Friday, August 31, 2007

Stop Snitchin'

Check out this organization. It's funded by tax dollars!

The haziness of our definition of obscenity inspired LiveJournal to start immediately censoring drawings of people who might look underage. (Such drawings might violate federal law; Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition only protects non-obscene content.)

Things are a bit out of control when not only are minors who snap sexual photos of themselves breaking the law, but so is a teenager making doodles of himself getting it on with Jessica Alba, David Beckham, or a certain bespectacled wizard.

Out of what I assume to be misguided liability concerns, LiveJournal has now announced that it will suspend users who simply link to objectionable material; this can be material that's obscene, illegal for some other reason, or just things that violate the linker site's Terms of Service. (Incidentally, is this Amazon link illegal in Alabama? If so, wouldn't something that innocuous be grounds for termination of service in this witch-hunt atmosphere?)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

On the relative disorderliness of toe-tapping

The best thing I've seen on the Larry Craig bathroom sex scandal:
What I find more astonishing is the definition of "disorderly conduct." By this reckoning, ten years and thirty pounds ago, I had disorderly conduct foisted upon me approximately...let's see...15,923 times.

Per week.
Give or take.

But, even if they're unwanted advances, that's the natural order of things, right? Whereas men have to be protected from the unwanted advances of men at all costs (why? because they're worried they just might succumb to a particularly persuasive piece of foot telegraphy?).

Given the constant, daily harassment women endure (come on now, don't tune out; stay with me, here) -- harassment that makes us compress our daily activities into daylight hours, that circumscribes where we go, who we go with, and even what we wear; intrusive harassment, ruin-your-day, make-you-feel-powerless/angry/depressed harassment -- the overzealous prosecution of the toe-tapper really pisses me off. It's like those sophomore discussions one has of human trafficking, in which someone invariably says "but what about the men?", and then the rest of the discussion, in some form or another, is overwhelmingly preoccupied with those minority cases. Heaven forfend we don't keep men front and center, even if it makes lousy Bayesians of us all.

Look: if there'd been groping, a physical risk, or even just a persistent advance in the face of a single "no" (which doesn't seem to have ever been uttered), I'd be supportive regardless of the gender base-rates involved. But "he tapped his foot and looked at me funny"? Please!
For comparison.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Domestic Violence

A little bit disturbing, yes?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


You know, when The Atlantic hired Ross Douthat as a blogger, he didn't get a third of the bile that's been directed at Megan McArdle, despite being younger, less credentialed, and more conservative. He definitely didn't get a huge influx of trolls talking about how ugly he was.

I wonder why that could be?

-1, Married to Claire Messud.

I think James Wood is my new favorite critic. Someone stole his book of essays from the library, which means there's at least one other fan in Arlington as well. Unfortunately, most of his stuff is behind subscription walls. Is "Toni Morrison's False Magic" online anywhere?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Sign of the Apocalypse

Volumes 2 & 3 of the Venom Cock saga are available for purchase.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

How bad did you feel after your last breakup? Did you bounce back quickly? Maybe you just thought you did.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

They had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

Steve and I will be in Switzerland from September 11-18. We'll be visiting Zurich, Geneva, Zermatt, and Interlaken. Tips on must-see sights and activities in those areas are welcome. Already on the schedule: the Matterhorn, the Glacier Express through the Alps, and paragliding in Interlaken.

Didn't Twin Peaks have this problem also?

The only post you will need on why Veronica Mars sucked after Season One.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Internet Begging

This has been eating at me for a while.

The blogging world has a weird relationship with monetary exchange. A few years ago everyone was convinced that micropayments would change the world. We all know how that went. There are a few bloggers who manage to make an independent living (which I distinguish from using recreational blogging as a springboard to a paid position), but the vast majority are lucky to get a few bucks from CafePress or GoogleAds. At the same time, many bloggers are clearly putting out product that we wouldn't think twice about paying for, if it appeared as magazine or newspaper columns. We, have, however, become accustomed to getting great stuff for free.

