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Do you know of any podcasts that SEK would like to listen to?

[ 83 ] July 25, 2013 |

As I’m about to set off on a cross-country drive that’ll take me the better part of three days, it’d be nice to have something to listen to besides music, NPR, and what passes for “political commentary” in the vast Texas wastelands. So feel free to name — and if you’re feeling really charitable, link to — some of the better podcasts out there. I’m not too selective about the subject — and on a drive like this, the more variety the better — I’d just like it to be smart. So if you’ve got a favorite science/history/literary/whatever podcast, give it some love in the comments and I’ll repay with you with gratitude, because with the move that’s really all I can afford right now.

Ironically, of the eleven letters in “Ann Althouse,” not a one of them is an “F”

[ 111 ] July 25, 2013 |

Not even a week after Nate Silver’s departure from The New York Times prompted a generation of pundits to sigh mightily, turn to camera three, and continue talking about the prospect of Palin running in 2016, Ann Althouse defended her corporate masters with this little bit of innumerate lunacy:

I’m blogging this because it’s not an atypical incident and because too many people in America have unrealistic, idealized notions of the goodness of trains and their capacity to whisk everyone around everywhere at high speed.

So how about we take the country synonymous with “high speed” rails and look at it data. The most recent available, from 2011, indicates that 4,612 Japanese people were killed in motor vehicles accidents. How many were killed by trains of any kind [.pdf]?

Now I know what you’re thinking: one is still a lot of people to die on trains of any kind. Althouse is right to be suspicious of them. But care to guess how that one “Others” person died? According to page 79 of the aforelinked report, “a crossing rod that had been stuck in the lowered position was raised by an employee of the railway company, leading to a train colliding with a vehicle that had entered into the crossing.” So the only person killed by a train of any kind in the Land of the High Speed rail was in a car.

Take heed Americans!

Be very afraid!

Put aside the fact that, in 2011, 32,367 people died in car accidents, whereas as 759 were killed in non-high speed rail train accidents. I know 759 isn’t zero, but unless my maths deceive me, it’s quite a bit less than 32,367. But what am I saying?

Don’t be an unrealistic idealist!

Far better to live in a country where more people die on more dangerous tracks than risk being one of the non-existent victims of Japanese high-speed rail disasters!

I occasionally wonder how much They pay Althouse to play a craven jackass online, then I realize They probably just ply her with flowers and an Internet Husband and decide I’d rather not taste this morning’s breakfast again.

An LG&M podcast: “Lord Snow,” or “He may as well have been the air of Winterfell”

[ 16 ] July 25, 2013 |

Steven Attewell and I decided that we didn’t want to wait until next February to continue talking about Game of Thrones, and so we decided to start over. Here’s our take on “Lord Snow,” the series’ third episode. And before you ask: yes, the podcast did explode before we had a chance to finish it. We’ll cover the four minutes we lost in two weeks, after I’ve moved and settled in. Which also means, obviously, that there won’t be a podcast next week, as I’ll be moving and settling in. Try not to miss me too much.

Works SEK discusses:

Works Attewell discusses (warning, all of these posts contain spoilers for all five books):

  • Daenerys III (on assimilation and how Viserys fails to use its power)
  • Bran IV (old Nan’s stories and the meta-history of Westeros)
  • Eddard IV (Eddard’s first Small Council meeting, first assessment of his political skills, and the Littlefinger embezzlement question)
  • Catelyn IV (the knife, Littlefinger the gambler, his historical counterpart, and how he contrasts with Varys)
  • Jon III (the Watch as an institution in decline, Jon Snow getting over his privilege)
  • Arya II (Arya as a deconstruction of the fantasy heroic protagonist, Syrio Forel and famous swordswomen)



Archives: panders for hits …

[ 42 ] July 24, 2013 |

… but is smart enough not to let readers comment on “Teens Find Love With Each Other After Both Have Gender Reassignments.” According to the author, everyone should watch video because “[i]t’s very hard to do justice to young love.” I bet the bigoted hordes who comment at would’ve tried very hard to do something to that young love, but I seriously doubt it would’ve been “justice.”

As it turns out, Ryan Braun’s no good for the Jews.

[ 58 ] July 22, 2013 |

Farshporn zol er oyf tsu shteyn?

