I’ve been meaning to experiment with Pandora Radio for a while, and finally got to it today. It’s based on something called the “Music Genome Project” that categorizes music by how it expresses a large number of “genes” — traits that describe features like song structure, instrumentation, genre influences, and so forth. According to Wikipedia these are used to construct a vector, and similarity between tunes is measured by a simple distance function. You give Pandora a seed artist; it then apparently random-walks you through tunes and artists similar to that artist’s style.
One of my commenters recently pointed me at the work of Kevin McDonald, and academic who has studied the adaptive strategies of diaspora Jewry in great historical depth, largely drawing from Jewish historians as his sources.
I have yet to read his actual books, but I’ve found a great deal of review and discussion and analysis of them on the Web, and he makes some interesting cases. Through reading about his work, I’ve found a possible answer to a historical question that has troubled me for a couple of decades. That answer implies a terrible, bloody irony near the heart of the last few centuries of Jewish history.
I have a scholarly interest in the historical roots of science fiction and related genres. For this reason, I sometimes seek out and read late 19th and early 20th-century fiction, both classic and “pulp”, that I have reason to believe was formative for these genres. Nowadays I read such books critically, trying to understand what they reveal about the assumptions and world-views of the authors as well as appreciating what the authors were intending as artists.
My recent readings in this category have have included some rediscovery of the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs (which I read much less critically as a child). I’m presently reading for the first time the Cossack stories of Harold Lamb, rousing tales of battle and derring-do set in Russia and India and Northern Asia around the turn of the 17th century that are at least as well constructed as anything Robert Louis Stevenson or Alexandre Dumas ever wrote. As I’ve been reading, I’ve been comparing Burroughs and Lamb to Rudyard Kipling’s tales of India, and H. Rider Haggard’s lost-worlds tales of Africa, and to Talbot Mundy’s adventure stories also set in India.
One of the obligatory features of modern reactions to these books is to tut-tut at racist and colonialist stereotyping in them. This Wall Street Journal review of Lamb is typical, waxing a bit sententious about “brushes with anti-semitism” in the Cossack stories. But I’m learning to be critical about that sort of reaction, too — because, in rereading Burroughs, I began to understand that ascriptions of “racism” are an oversimplification of Burroughs every bit as crude as the stereotypes he’s often accused of trafficking in. And now, reading Lamb, I find that these “brushes with anti-Semitism” are raising more questions in my mind about the comfortable prejudices of my own time than they are about Harold Lamb’s.
Instapundit and John Nolte are quite right: the new Sherlock Holmes movie was better than we had a right to expect from the trailers. We were led to anticipate a fun, mindless action comedy – a sort of reprise of Iron Man in Victorian drag, with Robert Downey Jr. in full scenery-chewing mode.
I would have enjoyed watching that movie just fine, thank you. I’ve read the entire Holmes canon, but I don’t worship it any more than Arthur Conan Doyle did, and having Guy Ritchie reprocess it into a mere popcorn flick wouldn’t particularly have bothered me. But…to my pleased surprise, Ritchie aimed for — and achieved — something much better.
John Birmingham writes from Australia:
Even, and this is gonna hurt, the Americans have it all over us when it comes to cooking with fire, iron and tongs. In fact it’s arguable the American barbecue, or rather its plethora of regional variations on barbecue, set the gold standard worldwide for applying heat to meat while out of doors. While the popular image of American cooking, at least as practised by average Americans, involves squeezing a plastic sauce packet over something nasty in a chain restaurant, the truth is their barbecue specialists would put ours to shame. Undying, unutterable shame.
Alas, John, it is so. I have eaten barbecue all over the U.S. and the world, and the kings of the genre are in this country. Not in my part of it; I’m a Boston-born northerner and most barbecue where I live is as bland and bad as you describe. As a general rule in the U.S. the further south you go the better the barbeque gets, with the acme reached in south Texas. (Though the area around Memphis, further north, is a contender.)
Internationally, almost nobody even competes with the Southern U.S. for the barbecue crown. Brazilian churrasco is the one exception I can think of – that stuff can give good ol’ Texas ‘cue a run for its money. But you ex-British-Empire types aren’t even properly in the running. I’ve been to a backyard braai in South Africa and, while the spirit was there, the seasoning and cooking technique was sadly lacking, much like what you describe.
