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Friday, January 30


The Mainstreaming Of Counterculture

When one stops off at a major chain bookstore on the way home and buys a couple of volumes of Slayers manga, it is a novel experience for the sales assistant to exclaim:
We're stocking Slayers now? That's so cool! I used to read Jump when I lived in Japan.
(Jump is the weekly magazine in which the Slayers manga originally appeared.)

I forgot my 20% discount coupon, though. Darn.

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Thursday, January 29


Why We Still Need The BBC

The whale attracted a lot of onlookers both before and after it exploded.

(Thanks to the BBC and Judi the Squirrel.)

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The Medium Had Better Be The Message

Because otherwise I have no idea what the photographer is trying to say here.

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Tuesday, January 27


Gobble Gobble SLURP

Some posts just write themselves:
The response to the Turkey & Gravy Jones Soda has been incredible. Thank you for your interest and patience in regards to this soda. We apologize if you were not able to get your hands on the Turkey & Gravy Jones Soda. Since this was a premium edition with limited quantities in Michigan and Washington region, we sold out pretty quickly. However, due to the huge interests from our consumers, we will be better prepared to meet everyone's need next year. All the sales from Turkey & Gravy soda will be going to Toys for Tots. If you sign up for our free Jones Soda newsletter, you will get advance notice of future premium flavors.
No, really.

(Thanks to Sam Kington in Tim Blair's comments.)

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Monday, January 19


Eppur Si Muove

Like vampires-in-training, the scientists sleep in rooms with blackout shades.

They wear strange wristwatches that sometimes tell them it's the middle of the night when the rest of the world is eating lunch.

The Toronto Star, still struggling with the concept of time zones.

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Friday, January 16


A Quiz... Of Sorts

You preferred the Democratic stance for 1 issue. Democratic Platform

You preferred the Green stance for 2 issues. Green Platform

You preferred the Libertarian stance for 1 issue. Libertarian Platform.

You preferred the Republican stance for 3 issues. Republican Platform.

Which bunch of loonies do you least disagree with?

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Wednesday, January 07


Idealism, Struggle, Despair, Passion, Success, Failure, and Enormously Long Lunch Breaks

Steven Den Beste has written another of those thoughtful pieces of his, this time tracing the philosophies that have given rise to the strange three-sided war of ideas that characterises so much of the world today. One of these philosophies is known as idealism.

If you haven't studied philosophy, you may not have run into this concept. I'll explain what it is by first describing its counterpart, materialism.

The basic concept of materialism is very simple, and it is this: The universe exists. Got that? Well, that's all it is, really. The universe exists, and we exist within it. Living creatures are made up of the same fundamental particles as stars and planets and comets and so on; our brains are made up of the same sort of molecules as our bodies, and we use those brains to observe the universe and try to make some sense of it.

Now, idealism says exactly the opposite: The universe does not exist of itself, but is merely an artifact of mind. It is our perceptions that are the fundamental reality, and matter has no existence independent of perception.

Yes, I know. You don't have to tell me, I know. Until a year or so ago, I thought that the entire concept of idealism was just a game thought up by philosophers to tease first-year philosophy students... But it's not. There are people who really believe this.

(There's also another philosophy known as dualism which says that mind and matter exist independently of each other and have nothing at all in common (and that the mind is fundamentally inexplicable by scientific method, since it cannot be directly measured or even detected)... But somehow interact. But everybody ignores the dualists.)

One of the consequences of the philosophy of materialism is realism. If the universe exists, there's not much you can do about it. It exists, you are part of it, and you need to deal with the universe the way it is. The most successful example of this is scientific materialism, which adds a second basic concept: The universe exists, and it works in a consistent manner. The whole aim of science is to find out just what that consistent manner is.

Now, if you are an idealist, you will tend to work in the opposite direction: Mind exists, and the universe is the perceptions of that mind. Which means that the universe should work the way we think it does... Rather than the way it actually does.

Which is why very few cavemen were idealists. They died out rather quickly. It takes a robust and peaceful civilisation to support concepts that far out of whack with reality.

