But apparently it really was about 20 days and 8 books ago that I last posted any book reviews. This really is the downside of reading so many new books this year instead of making half my books re-reads. I have to do so many of these book review posts.

Though I read another book in between them, Batman: A Complete History and Superman: A Complete History were very similar, as you might expect and I'll talk about them together here. They were written by the same author and covered the same ground with two different fictional characters. Both tried to be a little overly psychological in order to give themselves some seriousness that discussions of comics often lack.

One of my biggest kicks against comics as a medium is that the desire to make money off of these creations utterly dominates all other concerns. The story for these characters, after 50, 60, 70 years has become so convoluted and complex that one pretty much needs a wall-chart and a small encyclopedia just to keep it all straight. And that's without even bringing up all the problems caused by a distinct lack of interest in continuity for the first 3 or 4 decades. This, to me, is why Batman: The Animated Series (B:TAS) and Justice League Unlimited (and all their various predecessors and incarnations) were so successful. They took the basic elements for the lives of these two characters and made a set of stories about them that were not unending and not directly tied to the stories told in the comic books.

These books are about as serious a treatment of comic books that you'll read while dealing specifically with a single character. They're short anyway and filled with pictures (In a book about comics? Go figure.) so they are somewhat lacking in comprehensive detail and tend more towards trivia in the details that are included. If you're a dedicated fan, you might want to take a look, but if you're not a big comics fan, or fan of these particular characters, give them a miss.

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Listening to: Seatbelts - Forever Broke
via FoxyTunes

Two steps forward, one step back.

I've really struggled with working consistently on catching my other blog up. But I'm determined to succeed. I made up 9 days this evening. So even if I don't work on it again until next Sunday, I'll still have made progress. I ought to be doing about 10 a day to catch up any time soon, but we all know that's not going to happy.

And, FYI, this song is awesome and super-catchy.

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Listening to: Seatbelts - The EGG and YOU
via FoxyTunes

Friday, March 21, 2008

Rest in Peace

Arthur C. Clarke died not too long ago and there's a short article in The Atlantic that talks about his opinions on First Things. Where else, if not in a man's obituary ought his thoughts on Life to be considered?

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Listening to: Cake - Motorcade of Generousity - 13 - Ain't No Good
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Looks creepy, but...

This is awesome! How much longer before we have rangers on robotic horses? Amazing. Via the estimable Toshi Station.

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Listening to: Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band - Trouble Is... - 04 - Everything Is Broken
via FoxyTunes

Y tienes musculos del acero.

Sheldon strikes again. This is always the sort of thing I imagined was being said on those Spanish soap operas I'd watch for a few minutes occasionally while I was in college. I'd make up dialogue like this (in English) for a little while and then go back to ESPN.

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Listening to: Alison Krauss & Gillian Welch - O Brother Where Art Thou? Soundtrack - 09 - I'll Fly Away
via FoxyTunes

Herons in the mist

Walking to the bus stop one foggy morning last week one of the blue herons that occupies the ponds and marshy places in this vicinity flew directly overhead just at the edge of visibility in the mist. Beautiful.

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Listening to: Metallica - S&M (Disc 1) - 01 - The Ecstasy Of Gold
via FoxyTunes

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Claudius has some good lines too.

I have, of late, and wherefore I know not, found a greater appreciation for the point of view of Claudius (the usurping king of Hamlet, not the eponymous character from I, Claudius). That's not strictly true, I guess. It's probably because I fairly recently watched Hamlet again and then also with the commentary by Branagh. Here's a bit that Claudius says near the beginning of the play:

Tis sweet and commendable in your nature, Hamlet,
To give these mourning duties to your father;
But you must know, your father lost a father;
That father lost, lost his, and the survivor bound
In filial obligation for some term
To do obsequious sorrow. But to persever
In obstinate condolement is a course
Of impious stubbornness. 'Tis unmanly grief;
It shows a will most incorrect to heaven,
A heart unfortified, a mind impatient,
An understanding simple and unschool'd;
For what we know must be, and is as common
As any the most vulgar thing to sense,
Why should we in our peevish opposition
Take it to heart? Fie! 'tis a fault to heaven,
A fault against the dead, a fault to nature,
To reason most absurd, whose common theme
Is death of fathers, and who still hath cried,
From the first corse till he that died to-day,
'This must be so.'