At the same time, there have been several prominent episodes of online begging, with true and false sob stories attached. Many of these pleas are viewed contemptuously, although the blogosphere is capable of pulling together to help in some instances. Tone is important; an entitled twenty-something asking for help with her credit card debt is going to come off poorly. Paying bandwidth costs is generally looked upon as legitimate grounds for a donation drive. A single instance of misfortune can result in a surprising outpouring of generosity. I've chipped in to such campaigns on occasion and do all of my general-purpose charitable giving online.

I can't, however, bring myself to give to some people, even if I enjoy their writing, even if they seem like good sorts, and even if they are no less deserving than others I do help. These are the chronic sufferers. Their problems are constant and overwhelming; no amount of reader assistance ever seems to push them back from the precipice. Instead of a constantly present but unassuming tip jar or an occasional, businesslike donation drive, we are bombarded with incessant posts on their fragile state of affairs and long litanies of woe. They squat at the edge of the information superhighway, bandages rolled back to expose their leprous sores. It is not that their problems are not grave or that they do not deserve something (charity, or at least recompense for the writings they produce). It is merely that the unseemliness of it all induces repugnance.

There's little or no wisdom in repugnance, so I am open to being convinced that I should root out these feelings.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Music Recs

Glen Whitman needs new music for his iPod. The same musical ossification happened to me, which makes it really hard to make good mix tapes. Help Glen! In the alternative, help me!


I don't know why I read things that only make me angry. For example, Pandagon:
I have my suspicions that when the Republicans talk up “tort reform” to stop “nuisance lawsuits”, they’re not exactly talking about stuff like this. [Short version: scientist posts negative reviews of a book on his blog, criticizing its new theory of developmental biology as having no basis in reality; the word "crackpot" was used. The author, a critic of "Darwinian orthodoxy," sues.]
Right. That would be why the tort reform proponents at Overlawyered covered the story days before Marcotte got around to it. That coverage was even noted at the website Marcotte quoted. But why acknowledge facts when inaccurate smears are available?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Once upon a time there was a monster

This movie is made of awesome.

At some point I am going to run out of Korean movies with this guy in them (recs?), but not today.

Also, British Actors Are Hot.

Why have the decade's most popular movies been saturated with Englishness? Check out the list. A few thoughts:

1. England has a thriving theatre scene that produces many well-trained actors, far out of proportion to its population relative to the USA.

2. An easy way to make a character seem classy or intelligent to an American audience is to give him an English accent. (British English may also be more globally comprehensible than any other accent or dialect, save perhaps American English; yay empire.)

3. England has a different relationship to fantasy literature than does the USA: it is more mainstream there and often on the adult bestseller lists. There is thus a lot of English-language fantasy with a British flavor (and it's orders of magnitude easier to get something adapted if it's already in English). Add to this that blockbuster special effects movies have taken off in the last 10-20 years and that fantasy books were extremely difficult to film prior to the recent advances in FX. Result: there is a giant backlog of British fantasy to adapt. (This is the same dynamic that we have seen with comic book movies.)

4. Pirates are cool. The draw is not in any way related to Englishness. It is merely an accident (through the filming of Treasure Island) that pirates speak with Cornish accents.

5. Titanic: I guarantee that even if there had been no English passengers or crew, they still would have made this movie and it would have looked the same; it's not as if there weren't plenty of sumptuously wealthy Americans.

6. Shrek: the only reason the title character has a Scottish accent is because Mike Myers's father was Scottish and he used him as the inspiration for the father in So I Married An Axe Murderer and for other, later characters, all of which are buffoonish or grotesque. Because Britishness comes off as classier (see 2.a), the apparent contrast between our expectations and the character's behavior is heightened. Would Fat Bastard have been funny with a flat Midwestern accent? Probably not (assuming he was funny at all).

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

No Concord Over Conchords

You know, I am normally all about unconventionally attractive guys with accents, but a girl's got to draw the line somewhere. These two are just nasty.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Interesting Development

A new message board for law school applicants, law students, and young attorneys has arisen. Can its community moderation scheme save it from the fate of its predecessor?

