Saturday, May 28, 2011

For Isabel, with a golden retriever

This is cute, but I keep imagining Bran's direwolf from the HBO Game of Thrones series telling these dogs, "That's not how you fight crime. THIS * rips out assassin's throat * is how you fight crime."

Nymeria's real sin was allowing Joffrey to live. If she'd just killed him and Arya bullied Sansa into saying he "fell in the river," how much Westerosi blood might have been spared?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Total request, not-live

I'd say blogging would be sporadic for the near future, but blogging is already sporadic. I don't even have a good excuse, like "I'm getting my own totally awesome blog and living the dream of getting paid to blog about cool pop culture stuff." But if you suggest a cool topic in the comments, I promise to post about it once things get back to normal around here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

In which I am deemed a supporter of "a tyranny by tabloid and by internet"

I must be doing something right if British speech chillers are describing me thus. Further:
Ms Taylor’s ideal – of a transparent world in which we will all live without the burden of secrecy, hypocrisy and lies – is more likely to be a dystopia of some against all, as the powerful and ruthless in society comb what had been secret for personal gain or the pleasures of cruelty.
When our right to discuss the conduct of our fellow humans is minimized as "the poor's right to broadcast gossip," it is clear that a tyranny of one sort has already been erected.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

It ain't no Grizzly Man

Anyone else see Cave of Forgotten Dreams? I was disappointed by the failure to maintain a sense of awe, and by the inexplicable absence of any sort of focus on the depicted species of animals. But it was worthwhile just to be able to see the interiors of the cave. 

ETA that hi-res images or reproductions of the cave art are surprisingly hard to find.

Monday, May 16, 2011

You know it when you see it - NSFW if you work at Barnes & Noble

Apparently Barnes and Noble got in a tizzy over the cover of this month's Dossier magazine (yep, I'd never heard of it before either). There's a guy on the cover with no shirt. Usually this would be no big deal. But the guy in question is a famously androgynous model, and he's wearing makeup and a feminine hairstyle. Eek! The bookstore chain offered the magazine a choice between an opaque plastic wrapping, a la porno mags, or the pulping of all their copies of this month's issue. The controversial cover photo is below.

I've got to ask: At what point did this cover tip for Barnes and Noble? Are they okay with shirtless skinny men with bombshell curls and no makeup? Shirtless skinny men with makeup and masculine hair? Men with Marilyn hair and tons of makeup, but clothed? Women with buzz cuts and double mastectomies?

Peaking early

Apropos of recent discussions:
The fall from childhood greatness to a middling state of “simply okay” is, Gladwell suggested, a recurring theme when the cherished notion of precocity is subjected to real scrutiny.

“I think we take it as an article of faith in our society that great ability in any given field is invariably manifested early on, that to be precocious at something is important because it’s a predictor of future success,” Gladwell said. “But is that really true? And what is the evidence for it? And what exactly is the meaning and value of mastering a particular skill very early on in your life?”
We think of precociousness as an early form of adult achievement, and, according to Gladwell, that concept is much of the problem. “What a gifted child is, in many ways, is a gifted learner. And what a gifted adult is, is a gifted doer. And those are quite separate domains of achievement.”
When we call a child “precocious,” Gladwell said, “we have a very sloppy definition of what we mean. Generally what we mean is that a person has an unusual level of intellectual ability for their age.” But adult success has to do with a lot more than that. “In our obsession with precociousness we are overstating the importance of being smart.” In this regard, Gladwell noted research by Carol Dweck and Martin Seligman indicating that different dimensions such as explanatory styles and attitudes and approaches to learning may have as much to do with learning ability as does innate intelligence. And when it comes to musicians, the strongest predictor of ability is the same mundane thing that gets you to Carnegie Hall: “Really what we mean … when we say that someone is ‘naturally gifted’ is that they practice a lot, that they want to practice a lot, that they like to practice a lot.” (emphasis added)
Are we confusing correlation with causation when we interpret results like the association of practice hours with ability? Isn't the liking significant?

Too, the sorts of skills and subject for which we label precocity as significant are often not those for which mere repetition and practice suffices to make one a "gifted doer."