Friday, March 14, 2008

A comment that grew

If I do recommend a book, I usually specify to whom I think it will be of interest. Rarely do I come across a book that I think will be of general interest. My experience with books is that there are so many and they are so specialized (modern books at any rate), that very few are actually of general interest. This, I think, is one of those books that one should read.

Many moons ago I was inspired to try and craft a list of 25 books that everyone ought to read at least once. It was, without any false modesty, a dismal failure. I did eventually post such a list, but it was so obviously lacking that it was embarrassing. There are just too many books that everyone ought to read. And people don't read nearly enough. I regret the time I lose to computer games and movies even though I enjoy them and think that they (or at least the movies...okay, some of the movies) have worth. It boggles my mind that people can get through a year without reading a book.

All this to say, I guess, that books I think everyone ought to read have to be worthwhile to read, have application to just about everyone as well as being well-written and accessible. There's a lot of philosophy that would be quite useful for the world at large to study, but to minds that have atrophied from steady diets of nothing more intellectually strenuous than American Idol or some other such nonsense jumping straight into Plato's Republic wouldn't do much good. I struggle a bit with it and I'm no bumbling idiot, even if I do say so myself.

Everyone ought to spend a goodly portion of their time contemplating First Things, but so few people do. Most of the books I suggest to all and sundry are books that deal with such fundamental topics.

(Edited slightly from my comment here.)

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Listening to: The Boston Camerata - Nueva España - 12 - Tiento
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Books read and recommended

I've added a new feature to the blog up there at the top. It'll stay up there permanently, though the content might change. It's a suggestion that if you read only one book that I've read this year, I think it ought to be the one listed.

I'll get some more posts up in the next few days covering the books I've been reading lately. I'm pleased that I've posted about 15 times this month already and it's not even the 15th of the month. I'd like to get my total posts for a year back up to around 200, but I'll settle for simply an increase over the previous year. Baby steps.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Forgoing Sabernomics

I blog that I used to read (and used to link to) was Sabernomics. It's not a bad baseball blog and he's done some interesting work, but it's been going downhill of late and I'm giving up on it. He's got a comments policy that, in and of itself, isn't a bad one. (I know that post comes after what I'm about to link to, but he's posted it earlier and it was easier to just find the latest reposting of the policy.)

But he doesn't apply that policy fairly. See this string of comments on a post where he says he isn't for or against Clemens, but sceptical about the evidence on offer. (I believe that to be true even if I do give greater weight to some evidence than he does.) I commented myself, I'm #7 and I use my customary nickname "Bob", the same one I use here and I provide a link back to this blog to allow people to see that I am a real person and do have a fair bit invested in this online representation; it's not just a alias of convenience that will shrivel up and blow away when that particular argument is over.

JC (who runs Sabernomics) responds to me directly in #10. I'll be honest; I didn't like what I perceived to be his tone, but that is a touchy thing on the internet where so often that can be misconstrued since all we perceive is the written word. So I responded again, saying that I thought I was right, (I don't have the text, so I paraphrase) emphasizing that to draw a distinction between "higher" and "better" was disingenuous and that false modesty is still false.

And then, because I thought he patronized me with his link even though there wasn't any evidence that I had misunderstood the unrelated point about Type I and Type II errors, I linked a dictionary definition of "higher" for him. You know, just in case he didn't believe me or understand the connection between "better" and "higher". (That last sentence was sarcasm, like the link itself was.)

Unfortunately, this seems somehow to have run afoul of the comments policy even though:

1. I was never impolite. I stated a fact without rancor and was careful to compliment him on the rest of his statement. I would have no qualms about making the same statements to his face and I would not think it rude for someone else to tell me when I'm being dishonest, if they supported their assertion with facts the way I did.

2. I read his post through carefully more than once. My critique was specific, narrow, and accurate. His response seemed to be lacking in this regard. There was no reason to preach to me about Type I and Type II errors. I understand them just fine and, more importantly, they had nothing to do with my comment.

