Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Sesame Street Old School

The ♥G♥ got me two neat things for my birthday -- A new leather briefcase, and the new Sesame Street Old School DVD set, which features the premiere episodes for each season from 1969-1974. Interesting opener: It starts w/a cartoon character ready a statement that "...these early Sesame Street episodes are intended for grown-ups and may not suit the needs of today's preschool child." I did a research paper on the Sesame Street/CTW phenomenon in college, and as part of my research (blogged about here) I watched the full first episode at the Museum of Broadcast Communication, the same one I am watching now. Detailed analysis here.

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Owner of a Lonely Heart Remix

The kids in this thing I found on Google Video are awesome! Check it out.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Borat and Bruno Segments

From Da Ali G Show:

Borat addressing Arizona Republicans

Borat speed dating

Borat on the campaign trail in Mississippi

Bruno interviews wrestling team on spring break

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Borat = Funny

The other night we went to see Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Funny! I'm gonna have to get Da Ali G Show through Netflix soon.

I feel a little bit bad for the people who were nice to him and got flim-flammed, but look at it this way... Now all of America knows what nice people they are. On the other hand, as for the frat boys and the powers-that-be at the rodeo... not so much.

I'm not kidding... I laughed myself to tears while sitting in the theater, and for the past 48 hours or so, I just start giggling or smirking. I am told that this was not limited to my waking hours, either.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006


A few things:
  • Watching a couple of interesting docs from The Disinformation Company; Iraq for Sale and The Cult of the Suicide Bomber. IfS invited a certain degree of skepticism -- For instance, to what degree was Gen. Karpinski just trying to rehabilitate her image? Didn't the contractors hired as truckers realize there was a war going on in Iraq? Isn't GOP skepticism of Democrat proposals just how things work? Anyway, here's Iraq for Sale on Google Video. I thought Cult was very interesting -- I'm almost done with it, and it's about an ex-CIA guy named Robert Baer (who was the basis for the George Clooney character in Syriana) going to various spots in the Middle East (with which he is quite familiar) and talking to the people that don't usually get interviewed in documentaries or newscasts.
  • Are you a Wikipedia addict? Take this test and find out! (via MicroPersuasion.) Better wait until you have an hour or so to spare, because there are over 700 questions. Excerpt, with point-score for each yes answer:
    14. Have you told your significant other/parent something from Wikipedia while on the phone? (10)
    Was he or she impressed? (7.5)
    ... or bored? (-5)

    15. Are you someone who is considered a social outcast? (5)
    Because of Wikipedia? (50)
  • Time Magazine's 100 essential albums or whatever, here. Excerpt: We researched and listened and agonized until we had a list of the greatest and most influential records ever - and then everyone complained because there was no Pink Floyd on it. And that's exactly how it should be. We hope you'll treat the All-TIME 100 as a great musical parlor game.

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First Annual WaRoAlMoWe

I think this should be the First Annual Watch-a-Robert-Altman-Movie Weekend, in honor of the great man's life and recent death. What to start with?
  • If you think that Army doctors in the Korean War were all sensitive 70s males, watch (the original) M*A*S*H.
  • If you like your movies a little off the beaten path, try Brewster McCloud.
  • For those of you with a scorecard and a sharp pencil, you'll want to take a look at Nashville.
  • The Player will probably be for you if you're into nihilistic self-referentialism.
  • Like Westerns? Try an anti-Western: McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

I love Altman's work for the sheer variety of characters (and actors) it used, all of whom stay in character and talk over each other while the plot is unfolding. Altman liked to take a given film convention and see how he could fuck around with it and make it something new and different (inspiring, I suspect, to the Coen Bros.) and everybody knows how much I love it when people do things like that. He'll be missed, but I intend to honor him by re-watching, appreciating, and promoting his work.

Update: Good Altman essay at 2 Blowhards.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Airborne Trooper Toilet Baby

OK, so there's this gizmo where you can hang your toddler on the wall if you have to go to the bathroom so they won't get into trouble. Then, somebody photoshopped a gas mask onto the girl's face. Now, she looks like she's G.I. Jane, paratrooping into danger! (Except I can't get that ugly tan blob away from the barrel of the rifle.) Take that, Kim Jong Il!


Monday, November 20, 2006

Several Things...