A MOOC Primer by SEK

[ 43 ] July 21, 2013 |

Once upon a time I did one of these that proved so popular Insider Higher Ed promised to pay me $125 to reprint it at their place. And they did reprint it yes they did. But I digress: last night I was avoiding things I couldn’t change, but lacked the courage required to change the things I could, so instead I decided to write a primer summarizing my feelings about the MOOC phenomenon I’ve been reading so much about lately. It goes something like this:

A is for affordable, you too can attend!

B, the boredom of the automated emails that they send.

C is for the crowd-sourced marks you never can protest,

D, the comments you receive from Dr. Dispossessed.

E is for efficiency, you’ll learn much more and faster;

F, the mark you’ll earn from your anonymous headmaster.

G is for goals you’ll meet, should fleeting time permit;

H, the honey badger, who doesn’t give a shit.

I‘s for innovation, as the Internet is used;

J‘s the campus jobs “human appliances” will lose.

K is for “the kids,” for whom all this is done;

L, the learning process, endless lectures on re-run.

M is for the money that will soon begin to rain,

O for the obscenity of pipe dreams, most profane.

O‘s also for objectives and assessments by machines,

C, “collaboration,” ‘cross seas of dim-lit screens.

Q is for the questions never answered in a MOOC,

R for “really thoughtful answers” copied from a book.

S, the rare impoverished souls, who care enough to try,

T, the time spent wasted, “learning” from a turned blind eye.

U‘s for universities, who seek to monetize,

V, the vastness of the campus they’ve lobotomized.

W‘s for the wallet, slit wide and fit to pad,

X is the amount slipped in, the bills that feed the fad.

Y is for the questions time and space do not permit,

Z, the honey badger, who doesn’t give a shit.

NOTE: Editorial advice is always welcome, as deaf scansion tends to emphasize rhythm at the expense of everything else.

Heh. Ha heh ha, heh heh ha, hold on now — let me, heh, catch my breath. He drew a — a what? Ha heh, heh, ha heh heh ha, heh, indeed!

[ 320 ] July 20, 2013 |

Thank you, National Review Online:

For this “cartoon” demonstrating that George Zimmerman’s acquittal is analogous to the legacy of white-on-black violence in America because Al Sharpton is a knotted oak. Only a racist would look at that and think it referenced something so vile as a lynching. Those noosed truths — like someone else we know — don’t even have heads. For all we know they’re wind chimes in their Sunday finest. Only a racist would notice that they’re headless necks from root to wick, because only a racist would associate something as basic to the human condition as fire to the history of racism in the United States. Without fire generations of Americans of all races would’ve frozen to —

— and I can’t do it. Michael Ramirez’s “Lynched” serves a single purpose: to allow the overwhelmingly white readership of NRO to believe that the imagined lynching of an abstract value is morally equivalent to the actual lynching of actual human beings. Because it’s been a long time since white people could really enjoy an image of a lynching. Some of them probably thought the day would never come again.

But thanks to Michael Ramirez, white readers of NRO can stare with childish wonder at the shapes of men dangling from a limb and feel glee instead of having to fake guilt.

UPDATE: I can’t believe I forgot this! It’s only like my favorite scene in Maus:

Ha heh heh! Heh heh ha heh! Ha ha heh ha heh!

“You know when you see a photograph of someone you know, but it’s from years before you knew them.”

[ 131 ] July 20, 2013 |

As previously noted, my chronic insomnia and the scheduling of television in the night’s more obscure recesses often compel me to watch Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. One side-effect of such viewings is that I sometimes drift in and out of consciousness during commercial breaks, and I assume that anything I remember watching is a daft melange of half-heard words and half-remembered dreams of the sort an almost-deaf person might concoct to explain the episode to himself after the fact. Like the time I watched that episode about Big Boi being eaten by hyenas after Detective Stabler was shot over a monkey in a basketball — that had to the product of secondary elaboration.

Only it wasn’t.

So, when I awoke this morning convinced that I’d seen two seasons of Doctor Who spoiled by a 2008 episode of SVU about “sexting,” I couldn’t just chalk it up to shoddy dreamwork. I fired up the Netflix machine, turned on the closed captions and wouldn’t you know it? A 2008 episode of SVU does contain the mother of all spoilers for the fifth and sixth seasons of Doctor Who. See what I mean below the fold:

Read more…

Seriously, about that Rolling Stone cover

[ 193 ] July 19, 2013 |

I was initially dismissive of the “controversy” concerning the latest Rolling Stone cover because it originated from people making arguments like this:

The cover of Rolling Stone was once reserved for the newest bands, the hottest singer-songwriters or the pop culture phenoms grabbing the country by the scruff of its neck.