His third comment criteria clearly did not apply and I don't think it played into this scenario at all. In my second comment, I did nothing but restate my point in a different way in an attempt to make it clearer and I did nothing he did not do in his own comments. So when he did not allow my second comment, I think he allowed his personal dissatisfaction at being caught out in a (very small) bit of dishonesty to lead him to acting like a hypocrite. Sauce for the goose, etc.

It's disappointing. My own comments policy is that I run my blog like a Communist dictator. Keep it clean, play nice, but I reserve the right to make any comment disappear at any time. I'm not getting tied down by legalism and letting comments through loopholes. JC probably shouldn't have set a standard he couldn't keep.

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Listening to: Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band - Trouble Is... - 09 - King's Highway
via FoxyTunes

Monday, March 10, 2008

Reading

No, not the city in Pennsylvania.

For some reason I feel rather a large sense of urgency about reading books this year. I'm not sure why that is, considering that I haven't started any more slowly that I have the previous couple of years, really. It's probably related to my new job and schedule, but, looking at what I've read so far, I oughtn't to be worried yet.

I know that reading a bit less than 150 books this year is not that great a deal in the big scheme of things, but somehow I feel it would be a tragedy on the scale of, oh, I don't know... losing a beloved pet?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

A good question.

A good article up over at the First Things blog asks "[S]hould a society lend legitimacy to a legal system whose raison d’être is the destruction of that society?"

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Listening to: Philharmonia Virtuosi - Musical Evenings With the Captain - 15 - Eight Pieces for Violin and Cello Air
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

They are a little odd, yes.

I read through Birds Are Weird, the fourth collection of Penny Arcade comics. Once again, I was struck by how incredibly funny these guys are, and how much I regret that their humour includes large dollops of profanity. There is the odd comic which is clean from start to finish, but most of it is rather blue. They are probably the most insightful and respected commentators on the video game industry, draw an hilarious comic strip thrice a week, post well-written, incisive essays of video game criticism on the same schedule and run a multi-million dollar charity they founded in their spare time to push back against the idea that gamers are a bunch of solipsistic, uncaring narcissists.

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Listening to: Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band - Trouble Is - 03 - Blue On Black
via FoxyTunes

Here's the wind-up...

I "read" the Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers. By that, I mean I read the various article sections and flipped through the reference section. I didn't read every single entry about which pitches were thrown by which pitchers. I feel a bit bad about including it on my list of books as a result, but my wife said she thought it counted, so I bowed to her discernment in this, as in so many things. A much better book than the one mentioned in the previous post, I think. Probably because there was much less of Bill James' opinions and more of simply historical research. That and Rob Neyer seems to me to be a more reasonable person, insofar as one can tell these things merely by reading the writings of each individual. Not a book for anything but the most hardcore fan, but if you're ever doing research that requires information about an obscure baseball pitcher, this is the book you'll want to find.

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Listening to: Stevie Ray Vaughan - Soul to Soul - 01 - Say What!
via FoxyTunes

If only everyone agreed with me...

Bill James' detractors have a point. The man is unquestionably intelligent and deserves a large chunk of credit for getting baseball fans to look at their favourite game in new and interesting ways. He also, without a doubt, has come up with some excellent tools that tell one a lot more about the game than was possible with traditional statistics. But his ego is large, and worse, he doesn't seem to realise this.

He comments early on in The Politics of Glory that he's a "centrist". He notes in passing that his opinions are in the dead center of political thought. Now, maybe he does tend to agree with both political parties in the US about some issues and disagree on others, but the only people who think they're dead center are misguided. What that statement really means is, I'm the only reasonable person in the world. Bill James says that the two sides of the political spectrum are 80% bovine scatology and everyone knows it. That is to say, everyone in politics is deliberately dishonest and if they'd only listen to Bill James, we'd immanentize that old eschaton in no time. And, to me, this calls into question everything else he writes. It's normal to always think you're right, but it's not normal to think you're always right. (Ponder that for a second if it doesn't strike you right away.)