Did a bunch of household chores and stuff this weekend... But, here are a few things:

  • I've been reading Action Philosophers Giant Size Thing Volume 1 lately. Awesome! Highly recommended! Props to SSMW for throwing it my way. Here's the official site (soon to be blogrolled) and here's a Philosophy Now review. Excerpt: Will Action Philosophers inspire today’s teen slackers to become the next generation’s deep thinkers? Or will it lull them into a false sense of understanding, the comic-book equivalent of Philosophy for Dummies? To be fair, probably a little of both. In any case, Action Philosophers is a good resource for those who admit to being staggered by the vast historical sweep of philosophy and just don’t know where to start. It’s also a witty diversion even for those who can quote chapter-and-verse from the works of the great intellectuals. And who knows – maybe these divergent demographics will bump into one another at the newsstand?
  • I watched a movie I had been meaning to watch for years (decades?) the other day, Larry Cohen's The Stuff. It's about this eponymous stuff that somebody finds oozing out of the ground, and it tastes great! Only three problems: a) It's more addictive than any drug, b) It's sentient, and c) It takes over your body from the inside and turns you into (what becomes known as) a "Stuffie." They start marketing it and it becomes so popular that it threatens to put ice cream companies out of business. Conspiracy and satire ensue. Well worth a look if you know who Larry Cohen is without checking.
  • Excellent essay at Monitor Duty comparing and contrasting the DC Silver Age with the Marvel Silver Age. Excerpt: The Marvel Universe was really limited to New York City. Yes, the heroes would travel to distant lands, dimensions, and planets. But the heart of the thing was New York. DC had a much wider spread. You can't say that any one city is the "heart" of the DC Universe, because all of the characters invariably existed in their own little corner of it. Superman has Metropolis, Batman has Gotham City, the Flash Keystone City, et cetera. And the heroes are not only separated geographically, but it sometimes feels as if they occupy their own universes as well. Superman really has his own universe, full of space-villains, chunks of red kryptonite, super-pets, and the dance of his secret identity. Really, it's a more-or-less hermetically sealed setting… …With Marvel, everything takes place in the same New York. Now, I'm not saying the different characters and books don't have their own identity: Spider-Man's stories have a completely different tone than Dr. Strange's. But they still occupy the same geographic location, they are still, in some ways, grounded in the same universe.

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Vietnamese Game Shows

Clearing through some stacks of stuff on my desk, including an interesting L.A. Times article from a couple weeks ago about the popularity of quiz shows in Vietnam.

Excerpt: Vietnam is awash in television game shows. Its eight major TV stations air more than 50 of them, many in prime time. There are programs geared toward children, or teens, or seniors. Some cater to niche audiences, such as the show that tests soldiers on military life — still revered in this nominally communist nation. The game shows reflect Vietnam's rapid economic development. In the last decade, a middle class has emerged. Pit toilets are giving way to modern conveniences, cars are replacing motorcycles, and 90% of Vietnamese households have television sets. Game shows are helping to influence Vietnam's first TV generation just as television transformed American culture in the 1950s. In a society where education is seen as the way to economic freedom, Vietnamese say these TV programs serve as mass education. They are teaching people about world history, healthful living and modern lifestyles.

I think we all know that when it really comes down to it, whoever the Bob Barker of Vietnam is is going to be the emblem of that which toppled communism. Go television!

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

R.I.P. Milton Friedman, Lover of Liberty

Props to Milton Friedman: Scholar, Nobel Prize-winning Economist, Small-"l" libertarian, Advocate of Drug Decriminalization, and Lover of Human Freedom. Above are scans of the front and back of my Milton Friedman trading card, which I got (in a set) from the U of M - Flint Economics Dept. about 10 or 12 years ago. Here are profiles from the Financial Times, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, Reason Magazine, and the Cato Institute (including a podcast). Blogospheric comments from Volokh, Postrel, Agitator (Excellent quote: "...Sad for this country that the federal government has come to be stocked with more William Bennetts, and fewer Milton Friedmans."), Jane Galt, JMPP, Marginal Revolution, Larry Kudlow, and The Freakos. Here's the 1994 Booknotes interview in which Prof. Friedman discussed the introduction he wrote to Friedrich von Hayek's The Road to Serfdom. (Cartoon version of TRTS here.) (C-Span will be replaying this interview several times.)

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

OMFG! Hahahahahahaha!

"Official Meeting Facilities Guide." OMFG! This is what happens when you let old people be in charge of things. Ha! At first I called bullshit, but then it seemed to be for real. The site says implies that it's a Reed Business Information publication, but the Reed site doesn't list it as one of their periodicals. Anyone ever see an actual copy?