Monday, August 20, 2007


BN: The documents I am reviewing, for reasons unknown, smell distinctly of skunk.

GN: I like the smell of skunk.

Why doesn't someone make a skunk perfume? Or maybe just a vial of scent to huff. It's not any grosser than dirt.

Aspirational Garments

Isn't this dress lovely? This is pretty cute too. And this is probably too bright, but it's fun!

If you spool through the Autumn/Winter '07 collection here, you can see my favorite suit again. It's image 20.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

It works as a caption for most blog posts, too.

Everyone here knows where I stand on the dating across party lines issue, but the fact that doing so is usually dumb doesn't make this attack any less contemptible.

If I hear one more person sneer about how libertarians are just conservatives who like to smoke pot or have gay sex, I'm going to pop a blood vessel.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Photo Retouching

Check out the portfolio here. I think the saddest part is that retouchers had to make some of the female stars larger (fatter arms, adding curves) and smoothed out the black hollows around their protruding clavicles because they looked too thin in the original photos.

(h/t to The Superficial and its discussion of Britney Spears's recent Allure photo shoot)


Originally uploaded by Vjornaxx
I feel like watching Bring It On all of a sudden.

Friday, August 17, 2007

West Virginia Mountain Mama

Overlawyered highlights a particularly lurid fact pattern in a recent West Virginia Supreme Court decision:
Robert Cleavenger and Marissa Strahin were lovers, but at some point the relationship ended. Strahin, pregnant with Cleavenger's child, moved in with Earl Sullivan in Braxton County, West Virginia. This perturbed Cleavenger, who decided to resolve the matter with a high-powered rifle. Thinking discretion the better of valor, Sullivan fled his property in a car, taking Strahin and her brother, Daniel Strahin, with him. Cleavenger pursued, and fired at the fleeing car, hitting Daniel in the arm.
And then everybody sued everybody else. This scenario would make a great season opener for a country-fried Law & Order spinoff.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

How you (speed) read

Tyler Cowen linked to an interesting article on reading speed the other day. Considering the medium, I was surprised that the post got so little reaction. Surely everyone online reads a bit faster than average? Wouldn't you want to know why?

The study teased out the effects of three skills we use to read: sentence context, whole-word recognition, and letter-by-letter decoding.
To knock out sentence context, they changed word order (e.g. “Contribute others. The of Reading measured”). To knock out whole word recognition, they alternated capital and lower case (e.g. “ThIs tExT AlTeRnAtEs iN CaSe”). And to knock out letter-by-letter decoding, they substituted letters in such a way that word shape was maintained (e.g. “Reading” becomes “Pcedirg”).
Letter decoding accounted for 62% of reading speed, whole word recognition 16%, and sentence context 22%. Sentence context was more important for faster readers than for slower ones.

I note that the test passages were from a Mary Higgins Clark novel. Could using a formulaic mystery have catered to those who rely heavily on predicting what happens next for their speed? Additionally, it's harder to use word recognition in works with archaic or unusual diction. I'd like to see the breakdowns for a sample of Beowulf or Ulysses.

Incidentally, I read graphic novels incredibly quickly; my eyes leap to the text in each cell very rapidly. It's necessary to force myself to slow down and look at the pictures.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Poem: Heat

O wind, rend open the heat,
cut apart the heat,
rend it to tatters.

Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air--
fruit cannot fall into heat
that presses up and blunts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.

Cut the heat--
plough through it,
turning it on either side
of your path.

H. D.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Characterization and Race Hypos

How would Buffy have been different if Xander had been Chicano? If Cordelia had been Persian? If Willow had been Vietnamese?

Discrimination and Food

Today we had lunch at a very good ethnic restaurant. One of the more unusual things was that the restaurant had multiple menus. One was printed on paper in English and had the standard, bland Americanized versions of the cuisine. The one we were given, a bound booklet, listed many more uncommon and spicy dishes and was also in English. A third menu was posted on the wall, with over a dozen permanent and rotating items listed in a foreign language. (There was also fourth version, a second paper English menu with some but not all of the adventurous dishes from the booklet.) We were not advised of the existence of any menus but the one we were given, the English booklet version. Not everyone received the same menu(s); another Anglo couple was given the booklet and the boring takeout menu when they sat down.