American cooking in general gets a bad rap internationally that it doesn’t deserve. It’s as though foreigners think it’s still 1965 here or something. I can remember a time in my childhood when the slams were richly deserved — heck, I remember returning here from Europe in 1971 and having to wait more than a decade before I saw a decent piece of bread! But Americans got a clue about food in the 1980s and haven’t lost it since. I learned this when I was traveling intensively around the turn of the century; most places I visited, even the “high-quality” food was inferior to what I ate at home.
UPDATE: I suppose it’s worth noting that Brazilian-style churrascarias have become the most recent high-end restaurant fad in the U.S., suggesting that other Americans generally agree with me that the style competes well with native ‘cue. Sadly, Korean barbecue failed to become naturalized here when that was tried in the 1990s.
In my previous post, Why Artists Defend Roman Polanki, I analyzed the flap over the Roman Polanski arrest as a case of artists arguing for a privilege to behave like shitheels without being held to account for it. I advanced this as an explanation because I think it covers the facts better than some of the culture-war political narratives being bandied about, especially by conservatives, but I deliberately did not take a position on the rights and wrongs of the arrest or whether I think Polanski should be prosecuted at this late date.
Now I’ll do so. I expect it will startle almost all of my regulars and offend a good many of them, but I think Polanki should be let go.
In 1977, Roman Polanski drugged, raped, and sodomized a 13-year-old girl. When he believed a sort-of-plea-bargain was about to come unstuck, he took it on the lam. He lived the high life in this self-imposed exile for thirty years, until busted in Switzerland recently. Now various of the usual suspects on the right wing’s enemies list are campaigning to block his extradition.
There’s a good deal of perplexity being expressed about this, and some predictable chuntering from right-wingers about lefties being moral degenerates. But this flap isn’t really about politics at all — it’s much simpler than that. It’s about people who think of themselves as “artistes” reserving themselves a get-out-of-jail card when they feel like behaving like repellent scum of the earth, too.
There just isn’t any better marker for the fundamental narcissism of today’s left-wing politics that this:
That’s Che Guevara’s granddaughter, Lydia, We are told that she posed semi-nude to promote vegetarianism and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
There are so many levels of wrongness and unintended irony here that it’s hard to know where to begin…
Today, Wired magazine gives us an article, Clive Thompson on the New Literacy, busting the supposedly conventional wisdom that cellphones, social networking, and the Internet in general have accelerated the decline of writing skills. The author says we’re actually in an age of rising literacy unparalleled since classical Greece. Er, what?
One of many hats I wear is that of a lexicographer. In 1990 I began maintaining the Jargon File, still available on my website and released as three paper editions in 1991, 1993, and 1996. At the time, I was a bit nervous about what I might learn if a “real” lexicographer ever showed up to critique the work. Would I be told that my efforts were amateurish, shoddy, and marred by methodological error?
A commenter wrote:
Think about it: guys like Leo Dicaprio or Owen Wilson for example.
These guys are not exactly manly men but seem more like teen boys.
There’s no need to invoke exotic theories like endocrine disruptors; they’re just reflecting the zeitgeist. I just turned 51, and a disturbingly large percentage of men in their twenties and thirties seem like spoiled narcissistic man-children to me. I thought for a while that this might mean I was turning into the sort of crusty old fart I laughed at when I was twenty-five, until I noticed that the percentage of man-children varied a great deal depending on my social context.
Two days ago, while on a quest to find one of the vanishing breed of waterbed stores, my wife and I had to drive through a slum section of Wilmington, Delaware. The streets were full of black people, and I had a strong “Ugh! Don’t want this kind anywhere near me!” reaction. Only it wasn’t to their blackness. It was because, with a few teenage exceptions, they were graceless and ugly and fat. Women wearing sack dresses in garish floral prints that would look bad even on a mattress liner, men in wife-beater T-shirts, rolling oceans of sloppy adipose tissue, not a smidgen of self-respect or good taste in sight. Awful…
I might not have written about this, except that later in the day I was reading a blog discussion of the Bradley Effect and its possible impact on the 2008 presidential race, and someone’s comment noted that it could be caused not only by hidden racism but by fear of seeming a racist even if one is opposed to Obama but knows oneself to be innocent of actual racist sentiment.
Then I flashed back to my experience in the Delaware slums a few hours previously and realized there is a third and subtler possibility. If I were a left-liberal rather than a libertarian, might I have confused my own reaction to the black people in that slum with racism, and felt eager to expiate it with displays of pro-blackness like telling posters I’m an Obama fan? Is it possible the Bradley effect is largely a rebound phenomenon driven not by “hidden racism” but by unjustified white guilt?