Sunday, November 12, 2006

Books Almost Organized; Teaching Chinese in Chicago; SA WWII Book; Beatles + Luda; Say It With a Slap

OK, I know it's been a while, but I think I finally have all my books all the way squared away. Here's the breakdown: 900s (history and geography) in the living room and hallway; Early 400s (general language/linguistics and English language) and 800s (literature) in my office, fiction and the balance of the non-fiction in The G's office. I still have to figure out what to do with a bunch of magazines I have that I want to go through/file/pitch.

  • Via Language Hat, here, here, and here are some other comments on home-library organization.
  • The cover story of yesterday's Chicago Tribune Magazine was quite interesting -- It was all about the Chicago School System's Chinese-language instruction program. Main story by Monica Eng, side pieces by Evan Osnos and Desiree Chen. Teaching Chinese (and Urdu, and Arabic, and Korean) to public school students, elementary and up, is only a good idea if we want America to be competitive in the 21st Century. Otherwise, we should just skip it. Excerpt: In a kindergarten class at McCormick, Mexican-American children cheerfully recited a poem about ducks and geese flying over a river. For many adults, the pronunciation of the word for geese (sort of like "ewwuhhhrr") would have been both daunting and somewhat embarrassing. But the 5-year olds kids nailed it, unfazed by how much it sounded like a mix between gargling and honking. The rapid growth of Chicago's Chinese language program has attracted a flood of media attention that has placed Davis into a discomfiting spotlight. He faces constant questions about whether Chinese is too difficult. He is keenly aware that Spanish is a far more useful language at the moment. His avid support from Mayor Daley--the mayor accompanied him to China last summer for the second time and has made the Chinese program a pet project--attracts a mixed bag of admiration and resentment from other educators, who requested anonymity for this article. Davis' appointment as director of the new Confucius Institute, which got $70,000 in partial funding from China, is a concern to those who eye Beijing's motives with suspicion. (In cities it partners with in a teaching program, the Chinese government establishes a Confucius Institute to promote the study of Chinese language and culture.)
  • My Tank Is Fight! looks like a fun book from Something Awful about not-so-good ideas for weapons in WWII.
  • As commentary on Heather's recent alimonization of Sir Paul, here's a "Love Me Do"/"Paperback Writer" mashup with "Move Bitch" by Ludacris.
  • We watched a great French crime film this weekend: Touchez Pas au Grisbi. It was great! They kept slapping everybody! Roger Ebert excerpt: The world of French crime films is a particular place, informed by the French love for Hollywood film noir, a genre they identified and named. But the great French noirs of the 1950s are not copies of Hollywood; instead, they have a particularly French flavor; in "Touchez Pas au Grisbi," the critic Terence Rafferty writes, "real men eat pate," and this is "among the very few French movies about the criminal class in which neither the characters nor the filmmakers are afflicted by the delusion that they are Americans." A few years later, in Godard's "Breathless" (1960), Belmondo would be deliberately channeling Bogart, but here Gabin is channeling only himself. He is the original, so there is no need to look for inspiration.

Props to Bombippy for the slapshots.

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Random Family Circus/Nietzsche Quote Generator

Main link here.

It is hard enough to remember my opinions, without also remembering my reasons for them!
This one looks like it could have been an actual FC caption.

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Friday, November 10, 2006


Several things:
  • Check out the BoingBoingBoing podcast with "Ghost Map" author Steve Johnson.
  • We watched a real good documentary the other night, The World According to Sesame Street, which showed how the Children's Television Workshop developed Sesame programs in Bangladesh, South Africa, and the former Yugoslavia. I did my senior research project in college on the Sesame Street phenomenon; Maybe I'll post some stuff from it here at some point.
  • Take a look at the cool retro snapshots at Square America.
  • The ♥G♥ pointed me towards a cool site where you can do jigsaw puzzles online.
  • Enough TV to make your eyeballs melt -- Get it while it lasts!
  • New York Times Magazine article by James Gleick about the Oxford English Dictionary in the age of the Internet. Excerpt: The version now under way is only the third edition. The first, containing 414,825 words in 10 weighty volumes, was presented to King George V and President Coolidge in 1928. Several “supplements” followed, but not till 1989 did the second edition appear: 20 volumes, totaling 21,730 pages. It weighed 138 pounds. The third edition is a mutation. It is weightless, taking its shape in the digital realm. To keyboard it, Oxford hired a team of 150 typists in Florida for 18 months. (That was before the verb keyboard had even found its way in, as Simpson points out, not to mention the verb outsource.) No one can say for sure whether O.E.D.3 will ever be published in paper and ink. By the point of decision, not before 20 years or so, it will have doubled in size yet again. In the meantime, it is materializing before the world’s eyes, bit by bit, online. It is a thoroughgoing revision of the entire text. Whereas the second edition just added new words and new usages to the original entries, the current project is researching and revising from scratch — preserving the history but aiming at a more coherent whole.