Den Beste also ties idealism to socialism. The link is not direct, but it is there, and it has strengthened rather than weakened over time. In the 19th century, socialism could be viewed as an interesting if untested hypothesis in social theory. It has since been tested - and has failed. So to be a supporter of socialism today necessarily brings one close to the idealist philosophy: We know that socialism doesn't work... But it's the world that's wrong, not the idea.

So it should be no surprise that many of the proponents of idealist philosophy with whom I have, shall we say, debated, are also socialists.

The really telling example, as Den Beste shows, is the comparison of the two great revolutions of the late 18th century, the American and the French. The American revolution, led by realists (if not necessarily pure materialists) founded a nation that is still growing with the same basic social structure two centuries later. The French revolution, led by idealists, turned to oppression and carnage and failed utterly within 15 years. The romanticised view of the French revolution common today hides the fact that the two revolutions really had nothing in common except a desire to be rid of an annoying king.

It's the same realists who are running America today, and it's the same idealists who are running much of Europe. That's where the fundamental divide comes from: America sees the world as it is; Europe sees the world as it should be. And if we weren't, materialists and idealists alike, under threat from the third philosophy of militant religion, that wouldn't matter. All it would mean is that at some point, France would need to increase the working week and reduce the pension so the books would balance.

But we do live in a world where we are under such a threat, and if the Europeans, still chasing their failed ideas, try to obstruct the actions undertaken by the realists to defend both groups, that is indeed a problem. And it is why those who claim that the Bush government's failure at diplomacy squandered international support are so completely wrong: There never was such support, not in France or Germany, not among the left. Because they live in the world of ideas, of what should be, not what is. Sympathy there may have been; support, never.

Update: Munuvia welcomes visitors from U.S.S. Clueless! Mind the cat, it hasn't been well.

Link: Marc Miyake discusses idealism in the field of lingustics.

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Sunday, January 04


The Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect

Fearless Leader links to another speech by Michael Crichton, this time on speculation (also known as "wild-assed guesses" or "making stuff up") in the media. Here's what jumped out at me in particular:
Media carries with it a credibility that is totally undeserved. You have all experienced this, in what I call the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. (I refer to it by this name because I once discussed it with Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have.)

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray's case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the "wet streets cause rain" stories. Paper's full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

We've all seen this. I know computers. Not everything about them, but I've dropped out of a Computer Science degree, and on my own time I've studied every relevant topic from solid-state physics to psychology. And the great majority of what is printed in the newspapers regarding computers is, frankly, rubbish. I don't even notice this any more, unless it's a close relative being misquoted (I come from a geeky family) or a particularly obtuse reporter failing to understand anything about the concept of open source. It's what I expect.

I've seen reports on events that I was personally involved in that, if I was lucky, touched on accuracy once or twice within a dozen paragraphs of nonsense. I don't bother to read the paper at all these days. I don't even buy it for the TV guide, since I don't watch TV more than twice a year now that Buffy and Futurama are gone. (That is, I don't watch broadcast TV; I watch plenty of DVDs and downloaded video.)

About the only thing that many newspapers are good for now is to let you know that there is a story, so that you can go and find out the facts yourself.

The cure I found for the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect was the New York Times. The nonsense they were printing in the first half of last year was so egregious that it became obvious even on subjects I didn't know anything about. Oh, and blogs too.

Read The Whole Thing.

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Friday, January 02


Giant Snake Alert

Strike Sumatra off your list of holiday spots, folks:
A TINY zoo in Indonesia is holding a 15m python captured in a forest in Sumatra.

If its vital statistics are confirmed, the python could be the world's longest snake.

The reptile measures 14.85m and weighs in at 447kg, the Suara Merdeka regional newspaper reported.

The serpent, which staff in the small recreation park have christened Kembang Wangi or Frangrant Flower, was found in a forest in Jambi on the island of Sumatra.

The snake, which was bought from its captor before being put on show, could be the largest serpent found in nearly 100 years.

According to the Guinness Book of Records, the world's longest snake ever captured was a reticulated python, which was 10m long, and shot in Celebes Indonesia in 1912.

Of course, that means that this is the largest serpent found ever. If it was the largest in 100 years, that would mean that some snake was found previously that was even larger.

Anyway, I've seen it on TV. I can't say for sure if it's 15 metres long, but it's one big slithering hisser.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 09:12 AM | Comments (3) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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