Now I am aware that in at least some jurisdictions, businesses can be sanctioned for posting help-wanted notices in a foreign language without providing a translation. Similarly, I don't think it would hold up in court if a restaurant gave its black customers a menu that included only cheap plates of collard greens and fried chicken, even if it could produce evidence that those customers were generally poorer and didn't order the foie gras. So is there a legal problem with untranslated menus? With providing different menus to different customers?

UPDATED to add that different menus can allow restaurants to establish dual pricing schemes as well.

*I hasten to add that I have no desire to get the restaurant in question in any sort of trouble; the service and food were excellent. This is one of the ways how law school warps your brain.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

People remain what they are even if their faces fall apart.

It occurred to me while reading a discussion of race in fiction that I almost never imagine the faces of characters in books that I read. I do recall my perception of Scalzi's Fixer Young changed from white to black as he introduced the new tidbits about the character, but if you asked me to describe my favorite characters from books I've read numerous times (even characters I have crushes on!) , I would be making it up as I went along. The only recent occasion I can recall attempting to visualize a character and assign a race was when a character with an usual name was introduced in this book and I had to make up my mind whether the person was East Asian or African.

At some point I took an online quiz that implied that an inability to visualize faces in this way indicates some sort of non-neurotypical brain issue, but for the present it just makes me really terrible at playing the "cast this hypothetical film adaptation" game.

Friday, August 10, 2007

That Guy Rides Again

"That Guy" returns in rare form. Do read the comments.

Book Review: An Exchange of Hostages

I actually read this book when I was living in Clerksville, but Moe's Books had a copy and it had registered highly enough on my shelfworthiness scale to make me buy it. I'm not sure who originally recommended Matthews to me; I think it was Dylan.

This older and somewhat hard-to-find novel is worth reading, although you need a strong stomach. In what now seems like a prescient choice, it postulates a tyrannical interstellar government, the Jurisdiction, which uses torture as both interrogation technique and execution method. But to be an excellent torturer, one needs a nuanced understanding of the body. Under Jurisdiction, a "Ship's Inquisitor" is first trained as a physician. Most of you can see how this gets gory quickly.

Our protagonist, Andrej Koscuisko, is the scion of an aristocratic family and graduated with honors in neurosurgery and pharmacology. He is sent by his father, the family patriarch, to join the Fleet as a Ship's Inquisitor, a position of power. Resistance appears futile, and Andrej permits himself to be made part of the apparatus of oppression.

This is in effect a character study. A totalitarian system and patriarchal culture constrain Andrej's perceived choices until his persona inverts itself: The doctor who reassembled broken bodies becomes a dealer of pain and death. Agonizingly, Andrej learns that he enjoys his new work. Despite this, he still struggles to do good. He treats the station's bond-involuntaries with respect; his surgical skills save one and his adept manipulation of the law preserves another. His kills are clean. But this is rather faint praise, and Andrej is acutely conscious of his sin.

For comparison, Matthews also provides the points of view of Joslire Curran, Andrej's personal slave at the station, and Mergau Noycannir, an ambitious court clerk who has been put in the Inquisition program at the behest of her political master. Joslire, who escaped execution for undisclosed crimes only to be controlled for decades by a governor in his brain, has served many student-torturers before. The tiny current of decency in Andrej draws him in. In a life ruled by pain and cruelty, this may be enough to command loyalty. And loyalty Andrej will need; his skills inspire jealousy in Mergau, who lacks medical training. She is suspicious and hyperaggressive, but determined to provide her superior with a pet torturer, breaking the Fleet's monopoly. Andrej's cycle of sadism and guilt pales in comparison with her sociopathy, and the chapters using her point of view are appropriately suffocating.

If you are looking for an inspiring tale of rebellion against an evil government, this is not your book. But as an exploration of the consequences of imposing such a system, it shines. Recommended.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Fighting Words

Steve will undoubtedly disagree with this advice:
I would not recommend As I Lay Dying, or really any Faulkner even if you were dying slowly of cancer and every other book on Earth had been burned.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

This is so wrong.