But, even if he hadn't done that, he claims he won't make any arguments about who does and doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame and then spends the next 350 pages or so doing exactly that. I don't mind opinions, but don't tell me you aren't taking sides out of one side of your mouth and then do just that out of the other side.

Leaving that aside, the book is an interesting look at what the standards of the Hall of Fame are and how they got that way. I think his idea for how to "fix" Hall of Fame voting is problematic and too democratic, but I do think he's right that it couldn't be worse than the procedures have been often in the past. The process is probably worse now than when he wrote the book, too.

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Listening to: Metallica - S&M (Disc 1) - 08 - No Leaf Clover
via FoxyTunes

I was almost made to wait!

I read through another e-book version of Wodehouse on my nifty new Palm device. It's not a bad way to read books, really. If there was an easier way to page through it, it would be about perfect. (And it's a lot cheaper and more versatile than a Kindle!) The Politeness of Princes is a collection of Wodehouse's school stories. They're short stories from early in his writing career, but elements that would appear later do figure. None is particularly memorable, but you can download the book for free from Gutenberg since it's old enough to be public domain and check it out without losing anything. My favourite was probably the story about the autograph.

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Listening to: Berlin Philharmonic - Beethoven's 9th Symphony - 03 - III. Adagio molto e cantabile
via FoxyTunes

Yo! Joe!

Keeping the SF theme rolling, I read the Cobra trilogy by Timothy Zahn since it was all there at the library in a single volume while I was looking for the next Dragonback book. (He's big into reptiles, neh?) It was clear that this was really more than one book, and the first was the best and the last was the worst; one comes to expect such things. I find that when someone starts a series by writing a book that could stand on its own, and then later writes sequels, those sequels rarely live up to the standard of the original and end up feeling tacked on. LeGuin's Earthsea series has this problem, Asimov's Foundation series does too and many others.

The Cobra books deal with the creation of a group of enhanced super-warriors dedicated to leading guerrilla movements on worlds occupied by alien invaders and what happens to them after the wars conclude. The first book deals plausibly (as far as such a word can apply to a SF book) with the scenario, always taking into account that our protagonist will be the hero of each story. And the great power ends up coming with a steep price in the form of a dramatically reduced life-span in which the last few years are filled with excruciating pain. It isn't a ground-breaking work, but neither does it slavishly follow the clichés about heroes. The first is worth a read for SF fans, but the second is less important, and the last seemed to me a frivolous tacking-on.

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Listening to: DWP - Canon (by Pachelbel)
via FoxyTunes

Free! Free Fallin'...

On my brother's suggestion (the brother with no website), I took a look at the Vorkosigan saga of Lois McMaster Bujold. I don't think Falling Free was the first written, but I believe it was the first chronologically. I liked it, but even if I hadn't, I would have given the books another shot. After seeing how Asimov's Foundation series went downhill when he started writing prequels, I was prepared for this not to be interesting. It was, though, and I was pleased that the SF wasn't too ridiculous. I'll accept a macguffin or two in order to get the plot rolling, and in this case it was a bunch of genetically re-engineered humans designed to live in zero-G. Instead of legs, they have a second set of arms where their legs would be. They're kept in a kind of biological slavery on the basis that they aren't "human" and are "property". Anyway, it was pretty good and I'll give the rest of the series a read, especially since this isn't considered to be one of her best and it's still passable.

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Listening to: Collective Soul - Hints, Allegations & Things Left Unsaid - 01 - Shine
via FoxyTunes

Duh.

Last month I read Religion of Peace? by Robert Spencer. (I'm always way behind on these book reviews; part of it is reading so many new books this year.) It was pretty good, I guess. It would probably have been better if I hadn't already had a firm grasp of his theme and already been convinced of his conclusions. They are, namely, that Christianity is truly a religion of peace and Islam is not. It seems to me that such a conclusion is hardly controversial unless your a leftist or Muslim looking for sticks with which to beat the West. Might be worth a glance to someone looking for arguments if you regularly get into debates on this topic, but otherwise it's skippable. Or, I suppose, if you're not yet convinced of his theses, but then I'm shocked you're reading my blog.