Some time back I blogged on Hotness in Hollywood. In it I gave Angeline Jolie props for making a game effort at acting in a a movie with a script so execrable that her best effort was doomed, the original Tomb Raider movie. I also praised Liv Tyler playing Arwen, who became my personal all-time favorite example of screen sexiness in the Lord Of The Rings movies. And yes, I know this means I’m a geek; that’s not news to anybody.
My wife Cathy and I saw Wanted last night. Avoid it if you can’t stand the sight of people being shot through the head; otherwise it’s a fun popcorn movie with lots of implausible but extremely well-choreographed ultraviolence. (Well, OK, I started to giggle during the last knife fight a few minutes before the ending, because with the Marine knife-fighting technique my swordmaster taught my wife and I last year either of us could have filleted those two pirouetting idiots in short order.)
Listen. This news story (which I meant to blog about two years ago) is the sound of cultural suicide happening…
A bricklayer who passed a toddler walking alone in a village shortly before her fatal fall into a pond said yesterday he did not stop to help in case people thought he was trying to abduct her.
Ideas have consequences. Toxic ideas have toxic consequences. Feminism’s toxic idea that all men are barely restrained sexual predators killed that little girl. This probably wasn’t the first time it happened, and almost certainly won’t be the last.
I think this is worth blogging about, even two years after the fact, because it’s another indicator of a huge and horrible thing that Western culture has been doing to men for most of my lifetime. Men are designed to protect women and children, specialized for it; in a very basic biological sense it’s what we’re for. But the modern West bombards men with the message that their specialty isn’t needed, isn’t wanted, and that they’re assumed to want to prey on and abuse women and children.
Is it any wonder, then, that young men are increasingly opting out of college, that the percentage of adult males never married is also rising, and that in the 21st century many men seem to want to opt out of responsibility altogether? When our instititions equate feminization with virtue and masculinity with evil, this is exactly the outcome we should expect.
And it kills children. It kills children.
If I were a praying sort, I’d pray that Scottish bricklayer’s warning cry has not come too late.
Bwahahaha! My sinister master plan for world domination is
working. Straight from the pages of the highest-quality general-news
magazine in English, check
this out! The money ‘graf is the last one:
Moreover, the ease with which the internet spreads
wrong-headedness–to say nothing of lies and slander–is offset by the
ease with which it spreads insights and ideas. To regret the glorious
fecundity of new media is to choose the hushed reverence of the
cathedral over the din of the bazaar.
There’s an old saw to the effect that there’s no limit to what you
can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit. More precisely,
when your signature memes start showing up as generative metaphors in
elite and popular usage with your name stripped off them, you
know you’re winning.
Winning, that is, at the only game that is really interesting —
changing the world.
(Hat tip to my blogson Walter Hunt over at Stone of Remembrance,
though I’d have seen it anyway in my weekly Economist and
I’ve been warning since 2002 that the West really is in a war to
defend civilization against Islamic barbarians, and had better face up
to that fact before the consequences of whitewashing Islam as
a “religion of peace” get worse.
Comes now Fjordman, a blogger from Norway who tells us that Moslem
immigrants to Sweden report themselves to be
at war with Swedes. See also his earlier post about how Swedish
society is disintegrating — not despite its commitment to
‘multiculturalism’, ‘tolerance’, and the welfare state, but because
that commitment is being ruthlessly gamed by Islamofascists who see
themselves as the conquering vanguard of the Dar al-Islam.
Sam Harris’s The End of Faith is a well-executed polemic of a kind that, in retrospect, has been curiously absent in the West over the last fifty years. Not since I read Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not A Christian in the early 1970s have I seen an attack on organized religion as clear, uncompromising, and compelling as this one — and Russell’s book was expanded from a lecture he gave in 1927.
Why, in a supposedly secular and modernist society that is heir to the anti-religious Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th century, do we not see more outright attacks on particular religions, or religion as an institution in general? Mr. Harris supplies a surprising answer: he thinks ‘tolerance’ is a problem, that the modern West has agreed to accept almost any form of unsanity or fanaticism as long as it is labeled ‘religion’.
I had planned my string of meditations on the movies to stop with
three. But, having succumbed to the mischievous blandishments of my
beloved wife Cathy, here’s a fourth. Today I shall consider hotness in
Hollywood — some movies that at least partly sold me with
sex, and how they did it.