Christian Toto, the author of this one, strikes me as one of those “internet researchers” whose store of knowledge consists of ideas half-mastered and mistakenly remembered, the sort that require a quick search to “confirm” that Rolling Stone is “about” music. He has no personal connection with or real knowledge of the magazine and doesn’t desire any. This lack of intellectual curiosity is made manifest in the rest of his post, which consists of quoting “celebrities” like Ralph Macchio re-tweeting the sage words of “one of the creative forces behind HBO’s Entourage.” The limitations of such critics notwithstanding, they accidentally stumbled over a solid point. To quote joe from lowell:

The picture they chose to make the cover of Rolling Stone looks too much like a rock star. It looks like a zillion Rolling Stone covers we’ve all seen. The graphic designers were clearly going for that “ordinary, attractive person is really a monster” effect that the text describes, but they picked the wrong pic. The photo doesn’t read as “ordinary, attractive person who might live next door,” but as “the latest pop star Rolling Stone wants to promote.” It gets in the way of what they were trying to do and muddles the message. They should have used a photo in which he looked a little goofy, or a photo of him at eight years old, instead.

The criticism here isn’t that a lowly music magazine is breaking from routine and lionizing Tsarnaev — it’s an aesthetic judgment that acknowledges what Rolling Stone tried and failed to do. The difference, in other words, between conservative and aesthetic critics of the image is that only the latter are capable of correctly assessing its intent and judging its effectiveness. Conservative critics legitimately believe that Rolling Stone‘s trying to disseminate images of dreamy Islamic radicalism to impressionable American youths, whereas aesthetic critics can read the words beneath the image and understand that the cover fails rhetorically. I think Other Scott need not fear the progeny of strange bedfellows — this is just the most recent case of deliberate conservative misprision. They see what they want to, so when they look at the Rolling Stone cover, instead of seeing what’s printed:

They see what’s politically convenient:

The context is still technically there, but it’s rendered inscrutable by the controversial imperative: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that all should become offended by a universal flaw.” Defining the entire cover down to Tsarnaev’s self-portrait — treating it as if the words didn’t exist — allowed conservatives to circulate an ahistorical and acontextual version of it that’s offensive to everyone. Much like the fight between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman began when Martin landed his first blow, conservatives have managed to bracket the conversation about this “controversy” such that the image being discussed is, by and large, the second one above. Having done so, they can rally their cultural warriors against the Shariah-loving editorial board of Rolling Stone with the usual dishonest gusto.

But liberal and aesthetic critics should have sense enough to realize that the problem with this cover wasn’t in its intent so much as its execution. In all honesty, I don’t think Rolling Stone should be criticized for its visual-rhetorical failure here, but for rehashing the tired trope of “The Monster Next Door.” That’s Keith Morrison‘s bailiwick, and Saturday mornings on MSNBC would be infinitely poorer if Rolling Stone put him out of business.

An LGM podcast: Life is “The Kingsroad,” they want to ride it all night long

[ 18 ] July 18, 2013 |

Steven Attewell and I decided that we didn’t want to wait until next February to continue talking about Game of Thrones, and so we decided to start over. Here’s our take on “The Kingsroad,” the series’ second episode.

Works Attewell discusses (warning, all of these posts contain spoilers for all five books):

  • Daenerys III (learning the dothraki way, cultural assimilation as a source of strength)
  • Tyrion I (slapping princes, having breakfast with his siblings, Tyrion as Richard III/Claudius)
  • Jon II (making his goodbyes,  his complicated family dynamics)
  • Catelyn III (the attack on Bran,  the ahistorical nature of “always a Stark in Winterfell,” Bran as Fisher King)
  • Sansa I (Sansa as a critique of romantic medievalism within fantasy genre)
  • Eddard III (Robert’s trial, Cersei’s political skills or lack thereof, royal justice)




About that Rolling Stone cover?

[ 119 ] July 17, 2013 |

I don’t see the big deal. It’s not even that great of a picture:

Now that I have that out of my system, I can write a serious post about it tomorrow.