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Office Space, the Psycho-Killer Thriller

Via Kottke, in the same vein as Nora Ephron's The Shining...

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Response From Guardian Writer

OK, so it looks like Bobbie Johnson, the guy who wrote the article on Tim Berners-Lee about which I blogged the other day, has taken note of my comments and those of others (here, here, and here) and has responded to our responses to Berners-Lee's response. Excerpts: But unfortunately, mistakes do happen - and that's why we have a procedure to fix them. After a long conversation with Tim on Friday, before he published his post, he did as I suggested and put his complaint in an email to our independent ombudsman, readers' editor Ian Mayes. It's not necessarily as quick as we'd all like it to be, but it is thorough and effective... ...I think implications of sensationalism are ill-founded, as hopefully anybody who reads the Guardian's wide spread of technology coverage will realise. The same goes for the hint that it was deliberate obfuscation that comes as the result of an anti-blogging mentality; that's especially galling for me, a fairly passionate advocate of blogging who has been writing his own for six years.

No hard feelings, certainly... Sounds like a series of human miscommunications. In fact, why don't I just add the Guardian Unlimited Technology Blog to the sidebar?

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Odds and Ends

A few things of interest lately (cleaning out some favorites links):

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Anyone care to guess what Pakistan, Japan, Turkey, and Somalia have in common? How about Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Marianas Islands?

Via Logic and Language, here's Flags of the World Given Letter Grades. New Zealand philosophy professor Josh Parsons has gone through and assigned letter grades to the flags of the world. The only A+ in the group is shown below. Without checking, you have three guesses for which country it belongs to. Go.

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Dominant Intelligence Test

I kind of guessed this. Via TT.

Your Dominant Intelligence is Linguistic Intelligence

You are excellent with words and language. You explain yourself well.
An elegant speaker, you can converse well with anyone on the fly.
You are also good at remembering information and convicing someone of your point of view.
A master of creative phrasing and unique words, you enjoy expanding your vocabulary.

You would make a fantastic poet, journalist, writer, teacher, lawyer, politician, or translator.

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TBL Pwned by BBC, Guardian

Tim Berners-Lee is the fellow you have to thank for never getting anything done around the house anymore because you're always on the Web. He's involved in a new initiative to formally study web science, so he gave an interview to the BBC recently (audio included), which was picked up on by the British newspaper The Guardian, among many other periodicals. Here's the gist of the print version from the BBC site:

Web inventor fears for the future
By Pallab Ghosh

Science correspondent, BBC News

Sir Tim Berners-Lee is concerned about the future of the web.

The British developer of the world wide web says he is worried about the way it could be used to spread misinformation and "undemocratic forces". The web has transformed the way many people work, play and do business. But Sir Tim Berners-Lee told BBC News he feared that, if the way the internet is used is left to develop unchecked, "bad things" could happen. He wants to set up a web science research project to study the social implications of the web's development.

Oh no! Bad Things! Here's some of what the Guardian said:

Creator of web warns of fraudsters and cheats

Blogging one of biggest perils, says innovator
Launch of first degree course in online science

Bobbie Johnson, technology correspondent
Friday November 3, 2006

The creator of the world wide web told the Guardian last night that the internet is in danger of being corrupted by fraudsters, liars and cheats. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the Briton who founded the web in the early 1990s, says that if the internet is left to develop unchecked, "bad phenomena" will erode its usefulness. His creation has transformed the way millions of people work, do business, and entertain themselves. But he warns that "there is a great danger that it becomes a place where untruths start to spread more than truths, or it becomes a place which becomes increasingly unfair in some way". He singles out the rise of blogging as one of the most difficult areas for the continuing development of the web, because of the risks associated with inaccurate, defamatory and uncheckable information.

Here's something from another Guardian response:

Protecting the web

Tim Berners-Lee is right to worry about the future of the web. The history of such innovations is marked by persecution.

The world wide web is 15 years old and still in its technological adolescence. Its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, worries that "bad things" could happen and the web could be used to spread misinformation and support undemocratic practices. Berners-Lee is right is worrying about the future of the net. What is critical is not simply worrying about spread of "bad things", but finding a healthy balance between the benefits and risks of the web.

[Extended analogy follows about the history of the acceptance of coffee in the Middle East and Europe.]

Sounds scary! However...