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Listening to: Donizetti, Callas, Di Stefano, Gobbi, Arie - Percorrete, le spiaggie vicine
via FoxyTunes

Monday, March 03, 2008

Top Five Musicals

I was speaking to my father this evening (he has no internet presence of which I am aware, so no link) and we got onto the topic of what would be our top five musicals. My father was of the opinion that he didn't really have a top five. He said he could probably think of five, but he didn't think he could come up with five that he thought highly enough to warrant a top five rating. (He's an objective guy, no grading on a curve here!) We discussed, very briefly, what sorts of movies would qualify as "musicals", and discussed Gilbert and Sullivan (rejected, too much music; operettas, not musicals), Marx Bros. movies (undecided, not much music, but it does advance the plot; on the other hand, is there enough plot?) as well as some others. Here's my (very quickly composed) list.

1. Singin' in the Rain
2. Night at the Opera
3. Muppet Treasure Island
4. The Wizard of Oz
5. The Sound of Music

I only include one Marx Bros. movie since otherwise slots 3-5 would be taken up by Duck Soup, Horsefeathers, and Cocoanuts.

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Listening to: King's X - Dogman - 13 - Pillow
via FoxyTunes

A Beautiful Day

My elder daughter had her third birthday today. It wasn't a frantic, frenetic day. We didn't throw an enormous party and spend too much money and time chasing small children around our apartment. No, that's never been my idea of fun, neither as a child nor as an adult. I sincerely hope it will never be my children's idea of fun either.

Instead, I took today and tomorrow off from work. My daughter and I watched Singin' in the Rain, took a trip to visit my office (she likes to sit at my desk and "work"), stopped off for ice cream (strawberry for her and peanut butter and chocolate for me), picked up some final ingredients at the store for her mother to finish a Texas Sheet Cake and got some take-out Thai food from one of our favourite restaurants. As I sit typing this, my girls (to include my wife) have driven to the airport to pick up my mother-in-law who will be visiting for about 10 days or so.

Even if I was not fond of rain (which I am, in point of fact), this grey, rainy day would have been one of the more beautiful days within my recent memory. May God bless your cloudy days with sunshine in your heart.

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Listening to: Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble - The Real Deal - 05 - Lenny
via FoxyTunes

Degradation

I have promised myself that I would not sink to such depths. I will refuse to slacken my vigilance against falling into the morass. I will not use made-up corporate faux-words. I will not say "uncomplicate", say "impact" when I mean "affect"; I will do my best to say "use" instead of "utilize", I will "make it a priority" not "prioritize it". But I don't think I'll have to be too careful about falling so far as someone I heard in a meeting.

When speaking about motivating employees, someone used (in all seriousness) the word "incentivize". If that wasn't bad enough (which it ought to have been), the person to whom she was speaking, in the course of her answer, used the word "incented". The context indicated that she used it to mean "offered incentives"; I was struck dumb. (Well, okay, I wasn't needing to speak, but if I had, I wouldn't have been able to.)

Well, we should all take advantage of our edjamakashuns and imaginate some stellular ideas to incent our FTEs to uncomplicate our processes to leverage our synergies across all our core competencies. *

*shudder*

I'm going to go wash my hands and brush my teeth now. I feel... dirty.



*All but the first nonsense word I have actually heard used in a business context without irony.

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Listening to: Leo Kottke - Essential Leo Kottke - 16 - Sleepwalk
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, March 02, 2008

RIP WFB

William F. Buckley, founder of National Review and the father of modern American conservatism died a few days ago. While I no longer subscribe to National Review (as a cost-cutting measure, not through any dislike of the magazine), I am saddened to hear of his passing. I've only read four of his books, but I enjoyed them all thoroughly and his name has been a constant presence on that mental "To Read" list that bibliophiles all have.

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Listening to: Ton Koopman - The Brandenburg Concerti - 04 - Concerto No. 6 in B-flat Major, S. 1051 Allegro moderato
via FoxyTunes

Mostly for Ms Elves

But I'm sure others will find it amusing as well.

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Listening to: Christopher Hogwood - Bach Orchestral Suites - 12 - Suite #4 in Dmaj, 5
via FoxyTunes