Sunday, May 15, 2011

On tittle-tattle and privacy laws

From the "legality is not synonymous with morality" files:
Such stories constitute little more than idle gossip and are often embarrassing, even distressing, to their subjects. But so long as such gossip has not been acquired through illegal means, through invasion of privacy in the first sense, and so long as it is not untrue, it should not be a matter for the law. This is not to say that such journalism should be deemed acceptable. It should not. Passing off gossip as news has helped lead, as Polly Toynbee pointed out almost a decade ago, to ‘everyone’s loss of civility’, to the undermining of ‘everyone’s sense of a discreet private space which should stay beyond the brazen megaphone of public exposure’. There is, however, a big difference between that which should be unacceptable and that which should be illegal. Just because something is legal does not make it morally or socially acceptable. Conversely, just because something is morally or socially unacceptable should not make it illegal.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A question answered

Why Europeans would read someone like Franzen:
For the American reader there is the pleasure of recognizing the interiors Franzen so meticulously describes. Not so for the Italian, or German, or Frenchman, who simply struggles through lists of alien bric-a-brac. We might say that if the Swiss Stamm, to attract an international public, has been obliged to write about everyman for everyone everywhere, Franzen, thanks to the size of America’s internal market, but also to the huge pull the country exercises on the world’s imagination, can write about Americans for Americans (which is no doubt as it should be) and nevertheless expect to be read worldwide.

Freedom has this characteristic: Franzen appears to get all his energy, all his identity, from simultaneously evoking and disdaining America, explaining it (its gaucheness mostly) and rejecting it; his stories invariably offer characters engaging in the American world, finding themselves tainted and debased by it, then at last coming to their Franzenesque “corrected” senses and withdrawing from it. Blinded by this or that ambition, they come to grief because they lack knowledge, they lack awareness. Thus the importance of so much information. Unlike his characters, Franzen knows everything, is aware of everything, and aware above all that redemption lies in withdrawal from the American public scene. What message could be more welcome to Europeans? The more you know about America, which we need to do, the more you turn away from it, which we enjoy.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

What About the Paper Tigresses?

This NY Mag article on what happens to parent-propelled Asian students once they finish school and enter the real world was much better than it could have been. (To the extent that Yang writes about his experiences and personal philosophy, it's rather insufferable; his insight into and skill in portraying others is far superior to his ability to objectively analyze himself.) But this post very neatly points out that much, if not most, of the article is applicable to reserved, nerdy boys of all races, and that almost none of it applies to Asian girls. The author nods in Amy Chua's general direction, but skims over how the fact that she is raising daughters affects the application and effects of tiger-parent principles. Are these girls victims of Martha complexes? What happens to Asian Marthas when they graduate? I doubt their experiences track Yang's, or necessarily those of the Asian men he profiled.

Monday, May 09, 2011

50 Book Challenge Mea Culpa

I have totally fallen behind on my reviews for the 50 Book Challenge, even though I have read dozens of books since the last post. I can recommend The Fever by Sonia Shah and the Fandorin mysteries by Boris Akunin. I'm also really enjoying The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet as an audiobook. Anything strike your fancy lately? I've got to pencil in time for rereading A Song of Ice and Fire before July, but otherwise I just have a couple of civil war histories on the to-read shelf.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

How to make me hate you, publishers

Prices on Amazon of various versions of a book I want (prices of real books include free two-day shipping):

Paperback, new:     $10.20
Kindle eBook:         $11.99 (noted by Amazon: "This price was set by the publisher")
Hardcover, used:    $4.00
Paperback, used:    $3.98

Guess which one I bought? What kind of suckers do they think they are dealing with here?

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

We are being trolled by the WSJ

With this article, which combines the gobsmackingly obvious with stereotyping psychobabble garbage.
The female cortex contains a highly developed system for finding and scrutinizing a prospective partner—a system that might be dubbed the Miss Marple Detective Agency. Agatha Christie's fictional sleuth is often dismissed as scatterbrained, but she is actually a shrewd judge of character and harbors deep knowledge of the dark side of human nature. She uses her surprising analytical acumen to solve mysteries that have stumped the police.

Using similar investigative skills, the female brain evaluates all available evidence regarding a potential mate's social, emotional and physical qualities to make an all-important decision: Is he Mr. Right or Mr. Wrong? Only if Miss Marple gives her stamp of approval do physical arousal and psychological arousal harmoniously unite in the female brain.

This unconscious evaluation is the source of "feminine intuition." Though the female brain carefully processes many stimuli simultaneously, it is experienced only as a general feeling of favorability or suspicion toward a potential partner. This feminine intuition is designed to solve a woman's unique challenge of determining whether a man is committed, kind and capable of protecting a family.

UPDATED to add that the article/book author appears to be a crank.

UPDATE 2: From the "sexually, women aren't visually oriented" department: Massive dump by Amazon of yaoi content from the Kindle breeds outrage. Yaoi is manga porn with male/male pairings, primarily consumed by women. Presumably our "Miss Marple" filters are simultaneously evaluating both big-eyed cartoon dudes, as they hook up with each other, for ability to commit, kindness, and protection abilities.

I have been assimilated.

At least once while reading any hard-copy book, I now am brought up short by a stymied desire to search for earlier occurrences of a term, like I can on my Kindle.