Let's just see what TBL says on his own blog:

Blogging is great

Submitted by timbl on Fri, 2006-11-03 10:11. ::

People have, since it started, complained about the fact that there is junk on the web. And as a universal medium, of course, it is important that the web itself doesn't try to decide what is publishable. The way quality works on the web is through links.

It works because reputable writers make links to things they consider reputable sources. So readers, when they find something distasteful or unreliable, don't just hit the back button once, they hit it twice. They remember not to follow links again through the page which took them there. One's chosen starting page, and a nurtured set of bookmarks, are the entrance points, then, to a selected subweb of information which one is generally inclined to trust and find valuable.

A great example of course is the blogging world. Blogs provide a gently evolving network of pointers of interest. As do FOAF files. I've always thought that FOAF could be extended to provide a trust infrastructure for (e..g.) spam filtering and OpenID-style single sign-on and its good to see things happening in that space.

In a recent interview with the Guardian, alas, my attempt to explain this was turned upside down into a "blogging is one of the biggest perils" message. Sigh. I think they took their lead from an unfortunate BBC article, which for some reason stressed concerns about the web rather than excitement, failure modes rather than opportunities. (This happens, because when you launch a Web Science Research Initiative, people ask what the opportunities are and what the dangers are for the future. And some editors are tempted to just edit out the opportunities and headline the fears to get the eyeballs, which is old and boring newspaper practice. We expect better from the Guardian and BBC, generally very reputable sources)

In fact, it is a really positive time for the web. Startups are launching, and being sold [Disclaimer: people I know] again, academics are excited about new systems and ideas, conferences and camps and wikis and chat channels and are hopping with energy, and every morning demands an excruciating choice of which exciting link to follow first. (Ed. Note: What a great turn of the phrase!)

And, fortunately, we have blogs. We can publish what we actually think, even when misreported.

Fortunately, not everyone is going with "The Sky Is Falling" as their lead. For instance, The International Herald Tribune's headline on this story reads "Web science is 'big next step' in information." IHT excerpt: "The Web isn't about what you can do with computers," Berners-Lee said. "It's people and, yes, they are connected by computers. But computer science, as the study of what happens in a computer, doesn't tell you about what happens on the Web." The Web science program is an academic effort, but corporate technology executives and computer scientists said the research could greatly influence Web-based businesses. They pointed in particular to research by Berners-Lee and others aimed at building more "intelligence" into the Web - moving toward what is known as the Semantic Web - as an area of study that could yield a big payoff.

Just for kicks, here's the Google News page on this story; Interesting to skim and see which journalists go with optimism and which rags go for the Chicken Little approach.

Update, 5:22 pm, 11/7/06: Here's a response from Bobbie Johnson, writer of the Guardian article. Excerpt: So what happened? First off, nobody made Tim's quotes up - he did indeed say that there is a danger the web, without serious thought and design, is in danger of becoming a place where "untruths start to spread more than truths". However some of his quotes did unfortunately lose their context - particularly the ones about blogging. In the process of reaching the dead-tree version of the Guardian, they lost their grounding and certain aspects were then amplified down the chain. I take responsibility for that. But unfortunately, mistakes do happen - and that's why we have a procedure to fix them. After a long conversation with Tim on Friday, before he published his post, he did as I suggested and put his complaint in an email to our independent ombudsman, readers' editor Ian Mayes. It's not necessarily as quick as we'd all like it to be, but it is thorough and effective... ...Yes, we get things wrong sometimes. But when we do, we work hard to fix it.

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Friday, November 03, 2006

South Park / Haggard Crossover?

Five bucks says the South Park boys have been hard at work re-editing next week's follow-up to Wednesday night's Go God. Go! Why? The show featured a) atheist/scientist Richard Dawkins teaching evolution at South Park Elementary and then having an affair with Mrs. Garrison that leads to her convincing him to bring about paradise on earth by eliminating all religion, and b) Cartman freezing himself into suspended animation for three weeks because he can't wait for the new Nintendo game to be released, only to be plucked from the ice by humans of the future who are now all members of warring rival gangs of atheists. Why do I believe them to be re-editing? Because of the serendipitous breaking news from yesterday about fellow Coloradoan Ted Haggard. Why is this particularly serendiptious? Because of the Colorado connection, South Park's appreciation of a good gay escort joke, the atheism/evolution motif, and mostly the previous tête-à-tête between Rev. Haggard and Prof. Dawkins. They have just got to be able to come up with something. I bet this Jones guy didn't care about the elections; He's probably just a South Park fan and wanted to see what they would do if he gave them some material to work with.

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