Your black best friend isn’t an “Unfamiliar Black Male”

[ 172 ] July 17, 2013 |

I’m getting more than a little annoyed with the self-righteous proclamations of conservatives that George Zimmerman’s been proven innocent of profiling by virtue of his acquittal on charges of manslaughter and murder. The evidence all points to Zimmerman becoming increasingly obsessed with the presence of black males at his apartment complex in the months leading up to Trayvon Martin’s death. Prior to April 2011, Zimmerman’s 911 calls were the work of the neighborhood busybody. For example, he called to report:

  • 12 August 2004: “a male in a green Ford pickup”
  • 20 August 2004: “an open garage door”
  • 27 April 2005: another “open garage door”
  • 17 March 2005: “pothole that is blocking the road”
  • 21 September 2005: “a stray dog”
  • 10 June 2009: “fire alarm going off”
  • 7 September 2009: another “pothole in the road”
  • 22 September 2009: “yellow bike … doing wheelies”

But starting in August of 2011, Zimmerman’s calls took on a decidedly different note. He reported:

  • 3 August 2011: “[a] black male last seen wearing a white tank top and black shorts,” who he “believes … is involved in recent [burglaries]”
  • 6 August 2011: “two black males … in their teens”
  • 23 September 2011: yet another “open garage door,” but specifies reason for calling is “neighborhood watch [meeting] last night”
  • 1 October 2011: “two black males … 20 – 30 [years old] in Chevy [possibly] Impala at the gate of the community,” about whom Zimmerman’s concerned because he “does not recognize [the subjects] or [vehicle] and is concerned due to recent burglaries”
  • 29 January 2012: children “running and playing in the street”
  • 2 February 2012: “[black male last seen wearing] black leather jacket, black hat, printed PJ pants [who] keeps going to [the same] location”

And then on 26 February 2012 he calls about Trayvon Martin. There’s a pattern here obvious to anyone without an investment in not seeing it. What began as annoying 911 operators with pointless complaints escalated to notifying the authorities any time he saw a black male he didn’t know. The argument that he’s not racist and wasn’t profiling is based on the fact that he “mentored black children” and “had black friends” and is entirely beside the point, because it presumes that he’s an overt and deliberate racist. Those who make it claim victory when they demonstrate that he never wore a white hood or bedecked his body in Nazi ink.

I’ll grant that that Zimmerman didn’t pine for the days of short ropes and sturdy limbs.

I’ll grant that he didn’t dream of goose-stepping down the Champs-Élysées in his dress browns.

But I won’t grant that race didn’t color his judgment when it came to young black men with whom he wasn’t personally acquainted. From 3 August 2011 forward he’s increasingly — and almost exclusively — concerned with unfamiliar black males in his apartment complex. Maybe confirmation bias is more the problem here than racism, but the fact remains that the bias being confirmed is that young black males are suspects until proven otherwise. You can’t look at the 911 calls in the months immediately prior to the shooting and argue otherwise. (At least not honestly.) He transformed from a harmless nudnik into someone very concerned with the presence of unfamiliar black males, which at the very least means that by 11 August 2011 his worldview contained the category “Unfamiliar Black Male” and that the presence of people belonging to it warranted calling 911.

That’s indisputable.

Whether he volunteered the race of Trayvon Martin to the 911 dispatcher or responded to a question about it is immaterial. As evidenced by previous calls, this one was triggered by the presence of an “Unfamiliar Black Male.” And as the escalation of 911 calls indicates, he was becoming increasingly frustrated with the presence of people belonging to this category. Because, in his words, “These assholes always get away.” You can argue that he’s simply referring to generic burglars of an undetermined and irrelevant race, but doing so requires ignoring the larger context of Zimmerman’s recent 911 calls in which all the subjects were of a determined and relevant race.

But if you want to make that claim in order to win an argument with someone on the Internet, by all means, please tell me about call from 2007 in which he reported seeing two Hispanic males with a “slim jim,” or the one from 2009 in which he didn’t identify the race of the people “going into the pool and trashing the bathroom.” Feel free to ignore the cluster of calls immediately before the shooting in favor of the ones from three and five years previous, because we all know that beliefs don’t develop and concretize over time. While you’re at it, continue to insist that people who instigate confrontations are in no way culpable for their outcome. You know why? Because to everyone but you your argument amounts to this guy:

Being in the moral right to shoot away should he decide that the danger he sought is more dangerous than he thought it’d be.

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