Think about this: the Air Force is by some lights the most woman-friendly branch of the military.

Airman Who Alleged Rape Faces Court-Martial

Must Reads?

If this blog had a greatest hits section, which posts would be in it?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

One Sentence Book Reviews

Mistress of the Art of Death: Useless romantic plot grafted onto otherwise enjoyably lurid historical mystery makes sequels possible, but prospect painful.

The Nature of Monsters: Ye olde English science attempts to prove the theory of maternal impression through ghastly experiments, but our plucky heroine escapes, of course; read Mary Reilly instead.

Beguilement: Why did I think that I would like Bujold more if she wrote romance?

The Black Company: The clunky writing makes this action-packed tale of mercenaries and magic a slog, and the antagonist comes off like a female Sauron.

Monday, August 06, 2007

By my lights, at least

This is a bug, not a feature:
If people are planning to make a fixed amount of money after which they can move away and live comfortably for the rest of their lives, higher tax [rates] actually encourage work. They make you work a longer time to accumulate the millions you need to live comfortably.

Are we in the uncanny valley yet?

First magazines, then baby pictures and movies. Will the creepy digital manipulation ever end? Does anyone actually like the slick, plastic appearance of human skin in these images?

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Steve Hates Biographical Comics

Steve: There are two strains that constitute three-quarters of all graphic novels. The first is predominantly male and can be summed up as "I am an antisocial loser who writes comic books." The second is mostly female and consists of the plot line "Ooooh, my family raped me."

Me: And sometimes it's both!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

No Gold Stars for Breathing

Is it really surprising that some states have low graduation rates? Fifty percent is horrible, but a target of 95% is overly optimistic. The only way you can get rates that high is if a high school diploma doesn't mean anything. If you're going by IQ,* that 5% consists of the mentally retarded. "Not mentally retarded" is not equivalent to "deserves a diploma."

* insert the disclaimer of your choice regarding IQ testing

Friday, August 03, 2007


Is there any reason why a housekeeping service would shut off the heater and air conditioner by flipping the circuit breaker? This is the second time I have come home to a clean but hot apartment.

UPDATE: It is not the maids. The circuit breaker somehow flipped itself this morning. This only happens with the AC/heater breaker, and as far as I know no other outlets are on the same circuit.

Heroic Measures for Fido

Karl asks me to discuss the ethics of heroic lifesaving medicine for pets. As someone who spent over three thousand dollars on a cat she adopted from Little Rock Animal Control, I am perhaps not an unbiased commenter. Regardless, I do wonder why this is even an issue.

We don't typically look down on people who could have bought a Honda Accord but instead chose a Lexus, or people who take expensive vacations, or those who dine out regularly. They choose to spend their money on an extra-smooth ride or a couple of weeks in Kenya or several dozen memorable meals because these things bring them pleasure. How is spending an equivalent amount so that you can continue to have the pleasure of an animal's company any different?

If costly treatments cause a pet undue suffering, that's another thing. One has a moral obligation to consider the price your pet pays for your utility. But that calculation is something pet owners must always perform, whether they are deciding to move to a house with no yard for the dog or if the cat should be declawed. Heroic treatments should be considered carefully, as the decision is likely to be made at a stressful time, but there's nothing substantively different about them in this sense.

Some people value their pets as highly as others value flat-screen televisions or trips to the Bahamas. Why should we cast aspersions on their love of companionship?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


The blogosphere kerfuffle on defining eugenics has largely failed to include the creepy exhortations for Western women to have more babies, which often come from right-wingers or nationalists. Why stress reproduction by native women? Wouldn't Angelina-Jolie-style baby importation (or just increased immigration) also provide future participants for the pension system pyramid scheme? I don't buy that we avoid these two options due to fear of cultural change; even if you required immigrants to be brainwashed to worship the Declaration of Independence and apple pie, there would still be a surplus of applicants.

Unrelatedly, I really wanted to go to this, but I was too depressed and swamped with work.